Morning Five: 07.23.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 23rd, 2014

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  1. The dog days of summer mean that the Morning Fives in July and August typically consist of a somewhat mind-numbing combination of three things: 1) hot air (people saying things that they shouldn’t be saying, or saying them without the benefit of tact); 2) player movement (transfers; injuries; arrests); and 3) organizational movement (strategy pivots and programmatic shifts, in the hopes that nobody notices while they’re on vacation with the family or otherwise not thinking about college athletics). Today’s M5 will address each of these areas, for your thoughtful consideration and bemusement. October can’t get here soon enough.
  2. From the organizational movement department, the NCAA — which, due to its academic calendar construct, loves to release key information during the summer months, and especially on Fridays — announced late last week that its Board of Directors is set to take a vote next month that would ultimately give the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12) greater autonomy over the future structure and workings of the NCAA. Let’s call this move what it is — administrative extortion, designed to give the revenue-producing schools more weight commensurate with their power and influence in return for keeping the NCAA in one piece. The power leagues have long chafed at the notion that 300 low-level schools could band together to prevent them from doing what they want to do (i.e., institute the $2,000 full cost of attendance stipend proposal that was DOA in 2011), and know that the NCAA (the organization itself, not a grouping of schools), overwhelmingly funded by the NCAA Tournament’s broadcast agreements, wouldn’t have much of a financial leg to stand on if those five conferences decided to do their own thing. The Yahoo! article linked above explains many of the proposed details, but the objective is clear here: the coup d’etat has begun in Indianapolis; just make sure to look up from your beachy pina colada to witness the culling.
  3. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, a $700 million (annually) behemoth that the NCAA cannot afford to screw up, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was recently named the Chair of the Selection Committee for the 2015-16 season. So, a year away, as Utah athletic director Scott Barnes will hold the reins for the upcoming 2014-15 season. As Matt Norlander notes in the article, although the NCAA has done a solid job of moving away from the consistently white maleness of the Committee Chair in recent years (2009 Chair Dan Guerrero is Latino; 2010 Chair Gene Smith is African-American), it still hasn’t managed to cross the gender divide. Two members of the current committee — Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod and UNC-Asheville’s Janet Cone — would ostensibly have the inside track at the Chair in the next couple of rounds, but there are obviously no guarantees.
  4. The hot air department brings us to Castiglione’s conference commissioner, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby. During the conference’s football Media Days event on Monday in Dallas, Bowlsby expounded on the dirty little secret that anyone who closely follows collegiate athletics already knows but avoids discussion publicly: as he said, “cheating pays presently.” Noting that the NCAA Infractions Committee has not had a meeting in over a year, Bowlsby pounded the point home that if a school “seek[s] to conspire to certainly bend the rules, [it] can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.” He went on to defend the NCAA’s overall business model as a sustainable enterprise only in its current or near-current form, but the damage was done with respect to his pointed comments on cheating. While it’s difficult to test the veracity of Bowlsby’s overarching claim, it is much easier to determine how often the NCAA is doing its job with respect to policing infractions. A brief search of the organization’s Legislative Services Database shows that only two Division I schools — Howard and New Hampshire — have received NCAA penalties since January 1, 2014. Neither play FBS football, of course, and the sports involved were cross-country, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field. While again, it’s very hard to prove a negative, the absence of higher-profile and frankly, more, revenue-producing schools on that list, is more indicative of willful ignorance than of active compliance.
  5. And now, on to player movement. After eschewing a year at SMU to play with his older brother, Emmanuel Mudiay has reportedly signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to play in China. Brandon Jennings had trouble adjusting to the lifestyle of a professional and the culture shock of a new country (Italy) in 2008, but he turned out to be a fine player upon arrival to the NBA a year later. Mudiay’s year overseas will also be worth watching, but his international childhood (born in Zaire, speaks French) will surely help him adjust. As for players still in the US, Florida junior Devon Walker tore his ACL in practice late last week and will miss the entire 2014-15 season as a result. Notching seven starts on last year’s Final Four squad, Walker was expected to log significant minutes for a Gators team that has numerous holes to fill. His depth will be valuable to have a year from now too, though, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition Part 2

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 9th, 2014

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It’s time to put a bow on the 2013-14 college basketball season, with our final NCAA Tournament Tidbits post on the aftermath of Monday’s National Championship.

Connecticut

  • Like his coach, Jim Calhoun, UConn second-year head coach, Kevin Ollie, wasn’t expected to succeed when he took over the job. However, Calhoun knew UConn had a keeper because of Ollie’s attitude as a player. “The biggest thing I saw was his resiliency and tenacity,” Calhoun said in an October 2013 Connecticut Magazine interview about Ollie. “He wasn’t flashy, not a great shooter, but he was relentless as a player and he didn’t seem to have a great ego.”
  • Coming off a postseason ban, UConn wasn’t exactly a hot pick to make noise this season. And even once the Huskies entered the NCAA Tournament as a #7 seed, it still seemed unlikely that they would go anywhere past the Sweet Sixteen, much less to the National Championship game. However, coach Kevin Ollie knew they had a shot the whole time. “Someone called us Cinderella,” Ollie said. “No. We’re UConn. This is what we do. We’re born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets.”
  • There’s no doubt Shabazz Napier was one of the premier players in college basketball this season, but what impact will he make at the next level? His lack of size and wealth of production will make him a very intriguing NBA Draft prospect.
  • Shabazz Napier had to learn how to be a leader, and once he did, he took his team, against all odds, all the way. For Napier, much of his leadership came from enduring the various hits that UConn took since he arrived in Storrs in 2010. “When you go through a lot it teaches you how to be a man,” Napier said. “Sometimes you go through the ups and sometimes you go through the downs. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
  • Much of what Kevin Ollie has learned has come from his mother, Dorothy. However, though watching his mother fight breast cancer, Ollie has gained even more from her. “She’s [Dorothy Ollie] a strong woman, he learned his resiliency from here,” [Kevin’s wife] Stephanie Ollie said. “She and his father both raised a good husband for me. … She’s a very positive woman.”

Kentucky

  • Kentucky was surprisingly positive after losing Monday night’s National Championship game, calling this past season “surreal.” For the Wildcats, their resiliency is what made this season so special. “We just turned a lot of people’s heads,” [freshman] James Young said after Monday night’s defeat. “People that didn’t believe in us at first, they believe in us, now.”
  • Kentucky will always lose numerous players to the NBA Draft, but it will still usually be back among college basketball’s best every season. However, if coach John Calipari makes the jump to the NBA, the Wildcats could be in trouble.
  • Coach Calipari’s freshmen were able to come together for a big run, but soon, like in every season he’s had as Kentucky’s head coach, there will be the “inevitable breakup.” Knowing that much of the team won’t be in Lexington next year, many of the players are just trying to focus on the present. Freshman Aaron Harrison noted that he just wants to “enjoy the rest of the school year.”
  • Kentucky’s group of freshmen wasn’t able to get over the hump, much like the Fab Five, but these Wildcats were quick to credit Michigan’s early 90s squads for paving the way. “You can’t repeat what they did [the Fab Five],” he [Kentucky freshman Julius Randle] says. “They were trendsetters. They moved the game of basketball.”
  • Many believe that Kentucky will lose much of its rotation to the NBA Draft, but imagine what it could do next year if Calipari could get some of his guys to stay. Most of them aren’t thinking about the NBA right now, but sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, a projected mid- to late-first round pick, is. He’s remains unsure about his decision, but stated, “I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game.”
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Circle of March: Connecticut Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

From 340 teams down to a solitary C, and it turns out that the blue glow behind Connecticut‘s logo held some sort of supernatural meaning after all. And with that, the 2014 Circle of March has completed. We started on this journey some five weeks ago yesterday, and once again the beauty was in the process. Click the image to see the entire procession all the way down to one team standing. See ya next year.

circle2014

Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Kentucky
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Connecticut

  • Senior leader Shabazz Napier called his UConn squad the “Hungry Huskies.” The Huskies showed the drive to thwart any Kentucky comeback attempts, as UConn led the entire game and won its fourth National Championship in program history. Napier said about his team: “We worked so hard for it.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie entered a tough situation in Storrs, as the Huskies faced a postseason ban for lackluster graduation rates. Few expected him to succeed, but Ollie proved his doubters wrong as he led his team to the Promised Land in his first-ever NCAA Tournament as a head coach. “I’m just trying to keep proving everyone wrong,” Ollie said amid the postgame celebration Monday night. “Everyone said our program was going to go down after the sanctions and people left, but we’re still here. Somebody the other day called us a “Cinderella.” We’re UConn. UConn is always going to stay here.”
  • Shabazz Napier will surely go down as one of the greatest to ever put on a UConn jersey after last night, but what will the Huskies do without him next year? It will be tough to replace an All-American, but the Huskies aren’t worried about that right now. “I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can,” [junior Ryan] Boatright said after the game. “I’m not thinking about my future right now. I’m enjoying the present. And we’re going to celebrate with my team and my family. And I’m just blessed to be here in this situation. It’s an honor to be a national champion and to play for this university.”
  • Shabazz Napier had some interesting comments directed at the NCAA on the podium after UConn won it all last night. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the hungry Huskies,” the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player said. “This is what happens when you ban us.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie isn’t seeking to replace both his predecessor and mentor, Jim Calhoun, but is rather seeking to build on what Calhoun built at UConn. After winning UConn’s fourth title in just his second year as the head coach, Ollie is doing what he set out to do. “I don’t look at it like a lot of people look at it, that I’m replacing Jim Calhoun,” Ollie said the other day. “Coach Calhoun is still beside me. He’s in front of me. He’s behind me. I’ve locked arms with coach because of what he’s put inside of me and his belief system. I think that’s what gets us through.”
  • After his second National Championship, Shabazz Napier has surely reached “Legendary Status” at UConn. In particular, the way in which he carried UConn to this year’s title is what cemented his legacy. “He’s going to go down in history as one of the best players to ever play at UConn,” [sophomore] Omar Calhoun said. “Not a lot of people have gone to a national championship and won it, so I feel like he just led the way.”

Kentucky

  • With the season now behind them, Kentucky’s freshmen have some decisions to make about their futures. Though he doesn’t like to discuss the NBA during the season, coach John Calipari is now ready to help out his players. “Now that the season is over, it’s about the players. It’s no longer about the program,” he noted.
  • With rumors circulating that John Calipari could be the next coach of the Lakers, he was sure to quickly dismiss those rumors. When asked, Calipari refused to “dignify” the that discussion.
  • Kentucky had a tough loss, but the Wildcats had nothing but good things to say about UConn’s guards. “They were the best guards, definitely, that we played against,” [freshman James] Young said. “Shabazz and Boatright did a good job of just running their team and getting big shots for them.”
  • Kentucky was able to get to the free throw line, but what did it in was its inability to convert when there. The Wildcats made just 13 of 24 free throws. “We had our chance but missed the free throws and shots,” [coach John] Calipari said.
  • With five freshmen in the starting lineup, Kentucky reminded many of Michigan’s Fab Five. Ironically, Kentucky’s group of freshmen met the same fate that the Fab Five did, losing in the National Championship Game (although Michigan’s group lost there twice). Though his team fell, Calipari was still proud of his young guns. “Even in that loss, I can’t believe what these guys got done together,” Calipari said. “Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting.”
  • The Harrison Twins, particularly Aaron, carried the Wildcats to the National Championship Game, but unfortunately, they were not able to take them all the way. The twins began the season by failing to live up to expectations, but by the Tournament’s end, they proved that they were as good as advertised.
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #8 Kentucky 54

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

  1. Shabazzketball. Shabazz Napier said after the game that he told his teammates back in a January home loss to Louisville — the first of three to the defending national champs, none of which were close — that he believed in his team and that they were going to make a run to eventually win the National Championship. While there’s no way to know if Napier is joshing us or simply retelling a tidbit that the team probably repeated many times during the season, the salient point is that Connecticut fulfilled the prophecy to once again raise the gold trophy for the fourth time in 16 seasons. The brash, cocksure point guard from the Boston area is the primary reason why. Napier’s 22 points (including four big threes), six rebounds, and three steals have become par for the course throughout Connecticut’s run to the title, but on a night when the team needed a first half lift because DeAndre Daniels was slow getting started, Napier’s 15 points allowed the Huskies to build an early cushion to put the pressure on Kentucky to make yet another second half comeback. The comeback happened twice, but each time that the Wildcats had whittled the lead down to one point, Napier had an answer. His first response was right out of the half, when he drove into the lane to earn two free throws (both makes, of course); the more important second instance was with six minutes remaining, when it appeared that UConn was wearing down and the Cats were surging forward. Napier put an end to that notion with a calm and accurate three-pointer to push the lead back up to four. After a subsequent Randle two and Giffey three, Kentucky never got closer than four points for the rest of the game. There aren’t many players these days who stick around long enough to win two national titles, and especially three years apart, but Napier has certainly proven that he belongs among the list of greats for his performances in March Madness.
  2. Kevin Ollie Bum Rushes the Tourney. The last time a coach won the national title in his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the year was 1989 and Michigan’s brand-new head coach Steve Fisher led Glen Rice and friends on a magical run to victory. Kevin Ollie had a little more experience coming into this year’s Dance than Fisher was awarded some 25 years ago, but he should absolutely be commended for the belief that he instilled in his players and the resolve that they exhibited on the court during this Tournament. They beat teams bigger than them, more physical than them, deeper than them, better shooters than them, and more experienced than them. What you’re going to read about a lot in the next 24 hours is how it was UConn’s defensive commitment and resolve that won the school its fourth championship. While the Huskies played excellent defense in the gut-check games against the likes of Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky over the past 10 days (holding the three teams to 0.90, 0.93 and .90 points per possession), it was actually the hyper-efficiency of UConn’s offense that made the difference. Over the six-game NCAA Tournament run, Kevin Ollie’s team never dipped below a 1.00 PPP average (vs. Michigan State and Kentucky), and it maxed out with a necessary 1.24 PPP mark against St. Joseph’s and a 1.23 PPP mark against Iowa State. It’s not a true calculation because every game is different, but some back-0f-the-envelope math suggests that the Huskies averaged about 1.11 PPP in its six wins while holding opponents to 0.99 PPP on the other end. And it did so against five of KenPom’s top 20 teams, with the strange outlier the game against St. Joseph’s that UConn very well could have lost. Crazy.
  3. Kentucky’s Magical Run Ends One Game Short. This Kentucky basketball season was without question one of the strangest that we’ve ever experienced. The highs and lows of it were simply astonishing. From a preseason #1 ranking and at least mild entertainment of the idea of an unbeaten 40-0 season, to the harsh reality of non-conference losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, to head-scratching but not awful SEC losses to Arkansas, LSU and Florida, to end-of-season disasters vs. Arkansas in Rupp and on the road at South Carolina and Florida, to The Tweak before the SEC Tournament and a solid performance there, to the subsequent three weeks of phenomenal play — especially at the end of games against high-quality competition — that ran all the way to the verge of a National Championship. Life is stranger than fiction, and it certainly felt coming into tonight that all the jabbering about 1-and-done and right way/wrong way and the rest of the related nonsense surrounding John Calipari and how he runs his program was going to be finally put to rest. Alas, UConn had other ideas. Regardless of tonight’s outcome for the Wildcats, there’s absolutely no shame in a runner-up finish, and most Kentucky fans would have taken that in a heartbeat in early March. As for Calipari, this was without question one of his finest coaching jobs — he very nearly lost this team at the end of the season, but he was able to use his magic wand to get their attention, buy into his conceptual framework of team and selflessness, and damn near ran his team to another National Championship. Because of his recruiting prowess, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s a top-five coach in this game no matter how you slice it.

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The RTC Podcast: National Championship Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

It’s here. For the better part of five months, teams around the country have worked their tails off to prepare for and compete in the NCAA Tournament. Sixty-eight hopefuls were invited three weeks ago; only two remain standing today. It’s all about getting a chance to play on Monday night, and Kentucky and Connecticut, two of the top basketball programs in America for decades running, have earned the right to compete on that stage. In this week’s RTC Podcast, the guys reflect on the Final Four games — what went right, what went wrong — for each of the four teams, take an aside to investigate the final outcome of #cheerfortheears, and break down the National Championship that will played in Arlington, Texas, later tonight. It’s a long but worthwhile listen this week, and we hope, as always, that you’ll join us.

  • 0:00-15:17 – Kentucky Wins Another Thriller
  • 15:17-28:53 – UConn Hands Florida Another Loss
  • 28:53-32:40 – #CheerForTheEars
  • 32:40-37:42 – Postgame Reactions From the Winners And Losers
  • 37:42-46:23 – What a Win Means For Each Program’s History
  • 46:23-1:07:51 – Championship Game Preview
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.07.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 7th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • Kentucky entered the NCAA Tournament unranked, but the Wildcats now find themselves playing for their second national championship in the last three years. With all the blows it took this season, it’s incredible that Kentucky is still playing. “It’s nuts,” [coach John] Calipari said. “We’re still standing.”
  • With Final Fours at three different programs and on the fringe of his second National Championship, Kentucky coach John Calipari has a shot to cement himself as arguably the best coach in the game right now.
  • Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein will be on the sidelines tonight, but he’s trying his best to accept his new role as a coach/cheerleader. He added, “I think that’s kind of my role now: staying in somebody’s ear. When you see something, make sure you let them know. It could help them. If they take the advice, cool. That’s really all I can do.”
  • Starting five freshmen, the similarities between Kentucky and Michigan’s Fab Five are uncanny. Coach John Calipari sees the similarities between his team and the Fab Five not in appearance, but rather in the manner that both teams handle themselves. “What they did and how they came together, anything you ever watch on that [the Fab Five], can’t you just feel the brotherhood?” Calipari said. “These guys are the same way. They’re fighting for each other. They closed ranks as things got ugly. They were there for each other.”
  • It’s been a wild road for Kentucky, and not even Coach Calipari can know what is coming next. However, what he does know is that his team can perform when it really counts. “Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win,” Calipari said.

Connecticut

  • UConn All-American Shabazz Napier  added another honor to his long list: the 2014 Bob Cousy Award for the Nation’s best point guard.
  • Florida was arguably a better all-around team that UConn, but the Huskies excecuted a brilliant strategy to shut down the Gators. Behind its “Ace of Spades” strategy, UConn harassed Florida star Scottie Wilbekin and held him to just 4 points. In describing the his game plan, UConn coach Kevin Ollie kept it simple: “We wanted to take him [Wilbekin] out.”
  • Kemba Walker led the way during UConn’s 2011 National Championship run, but now it’s Shabazz Napier’s turn. Napier may be his own man, but there’s no doubt he wants to end his career the same way Walker did. “A lot of comparisons are going to be thrown around. I’m not going to shy away from it. But at the end of the day, I’m not him. I want to do what he did and win the championship, but we’re walking our own path. We all want to get to the same promised land.”
  • Check out some of the anecdotes that UConn players gave about their leader Shabazz Napier.
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie has a long way to go if he wants to measure up to his predecessor, Jim Calhoun, and his three National Championships, but winning tonight would be a good way to start creating his own legacy. “I’m not trying to be Coach Calhoun; I can’t fill those shoes,” Ollie said. “But I am trying to be the best Kevin Ollie I can be, and that’s what I am trying to do each and every day.”

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Circle of March: Championship Monday Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

From 340 teams a month ago to just two remaining. Kentucky and Connecticut will tip it off tonight in the unlikeliest of championship games, but the beauty of March Madness is that the unpredictable is often the only predictable thing. It’s been five weeks since we debuted this year’s Circle of March, and 338 teams have dropped off in the interim. There’s definitely some magic surrounding this year’s NCAA Tourney, and we’re really starting to wonder if the position of the “C” somewhat randomly in the eye of the Circle has some supernatural meaning. We’ll find out soon; the rest of Monday  can’t pass quickly enough — let’s get this thing started!

circlemarch_4_6Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Florida
  • Wisconsin
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calhoun

Former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun Was All Smiles After the Game

  1. Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
  2. On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
  3. The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • With five freshman starters, Kentucky came into this season ranked #1 despite losing in the first round of the NIT last year. Though the Wildcats were, at one point, arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball, they have righted the ship. This weekend, the world will be able to see if Kentucky really deserved that preseason #1 ranking.
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari claims that a “tweak” before the SEC Tournament helped create the force that has been Kentucky basketball over the past month. He won’t say what it is, but insists that there was some change made. “What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, ‘You know what? I screwed this up. Make me look good,'” Calipari said. “And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so …”
  • Instead of “one-and-done,” Calipari is trying to change Kentucky’s mantra to “succeed and proceed.” He doesn’t support the former because he doesn’t see his program as a one-year pitstop before the NBA. As Calipari puts it, “Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that’s up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it’s not about family, it’s about business.'”
  • For most #8 seeds, a Final Four run is a Cinderella Story that will live on in that program’s history forever. For Kentucky, however, its run to the Final Four is simply “tough” rather than miraculous.
  • Texas natives, the Harrison Twins have been the key catalysts for Kentucky’s run back into their home state. Though the Twins seemed immature at times this season, Calipari believed in them in part because of their high character. “The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged.”
  • Julius Randle’s NBA draft stock slipped a bit partly because his team wasn’t successful for much of the season, but through Kentucky’s run to the Final Four, Randle is proving that he should be a slam dunk top five NBA Draft pick.

Wisconsin 

  • Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has one of the best systems in college basketball, and is known for his ability to develop players, particularly big men. “Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” [Wisconsin big man Frank]Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”
  • Wisconsin is often not intimidating and light-hearted, but the Badgers bring it when it’s time to play. “Sometimes, we kind of fail that eye test,” [Frank] Kaminsky said. “But it doesn’t matter when the game starts. It matters how we play. … People can say we look like this and we look like that — we look like a bunch of white guys — but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”
  • Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has a father who dominated the Big Ten in the late 80s/early 90s. However, the younger Jackson is creating his own legacy by achieving something that his father never did: a Final Four.
  • Even though Kentucky enters today’s game as the 8-seed, is Wisconsin the underdog? With a piping-hot Kentucky team, this may be the case.
  • Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky is big and “goofy“, but the seven-footer has been the key to the Badgers’ success. He was only a role player over the past two seasons, but this year he made huge strides. “I let a lot of things faze me and get frustrated all the time,” he said. “I really wasn’t doing the best that knew I could do. I knew I had to grow up — physically and mentally. It took me a couple of years.”
  • Though Wisconsin is often characterized as unathletic and slow, it believes that it has the athleticism to hang with Kentucky. Even though the Badgers don’t exactly jump out of the gym, they’re still athletic in their own eyes. “Athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, OK?” Ryan said. “Eye-hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say ‘athletic,’ this group we have is athletic in this sense: they have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team.”

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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