Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

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Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per hoop-math.com, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

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ACC Back in the Final Four With Two Teams, Again…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2016

When North Carolina squares off with Syracuse in Saturday’s late national semifinal, it will mark the sixth time in league history that the ACC has entered two schools into the season’s final weekend. It’s been a great March Madness showing for the conference, with a record six schools in the Sweet Sixteen, a record-tying four teams in the Elite Eight, and an overall 18-5 record. The last time the ACC sent two teams to the Final Four was in 2004, when the league still carried nine teams. Since then, the ACC has undergone two major expansions that resulted in an immediate and noticeable downturn in its long tradition of basketball excellence. But combined with last year’s fine NCAA Tourney showing, it appears that the ACC has regained its status as the best among the nation’s major hoops conferences.

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday's National Semi-Finals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday’s National Semifinals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a little surprising how often individual conferences send multiple teams to the same Final Four. Of course, only one school per conference could participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first 36 years of the event. That changed in 1975 — thanks in large part to Maryland’s exclusion in 1974 — and, from there, it only took one season for a league to place two teams in the season’s final weekend — Indiana defeated fellow Big Ten school Michigan in the 1976 title game. In 1980, the Big Dance became a fully open tournament, with no limit on the number of teams a conference could send. Since then, 65 percent (24 of 37) of the subsequent Final Fours have featured multiple teams from the same conference. Particular hats off to the 1985 Big East, a league that sent three of its members to the Final Four. As you can see below, the Big Ten leads the way with multiple appearances over that span.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. First, Villanova. 

Villanova hopes to do more celebrating in Houston. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Villanova hopes to do more celebrating in Houston. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

How the Wildcats Got Here

South Region Champions. Villanova handled #15 seed UNC Asheville in its NCAA Tournament opener before crushing #7 seed Iowa in the round of 32. The Wildcats then headed to Louisville, where they posted 1.56 points per possession – the most efficient performance in college basketball all season long – en route to a 23-point drubbing of #3 seed Miami. Two nights later, the Big East champs came up with the necessary late-game stops to grind out a victory against #1 seed Kansas and clinch its first Final Four appearance since 2009.

The Coach

Jay Wright. Before Wright took over for Steve Lappas in 2001, the Wildcats had not reached the Sweet Sixteen since 1987-88. In the 15 years since, Villanova has made five second weekend appearances, including Final Four trips this year and in 2009. The 54-year-old coach, known for his cool demeanor and sharply tailored suits, has elevated the program to even greater heights in recent seasons, posting a 95-13 record since 2013 and earning a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament three years in a row. With another Final Four now under his belt, Wright should now be considered among the finest regular season and tournament coaches in college basketball.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 101, #5 Indiana 86

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Marcus Paige's Best Game in Over a Month Led UNC to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Marcus Paige’s Best Game in Over a Month Led UNC to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Nobody can keep North Carolina off the offensive glass. It didn’t matter how much size Indiana had in the low post. The simple truth is that the Tar Heels have more frontcourt depth than any other team in the field and can attack the glass in waves. A starting lineup of 6’8″, 6’10” and 6’10” creates instant mismatches and posed a problem all night long for a group of Hoosiers that only wanted to get out and run. The team is impressively connected when it comes to timing and anticipation and each forward is skilled in maneuvering himself to gain good rebounding position inside.
  2. Indiana’s defensive struggles became its downfall. The Hoosiers’ 13-of-31 performance from three and 41 percent shooting night from the field was not disparate from their season averages. In fact, their 1.23 points per possession tonight was better than its season average of 1.18 PPP. In the wake of a 15-point defeat, there was no degree of shooting that could have saved Indiana in this game. The effort instead needed to come on the defensive end, and it wasn’t there. The Tar Heels, normally a subpar 31 percent three-point shooting team, shot an uncanny 11-of-20 from deep and complemented it with a 50 percent shooting inside. That long-range shooting performance was certainly not something Tom Crean expected and the added focus on defending the perimeter resulted in wide-open driving lanes.
  3. Does any team have the personnel to beat the Tar Heels? With a string of outright dominant performances starting with its rout of the ACC Tournament field, the question lingers. Yes, UNC shot abnormally well against Indiana, but the fact remains that few teams have the frontcourt depth and defensive wherewithal to slow it down. Moreover, attempting to beat Roy Williams at his own game by pushing the tempo is a recipe for disaster. Interestingly, five of the Tar Heels’ six losses this season have been in games played well below the team’s average tempo.

Star of the Game. Marcus Paige was on point tonight from the moment the ball was tipped. The senior point guard got off to an explosive start, connecting on four consecutive threes in the opening five minutes to give his team an early lead. He ultimately finished with 21 points — his highest output since February 6 — along with six assists. His outside shooting sparked what was North Carolina’s second-most efficient offensive performance of the season.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 61, #7 Wisconsin 56

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Demetrius Jackson Willed His Team to a Win Tonight (USA Today Images)

Demetrius Jackson Willed His Team to a Win Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame did what it does best: make clutch plays down the stretch. The Irish have trailed in the closing minutes in each of its three NCAA Tournament games so far and yet they have made all the necessary plays to come up with wins each time. Most impressively, Mike Brey’s team won tonight despite trailing for 37-plus minutes. Even against the most resilient of defenses, Notre Dame has proven difficult to contain for the full 40 minutes. Now the Irish’s challenge will be in matching the offensive output of an equally elite shooting team in either North Carolina or Indiana.
  2. Nigel Hayes continued to struggle through a prolonged shooting slump. The junior forward led the Badgers in scoring for a majority of the season, feasting on mismatch opportunities given his impressive outside-in skill set. Not only was Hayes remarkably efficient when scoring inside and getting to the free throw line, but he also demonstrated an ability to consistently hit shots from the mid-range. Yet his shooting has been woeful in this NCAA Tournament. Despite going up against a mediocre defensive team in Notre Dame, Hayes shot 4-of-12 this evening. Thankfully, several others stepped up to contribute in his absence, but Wisconsin’s offense simply didn’t have enough in the tank to prevent the late comeback.
  3. Wisconsin imposed its will on the defensive end, yet still came up short. As with most Badgers games, they win by turning games into slogging defensive battles. Its offensive sets are slow and methodical, working to wear down its opponent over the course of the game. On the other hand, Notre Dame distinguishes itself with a highly efficient offense. The Fighting Irish spread the floor with multiple shooters and are remarkably good at running the pick-and-roll with Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. At the end of the game, the red-hot shooting that propelled Mike Brey’s team through its first two NCAA Tournament games was contained for 20 minutes. In the first half, Notre Dame shot 7-of-29 from the floor and committed seven turnovers before ultimately regaining its composure and finishing the game on an 8-0 run supplemented by 15-of-26 second half shooting.

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Secrets to Sweet Sixteen Success: Factoids on Each Team

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 24th, 2016

With a weekend full of brackets busted and buzzers beaten now behind us, the NCAA Tournament turns to a new and exciting chapter. Gone are the small school darlings and Cinderella dreamers hoping to make the most of the Year of Parity; remaining are a host of blue-bloods with a wide range of expectations and capabilities. The bracket hasn’t played completely chalky with stalwarts like Michigan State and Kentucky sitting at home and some double-digit seeds still alive. But rather than welcoming new faces to the Sweet Sixteen, it was Indiana that dispatched Kentucky and the low-seeded outsiders crashing the party are the likes of Syracuse and Gonzaga, the closest thing we have to a MINO (mid-major in name only?). March Madness has its storied traditions and history, but each team, each season, and each match-up is a unique snowflake with a lot of interesting context. Let’s examine something special about the run of each of the 16 remaining teams as we head into the second weekend.

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas. Senior Perry Ellis may have just put together one of the most under-the-radar All-America campaigns in modern history. The evolution of his game has been a revelation for Kansas this season, and he’s not slowing down, with games of at least 17 points in every game this March. As but one example, Ellis made as many threes this season as he did in his prior three.
  • Maryland. The Terrapins’ quest to finally be recognized and treated like a Big Ten program becomes a little stronger with each ensuing NCAA Tournament win. They still hold the ultimate bragging right among conference teams — The last Big Ten team to win the National Championship was Maryland (as an ACC member) in 2002.
  • Miami. Jim Larranaga has proven to be a godsend for the Miami basketball program. In just five seasons, he’s already become the only coach to take the Hurricanes to multiple Sweet Sixteens. If Miami can top Villanova tonight, the Hurricanes would make its first ever appearance in the Elite Eight on Saturday — uncharted territory for Miami but not for Larranaga (George Mason, 2006).
  • Villanova. Though rivalries of Philadelphia basketball run deep, the casual fan in the City of Brotherly Love has enjoyed a successful long-term run. With Villanova’s two wins last weekend, a team from Philly’s Big 5 (Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn) has advanced to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play in 10 of the last 20 years. The residents of Hawk Hill or North Philly may not be especially thrilled for their friends from the Main Line, but the levels of success and respect among the Philadelphia schools make their common bond that much more special.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Wisconsin 66, #2 Xavier 63

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Xavier's Edmond Sumner tries to outmaneuver Wisconsin's Jordan Hill in Sunday night's game. (Cara Owsley/Cincinnati Enquirer)

Xavier’s Edmond Sumner tries to outmaneuver Wisconsin’s Jordan Hill in Sunday night’s game. (Cara Owsley/Cincinnati Enquirer)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Wisconsin Made Xavier Play Wisconsin Basketball In The First Half: There are few teams in college basketball that can simultaneously play under control and force opponents to play out of control like the Wisconsin Badgers. Coming into the tournament, Wisconsin was ranked 30th in the country in fewest turnovers and 19th nationally in fewest points allowed. Xavier came into the tournament averaging 81 points per game, but managed just 33 in the first half tonight.
  2. Xavier Made Wisconsin Play Xavier Basketball In The Second Half: You can only hope to keep a high-scoring team like Xavier down for so long. While the Musketeers were shooting better to start the second half (46.7%) than the first half (40.7%), the Badgers had no problem going to tit-for-tat with the explosive offense of Xavier —  they shot 63.6% from the field to start the second half.
  3. The Real Action Bronson Plays in Madison: Bronson Koenig hit six shots tonight. They were all three-pointers. One mattered more than the others, however, as his step-back buzzer-beater sent the Badgers into the Sweet 16. Wisconsin made just eight of their 27 three-point attempts, but Koenig, in the biggest moment of their season, came up with a shot that will persist in Tournament lore for quite some time.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas A&M 92, #11 Northern Iowa 88 (2OT)

Posted by Czech Smith on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.32.43 PM

  1. Epic meltdown. Northern Iowa held a 12 point lead with 44 seconds left in regulation and ended up losing in double-overtime. In one of the most incredible meltdowns ever seen in modern college basketball, the Panthers simply could not inbound the ball in their own backcourt — time and time again turning it over and giving Texas A&M a chance. The Aggies took that opportunity, going on a 14-2 run over the final FORTY-FOUR SECONDS to tie the game and send it to overtime. After a back-and-forth first overtime session, Texas A&M took control in the second and eventually worked itself to the Sweet Sixteen. 
  2. Northern Iowa has a flair for the dramatic. The Panthers took the emotional high from their win over Texas on Friday and rode it for most of the game against A&M. They came out of the locker room ready to play and established an early lead that they nurtured until the final minute of regulation.  Despite several attempts by the Aggies to close the gap in the second half, Northern Iowa seemed to always had an answer. Jeremy Morgan’s fantastic overall performance was all for naught — he finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds.
  3. Texas A&M leading scorer Danuel House was held scoreless until late in the second half… and then he turned it on. House scored 19 points in the last 5:14 of regulation and first overtime, finishing with 22 points. Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun did a great job defending House until he fouled out in overtime. However, Texas A&M missed a big opportunity in regulation: House at 6’7” failed to post up on the 6’1” Washpun all night, especially after Washpun drew his fourth foul of the contest. House had a rough night but came alive when it mattered, allowing his Aggies to see another day.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Maryland 73, #13 Hawaii 60

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregionKenny Ocker is at the Spokane pods of the South and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Maryland Moves Into the Sweet Sixteen for the First Time Since 2003 (USA Today Images)

Maryland Moves Into the Sweet Sixteen for the First Time Since 2003 (USA Today Images)

  1. The run Maryland went on is the stuff of champions: The Terrapins trailed 41-39 midway through the second half before Diamond Stone finished off a lob. Jake Layman then slammed home a breakaway jam. And Melo Trimble pulled up on a fast break to hit the Terps’ first three-pointer after 15 misses. From that point on, the game was over. The 16-1 run took what had been a competitive game and turned it into a blowout – and Hawaii never got within 10 points again.
  2. The Terrapins are still very frustrating: That second-half run should never have been necessary. Two days after doing its best to squander a 17-point second-half lead to South Dakota State, Maryland sleepwalked through 30 minutes of Sunday afternoon’s affair. Until waking up for the second-half run, it seemed like another showing of squandered talent by coach Mark Turgeon’s squad. When you have NBA shoo-ins like Stone and Trimble and another player in Rasheed Sulaimon who will likely get a look, it’s inexplicable to keep lesser-talented teams in the game again and again. Why there’s not at least one ball screen – if not two, three or four more – set for Trimble on each play, the world may never know.
  3. It’s a real bummer Hawaii won’t be in the NCAA Tournament next year: The Rainbow Warriors worked hard, hustling to as many rebounds as they could get their hands on all weekend, and they play fun, energetic basketball. But first-year coach Eran Ganot inherited a postseason ban for next year and loses two scholarships for each of the next two seasons, thanks to improprieties under former coach Gib Arnold’s regime. But Hawaii will always have its upset win over #4 seed California on Friday, the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament win, and the first by a team currently in the Big West since 1990.

Star of the Game: Maryland sophomore point guard Melo Trimble. His three-pointer – the Terps’ only successful conversion in 18 tries – changed the game. His 24 points led all scorers. He made 13 of his 14 free throws. He grabbed eight rebounds. He had three assists.

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