NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.29.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Head coach Brad Stevens believes that as long as he remains successful, he will keep being mentioned as a candidate for other jobs across the country. Stevens has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every major opening across the country, but the 34-year-old head coach is intensely focused on bringing the Bulldogs a title.
  • Junior guard Ronald Nored lost his starting spot and has been mired in a long shooting slump this season. However, without the defensive tenacity that Nored supplies off the bench, Butler might not be in the Final Four.
  • Last season, Butler was led by the trio of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. With Hayward gone to the NBA, Butler has forged on being led by Mack and Howard.
  • Every successful team needs to be led by a point guard. For the Final Four Butler Bulldogs, that role has been filled admirably by Mack.
  • A fun read about how the Chicago Cubs will invite Brad Stevens and VCU head coach Shaka Smart to conduct the seventh inning stretch at a game at Wrigley Field this season.

Connecticut

  • UConn has followed a similar path of peaks and valleys to its opponent on Saturday, Kentucky. Both teams have evolved considerably since squaring off at the Maui Invitational in November. The Huskies’ freshmen have matured at an incredible rate, and Kentucky is feeding off of Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson more than Terrance Jones, who had the ball most of the time in the early going.
  • Kemba Walker was named a first team AP All-American on Monday, joining Jimmer Fredette, JaJuan Johnson, Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger. A Wooden Award and Final Four MOP award are still in Walker’s sights.
  • VCU gets plenty of attention for its improbable run (and should), but how about UConn winning nine postseason games in 19 days to reach the Final Four? This March run from Jim Calhoun‘s squad didn’t look to be in the cards when the season started.
  • The UConn women’s team is one win away from matching their male counterparts. The UConn double-dip has been accomplished twice, in 2004 and 2009, and comparing the runs is inevitable for Huskies fans, writes The Hartford Courant‘s Jeff Jacobs.
  • At the time of his recruitment, Kemba Walker was considered a backup plan to Brandon Jennings, who spurned UConn and Arizona to spend a season overseas before entering the NBA draft. Jennings is doing well, but second-best has worked out pretty nicely for the Huskies.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Anaheim

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend. 

Location: Anaheim, CA 
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Connecticut, Arizona 
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: Andrew Murawa

  • In the preview for this game, I talked about the idea that it wouldn’t necessarily be the stars that determined the outcome of this game, but the role players. While Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams led the way with 20 points each, the two All-Americans combined to make just two of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc and to shoot a combined 12-30 from the field. The big difference between the two is that Walker was able to take advantage of all the defensive attention that was being paid to him and trust his teammates to make big plays. Walker wound up with seven assists as teammates like Jeremy Lamb (19 points, two threes) and Shabazz Napier (ten points, two threes) came up big when called upon.  “Arizona did a great job of throwing two guys at me and I realized it kind of late,” said Walker. “But I was able to get Jeremy involved and he was able to make so big plays for us. Jeremy was on tonight, and I wanted to keep going to him.”
  • According to Jim Calhoun, it was Walker’s suggestion to repeatedly run Lamb off baseline screens in several late-game possessions. “Kemba says, ‘We got to get the ball to Jeremy!’ Now, I’ve had a lot of great players, and great players want the ball in their hands and he did some great things down the stretch obviously, but he’s saying to the coaches let’s not run cage, let’s run circle for Jeremy, and obviously it paid off great. And he looked at Jeremy and he said, ‘And you’ll make those shots, too.’ I don’t think there is any kid in America doing that. He’ll carry us and take over the game but as good as it has been, his play was great, his leadership even better.”
  • Jeremy Lamb was asked in the postgame press conference to comment on a UConn assistant coach’s statement that the freshman had been so great in the Tournament that it was like he didn’t even know where he was. What followed next proved beyond all doubt that Lamb really didn’t know where he was, as he turned to Coach Calhoun and Walker with a confused look on his face, prompting both of them to begin cracking up, then responded to the reports with “you mean like — what do you mean?” Alex Oriakhi cleared things up a bit, telling Lamb, “he wants to know if you have a pulse.” Lamb responded: “Well, no, I mean, I haven’t thought about it sinking in yet, I just like to go out there and play. I don’t like to think about where we’re playing and how big the stage is. Right now I’m just having fun playing basketball.”
  • Some 27 years ago, Jeremy Lamb’s father, Rolando Lamb, hit a game winning buzzer-beater to beat a Calhoun-coached Northeastern team in the NCAA Tournament. According to Calhoun, all is now forgiven. “I think that after his shot that beat us when he played for VCU I told him he owed me one and he certainly has – he’s paid me back ten-fold. That was just one game.”
  • For the second straight game, the Huskies were the beneficiaries of their opponent’s star forward getting in early foul trouble. And in both games, after taking a solid lead into the halftime locker room, UConn had to withstand numerous second-half charges, playing in what was essentially a road game. “When teams make runs, we don’t let it get to us because I guess we know we’re going to make runs back with Kemba and Jeremy Lamb being able to score the ball the way they’re able to,” said sophomore center Oriakhi.

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Arizona Dominates Duke To End Their Dreams Of Repeating

Posted by nvr1983 on March 24th, 2011

It was a defeat that was notable not only for when it happened, but also how it happened. Duke entered their game against Arizona as 9.5-point favorites and were widely expected to make a trip to Houston with a chance to defend their championship especially after UConn knocked off San Diego State, which had been considered the strongest threat to the Blue Devils as a de facto home team. Instead the Blue Devils were dominated by the Wildcats in a way that few had envisioned as possible.

 

Williams and the Wildcats soared over the Blue Devils (Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

After the Blue Devils went into halftime with a 44-38 lead despite a phenomenal first half from Derrick Williams (25 points and 5 rebounds in the first half alone) most analysts expected them to gradually pull away in the second half as Kyrie Irving appeared to be playing like his pre-injury self and Kyle Singler appeared to be playing like the All-American that the media had pegged him as coming into the season. Instead the few Arizona fans who made the trek to Anaheim were treated to some of the best basketball a Wildcat team has played since the days of Miles Simon and Mike Bibby. In the first half it appeared as if Williams would have to carry the load for Wildcats, but his teammates were more than capable of assisting their superstar in the second half as they carried the load scoring 48 of the team’s 55 points in the 2nd half after only scoring 13 of the team’s 38 in the first half. Led by 20 points from Lamont Jones and n will be 13 points from Solomon Hill the Wildcats appeared as if they could do no wrong and dominated every facet of the game in the second half not only outscoring the Blue Devils by a remarkable 22 points (55-33), but also dominating the boards by a margin of 25 to 9.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2011

After three days of quiet, it’s time to get serious about figuring out this national championship thing.  Sixteen to twelve… let’s check out tonight’s games.

#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Does Fisher Have Another Final Four Run in Him?

One of these teams has won two national championships. The other just got done winning their first two NCAA Tournament games ever. While the Aztecs have had a great breakout season and now stand at 34-2 on the season, UConn has won 44 Tournament games in the Jim Calhoun era alone. Luckily for SDSU, past performances in the Big Dance need have no impact on this year’s games. If you throw out the bloodlines for the two programs, you’ll find that we have the makings for what should be an excellent game. We’ve got star power on both ends of the court, with UConn’s point guard Kemba Walker a candidate for the National Player of the Year and SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard an All-American candidate. We’ve got big name coaches with national championships and Final Four experience, as Calhoun will be matched up with Steve Fisher, who won one title at Michigan in ’89, then got back to the title game in both ’92 and ’93. We’ve got an impressive freshman class including Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb on the UConn side matched up with three starting seniors on the Aztec squad. In short, we’ve got all the trappings of a serious battle. For the Aztecs, the big goal is going to be slowing Kemba Walker. While SDSU has had plenty of experience at trying to slow another high-scoring point guard (one Jimmer Fredette – you may have heard of him), Walker is a different challenge for SDSU, as he is a quicker, shiftier guard than Fredette, and a guy who you’d rather have shooting the three than challenging his defenders off the dribble. As a result, it is likely that D.J. Gay and/or Chase Tapley will get the majority of minutes tasked with defending Walker, while frontcourt players like Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be left to keep one eye on Walker while trying to body-up the Huskies’ athletic offensive rebounders up front. The SDSU frontcourt will also have to provide the majority of the scoring, and given that they haven’t seen a team as big, long and bouncy as the Huskies, they’ll need to prove that their opponents’ size does not bother them. The Aztecs figure to have plenty of support from their fans, who only need to drive about an hour north to attend the game, but they’ll need to prove that their shaky performance down the stretch in Saturday’s game against Temple was an aberration rather than the norm. Until they can close out a game in the NCAA Tournament with confidence, we’re not sure they’re trustworthy against a big-time foe.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut

#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

Looking at this game on paper, it’s pretty hard to find any discernible differences between these two teams. The main determinant of this game will likely be tempo. BYU would love nothing more than to get the Gators caught up in a fast-paced game, forcing them to recklessly throw up ill-advised three pointers leading to long rebounds and many Cougar runouts. Dave Rose’s team excels in transition with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery leading the charge. While Emery is certainly a terrific point guard, his biggest impact on this game could come defensively. He’ll guard Florida’s Erving Walker in all likelihood and that could be a major problem for the 5’8 Walker. Emery’s length and quickness has the potential to disrupt the Florida floor general, plus the BYU senior ranks #15 individually in steal percentage. If Walker can’t get the offense flowing, Florida may result to lots of isolations and quick shots, certainly not ideal for a team that does its best work at a slower pace in the half court. The Gators have a big advantage inside and have to use it to win. Billy Donovan needs to keep Kenny Boynton, expected to play after spraining his ankle against UCLA, in check and make sure his guards work the ball inside to Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. This could very well be the game where the loss of Brandon Davies dooms BYU for good. The Cougars rank a paltry #222 in offensive rebounding percentage so Florida should hold a significant edge on the glass. BYU has been out-rebounded in four of their seven games without Davies and we expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively, Florida has to keep Fredette off the free throw line and force him to make outside shots. It’s alright for the Gators if Jimmer drains more than a few bombs but he’s most dangerous when he can get into the lane and to the stripe, or create for others when defenders are drawn to him inside. Florida ranks #15 in defensive free throw rate and will have to keep that up against Fredette specifically. We have to wonder if Donovan will assign Parsons the task of defending Fredette. Parsons is a big man (6’9) but he’s fairly quick for his size and can bother Jimmer with his superior length. Quickness will be the issue because Fredette possess a terrific first step to blow by opponents. The Cougars will have an edge at the line if this is a close game since Florida struggles as a team (67%). It should be a terrific matchup but a slight edge has to go to the Gators in New Orleans this evening.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

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Behind the Numbers: Structures and Strategies

Posted by KCarpenter on March 23rd, 2011

 
Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.
 
Nate Silver isn’t always right, but I’m beginning to wonder why I would ever bet against him. Last week, Silver published a consideration of seeding where he argued that because of the structure of the bracket, the eighth and ninth seeds are at a considerable disadvantage compared to much lower-seeded teams. This makes intuitive sense because the way the bracket is constructed the eight and nine have to play a top-seeded team before everyone but the sixteen seed. Still, it sounds funny and it is odd that a twelve seed has a better statistical chance of making the Sweet Sixteen than any other seed between seven and sixteen. I was intellectually able to read and understand this logic, yet I ignored the fact that because of this quirk in seeding, George Mason was worse off in terms of having a shot at making the Sweet Sixteen than Virginia Commonwealth or Richmond

The Spiders Perhaps Weren't As Much of a Surprise After All

One eight seed made the Sweet Sixteen. The rest of the Sweet Sixteen party crashers? Two eleven seeds, a ten, and a twelve, including Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond. If you tally up the rest of the seeds, this looks pretty much like Silver’s predicted distribution. The structural inequalities of the bracket should have told us to expect more second round (excuse me, “third round” upsets) from the seeds in the 10-12 range. Of course, are these even really upsets? The Pittsburgh loss to Butler was a genuine shock but the rest of the “upsets” really seem to fall upon the coin flip in the flat part of the s-curve.  Silver notes that the composite computer “power ratings” show essentially the same difference between first and second seeds as between the fifth and thirteenth seeds. What this means is what we knew all along: the best teams are in a whole separate class from the bulk of the teams in the tournament, while the majority of teams are at close to the same level. This is a long way to get to this essential point: We shouldn’t be surprised to see VCU, Richmond, Marquette or Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen.

We also shouldn’t act like the bracket design is done affecting who makes the Final Four and who wins the championship.  Ken Pomeroy was quick to run the log5 probabilities of the remaining sixteen and had some interesting findings. While you would think that winning two games would have increased every team’s chances of winning it all, you’d only be mostly right. San Diego State and Kentucky actually saw their chances at a championship drop as the biggest obstacles in their path to the championship refused to be upset. Conversely, Kansas’s location in the decimated Southwest Region has made them a near-prohibitive favorite to make the Final Four. Likewise, Pittsburgh’s ignoble fall in an already weak Southeast Region has given the Wisconsin Badgers a real shot at a championship. The Badgers’ calculated chances of winning it all went from a mere 2.5% to 9.5%. Of course, technically, that’s a tiny increase in proportion to the change in VCU’s chances. The Rams went from having a 0.0005% chance at a championship to a 0.2% chance at winning the big one. While those are still long odds, their chances of winning increased 400-fold. So that’s worth something.

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The Week That Was: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

What We Learned

It's Foolish To Think That the Big East's 2011 Tournament Record Proves That It Wasn't the Best Conference All Season

  • The Big East is not overrated; it’s just not as good as it was made out to be. The conference sent an NCAA record 11 teams into the field of 68 and Vegas set the over/under of total wins for the conference at 15.5. This year’s March Madness was supposed to be the cherry on top of an historic season, but instead the tournament has been a complete and utter disaster. Only two teams from the Big East will be playing next weekend (Connecticut and Marquette), and the only reason there are two teams remaining is because each squad beat a conference foe to advance to the Sweet 16. But let’s not jump the gun and label the Big East as the most overrated conference in the nation. For one thing, assessing the merits of a conference over a single weekend slate of games is somewhat foolish. That’s a ridiculously small sample size, especially considering during the regular season the conference posted a 34-19 record against tournament teams, according to the New York TimesNate Silver, who’s been spot-on with his analysis this month. The Big East was justified in getting 11 teams in the field — after all, Marquette made the Sweet 16 — but it was just a good conference, not an especially great one. If anything, we’re guilty of overlooking the fact that most of the teams in the Big East lacked NBA talent on their rosters (a key ingredient to any successful Final Four run). When Kemba Walker is your conference’s top NBA prospect, you know you have a talent deficit.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

 
We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend. Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.

Region: West

The Honda Center Has a Great Regional This Year

New Favorite:   #1 Duke, 32-4.  Duke was the original favorite, and they’re still the favorite. And with the addition of Kyrie Irving since the last time we spoke, they’re even more of a favorite, even if the freshman point guard is clearly not back to the level he was at prior to his injury. With Nolan Smith on the top of his game, Kyle Singler ready to do whatever he’s asked to do for the team, and a variety of role players ready to fill in around the edges, the Blue Devils remain the team to beat.

Horse of Darkness:  #2 San Diego State,  34-2. When, exactly, can a team that is a #2 seed, with a top-10 national ranking and a 34-2 record be considered an underdog? Well, when that team has won two NCAA Tournament games in its history and is in a regional with three teams that have won a combined 183 games in the Tournament, including 22 Final Four appearances and seven championships. Throw in the timidity with which the Aztecs played down the stretch in their third round double-overtime victory over Temple, and despite SDSU’s prodigious talent, they’re a pretty significant underdog in this region.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend):  #5 Arizona, 29-7. Well, given the Wildcats are the only team in the region to outperform their seed to this point, they’re the obvious choice. But even more surprising is how they got here, advancing to the Sweet 16 with a one-point win over Texas in a game where All-American candidate Derrick Williams had one of his worst games of the season, hitting just four-of-14 field goals, missing an additional six free throws (although he did get to the line 15 times), turning the ball over four times and fighting through some second half foul trouble. But other Wildcats stepped up, sophomore Solomon Hill and freshman Jordin Mayes in particular, and the Longhorns stepped aside, and Sean Miller’s club is still alive.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend):  San Diego State. The more I think about it, the Aztecs are the only choice here. Duke’s first weekend was somewhat unexpected from the start, once it was announced that Irving would return, and their closer-than-expected win over Michigan was another bit of a surprise. Connecticut surprised a bit by showing no signs of slowing down after a grueling Big East Tournament, destroying Bucknell before pulling away from Cincinnati late. And we talked about Arizona above. By comparison, it wasn’t all that big of a surprise that the Aztecs, with no history of success in the NCAA Tournament, might falter a bit in closing out a good team. And the fact that they got through that game anyway is just about what we expected.  

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: If you listened to me, you set aside a block of time on Friday afternoon to focus on Arizona and Memphis, and you were rewarded with an excellent game that had a little bit of everything you could want in a NCAA Tournament game, with the underdog getting out to an early lead, the favorite making a big charge to get back into it, and a back-and-forth, edge-of-your-seat battle down the stretch, ended by a great player making a great play in the waning moments. And the fact that it was not without a little bit of controversy is all the better.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: Like taking Oakland as a Sweet 16 sleeper. While the Grizzlies played Texas close enough to make it interesting, they just didn’t have the ability to keep the Longhorns from scoring at will against their defense.

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Coach K Ups The Ante With The Possibility Of Kyrie Irving’s Return

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2011

From the moment that Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis last April there was an expectation that this year’s team with the addition of the much-hyped point guard recruit Kyrie Irving could actually pull of the rare repeat. While many questioned Irving’s abilities before the Devils’ opening night game against Princeton those questions were quickly answered as Irving asserted himself as the best player on the team and quite possibly the country. With each brilliant performance by Irving the Devils became the odds-on favorite to win the national title and become only the third team since 1973 to repeat as NCAA champions. At its fever pitch, the hype around this Duke team became so much that we felt compelled to publish a column asking whether the Blue Devils could actually go undefeated.

Will Kyrie Irving return on Friday?

Unfortunately for Duke, that was published before the extent to which Irving had injured his toe against Butler had become apparent (actually, the severity of the injury still isn’t clear). Following Irving’s injury the Blue Devils slipped from being the favorite to being one of the favorites and were at times severely outplayed at the point guard position like they were on March 5th against Kendall Marshall and UNC in a game that cost them the ACC regular season title. Throughout Irving’s prolonged recovery college basketball fans wondered whether Irving would return this season or if he would ever play another game in a Blue Devil uniform. Those hopes were boosted prior to Duke’s ACC quarterfinal win against Maryland when Irving ran through some drills before the game started.

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Set Your Tivo: Selection Sunday Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We finally made it. It’s Selection Sunday and one of the best Championship Weeks ever played concludes today. I’d like to thank any reader out there who has read even just one of these daily features this season. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned something you didn’t know about a team(s) from following Set Your Tivo. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

ACC Championship (at Greensboro, NC): #5 Duke vs. #6 North Carolina – 1 pm on ESPN (*****)

Barnes and the Heels Could Snag a 1-Seed Later Today With a Win

The greatest rivalry in college basketball for the third time this year on the last day of the season? Sign me up. In an ACC year full of mediocrity, the two top dogs stepped up and have successfully found their way to the title game today. As you know, these teams split the regular season series with each winning on their home floor. The rubber match will be in Greensboro today, about an hour west of each campus and right in the heart of Tobacco Road.

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BGTD: Saturday Afternoon Tourney Sessions

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2011

Throughout conference tournament weekend, we’re going to pop in with some BGTD-style analysis at least twice a day.  Twelve automatic bids will be decided on this day, let’s take a look at some of the top storylines so far.

  • Well, Hello, Memphis.  Nice to See You Again.  It’s seemingly been nothing but bad news out of the Memphis Tiger program this year.  From suspensions to players leaving to selfishness to really bad losses, pretty much everyone wrote Josh Pastner’s team off as a non-factor midway through the season.  Coming into the Conference USA Tournament, Memphis was considered one of several teams with a shot to win a balanced tourney, but with UTEP playing at home, the Miners were considered a slight favorite.  When the two teams matched up in today’s title game, you’ll forgive everyone for thinking the 74-47 beatdown the Tigers suffered two weeks ago might be indicative of what would happen today.  Instead, Memphis roared back from a 12-point deficit with six minutes remaining to nip UTEP by a single point and vault Pastner into his first NCAA Tournament as the head coach of the program.  This freshman-laden team has been unpredictable all year, but what #4 seed wants to see Memphis with its several Burger Boys opposite their draw as a #13 — are you serious?
  • The Re-Introduction of Harrison Barnes.  It’s taken most of the season, but the Harrison Barnes that UNC thought it was getting when it signed the top prep player in America last year has finally arrived.  In his last five games, he’s gone for a minimum of 18 points and has started to look the part as an elite scorer comfortable with the ball in his hands.  It culminated today in a 40-point explosion that tied the all-time freshman scoring record in the ACC (held by Tyler Hansbrough) and represents the largest scoring performance in sixteen years of the ACC Tourney.  He’s now hit ten threes in his last two games, not bad for a player who only hit 45 all season, but the more important thing for Roy Williams is that he’s playing and shooting the ball with confidence.  As long as the talented wing keeps playing like he has been recently, UNC can go as far as anybody in the field (although we wouldn’t recommend constantly trying to play catch-up, as the Heels have led for only 36 seconds during 80 regulation minutes).
  • Douglas Davis a New Ivy Legend.  In one of the best-played games of the entire Championship Week (it should have been on broadcast television rather than online), Princeton’s Douglas Davis had the moment of his young life when he dribbled right, pump-faked, and hit a fading-left step-through jumper to send Princeton back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.  Put the slightly-built junior guard from Philadelphia in the annals of Tiger history along with Gabe Lewellus and Bill Bradley as bonafide postseason heroes, and chalk Harvard and Tommy Amaker up as the hard-luck school who can finish first in everything except Ivy League basketball (no NCAA appearances as a member of the league).  Expect to see this moment many times over the next five days, as America has once again found its new favorite Cinderella to root for next week.

  • Nolan Smith’s Toe.  Whatever concerns there were over Nolan Smith’s injured toe from yesterday’s ACC quarterfinals, those fears were quickly erased today as Smith went for 27/6 assts in 39 minutes of action where he looked pretty much as good as new.  This is obviously a huge relief for Duke fans everywhere, because even with the deep backcourt Coach K has at his disposal, not even the top Devil can overcome losing two All-American caliber point guards in the same season.  The win over Virginia Tech sets up a blockbuster rubber match between Duke and North Carolina on Sunday, with the winner very likely making a claim on a #1 seed in the Southeast Region (and playing in Charlotte/DC the first two rounds).
  • More Auto-Bids. Other than Princeton, there were a few other automatic bids handed out this afternoon.  In the America East, Boston U. came back from a fifteen-point second half deficit on the back of its star, John Holland, who torched Stony Brook with a 14-0 streak by himself.  In the MEAC, Hampton ended the Morgan State stranglehold on that league (2009 and 2010 champs) in a game where losing coach Todd Bozeman accused a referee of “bias” against his team afterward.  Way to go, coach.  In the Southland, UT-San Antonio outlasted McNeese State with a young team that will head back to the NCAAs for the first time in seven seasons.  Welcome back, everyone.
  • Bubbling Up.  Penn State is clearly off the bubble and into the Dance after today’s impressive win over Michigan State… Similarly, Richmond is likely safe after moving on to the A-10 championship game with an upset win over Temple…
  • Bubbling Down.  Alabama could have used a better performance against Kentucky today to again prove its worth to the Committee, but that didn’t happen… UTEP probably needed to win on its home court with a double-figure lead late in the game to secure its bid…  Harvard is likely waiting another year, even though many people think they should at least be considered…  Michigan State is probably ok after two wins this weekend, but today’s loss ensures they’ll cause a lot of problems for some high seed next weekend.
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Set Your Tivo: 03.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

When we’re this late into Championship Week, every game is dynamite and a must-see event. There are too many games to preview in their entirety so here are a handful you absolutely have to watch today. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

ACC Semifinals (at Greensboro, NC): #5 Duke vs. Virginia Tech – 3:30 pm on ESPN (****)

With the status of Nolan Smith uncertain after suffering a toe injury yesterday (bad toes have killed the Blue Devils this year, right?), Virginia Tech can lock up a bid for certain with another win over Duke this afternoon. After a scintillating conclusion to their game against Florida State, one tenth of a second may be enough to vault this Hokies team into the Big Dance regardless of what happens today. If Smith can’t go, Kyle Singler and Seth Curry become Duke’s go-to players. Singler played like the guy we saw last year against Maryland yesterday, posting 29/9 on 10-15 FG, while Curry did a nice job filling in at the point after Smith left. Virginia Tech slowed the pace down in their win over Duke last month but more importantly committed only five turnovers in that game. The Hokies also held the Blue Devils to 20% shooting from three and owned the paint with Jeff Allen and Victor Davila combining for 29/25 in the win. To beat Duke for the second time, Seth Greenberg needs a similar game plan. If Duke can get out in transition, Virginia Tech’s limited depth will become a major concern, as will their propensity to turn the ball over. The Hokies are at their best playing in the half court where they work the ball inside to Allen and crash the glass, not when Malcolm Delaney is jacking up ill-advised deep shots leading to long rebounds and fast break points for the opponent. If Smith can’t go and Curry doesn’t make his teammates better, look for Virginia Tech to use a lot of zone (they might anyway) to force Duke into deep jumpers, especially Singler. He shot the ball poorly in the first meeting and was a big part of why Duke lost that game. A game like he had against Maryland will lead Duke to a win but Virginia Tech knows what is at stake and can definitely win this game if they stick to the blueprint we just outlined.

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BGTD: Friday Night Tourney Sessions

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2011

Throughout conference tournament weekend, we’re going to pop in with some BGTD-style analysis at least twice a day. For a recap of the action earlier today, check out our afternoon BGTD post.

  • Jimmer goes off. For most of the past week we have focused on who BYU doesn’t have (Brandon Davies) while seemingly ignoring the who they do have (Jimmer Fredette) and Jimmer reminded us how good he can be thanks to a ridiculous 52-point performance to knock off New Mexico, a team that had beaten the Cougars the two previous times they played this season. We aren’t saying that the Cougars are still a contender without Davies because we think they lack the depth to make it past the second weekend without him, but with Fredette and a decent supporting cast we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Cougars in the Sweet 16. As for Fredette, this should basically be the stamp on his national player of the year campaign. There are plenty of excellent players this year (more on a few in a bit), but nobody has been as dominant throughout the entire seen as Fredette.
  • OT at MSG. The Big East seminfinals provided us with a pair of excellent games that required an extra session. In the first semifinal Kemba Walker finally played like the phenomenal player we saw in Maui, but UConn still required an extra 5 minutes to knock off Syracuse after a pair of huge threes by Scoop Jardine late in regulation. In the end, Walker (33 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 6 steals) and Alex Oriakhi (15 points and 11 rebounds) were too much for the Orange. In the nightcap, Louisville overcame a 14-point halftime deficit against Notre Dame to force overtime and join the Huskies in the Big East finals. The key for the Cardinals was forcing Ben Hansborough into numerous poor shots as he ended the day 3 for 16 from the field. The Cardinals comeback victory sets up an intriguing Big East final match-up involving two of the league’s most controversial coaches who each have dealt with major issues in the past year (Rick Pitino‘s being personal and Jim Calhoun‘s being professional). One thing to watch for is the Huskies legs as they are attempting to become the first team in Big East Tournament history to win 5 games in 5 days. You might also want to watch for how the Huskies respond when they get to the NCAA Tournament as all these miles might begin to take a toll on them.
  • Toe Problems at Duke. Normally we would brush off Nolan Smith‘s toe injury against Maryland in a game that the Blue Devils won handily, but given how innoucous another toe injury to another Duke guard (Kyrie Irving) seemed at the time we think the Blue Devils will be a little more cautious heading into their game against Virginia Tech.

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