NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

  • Though he’s struggled thus far in the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari’s message to Devin Booker is simple. “We told him after the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep shooting,’ because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win,” Calipari said. “You can miss all these. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up and we may need you to make some shots.”
  • Bob Huggins has had John Calipari’s number historically, but Kentucky certainly has the advantage by the numbers this time. Here’s what Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue has to say about Thursday’s battle.
  • West Virginia is fast and physical, but Huggins is concerned about Kentucky’s defense, particularly inside the three-point line. “Probably the closest one was Kentucky in 2010. We led by one [actually two, 28-26] at halftime and did not have a two-point field goal (eight three-pointers and four foul shots). I think every time we took it inside the three [point line] we got our shots blocked. I can’t remember anybody who would be as close to this team other than that team,” he said.
  • The odds are against him, but Bob Huggins has a chance to improve on his 8-2 record against his buddy John Calipari on Thursday.
  • The public seems to be praising Wichita State after its upset over Kansas, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame just yet.
  • Pat Connaughton has been huge for Notre Dame on the court, but his leadership away from it is what sets him apart.
  • Alabama is reportedly looking to make a run at Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Here‘s why Matt Bonesteel thinks Marshall should stick around in Wichita.
  • Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team left in the Midwest Region, but the Shockers have several qualities that previous Final Four teams have possessed.

West Region

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet 16. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the teacher still show who's boss? (Getty)

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet Sixteen. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the Teacher still show him who’s boss? (Getty)

  • It’s no accident that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams rarely foul. Averaging around 12 fouls per game, the Badgers rank among the lowest in the country in that metric. Much of this is due to the emphasis put on it by the head coach. “There are a few pillars of the program or things that have been consistent through the years and helped us be successful,” associate head coach Greg Gard says. “And that’s one of them. They understand if they want to get on the floor and play, they’re going to have to be able to play without fouling.”
  • Despite having a reputation as a very well-respected academic institution, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly wowed people with its recent graduation rates.
  • Though he was reportedly doubtful to play earlier this week, Kennedy Meeks worked out briefly on Tuesday and he is still a possibility to play on Thursday night.
  • For Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen game on Thursday will be a bit of a family affair. His sister, Morgan, played at Wisconsin, and now plays professionally in Europe.
  • Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds is being investigated by the school for a recent incident outside of a Xavier dorm. However, Reynolds is still scheduled to play for the time being.
  • Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen battle will be special for Xavier coach Chris Mack. Mack served as Arizona coach Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before he left Xavier for the desert. “The fact is that it’s hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him,” Mack said.
  • Both Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and others surrounding the program seem open about Johnson only being in Tucson for one year, but that isn’t stopping both parties from making the best of the situation.
  • For Sean Miller, coaching against his former team, Xavier, will be tough. “It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re watching the selection show, you’re kind of watching and cheering for them [Xavier coach Chris Mack and former Xavier coach Thad Matta] to go off your board,” [Arizona Director of Basketball Operations Ryan] Reynolds said. Reynolds came with Miller from Xavier to Arizona six years ago.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcMWregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 67, #6 Butler 64 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

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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:

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

  1. Mike Brey’s mother passed away this morning. How did he coach through that? Directly following one of the better games of the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey announced that his 84 year-old mother died of a heart attack on Saturday morning. The news came as a true shock to everyone in the room, a heartbreaking announcement in the midst of an otherwise joyful moment for the Irish. He cited her competitiveness, the fact that she tried to turn Brey and his siblings into swimmers growing up – she was an Olympic swimmer in 1956 – and reflectively noted “she had a great run.” You have to wonder how the heavy-hearted coach managed to muster enough positive energy to lead his team to victory.
  2. The seniors put Notre Dame over the hump. Sophomore Steve Vasturia led the way with 20 points. Junior Zach Auguste secured a team-high 13 rebounds. Second-year point guard Demetrius Jackson made a serious of big plays to re-establish momentum in the second half. But it was the senior guards – Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – who finally got Notre Dame over its postseason hump. Connaughton swatted Kellen Dunham’s game-winning three-point attempt to send the game into overtime, then drilled a big triple in the extra period to break a 59-59 tie. A few minutes later, his team up three, Grant made a slashing layup with 21 seconds left to season the Irish victory. Entering the night, Brey hadn’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2003 – the victim of six first-weekend exits over the past 11 years. His seniors weren’t going to let it happen again.
  3. The Irish were hellbent on shutting down Kellen Dunham, and it worked. Even if it meant surrendering buckets to Roosevelt Jones (who scored 23 points), Notre Dame was not going to let Butler sharpshooter Kellen Dunham beat it from behind the arc – especially not after his 20-point performance against Texas on Thursday. Irish defenders were draped all over the junior from opening tip to final buzzer, holding him to just 2-of-13 shooting and eight total points, well below his season average (16.7 PPG). The Bulldogs were never able to extend their second-half lead far enough to take firm control, and their leading-scorer’s lack of scoring may have been the reason why.

Star of the Game: Pat Connaughton (seven points, nine rebounds and a huge block). Forget about the statistics; Connaughton was the star tonight. His toughness and confidence and massive swat to end regulation carried Notre Dame to victory.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 69, #14 Northeastern 65

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2015

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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.

Notre Dame beat Northeastern in a thrilling opener. (Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame beat Northeastern in a thrilling opener. (Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Turnovers made the difference. Notre Dame was a tad inconsistent offensively today but managed to gut out a victory nonetheless. The most obvious factor? The Irish – despite ranking 274th nationally in defensive turnover percentage – forced 16 Northeastern miscues, including several big steals late in the game. Each time the Huskies would surge, a turnover would temper their momentum and keep Notre Dame ahead. And when Bill Coen’s group climbed back to within one possession with a final shot to win, Jerian Grant ripped the ball from Northeastern forward Quincy Ford to seal the four-point triumph.
  2. Notre Dame needs some rebounding. Look, Notre Dame is never going to dominate teams on the glass – it ranked near the bottom of the ACC in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage this season – but the Irish still need to be better on the boards than they were today. Northeastern’s comeback was keyed by big offensive rebounds (13 on the game), and the Huskies rarely gave Notre Dame second-chance opportunities. As the Irish advance through the NCAA Tournament – potentially facing imposing frontcourts like Texas and Kentucky along the way – they need to get some production on the glass, especially when opponents take away the three-point line like Northeastern did today.
  3. What a way to start. “We gave a show in the first game of the tournament… just like CBS wanted,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said afterwards. And what a show it was. Northeastern piqued everyone’s interest early, faded midway through the second half, then fought back to pull within one possession in the game’s closing moments. The NCAA Tournament wasted no time in giving us the one thing it never virtually never fails to provide: drama.

Star of the Game: Zach Auguste (25 points, six rebounds). After being hit with two early fouls, Auguste shredded Northeastern underneath for the better part of 30 minutes. The Huskies were unable to stay in front of the Irish’s penetrating guards and the big man – always in great position – was the beneficiary, scoring 17 of his 25 points in the second half and icing the game with two free throws at the end. His presence will be crucial as Mike Brey’s club runs into bigger and more athletic opponents moving forward.

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Morning Five: 03.19.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 19th, 2015

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  1. Companies often try to hide negative announcements by issuing press releases on Friday afternoon before a long weekend and we guess that is what Syracuse was trying to do by announcing that firing athletic director Daryl Gross and announcing that Jim Boeheim will retire in three years. The former is not exactly shocking since Gross ran the program during much of the time that it committed the NCAA violations for which it was punished. The announcement for Boeheim is a little more surprising and seems to suggest a comprise at some level as it was not that long ago that Boeheim said he would not be retiring any time soon. It would seem that the administration wanted to get rid of Boeheim, but perhaps he was too powerful to have that happen so instead we will be treated to the world’s longest retirement tour. It also raises questions as to what the school’s plans will be to replace Boeheim since Mike Hopkins has been the coach-in-waiting for years, but that was under Gross and with Gross on his way out that decision will be made by his successor, who might opt to go in a completely different direction. It will be interesting to see what happens in the post-Boeheim era since without Boeheim and the basketball program’s reputation there is really nothing to draw a recruit there and the area is not exactly a hotbed for basketball talent.
  2. In other news… the NCAA Tournament is finally here. For some the NCAA Tournament kicked off with the first of the First Four games, but for traditionalists like us the “real” Tournament does not start until the field is set at 64. If you haven’t already found resources to help you understand each region and/or match-up either for your curiosity or your bracket (still a few hours left to make final edits), we have plenty of resources available in our 2015 NCAA Tournament section. If you are just looking for breakdowns of each region, we have that for you for the East, Midwest, South, and West Regions. If you are looking for a completely different way of looking at the NCAA Tournament, we would suggest you check out the post by Draft Express breaking down the prospects for each of the opening games. It will also help you sound a little smarter when you are sitting around with our friends talking about every prospect on each team. Of course, since you are visiting this site, we doubt that you need any help being smart.
  3. This year’s NCAA Tournament will produce many stars, but Chris Obekpa and Cliff Alexander are not likely to be among them barring any surprises. Obekpa, one of the top shot blockers in the country, was suspended for two weeks after testing positive for marijuana. While the decision to suspend Obekpa is not that surprising if that is the school’s policy, the decision to announce the suspension before the Selection Show was pretty gutsy since it could have been enough to move St. John’s down at least one seed line. As for Alexander, it appears increasingly likely that we have seen the last of him for at least this season as he did not make the trip with the team to Omaha for its opening game(s) while he waits to speak with NCAA investigators regarding alleged impermissible benefits he received (his mother receiving a loan). While we think Kansas can survive without Alexander, his absence limits their upside although a potential weekend match-up against Wichita State might have a bigger impact on that.
  4. The big topic in this year’s NCAA Tournament is obviously Kentucky namely who can actually beat the Wildcats. President Obama, for one, is picking Kentucky to win in his Presidential bracket (he also announced his support of a 30-second shot clock, which means that every red state will now support extending the shot clock to 45 seconds). As for someone with a little more legitimate NCAA basketball experience (and two more NCAA violations), Larry Brown boldly claimed that this Kentucky team would make the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. We won’t get into how ridiculous this statement is (plenty of others have already done it), but it does make us question the sanity of a Hall of Fame coach and one who led his team the AAC title. As for individuals who are trying to maintain a shred of credibility when discussing Kentucky, ESPN Magazine offered seven ways to beat Kentucky and teams that are suited to do so (hint: all of the teams listed are really, really good and none of the teams are listed in more than two of the seven ways). If you’re looking for more credible responses or at least ones from coaches who have matched up against Kentucky, Jeff Eisenberg has some of their tips on how to beat Kentucky and who is ideally equipped to do so.
  5. We suspect that the Equity in Athletics report claiming that many NCAA Tournament teams do not make a profit might involve some creative accounting methods, but it should serve as a reminder just how tenuous the financials can be for some schools and serve to highlight issues involved in paying student-athletes to pay college sports. While Louisville led the nation with its basketball program turning a $24.2 million profit in 2013-14, several notable programs like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Davidson reported losses with the first two reporting $2.2 million and $2 million in losses respectively. Several other big-name programs reported breaking even and Duke, which apparently hired some accountants from Arthur Anderson, actually reported a $2 million loss for the 2008-9 season. Although we doubt the validity of some of the figures (particularly that Duke one), it does underscore the variable profitability within the sport.
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Dreams of an ACC First Weekend

Posted by Matt Patton on March 18th, 2015

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The ACC’s six NCAA Tournament teams have a lot on the line this weekend. Let’s take a look at each to determine how their current status projects in getting through the first weekend and beyond.

  • Duke: The Blue Devils look to avoid another early exit after suffering two huge round of 32 upsets in the last three years (Mercer – 2014; Lehigh – 2012). The 2013 team advanced according to seed, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the regional final, but that Duke squad was led by three seniors. The makeup of this year’s group — with only one senior — is very similar to those two young Duke teams that were bounced by double-digit seeds. But don’t expect another opening game debacle this year since Duke has earned the advantage of a #1 seed for the first time since 2011. Just getting out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament unscathed is not the goal for this team, however, as anything short of an Elite Eight appearance would be a major disappointment. Duke has won several games in tough environments already this season, but the finality of the NCAA Tournament could cause Coach K’s inexperienced team to tighten up. If it can handle a potential grinder on Sunday, that may be enough to loosen up the Devils for a much deeper run.
Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Virginia: All eyes will be on Justin Anderson when the Cavaliers take the court in Friday’s opener against Belmont. For Virginia to make a Final Four run, they’re going to need to have Anderson (and his offensive game) back in shape quickly. Assuming they handle the Bruins, Michigan State looms as the likely third round opponent in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen meeting in Madison Square Garden. The Spartans won that tightly contested game and come in to this year’s NCAA Tournament probably playing better than Virginia is right now. Good defense and a revenge factor will not be enough, though – the Cavaliers need buckets, and a healthy Anderson gets them easier than anyone else on the team. If Virginia makes it out of Charlotte, it will likely mean that Anderson has regained his effectiveness and that means bad news for the rest of the East Region.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

Here are some quick thoughts on the ACC teams that were selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Duke, #1 Seed, South: Duke took the top spot in the South. This isn’t really surprising to anyone, and the more I thought about it the more sense Duke makes as a #1 seed (if you throw out made-up rules about not having won their conference). Duke only lost one of its last 13 games; it notched huge road wins against Wisconsin and Virginia (two teams it would be competing with for that last #1 seed); it swept North Carolina. Losing two of three to Notre Dame definitely gave me pause, but the Blue Devils had the overall profile of a #1 seed. As far as their bracket goes, they have a potential rematch with St. John’s in the round of 32 (a team that Duke beat in a close game for Coach K’s 1,000th win) or a San Diego State team that could be a real problem if they’re shooting well. The other half of Duke’s region is a lot more challenging although I like the way they match up with a lot of the teams in the South Region. This will be the region of pure offense (minus the Aztecs), and it could create some crazy results.

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

Virginia, #2 Seed, East: Virginia was pseudo-snubbed to get a #2 seed. And while I doubt the committee will publicly say it, the Cavaliers’ mediocre play with Justin Anderson back in the lineup probably affected their seeding. This team might be the second-best group in the country if he gets back to where he was before the injury, but losing two of your last three games doesn’t instill confidence from the Selection Committee. Virginia also got a very favorable bracket. Other than Oklahoma or Michigan State conjuring up some March magic, I don’t see a lot of resistance in their way prior to the regional finals. The other half of the bracket looks like a recipe for chaos, which could also play into the Cavaliers’ hands. Long story short, I don’t have a problem with Virginia on the second line in the East Region. They played like a #1 seed for most of the year and still have a great shot to make it to the Final Four.

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Sunday NCAA Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 15th, 2015

Now that the ACC Tournament is in the books, all the resumes are complete heading into Selection Sunday. Here’s an updated look at what we can expect to see when the field is announced tonight.

Notre Dame will try and defy NCAA Tournament history after winning the ACC Championship. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Notre Dame will try to defy NCAA Tournament history after winning the ACC Championship.
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Each team is listed with its current overall record along with projected NCAA seed per ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm.

  • Duke (29-4, ESPN: #1, CBS: #2) As you can see, opinions differ among the experts regarding which (if any) ACC team will get a #1 seed and which will fall to the #2 line. Duke’s ace in the hole is the fact that the Blue Devils own road wins over each of the other two primary #1 seed contenders, Wisconsin and Virginia. We predict that the Selection Committee will use that as a tie-breaker and reward Duke with the third-overall #1 seed, placing the Blue Devils in the South Region.
  • Virginia (29-3, ESPN: #2, CBS: #1)  The Cavaliers hope that the Selection Committee places higher value on their ACC regular season title than how the team looks recently with two losses in their last three outings. Justin Anderson has not looked sharp in his two games since returning and that may also influence things. If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten title today, look for Virginia to be the #2 seed in the East.

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Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  1. Holy Run, Batman! Down nine with less than 10 minutes to play, Notre Dame looked like its goose was cooked. But the Fighting Irish rolled out a 26-3 run over the next seven minutes of action, scoring on 11 of their next 13 possessions (for those keeping score at home, their offensive efficiency over the run was a ridiculous 200 points per 100 possessions) to take control of the game and win its first ACC championship. Five players scored during the run, and Jerian Grant, who had carried the team to that point, only made one shot. The Irish’s only empty possessions were a Bonzie Colson travel and a missed three from Grant, and don’t forget that this went on in front of a crowd that looked and felt much like the Smith Center. Mike Brey’s team hit its open looks but their ball movement was impeccable and North Carolina’s offense simply couldn’t keep pace. No team could have kept pace tonight. Notre Dame’s offense was one of the most efficient in the country all season long, but this was the first stretch that inspired true fear. The Irish looked like a championship team ready to beat anybody in college basketball, and given the context, that run was the most impressive display of team basketball that I have seen this season.
  2. North Carolina Panicked. Not that you can blame them. As soon as I had a chance to tweet that the Fighting Irish were in trouble, the Tar Heels were already down by three. North Carolina had a lot of success in the first half by just putting up jumpers and letting Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks clean up the glass. Brice Johnson was also virtually unstoppable whenever he caught the ball within 10 feet of the basket. But here’s how North Carolina’s possessions ended when Notre Dame mounted its blistering comeback: Hicks free throws (made one, missed one); Joel Berry turnover; Hicks turnover; quick missed layup from Marcus Paige; Justin Jackson turnover; Meeks turnover; and Brice Johnson turnover. That’s five turnovers in six possessions after leaving a point on the board. The Heels only committed eight turnovers for the entire rest of the game. Just as Notre Dame’s run wasn’t the result of a single player’s play, the Tar Heels’ meltdown was a team effort.
  3. This Really is the New ACC. When the ACC completed its most recent expansion by snatching several Big East members for the second time, it was thought that Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville were best equipped to challenge the ACC bluebloods. But with this remarkable tournament run in Greensboro, it is Notre Dame that has become the first of the recent league additions to break through with an ACC championship. In fact, this is the first conference tournament title in school history for the Irish, a program which first joined a major conference in basketball some 20 years ago. Notre Dame’s title has some other historical significance as well. To capture this year’s trophy, Notre Dame had to beat both ACC bluebloods on back-to-back nights, and do it in the heart of Tobacco Road — a fact not lost on Brey, who mentioned it in both of his postgame press conferences. Only two other teams have ever beaten both Duke and North Carolina in Greensboro in the same ACC Tournament, exhibiting just how rare and difficult this feat was to pull off. This also marks the fourth consecutive year that neither the Tar Heels nor Blue Devils have won the ACC Tournament — the longest such drought in conference history. Interestingly, three of those four other champions were schools that are not part of the traditional ACC membership. Maybe we really are seeing a subtle changing of the guard in this conference, and with the next three ACC Tournaments held outside of the state of North Carolina, this is a trend that is likely to continue.

Player of the Game. When North Carolina went up by nine points in the second half, Jerian Grant was the only reason the Tar Heels’ lead wasn’t more than that. Of Notre Dame’s first 17 points in the second half, Grant was responsible for (directly or indirectly) 12 of them. He attacked the basket, going to the line three times in the first 10 minutes of the second half (and assisting on two of Notre Dame’s made field goals). His activity ensured that the game would not get out of reach, setting the stage for the game-changing run down the stretch. Grant finished with 24 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. That’s outstanding. If you want to know why North Carolina only finished with 12 fast break points, you should credit Grant and backcourt mate Demetrius Jackson — other than one Brice Johnson dunk, North Carolina never managed to get out on its patented secondary break. Pat Connaughton also deserves some credit here. He ended up with 20 points on just nine shots. But with Grant’s heroics, Connaughton felt more like a supporting cast member who shone just outside of the spotlight.

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