ATB: Butler and West Virginia Punch Tickets to Indy

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2010

Ticket Punching.  We all should have known something like this was in store by the first afternoon of the NCAA Tournament a short nine days ago.  That Thursday’s early insanity portended an unpredictable week-plus that has ultimately resulted in six teams still standing, only one of whom was given serious consideration for the Final Four (Duke).  Raise your hand if you had Butler and West Virginia in your Final Four, though — not even the autistic kid from Chicago had those two, and even though everyone was well aware as to the talent and capabilities of both the Bulldogs and Mountaineers, few people actually thought they could get to Indy (including us).  We’ve already read several references to the “Final Snore” with respect to the relative star power of these two teams plus the prospects of a not-Duke making it tomorrow, and we really don’t want to hear it.  The Tournament has been mostly chalk the last couple of years and then we heard complaints that there weren’t enough upsets.  This year, we’ve had a wide-open field with any of a number of teams having a legitimate shot to win it all (remember the “there are no dominant teams” meme?), and we’re perfectly fine with that.  Once in a while, the nature of this event unfolds in such a way that causes bracket mayhem, and instead of the same-old traditional power matchups, we end up with magical stories like Butler returning home to play in its first-ever Final Four and Bob Huggins leading his alma mater to same for the first time in several generations.

John Flowers Reps WVU's Muscle (Getty/C. Chambers)

On Knowing Yourself. #2 West Virginia 73, #1 Kentucky 66. Know thyself, the aphorism goes. Attributed to Socrates, it’s a piece of advice the Wildcats should have heeded against the Mountaineers. Everything that’s being written and discussed regarding this game revolves around Kentucky starting off at Absolute Zero from three. In fact, we’ve been hearing all season long about how Kentucky is not a “great shooting team.” Sure, an 0-20 start from beyond the arc doesn’t help, but let’s be honest. That’s an outlier. This stuff about not being able to shoot is not entirely true. Coming into this, Kentucky was the 15th best team in the nation as far as FG%, at 48.3%. That’s 15th out of 345 Division I teams. Sounds pretty great to us — but it’s not the whole story. From inside the arc, Kentucky was sixth in the nation (54.4%). From outside the arc, they drop to 34.4%. In other words, despite all the talk about how fantastic John Wall is (and he is) and how he can own a basketball game, Kentucky was and always should have been a low post-oriented team. The story isn’t that Kentucky went 4-32 (13%) from three-point range — it’s that they were taking them in the first place. Yes, that siren’s song of the open three is hard to resist. But a team with two lottery picks in the post should be looking to get the ball to the post, yes? There’s no reason that Darnell Dodson — a fine shooting guard, no question — should shoot nine shots (all of them threes) in his 12 minutes while Patrick Patterson shoots only seven shots in 37 minutes, with four of those coming from three. By the time Kentucky had gotten to 0-9, 0-10, 0-11…it was in their heads. West Virginia, on the other hand, showed total self-awareness. They relied on the exact same recipe that’s kept them in the upper reaches of the Top 25 all year long, the same recipe that earned them a Big East Conference Tournament championship. Sure, they don’t usually hit threes like they did in the first half, but after that hot start, when they cooled off, they did what they do best — drive to the hole using their inestimable athleticism. Kevin Jones, Da’Sean Butler, even hero-of-the-hour Joe Mazzulla either worked off of high screens to dart for the rim or just took their man to the hoop depending on who they had on them. Time after time, Eric Bledsoe and John Wall were left standing while the Mountaineer they were supposed to be guarding flew past them and got layups, revealing that the alleged weakness of the Kentucky guards is not their shooting, as is popularly believed — it’s that they don’t defend. Nobody’s wanted to say that all season, it seems, as if they’d be pointing out a naked emperor. But it explains the hot shooting start for WVU and the steady diet of layups the Mountaineers enjoyed. Knowing they didn’t have to guard the three as tightly, WVU then packed in that bizarre 1-3-1 zone tighter and frustrated the Wildcat bigs with physical play and quick hands. So yes, this is a shocker, and yes, maybe West Virginia shouldn’t have been in this region. But Kentucky’s players — and certainly their fans — know that UK wins this game if they play to their biggest strength. Indeed, Wall’s biggest strength is driving to the basket, and the only points of his that didn’t result from drives came on a banked-in three. But the Big Blue Nation should be happy, considering where they were last year, what they accomplished last year, and the likelihood of more fun to come. Wall, Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins are almost certainly headed to the NBA, and you can’t blame them. Eric Bledsoe has considered the jump and there’s a lot of talk of even Daniel Orton leaving school. Our stance is that the latter two need a little more of…well, the Socratic Method. West Virginia has no such worries. And it wouldn’t matter right now, because they’re still alive. They’re going to the Final Four, and they deserve it. Why are they going instead of Kentucky? They were true to their own nature. They knew themselves.

At Only 33, Butler's Brad Stevens Still Has Some Moves (Reuters/R. Galbraith)

Let’s Go Home, Shall We? #5 Butler 63, #2 Kansas State 56.  Chants of “Let’s Go Home!!” echoed throughout the building, and Brad Stevens broke into dance along with his players (pictured above), and who could blame him?  It wasn’t that long ago that simply making the Dance was a great accomplishment for a program like Butler.  Then getting to the Sweet Sixteen was the ultimate goal.  Now, with today’s methodical and defensive-minded defeat of #2 seed Kansas State, the bar has been raised to where the Final Four and beyond are what will define this plucky little program from Indianapolis.  And yet, despite the difference in seeds and the obvious difference in athleticism among the players, the result today was entirely predictable based on what we’ve already seen from this Bulldog team in this Tournament.  Their defense has been the story, now having held four different teams to fewer then sixty points and we’re not exactly talking about Horizon League bottom-feeders here either.  Syracuse and K-State boasted two of the most efficient offenses in the nation, but the Butler preparation, focus and execution on the key scoring threats of both teams was nothing short of phenomenal.  Just like the Bulldogs did on Thursday night against Andy Rautins, KSU guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente could not find open looks anywhere through most of this game.  The two primary scoring threats for the Wildcats ultimately connected on 11-30 field goals, but many of those came very late in the game when K-State made its final push to briefly take a lead before running out of gas.  On the Butler side, it was Gordon Hayward (22/9) who was the star of the show, connecting on a wide array of jumpers, drives and even an alley-oop during this game.  Shelvin Mack (16/7/3 assts) had his typically effective game, and when it came down to the last few minutes of play it was clear which team had the clearer head to make the plays needed to win.  Dick Vitale is going on and on about Butler not being a Cinderella, and we agree only to the extent that they are a known commodity.  But we have to be realistic, too, and programs the caliber of Butler simply do not make it to the Final Four very often, and when they do they should be celebrated as such.  This isn’t UNLV in the 90s or Memphis of the last decade — this is a true mid-major school without the luxury of BCS level resources who is still getting major program results.  Programs from Clemson to Colorado and USC to Georgia, would do very well to take notice of how they did it.  It’s an unbelievable story and one of which we hope to report on throughout the week.

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Elite Eight Game Analysis: Saturday Night

Posted by zhayes9 on March 27th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional final games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

4:30 pm – #2 Kansas State vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

This is an unusual regional final, in that two teams that are not typically in this position are facing off for a right to go to the Final Four next weekend.  Which is not to say that either team is undeserving or somehow less worthy, it’s just to point out the uniqueness of it.  The last time the Wildcats were playing this far into the NCAA Tournament, Ronald Reagan was still governing the country and the four letters USSR actually meant something to people under thirty.  The last time Butler played this deep into March?   Well, they haven’t.  As in, this is the Bulldogs’ first trip to the Elite Eight.  So from the perspective of seeing some new blood pushing through to the game’s grandest stage in Indianapolis, this should be compelling theater.  And the hoops ain’t half bad either.  K-State brings an athletic, gritty, defensive-minded team into this game, led by their duo of electrifying guards, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente.  They don’t always shoot the ball well and they sometimes utilize questionable shot selection, but when the game is on the line as it was on Thursday evening against Xavier, Clemente (25/5/5 assts) and Pullen (28/4) made the plays necessary to win the game.  Butler, on the other hand, is a bit more balanced in their offense with scoring threats at every position, but the Bulldog defense is really what defines Brad Stevens’ team.  Riding a 23-game winning streak on the backs of the stickiness of it, there simply are no completely open looks against this team.  When Pullen and Clemente come off their curls and screens, they’ll find a Butler player waiting for them in much the same way that Andy Rautins and the other Syracuse shooters did on Thursday.  Correspondingly, the one area where SU held a significant advantage over Butler — powerful inside players — ended up being neutralized by the extreme difficulty that the Orange had in getting the ball into those players on the blocks.  K-State’s inside trio of Dominique Sutton, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels are all talented but not the offensive threats posed by Syracuse’s bigs, so we think that this game will ultimately be decided on the perimeter.  If the Butler team defense can force a relatively poor shooting night from the Wildcat guards, a combined 11-30 or so, we think that the game will be low-scoring enough for the Bulldogs to sneak through and head back home to Indy with a regional championship in tow.  Butler can get enough points from their options of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, or Willie Veasley, so if any one player is off, another is capable of stepping up.  All they really will need to score is in the 60-70 point range.  Similar to the Syracuse game, if they can hang with KSU until the end, they’re poised enough to pull the victory out.

The Skinny:  Call us crazy or just plain sentimental, but we’re going Norman Dale with the upset. The rims are still only ten feet tall no matter who you’re lined up against, and there’s no telling when Butler will have another shot like this.  We think the Bulldogs will shock the world with its own personal Cinderella story by heading back home to Indianapolis, a mere five miles from their campus.

7:05 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #2 West Virginia  (East Region)

The best regional final this season will take place in Syracuse, where chalk prevailed to bring us a 1 vs. 2 matchup of Kentucky and West Virginia. Of course, if the Selection Committee had any sense two weeks ago, this game wouldn’t have happened until Indianapolis. One can make the argument that these are the two best teams remaining in the field. West Virginia methodically dispatched of red hot Washington in their semifinal while Kentucky amassed one of the more impressive Tournament in-game runs in recent memory to vanquish Cornell’s season. The two teams meet on the Carrier Dome floor playing their best basketball of the season- Kentucky running and gunning behind their three lottery picks and West Virginia molding into an elite rebounding and defensive squad that simply wears you out.

This should be an ultra competitive and physical game, especially in the post. The key for the Mountaineers on the defensive end will be containing John Wall. Darryl Bryant is injured and Joe Mazzulla isn’t quick enough to hang with Wall for an extended period of time, so look for Huggins to plug 6’8 point forward Devin Ebanks and his incredible wingspan on the future #1 pick. The problem that poses for Huggins is that decision keeps Ebanks out of the post where Kentucky can play both DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. It’s going to take a stellar effort from Wellington Smith, Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers to keep the two Kentucky behemoths in check. With four serviceable big men, they shouldn’t be afraid to foul and send Cousins to the free throw line to earn his points. Also, analysts talk about how no team works harder than West Virginia. They’ll need to work as hard for 40 minutes as they have all season, most notably on the backboards.

The other question: can West Virginia score enough points to match Kentucky? The Wildcats scored just over seven points per contest more than the Mountaineers during the regular season and numbers on defense are about identical. If Kentucky defends similarly to their effort against Cornell, I have a hard time seeing West Virginia stay with Big Blue, especially if Darius Miller replicates his stalwart defense on Da’Sean Butler. John Calipari’s UMass and Memphis teams that were successful always gave 100% on the defensive end of the floor. With so many young and hyped players, that was a constant question mark. If anyone has watched their three games in this NCAA Tournament, though, that question has turned into a statement.

Skinny: Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite remaining in the Dance, but West Virginia is more than capable of crashing the party. It will take their best performance of the season on both ends, from neutralizing the stronger Cousins and Patterson on the glass to dismissing Kentucky’s transition game to keeping John Wall in front of them to Butler scoring at least 25 points. I believe Kentucky will impose their style of play about midway through the second half, go on one of their patented runs and pull away for a spot in Indianapolis. The way Kentucky is playing right now, how can anyone pick against them unless you bleed blue and gold? But that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.26.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • Kalin Lucas, who has a torn ACL, had his jersey hung from the cieling of Michigan State’s locker room.
  • According to Durrell Summers of Michigan State, Lucas is still motivating his teammates and giving Korie Lucious advice on playing point guard.  Lucas has put off surgery in order to stay with the team.
  • The key for Michigan State was their second-half rebounding where they dominated the glass 22-9.  The Spartans average over 39 rebounds per game.
  • Tennessee’s J.P. Prince is convinced that his block on Ohio State’s Evan Turner was clean.  The block helped the Vols advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.  Turner, who along with his other teammates did not shake hands with the Tennessee players, said that he can’t dwell on the call any longer.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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ATB: Where to Begin? Another Tremendous Thursday…

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

Another great Thursday night, with the West Region in particular providing loads of excitement with another #1 seed falling by the wayside and arguably the best game of the entire Tournament in the nightcap.

J. Pullen and J. Crawford Went Back and Forth Down the Stretch (AP/C. Braley)

West Region

What.  A.  Game#2 Kansas State 101, #6 Xavier 96 (2OT).  With around four minutes remaining in this game and K-State up three points at 64-61, a public service announcement flashed across the jumbotron in the middle of the arena.  Paraphrasing, it stated that the regional final game between Kansas State and Butler would begin at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon.  Read that again: between Kansas State and Butler… with four minutes remaining in a three-point game.  Notwithstanding whether some gun-jumping intern was immediately drawn and quartered by the Energy Solutions Arena staff, the Xavier fans unilaterally roared their disapproval at such a public slight, and within a minute the game was tied again.  Whether this scoreboard mishap actually energized the XU players is up for debate, but there should be no debate about whom the two best players on the floor were tonight.  KSU’s Jacob Pullen (28/4/3 assts including six treys) and Xavier’s Jordan Crawford (32/2/2 assts) played a game of who can top whom in the last few minutes of regulation and through two overtimes before it was finally decided that K-State would meet the unanticipated scoreboard premonition and move on to face Butler on Saturday afternoon.  From the moment mentioned above, the two players combined to score 31 points, including several clutch threes that kept the game alive for longer than anyone imagined possible.  After K-State fouled Terrell Holloway (26/4/6 assts and 4 treys himself) as he dribbled into a long jumper with six seconds remaining and XU down three, the sophomore guard nailed all three to send the game into overtime.  Back and forth each team went and again K-State looked like they were safely in position to win the game with a single stop.  Instead, Jordan Crawford failed to find room near the three-point line, so he dribbled far enough away until there was space at which time he rose and fired from 35 feet to send Gus Johnson on CBS into a fit of apoplexy.

From there it was back and forth again until KSU’s Jacob Pullen decided enough was enough, hitting back to back bombs in the final minute-plus of the second overtime to finally create enough separation to make the fouling game work for Frank Martin’s team.  The Wildcats will move on to face Butler on Saturday after all.  This was only the second double-overtime game in the last thirteen years of Sweet Sixteen action, and the fans who attended the West Region tonight surely got their money’s worth.  It’s not often that Kansas State gets outbattled on the boards, but tonight Xavier was +2 in that category.  This was probably the game of the Tournament so far, and we wonder if the physical battle with a Xavier team that just would not quit will impact the Wildcats in their next game with Butler.  As we saw tonight, Butler isn’t the kind of team you want to get down early to — they know how to play with a lead.

Butler Survives and Advances to One Win From Indy (Indy Star/S. Riche)

Butler One Win From Home#5 Butler 63, #1 Syracuse 59.  We’re now left with two #1 seeds as Kentucky advanced to the Elite Eight in the East Regional and Duke plays for that prize tomorrow night, but Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange will be heading home after an uncharacteristic scoring drought at the end of the game did them in tonight.  With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, Syracuse looked to have regained control of a low-scoring closely contested battle, 54-50.  Cuse would not score again until there were thirty-four seconds left and Butler had effectively put things away.  It was Willie Veasley’s  “HORSE” style three from the corner that put the Bulldogs in control with 1:50 left as the strong crowd of orange-clad fans stood and watched in amazement.  For Brad Stevens’ team, this is the kind of victory that can define and sustain a high-mid like Butler for a long time.  His recruiting for the next five years is already done — what can a program like Indiana give a player that Butler cannot at this point?  A chance to play in the NCAAs?  A chance to advance?  How about a chance to go to the Final Four?  Because that’s the cusp upon which his team is standing, merely forty more minutes of superb defense away from returning home with games still to play.  And when we say home, we really mean it.  Not like ‘Cornell home’ tonight or ‘Baylor home’ tomorrow night, but really, actually home — the Butler University campus is a mere 5.4 miles in Indianapolis from Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the Final Four.  Talk about Hoosiers on the grandest scale of all.  It’s so ridiculous we can hardly comprehend it.  As for Syracuse, the Orange struggled with unforced turnovers all night long (18 total), and many of those were expended in trying to get the ball inside to Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph.  It’s easy to place the blame for SU’s ‘early’ loss on the injury to Arinze Onuaku and his missing three games in this year’s Tournament, but  we wonder if his offensive production would have helped take some of the pressure off Wes Johnson (17/9) and Andy Rautins (15/5) tonight had he been available.   We also wonder if Boeheim’s team didn’t wear down a little at the end of this year — even prior to Onuaku’s injury in the Big East Tournament, the Orange had dropped two games to rather pedestrian Louisville in previous weeks.  He was only playing seven players substantial minutes, and with Onuaku out of the lineup, he was forced to surrender minutes to unproven and untested DaShonte Riley (0/1 in 5 minutes) tonight, for example.  His six ‘starters’ played every other minute of the game.  Were the Orange players spent during those last five minutes?  You won’t hear Boeheim use that crutch, but it would certainly be a reasonable excuse.

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Is Kentucky Paranoia Justified?

Posted by jstevrtc on March 25th, 2010

We know it’s only a few hours before game time, but we’ve never seen a college basketball game that has divided people  or caused sportswriters to openly acknowledge for whom they were rooting as much as the Kentucky vs Cornell East Regional semifinal that happens later tonight.  It’s being billed (erroneously) as Good versus Evil, smart kids versus dumb kids (isn’t Patrick Patterson graduating after only three years?), and so on.  Some examples:

St. Petersburg Times/TampaBay.com staff writer Michael Kruse actually points to Cornell’s achievements as a model to follow to succeed in the flailing American economy (?!?), and also notes:

“The message of Cornell…is this: long view over quick fix, well-drilled over well-heeled, and sometimes smarter beats bigger.”


Boston Globe/Boston.com writer Dan Shaughnessy makes no bones about which side he’s on in his article yesterday:

“Here’s hoping Calipari and his guys take the apple in this one. Then we can tell them that Dr. Henry Heimlich is a Cornell man.”

And that’s not even the biggest slight.  We thought his mention of the Cornell seniors having to soon go out and “face a tough job market” was interesting, since there are seniors on Kentucky’s squad who will be going out into the same job market soon.  Taking umbrage to the Boston Globe article, Kentucky sports blog KentuckySportsRadio.com’s Matt Jones wrote a scathing rebuttal to the Shaughnessy piece.  Shaughnessy responded.  It then spilled over onto the radio waves, as a local Boston radio station had Shaughnessy and Jones live on the air for a debate on the issue (which was really a 3-on-1 ambush).

John Feinstein of the Washington Post also had something to say about the good vs evil angle:

“…there is no doubting the glaring contrasts between the two programs. Cornell has no media guide. Kentucky has three, including a glossy, full-color, 208-page (the maximum allowed by NCAA rules) recruiting brochure that poses as a media guide. No one asked Kentucky’s players on Wednesday what they hope to do after college because everyone knows what they hope to do after college.”

Baltimore Sun sports blogger Kevin Cowherd makes his rooting interest clear:

“Americans have always pulled for the underdog — it’s practically written into the Constitution. So how can you not root for tiny Cornell, the no. 12 seed, when it takes on mighty no. 1 seed Kentucky tonight in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament?”

On this issue, we’ll give Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins the last word:

“It’s not a spelling bee.”


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Second Round Game Analysis: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Saturday games.

1:05 pm – #2 Villanova vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (Providence pod)

A great opening game of the day for the group of teams that produced the best opening day of the NCAA Tournament ever. A lot of experts are going to be calling for an upset here and based on the way these two teams are playing we can’t say that we blame them. The Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of seven games and nearly lost to Robert Morris (down by 7 with less than 4 minutes left before some controversial calls went ‘Nova’s way). On the other side, the Gaels stormed through the West Coast Conference Tournament and knocked off Richmond, a team that a lot of people had as a potential sleeper, in the first round. The key to this game will be how Reggie Redding handles Omar Samhan. After watching Samhan rip apart the Spiders, Jay Wright has to be concerned about his interior players going against one of the best low-post players in the country. On the other side, Saint Mary’s has to figure out how to deal with Scottie Reynolds and the rest of the Wildcat backcourt. They are certainly better equipped to match-up with Villanova’s perimeter players with Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova than the Wildcats are to handle Samhan. Saint Mary’s perimeter players pack enough offensive punch to make keep up with Villanova’s guards, but Mouphtaou Yarou and Redding shouldn’t challenge Samhan too much defensively. The one wildcard here is Reynolds. Will he “learn” from Wright’s “teaching moment” and become the Scottie Reynolds we knew for most of the past two seasons or will be the 2-15 from the field Reynolds?

The Skinny: Samhan overwhelms the Wildcats on the inside and advance into the Sweet 16 as this year’s Cinderella.

3:20 pm – #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State  (San Jose pod)

The second game of the second round will feature the top mid-major program in the east versus an upstart who would love to get there themselves.  In their first round game, if you haven’t heard, the Racers’ Danero Thomas hit a shot at the buzzer to knock Vanderbilt out of the Tournament, but what you may not know about that game is that Murray State pretty much controlled it throughout.  It was very late when Vandy regained the lead and set the stage for Thomas’ game winner.  The point: Murray is better than your typical #13 seed Cinderella.  Butler, on the other hand, had a weak first half and a superb second half to put away UTEP.  It was two of the staples of Butler’s attack — relentless halfcourt defense and the three-ball — that allowed the Bulldogs to quickly take the lead and never look back against the Miners.  As for this game, Murray State does many of the same things that Butler does, it’s just that Brad Stevens’ team does those things better.  It will certainly be interesting to see how Butler responds to being the Big (Bull)Dog in an NCAA Tournament game, as they’re usually the upstart taking on some higher-seeded Kansas or Florida type of team.

The Skinny: We’d love to take Murray State here, but Butler isn’t going to let a johnny-come-lately out-Butler them en route to the Sweet Sixteen, so we expect Butler to hang on and win by 6-8 points.

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First Round Game Analysis: Thursday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Thursday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Northern Iowa vs. #9 UNLV  (Oklahoma City pod)

The Midwest Region’s first game of the tournament features two teams battling for the privilege of going up against Kansas in the next round. What press there is about Northern Iowa, Jordan Eglseder gets most of it. UNLV will also have to watch out for senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, a streaky three-point shooter who’s had five straight games in single figures and is due for a run. It was thought at the beginning of the year that UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield would do a little more sharing of the scoring burden for the Runnin Rebels this year, but it’s been Willis who’s shouldered most of the load. At 17.5 PPG, he averages a full seven points more than the Rebels’ next leading scorer, sophomore forward Chace Stanback. Both of these teams take good care of the basketball and, even though neither of them is going to give the scoreboard operator much of a workout, the game itself should be a good one between two teams of similar talent. We hope all these guys get to enjoy the trappings of the tournament… because it won’t last long, sorry to say.

The Skinny: In a game played in the mid-50s (both in tempo and era), look for UNI to make the key plays down the stretch to win this one by four.

7:15 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #16 ETSU  (New Orleans pod)

If any #16 seed is going to be the first to topple a top seed in this bracket, here’s your best shot. East Tennessee State was in this exact position one March ago and took #1 Pittsburgh to the wire. In fact, the Buccaneers trailed by just three points with 2:47 left in a contest usually reserved for monumental blowouts. ETSU was expected to rebuild after losing four starters from the Atlantic Sun champion of 2008-09, but the Bucs pulled off two upsets in the A-Sun Tournament and toppled Mercer in a true road game, meaning ETSU and former UAB headman Murry Bartow are dancing for the second straight campaign. One player who may give the top seed Wildcats some trouble is a 6’4 wing named Tommy Hubbard that has finally harnessed his talent and is one of the most improved players in the nation. Let’s be honest here, though: Kentucky should roll over the underdog Bucs. The Big Blue has more athleticism and pure ability than any team in the field, never mind the A-Sun champion that finished the season with 14 losses. No guard can come close to contain the blazing speed of John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson should have their way on the boards. Even a few breathtaking alley-oops could be in store for the ESPN folks to feast on. Last year Cal State Northridge gave John Calipari’s Memphis team a real scare in the first round. Expect the Kentucky head coach to learn from that game and have his squad prepared to blow the doors off ETSU from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

The Skinny: Kentucky will spend most of the game up 20+ before calling off the dogs Cats to win by fifteen or so.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2010

This is the second of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Carrier Dome Hosts the East Regional

Region: East

Favorite: Kentucky, #1 seed, 32-2.  No surprise here, as UK is considered one of the top two national title favorites along with Kansas.  The Cats have one of the most talented starting lineups in the country, but have made a living this year sneaking past teams in the last few minutes.  The team that thinks they can beat Kentucky will have to find a way to deal with a strong inside tandem of DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson in addition to the playmaking abilities of John Wall.  Can anyone in this region bring that kind of defense?

Should They Falter: West Virginia, #2 seed, 27-6.  WVU comes into the NCAA Tournament with momentum, having won six in a row against top-drawer competition in the Big East.  They rebound with almost as much ferocity as the Cats, while coming in much more battle-tested in terms of schedule.  As an added bonus, they may have the most dynamic player in the bracket with Da’Sean Butler whom no less an authority than Evan Turner predicted would hit the game-winning shot in the Big East Tournament final.

Grossly Overseeded: Marquette, #6 seed, 22-11.  The Golden Eagles have won seemingly every close game they’ve played this year, but they’re probably not as good as you’d expect an 11-7 Big East team to be.  They were 2-6 against the RPI top 25, and most simulations (including Vegas) we’ve seen so far have MU as a relative tossup against #11 Washington in the first round.

Grossly Underseeded: Temple, #5 seed, 29-5.  Temple should have been a protected seed.  The Owls were 6-3 against the RPI top 50 and their defense is stickier then day-old sweat.  In a very competitive A10 this year, they outlasted several other NCAA-quality teams to win the regular season title and won the conference tournament as well.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): Cornell, #12 seed, 27-4.  Jay Bilas’ nuttiness aside, Cornell is an excellent team that could grind it out with #5 Temple and #4 Wisconsin long enough to steal a couple of wins here.  The Big Red arguably have more offensive options at the end of the game than either of those two higher-seeded teams.  The trick will be to ensure that the game is close in the last five minutes.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): Wisconsin, #4 seed, 23-8.  Should Cornell not make a run, Wisconsin might be the team to get past Kentucky and Villanova to crash the Final Four.  With Jon Leuer back in the fold healthy, the Badgers have the inside/outside play along with Trevon Hughes to go along with their typically unbending defense to push the two sets of Wildcats to the brink.

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SEC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.  The SEC Tournament begins Thursday at Noon ET.

EAST

  1. Kentucky 29-2 (14-2)
  2. Vanderbilt 23-7 (12-4)
  3. Tennessee 23-7 (11-5)
  4. Florida 20-11 (9-7)
  5. South Carolina 15-15 (6-10)
  6. Georgia 13-16 (5-11)

WEST

  1. Mississippi State 21-10 (9-7)
  2. Mississippi 21-9 (9-7)
  3. Arkansas 14-17 (7-9)
  4. Alabama 16-14 (6-10)
  5. Auburn 15-15 (6-10)
  6. LSU 11-19 (2-14)

Despite all the hype and hoopla over the SEC being a much improved conference this season, at this time the SEC still has as many teams locked into the NCAA Tournament as they did last year — three. Kentucky finished up the regular season with their 44th SEC regular season championship and the number two ranking in both the AP and the ESPN/USA Today Top 25. Tennessee finished #13 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and #15 in the AP top 25. The Vanderbilt Commodores finished the season ranked #20 in the AP Top 25 and #23 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Other than these three teams, no other SEC school even received votes in either poll so you would figure that if any other teams are to go dancing, they need to get some wins in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

Now that the regular season is over, I am pleased to present my first and second team ALL-SEC roster, as well as my choice for Player of the Year and Coach of the Year:

FIRST TEAM ALL-SEC

  • G- John Wall, Kentucky
  • G- Devan Downey – South Carolina
  • F- DeMarcus Cousins – Kentucky
  • F- Trey Thompkins, Georgia
  • C – Jarvis Varnado – Mississippi State

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Morning Five: 03.02.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

  1. According to a well-connected Kentucky columnist, Sunday will be junior Patrick Patterson’s Senior Day.  We know that John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will not be in a UK uniform next year either, so why not end the charade and celebrate their final games at Rupp as well?
  2. The Mountain West reprimanded New Mexico coach Steve Alford for his embarrassing outburst against BYU guard Jonathan Tavernari on Saturday night after their game.  We mentioned it last night, but Alford’s later admission that he was just trying to congratulate Tavernari on his career rings a little hollow given the heated circumstances of the game, the jawing between Tavernari and Darington Hobson in the final minute, and the subsequent result with Alford caught on tape.  Next time just tell us the truth, Coach.
  3. We really don’t understand nor can we agree with the decision by Binghamton brass to punish itself by removing its team from the America East Tournament a mere three days prior to the opening round.  It was bad enough when USC officials threw their promising team under the bus midway through the 09-10 season, but the players who remained at Binghamton along with interim coach Mark Macon made the best of a horrible situation this year and actually far exceeded expectations.  The Bearcats finished 8-8 in the conference and were scheduled to be the #5 seed in the tournament.  In a year without a truly dominant Am East team, imagine the story if Binghamton had been able to claw its way to the NCAA Tournament again this year!  It doesn’t make a whit of sense to us to punish the remaining players for prior transgressions, but the school has consistently made poor decisions in this arena for some time now, so it shouldn’t surprise us.
  4. Some awards:  In the WCC, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Matt Bouldin are the 2009-10 COY and POY, respectively, while in the Big South, Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis and Radford’s Artsiom Parakhouski were likewise.
  5. Seth Davis is back this week with one the absolute best features around this time of year… analysis from coaches off the record about the top teams in each conference.  This week his Deep Throats discuss the Big 12, Pac-10, Mountain West and Atlantic 10.  It’s good to know that we were right about Texas all along (“guys not knowing their roles and not knowing their identity offensively”).
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ATB: Magic in Rupp

Posted by rtmsf on February 26th, 2010

A Little Magic in Rupp Tonight

The RematchKentucky 82, South Carolina 61. In the locker room before the game, John Calipari told his team, “Guys, before we start, here, I got a recruit here we want to talk to, so make sure you introduce yourself to the recruit.”  A moment later, into the locker room walked…Earvin “Magic” Johnson.  And honestly, that was about the only unexpected thing that happened this evening at Rupp Arena.  To be sure, this looked pretty similar to the South Carolina squad that has ownership of the only bruise on Kentucky’s record; not much has changed.  Devan Downey went nuts (26 points on 9-25), and that’s about the whole story for the Gamecocks.  This was a different Kentucky team, though, especially when it came to defense and glasswork, and the biggest change was seen in Patrick Patterson.  Ticked off after his five point performance in the first game against South Carolina, Patterson blew up for a season-high 23 points on 10-12 shooting, swatted four shots, and yanked down eight boards on this night.  South Carolina won the rebounding war in the teams’ first meeting 40-38, and even beat Kentucky on the offensive glass a month ago, 16-13.  Tonight, Patterson — whom sophomore Darius Miller called the “unquestioned leader of this team,” in case there was any doubt — along with Miller (7/8) and DeMarcus Cousins (19/11, his 17th double-double), were having none of that.  Kentucky owned the glass on both ends, outworking the Gamecocks 44-26 overall and 14-8 on the offensive side.  South Carolina had a short 7-0 run in the middle of the second half to cut the Wildcat lead to six, but didn’t really test the Wildcats after that.  It’ll be interesting to watch Kentucky in their next one.  The postgame interviews tonight didn’t end until around midnight, and Kentucky now travels to Knoxville on Saturday to take on Tennessee in a game that starts at noon — that’s right, a mere 36 hours.  Calipari noted how this is “the doldrums, the dog days of the season.  We and a lot of other teams are all wanting to get on with it…let’s get on with that other tournament, and I’m not talking about the one in Nashville (the SEC),” and, because of that, revealed some trepidation about the Tennessee game, adding, “They played Tuesday.  I think they’re there, just waiting on us.”  Magic’s message to the UK team, by the way, was simply to tell them (according to Calipari), “You’re a defensive team.  I love it, the way you guys guard, and I love watching you play.  Keep rebounding and defending the way that you are now, and stick together.”  Looks like the Wildcats got the message.

#20 Vanderbilt 96, Georgia 94 (OT). Vandy survived the post-Kentucky hangover by coming back against the very pesky Georgia Bulldogs tonight in a game they probably should have lost.  With 33 seconds left, the Commodores were down five points when Andre Walker nailed a big three to bring his team back within two.  After two missed FTs by Georgia’s Dustin Ware, AJ Ogilvy got a key tip-in to send the game to overtime and give Vandy new life.  In overtime, the Dores were able to build a small margin, but Georgia still had a chance to tie waved off when a missed FT led to a heave/tip-in that came after the buzzer.  Regardless, Vandy stayed one game up on Florida for the second seed in the SEC East and the all-important first round bye in the SEC Tournament.  Jermaine Beal was awesome with 28/7 assts and Ogilvy added 16/11 in the winning effort.  Vanderbilt is a team that is still slightly under the national radar but they can cause serious trouble for teams in the NCAA Tournament with the right matchups.

Other Games of National Interest.

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ATB: DeMarcus Cousins Laughs Last, Laughs Best…

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2010

Kentucky Survives in Raucous Starkville.  #2 Kentucky 81, Mississippi State 75 (OT).  After several days of fielding phone calls from Mississippi State fans who ranged in temperament from delusional to deranged, DeMarcus Cousins and his team had the last laugh tonight in Starkville as water bottles and sodas rained down on the court in the closing minutes of this one.  Coach John Calipari was so giddy afterward that he even played up the hostility of the situation in his interview with Jeannine Edwards, ducking for cover at one point and running over to corral his players at another (wow, consider just how different things were last year at this time with respect to UK’s head coach and Miss Edwards).  The story of this game, however, was in the way that Kentucky was able to overcome a seven-point deficit in the last three minutes after having looked shaken and stirred in the previous few as MSU built its lead with inside star Jarvis Varnado on the bench fouled out.  Cousins held up his end of the bargain with MSU fans by dropping 19/14/3 assts, including seven huge offensive rebounds, several of which he converted at key points in the second half to keep the Cats afloat.  Patrick Patterson added a dub-dub himself (19/10), while John Wall ended up just shy of a triple-double with 18/10/8 assts/3 stls.  Come March, when the rest of the country decides to tune back into college basketball, all anyone is going to hear about is the mercurial Wall; but to those of us who know better, it will be Cousins that makes the difference if Kentucky is to make a serious run at the national title.  He has a knack for corralling the ball on the offensive end of the court (the #1 offensive rebounder in America), but he’s probably just as effective at converting those extra possessions into points with his soft touch around the bucket (note: if anyone has hard stats on this, we’d love to see them).  MSU had numerous chances to put a signature win on their NCAA resume, but like much of their season this year, they were close but not close enough.  The Bulldogs played the game without leading scorer Ravern Johnson, who was suspended for conduct detrimental prior to his team’s biggest game of the season, and Varnado had at least two silly fouls that would have allowed his presence to stay on the court longer than 23 semi-effective minutes (10/5/2 blks).  If any one of those decisions were different, perhaps MSU wins the game and we’d have a photo of their fans RTCing underneath this writeup.  But as it happened, Bulldog fans will instead by remembered for their unsportsmanlike behavior, and they’ll have to settle for screaming into DeMarcus Cousins’ voicemail as he moves on to the more important things like winning SEC titles and gunning for the Final Four.

Holla Back At Ya!

Regular Season Champs. Two clinchers tonight…

  • #24 Northern Iowa 70, Creighton 52.  No Jordan Eglseder, no problem.  Even without the big man who was suspended for three games after his arrest for DWI over the weekend, UNI clinches its first outright MVC regular season title with an easy win over the Bluejays.  The Panthers hit thirteen treys for the game, including a 5-10 effort from Ali Farokhmanesh.  It will be a very interesting Bracketbuster game on Friday night when UNI hosts the co-leader of the CAA, Old Dominion.
  • Murray State 80, Southeast Missouri State 62.  Murray moved to 16-0 in the OVC tonight, clinching their 21st regular season title and the top seed in the OVC Tournament next month.  The Racers now have the nation’s longest winning streak (at sixteen) and put twelve players into the scoring column this evening.  This is a team that has six players averaging between 9.5 – 10.8 points per game that nobody will want to see as their first round opponent on March 14.

Other Games of National Interest.

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