(Elite) Eight Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on February 23rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will take on a new twist- which eight teams I’d select to reach the four regional final games in late March. Now, I realize individual matchups within the bracket will determine the fate of these teams, but these are the eight clubs I feel like have an excellent chance of winning three games to reach the Elite 8 regardless of the teams that stand in their way. Some of these teams are the favorites, those expected to reach this level or their season will be labeled a colossal disappointment. The others are mild sleepers that certainly have the capabilities to make a serious run. Without further ado:

1. Kansas- One screaming commentator keeps telling me there’s not one clear favorite heading into March Madness this season. There’s no one team that stands above the rest akin to last year’s North Carolina entering the field as the favorite to hoist the championship trophy on that Monday night in April. This claim continues to baffle me for two reasons: 1) North Carolina was NOT the clear favorite to win the national championship last season. They entered the NCAA Tournament coming off a semifinal loss in the ACC Tournament to Florida State and were chosen as the #3 overall seed in the Dance behind Louisville and Pittsburgh. They were also dealing with question marks around Ty Lawson’s playing status. For a sample, I checked back to the NCAA Tournament pool I conducted last season and North Carolina was picked to win it all less than both Pitt (the most frequent) and Louisville. Even though the Heels featured the most pure talent, let’s put an end to this false claim. I also vehemently disagree that one team doesn’t stand alone this season ahead of the pack. To me, Kansas is the clear cut #1 favorite to win their second title in three years. Bill Self has the second most efficient offense and the third most efficient defense. He’s slowly but surely cut down his rotation and found a perfect balance. Most great teams start with a dominant point guard and center and Self has both of those covered. Even the enigma known as Tyshawn Taylor received a jolt from a surprising start by Self last Saturday and responded. I haven’t even mentioned the scorching hot Xavier Henry. The Jayhawks are an obvious Elite 8 team.

Taylor and Self finally on the same page?

2. Kentucky- If any team can hold a candle to Kansas at this stage of the season, it’s Kentucky. The Wildcats have matched Kansas’ road triumphs in the Big 12 with impressive wins away from Lexington against Florida, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. John Calipari has blended complicated personalities to perfection and found the ideal concoction to finally win a national title. I mentioned Kansas has a tremendous starting point with Collins and Aldrich; they’re actually topped by the inside-outside duo of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Wall has emerged from a mid-season turnover slump to play more like the December John Wall the entire college basketball world fell in love with. He’s absolutely deadly in transition and continues to make clutch plays down the stretch. Cousins will be the single most difficult player to guard in the entire NCAA Tournament, evident by his top-five rank in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He has guard skills in a 6’11 body and is the most effective rebounder in the nation. The real question is if Kentucky can play a halfcourt game against the likes of Purdue and West Virginia should they run into either team. The Wildcats are much more ordinary than spectacular when they play a game in the 60s and are forced to settle for outside jump shots. Still, this team has the goods and the talent to reach a regional final.

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After the Buzzer: Opening Night Recaps

Posted by zhayes9 on November 10th, 2009

atb

Welcome back to RTC’s THIRD season covering college basketball with one of our old standbys, the nightly After the Buzzer feature.   If you’re new here, the purpose of these nightly updates is to go a little deeper than game recaps.  We’ll talk about the key games and storylines of each night of the regular season so that you can join the watercooler crew with some knowledge to throw around the next morning.  Tonight we got the season underway with four opening round subregional games in the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.  None of the four favorites were every seriously threatened, but there were quite a few good storylines tonight.

Isiah’s debut. #4 North Carolina 88, Florida International 72. For a team picked last in their Sun Belt division and has just eight scholarship players on its roster, Isiah Thomas had his Florida International Golden Panthers putting up a respectable fight against the top-five Tar Heels in his much-anticipated coaching debut. The bright spots for the powder blues in the first post-Tyler Hansbrough era contest: Deon Thompson appears to be in for a fine year in the post, totaling 20 points and 10 boards on 7/11 FG while frontcourt mate Ed Davis used a slew of putbacks and easy buckets to complete his own double-double: 13/11/4 blks on 5/8 FG. The other big question mark heading into the season was whether Larry Drew could provide steady point guard play for UNC, and the sophomore put in a solid performance with 6/2 A:TO in 21 minutes, including a Lawson-esque coast-to-coast layup in the first half and a few pretty dishes to Thompson and John Henson for jams. The bad news: Even with the incredible turnover and rustiness of a season opener, Roy Williams cannot be pleased with a 26-turnover performance from his team against a Sun Belt foe (the most in any game coached by Williams at UNC), especially backup point guard Dexter Strickland’s five turnovers in 11 minutes. Also worth noting is Williams opting to go with a more experienced starting five with Thompson, Drew, Davis,  Marcus Ginyard and William Graves getting the nod and Henson, Strickland, Tyler Zeller, Leslie McDonald and the Wear twins coming off the pine. This group is absurdly deep up front and, due to the high-impact departures, shouldn’t be expected to look like a world-beater in early November.  They don’t.

Boeheim gets win #800. #25 Syracuse 75, Albany 43. Coming off their embarrassing defeat in an exhibition contest at the hands of D2 Le Moyne, Syracuse needed to come out in their first actual game of the 2009-10 season and make a statement. Their 2-3 zone defense confused the Albany Great Danes all night and was the primary factor in garnering a 75-43 victory for Jim Boeheim’s 800th win, putting him on an esteemed list with only two other active coaches — Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun. Syracuse’s defense and superb athleticism forced Albany into 32 turnovers and only 27% shooting in a primarily ugly game that lacked much flow. Syracuse shot just 2/17 from outside themselves including a clunker from three-point specialist Andy Rautins (0/6, 0/4 3pt) who left the game midway through the 2nd half with a sprained ankle (3am update: doesn’t sound too serious, but he was wearing a walking boot after the game). The good: Scoop Jardine coupled a productive preseason into another stellar performance at the point tonight, totaling 12 points and 4 assists on 5/7 shooting with just one turnover while his main competition, Brandon Triche, had some moments but mainly struggled with six turnovers. Syracuse looks extremely athletic with Wes Johnson (who features a sick one-handed posterization on an unsuspecting Great Dane) around the perimeter and Rick Jackson swatting shots down low.

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