Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Thursday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal 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 Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

We’re starting to worry about this Arinze Onuaku situation.  Sooner or later, Jim Boeheim’s team is going to need the 11 points, five rebounds and general defensive anchor support on the front line that the 6’9, 260-pound big man provides.  Rick Jackson is a serviceable replacement, but the fact that Onuaku reportedly hasn’t even suited up in practice since his injury against Georgetown on March 11 is cause for alarm.  Even if Syracuse survives to advance to next weekend’s Final Four, how productive could he possibly be?  So far, Syracuse hasn’t shown a need for him yet.  The Orange ran over Vermont and Gonzaga without breathing all that hard thanks to the superb play of Wesley Johnson and friends, but there will be a team in the very near future where they’ll need more than Jackson alone can provide.

That team will not be playing SU in the Sweet Sixteen, however.  Butler is an excellent team and Brad Stevens has gotten players other than Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard to step up this season, most notably Shelvin Mack who went 9-12 from long range in the San Jose pod against UTEP and Murray State.  Syracuse is not UTEP or Murray, though, and the wide-open looks that Mack was getting in those games will no longer be as readily available thanks to the length and quickness of the Orange’s perimeter defenders.  Furthermore, Butler center Matt Howard has enough trouble staying out of foul trouble against Horizon League teams; it’s not realistic to think that he’ll be able to play 30+ effective minutes against Jackson, Johnson and Kris Joseph inside.  The main problem we foresee is that Butler is not a very good offensive team in general — when Hayward and Mack aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Bulldogs have trouble scoring points.  Add that to the fact they’ll be facing one of the best offensive teams in America, and you have a situation where numerous things need to go exactly right for Butler to get this win tonight.  Even without Onuaku on the floor for another game, we just don’t see Butler finding enough offense to win this game.

The Skinny: The last time the Bulldogs made it this deep into the NCAAs, they ran into a long, athletic team by the name of Florida in 2007.  They played the defending and future national champions as closely as they were played in that tournament thanks to their control of the tempo, strong defense and  attention to detail, but it still wasn’t enough because the Florida offensive attack was simply too good.  We think the same thing will happen in this game.  Syracuse has too many weapons for the Butler defense to key in on all of them, and even if they catch SU on an off night, where will the Butler points come from?

7:27 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington  (East Region)

Most prognosticators felt that Washington had Sweet 16 talent coming into this season. Lorenzo Romar was returning reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas, defensive stalwart Venoy Overton and a forward named Quincy Pondexter ripe for a breakout season. While Pondexter’s prediction panned out, guard play was shaky, road wins were hard to come by, and the Huskies found themselves on the NCAA bubble with seven losses in a weak Pac-10. A conference tournament win punched their ticket, though, and the Huskies have taken advantage of the opportunity, erasing a double-digit second half lead to beat Marquette and wiping the floor with Mountain West champion New Mexico. Their toughest test yet will come Thursday against Big East Tournament champion West Virginia. Washington needs to produce a near carbon copy of their performance against New Mexico. In other words, they need to play a near-perfect game. Thomas must keep his head on straight and continue to make outside jumpers. Overton must frustrate Da’Sean Butler, Elston Turner must continue to produce offensively and Pondexter must out-duel Devin Ebanks.

For West Virginia, Washington seems like a favorable matchup. They may have preferred Joe Mazzulla guarding Isaiah Thomas more than the sidelined Darryl Bryant anyway. Mazzulla is the superior defender and Bryant has been woeful shooting-wise the last three weeks. They also match up well with the length of Washington. Bob Huggins can throw a lineup out on the floor of players 6’6 or above with huge wingspans, meaning the long WVU defense could fluster Pondexter and force him into difficult shots. One possible negative to the Bryant injury is that it increases the likelihood that the Mountaineer offense will become too reliant on Butler to bail them out. He’s done it time and time again this season and in postseason tournament play. Does he have more magic up his sleeve?

The Skinny: West Virginia has a plethora of defenders that can frustrate Pondexter and they boast the best late-game scorer in the nation in Butler. That combination should prove enough to take care of Washington in fairly methodical fashion. Avoiding their typical slow start would be prudent.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.22.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 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.

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

  • Lower-seeded teams like Cornell, Washington, Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s advancing to the Sweet 16 surprised college basketball fans all over, but Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was not among them, saying that “there’s not a big gap” between teams in the tournament. Of course, he said that after winning by an average of 22.5 points in the first two games, but college basketball coaches never stretch the truth, right?
  • When junior forward Wesley Johnson visited Boeheim at the Syracuse campus to inquire about transferring, the hall-of-fame coach initially turned him down. Luckily for the Orange, he changed his mind.
  • With the big dog in the state back at home watching, the Kansas State Wildcats will be carrying the Sunflower State banner. The Wildcats beat up on their Sweet 16 opponent, Xavier, pretty good in early December in the Little Apple, but Fran Fraschilla says the Musketeers are a different team these days.
  • Pitt and head coach Jamie Dixon are in the unfamiliar position of having to watch the Regional Semifinal round, but the Panthers will be strong contenders heading into the 2010-11 season, when they are expected to return all of their key contributors except graduating senior guard Jermaine Dixon.
  • Gonzaga fans on the other hand will likely have to sweat out some key personnel decisions in the offseason, including the possibility that head coach Mark Few could leave and return to his alma mater, Oregon, to take over the program from recently fired Ernie Kent. With a sparkling new arena in Eugene and all the money that Nike can throw at him, this is undoubtedly the biggest run that another school has made at the popular and successful coach who has reportedly declined numerous other offers from big-name schools in the past. But, while point guard Matt Bouldin having played his last game in a Zag uniform and freshman forward Elias Harris a promising NBA prospect, some big changes could be coming to the recent prototype for mid-major success (no matter how much they despise the term).

Midwest Region Notes (Tom Hager)

  • If there was any question that Northern Iowa might suffer from a hangover after the upset over Kansas, the team did not even wait for Saturday night to end before already getting focused for the next round of games.
  • In addition to his ability to hit clutch shots, Ali Farokhmanesh has also been improving on the defensive end.  Although Kwadzo Ahelegbe usually covers the best guard each game, Farokhmanesh held Sherron Collins to 0-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
  • Joe Rexrode reminded fans today that although Michigan State will miss Kalin Lucas in their next game against UNI, it won’t be the first time the Spartans played shorthanded this year.  In addition to the injury Lucas suffered against Wisconsin, he was also suspended earlier in the season for disappointing Tom Izzo as the team’s leader.  Chris Allen was also suspended earlier this season, and Durrell Summers was benched for a walk-on.
  • As good as Evan Turner has been lately, the Bleacher Report’s Drew Gatewood points out that he turned the ball over nine times against Georgia Tech and had eight turnovers against UC-Santa Barbara.  With the Vols ranking #7 in defensive efficiency, Turner’s assignment may become even more difficult.
  • Although Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press may be getting ahead of himself, he says Tennessee is very close to the first Final Four in UT history.  According to Wiedmer, UNI has overachieved and Michigan State is banged up, so the OSU matchup could be the deciding game in who will advance to the national semifinals.

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San Jose Pod Daily Diary: 03.20.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2010

We’ve got two pretty cool matchups today here in San Jose.  First, we’ll start with the strange situation of everyone’s favorite giant-killer, #5 seed Butler, acting as the heavy favorite over #13 seed Murray State, who of course advanced on Thursday when Danero Thomas’ shot at the horn against Vandy dropped.  In the second game, we’ll enjoy the Pac-10 renaissance for at least another game, as #11 Washington will try to continue its hot streak (now eight Ws in a row) against #3 New Mexico.  We’ll be checking back in throughout the day with our thoughts on the games.

Game 1: #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State

1st Half

  • Getting ready to come out for the tip of this game, I got into a conversation with two of the young female intern-types who were helping out with the drinks for media.  They were discussing whom to root for in this game, and one said to the other: “well, you have to go with the underdog, Murray.”  Sensing a teaching moment (hey, Scottie), I said, “yeah isn’t it interesting that Butler is the favorite when they’re usually the giant-killer and Murray is the underdog now?”  They were both amazed with that role-reversal and asked a bunch of questions about it.  But it illustrates a point about programs such as Butler and Gonzaga — there comes a tipping point where you’re no longer viewed as the plucky little team anymore, and I think Butler is close to getting there (Gonzaga has been there for years).
  • Butler came out off to a great start 12-3 as Murray State looked a little off kilter, which is to be expected coming off a great win like they had on Thursday.  But eventually they got their sea legs under them and were able to start getting some stops.
  • It’s always interesting to watch The Butler Way…  they take care of the ball; they look for open teammates; they crash the boards; they contest every shot.  Rarely will you see a shot out of the offense, although I did count a couple of them this half.
  • Murray’s defense really picked up about mid-half and it showed in that Butler ended up shooting a horrid 8-28 from the field (29%).  The Bulldogs were held scoreless for the last 6:24 of the first half.  In that time, Murray went on a 9-0 run.  That may not sound like much, but in a game trending toward the 50s, that’s a huge disparity.
  • It took a while to figure out, but the crowd is definitely pro-Murray State.  Again, that’s just weird.  Usually Butler is the team that has the non-partisans on their side.  Ed Daniel’s follow jam with about a minute left on the break really brought the house down.  If this stays close down the stretch, definite home advantage to Murray.
  • I’ve been very impressed with Murray’s Isaiah Canaan in this pod so far.  He has 8 points and has a real swagger about him like nobody can stop him offensively.  Only a freshman and six feet tall standing on a phone book, he is undoubtedly going to be a star in this program the next few years.
  • Coming into the second half, I’m reminded of how Butler had played so poorly in the first half on Thursday, but then used the first five minutes of the second half to completely put UTEP under.  Will that happen again today?  I somehow don’t think it will.  I just don’t see Murray getting as frustrated into making poor decisions as UTEP did the other day.  I really like the poise of this Racer team.

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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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ATB: A Thursday Thrill Ride

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

The single greatest First Round day in NCAA Tournament history.  Four last seconds shots, and this montage doesn’t even include the half-dozen other games that went down to the wire. Phenomenal.

First, at around 4:43 PM this afternoon in Silicon Valley…

Danero Thomas Gets Us Started (KC Star/M. Sanchez)

And then approximately 9:24 PM in OKC…

Ali Farokhmanesh Keeps Us Going (AP/T. Gutierrez)

Heading back to San Jose for QP’s bank shot at 9:59 PM…

Pondexter Keeps the Madness Going...

And finishing up at around 12:31 AM on Friday morning in the Big Ish-y…

Ish Finishes Us Off On a Magnificent Day of Hoops (AP/J. Bazemore)

Could things possibly be better tomorrow?  The mere contemplation of that possibility makes us a little shaky (well, that and the six coffees and two-and-a-half red bulls tonight).

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.18.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two 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.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • Duke and guard Nolan Smith don’t think they’ll have an easy path to Indianapolis even though all the “experts” agree that Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four of the number one seeds. Smith said, “This is the NCAA tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy path.”
  • California, who was considered by many a lock to make the Tournament, was not feeling at ease after the first three brackets were announced and their name was yet to be called. Head coach Mike Montgomery thinks with his team at full health they will be a very tough out for anyone in the tournament.
  • If there was any doubt that Old Dominion was coming in confident against Notre Dame it should be washed away after reading this New York Times article on their upset victory. I know it is obviously after the fact, but Frank Hassell, ODU’s leading scorer, said “We really weren’t worried about them or Luke (Harangody). We were worried about us.”
  • Another “after the fact” article, but here is a nice interview with Baylor head coach Scott Drew on being in the NCAA Tournament and how he handles each game. Baylor survived a scare from Sam Houston State, which is a big deal because the #14 seeds were on their game today, and it’s Baylor’s first NCAA Tournament win in 60 years.
  • With Omar Samhan in foul trouble Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett went to his bench to look for someone who might be able to fill the void, and he went to a player used sparingly during the regular season. The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the freshman’s role in SMC’s big win.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at Villanova’s stingy victory over Robert Morris and Jay Wright’s decision to bench star guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher to start the game. Wright also said “If we can win this next game and get some practices, we’ve got a chance to be better. But I don’t know if we’re ready for this next game.” That’s music to the ears of all Saint Mary’s fans. What has happened to the Villanova Wildcats?
  • Overall the South Region is exactly what everyone though it would be, which is that its Duke’s region to win. With Baylor and Villanova both struggling against double digit seeds it looks as if the Blue Devils are now the heavy favorites. However, the NCAA Tournament is all about surviving and advancing, one day your team can beat a #14 seed narrowly, the next thing you know they’re in the Final Four (ex: Villanova 2009).

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: First Round 03.18.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 18th, 2010

Best first flight of games ever?  It just might be.  Right now the Selection Committee are looking like a bunch of geniuses.  We have confidence in the second flight of games bringing some excitement, too.  We popped for the DirecTV package so we’ll be monitoring every game:

  • Ohio vs Georgetown
  • East Tennessee State vs Kentucky
  • Northern Iowa vs UNLV
  • Washington vs Marquette
  • San Diego State vs Tennessee
  • Wake Forest vs Texas
  • Lehigh vs Kansas
  • Montana vs New Mexico

After what we saw this afternoon, we suggest you join us for our live-blogging feature this evening.  Get that refresh-button finger warmed up, and by all means let us know in the comments section what you’re watching and how you’re celebrating this unofficial national holiday.  We’ll start at around 7 PM ET.  See you there!

7:00: That’s OK Hemogoblin.  Though scheduling a fantasy baseball draft TODAY??  Hmmm…  Anyway, Butler is polishing off UTEP in a game that is going to screw up a lot of brackets.  UTEP was a popular upset pick for the first round, and sometimes beyond.  Frankly, I expected more from Arnett Moutrie at the forward spot.  Zero points today.

7:30: OK, sorry there, folks.  Had a quick  dinner break, which I tried to time right so it would happen during the single-game interval.  Didn’t hit it.  We haven’t missed much.  Kentucky has started pretty hot against ETSU and UNLV has taken an early lead over Northern Iowa.

7:52: Kentucky is shooting 70% to start this game.  YEESH.  They’re already up 41-16 against ETSU.  At what point do you pull the starters to rest for the second game against either Wake or Texas?

7:58: Anyone want to wake up Georgetown?  The Armon Bassett/D.J. Cooper tandem has been quite effective for the Bobcats, so far a combined 6-12 and 15 of Ohio U.’s 33 points.

8:02: Goodness.  John Wall already has seven assists.  Let’s see what else is on…

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San Jose Pod Daily Diary: 03.18.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2010

Greetings, everyone, from beautiful San Jose, California.  It’s a 75-degree outside the building, but nobody cares about that because it’s time for March Madness, and already across the country today, the games have been insane.  Is there any other sporting event in the world that is so consistently awesome on a year-to-year basis?   I’m going to be updating this diary by the half so as to accord with NCAA policies.  Let me know if you have anything you’d like to know in the comments.

Game 1: #4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State

1st Half

  • What a crazy early afternoon of games so far – are you kidding me?  Two games in OT and a third down to a last-second shot that missed?  The one thing that I can’t believe the NCAA doesn’t mandate is at least a running scoreboard to keep the fans here abreast of other games.  Because that’s all anyone wants to know about right now is what’s going on in the Villanova – Robert Morris game.
  • Vandy is more athletic than you might think, but Murray is right there with them, jump for jump.  The only real advantage I see Vandy having is a little more size and length inside with 6’11 pair of AJ Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli.
  • This Murray team has the look of a team that won 30 games this year.  They have a swagger and confidence that they belong here and have shown no sense of intimidation against their SEC foes.  There’s a regional rivalry at play here too, as Murray is located squarely in SEC country and surely gets their fill of talk about Kentucky, Vandy and so forth.

Racers Mascot Hyped Up
  • Murray State forward #43 Tony Easley acts as cheerleader/coach when he’s not on the floor, encouraging his teammates, getting in their ears, and greeting them as the first one off the bench during timeouts.  I love seeing that.  Every team needs at least one of those players to keep his teammates honest.
  • Gotta love March Madness when an upset is brewing… the buzz in the room just turns on like a switch, and suddenly 90% of the arena starts looking to buy Murray State t-shirts and caps.
  • In keeping with the style of play of both Murray and Vanderbilt, a lot of players saw action and put up points in the first half.  Murray was led by the electric little guard BJ Jenkins with 9 pts and Vandy by Jeffery Taylor also with 9 pts.  AJ Ogilvy has been largely unheard from in the game (2 pts, 1 reb).

2d Half

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.16.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two 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.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
  • When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.”  There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
  • Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley, broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State.  He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
  • Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
  • Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
  • Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

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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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Pac-10 Tourney Daily Diary: Finals

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. One of our RTC correspondents is at the Pac-10 Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the championship game.

Washington 79, California 75

  • Right before the game started, the Washington band got the fans going with a stirring rendition of the NCAA/CBS lead-in song…  was that prescient or just lucky?  I heard eight different pep bands this weekend, though, and none of the other ones did that song, so maybe they were on to something.
  • This was my first experience at the Pac-10 Tournament, but as someone who has been to the ACC and SEC Tournaments before, I leave completely underwhelmed with the fan support.  The Staples Center does a great job with their facilities and Los Angeles in general is an enticing destination (although not so much the downtown core), but where are all the fans?  I can’t believe that there aren’t more than a couple thousand Washington and Cal fans in the SoCal metro area who can’t be bothered to buy a ticket for an afternoon of exciting basketball that may result in your team making the NCAA Tournament.  I’m willing to give this year a slight pass because of the poor quality of the teams in this league, but I seriously question whether it was all that different in 2008, for example, when there were six or seven really good teams in the conference.  This article written prior to the Tournament touches on some of the problems I too noticed with the choice of venue (downtown LA, not the Staples Center).
  • I noticed about a half-hour before the game that Lorenzo Romar was standing alone in the tunnel area seemingly enjoying the quiet for a few moments.  He was looking out onto the court, but it was clear that his mind was working to take in the moment.  Coaches have a stressful job, and it was an interesting insight into how this particular one deals with the pressure.
  • In the first half, Washington held Cal to 37% shooting and Jerome Randle to 4 pts.  In the second half, it was 48% and 8 pts.  Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin were phenomenal (17-26 for 45 points), but the Cal starting backcourt was completely flummoxed today.  Randle and Patrick Christopher combined for 6-22 shooting and 2-11 from behind the arc for a total of 23 points.  The game really comes down to that.  As Mike Montgomery said after the game, they didn’t hit shots they normally hit.  When Cal has that kind of a night against a good team, they lose.
  • Washington seemed more aggressive most of the day, as if they realized they were in a little more trouble with the Selection Committee.  Quincy Pondexter (18 pts) and Isaiah Thomas (16 pts) both played under control and utilized good shot selection.  It showed, as the Huskies hit 53% for the game and 94% from the line.  I’m not predicting great things for this team as a #12 or #13 seed next week, but if they catch a break and play a relatively unathletic team that isn’t a gifted scoring team as well, they’ll have a chance to pull the upset.
  • In the postgame presser with Mike Montgomery, I referred to Seth Davis’ comment that Cal is one of the more interesting bubble teams in some time, having won the regular season Pac-10 title with ease yet not having a single top-50 win all season long.  Monty visibly bristled at the suggestion that Cal is even being talked about on the bubble.  The word he used was that he would be “astounded” if Cal doesn’t make the NCAAs, and that people (Seth?  me?) need to “do their homework” with respect to evaluating their losses with key players out of the lineup earlier in the year.  He clearly thinks (as many Pac-10 folks do) that if you win the conference regular season title, that should be enough.
  • The All-Tourney team actually had three Bears on it versus two for Washington.  Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin made it, while Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas (the MVP) were the two for UW.  Michael Roll from UCLA was the other player voted on.  Maybe it’s like this everywhere, but they took our sheets with two minutes remaining… what if Cal’s Randle produced a 15-point explosion in overtime?  Seems like a bad way to handle that in a close game.
  • So that’ll close out our trip to the Pac-10 Tournament.  The championship tilt was the best game of the tournament (well, the play-in game was good too, but it was the play-in game so I don’t count it), and it probably ended up as a best-case for the league in that two teams will go dancing.  The hope here is that the league improves the next couple of years so that the fans start coming back to this event and the quality of play will also end up better.
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RTC Live: Pac-10 Championship – California vs. Washington

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

Welcome back to the Staples Center for what should be the best matchup of the weekend in the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament this afternoon.  Both California and Washington have looked relaxed and confident in their two games leading up to this point, and why wouldn’t they be — they have the two best teams in the league and the two best players as well in Jerome Randle and Quincy Pondexter.  The two teams played twice this year, each winning comfortably on their home floor, so it stands to reason that a neutral environment such as this would produce an evenly matched contest.  At least that’s the hope.  As for NCAA Tournament implications, Washington might be feeling a little squeezed especially in light of Houston’s upset victory in Conference USA earlier this afternoon.  The Huskies have 23 wins including a solid victory over Texas A&M in the nonconference slate, but both Zach Hayes and Joe Lunardi have the Huskies on the edge.  A blowout loss today could be enough justification in the Committee’s minds to keep them out.  Cal, on the other hand, is safe, but the Bears would certainly like to move into top-8 seed territory if they can.  A win today might get them there.  It should be a great afternoon here in downtown Los Angeles this afternoon — feel free to stop by.

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