2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After dissecting a trio of Big 12 teams in prior weeks, more and more elite programs are releasing their 2010-11 schedules to the masses. Let’s continue with Kentucky, a squad that reloaded following the departure of an astounding five first round draft picks.

With so much turnover, Calipari has another tough coaching job on his hands

Team Outlook: A fan base as rabid and fanatical as Kentucky’s surely awaited this week’s announcement with tremendous anticipation. Big Blue Nation has expectations for their Wildcats that perennially surpass any other program in the nation. Their point guard and this April’s #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, John Wall, will be replaced by Brandon Knight, whose high school accolades and ranking matches those of his predecessors under John Calipari. If deemed eligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter will fill the post presence left by the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly to Kanter, Terrence Jones spurned Washington and headed to Kentucky, a 6’9 wing very capable of matching the offensive production provided by Eric Bledsoe a season ago. The key word for Kentucky and Calipari since he took the helm: replenish. And if Knight, Kanter and Jones are history next April, three more top-ten recruits will fill the void. It’s a tall task for Knight and Kanter to match the contributions of Wall and Cousins, two of the top three players in the sport last season. Still, with such talent abounding, a wide open SEC, and the true dribble-drive offense back into high gear, to expect a giant step back from Big Blue and underestimating the coaching prowess of Calipari would be a grave mistake.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7.5. A program with the visibility and significance of Kentucky should challenge themselves at every chance. Forced out of necessity more than choice to load up in November and December at Memphis, Calipari has utilized that same strategy in Lexington. The potential is there to face fellow powerhouses at least in terms of college basketball history: North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, although these teams remain at varying degrees of competitiveness. Kentucky will surely attract an enormous contingent to Maui where they could face a top-ten team in the semifinals in Washington and a top-two team in the finals, Michigan State. North Carolina is still working its way back up to elite status following last year’s NIT berth, but the young Wildcats’ trip to the Dean Dome won’t be any sort of cakewalk. The same theory applies to Louisville on New Year’s Eve, the next chapter of one of the fiercest rivalries the sport knows. A matchup with possible NCAA squad Notre Dame should also prove competitive. Kentucky gets everyone’s best shot, and it’s no relief for Calipari that up to seven non-conference contests will be either on true road or neutral floors.

Cupcake City: Two notable cupcakes travel to Lexington when Mississippi Valley State and Coppin State make the trip for what should be 40-point blowouts, but other than that Calipari did a solid job limiting the scrubs. East Tennessee State returns their top three scorers from an NCAA Tournament team that was blown out in the first round by, you guessed it, Kentucky. I’m not saying the Wildcats are vulnerable to lose to the Buccaneers, but they will not be a total walkover. Winthrop rode a Big South Cinderella run to an NCAA bid and is on the slate. Boston University with John Holland and Jake O’Brien is halfway decent, while a Maui tune-up in Portland against the rebuilding Pilots will provide a raucous atmosphere. Last season, Kentucky did struggle a bit early in the campaign against Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State while Calipari determined roles and rotations for a plethora of new players. If the same holds true a year later, Portland and BU could be pesky opponents.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s far from a guarantee that Kentucky downs Washington in the Maui semifinals. After all, the Huskies return the majority of their backcourt led by Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy with a frontcourt anchored by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a talented newcomer in Terrence Ross. Plus, they should have plenty of motivation to knock Kentucky down a few pegs following the Kanter and Jones situations that have been rehashed continuously. If the Wildcats can survive Washington, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, Michigan State awaits in the final if the Spartans can knock off Connecticut or Wichita State (unless they pull a Virginia against Chaminade). The Spartans return their entire Final Four squad with the exception of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen. Containing Kalin Lucas is baptism by fire for green Brandon Knight, while wing Darius Miller may have the unenviable task of chasing around three-point bomber Durrell Summers. The Spartans will likely be ranked number two in the nation behind Duke at this point. Win or lose, the learning experience will certainly be valuable for the young Wildcats.

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Selected Thoughts From Final Four Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2010

You know how this works… here are some random thoughts bouncing around our head as we come out of a pretty damn good Final Four in Indianapolis.

Welcome to Indy!

Coach K is the Current Dean of Coaches.  But let’s get one thing put to rest right away.  He’s not John Wooden.  For all you presentists out there convinced that the era we’re currently in is tougher than any other previous one, get your head out of your sphincter.  Make all the excuses you want, but Wooden beat all comers west AND east, year after year after year after year (ten times in twelve seasons).  We could go on and on about this, and if the numbers were anywhere near each other (like if K had eight titles to Wooden’s ten), we’d entertain the argument.  But they’re not, and Coach K would probably be the first to chastise you of such foolishness.  Now, with that said, Krzyzewski is a clear #2 all-time with his most recent title.  Tom Izzo came into the Final Four with everyone gushing about his six appearances in the last twelve years, but it’s K who has done it better for longer, now with eleven F4s and four national championships to his credit.  Whenever he decides to retire, and there’s a good chance it won’t be for another decade, Coach K will have far surpassed the man whom he set his eyes on as a target way back in the early 80s — UNC demigod Dean Smith.  What seemed like a herculean impossibility at that time ultimately came to pass, as Coach K is now the Dean of Tobacco Road and the Smith family tree of he and Roy Williams must combine championships at UNC to simply match those of K (something undoubtedly not lost on Williams in his lair at this very moment).  Furthermore, Krzyzewski proved with this year’s team that he doesn’t have to have better talent than everyone else to cut down the nets — his other championship teams were stacked to the brim with future pros, but it will ultimately be the 2010 national titleist that raises his legacy from one of the coach with the best talent to one of the talent with the best coach.

K: Best in the Business

Greatest Title Game Ever? Had Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot found net, we’d be on board with this.  The storyline is just too good.  Even better than Villanova taking down big, bad Georgetown in ’85 or NC State’s miracle of miracles two years earlier.  The Jimmy Chitwood/Bobby Plump comparisons would have been endless, and we’re a little more than halfway convinced that we’d have seen our first-ever title game RTC should the ball have gone through.  Unfortunately for most of America, like many life-story endings awkwardly forced into a Hollywood template, reality leaves you waiting for the next moment that never comes — the Hayward shot didn’t magically bounce up in the air and fall back through…  The truth is that the national championship game was a hard-nosed, calculating, defensive-minded drama between two teams where every single point came with a price tag.  But it wasn’t beautiful, and in order to have greatness bestowed upon a game, it usually needs to end with a make rather than a miss.  This is not always the case, but it’s difficult to buy into the GOAT argument when the last made field goal occurred with just under a minute remaining (as a comparison, the widely-accepted greatest game of all-time, 1992 Duke-Kentucky, had five lead changes in the last 35 seconds of overtime).  So where does it rank?  Still pretty high — for our money, this was the best championship game since 1999 UConn vs. Duke (yes, Memphis-Kansas was thrilling, but not for the entire game), and is definitely in the top 6-8 in the post-Wooden era, but let’s keep our wits about us here. 

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Five Factors That Will Lose You the Title

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

We’ve spent most of the week reading and writing about the various ways that one of Michigan State, Butler, Duke or West Virginia will end up winning the national title and cutting the nets down on Monday night.  Duke is the favorite, but bookmakers give all four teams a reasonable shot to win it.  But often it doesn’t come down to the elevation of greatness in these situations, but instead the avoidance of weakness.  Simply playing your average game is sometimes enough to advance if you avoid a bugaboo that has plagued your team in its losses this year.  For example, if you go cold from three (see: Kentucky), or can’t make a foul shot (see: Texas), or start throwing the ball into the crowd (see: Syracuse), or over-rely on your starters (see: Ohio State) or get key players in foul trouble (see: Baylor)… the entire house of cards can come crashing down.  Let’s take a look at the four remaining teams standing to see what, if anything, could cause problems for them this weekend.

Foul Shooting

Duke (76.1%) and Butler (73.9%) are both excellent foul shooting teams, while West Virginia (70.3%) and Michigan State (68.8%) are best described as mediocre.  None of the four are downright terrible, though.  Michigan State lost games when they shot well , average and poorly from the line, so it doesn’t seem to impact their overall performance much.  Contrast that with WVU who lost three of its six games this season (@ ND, @ UConn, vs. Villanova) when they shot a collective 32-59 (54%) from the line, so they certainly appear vulnerable in that regard.  Both the Devils and Mountaineers average about 22% of their total points from the foul line, so keep an eye on WVU’s foul shooters early (especially the better ones such as Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones) to see if they’re making or missing their attempts.  If they’re not going down, West Virginia is going to have to replace those points from somewhere else.

WVU Needs to Make These This Weekend

Three-Point Shooting

Butler takes 40% of its field goal attempts from behind the arc even though they only convert on 34.5% of them.  In all four of their losses this season, the Bulldogs shot at or worse than that percentage, but it has to be noted that despite hitting only 6-24 threes against Syracuse last week, they still managed to win.  Against Michigan State, you should probably figure that will need to hit at least six bombs to put themselves in a reasonable position to win the game.  MSU doesn’t take (14) or make (5) very many threes per game, so an off-shooting night from deep from the Spartans probably won’t impact their offense all that much.  Duke and WVU are equally reliant on the long ball, but Duke shoots it substantially better (38.2% vs. 33.6%).  Both teams have proven throughout the year that they can win games regardless of whether the threes are dropping or not.  The team that appears most vulnerable is this area is Butler.

Turnovers

Turnovers can kill any team if there are too many of them, but Duke (16.4% TO rate) and West Virginia (18.4%) are solid when it comes to taking care of the ball.  Both force more TOs against their opponents than they give up, but neither rely on turnovers to necessarily fuel their offense — it’s just an added bonus when they get one.  Butler is also ok at 19.1%, but Michigan State is in the danger zone here.  The Spartans turn the ball over 21% of the time, highest among the Final Four teams, and are susceptible to games where every one in four possessions ends in a miscue (nine times this year).  When Sparty goes over their season average of turnovers, they’re not a great team: 7-5 is MSU’s record when they commit turnovers greater than 22% of their possessions.  This is something to keep an eye on in the first half against Butler, as both Syracuse and K-State had trouble figuring out the Bulldog defense, and Butler is far better at causing turnovers than Michigan State is.

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four 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 evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Michigan State

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler and West Virginia previews. Today we delve into Michigan State’s chances during their sixth Final Four under Tom Izzo.

It's Mr. Izzo's time of year

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Michigan State and Maryland played a two-minute stint of basketball during their second round clash unrivaled in this NCAA Tournament. Timeouts, fouls and other stoppages were few and far between. Instead, up-and-down basketball, star players making season-deciding buckets and one backup point guards’ clinching shot at the buzzer made the difference. After Greivis Vasquez capped off a heroic late game performance with a leaner that gave the Terps the lead, it was the roundest point-forward in the land, Draymond Green, finding a streaking  Korie Lucious under the ducked head of Delvon Roe for a three-pointer that sent the Spartans to St. Louis, and, following victories over Northern Iowa and Tennessee, on to the Final Four for the second straight season.

Advantage Area: Coaching can often be overstated. After all, it’s ultimately the players on the floor and their individual decision making and skill level that decide games. Yet there’s something about Tom Izzo and his ability to construct a basketball team that peaks when the stakes are at the highest level. A Spartan team mired with chemistry issues, injuries and suspensions for most of the season has rallied around a single goal and are somehow playing into April. Everyone gives Izzo, aptly nicknamed Mr. March, full credit for the turnaround and the program’s annual success. Everyone except Izzo, of course. There are three other great coaches in Indianapolis this year, though, and the games are determined on the floor. Where the Spartans hold an advantage is their ability to run effective sets in the halfcourt, overall athleticism, capability of functioning at different speeds and the versatility of players like Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green. The second half they played against Northern Iowa on the offensive end was a thing of beauty.

Potential Downfall: There are two areas of great importance that the Spartans lack and both could prove their ultimate downfall- steady, experienced point guard play and reliable low-post scoring. Korie Lucious has done a commendable job replacing the Spartans floor leader Kalin Lucas thus far, but often surrendered careless turnovers to the heavy ball pressure of Tennessee’s Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins. No team defends as physically in the halfcourt as Butler. Both Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are pests that force turnovers at a decent rate. Lucious shouldn’t worry about wowing anyone under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium; instead, focus on taking care of the basketball and running sets, finding Durrell Summers off screens, locating Draymond Green for open mid-range shots and controlling the pace of the game. Michigan State also lacks a true low post scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Matt Howard. Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus and Derrick Nix is a freshman without much experience. Should they advance, neither West Virginia or Duke possesses a consistent scoring threat on the low block.

X-Factor: Raymar Morgan is the ultimate x-factor in college basketball. When Morgan plays up to his talent level, the Spartans are a team to be reckoned with. Durrell Summers shooting stroke is also a major x-factor in Saturday’s game. Summers has been Izzo’s most valuable offensive cog in the last three games: 25-39 FG, 14-22 3pt and 66 points. The Spartans were able to knock off Northern Iowa largely because the Panthers defense dares opponents to make long jump shots and Summers delivered. He exploded onto the scene as a sophomore last March and will look to do the same this year coming off screens and hitting jumpers. With Chris Allen hobbled and Lucious worried about running the offense, it’ll be up to Summers to bail Michigan State out on more than one occasion late in the shot clock when the Butler defense imposes their will in the halfcourt.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Shelvin Mack vs. Korie Lucious. As it does so often in the Final Four, this game could come down to point guard play. The entire world will be judging Lucious on how he steps up in the absence of Kalin Lucas. It is Mack’s job to annoy Lucious as much as possible, much like Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins gave him as little room as possible to operate. It’s not just about defense for Mack, though. His game on the offensive end has made leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore seasons, likely due to his experience playing for the Under-19 U.S. team this summer. Mack drained 39% of his threes this season and also has a strong, built body that acts like a bulldozer attacking the basket. It’s up to the defensively challenged Lucious to contain Mack and force more of the scoring load on Gordon Hayward.

Crunch Time Performer: Tom Izzo doesn’t have one main option down the stretch like West Virginia with Da’Sean Butler or Butler with Gordon Hayward. He could diagram a play to get Durrell Summers an open look from deep, isolate Draymond Green and let him operate (ran this play late in the Maryland game), or even clear out for Lucious if he has confidence in him (ran this play late in the Northern Iowa game). And it was Raymar Morgan who found himself open down the floor against Tennessee. Rather than one player the opposing defense can focus on, Izzo has the luxury known as unpredictability. There’s nobody better in college basketball following a timeout than Izzo.

Experience: The experience factor is clearly advantage: Spartans in this Final Four. Nearly everyone that sees regular minutes played on last year’s runner up squad with the exception of Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Even Lucious hit two threes in the semifinal win against Connecticut. Not to mention Tom Izzo will be coaching in his sixth Final Four, a mark only Coach K can replicate. Raymar Morgan is the Spartans team captain and will need to step up leadership-wise on the floor should Michigan State fall into a deficit against Butler.

Forecast: Many casual fans are labeling Michigan State as “lucky” they received a mid-major 5-seed in the Final Four rather than Syracuse or Kansas State, a point I respectfully dispute. Butler beat both of those aforementioned teams and will be playing in front of a plethora of navy blue-clad Bulldog fans in their backyard, much like Michigan State experienced last year in Detroit. Butler is an extremely fundamentally-sound, well-coached team with talented players that are operating at their best at the most opportune time. All of those factors also apply to Sparty, though. Should they eclipse Butler, West Virginia or Duke will pose a tremendous threat in the title game. Both the Mountaineers and Blue Devils have more talent across the board than the Spartans, especially without Lucas in the fold.

Prediction: I foolishly doubted Tom Izzo and picked Maryland, Northern Iowa and Tennessee all to beat Michigan State. I figured the shaky Spartans I watched the entire month of February would rear its ugly head at some point in the tournament and it still hasn’t happened. Michigan State simply makes winning plays in March and Izzo is the best in the business this time of year. Spartans advance to the final.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.30.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 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.

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Bleacher Report puts their own spin on a preview of the Duke Blue Devils.
  • An article from the Star Tribune discusses how Duke ruined the Final Four because they are the only unlikable team in the mix.
  • Here’s an article from the Miami-Herald on why people despise Duke, and apparently it starts with Coach K. I suppose the rest of the ACC hating on Duke continues into the offseason.
  • Want to know who the best white Duke player of all time was? Well now you can! Thank God Josh McRoberts missed the list.

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ATB: Selected Thoughts on the Final Four Teams

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We’re down to the Four.  Here are some of the thoughts we had about the last couple of days of games while looking ahead to next weekend in Indy…

Forget the Seedings, These Teams Are Good. With a #1, #2 and two #5 seeds making the Final Four this year, the immediate reaction is that we’ve got a wide-open bracket with the potential for a true Cinderella to cut down the nets this year.  Closer examination, however, reveals that all of the four teams left standing were thought pretty highly of in the preseason.  In both the AP and Coaches Polls, Michigan State was ranked #2 behind Kansas, while Duke, West Virginia and Butler all populated the top ten as well (Butler was #11 in the AP).  So while it may have taken some time for Izzo’s Spartans to get it together (like seemingly every year), they eventually did and they’re playing well enought to be a worthy Final Four participant; the same is definitely true for Butler, penalized by the pollsters and Selection Committee for early losses in November and December, but who is playing as well as anyone left right now.  It’s difficult to lose the mindset that a team is a Cinderella or not based on its Tourney seed, but the truth is that these four teams are all playing like #1 and #2 seeds and they have the talent to back it up.

You Can't Get Rid of This Guy (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

Izzo the Stray CatTom Izzo is like the stray cat in your neighborhood that you can’t get to stay off your front stoop no matter how hard you try.  Just when you think he’s out of your hair for good, he shows up again with that Cheshire grin belying his belief that he’s the luckiest dude alive.  Six Final Fours in twelve years is one better than it was last year (five in eleven), and yet everyone acts completely shocked and amazed that he’s back in the Four with much the same group of players.  How weak are people’s memories?  This is what Izzo does — this trip will make the second time that his team  has reached the final weekend as a #5 seed — and it’s not a mere coincidence.  Everyone knew that he had the talent this season (see above re: preseason ranking), but all of the turmoil surrounding player roles and injuries led people (including us) to believe he wasn’t going to be able to find the combinations to get it done again.  Here’s a bracketing lesson for all of us next year and the years beyond that: Wherever Michigan State is seeded, just put the Spartans in the Final Four and don’t look back.  Your odds are much better doing it that way than actually trying to analyze the matchups and break down the games.  Izzo is a March master, and how anyone can doubt this guy’s abilities is beyond comprehension.

Butler is No George Mason.  To a casual fan, he sees that Butler is in the Final Four this weekend and he’s thinking George Mason all over again.  This lazy thinking is a serious mistake.  Mason was an #11 seed who benefited from catching two teams by surprise in the first two rounds, followed by veritable home games in DC against another Cindy Wichita State in the regional semis and an uber-talented but frustratingly underachieving UConn team in the regional finals.  They deserve all the credit they can muster for winning those games, without question, but things broke well for them to make the run possible.  Butler had to play and beat the top two seeds in its region to make the Final Four this year, and they did it by forcing both Syracuse and Kansas State to bend to their style of play and make numerous atypical mistakes.  Butler’s defense subjugated two of the most efficient offenses in America into their worst performances of the year, and that’s no more a coincidence than Izzo above still having games to play.  Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine, Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen (combined 20-52 FGs) are undoubtedly still having nightmares of Butler defenders securing temporary eminent domain over their jockstraps.  The key takeaway here is that Butler will defend Michigan State just like the others, and if they can find enough offense themselves through Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and friends, they are plenty good enough to continue to advance.

Butler Can Win This Thing, Folks (IndyStar)

Bob Huggins, White Knight. One thing we noticed traveling around over the weekend was that every hoophead around the country was unilaterally rooting for West Virginia to take out John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night.  In the sports bar we were in during that game, Syracuse, Butler, K-State and Xavier fans were teamed up pulling for the Mountaineers.  We’ve picked up similar anecdotes from around the country since then — nobody wanted Kentucky to win that game.  We believe that this sentiment derives from a general feeling that Calipari is a dirty coach who cheats to get his players, but the irony of everyone outside of the Bluegrass backing Bob Huggins wasn’t lost on us.  Since when is tHuggins Huggins the white knight here to save college basketball from agents, cheaters and bags full of money?  Surely people remember his endless problems at Cincinnati with players failing to graduate, numerous asundry brushes with the law, and failing to exert institutional control?  No?  Look, we get that people don’t like Calipari and, by proxy, Kentucky; but isn’t Huggins quite possibly worse given the history of lawlessness on his teams?

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Elite Eight Game Analysis: Sunday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 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 Sunday afternoon’s games from the Midwest and South Regionals.

2:20 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #6 Tennessee  (Midwest Region)

Last we heard, no Spartans were injured in the last 24 hours. Tom Izzo probably can’t believe it. It’s hard to recall a team that’s had more injuries to deal with late in the season than this Michigan State squad. Still, here they are, playing for another shot at the Final Four. To get there, they’ll have to knock off a Tennessee team that certainly chose the right time to peak. The Volunteers flexed a little defensive muscle against Ohio State in their last game, taking the route of letting Evan Turner get his while stopping the rest of the starters. It worked. Turner posted 31, but the other four starters could only muster 29, and that’s why the Buckeyes aren’t suiting up on Sunday. On a normal day, we’d say that Michigan State poses a much different problem, since (sort of like the Vols) they have a variety of weapons that can rise up and do a number on you at any time. But is that the case this time? We hate to keep bringing up the injuries to Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe, and Chris Allen, but in a game like the one they have upcoming, it matters. Tennessee loves a physical game, and Michigan State doesn’t exactly shy away from them. Michigan State — similar to their Big Ten counterparts in the Buckeyes — is a team on which six players play the HUGE majority of the minutes, though, and the big question going into the game against Northern Iowa was whether or not MSU could stand any physicality the Panthers were going to throw at them because of their MASH-unit status. To be honest, the Spartans got less than they expected, had little problem, and were thankful. The problem for MSU is that Tennessee is not Northern Iowa. The Vols have several players, all healthy, who will relish the chance to get in and bang with the MSU boys. The Spartans will try to keep this more of a half-court, keep-it-in-the 40s slog, but with so many players coming off that UT bench, will it be possible?

The Skinny:  One of the tougher games to project in this tournament. It runs contrary to everything within us to pick against Tom Izzo when he’s got a chance at the Final Four, but if those MSU injuries really are still there — and you don’t go from MASH unit (Izzo’s words) to healed-up overnight — then we have to figure that, with a similar talent level, a healthy 8-10 players on team that’s peaking will beat a mostly unhealthy 6-8 players who’ll probably be forced out of their usual style. We’ll go with Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers to make it to the program’s first Final Four in what should be a phenomenal matchup.

5:05 pm – #1 Duke vs. #3 Baylor  (South Region)

After all the buzz about how great Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse were this season we only have one #1 seed standing: Duke. Now that we have reached this point almost everybody is picking against the Blue Devils again and they might have good reason to feel that way. All year long we have been talked about how much better the Blue Devils are on the interior compared to prior years, but their interior players will be put to the test against Baylor’s frontline of Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy and Josh Lomers, the best remaining group in the NCAA Tournament. While that group won’t destroy Duke’s interior trio of Brian Zoubek and Miles and Mason Plumlee because the Bears don’t rely on their big men for offense, don’t expect the Blue Devils to continue to dominate the paint like they have for much of the last two weeks. If Coach K is going to get his first trip to the Final Four in six years, he is going to have to rely on Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith to hit shots from the perimeter against Baylor’s 2-3 zone. They will have to at least match the 40% they shot as a team from beyond the arc in their Sweet 16 win agianst Purdue. The big question mark for Duke is whether Scheyer will return to his early-season form or if he will continue his current tailspin which appears to have hit a nadir with his 6-26 shooting from the field in his last two games. On the other end of the court, Smith and Scheyer will struggle to defend Baylor’s guards — Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn – who were sensational in the Bears’ blitzing of Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16. Smith might have a chance of neutralizing Carter, but Dunn should run Scheyer ragged unless Coach K gets him some help. The one advantage Duke has is Singler who doesn’t seem to have a peer match-up on the Bear roster. Singler will need to have a dominant game (something along the lines of 20 points and 10 rebounds) to give Duke a chance to win, but given the way he has been playing lately (like a 1st team All-American) the Blue Devils will be in it late. Then the question becomes who can convert down the stretch: Duke as the team with the pedigree and experience but a series of Tournament let downs, or Baylor as the team with the crowd behind them and a superior set of guards, but limited experience in high-level games?

The Skinny: It’s tempting to go with Blue Devils and Singler here if for no other reason than you have to believe that Coach K is bound to get a team back there at some point in the near future, but today isn’t the day. The combination of perimeter play with Carter and Dunn, interior play anchored by Udoh, and the home crowd should be enough to propel the Bears to their first Final Four since it was an eight-team tournament.

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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 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 – #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Tennessee  (Midwest Region)

We know the Buckeyes have had three full days of rest since their second round game against Georgia Tech.  But Thad Matta has shortened (and by “shortened,” we mean “set on fire and forgotten about”) his bench so much late in the season and in this tournament that you have to even wonder if that’s enough time for the Buckeyes to recover.  Jon Diebler has played every minute of the Buckeyes’ first two tournament games.  William Buford has missed two minutes of action TOTAL out of the possible 210 minutes of game time in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.  David Lighty and Evan Turner have only sat for five minutes in that same time span.  The only starter who sits for any amount of time is big man Dallas Lauderdale, and he still plays at least 30 minutes a game.  Yet, the Buckeyes keep rolling.  The only thing Jon Diebler seems tired of is finding himself open behind the three point line.  He’s 11-22 in OSU’s two tournament games, and a lot of these things aren’t monitor-checkers.  They were deep.  And of course Turner has shown us his usual excellence.  There aren’t any surprises with the Buckeyes.  Tennessee, though, is a different story.  You never know whose night it’s going to be.  Scotty Hopson, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince…any one or two of these guys can get hot, but then you have to worry about players like Brian Williams or Melvin Goins or Bobby Maze stepping up with a 15 point or 12 rebound night.  OSU’s four-forwards-and-Turner (who’s officially listed as a forward!) will be able to keep the Volunteer guards from getting too out of hand, but can they guard and rebound against the slightly taller Tennessee bigs?  As a team, rebounding is one of the few Buckeye weaknesses, and Tennessee has shown the capability to dominate the glass this year when they put their minds to it.  Both teams are among the nation’s best when it comes to guarding the three, but it’s OSU that gets a little more of their offense from the long ball.  On paper, the matchups are not favorable for OSU.  And the Tennessee kids are the kind who will relish the fact that they’re “supposed” to lose this game.  We doubt it’ll be a blowout, and remarkably both of these teams are fantastic in games decided by ten points or less.  In those games, OSU is 10-5 this season, and Tennessee is 13-2.  It’s gonna be a fun one.

The Skinny:  If both teams guard the three well, it will hurt OSU more than Tennessee.  Factor in the possibility that all those minutes could be catching up to the Buckeyes, and you have the makings of an upset.  It’s not easy taking the Volunteers in this game, because of how they can sometimes take nights off between the ears.  But Tennessee has had two chances to underestimate their opponent in this tournament, and didn’t either time.  They won’t here; they know what OSU can do.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Volunteers emerge.

7:27 pm – #3 Baylor vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (South Region)

The Gaels come into this game as one of the tournament’s Cinderellas, but this time Cinderella is actually the Tournament’s giant with Omar Samhan who has been the most dominant big man in the field so far after dominating Richmond and Villanova to the point where analysts were ripping Jay Wright for not doubling down on Samhan fo abusing Villanova’s interior players. In Wright’s defense, doubling down on Samhan would leave the St Mary’s guards open on the perimeter where they rank fourth in the country from beyond the arc. Scott Drew probably won’t be saddled with that dilemma since he has a center in 6’10 Ekpe Udoh who is every bit as good as Samhan. Even if Samhan does get the edge on Udoh here he will have to deal with 6’10 Anthony Jones, 7′ Josh Lomers and 6’7 Quincy Acy. With such a strong interior defense, the Bears block more shots than any other team in the NCAA Tournament at more than seven blocks per game so don’t expect Samhan to dominate the Bears like he did the Spiders and Wildcats. In addition to the challenge for Samhan on the offensive end, he will also be under pressure on defense going against a likely first rounder in Udoh. After hearing that you might be forgiven for thinking that this game will be decided solely on what happens on the inside, but you would be wrong. The matchup of guards featuring LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter against Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova could be the key to the game with the Bears having the edge in athleticism and the Gaels having the edge in shooting. Saint Mary’s will need their perimeter players (especially McConnell who is a ridiculous 75-145, or 51.7% from 3 this season) to hit treys against Baylor’s zone to open up space for Samhan to operate. If McConnell and Delledova can keep Dunn and Carter in front of them most of the time, the WCC might get its first team in the Elite Eight since 1999 when Gonzaga made it their before losing to eventual champion UConn (yes, that is the last time the Bulldogs made it that far).

The Skinny: Everyone will be talking about Baylor coming into this game with the homecourt advantage since the game is being played in Houston (a little over 180 miles away from Baylor’s campus in Waco), but Baylor doesn’t have a strong following like other schools in the state do. In fact, we might get a “Duke at Greensboro” situation where UNC fans (or in this case Texas and Texas A&M) root against the local team. Still the combination of Udoh, Dunn, and Carter should be enough to get it done as Samhan’s beastly NCAA Tournament run comes to an end.
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It’s Official – Kalin Lucas Ruptures Achilles Tendon

Posted by jstevrtc on March 22nd, 2010

You knew it from the way he went down on Sunday afternoon, but an MRI confirmed today that star Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas tore his left Achilles tendon in that amazing second round game against Maryland.

The Spartans and their fans have to be wondering what else can happen to this team.  Michigan State’s players have already achieved more than what could have been expected of them, considering the injuries they’ve sustained:  Lucas is the team’s leading scorer and dime-dropper and is known as one of the mentally toughest players in the game.  Delvon Roe was visibly limping in the Maryland game on a right knee that’s already endured one surgery, Chris Allen could only go for four minutes because of a right foot injury he suffered in the first tournament game against New Mexico State, and Raymar Morgan has a busted tooth.

Mutual Support: Izzo and Lucas (AP/Rajah Bose)

If Tom Izzo and his banged-up squad want to get by a Northern Iowa team playing mesmerizing basketball right now, not only do they need more minutes and more production from already hurting players, they also need some serious help from the bench.  Korie Lucious averaged 22 minutes and 5.2 points a game during the season, but played 27 minutes and contributed 13 points including the game-winner on Sunday.  He and Draymond Green are the two Spartans who immediately come to mind as far as who has to really step up now.  Specifically at the guard position, Lucious and Durrell Summers can look forward to playing almost every minute if Allen can’t go.  Junior Mike Kebler (4.0 MPG in 22 games, 0.4 PPG), a former walk-on, played eight minutes against the Terrapins and could see even more time, now.  Derrick Nix (7.8 MPG and 2.5 PPG), a 6’5 and 280-pound freshman, and 6’5 sophomore Austin Thornton (5.7 MPG in 30 games, 1.1 PPG, also a former walk-on) can provide relief minutes at the forward positions; both saw time against Maryland, contributing eight and four points, respectively.

If you’d like to learn more about Lucas’ injury, read on:

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Second Round 03.21.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 21st, 2010

How’s your bracket?  Probably looking pretty sweet if you went to undergrad at St. Mary’s and then took a master’s at Northern Iowa.  Have they stopped partying at UNI yet?  Or campaniling?  Or whatever they do there?  And if not, who could blame them?

That was yesterday, though.  The Panthers and Gaels will be receiving their Official Cinderella starter handbooks in the mail in a couple of days, so the matter now turns to the Sunday games, and any possible candidates that could join them.  Your lineup:

  • #1 Syracuse vs #8 Gonzaga
  • #2 Ohio State vs #10 Georgia Tech
  • #4 Maryland vs #5 Michigan State
  • #2 West Virginia vs #10 Missouri
  • #4 Wisconsin vs #12 Cornell
  • #3 Pittsburgh vs #6 Xavier
  • #4 Purdue vs #5 Texas A&M
  • #1 Duke vs #8 California

Will Northern Iowa’s dismissal of Kansas inspire other underdogs to greater heights?  Or will it cause the higher seeds to sharpen their focus and be even warier of the upstarts?  Keep in mind, things always start and end a tad earlier on Second Round Sunday, and there’s that glut of four games that all start within 30 minutes of each other in the early afternoon.  But no worry, if you can’t see them all — we’ll be here all day, talking about them, updating this post every few minutes, and looking for your comments.  Hard to believe we’ll have whittled the field of 64 down to 16 by Sunday night, and the events of Saturday should drive the point home that we need to enjoy this while it’s here.  We’re here to help.  We’ll start updating the post a few minutes before the first tipoff, and we hope to see you here.

12:00: Here we go, folks!  Day 2, second round.  The day starts with ‘Cuse/’Zags and you see the rest of the lineup above.  Syracuse, Duke, Ohio State…you’ve been put on notice by Northern Iowa.  Let’s see what happens.

12:10: One thing that’s got to make you happy if you’re a Syracuse fan is that Wesley Johnson is being VERY aggressive with the basketball.  Hit his first two.

12:18: See, I don’t think Matt Boldin needs to fire from three for the Zags to put their best foot forward, today.  I think they’ll be better off if he does more creating and dishing, and we know he picks up points that way.

12:27: Goodness, right now it’s Wesley Johnson versus Elias Harris.  Johnson has Syracuse’s first ten and Harris has just made the baseline his second home.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

The big thing from the past week. Big Ten season ends in three way tie. Exciting as the seesaw race was all year, it ended in melodramatic fashion as both Purdue and Michigan State hung on after Ohio State had already won out several days prior. The Boilers and Spartans took care of business, beating teams they were supposed to beat. Michigan State racked up back to back banners, but the big story is that this was the first title for Purdue since 1996. Now to see how many teams can go to the dance based on their performance in the Big Ten tournament.  Four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #5 Ohio State, #6 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, and #13 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings (final)

  1. Ohio State 24-7, 14-4
  2. Purdue 26-4, 14-4
  3. Michigan State 24-7, 14-4
  4. Wisconsin 23-7, 13-5
  5. Illinois 18-13, 10-8
  6. Minnesota 18-12, 9-9
  7. Northwestern 19-12, 7-11
  8. Michigan 14-16, 7-11
  9. Iowa 10-21, 4-14
  10. Indiana 10-20, 4-14
  11. Penn State 11-19, 3-15

Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis – March 11th-14th

First Round

  • #9 Iowa vs. #8 Michigan – March 11 – 2:30 ET – ESPN2 – This game could really go either way. The first game was a 14-point victory for Michigan at home, whereas the second game was a two-point victory in OT for Michigan on the road. For Michigan, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both had at least 20 in each game, so look for that to continue. For Iowa, Aaron Fuller played well in the first game, but went crazy for 30 in the second game. Matt Gatens was absent in the first game, but exploded for 21 in the second game. Michigan comes in having lost four of six games while Iowa has lost the past five of six games. Iowa should do well inside in this game, but I think Michigan has finally figured out that they can’t rely totally on threes, so I am going with Michigan in this one.
  • #10 Indiana vs. #7 Northwestern – March 11 – 4:55 ET – ESPN2 – This game will most likely go to Northwestern. It is just too difficult to win two games against the same team within a week’s time, especially for a team as inconsistent as Indiana has been all year. The big thing Indiana has going for itself in this game and for this tournament is that they are essentially the home town team, especially if they are able to fill Lucas Oil Stadium with Indiana fans. If not, I think Northwestern has too much John Shurna and too much Michael Thompson for IU to handle. I also think Northwestern will make the adjustments on Jordan Hulls to stop his flurry of threes.
  • #11 Penn State vs. #6 Minnesota – March 11 – 7:30 ET – I am going with Minnesota in this one. They have really come on strong to close out the season, winning four of their last six games, including a 35-point drubbing of Iowa. Both of the matchups between these teams during the regular year were close victories for Minnesota, so I expect this one to be close because it is on neutral ground, and I wouldn’t expect either of the team’s fans to come out in droves. Penn State will need Chris Babb to have a big game along with Talor Battle and David Jackson, while Minnesota needs a consistent performance from Westbrook, Sampson, Hoffarber, and Johnson. The X-factor for Minnesota is Devoe Joseph who struggled in both contests. If he can step up then Minnesota wins easily;  if not they will win in a close battle.

Quarterfinals (projected)

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