Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #7 Rhode Island 62

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rhode Island Had No Answers For Duke Today (Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Duke’s talent advantage was just too much for Rhode Island to overcome. Rhode Island began the game with its hair on fire. The Rams had a distinct pep in their step. That energy allowed them to open a quick 7-2 lead and it certainly got their fans into the swing of things. The energetic start was short-lived though as Duke rapidly exerted both its overwhelming size advantage and definite talent advantage. The Blue Devils make things look easy. Whether it was Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. hitting perimeter shots or Trevon Duval driving the lane or Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. having their way in the post, Duke’s horses were just way too much to overcome. Whenever it seemed like Rhode Island may have had a bit of a spark that could have led to a little run, the Blue Devils rapidly put that to bed. This game was a total annihilation, but that is known to happen when playing a group as talented as Duke.
  2. The Duke zone continues to create issues for its opponents. The fact that Duke tried running man-to-man for so long with this personnel continues to baffle. It was quite clear early on that the Blue Devils would continue to struggle in man-to-man due to the lack of great individual defenders on their roster. When it finally made the full-time switch to the zone in January, it became obvious that the team’s length and ability to move laterally made it a terrific zone team. Entering today’s action, the Blue Devils ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. That ranking would have been impossible if Duke had made the decision to stick with the man-to-man. Duke’s zone success was on display once again this afternoon, as Rhode Island was held to just 62 points on 39.7% shooting. It should also be noted that a lot of the shots the Rams did make were not exactly open looks.
  3. Today marked the end of quite the run for Rhode Island basketball. The Rams have nothing to hang their heads about. They just ran into a buzz saw today. It can be argued that no one would have bested Duke this afternoon. With the loss, Rhode Island’s season ends and a major chapter of Rams basketball has reached its conclusion. A senior class of E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson, Andre Berry, and Jarvis Garrett played its final game in a Rhode Island uniform. That class was what brought the Rams back into the national conversation. NCAA Tournament bids and subsequent first round wins – both this year and last – continued that conversation. It must also be noted that there is a good chance coach Dan Hurley will not be back on the Rhode Island sideline next season. The star coach is said to be a strong candidate for both the Connecticut and Pittsburgh openings. No matter if Hurley returns or not, the Rhode Island program will look dramatically different in the 2018-19 season.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Rhode Island 83, #10 Oklahoma 78 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Rhode Island Gutted Out Another NCAA Tournament Victory (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a start to the NCAA Tournament. This afternoon’s action represented the first game of the Round of 64 this year and it certainly did not disappoint. Regulation was marked by both teams trading punches and finding responses to stay within striking distance. Oklahoma came back to force overtime thanks to heroics from freshman phenom Trae Young, as the point guard extraordinaire scored the Sooners’ final 11 points of regulation to knot the game at 69. Rhode Island had a pair of chances to win it in regulation, but a Jeff Dowtin jumper rattled off the rim and Stanford Robinson‘s put-back attempt agonizingly fell off to force the extra period. While Rhode Island was able to put together several strong possessions in a row and eventually pull away in overtime, this game was a strong reminder of what makes the NCAA Tournament such an exciting event every single year.
  2. E.C. Matthews carried Rhode Island in the overtime period. With Rhode Island trailing 72-71 and under two minutes to play, it went to its senior leader for a much-needed spark. E.C. Matthews buried a three-pointer with 1:52 left to give the Rams a two-point lead, and he followed that up by burying another one with 31 seconds remaining to give his team an insurmountable five-point lead. The Rams had to be disappointed that they had squandered a late lead in regulation, but a senior leader like Matthews ensured that his team was going to carry on and win the game in overtime. Leading up to Rhode Island’s Second Round game on Saturday, it is a near certainty you will hear more about the long and winding career of Matthews.
  3. This was likely Trae Young’s last college basketball game. If you have followed college basketball this season, you have certainly heard more than enough about Oklahoma’s Trae Young. In likely his final game as a Sooner, he turned in a very on-brand performance to support his certain All-America bona fides. Young finished the afternoon with 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-9 3FG) to go along with seven assists and six turnovers. The best part of his performance, though, was that Young was really all Oklahoma had as an offensive option when it needed a big play. It was a benefit and a challenge which was pretty much the entire story for Oklahoma this season — and ultimately caused Lon Kruger‘s Sooners to go one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament. Young is an exceptional player who seems poised to have a lengthy NBA career, but it is somewhat a shame that he did not receive more assistance from his teammates during his tenure as the Sooners’ star point guard.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Super Bowl Weekend (College Hoops Version)

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 2nd, 2018

While college basketball will take a backseat to the Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, there is plenty of action on the hardwood before then. Here are ten questions I have for this weekend.

Rhode Island is Quietly Rising, But How Good Are the Rams? (USA Today Images)

  1. Is Rhode Island THAT GOOD or is the Atlantic 10 THAT BAD? Rhode Island sits at 10-0 in conference play with a three-game lead over VCU, Davidson and Richmond. With its next three games against that trio, Rhode Island could have the regular season crown wrapped up by mid-February. Only three Atlantic 10 teams own a KenPom top 100 ranking this season, a far cry from the past five seasons when the conference has averaged 7.4 teams among the top 100.
  2. Will Texas Tech stay within reach of Kansas? Only one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings, Texas Tech faces a crucial road test at TCU on Saturday. In two of its three conference losses, Texas Tech has been unable to force turnovers at its season rate of 23.7 percent, which ranks among the top 10 nationally. The Red Raiders will match up against a TCU offense that has the lowest turnover rate in conference play.
  3. Which Los Angeles team steps up in the crosstown battle?  While USC has its eyes on the Pac-12 title (one game behind Arizona), UCLA is looking to make its seat on the bubble a little more comfortable. An area to watch in this game is the three-point line, where over its last five games UCLA is shooting 33-of-111 (29.7%) and allowing its opponents to shoot 41-of-87 (47.1.%). Read the rest of this entry »
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Crucial Week Ahead for Several O26 At-Large Contenders

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 5th, 2017

For mid-major NCAA Tournament hopefuls, non-conference play offers the only realistic chance to notch marquee, resume-building wins. Teams able to capitalize on those opportunities may put themselves in position for a bid next March even if they stumble during Championship Week. With only a few weeks of non-conference action remaining, let’s examine the important week that lies ahead for a few O26 at-large hopefuls:

Big opportunities lie ahead for Nevada and Rhode Island. (John Byrne, Nevada Wolf Pack Athletics)

  • Gonzaga (7-1) This week: vs. #4 Villanova, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tuesday. With another talented roster and early wins over Texas, Ohio State and #25 Creighton, Gonzaga should be in fine shape to reach its 20th-straight Big Dance, even if it slips up in the the WCC Tournament. Still, tonight’s Jimmy V Classic match-up against #4 Villanova — the best team in college basketball, according to KenPom — offers the Zags an important chance to significantly strengthen its profile. A win over the Wildcats would give Mark Few’s group a neutral court victory against a potential power conference champion. A loss, and Gonzaga — without any match-ups remaining against likely NCAA Tournament teams — will be left hoping those wins over the Longhorns, Buckeyes and Bluejays age well. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that this specific outcome could bump the Bulldogs up or down multiple seed lines come Selection Sunday.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Feast Week 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 20th, 2017

Feast Week is upon us! Here are 10 questions to consider in advance of all of this week’s action…

Jay Wright’s crew should be right in the thick of things again this season. (Derik Hamilton/USA TODAY)Sports

  1. Which team near the top of the rankings has the most to gain? While there are many potential match-ups that stand out across the various tournaments this week, the Battle 4 Atlantis path to a championship for Villanova could include both Purdue and Arizona. Wins against those two teams would go a long way toward bolstering the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament seeding come March. After Atlantis, Villanova’s schedule the rest of the way currently includes only three games against KenPom top 30 teams.
  2. Which Feast Week tournament is the most competitive? While it may lack a headliner in terms of sheer star power or top-10 teams, the four-team CBE Hall of Fame Classic starting tonight should feature two days of very competitive basketball. Monday’s match-ups feature a pair of interesting storylines: Will Wisconsin be able to protect its defensive glass against Baylor; and will UCLA be able to defend Creighton? The winner of this tournament will leave Kansas City with a pair of quality wins that should hold weight into March.  
  3. Where will the action be in the PK80? The 16-team field at the PK80 Invitational is filled with a number of the top teams in college basketball. The “Victory Bracket” could result in a compelling second round match-up between Phil Knight’s beloved Oregon team and Michigan State — a big early test for the local team that looks much different than the team that won a share of the Pac-12 title last season. The best game of this tournament could come on Sunday evening if the Spartans were to face North Carolina.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Fact Sheet: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: Oregon.

How Oregon Got Here

Oregon hopes to continue riding high in Phoenix (Getty Images).

Midwest Region Champions. After receiving a lower-than-expected #3 seed on Selection Sunday, Oregon rolled past #13 Iona 83-67 in its NCAA Tournament opener. Two nights later, it required a pair of clutch Tyler Dorsey three-pointers for the Ducks to survive #11 Rhode Island, which led by as many as 10 points in the second half. Oregon’s late-game execution continued against #7 Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen, where it held the Wolverines scoreless over the game’s final two minutes en route to a 69-68 victory. Finally, despite facing #1 Kansas in Kansas City on Saturday—a road game by almost any standard—the Ducks drilled 11 three-pointers, held the Jayhawks to their worst offensive output of the season (0.94 points per possession), and advanced to their first Final Four since 1939.

The Coach

Dana Altman. The 58-year-old Nebraska native has quietly had one of the most successful careers among active Division I basketball coaches — a career now punctuated by his first Final Four appearance. Altman ranks 10th on the all-time wins list among working head men (597 wins), joining Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Tom Izzo as the only active coaches with 20+ consecutive winning seasons. After spending 16 years at Creighton (and becoming the Bluejays’ all-time winningest coach in the process), Altman has turned an inconsistent Oregon program into a perennial threat to win the Pac-12. Prior to his arrival, the Ducks had reached the Sweet Sixteen three times in program history, and won 30+ games only once; since Altman took the job in 2011, Oregon has doubled that number of Sweet Sixteen appearances and won 30+ games twice. He may well be a future Hall of Famer.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 75, #11 Rhode Island 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Tyler Dorsey Carried the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Come Aboard the Brooks & Dorsey Train. Everyone knows that Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey mean everything to the Ducks’ offense, but from about the 14-minute mark through the end, EVERY Oregon possession went through one of those two guys. And they came through. When Oregon was down by six in the mid-second half, it was Brooks who put together his own personal 9-0 run to regain the lead. Later, when it appeared that the Ducks were cooked after some missed free throws and a bad shot, it was Dorsey who hit back-t0-back three pointers to both tie the game (with 1:47 remaining) and win it (with 0:37 left). The two players combined for 46 of the Ducks’ 75 total points, and they needed every bit of it.
  2. The Loss of Chris Boucher Was Apparent. At the risk of Debbie Downing what was certainly a gutty win by Oregon, it was clear as day how much the Ducks miss injured center Chris Boucher — at one point in the first half, Rhode Island had converted 16 of 20 shots inside the three-point arc. The Rams repeatedly got to the basket for layups or short jumpers, and they hardly ever missed. That 80 percent figure dropped to a more reasonable 65 percent by the end of the game, but it put so much pressure on Oregon to stay in contact — largely through Brooks and Dorsey — that you wonder how they can possibly manage his loss any better going forward.
  3. Rhode Island is Full of Tough, Tough Kids. Call it the Northeastern swagger of whatever you like, but it was crystal clear today that the ferocity and grit of head coach Danny Hurly has rubbed off on his players. They didn’t care that they were playing 3,000 miles away from home in Pac-12 country against a Pac-12 team. They expected to win and they were devastated when they didn’t. For much of the night, frankly, Rhode Island was the better team with the superior game plan. But they didn’t have a Tyler Dorsey, and that’s ultimately what made the difference. Hurley seems tailor-made for this kind of underdog program, but you can be certain he’ll get some calls from power conference teams very soon.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. It’s funny because it was Brooks who decided to put the team on his shoulders to allow for the Ducks’ second-half comeback today, but Dorsey’s 27 points, five rebounds and threes assists were simply too much to ignore. Not to mention that he hit the back-breaking threes that effectively won the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Rhode Island 84, #6 Creighton 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court is covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Rhode Island Played Harder and Smarter Today (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Rhode Island’s Determination. From the opening tip today, it was easy to determine which team had more energy, more desire and more fire. Much has been written this week about Rhode Island’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the Jim Harrick/Lamar Odom days of the late 1990s, but the biggest story here is that this particular group of Rams played like they really appreciated the opportunity. And why wouldn’t they? Because of a series of injuries and some other bad luck over the past several years, Rhode Island had become one of the hardest-luck near-miss cases in college basketball, on the cusp of the Big Dance but never breaking through. Today it was apparent when Rhode Island jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead (that it never relinquished) that higher-seed Creighton was in for a rock fight. Perhaps the most visible statistic showing the Rams’ singular focus and determination today came at the foul line — a 65.7 percent free-throw shooting team hit 28 of its first 29 attempts on its way to a 90.3 percent day.
  2. Creighton’s Dream Season Went Kaput With Mo Watson’s Injury. Creighton was 18-1 and unbeaten in Big East play when point guard Mo Watson suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Xavier back in mid-January. The Bluejays went on to win that game, but they then lost nine of 16 down the stretch after their team leader and best player was hurt. Given that so much of Creighton’s offense was reliant on three-point shooting, there just wasn’t much else the Bluejays if shots weren’t dropping like today (missing five of their first 20 attempts). I overheard the Creighton radio crew discussing the season, and the word “frustrating” came up several times. You have to imagine that they are wondering, like everyone else, what could have been with Watson available.
  3. What Will Justin Patton Do? Creighton hasn’t historically been the kind of school that has elite one-and-done talent, but the NBA draftniks around the basketball world are in love with seven-foot freshman center Justin Patton. With great length, agility and loads of opportunity to grow his game into his body, there’s plenty to like. Not much of that was apparent today, however. His game started with two missed bunnies and getting rejected, and he seemed somewhat tentative and jittery with the ball all game long. He ultimately fouled out after posting a forgettable eight-point, seven-rebound (on 3-of-12 shooting) performance. It would make good sense if the talented youngster cashed in while his stock is high, but he is still definitely a few years away from contributing at a professional level.

Star of the Game. Jeff Dowtin, Rhode Island. The freshman guard came up big today to ensure that his upperclassman teammates who have experienced so much anguish in their careers would keep playing this weekend. He contributed a 14-point second half on his way to 23 points and five rebounds, including a perfect 10-of-10 mark from the foul line.

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