NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest Region

West Region

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ACC Morning Five: 03.21.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 21st, 2012

  1. Fox Sports Carolinas: Andrew Jones does a solid job breaking down Duke‘s struggles this year. The article is specifically relevant on the end of the season, as I think the “lack of spirit” only settled in after the North Carolina game at Duke. But the issues are definitely there. I’d probably order my list like this (in order of greatest to least importance): (1) lack of a leader, (2) defense, (3) reliance on one player, (4) reliance on the three, (5) point guard issues. Some things are interconnected. The depressing thing for Duke fans is things may get worse before they get better depending on who stays and who goes this year.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the scoring decline in the ACC. Since 2001 when the league peaked–averaging 79.3 points a game–the scoring has been steadily dropping to this year’s low of 68.5. In 2001 the league’s lowest scorer (Florida State) actually averaged higher scoring than this year’s league average. Part of the recent drop can be associated with coaching turnover and conference expansion creating diluted talent and new styles (see: Boston College and Virginia, respectively). The rest is probably a part of the national trend of offenses getting more efficient while slowing down. I hope someone analyzes the roots of this phenomenon.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: Want to know one reason NC State looks a lot better as of late? Richard Howell is seeing more playing time. Howell and fellow frontmen CJ Leslie and DeShawn Painter all improved significantly, but Howell’s tendency to pick up quick fouls kept him off the court during the regular season. Howell’s presence is going to be extra-critical this weekend against Kansas, as he’s a significantly better rebounder than Painter. The Wolfpack will need his presence on the glass to help limit the Jayhawks to one shot.
  4. Testudo Times: Ben Broman over at Testudo Times took a look at Nick Faust‘s season and very promising prognosis. Faust started the year horrendously on offense–largely because he was forced to take too large a role on an offense with too few weapons–but his talent has always been evident. Multiple people have said this throughout the year (especially down the stretch when things started clicking for the freshman): next year Faust could easily find himself on an All-ACC team. Frankly, he should probably find himself on two if his defense continues to improve and he gets his offensive mojo back.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: This is a very interesting interview with Brian Gregory. Probably the most insightful comment is on one thing he learned about the ACC, which was the physical nature of the conference. For a long time the Big East and Big Ten were known as the tough leagues (they still are), but the ACC is definitely becoming a tougher conference (Duke, Florida State, Miami and Virginia are very physical teams). I also thought Gregory’s reflection on his team was interesting even after taking it with a grain of “coach speak” salt.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Sunday

Posted by EJacoby on March 18th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#3 Georgetown vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Thompson's Team is a Real Wildcard in this Region

We originally picked Georgetown to get upset in the round of 64 by Belmont, but that was with knowledge that the Hoyas could be the biggest threat to stopping Kansas from reaching the Elite Eight if they were able to escape that opening game. Not only did Georgetown escape, but it was one of the most impressive showings of any team in the tournament thus far. The Hoyas used their length and athleticism to deny the efficient Belmont offense from ever getting started, and they were unreal at their own end offensively with a 61.2% field goal percentage for the game. This matchup will be more difficult, however, against an North Carolina State team that’s getting better every game and playing spectacular offensively. The Wolfpack have great size inside to match Georgetown, with C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell as long and athletic as any Hoya. Howell had his best game of the season with 22 points on 10-12 shooting last game, but that will also change as he goes up against much stronger post defenders. Georgetown primarily plays zone defense but will also switch things up and defend man-to-man when needed. It will be a battle inside all night as the Hoyas surely won’t let Scott Wood get open looks from three. This game, though, will be decided on the other end of the floor. NC State was not particularly strong defensively throughout the year, but they completely shut down San Diego State on Friday by allowing just 37.7% field goal shooting. The Aztecs played a lot of one-on-one ball, the exact opposite of what the Hoyas will show. It’ll be up to Henry Sims to make smart decisions in the high post, something he’s done all year. Jason Clark was great last game and is a reliable playmaker in this game, while Otto Porter remains rock solid as an X-factor offensively. Both of these teams looked great last round, but Georgetown has the advantage because it should pose a much greater defensive threat to the Wolfpack while also running a motion offense that will be difficult to defend.

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#1 Michigan State vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Two top ten teams in defensive efficiency. Two coaches with a well-earned reputation for X-ing and O-ing with the best of them. It isn’t likely to be one of the prettiest displays of basketball you’ll ever see, but if you like fundamentals and you like basketball as chess match, this is a can’t-miss game. The Billikens advanced to this round behind great team defense and great individual offensive performances by Kwamain Mitchell (22 points including four threes) and Brian Conklin (16 points, earned largely from his ten-of-11 performance from the line). But Conklin also turned the ball over eight times, in part due to the active hands of Memphis defenders; he’ll see more of that on Sunday and will need to take better care of the ball. Defensively, the Billikens will need to come up with some sort of answer for Draymond Green, who was brilliant Friday against Long Island, registering a triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. But perhaps the biggest battle of the game will be on Michigan State’s offensive glass. The Spartans have historically made a living creating offensive on second-chance opportunities, but the best Rick Majerus-coached teams have been proficient in securing defensive rebounds. If the Billikens can limit the Spartans’ offensive rebounding (a feat easier said than done), Tom Izzo will need to find other ways for his Spartans to score in the halfcourt, and there have been times this year when that MSU offense has bogged down a bit. While sophomore guard Keith Appling is usually excellent getting penetration, SLU is no liable to allow that very often, and there is no one else on the Spartan roster capable of creating his own offense off the dribble on a regular basis. Guys like Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton have been very efficient three-point shooters, but, with the exception perhaps of Green, they need someone to create open looks for them. In short, if SLU can do what no other team has been able to do all year – keep Michigan State in check on their offensive glass – then the Billikens could drag this game down into the mud and pull out a win. But, if the Spartans do what, you know, they always do, I have a hard time seeing Saint Louis pulling this one out.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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ATB: Absolute MADNESS – Chaos Ensues As Round of 64 Concludes…

Posted by EJacoby on March 17th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede – Thursday was a fairly slow first day of NCAA Tournament action, producing just two total upsets and leaving much to be desired in terms of thrilling finishes. Friday was a completely different story – two #15 seeds won on the same day for the first time ever, with the results coming just a couple of hours apart. We also saw a #13, #12, #11, and two #10 seeds come out victorious in one of the craziest days in Big Dance history. Half of the games on the schedule resulted in upsets, including seven of the final nine contests on this freaky Friday night. Without further ado, we provide everything you need to know in this installment of After The Buzzer…

Your Watercooler Moment. #15 Norfolk State Stuns #2 Missouri.

It was supposed to be the late afternoon game to fill the only quiet block of the evening. #15-seed Norfolk State against #2 Missouri, the exciting up-tempo team that produced the most efficient offense in the country this season with its four-guard attack. Mizzou was a very popular Final Four pick, considered the team with the greatest upside in the West Region. But then things got interesting; pesky Norfolk State was hanging around and had the game tied at halftime. Every time you looked up at the scoreboard in the second half, Norfolk was ahead or behind by a couple of points and that’s when it was time to tell all your friends that we might have a serious bracket-buster taking place. Sure enough, it happened. The Spartans of the MEAC conference became the first #15-seed to win an NCAA Tournament game in 11 years since a fellow MEAC school did it in the form of Hampton University over Iowa State in 2001. This year, it was dominant big man Kyle O’Quinn who paced the way with a monster double-double for a team that shot 54.2% from the field and went 10-19 from three. Missouri played fine offensively, shooting 52.7% itself, but the Tigers allowed the tournament’s least-efficient offense to hit shots from everywhere on the floor as well as out-hustle them to loose balls and open rebounds. Little did we know, the madness was only beginning on this night.

Also Worth Chatting About. Hours Later, #15 Lehigh Makes History

Most brackets were busted from Missouri’s loss alone, but those who happened to have the Tigers falling early in their pools surely didn’t survive the rest of the night, either. The 7:00 PM ET block of games blew the roof off of this tournament, beginning with the little guys from the Patriot League. #15 Lehigh had a terrific year led by mid-major star guard C.J. McCollum, but nobody thought this team had a chance against Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils, the most successful NCAA Tournament team of the past 20 years. #2-seed Duke, though, was vulnerable because of an injury to starting forward Ryan Kelly and an overall trend of weak recent play thanks to a porous defense. The Mountain Hawks took advantage early and often, leading this game early in the first half and continuing to put the pressure on Duke’s ‘D’. McCollum was the star of the show, Duke wasn’t hitting from the perimeter, and Lehigh really had a chance to win this game. Late in the second half it was anyone’s game, but McCollum made big play after big play while no Duke guard could counter. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Andre Dawkins combined to shoot 4-19 from three. Gabe Knutson matched Mason Plumlee inside going for 17 points on 5-5 shooting. And when the buzzer sounded, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks were winners in a thorough victory that made history. For the first time ever, two #15 seeds won in the same year of the NCAA Tournament. And it all happened on the same evening, just two-and-a-half hours apart.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round – Friday Afternoon

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Texas – East Region Second Round (at Nashville, TN) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

These are two teams with similar statistical profiles but the Texas Longhorns are missing Alexis Wangmene, a big senior forward who would have added an extra body for Rick Barnes to go up against Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates in the paint. With a guard-oriented team and a thin front court, the Longhorns have some difficulty against the physical Bearcats. Cincinnati doesn’t have a deep front line either but Gates is the team’s third leading scorer and a key cog in its offensive flow. Neither team shoots the ball particularly well but Cincinnati has an edge on the perimeter with multiple players who can make a three. Texas ranks sub-200 in defending the triple and that’s something that could cost it the game. Cincinnati is a streaky hit-or-miss team with four capable guards surrounding Gates on the floor. As for Texas, leading scorer J’Covan Brown is pretty much the team’s only major threat. If Cincinnati can lock up Brown defensively, it will win the game rather easily. If Brown manages to get free and score close to his average of 20.1 PPG, the Bearcats will be in for a nail biter. Although Brown is the best player on the floor in this game, the edge has to go to Cincinnati because of its more balanced talent on the perimeter (including limiting turnovers), Gates in the post and the team’s overall experience. The majority of Cincinnati’s rotation is made up of juniors and seniors while four of Texas’ top six scorers are freshmen.

The RTC Certified Pick: Cincinnati.

#6 San Diego State vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Second Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

Jamaal Franklin is a Ferocious Competitor on Both Ends for SDSU (US Presswire)

A very popular upset pick, North Carolina State comes into this game on a roll having won four of its last five games with the only loss in the ACC Tournament semifinals to North Carolina by one possession. But NC State was on the bubble just one week ago; this team has been inconsistent throughout the season. The Wolfpack lost four games in a row prior to that strong finish to the season. The key to pull this upset will be to keep pressure on a strong SDSU defense, keyed by pounding the ball inside to find points in the paint with C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and C.J. Williams. It’s doubtful that San Diego State will give Scott Wood any wide open looks from three. The Aztecs, meanwhile, may have the two best overall players in this game with Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin (17.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG) and savvy guard Chase Tapley (15.7 PPG, 43.3% three-pointers). Both players shoulder a lot of the scoring load but have been reliable in big games this season against strong MW competition. SDSU is a much stronger defensive team (93.5 defensive efficiency) and holds opponents to 40% shooting from the field. NC State has a 99.9 ‘D’ efficiency and allows too much easy offense. We’ll take the Aztecs, the stronger team all season long that has Sweet Sixteen experience from last season.

The RTC Certified Pick: San Diego State

#8 Creighton vs. #9 Alabama – Midwest Region Second Round (at Greensboro, NC) – 1:40 PM ET on TBS

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Scouting North Carolina State vs. San Diego State

Posted by KCarpenter on March 16th, 2012

Announced last on the NCAA Selection Show (conspiracy?!), North Carolina State made the tournament after a brief absence from meaningful post-season play and was rewarded with what seems to be a fairly favorable draw against San Diego State. Coached by the legendary Steve Fisher, this San Diego State team that was supposed to be in severe rebuilding mode after losing most of last year’s veteran-loaded team to graduation and/or the NBA, but something strange happened. Sure, they lost more games than last year’s  team that went 32-2 before NCAA Tournament play, but who didn’t outside of Murray State. Still, instead of falling off the face of the Earth, the Aztecs made a really strong run this year, knocking off a number of pretty good teams. UNLV, New Mexico, and Colorado State, fellow NCAA teams from the Mountain West Conference all took at least one loss to San Diego State. The Aztecs also swept their three-game series against the Pac-12, beating Arizona, California, and Southern California as well as beating a pretty good Big West team in Long Beach State. Now, these wins look okay on paper, but they come with a number of caveats: The Pac-12 was truly terrible this year, wins against Cal and Arizona look worse and worse as more time passes, and beating USC was never really all that impressive. Though the wins against fellow Mountain West teams looks pretty good, it has to be understood that the Aztecs also lost at least once to all three of these teams. So while this is a nice collection of wins, I’m not sure that it says anything definitive about San Diego State’s quality.

Despite Being The Lower Seed, Gottfriend & The Wolfpack Should Like Their Chances

What I can say is that San Diego State has largely started 6’7″ Tim Shelton at center for much of the year. While the Aztecs can bring decent size off the bench in 6’11” Garret Green and 6’8″ Deshawn Stephens (and they typically give reasonable minutes to both), San Diego is pretty small compared to NC State’s front court, which is a problem. San Diego State is a good defensive rebounding team, but the Wolfpack is one of the more formidable offensive rebounding teams in the nation, boasting a legitimate star of the offensive glass in Richard Howell. On the opposite end, the Aztecs (with the exception of Deshawn Stephens) are largely indifferent to the offensive glass, seeming to philosophically embrace a San Antonio Spurs-esque approach which encourages getting back on defense over crashing the offensive glass. All in all, this seems to add up to a distinct advantage for the Wolfpack on the glass on both ends. This difference in rebounding good be significant for teams that stylistically share a few attributes.

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ACC Game On: 02.21.12

Posted by KCarpenter on February 21st, 2012

In-State Rivalry Rematches

  • North Carolina at North Carolina State at 8:00 PM on ACC Network or
  • Virginia at Virginia Tech at 9:00 PM on ESPNU

NC State Could Really Use This Win (Star-News)

When North Carolina State played the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, the game turned into a 19-point rout thanks to North Carolina’s domination on the boards. In Raleigh, the Wolfpack will take a stand to try to avenge the January loss and to make a statement that will guarantee them a shot at March Madness. Right now, NC State sits right on the bubble with no wins better than Texas and Miami. A victory over North Carolina would go a long way towards ensuring that the Wolfpack goes dancing. At home, Mark Gottfried’s team will have an edge with what will surely be a raucous home crowd fired up by “Hessgate” and the natural rivalry. NC State is a very good rebounding team and the fluke bad performance in the previous meeting of these teams is largely owed to the foul trouble and limited mintes of Richard Howell, by far the team’s best rebounder. If Howell and all the other key pieces can stay on the floor, the Wolfpack very well might walk away with a signature win.

In an otherwise disappointing season, Virgina Tech’s upset of Virginia stands as a clear highlight for the Hokies. For the Cavaliers, the game was their first without starting center Assane Sene and the loss seemed to demonstrate how much they missed him. In the rematch at Blacksburg, Virginia seeks to settle the score and prove that the loss was a fluke and that they have adjusted to life without Sene. The Tar Heel and Wolfpack showdown might get more attention, but there’s liable to be plenty of heat (if not speed) in the clash between these two in-state rivals.

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ACC Morning Five: 01.31.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 31st, 2012

  1. Washington Post: Remember how Lefty Driesell complained about Maryland naming its court after Gary Williams? Well, he’s still talking. I’ll just pick out some choice quotes:

    “Everybody’s gonna think well Gary Williams’s players are the ones that put Maryland on the map. You know, Maryland was on the map before Gary got there.
    [On Georgia State’s court being named after him] Yeah, it sure is. Well, you know, they never had a successful program before I got there. Never.
    I think Mark Turgeon’s gonna win a couple of national championships.
    [On how Williams should have been honored] Well, I don’t know. You know, he got banners up there for winning the national championship. Maybe like the Orioles do, put a statue out back.”

    The moral of the story is Driesell isn’t happy and isn’t hiding his opinions.

  2. Beyond the Arc: Mike Miller sat down with Adam Rowe of Duke Hoop Blog to talk about the Blue Devils. One thing I really wish Rowe had mentioned is the lack of a versatile wing on the perimeter defensively. Kyle Singler was a big part of Duke’s defense the last four years. Combine his versatility with Nolan Smith’s on-ball pressure and you got a top defensive team despite not having ludicrous athleticism (as Arizona exposed in the NCAA Tournament). This year’s team doesn’t have that versatility and only Tyler Thornton applies great on-ball pressure. One of the more interesting points Rowe made was that Thornton is often credited as a great defensive stopper when he really is just good at playing physical defense and getting into passing lanes (though I think stopping, outside of shot-blockers, is generally a team stat on defense).
  3. ACC Sports Journal: Frank Haith had a reputation in the ACC “as a nice guy who recruited good players and did a middling job molding them into competitive teams.” Frankly, that’s probably generous. Haith was frequently panned, especially following last season when he brought back an experienced and talented squad but did little with it. But Haith’s success at Missouri stands in stark contrast with perceptions at Miami. Is it the perfect storm of the right players? I don’t know. What I do know is that Haith put on a miniature coaching clinic last night against Rick Barnes (another ACC coaching alum) when he went zone against Texas, shutting down J’Covan Brown entirely on the final possession of Missouri’s one-point win over the Longhorns in Austin.
  4. The State: Bad news coming out of Clemson, as Milton Jennings will be suspended because of  “‘failure to comply’ with the team’s academic standards.” Failure to comply is an interesting word choice — maybe just a slip of the keys, but that doesn’t sound like a grade issue. It sounds like a cheating, class cutting or missed assignment issue. The last of those options seems the most likely as Jeff Borzello tweeted yesterday that Jennings “should be back soon.” It hasn’t been a great season for Jennings off the court between this and getting into it with Brad Brownell.
  5. Washington Post: I always love it when coaches talk some trash. And Shaka Smart fired some shots across the Commonwealth of Virginia, saying “the reality is if you go by the numbers, if you go by postseason, if you go by even guys going to the NBA, the best programs in the state are in the CAA. It’s really not even close.” My guess is Tony Bennett has something to say about that. Most years Seth Greenberg would probably be a little more outspoken too.

Fun Fact: Richard Howell is on pace to break NC State’s foul record of 110 (set by Ilian Evtimov). He already has 73 in the books and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

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One Down, Ten to Dance: NC State Looks Forward After Win Against Maryland

Posted by mpatton on January 9th, 2012

Mark Gottfried made himself very clear both before and after NC State‘s ACC opener against Maryland: his goal is to make the NCAA tournament. He knows 11-5 in conference play should lock up an at-large bid (the Wolfpack would be 22-9), so he wants 11 conference wins. His team is one game closer after beating the Terrapins 79-74. The score doesn’t really reflect the game, which NC State led nearly the whole way.

The one thing that was clear watching Gottfried’s squad is they have the talent to make the Big Dance. They are long and athletic up front–especially with the offseason transformation undergone by Richard Howell. CJ Leslie looks much better than when I saw him last season. He is still dominant in transition, but now he is much more comfortable around the basket. Where last year, he settled far too often for the 15-foot jump shot, against Maryland Leslie attacked the basket and boards to earn 19 points and ten boards. Leslie still needs to work on taking care of the basketball, finishing with five turnovers for the game.

CJ Leslie Dominated Maryland in the Conference Opener. (Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

As for the rest of the frontcourt, Howell struggled in the first half because of foul trouble, but came out swinging in the second to finish with 10 points. Maryland frosh Alex Len clearly struggled to keep pace with the athletic frontcourt late in the game, which allowed DeShawn Painter a couple of open transition lay-ups.

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ACC Morning Five: 01.04.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 4th, 2012

  1. Duke Basketball Report: Florida State is off to a rough start, and the triple-overtime loss to Princeton fit right into the Seminoles’ disappointing non-conference season. But how rare is a 3OT game? Apparently, very rare. Barry Jacobs has a very interesting look at all games that went to three overtimes or more. NC State has the most quadruple-overtime games (two), but Georgia Tech takes the day because of its undefeated record in triple-overtime games.
  2. Wilmington Star News: Brett Friedlander takes a look at some of the unknowns going into conference play. I think the biggest question will be how Virginia will perform against more familiar (and talented) teams. Now, whether NC State can make the Big Dance, I’m not nearly as optimistic. Sure, it’s still possible, but barring a Texas resurgence the Wolfpack are in serious trouble as far as quality wins are concerned.
  3. Washington Post: An underreported aspect of Maryland’s turnaround has been Terrell Stoglin‘s defense. The sophomore scoring machine didn’t start when Mark Turgeon wanted to send a message about Stoglin’s effort on the defensive end of the floor, and apparently, the move worked. Now, the Maryland seven-game winning streak is pretty difficult to put a finger on because of the mediocre quality of opponents it has played the last few weeks, but winning games is winning games.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: NC State’s Lorenzo Brown, CJ Leslie and DeShawn Painter have all gotten praise at various times for their performances this season. One guy a little more under the radar is Richard Howell, who is absolutely dominating the glass for the Wolfpack this season. Howell pulled down 12 or more rebounds for the fourth consecutive time over the weekend against Western Carolina. It’s that kind of unnoticed play that will give Mark Gottfried’s team the grit to succeed in the conference schedule.
  5. Carolina March: Here’s an interesting idea from Carolina March: piggy-back on bowl games with basketball games the night before. Miami, Georgia Tech, Maryland and three North Carolina schools all have bowl games very close to their campuses. Why not have a basketball game that tries to capitalize on the excitement surrounding their respective bowl games? It’s worth a thought, especially for Georgia Tech and Miami, which have both really struggled filling the stands consistently.

EXTRA: ACC Digital Network Video of the Day: Analyst (and North Carolina alumnus) JR Reid looks at shot-blocking and specifically John Henson.

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