The RTC Podblast: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2014

College hoops has arrived! To get you ready for an opening weekend of action that admittedly is more for show than anything else, RTC Podblast host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) leads the guys through our first regular season pod of the year. In this 16-minute explosion of information, the guys talk about their ambivalence about the weekend, a few of the key games to keep an eye on while surfing through all the channels, and generally congratulate each other for making it through another preseason. Give it a listen!

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-5:59 – How CBB Should Approach Opening Night
  • 5:59- 8:18 – VCU vs Tennessee Preview
  • 8:18-11:10 – Pitino Bowl Preview
  • 11:10-16:10 – Other Opening Weekend Match-ups
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ACC M5: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: The top game of the weekend for entertainment value has to be tonight’s father-son coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino as Louisville and Minnesota meet in the Armed Forces Classic at U.S. Air Base Borinquen, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The two Pitinos have met before in 2012 when Richard was in his first year at Florida International, in a game arranged to help out the younger Pitino’s program with exposure and a nice paycheck. Obviously this is a somewhat different situation, with both schools in power leagues focusing on trips to the NCAA Tournament next March. Instead of money and exposure as the main motivators, this is a chance to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, share a little family time, and get an early look at how each squad stacks up against good competition. With all that in play, whichever Pitino wins may not feel too bad about beating the other.
  2. DailyProgress.com: Credit should be given to Tony Bennett as Virginia is the lone ACC school that will open its season on an opponent’s home court. The Cavaliers will make the one-hour trip up to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to play intrastate rival James Madison tonight. As this article points out, last year’s Virginia performance was the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. Four of those parts will be missing tonight, counting graduated starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell along with suspended players London Perrantes and Evan Nolte. But as this game preview points out, the Dukes will also be without two suspended players because of an off-campus altercation with each other in October. One of those suspended was James Madison’s leading scorer from last year, so, even on the road, the Cavaliers may not face too tough of an opener after all.
  3. WRALSportsFan: After a second consecutive year of negative preseason issues surrounding his program, at least Roy Williams doesn’t have to face the same roster uncertainty that he had to deal with in 2013-14. It remains to be seen if the dark cloud of scandal will have a major effect on a North Carolina team that appears poised for a special 2014-15 campaign, but expect Williams to continue to field questions after tonight’s game against North Carolina Central that are unrelated to on-court performance. UNC’s opponent is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, so this may not be a total mismatch, but as NCCU coach LaVelle Moton indicated at a recent press conference, he is not sure how good team is with so many transfer players and preseason injuries. We will be on press row for opening night at the Smith Center, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for live updates during the game, and more importantly, for reports from Williams’ postgame press conference.
  4. Greensboro News & Record: Duke is the only ACC team that will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, as the Blue Devils host Presbyterian and then Fairfield as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer preliminary round. This article notes that freshman Tyus Jones looks to have already established himself as Duke’s starting point guard. The writer goes on to say Jones will be the first rookie starting as a Duke point guard since Austin Rivers began there in 2011-12, a common misconception. Rivers was never a point guard in his one year at Duke although he was often mentioned as one, perhaps in part because of his famous father, Doc Rivers, who was a longtime NBA point guard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Duke’s team chemistry works in these first two tune-up games before heading to Indianapolis to face Michigan State on Tuesday night. We will be in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night to see how Duke’s veteran guards, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, adjust to coming off the bench, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for additional live in-game and postgame coverage.
  5. BostonUSA.com: On Sunday, Boston College will take on Massachusetts in the middle game of the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader in Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Celtics. The Minutemen only return two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but they have three others who played at least 30 games in 2013-14, so there’s some decent experience available for Derek Kellogg. It will be the second game of the season for both teams, as Boston College opens with New Hampshire in Conte Forum tonight, while UMass hosts Siena. It will be interesting to see if new coach Jim Christian’s Eagles display improvement on the defensive end, an area where ex-coach Steve Donahue’s teams always struggled. Probably the best team at Sunday’s event will be Harvard, which plays Holy Cross in the last game of the day.
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Preseason Questions: Does Louisville’s Departure Cripple the AAC?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 11th, 2014

By nearly any measure, the American Athletic Conference’s maiden voyage was a successful one. The odd new assemblage of schools that was the 2013-14 AAC sent four of its 10 members to the NCAA Tournament, and then UConn went out and won the whole damn thing. As a result, the one-year old AAC is currently the proud owner of more post-2000 national titles than the Big Ten and Pac-12 combined — who says a new conference can’t possess a little slice of history? The brilliant opening act was fun, but present and future prospects for the AAC have quickly turned murky. Much has changed in the six months since the Huskies cut down the nets in Arlington. Three new programs have joined the league — East Carolina, Tulsa, and Tulane – while two former league members – Rutgers and Louisville – have departed. The balance sheet of coming and going league members is laced with irrelevant basketball programs, with one massive exception – Louisville. Can a nascent and unsettled league survive the departure of one of college basketball’s premier programs?

Louisville's Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American Athletic Conference. (Getty)

Louisville’s Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American. (Getty)

If you’re wondering how Louisville is liking its new ACC digs, the answer – at least during this preseason – is very well, thank you. Six ACC squads populate KenPom’s preseason Top 25 (compared to just one from the AAC), including the Cardinals at a healthy No. 3. Identifying the ACC as tradition-laden is about as obvious as naming Michael Jordan an all-time great, but seeing conference-mates Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse in the top 20 sends a message loud and clear: Welcome to the big time, Cards. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC’s ACC Preseason Awards

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

With the 2014-15 ACC season just about to tip off, our esteemed panel of micrositers has come together to release our preseason individual superlatives. It was a close race for most of these positions, but those who were close to making the cut will earn honorable mention below. Feel free to comment on where we went horribly awry or how accurately you think we’ve nailed it.

Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, PG, North Carolina. It might be a good thing if Paige’s scoring numbers drop this year, as that would probably mean more offensive production from his peers. North Carolina has a promising group of freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing, but a more mature and seasoned frontcourt could help Paige excel as the team’s primary ball-handler. Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell are two others who could easily claim this award by season’s end.

Marcus Paige is RTC's pre-season ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige is RTC’s preseason ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. We didn’t stray far from public opinion on this one. Okafor gives Duke its most formidable post player in many years, and his exhibition performances have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for his talent in Durham. Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Kaleb Joseph (Syracuse) are dark horse candidates worth keeping an eye on.

Coach of the Year: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State. Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski were the others we considered, but the potential for Florida State to make some noise in the ACC race this year means Hamilton is the preseason choice. Florida State will continue to play its trademark smothering defense, but we think that the offense will be vastly improved. It says here that the Seminoles will improve on their 9-9 ACC record and return to the Big Dance after an NIT semifinals appearance a year ago.

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ACC Preview: Louisville’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Louisville win the ACC crown in its inaugural season?

Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have won conference championships in two different leagues over the past two seasons. On its way to the NCAA title in  2012-13, the Cardinals shared the Big East regular season championship (with Georgetown and Marquette), and won the conference tournament. Last season Louisville enjoyed a one year stopover in the American Athletic Conference, resulting in the same outcome — a share of the regular season crown (this time with Cincinnati) and another conference tournament championship. Now the Cardinals will try to make history by grabbing both prizes for the third year in a row in yet another league — the ACC, historically the best college basketball conference of them all.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino becomes the fourth Hall-of-Fame Coach in the ACC this season. (Getty Images).

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC now boasts four current head coaches who are already members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The only other current NCAA coach with that honor on his resume is SMU’s Larry Brown, who has spent the majority of his coaching days in the NBA. It’s therefore fair to say that the ACC can lay claim to the four most accomplished college coaches in the country. A look at the chart below shows how those four compare in several key areas of achievement. Due to their additional seasons as head coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have gathered significantly more wins then North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Pitino, but the younger duo stacks up very well in overall winning percentage, Final Four appearances and National Champioinships. As the youngest member of the group, Louisville’s leader may also have the best chance of substantially adding to his resume over the next 10 years. After all, Pitino is currently the hottest of the bunch, boasting three consecutive 30-win seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC M5: 11.05.14 Exhibition Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh: On Halloween night, Pittsburgh tipped off its preseason with a 72-58 exhibition win over Division II Indiana (PA) at the Petersen Events Center, and sophomore forward Michael Young looks like he may be ready for a breakout year. Most people don’t know that Young played through pain for much of the latter part of his freshman campaign after suffering a small stress fracture in his back. In his postgame comments, Jamie Dixon seemed optimistic about the potential of a healthy Young and his other big men, assuming they improve their defense.
  2. Louisville: Louisville relied on its pressure defense to top Barry, 91-71, on Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center, and afterward Rick Pitino discussed his team’s progress in this postgame video. Specifically, he credited the Division II Buccaneers with exposing a major rebounding problem on his squad, as the Cardinals gave up an astounding 29 offensive boards. Of course, part of the reason there were so many second chance opportunities for Barry was that Louisville held Barry to 33.3 percent field-goal shooting. Still, in order to get out in transition the way Pitino wants his team to run, the Cards must shore up that clear flaw on the defensive boards.
  3. Notre Dame: In another Saturday exhibition, Notre Dame used a balanced attack to best Minnesota-Duluth, 88-71, at the Joyce Center. Mike Brey was encouraged by the performances of his point guard, Demetrius Jackson, and big man, Zach Auguste. With established senior leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton manning the wing, the play of Jackson and Auguste could be the difference as the Irish try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, Auguste will shoot better from the foul line than the 3-for-9 performance he delivered in this contest, but based on last year’s foul shooting mark (48%), this may not be a solvable problem for the junior.
  4. Syracuse: Coming off a rough week dealing with the NCAA Infractions Committee, Syracuse almost had an equally alarming start this week. The Orange needed to rally from a 15-point deficit to overtake traditional Canadian college basketball power, Carleton, by a score of 76-68. Freshman Kaleb Joseph will be in the spotlight this year, taking over the point guard job from Tyler Ennis. The good news is that the rookie showed gerat promise, leading the team to the win with 19 points. A couple of concerns for the Orange, though, were their huge deficit in total rebounds (45-31) and poor shooting (0-6 FG) by Trevor Cooney.
  5. Duke: On Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke rolled Livingstone in its first exhibition game of the year, 115-58. The much ballyhooed freshmen class performed well, with three of the group scoring in double-figures and the fourth, Tyus Jones, handing out 11 assists. A surprise starter this year apparently will be Matt Jones. Most pundits expected either senior Quinn Cook or junior Rasheed Sulaimon, or perhaps even both, to be starters when this season got under way, but the veteran guards came off the bench in this contest. On the other hand, the sophomore Jones helped his cause, burying 5-of-8 three-point attempts after only making 3-of-21 during his entire freshman year. The Blue Devils should face a tougher test in Saturday’s second and final exhibition game, when they take on defending NCAA Division II national champion Central Missouri.
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ACC M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TheACC.com: The ACC media picked Duke as a fairly strong favorite to win the league this year, giving the Blue Devils 41 out of a possible 65 first place votes at ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday (for a complete rundown of the day, don’t forget to check out Lathan Wells’ 15 takeaways post). North Carolina joins newcomer Louisville and defending champ Virginia in a tight cluster in the next three spots in the poll. Last year’s three Big East transfer teams occupy the next three positions, which confirms the general opinion that the old ACC needed an injection of quality teams to boost itself back into the nation’s elite. The preseason all-ACC team was led by North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, but an interesting repeat member of the preseason all-conference squad is Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who missed the entire ACC season in 2013-14 due to his academic suspension.
  2. Kenpom: Speaking of rankings, Ken Pomeroy has posted his initial ratings for all 351 NCAA Division I teams, and he gives a summary explanation of how he develops his statistical model in his most recent blog entry. The legendary guru of advanced basketball statistics has six ACC squads among his top-23, including Duke at #1, which is a mild shock considering the relative talent and experience returning at Kentucky and Arizona. Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC is rated as the Pomeroy’s third-best conference, sitting behind the Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, as the season progresses, Pomeroy’s preseason ratings will weigh progressively less in his formulas, giving a more accurate picture of all the teams as they relate to each other.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One thing that came out of ACC Operation Basketball that caught many by surprise was when Tony Bennett revealed that Virginia’s accomplished sophomore point guard London Perrantes has not practiced since a foot injury occurred on October 3. Although the Cavaliers have had their fair share of injuries over the last few years, last season’s run to the ACC regular season title was definitely aided by the fine health of the team. Virginia was able to develop a consistent rotation in which everyone knew and executed their respective roles, game after game, culminating with the Cavaliers grabbing their first ACC Tournament championship in almost 40 years. Certainly, January and conference play is pretty far off at this point, so Bennett hopes Perrantes is able to get healthy in time to make a similar run.
  4. Greensboro News-Record: In this interesting piece, Ed Hardin looks at the ACC’s newest member Louisville and compares Rick Pitino’s program to some of the great ACC teams of the past from a style standpoint. It is true that the Cardinals bring characteristics that remind long-time observers of some of the ACC’s best and most entertaining teams in its long and illustrious history. For instance, the multiple defenses that Pitino employs so effectively reminds us of how North Carolina’s Dean Smith befuddled opponents by using combinations of man-to-man and zone defenses, trapping on both. And even though Pitino is known as a visionary regarding the use of the three-point shot as a vital part of his offense, going back to leading an improbable Providence team to the 1987 Final Four, he knows the value of a legitimate inside game as well.
  5. Groupstate.com: It seems as if Clemson’s representatives in Charlotte were asked about departed player K.J. McDaniels more than they were questioned about this year’s squad. Possibly only ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State meant as much to his team last season as did McDaniels, now beginning his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. But while the Wolfpack will certainly miss Warren’s offense, what makes the loss of McDaniels so critical to Clemson is that he was its best player all over the court. It will obviously take a committee of several to replace everything he did, but the ACC media is skeptical of that notion, picking Clemson 11th this year after a sixth place finish in 2013-14.
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Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #4 Louisville 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #8 Kentucky’s 74-69 win over #4 Louisville. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. The atmosphere was unbelievable and the game lived up to the hype. The build up for the Sweet 16 edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass rightfully garnered a ton of national attention leading up to the tip. And boy, was it worth it. Lucas Oil Stadium was overtaken by Louisville and Kentucky fans. Red and blue were all over the place and both factions were loud and involved throughout the night. The game, itself, was a nail-biter to the very end. Both sides were living and dying with every possession and that made for an amazing atmosphere. When Kentucky emerged victorious, the Kentucky section acted as if a weight had been lifted from its shoulders. On the other hand, the Louisville fans were heartbroken over the close lose to their bitter rivals.
  2. Free throw shooting and rebounding did Louisville in. In a close game like Friday night, you can often pinpoint factors that played a big role in deciding the game. Those two factors in Louisville’s loss were its poor free throw shooting and inability to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. The Cardinals were just 13-of-23 (including 6-of-15 in the first half) from the free throw line. Included in that statistic was that senior standout guard Russ Smith went just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Louisville also struggled keeping Kentucky’s bigs off the rebounding glass. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and gathered 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. A huge Kentucky offensive rebound came at the 2:11 mark when sophomore forward Alex Poythress grabbed a putback and converted a three-point play to turn a 66-63 deficit into a 66-66 tie – and that helped set the stage for the Wildcats to ultimately grab the lead and get the victory.

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Battle of the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by C.D. Bradley & Brian Joyce on March 28th, 2014

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The most intense rivalry in college basketball renews Friday night in Indianapolis when Louisville and Kentucky square off in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. C.D. Bradley, who writes about the American for RTC, and Brian Joyce, who covers the SEC, preview the showdown and what it means to the basketball-mad bluegrass state.

C.D. Bradley: A lot of people will tell you that Duke and North Carolina is the top rivalry in college basketball, but it’s impossible to convey the ever-present antipathy between red and blue. A big part of it is the usual once-a-year nature of the rivalry, but this will be the sixth time Louisville and Kentucky have met in the NCAA Tournament. For Louisville, which had snatched the advantage over the past year, winning a national title and ending this season in the top five of the national rankings while the Wildcats struggled, the possibility of having their potential repeat title run ended by their neighbors to the east is a doubly unpleasant notion. What does this game mean for UK fans?

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Brian Joyce: One might assume that Kentucky fans would be relieved to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance after losing to South Carolina and Arkansas a month ago, but a person with that theory must not know Kentucky fans very well. A win over Wichita State has the Big Blue Nation in a frenzy over the potential of their Wildcats if things come together like they did on Sunday afternoon in Saint Louis. It may even be possible that Kentucky fans are slightly overlooking Louisville. Julius Randle played all of four minutes in the second half of the Wildcats’ victory in December after dominating with 17 points during the first 20 minutes. The Cards struggled with Randle and Kentucky’s length, and while Louisville is a much different team at this point in the season the challenge of stopping the Cats’ imposing front line remains. Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington he has beaten his rival in five of the last six meetings, and Kentucky fans expect that trend to continue.

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