Big East Morning Five: 11.23.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 23rd, 2011

  1. On October 28, the Big 12 formally announced that it had accepted West Virginia into the conference. Three days later, West Virginia sued the Big East conference in hopes of entering the Big 12, which had already agreed to accept them, as early as next year. The Big East wasn’t about to let one of their premier schools leave without a fight, especially considering it would set a dangerous precedent for other defectors Syracuse and Pittsburgh, so the conference countersued, hoping to block the Mountaineers’ move until 2014. Well, West Virginia recognized that decision, and appears ready to blatantly ignore it. Over the weekend, Athletic Director Oliver Luck said he expected West Virginia to be in the Big 12 next year, and couldn’t resist kicking the conference while it was down as well. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports relayed this juicy quote in a column Monday, “We were fortunate to get out,” Luck told the Charleston Gazette. “We got out [of the Big East] when the ship was seriously going down. I mean, only the tip of the sail was showing.” Ouch Mr. Luck, that wasn’t very nice. It is hard to argue with the logic on either side here, which makes this defection all the more ugly. West Virginia wants to get out and move on so they can get a piece of that juicy TV contract the Big 12 signed with Fox. And the Big East isn’t keen on letting their best football program and a quality basketball program leave at what they feel is a moments notice, because it opens the door for more lawsuits and hasty exits. This has all the makings of a long and protracted legal battle, so strap in Mountaineer fans, it could get bumpy.
  2. In related news, CBS Sports reported last night that the Big East’s courtship of Brigham Young University has come to an end. OK, you may not think this is as juicy as Ashton and Demi but we do!  The main point of contention leading to the break-up appears to be, yep, you guessed it…money!  BYU signed a lucrative eight-year television contract last year with ESPN to broadcast home games and it appears control of these rights is where the impasse lies. While The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting the Big East – BYU relationship may ultimately prove stalled, CBS Sports is taking a firmer position saying that the conference is done with BYU and exploring its next option, which is to add San Diego State as a football-only member.  The Aztecs would ostensibly be part of a plan to join fellow new football-only members Boise State, Air Force, and Navy along with soon-to-be-announced full members: Houston, Southern Methodist, and Central Florida. This would result in a 12 football and 16 basketball member Big East once all the Mayflower vans got done doing their thing. While the projected alignment arguably would create a better football conference than exists today, it would certainly result in a regression basketball-wise. To that end there have been some vocal proponents (see Rick Pitino) of adding two more all-sport, but basketball-centric members such as Temple and Memphis.
  3. After last week’s discouraging home loss to Long Beach State, Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon was glad to have six days off to rest his weary team and, according to him, “get the younger guys going”. The loss to the 49ers caused the Panthers to tumble all the way to #16 in the most recent AP poll heading into last night’s game against La Salle and the Panthers, while displaying a much improved defensive effort, got all they could handle from a tough Explorer team who took Villanova to overtime last week, and squeaked out a 73-69 win at the Peterson Events Center. While star senior guard, and preseason Big East Player of the Year selection, Ashton Gibbs struggled through a poor shooting night (3 of 15), it was one of the youngsters who keyed the defensive effort for Dixon’s squad. Freshman Khem Birch had an active 13 minutes, tallying four points, six rebounds, and three blocks.  Birch spent some time at the center spot last night, and drew praise from his coach, “He was more effective there,” Dixon said. “He was playing both (forward and center) and we’ve got to get him more comfortable playing there.” Junior guard Travon Woodall logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists to pace the 3-1 Panthers. The 5’11” guard also registered three blocks, including a huge one down the stretch to preserve the victory.
  4. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun held sophomore forward Roscoe Smith out of a preseason game for missing a “team commitment” and it looked like the sophomore role player might cede his playing time to talented freshman DeAndre McDaniels. The problem, according to Calhoun and teammates is that Smith tends to sulk in the face of adversity when he should be doubling his effort. Currently his averages (6 PPG and 3 RPG) are similar to last year’s numbers and that’s not great. Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi are going to carry UConn all season, but the team needs a healthy, energetic, and upbeat Smith — whether it is in the starting lineup or coming off the bench — once they play fiercer competition. The linked article notes that Smith was better on both ends of the court against Coppin State, but Coppin State isn’t a Big East-caliber team, and that same pep will need to carryover to the conference schedule if the Huskies hope to repeat.
  5. As noted here yesterday courtesy of future Friar Ricky Ledo, Providence has been on the prowl for some front court help.  We thought he meant for next year but as it turns out coach Ed Cooley may (and may is the operative word here) be getting a big for the second semester as 6’10” Daquan Brown announced via his Facebook page on Tuesday that he will be transferring to Providence.  While it is not known yet if Brown will be able to play right away, the need for more immediate help is likely due to the fact the Friars have been playing with just eight scholarship players as red-shirt sophomore Kadeem Batts, perhaps their best big man, is serving an indefinite suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules and freshman guard Kiwi Gardner is out pending appeal of an NCAA academic eligibility ruling concerning his prep school curriculum.  Brown, a New York native, is currently enrolled at Fresno State and on their basketball roster however he has yet to play there due to what appears to be his own indefinite team suspension. Out of Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School Brown appeared headed for Oklahoma State until academic issues redirected him to Barstow Community College (CA) where he averaged 12 points and ten rebounds per game. Brown visited Providence this past weekend and was in attendance for the Friars’ victory over Florida A&M.
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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by zhayes9 on September 7th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Jim Calhoun’s life has taken a dramatic turn in just one year’s time.

Not too long ago, a shocking NIT flameout, a messy Nate Miles investigation, numerous health scares and a dip in recruiting rendered Connecticut’s 2009 Final Four berth a distant memory. Questions began to circulate whether Calhoun was still fit for the grueling task of coaching an elite Division I basketball program. A preseason top-5 UConn outfit that lacked any semblance of cohesion or chemistry finished 18-16 in 2010 and the immediate future for the Hall-of-Fame headman appeared insecure.

Then Kemba Walker decided to embrace the role of team leader and captain, bringing his game to the next level and a unit of mostly inexperienced underclassmen on an unforgettable ride. UConn shockingly dispatched of Michigan State and Kentucky to win in Maui, finished the non-conference slate undefeated, took their lumps in a rigorous Big East, won five games in five nights to take the conference crown in New York, then for the hell of it won six more for Calhoun’s third national title.

It gets better. Calhoun never saw eye to eye with Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. The longtime A.D. promptly resigned this summer. And just for good measure, local blue-chip prospect Andre Drummond shocked the college basketball world and not only committed to UConn rather than go to prep school and enter in the 2012 NBA Draft, but he re-classified in order to play this upcoming season. The kicker: a recruit that grew up in a Tennessee group home, Michael Bradley, is apparently fine with giving up his scholarship.

This confluence of events has delivered Calhoun more than enough ammunition to give coaching another go-round in 2011-12. Whether this magic can continue into November remains up in the air.

Jeremy Lamb will be on quite a few preseason All-American lists

Team Outlook: The sudden addition of Drummond sends Connecticut from Big East title contender to odds-on favorite. Drummond has a pro frame, possesses tremendous athleticism and is a dynamite scoring compliment to Alex Oriakhi in the low post.  Let’s not skim over the departure of Kemba Walker. Not only was the All-American their floor general/leader, but he took (and made) every big shot. Jeremy Lamb will be expected to fill Walker’s role as dependable shot-maker while Walker understudy Shabazz Napier claims full-time point guard duties. Roscoe Smith rounds out the starting five as a capable role player offensively and a potential weapon defensively because of his length. Ryan Boatright, Napier’s backup at the point, and DeAndre Daniels,  a gifted scorer at the wing, are two freshmen expected to play integral roles in Calhoun’s rotation.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 3. The good news for UConn fans is that their schedule, combined with Carolina and Kentucky going head-to-head on December 3, opens up the realistic chance that the Huskies will be the last undefeated team standing heading into the teeth of Big East competition. The bad news is that, when it comes time to put a magnifying glass up to resumes and decipher who deserves #1 or #2 seeds on Selection Sunday, a lacking non-conference schedule won’t do them any favors. It’s not entirely their fault. It was impossible to foresee Bruce Pearl’s complete collapse at Tennessee. Arkansas was an unfortunate draw in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Other than Florida State and Harvard, their tournament in the Bahamas doesn’t contain much meat. It’s plausible Connecticut’s toughest opponent pre-Big East will be the Crimson, a motivated group of returnees looking to avenge last season’s heartbreak.

Cupcake City: Contrary to last year’s loaded Maui bracket, it’ll be a soft landing for Calhoun in 2011. Cupcakes line the schedule in their first four home contests against Columbia, Wagner, Maine and Coppin State before battling UNC-Asheville and likely UCF in the Bahamas. A visit from both Harvard and Fairfield are sneaky difficult, but there’s little doubt Connecticut will be favored in every one of their games outside of the Big East.

Toughest Early Season Test: Normally a visit to Tennessee would be the standout candidate, but newly minted head coach Cuonzo Martin has a major rebuilding project staring him in the face with Scotty Hopson, Tobias Harris, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins all moving on. Unless moribund Utah or Massachusetts pulls off a major upset, Connecticut will face either Florida State or Harvard in the final. Both pose their own distinct challenges. Florida State boasts the athletes and length to give UConn fits early enough in the season where on-court chemistry post-Kemba isn’t settled. Harvard returns every significant player from a team that lost one game to a team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament: Yale by one point.

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Andre Drummond Commits To UConn & Changes The National Title Picture

Posted by nvr1983 on August 26th, 2011

A little over two weeks after he decided to spend an extra year in prep school rather than go to college Andre Drummond announced that he had changed his mind and would head to Connecticut this fall. It was a shocking change of heart even by the standards of a typical teenager that dramatically changes the landscape of college basketball next season. Instead of the expected North Carolina-Kentucky showdown that college basketball writers have been hyping since the NBA Draft deadline passed we should get a national title picture that is a little less clear. While the Huskies won’t go straight to the top of the pack they may possess the most talented starting line-up in the country with Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi, and Drummond. Even though that group will need a little time to mesh and we expect the other four to take a while to adjust to life without Kemba Walker that is one of most talented, versatile line-ups we have seen in several years.

Drummond and Muhammad may never meet in college now

On top of adding the talent of a potential #1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the defending national champions, Drummond’s decision gives Jim Calhoun (we are assuming that he is definitely coming back at this point) the flexibility to use two other less-hyped, but still very talented freshmen–DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright–in more targeted action early in their college careers. Perhaps more importantly it allows Smith to move to small forward and Oriakhi, who went through maddening stretches last season where he couldn’t grab a rebound, to power forward where he should be able to overpower most of the other power forwards he faces. And when the leaner, more athletic blow by Oriakhi? They wind up facing Drummond, a player whom many NBA scouts have compared to Amar’e Stoudamire (a little premature, but if you watch the video below you will see why).

Contrary to some of the reaction online this doesn’t automatically vault the Huskies into the #1 spot and a sure-fire repeat champion like Duke appeared to be last season before Kyrie Irving‘s injury. Like the other top contenders the Huskies have their own issues to deal with. The Huskies will have to deal with the obvious issue of how their offense functions without Walker dominating the ball, adjusting to having to run more of the offense through the post, and sorting out a rotation that will rely on freshman who are unproven at the college level no matter how talented they are. What Drummond’s decision does mean is that this year’s national championship picture is suddenly a three-horse race and a year in which college basketball was expected to have its most talent in nearly a decade will get even deeper.

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Who’s Got Next? DeAndre Daniels Commits, Duke Spotlight, Rodney Purvis and More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on June 10th, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a bi-weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Twice a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are in the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Introduction

The DeAndre Daniels saga is finally over. After committing and then de-committing and then setting up different decision dates and not following through on them, Daniels let everyone know where he will play college basketball. Where, you may ask? Well, that may be the most surprising thing that’s happened is his whole recruitment. Class of 2012 shooting guard Rodney Purvis (#7) also spoke out on a couple of his recent visits and many other top prospects talked about their new lists. And speaking of Purvis, why will he be attending the same camp as North Carolina star Harrison Barnes this weekend?  You can find out that and more in this edition of Who’s Got Next?

What They’re Saying

You Have to Think Calhoun Will Be Back Now

  • Senior DeAndre Daniels on why he committed to Connecticut: “I chose UConn because I thought it was the best fit for me, just their style of play, and just how they develop their wing guys. And just how he makes his guys better.” On head coach Jim Calhoun possibly returning: “[Calhoun said] I don’t have to worry about him not being there. He said he’ll be there.”
  • Junior Archie Goodwin (#19) on his list and when he will commit: “Kentucky, Baylor, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, UConn, Missouri along with a lot of others including Louisville and Georgia. I’m definitely going to [sign] later.”
  • Junior Devonta Pollard (#40) on his offers and what he’s looking for: “Mississippi State, Georgetown, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky… a place where I can go and be comfortable, where I can play and be successful.”
  • Junior Perry Ellis (#10) on who he’s considering: “I still am considering all six teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma, and Wichita State), as well as Duke now.”
  • Sophomore Malcolm Hill on his Indiana visit and the schools who are recruiting him: “They have a nice campus, it’s a good environment and I saw that they have good study habits. I really like the practice facility a lot. The other schools that are looking at me are Ohio State, Xavier, UCLA, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Providence and Tennessee.”
  • Sophomore standout Isaiah Lewis on what he’s looking for in a school: “The fan base… academics, that’s an important part. I want to see where coaches play me. I really want to go to college playing point guard.”
  • Freshman shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes on his list: “Arizona, North Carolina State, Texas, Oregon and a couple of other schools.”

What Rodney Purvis is Saying

Rodney Purvis talked a lot about recent visits. (Credit: HighSchoolHoop)

Class of 2012 shooting guard Rodney Purvis (#7) recently wrote a player blog for ESPN RISE in which he said some interesting things. Take a look below.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2011

Now that a champion has been crowned, today, we’re bringing you links from the webosphere pertaining to UConn’s title run and Butler’s second consecutive NCAA championship game appearance.

Butler

  • Ronald Nored helped remind the devastated Bulldogs after the game of their familial bond and brotherhood as teammates in the wake of their loss. In the first half, Nored did a great job challenging Kemba Walker, but UConn proved to be too much.
  • Despite Monday’s disappointing performance, Butler has a great deal to be proud of following their surprise run to the championship game.
  • Matt Howard, the pride of Connersville, Indiana, will long be remembered for his dedication to Butler. His hometown made a generous gesture, leading a fundraising effort to send 17 of his family members to Houston.
  • A great breakdown of Howard’s top ten moments as a Butler Bulldog. The big man was a tremendous four-year player for the Bulldogs and his services will definitely leave a void that needs to be filled for Brad Stevens’ squad next season
  • As he’s done throughout his rise among the coaching ranks, Brad Stevens played it cool and modestly after a loss that was hard to stomach, remaining proud of his team for what it accomplished.
  • Shelvin Mack will contemplate his options in potentially leaving Butler a year early to go pro. While Mack’s draft stock rose with each huge performance in the NCAA Tournament, the small sample size should remind him as well as talent evaluators to take a more methodical approach.
  • Someone else who gained some exposure was Blue II, Butler’s live mascot, a seven-year-0ld English Bulldog. Blue II’s Twitter account now features over 6,000 followers, which cramps the style of a certain college basketball blog’s Twitter following.

Connecticut

  • Some 1,800 miles from Reliant Stadium, UConn students soaked up the most improbable of their school’s three national titles. An unranked status at the start of the season proceeded to a roller coaster 9-9 Big East finish before the Huskies reeled off 11 straight wins to win it all.
  • Jeff Goodman argues that coach Jim Calhoun‘s best move right now would be to leave UConn on top and call it a career. Calhoun has accomplished a great deal in his illustrious career, though retirement won’t keep NCAA investigators away from the team.
  • Kemba Walker’s final line of 16 points on 5-19 shooting wasn’t one to remember, but in a ragged game, he did the job. For many neutral fans who watched, the game is one to forget, but the final outcome will be cherished for years by the Bronx native.
  • One breath of fresh air was sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi, who was a rare mark of consistency shooting the ball in Monday’s final, going 5-6 from the floor. Oriakhi is just one of several players in UConn’s stable of young players, but his contributions were pivotal.
  • The trio of Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Charles Okwandu put a forcefield on the paint defensively, as Butler made just three two-point baskets the entire game. While Okwandu is a senior, it will be interesting to see Smith and Oriakhi develop as their careers progress.
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NCAA Championship Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2011

Nearly 350 teams start practice on October 15 with a single goal — to play on Monday night.  UConn and Butler are the two teams left standing; it promises to be another epic national championship game for the annals. 

#3 Connecticut vs. #8 Butler – National Championship (at Houston, TX) – 9:21 pm ET on CBS.

It Says Here That Calhoun Will Hold Another One of These Tonight

A year ago, when Butler advanced to the championship game against Duke, they were an unmitigated surprise, the very essence of the Cinderella story that gets talked about every March. One look at the personnel changes since that team (losing Gordon Hayward as an NBA Lottery pick, along with all-glue guy Willie Veasley and big man Avery Jukes to graduation), coupled with the Bulldogs’ struggles early in the season this year (starting 4-4 on the season and 6-5 in Horizon League play), and most people would consider this year’s run to the championship every bit as surprising as last year. But a closer look reveals a Butler team that is now riding a 14-game winning streak, a team that has turned things around on the defensive end. After allowing more than a point per possession in their first 23 games, they’ve trimmed that number to under 0.96 points per possession by locking down opponents and cleaning the defensive glass. Coupled with their capable offense, highlighted by key veterans Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard and newly efficient contributors like Andrew Smith and Shawn Vanzant, while it is still a remarkable accomplishment for the Bulldogs to be in the championship game, it is not nearly the shocker that last year’s run was. Conversely, while the average fan will see the name UConn in the championship game and barely bat an eye, the fact that the Huskies have made it this far is a bombshell. At the start of the season, they were picked by Big East coaches to finish tenth in the conference, and only improved upon those projections by a single slot (9-9 Big East), despite being in and out of the national top ten all season. The Huskies dropped seven of their last 11 conference games and it looked like their overreliance on All-American guard Kemba Walker was taking its toll. But as they have done all season with their backs against the wall, Jim Calhoun’s club has come back swinging, winning five games in five games to take the Big East Tournament title, and backing that up with five more consecutive wins in the Tournament. While Walker has continued to be excellent, it has been the emergence of freshman wing Jeremy Lamb and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi as consistent contributors that have allowed the Huskies to flourish. Lamb has scored in double figures in every game in that winning streak, while Oriakhi has averaged just under ten rebounds per game in that stretch, acting as perfect complements to Walker’s 25.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Freshman point guard Shabazz Napier has also been an important spark off the bench. As with any team that faces UConn, slowing Walker will be priority number one. Junior defensive specialist Ronald Nored should get plenty of up-close-and-personal time with Walker, but Brad Stevens has made it clear that containing Walker is not a one man job. Expect the Bulldogs to try to clog the lane and make it more difficult for UConn to get penetration, while still making sure to keep an eye on Lamb – the Huskies’ best three-point shooter – on the perimeter. UConn will counter offensively with a veritable ton of ball screens for Walker, and off-the-ball screens for Lamb. The Huskies will also try to get guys like Oriakhi, Charles Okwandu and Roscoe Smith involved inside, hoping to take advantage of a relatively foul-prone Butler interior players Howard and Smith. On the offensive end, Butler will look to Mack and Howard for their offense most often, but a hallmark of the Butler Way is balanced offense, with players up and down the roster called upon at various times throughout the game. In the end, expect this game again to be tight throughout. However, the Huskies have shown the ability time and again throughout this tournament to weather a big run by the opposition, change momentum on a spectacular play by Walker, and then couple efficient offensive execution with steely defense down the stretch to eke out a nailbiting win. While it is awfully hard to pick against Butler given what they’ve done, it says here that UConn has one Kemba too many for the Bulldogs. Unless, of course, they find the range and some better luck on their halfcourt bank shots at the buzzer.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut 61, Butler 60.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Anaheim

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend. 

Location: Anaheim, CA 
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Connecticut, Arizona 
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: Andrew Murawa

  • In the preview for this game, I talked about the idea that it wouldn’t necessarily be the stars that determined the outcome of this game, but the role players. While Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams led the way with 20 points each, the two All-Americans combined to make just two of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc and to shoot a combined 12-30 from the field. The big difference between the two is that Walker was able to take advantage of all the defensive attention that was being paid to him and trust his teammates to make big plays. Walker wound up with seven assists as teammates like Jeremy Lamb (19 points, two threes) and Shabazz Napier (ten points, two threes) came up big when called upon.  “Arizona did a great job of throwing two guys at me and I realized it kind of late,” said Walker. “But I was able to get Jeremy involved and he was able to make so big plays for us. Jeremy was on tonight, and I wanted to keep going to him.”
  • According to Jim Calhoun, it was Walker’s suggestion to repeatedly run Lamb off baseline screens in several late-game possessions. “Kemba says, ‘We got to get the ball to Jeremy!’ Now, I’ve had a lot of great players, and great players want the ball in their hands and he did some great things down the stretch obviously, but he’s saying to the coaches let’s not run cage, let’s run circle for Jeremy, and obviously it paid off great. And he looked at Jeremy and he said, ‘And you’ll make those shots, too.’ I don’t think there is any kid in America doing that. He’ll carry us and take over the game but as good as it has been, his play was great, his leadership even better.”
  • Jeremy Lamb was asked in the postgame press conference to comment on a UConn assistant coach’s statement that the freshman had been so great in the Tournament that it was like he didn’t even know where he was. What followed next proved beyond all doubt that Lamb really didn’t know where he was, as he turned to Coach Calhoun and Walker with a confused look on his face, prompting both of them to begin cracking up, then responded to the reports with “you mean like — what do you mean?” Alex Oriakhi cleared things up a bit, telling Lamb, “he wants to know if you have a pulse.” Lamb responded: “Well, no, I mean, I haven’t thought about it sinking in yet, I just like to go out there and play. I don’t like to think about where we’re playing and how big the stage is. Right now I’m just having fun playing basketball.”
  • Some 27 years ago, Jeremy Lamb’s father, Rolando Lamb, hit a game winning buzzer-beater to beat a Calhoun-coached Northeastern team in the NCAA Tournament. According to Calhoun, all is now forgiven. “I think that after his shot that beat us when he played for VCU I told him he owed me one and he certainly has – he’s paid me back ten-fold. That was just one game.”
  • For the second straight game, the Huskies were the beneficiaries of their opponent’s star forward getting in early foul trouble. And in both games, after taking a solid lead into the halftime locker room, UConn had to withstand numerous second-half charges, playing in what was essentially a road game. “When teams make runs, we don’t let it get to us because I guess we know we’re going to make runs back with Kemba and Jeremy Lamb being able to score the ball the way they’re able to,” said sophomore center Oriakhi.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2011

After three days of quiet, it’s time to get serious about figuring out this national championship thing.  Sixteen to twelve… let’s check out tonight’s games.

#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Does Fisher Have Another Final Four Run in Him?

One of these teams has won two national championships. The other just got done winning their first two NCAA Tournament games ever. While the Aztecs have had a great breakout season and now stand at 34-2 on the season, UConn has won 44 Tournament games in the Jim Calhoun era alone. Luckily for SDSU, past performances in the Big Dance need have no impact on this year’s games. If you throw out the bloodlines for the two programs, you’ll find that we have the makings for what should be an excellent game. We’ve got star power on both ends of the court, with UConn’s point guard Kemba Walker a candidate for the National Player of the Year and SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard an All-American candidate. We’ve got big name coaches with national championships and Final Four experience, as Calhoun will be matched up with Steve Fisher, who won one title at Michigan in ’89, then got back to the title game in both ’92 and ’93. We’ve got an impressive freshman class including Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb on the UConn side matched up with three starting seniors on the Aztec squad. In short, we’ve got all the trappings of a serious battle. For the Aztecs, the big goal is going to be slowing Kemba Walker. While SDSU has had plenty of experience at trying to slow another high-scoring point guard (one Jimmer Fredette – you may have heard of him), Walker is a different challenge for SDSU, as he is a quicker, shiftier guard than Fredette, and a guy who you’d rather have shooting the three than challenging his defenders off the dribble. As a result, it is likely that D.J. Gay and/or Chase Tapley will get the majority of minutes tasked with defending Walker, while frontcourt players like Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be left to keep one eye on Walker while trying to body-up the Huskies’ athletic offensive rebounders up front. The SDSU frontcourt will also have to provide the majority of the scoring, and given that they haven’t seen a team as big, long and bouncy as the Huskies, they’ll need to prove that their opponents’ size does not bother them. The Aztecs figure to have plenty of support from their fans, who only need to drive about an hour north to attend the game, but they’ll need to prove that their shaky performance down the stretch in Saturday’s game against Temple was an aberration rather than the norm. Until they can close out a game in the NCAA Tournament with confidence, we’re not sure they’re trustworthy against a big-time foe.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut

#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

Looking at this game on paper, it’s pretty hard to find any discernible differences between these two teams. The main determinant of this game will likely be tempo. BYU would love nothing more than to get the Gators caught up in a fast-paced game, forcing them to recklessly throw up ill-advised three pointers leading to long rebounds and many Cougar runouts. Dave Rose’s team excels in transition with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery leading the charge. While Emery is certainly a terrific point guard, his biggest impact on this game could come defensively. He’ll guard Florida’s Erving Walker in all likelihood and that could be a major problem for the 5’8 Walker. Emery’s length and quickness has the potential to disrupt the Florida floor general, plus the BYU senior ranks #15 individually in steal percentage. If Walker can’t get the offense flowing, Florida may result to lots of isolations and quick shots, certainly not ideal for a team that does its best work at a slower pace in the half court. The Gators have a big advantage inside and have to use it to win. Billy Donovan needs to keep Kenny Boynton, expected to play after spraining his ankle against UCLA, in check and make sure his guards work the ball inside to Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. This could very well be the game where the loss of Brandon Davies dooms BYU for good. The Cougars rank a paltry #222 in offensive rebounding percentage so Florida should hold a significant edge on the glass. BYU has been out-rebounded in four of their seven games without Davies and we expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively, Florida has to keep Fredette off the free throw line and force him to make outside shots. It’s alright for the Gators if Jimmer drains more than a few bombs but he’s most dangerous when he can get into the lane and to the stripe, or create for others when defenders are drawn to him inside. Florida ranks #15 in defensive free throw rate and will have to keep that up against Fredette specifically. We have to wonder if Donovan will assign Parsons the task of defending Fredette. Parsons is a big man (6’9) but he’s fairly quick for his size and can bother Jimmer with his superior length. Quickness will be the issue because Fredette possess a terrific first step to blow by opponents. The Cougars will have an edge at the line if this is a close game since Florida struggles as a team (67%). It should be a terrific matchup but a slight edge has to go to the Gators in New Orleans this evening.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.23.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 23rd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • Ohio State freshman big man Jared Sullinger was named Sporting News Freshman of the Year. Sullinger averages 17.1 points per game for the nation’s top team, and this is far from the last piece of hardware he’s going to receive from this season’s efforts.
  • Remember John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe? Well, this year, Kentucky has Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. John Calipari has mastered the art of turning freshmen into NBA prospects.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, a native of North Carolina, is making his dream come true playing for Marquette in the Sweet 16. Interestingly enough for Johnson-Odom, Marquette’s Sweet 16 opponent is the North Carolina Tar Heels.
  • Battling a knee injury while being forced to guard the opponent’s top scorer is no easy task, but UNC guard Dexter Strickland has performed the task admirably. While Strickland is not much of a scorer, his defensive tenacity is just as important to the Tar Heels as Tyler Zeller‘s hook shots and Kendall Marshall‘s passing accuracy.
  • Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has been rumored to take the Oklahoma job ever since the Sooner position opened up. If Oklahoma wants to secure Williams’ services, it will have to open up the wallet.

Southeast

  • Butler struggled throughout much of the early portion of the season; however, things began to change for the Bulldogs around February 1. Head coach Brad Stevens attributes this change to the elevation in the play of guard Shelvin Mack.
  • Some may call the swing offense employed by Wisconsin “boring,” but this offense has been effective for Bo Ryan‘s squad for many years. It should not matter if an offense is not very entertaining to watch. What should matter is if it works.
  • Brigham Young head coach Dave Rose has seen his star rise in the coaching world during the Cougars’ magical season. The question emerges of whether Rose will return to Provo next season.
  • After not winning a tournament game since cutting down the nets in 2007, Billy Donovan has his Florida team primed to make another Final Four run. While no players from the ’07 team remain, the program still knows how to get it done late in the tournament.
  • Butler has won several games down the stretch this season, including its first two tournament games. This clutch success can be attributed to the even-keel demeanor that the Bulldogs exhibit throughout the late stages of a game.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.18.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger has basketball in his blood. If you recall, his older brother, JJ, pieced together a solid career for the Buckeyes in the early 2000’s
  • Marquette head coach Buzz Williams believes Xavier guard Tu Holloway would receive acclaim similar to Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette if he played in a major conference. A high compliment, but it might be a bit of an exaggeration.
  • With the memory of his late mother always in his mind, Indiana State guard Jake Kelly has led the Sycamores all season. It is tough not to root for a kid like Kelly, as he has battled through all kinds of adversity throughout his career.
  • Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim believes that freshman big man Fab Melo is the Oranges’s “X-Factor” in this season’s tournament. This is a bit stunning to me, as Melo spent most of the conference campaign relegated to the bench.
  • Georgia head coach Mark Fox may get a chance to battle his mentor, UNC head coach Roy Williams, if both teams advance to the second round. Fox got his start in the coaching world as a volunteer assistant at Kansas.

Southeast

  • Florida guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton were key in the Gators’ rout of UC-Santa Barbara. The duo has battled inconsistency all season, but yesterday might be a sign of good things to come.
  • After a fairly below average start to the regular season, Gonzaga is finally starting to look like the team they were thought to be. The Zags proved this in their upset of St. John’s.
  • Pittsburgh big man Gary McGhee will seek revenge on his prep nemesis, Matt Howard, when the Panthers battle Butler in the second round. During the Indiana high school basketball and AAU seasons, McGhee never won a game against Howard.
  • Wisconsin got a big contribution from forward Mike Bruesewitz in the Badgers’ victory over Belmont. The sophomore forward recovered from a late-season injury to provide Bo Ryan‘s squad the necessary spark off the bench.
  • UCLA head coach Ben Howland will not rest following his squad’s victory over Michigan State. The Bruins have a big matchup with Florida on Saturday.

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ATB: Rhythm Of The Saints And Baseline Complaints

Posted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2011

The Lede. It was Day Four of Rivalry Week, and though the tag of “rivalry” on some of the games might have been questionable, there was no lack of storylines. Connecticut might have been indoors but still got caught up in one heck of a Storm, and Vanderbilt managed to dodge an entire Tide, though the majority of our friends and Twitter followees feel that the Commodores may have gotten a little help at the end. Oh, and there’s a little WCC team on whom you might want to keep an eye. Let’s jump in…

St. John's Had Walker Frustrated All Night (F. Franklin/AP)

Your Watercooler Moment. There were very few points in this game at which Connecticut appeared to be playing at full speed, and even fewer at which St. John’s appeared to play at anything less. Sure, the Garden may have had a little to do with the Johnnies’ 89-72 win over the Huskies, but the bigger factor was that one team showed up for whole game and the other didn’t. UConn didn’t play its best basketball in the first half but at least seemed interested and stayed close enough to where their talent could have pulled them through in the end. Instead, in the second half, Connecticut didn’t defend in the half-court, didn’t get back in transition defense, didn’t seem at all prepared for St. John’s’ match-up zone, and did nothing to stop SJU’s Dwight Hardy. The St. John’s senior guard dropped 33 on the Huskies and got help with 20 more from D. J. Kennedy, whose 11 boards helped the Red Storm to a 41-31 rebounding edge. UConn got the help it’s been wanting from its non-Kemba corps — Roscoe Smith (16/6), Alex Oriakhi (12/8), Jeremy Lamb (13/5) all played well, though Lamb’s 2-7 from three was a bit of a pinch — it just didn’t defend for most of the game. Nobody expected that from a team who came into MSG ranked in the top ten nationally in FG% defense, especially inside the three-point arc. [Note: For our RTC Live summary and link to the coverage, see below.]

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