NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

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

New Favorite: #4 Florida (26-8). Florida’s 65-39 drubbing of #5 Virginia on Saturday should put the rest of the remaining field on notice— the Gators are really, really difficult to score against. Mike White’s aggressive group held to Cavaliers to a paltry 0.65 points per possession, limiting its ACC foe to just 1-of-15 shooting from behind the arc and preventing any Virginia player from reaching double figures. Wisconsin, which is somewhat similar to Virginia stylistically, could be in for a rude awakening on Friday night. 6’8” swingman Devin Robinson, a supremely gifted athlete, is playing some of his best basketball of the season (19.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament), and only West Virginia and North Carolina possess more depth than Florida of the teams remaining. Now ranked third nationally by KenPom, the Gators are as good a threat as any to win the National Championship.

Florida’ Defense Dominated Virginia This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #8 Wisconsin (27-9). Despite being underseeded, Wisconsin outlasted Virginia Tech in the First Round before knocking off the reigning National Champion in the Round of 32. Saturday’s unexpected, high-drama victory over Villanova highlighted the Badgers’ strengths — patience, veteran leadership, stingy defense — and firmly establishes them as a threat in the East Region. Greg Gard’s club, now in its fourth straight Sweet Sixteen, will again enter Friday’s match-up with #4 Florida as an underdog. With a pair of seniors (Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes) and a First Team All-Big Ten forward (Ethan Happ) leading the way, bet against the dark horse Badgers at your own risk.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #7 South Carolina (24-10). #11 USC shocked #6 SMU and #8 Wisconsin upended the reigning National Champion — both huge surprises in their own right. But it was the other USC — #7 South Carolina — that pulled off the biggest stunner in the East, and perhaps the entire Big Dance. #2 Duke entered the Thursday as the betting favorite win the NCAA Tournament, a testament to both its supreme talent and undeniable momentum heading into the event (the Blue Devils had just won the ACC Tournament). The Gamecocks, meanwhile, entered Friday having lost six of its previous nine games, including an 11-point stinker against Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. And yet, Frank Martin’s defensive-minded group pounded Duke in the second half on Sunday night, scoring 65 points in the final 20 minutes and knocking off the Blue Devils in front of a home-state crowd filled with South Carolina fans and North Carolina fans (otherwise known as Duke haters) alike. Few people saw this coming.

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Three Takeaways from Kentucky’s Big Win Over Florida

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2017

The SEC regular season championship was most likely on the line Saturday when SEC co-leaders Kentucky and Florida met in Lexington. Both teams entered the game at 13-2 in conference play (23-5 overall), but somewhat trending in opposite directions. The Gators entered Rupp Arena on a nine-game winning streak, including an 88-66 shellacking of the Wildcats in Gainesville. Kentucky, on the other hand, had lost three of four in late January and early February before putting together a shakier five-game winning streak that included tougher than expected games against SEC doormats LSU and Missouri. In the end, the blue mist of Rupp Arena worked its magic, as Kentucky rode Malik Monk to the 30 second-half points to prevail with a 76-66 victory. With one week left in the regular season, this game effectively decided the SEC regular season crown, but it also told us a lot about what we can expect from the SEC’s best this postseason. Here are three takeaways from this weekend’s game.

Malik Monk is heating up (photo via The Big Lead).

1. Malik Monk can shoot Kentucky into the Final Four. It is rare for the Big Blue Nation to be critical of its Wildcats, but Kentucky fans have been overly pessimistic lately about the likelihood of John Calipari advancing to his fifth Final Four in the last seven years. It is easy to see why. Kentucky’s tendency to become offensively stagnant because of its inconsistent three-point shooting means even its wins are not coming easily. The first half on Saturday was more of the same, with the Wildcats shooting less than 30 percent from the field. Then Monk happened. The gifted freshman blew up to score 30 of his game-high 33 points in the second half, proving once again that Kentucky is never out of a game so long as he is on the floor. The scary part for the rest of college basketball is that Monk has gotten even more dangerous since conference play began. His three-point shooting percentage has increased to 45 percent in SEC play (from 42 percent on the entire season) and he is drawing an absurd 6.0 fouls per game. Monk’s rapidly developing arsenal as more than just a catch-and-shoot player could make him unstoppable down the stretch. Calipari would love to find some additional offensive consistency outside of Monk (Bam Adebayo could be the answer), but the freshman is already good enough to carry the Wildcats for long periods as it is.

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Bryce Drew’s First Vandy Win Offers Blueprint For Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 16th, 2016

Luckily for Bryce Drew, no memorable coaching tenure has ever been defined by its first game. The good vibes surrounding the Vanderbilt program and its new coach quickly dissipated on opening night last Friday, as Marquette sprinted past the Commodores in the second half of a 24-point rout. The shaky debut raised the stakes for Tuesday night’s inter-Nashville battle between the Commodores and Belmont, as an 0-2 start and a loss to a crosstown little brother would possess the potential to leave a lasting impact on Drew’s first season at Vanderbilt. However, Drew’s veteran outfit responded to the challenge at hand, posting a ship-righting victory that may be more crucial than the calendar and opponent would suggest.

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA Today Sports)

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, no program in America should treat a win over Belmont as a given. The Bruins have proven to be more than just a pesky mid-major for over a decade now, and they pushed another high-major team on its home floor last night. Quite certainly, Drew’s first win is one he didn’t take for granted until his team extended its lead into double figures in the game’s final minute. However, the win revealed a blueprint for how his teeam might win games moving forward. Luke Kornet was the centerpiece, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and harassing 2016 OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds into an unusually inefficient 6-of-15 night from the field. On a team with little in the way of overwhelming talent, Kornet will need to be this sort of difference-maker on a nightly basis. The four upperclassmen that join him in the starting lineup are all competent complementary pieces, but junior Matthew Fisher-Davis is the only other Commodore starter with the talent to truly concern opposing SEC coaches. Given these limitations, it is not only imperative that Kornet find consistency as a focal point of the offense, but also that the group around him finds a way to make him a successful centerpiece of an elite defense. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Hoops Would Do Well to Follow Big 12 Roadmap

Posted by Keith Hatfield on November 3rd, 2016

SEC basketball has long suffered from the perception that the league consists of Kentucky and a group of schools waiting for spring football to begin. While the league has begun to attack its image problem, there is still work to be done. If the SEC needs a blueprint for how to flip the script on the current narrative, it can look at the Big 12’s recent resurgence. While Kansas has been the unquestioned lodestar in that conference, the other schools have taken action and helped create a college hoops monster. Since many of the schools in the Big 12 are also football powers, their experiences have particular relevance to the pigskin-mad members of the SEC. Here are four steps the SEC can take to replicate the basketball success of their Big 12 counterparts.

SEC

SEC Basketball Should Look to the Big 12 for a Roadmap to Success

  1. Sell the Chase. Too often it seems as if the other 13 SEC schools are resigned to Kentucky’s dominance. That is not the case in the Big 12, a league that has done a great job in capturing fan interest by making sure everyone knows the worthy challengers to the Jayhawks (winners of 12 straight conference titles) each season. Sports fans love to see dynasties pushed to the limit. The SEC has to become more proactive in marketing that possibility to its core audience.
  2. Stay the Course. One of the main reasons the Big 12 has been able to improve its basketball brand is with its aggressive hiring of quality coaches. When half or more of your league coaches have been to a Final Four, you are on to something. The SEC has followed suit in the past couple of hiring cycles. Names like Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes, and Avery Johnson resonate with fans. The conference will benefit if every school with an opening makes a similar commitment to hiring a coach with some professional cachet. Doing that allows for the type of top-to-bottom strength that has served the Big 12 so well. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #12 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#12 – Where Small in Stature But Not in Game Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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You’re Not Mistaken: Conference Races Are Tighter This Season

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 19th, 2016

We are quickly approaching March and that means the regular season is almost over. Usually by this point in the season there are a few teams running away with the crowns in the power conferences, but it hasn’t quite gone that way this year. Analysts have described the level of parity this year in college basketball as unprecedented, but we decided to look into it ourselves. Exactly how close are the conference races this season as opposed to in previous years? Here’s a look at the last six years of the power conference races three weeks from the end of the regular season.

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A quick glance at each league reveals that the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and especially the SEC are having some of the most contested conference races in recent memory. Interestingly, for every conference other than the Big East, the current first place team (e.g., Kansas at 10-3 in the Big 12) has as many or more losses than any first place team the past five years has had on this date. That also means that second and third place teams across the board have a better chance of winning their leagues than they usually would.

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What’s Trending: Just Another Week of Insanity

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 11th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Seriously, Another Trip?

Not cool, Grayson Allen. Having fallen to the floor after a missed shot, the Duke sophomore tripped Louisville freshman Raymond Spalding on his way upcourt.

Though the officials initially missed the call, the trip was ruled a flagrant foul upon further review. Duke ultimately got a much-needed win, but Allen definitely suffered a loss in the public eye.

93%

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Stopping at College Station: The Balance of Texas A&M

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 4th, 2016

So much has been made of the parity in college basketball this season. So-called top teams continue to lose to lesser competition; home courts haven’t been defended well; and prognosticating the future has become an exercise in futility. As we inch closer to March, it’s easy to wonder what sort of teams are capable of surviving this climate. A case can be made for any number of teams that can get hot for a month, riding good shooting to a string of consecutive wins. Oklahoma or Villanova are two such squads, for example, that could ride hot shooters all the way to the Final Four. Or maybe Louisville or West Virginia, teams that rely on pressure defense, can put together enough stops to find their way to Houston. Anything seems possible.

Texas A&M (USA Today Images)

Texas A&M Closed Out Iowa State in Impressive Fashion Last Weekend (USA Today Images)

Either of those avenues to the sport’s final weekend could work out, but the most likely survivors are usually the teams that can employ a variety of ways to win — teams with balance in their rotations and devoid of major weaknesses. There may not be a team that better encapsulates this concept than Texas A&M. The Aggies have been among the most consistent teams in America all season long, losing only three games to good competition along the way (Syracuse; Arizona State; Arkansas). They are 10-3 against the KenPom top 100 and have lost only once since early December. Their success begins with a defense that ranks second nationally, thanks to very good defensive turnover and free throw rates. Few things prove more reliable in March than the ability to generate stops, and four of Texas A&M’s last five opponents have failed to reach 65 points — most notably an Iowa State team that plays fast (37th nationally) and ranks seventh in the country in offensive efficiency.

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What’s Trending: A Month Away from March!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 4th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The midseason SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place last weekend, giving teams from both conferences a chance to prove themselves in a high-profile event. The highlight of the weekend was surely Oklahoma’s surge to beat LSU in overtime, as senior Buddy Hield poured in 32 points and pushed still closer to legendary 50-50-90 Club (50% 3FG, 50% FG, 90% FT). While Hield’s late flourish stole the show, it may have been Texas A&M that proved the most. Behind 20 points from guard Danuel House, the Aggies, lacking a signature win, cemented themselves as one of the best teams in the nation with a 10-point win over Iowa State. Overall, the Big 12 took the bragging rights with a 7-3 victory, and the event was a resounding success.

More Tragedy Strikes

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SEC Is Texas A&M’s To Lose

Posted by William Ezekowitz on January 19th, 2016

As it often is, the SEC was supposed to belong to Kentucky this year. But now, five games into the conference season, should we already be penciling in current conference leader Texas A&M as the SEC’s presumptive champion, given the Wildcats’ struggles? Perhaps we should. The SEC schedule is kinder to Texas A&M than it is to any other contending team down the stretch, so the Aggies are poised to extend their advantage in the standings as the season progresses. KenPom provides a helpful conference SOS statistic, but that only covers games a team has played, which makes it only moderately valuable five games into the conference season. However, in order to gauge the difficulty of remaining schedules, we can still use KenPom’s game difficulty ratings. Starting this year, Pomeroy has given a game an “A” rating if it is equivalent to playing a top 50 team on a neutral court, and a “B” rating for top 100. As Pomeroy himself explains, these ratings account for home court advantage, which has large effects on how hard a game is to win.

So how do the teams with even somewhat realistic chances to win the SEC stack up in terms of difficulty of remaining games? Here it is:

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The disparity is so large because the SEC has 14 teams but 18 conference games, so each team must play five other teams twice. This is where South Carolina and Texas A&M receive a clear advantage. The Gamecocks don’t play a single team in the top half of the conference twice; Texas A&M, meanwhile, must play Vanderbilt, LSU and Arkansas plus cellar-dwelling Mississippi State and Missouri, which is slightly harder. Compare that to Kentucky, though, who gets Florida, Vanderbilt, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama. None of these are cupcake games – especially on the road – and for a team that just lost at Auburn. Read the rest of this entry »

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