Morning Five: 06.27.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 27th, 2014

morning5

  1. With the NBA Draft in the books we can officially put last season in the rear-view mirror. The top of the Draft was no surprise as Andrew WigginsJabari Parker, and Joel Embiid went 1-2-3. Actually, most of the Draft was not particularly surprising, but there are a few things that caught our eye. Outside of Toronto drafting a player who is “two years away from being two years away”, we we surprised to see Gary Harris and Shabazz Napier slip so far. I don’t think either were guaranteed top-10 picks and Napier was probably a borderline lottery pick at best, but both probably went at least six spots lower than what we would have expected and teams in higher spots made moves to acquire players at similar positions who simply are not as good as these two.
  2. The annual Coaches vs Cancer event announced their semifinal match-ups on Wednesday with Stanford playing UNLV and Duke playing Temple with the winners playing the following night. We would expect Stanford and Duke to meet although UNLV with all of its freshmen could surprise Stanford. If Stanford does advance (we are going to assume Duke will beat what should be a fairly mediocre Temple team) it would produce an interesting match-up between Mike Krzyzewski and Johnny Dawkins. We would not expect the Cardinal to be competitive with the Blue Devils based on talent alone although the Blue Devils may struggle integrating all of their new pieces early in the season. What would be interesting is seeing Krzyzewski face off against his former player, protege, and potential candidate to replace him if and when he does retire.
  3. So maybe that soccer thing didn’t work out exactly how we wanted, but basketball is still a sport that we do not need to rely on other countries to advance. The US demonstrated its dominance with a 113-79 victory over Canada to win the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championships. The victory was one of the closer games for the Americans as they won their five games by an average of almost 57 points per game including this 34-point win that made their average margin of victory plummet. As expected the Americans had a well-rounded attack. Despite what you might read about these wins and how certain players (not student-athletes until they are in college) played we would not read too much into it as they were playing against vastly inferior competition.
  4. A significant college prospect was taken off the recruiting board on Wednesday when Georgios Papagiannis announced that he was signing with a Greek club rather than going to college. Papagiannis, a 7’1″ center was a consensus top-50 player in the class of 2015 and had already taken unofficial visits to Maryland and Penn State. His decision should not come as a shock to observers because foreign recruits provide another potential source of talent they also have a much higher likelihood of opting to play overseas rather than coming to college in the first place.
  5. With the NBA Draft on everybody’s mind this week, CBS had its own draft, but did it for college coaches. As Gary Parrish, who wrote the accompanying article, notes there are many ways to define the best coach. For the purposes of this exercise they defined it as the best coach for the next five years. Most of the selections seem pretty reasonable, but we would question both Mike Krzyzewski (5th) and Kevin Ollie (22nd) slipping so far. Obviously Krzyzewski’s resume is better than his next five-year prospects, but he would have been in the top two in our draft if we had done one. As for Ollie, you can certainly point out that he was very close to getting eliminated early from this year’s NCAA Tournament, but the fact is that he wasn’t and he might be the most coveted NBA coaching prospect in the college ranks, which ought to count for something with recruiting in the future.
Share this story

The RTC Interview Series: One on One with NBADraftBlog’s Ed Isaacson

Posted by Walker Carey on June 25th, 2014

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the NBA Draft taking place Thursday night, we thought it would be a good idea to get some input from an expert. RTC Correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the please of speaking with NBA Draft Analyst Ed Isaacson, the founder of NBADraftBlog.com. You can follow Isaacson on Twitter via @nbadraftblog.

Rush the Court: Joel Embiid’s back (and now foot) injuries are the hot topics leading up to Thursday’s NBA Draft. How badly do you see this impacting Embiid’s stock and how would you approach these legitimate concerns if you were a team picking early in the draft?

Ed Isaacson: I do not think Embiid’s drop is going to be as drastic as Jared Sullinger’s (Note: Sullinger was medically flagged due to back issues) was in 2012 when he went from being a top six guy to being the 21st pick. My basic thought is that there is no way Embiid makes it beyond the Lakers at seven – if he happens to still be around then. If you are a general manager who is already on board with taking the risk with Embiid – he had a back problem in high school and had it again at Kansas – is the stress fracture in the foot suddenly going to be the thing that dissuades you from picking him? Once there is more information regarding the surgery and the timetable for his recovery, I think that will alleviate some concerns. I still believe Joel Embiid will be a top four pick.

Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins Will be the Talk of Thursday Night (Denny Medley, USA Today Sports)

Joel Embiid and Teammate Andrew Wiggins Will be the Talk of Thursday Night (Denny Medley, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Andrew Wiggins entered college with a ridiculous amount of hype. He was a very good player at Kansas, but it would be tough to say that he was a superstar. Do you believe his year in Lawrence negatively impacted his pro prospects and where do you see him ending up Thursday evening?

Isaacson: He is still the number one prospect to me. Even when Embiid was healthy, I had more value in Andrew Wiggins. One year in college is extremely tough to gauge a player and the Kansas system is much more different than at other schools. The main concern with Wiggins is the question if he is too passive on the court. The exact same thing was brought up last year in regards to Ben McLemore. I am not concerned. He is still a 19-year-old kid and I think he is going to be an All-Star. I have had him at number one throughout the process and I really think he is the best fit for Cleveland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Shabazz Napier

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 11th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Shabazz Napier

School: Connecticut

Height/Weight: 5’11”/175 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Shabazz Napier Dominated The NCAA Tournament. Will His Proficiency Continue At The Next Level?

Shabazz Napier Dominated The NCAA Tournament. Will His Proficiency Continue At The Next Level?

Overview: Shabazz Napier’s inspired NCAA Tournament performance not only netted UConn its third National Championship in 11 seasons, but it also supplied his draft stock with an explosive surge. The Boston native was likely a mid-to-late second round pick if you asked scouts about him before the NCAA Tournament, but after averaging 21.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.5 APG on college basketball’s biggest stage, Napier is now a safe bet to be drafted in the first round. The college senior turned first rounder is a rare breed in today’s day and age, but the UConn faithful can tell you that the enigmatic Napier has always been one to shirk convention. The “confident” swagger that propelled Napier to stardom this March wasn’t always perceived as such; as an underclassman, he was seen as brash and erratic, a petulant youngster who struggled when shots didn’t drop or passes missed teammates. He outran that reputation under Kevin Ollie, but that doesn’t mean NBA teams won’t fear a regression to his less mature days. If he avoids such a step back and maintains his spectacular 2013-14 form, one NBA team will have added a gifted floor general to their roster. When it comes to competitiveness and confidence, few players have more of it – in this draft or any other – than Mr. Napier.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Ten Most Pivotal Moments of the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 16th, 2014

Within every 40 minutes of college basketball, there is a moment or two that sets a tone, shifts momentum, or otherwise dictates the game’s final result. If we think bigger picture, we’ll notice that the five-month college basketball season is also shaped by a number of similarly formative moments. We may not always know their full significance at the time, but these moments conspire to transform the course of a season. In 2013-14, these were those 10 moments – some occurring inside the lines, others far away from the hardwood – that proved most pivotal to the season’s final snapshot.

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many  Napier Clutch Shots

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many Napier Clutch Shots

  • 10. Tyler Ennis Downs Pitt at the Horn (February 12). The Syracuse freshman’s memorable game-winner extended the Orange’s inspiring perfect start, but might it have ended up wounding both teams? Pitt would never really find its way over the hump, while Syracuse’s continued chase of perfection may have shielded a few critical flaws that would later cause its sharp downfall.
  • 9. Scottie Wilbekin Returns From Five-Game Suspension (November 25). A solid performance (12 points, seven assists, three steals) in a rout of Atlantic Sun also-ran Jacksonville was just the beginning of a redemptive season for Wilbekin, who overcame offseason turmoil to become the unquestioned leader and MVP of a team that, for the better part of 2014, played at a far loftier level than any other squad in the country.
  • 8. Wichita State Comes Back Against Missouri State (January 11). Shockermania hadn’t yet grown into the hysteria it would become, but Wichita State overcame a 19-point second half road deficit in the most improbable of their season-opening 35 victories. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

The Five Stories We Will Remember From the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 10th, 2014

It just so happened that two of the biggest stories from the first night of this college basketball season happened to be the two most prominent narratives on the season’s final evening. Back on November 8, Shabazz Napier’s 18-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort propelled UConn to a one-point victory over Maryland, while some 700 miles away, the most decorated and anticipated freshman class in college hoops history debuted at Rupp Arena, blasting UNC-Asheville, 89-57. Almost exactly five months to that night, Napier was again dazzling and the microscope remained firmly fixed on those gifted Kentucky freshmen, except this time they shared the same court at AT&T Stadium – the season’s final stage. Both national title combatants will survive as integral pieces in the memory of this 2013-14 season, but in between opening night and Championship Monday, countless other teams, players, and storylines seized our attention. Below are the five stories (beyond the Wildcats and Huskies) that I will remember most from a college basketball season that was never, ever boring.

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of This College Basketball Season

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Ending Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of 2013-14

5. Pac-12 Revival. We missed you, Pac-12. It’d been a minute since the league summoned up a national title contender, much less a deep and balanced assemblage of teams to chase that front-runner, but the Pac-12 was able to do just that in 2013-14. Even with Brandon Ashley’s mid-January season-ending ACL tear muddying Arizona’s March forecast, the Wildcats put together a regular season worthy of a #1 seed, and entered the NCAA Tournament on the short list of favorites before falling a point short of the Final Four in an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. Five other teams from the conference made the field of 68, with both Stanford and a revived UCLA squad (that Steve Alford hiring doesn’t look so bad now) making the Sweet Sixteen. College hoops is officially back on the West Coast.

4. Marcus Smart. He began the season as a presumptive top-five pick and popular leader of a top-10 team, but found his national image devolve into that of a controversial hothead with a soft spot for flopping. On his way out, Smart claimed he still believes he made the right decision in returning to Stillwater for his sophomore season, but Oklahoma State’s disastrous campaign (despite a late-season surge to make the NCAA Tournament and save a tiny bit of face) and his plummeting draft stock should raise suspicions that, perhaps for old time’s sake, Smart staged this final act as a Poke in some place far from reality. It would only make sense, because in 2014, Marcus Smart was nothing if not drama.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

After Fourth Title Since 1999, UConn Has Proven Its Blood is Pure Blue

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 8th, 2014

Elite societies are exclusive societies, and the true blue-bloods of college basketball have long been a part of a near-impenetrable coterie. They are the programs that need no introduction, the schools that we expect to see in preseason Top Tens, midseason games-of-the-week, and on the final lines of the bracket in March and April. With apologies to UCLA and Indiana (it has been too long since either school ended their season with a National Title), conventional wisdom would tell you that this dignified collection has included just four teams for quite some time now – Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas. It has been a nice run boys, but it’s time to welcome another member to your group. After winning its fourth national title in 15 years on Monday night — twice as many as any other school during that time — Connecticut deserves mention in any conversation of the elite college basketball programs in America. With Jim Calhoun watching from the stands and Kemba Walker on a television set far away from Dallas, Kevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the Huskies proved – against perennial power Kentucky, no less — that the UConn program is as elite as any in college hoops.

In Capturing Another National Title For The University Of Connecticut, Kevin Ollie's Huskies Proved That The UConn Program Is As Elite As Any College Basketball Has To Offer

Kevin Ollie’s Huskies Proved That The UConn Program — Now Winners Of Four Of The Last 15 National Championships — Is As Elite As Any In College Basketball  (Getty)

Jim Calhoun has long been synonymous with UConn basketball. After all, Calhoun took a program that was nearly devoid of basketball history when he got to Storrs in 1986 and turned it into a national power, winning 12 times as many NCAA Tournament games in his 26 years (48) as the program had in the 85 years that preceded his arrival. Among those four dozen Tournament victories were three national titles – a nearly unthinkable feat when viewed within the greater picture of Connecticut basketball history. Many even called the Hall of Famer’s work in Storrs underappreciated when he retired in 2012, citing that blank program history and the bleak winters in tiny Storrs as major obstacles to a perennially elite college basketball program. Yet, somehow Calhoun was able to create precisely that.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the Jim Calhoun era was most certainly a good thing. His departure in 2012 brought a fork in the road for the program. One route would have been a trip back to a quiet, defeat-ridden past, where three decades of sustained brilliance would have ultimately come to reveal little more than the immense proficiency of one fantastic head coach. The other fork was more intriguing, one where continued success might actually show that Calhoun had done more than just coach a bunch of great teams. If UConn continued their winning ways, Calhoun’s legacy would be that of a program builder; he would have taken a bad job and turned it into one of the sport’s best.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Connecticut

  • Senior leader Shabazz Napier called his UConn squad the “Hungry Huskies.” The Huskies showed the drive to thwart any Kentucky comeback attempts, as UConn led the entire game and won its fourth National Championship in program history. Napier said about his team: “We worked so hard for it.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie entered a tough situation in Storrs, as the Huskies faced a postseason ban for lackluster graduation rates. Few expected him to succeed, but Ollie proved his doubters wrong as he led his team to the Promised Land in his first-ever NCAA Tournament as a head coach. “I’m just trying to keep proving everyone wrong,” Ollie said amid the postgame celebration Monday night. “Everyone said our program was going to go down after the sanctions and people left, but we’re still here. Somebody the other day called us a “Cinderella.” We’re UConn. UConn is always going to stay here.”
  • Shabazz Napier will surely go down as one of the greatest to ever put on a UConn jersey after last night, but what will the Huskies do without him next year? It will be tough to replace an All-American, but the Huskies aren’t worried about that right now. “I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can,” [junior Ryan] Boatright said after the game. “I’m not thinking about my future right now. I’m enjoying the present. And we’re going to celebrate with my team and my family. And I’m just blessed to be here in this situation. It’s an honor to be a national champion and to play for this university.”
  • Shabazz Napier had some interesting comments directed at the NCAA on the podium after UConn won it all last night. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the hungry Huskies,” the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player said. “This is what happens when you ban us.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie isn’t seeking to replace both his predecessor and mentor, Jim Calhoun, but is rather seeking to build on what Calhoun built at UConn. After winning UConn’s fourth title in just his second year as the head coach, Ollie is doing what he set out to do. “I don’t look at it like a lot of people look at it, that I’m replacing Jim Calhoun,” Ollie said the other day. “Coach Calhoun is still beside me. He’s in front of me. He’s behind me. I’ve locked arms with coach because of what he’s put inside of me and his belief system. I think that’s what gets us through.”
  • After his second National Championship, Shabazz Napier has surely reached “Legendary Status” at UConn. In particular, the way in which he carried UConn to this year’s title is what cemented his legacy. “He’s going to go down in history as one of the best players to ever play at UConn,” [sophomore] Omar Calhoun said. “Not a lot of people have gone to a national championship and won it, so I feel like he just led the way.”

Kentucky

  • With the season now behind them, Kentucky’s freshmen have some decisions to make about their futures. Though he doesn’t like to discuss the NBA during the season, coach John Calipari is now ready to help out his players. “Now that the season is over, it’s about the players. It’s no longer about the program,” he noted.
  • With rumors circulating that John Calipari could be the next coach of the Lakers, he was sure to quickly dismiss those rumors. When asked, Calipari refused to “dignify” the that discussion.
  • Kentucky had a tough loss, but the Wildcats had nothing but good things to say about UConn’s guards. “They were the best guards, definitely, that we played against,” [freshman James] Young said. “Shabazz and Boatright did a good job of just running their team and getting big shots for them.”
  • Kentucky was able to get to the free throw line, but what did it in was its inability to convert when there. The Wildcats made just 13 of 24 free throws. “We had our chance but missed the free throws and shots,” [coach John] Calipari said.
  • With five freshmen in the starting lineup, Kentucky reminded many of Michigan’s Fab Five. Ironically, Kentucky’s group of freshmen met the same fate that the Fab Five did, losing in the National Championship Game (although Michigan’s group lost there twice). Though his team fell, Calipari was still proud of his young guns. “Even in that loss, I can’t believe what these guys got done together,” Calipari said. “Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting.”
  • The Harrison Twins, particularly Aaron, carried the Wildcats to the National Championship Game, but unfortunately, they were not able to take them all the way. The twins began the season by failing to live up to expectations, but by the Tournament’s end, they proved that they were as good as advertised.
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #8 Kentucky 54

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

  1. Shabazzketball. Shabazz Napier said after the game that he told his teammates back in a January home loss to Louisville — the first of three to the defending national champs, none of which were close — that he believed in his team and that they were going to make a run to eventually win the National Championship. While there’s no way to know if Napier is joshing us or simply retelling a tidbit that the team probably repeated many times during the season, the salient point is that Connecticut fulfilled the prophecy to once again raise the gold trophy for the fourth time in 16 seasons. The brash, cocksure point guard from the Boston area is the primary reason why. Napier’s 22 points (including four big threes), six rebounds, and three steals have become par for the course throughout Connecticut’s run to the title, but on a night when the team needed a first half lift because DeAndre Daniels was slow getting started, Napier’s 15 points allowed the Huskies to build an early cushion to put the pressure on Kentucky to make yet another second half comeback. The comeback happened twice, but each time that the Wildcats had whittled the lead down to one point, Napier had an answer. His first response was right out of the half, when he drove into the lane to earn two free throws (both makes, of course); the more important second instance was with six minutes remaining, when it appeared that UConn was wearing down and the Cats were surging forward. Napier put an end to that notion with a calm and accurate three-pointer to push the lead back up to four. After a subsequent Randle two and Giffey three, Kentucky never got closer than four points for the rest of the game. There aren’t many players these days who stick around long enough to win two national titles, and especially three years apart, but Napier has certainly proven that he belongs among the list of greats for his performances in March Madness.
  2. Kevin Ollie Bum Rushes the Tourney. The last time a coach won the national title in his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the year was 1989 and Michigan’s brand-new head coach Steve Fisher led Glen Rice and friends on a magical run to victory. Kevin Ollie had a little more experience coming into this year’s Dance than Fisher was awarded some 25 years ago, but he should absolutely be commended for the belief that he instilled in his players and the resolve that they exhibited on the court during this Tournament. They beat teams bigger than them, more physical than them, deeper than them, better shooters than them, and more experienced than them. What you’re going to read about a lot in the next 24 hours is how it was UConn’s defensive commitment and resolve that won the school its fourth championship. While the Huskies played excellent defense in the gut-check games against the likes of Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky over the past 10 days (holding the three teams to 0.90, 0.93 and .90 points per possession), it was actually the hyper-efficiency of UConn’s offense that made the difference. Over the six-game NCAA Tournament run, Kevin Ollie’s team never dipped below a 1.00 PPP average (vs. Michigan State and Kentucky), and it maxed out with a necessary 1.24 PPP mark against St. Joseph’s and a 1.23 PPP mark against Iowa State. It’s not a true calculation because every game is different, but some back-0f-the-envelope math suggests that the Huskies averaged about 1.11 PPP in its six wins while holding opponents to 0.99 PPP on the other end. And it did so against five of KenPom’s top 20 teams, with the strange outlier the game against St. Joseph’s that UConn very well could have lost. Crazy.
  3. Kentucky’s Magical Run Ends One Game Short. This Kentucky basketball season was without question one of the strangest that we’ve ever experienced. The highs and lows of it were simply astonishing. From a preseason #1 ranking and at least mild entertainment of the idea of an unbeaten 40-0 season, to the harsh reality of non-conference losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, to head-scratching but not awful SEC losses to Arkansas, LSU and Florida, to end-of-season disasters vs. Arkansas in Rupp and on the road at South Carolina and Florida, to The Tweak before the SEC Tournament and a solid performance there, to the subsequent three weeks of phenomenal play — especially at the end of games against high-quality competition — that ran all the way to the verge of a National Championship. Life is stranger than fiction, and it certainly felt coming into tonight that all the jabbering about 1-and-done and right way/wrong way and the rest of the related nonsense surrounding John Calipari and how he runs his program was going to be finally put to rest. Alas, UConn had other ideas. Regardless of tonight’s outcome for the Wildcats, there’s absolutely no shame in a runner-up finish, and most Kentucky fans would have taken that in a heartbeat in early March. As for Calipari, this was without question one of his finest coaching jobs — he very nearly lost this team at the end of the season, but he was able to use his magic wand to get their attention, buy into his conceptual framework of team and selflessness, and damn near ran his team to another National Championship. Because of his recruiting prowess, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s a top-five coach in this game no matter how you slice it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 7th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

#7 Connecticut vs. #8 Kentucky – National Championship Game (at Arlington, Texas) – 9:10 PM ET on CBS

History will be made in some form tonight at AT&T Stadium no matter which team wins this game. Connecticut is bidding to become the first #7 seed to ever win the national championship while Kentucky is looking to become the first #8 seed since Cinderella team Villanova toppled top-seeded Georgetown in 1985, the first year of the 64/68-team era. Kevin Ollie could become the first coach to win a championship in his first tournament appearance since Michigan’s Steve Fisher accomplished that feat a quarter-century ago in 1989 at Seattle’s Kingdome. John Calipari could win his second title in three seasons, this time with the nation’s most inexperienced team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics). Something has to give in this game between what some observers have said are teams of destiny. Connecticut is going for the Texas triple play, so to speak, having closed out two previous Final Fours in the Lone Star State (2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston) with championships while Kentucky has three players from the state on its roster, including hometown favorite Julius Randle. Connecticut is seeking its fourth national championship while Kentucky would earn its ninth with a win.

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Kentucky has had some of its best offensive games of the season in this tournament. The Wildcats have not been defensive juggernauts, but timely stops and consistent offensive output have been the keys to their success over the last couple of weeks (along with clutch Aaron Harrison shots, of course). Going up against yet another strong defensive team in Connecticut (UK has already faced Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, all terrific on the defensive end) will be a test for the “Cardiac Cats.” At the point guard position, Andrew Harrison has to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the undersized, but quicker and pesky Huskies guards. He is averaging four turnovers per game in the tournament and making him uncomfortable needs to be part of the game plan for Ollie’s team. Daring Andrew Harrison shoot has been fairly successful for Kentucky’s opponents as he is just 18-for-52 (35 percent) from the floor in five tournament games, which even includes a solid 6-for-9 performance against Wichita State in the round of 32. By contrast, making his brother Aaron put the ball on the floor and drive is the best strategy for Connecticut. Aaron Harrison has made 14-of-25 threes (56 percent) in the tournament but he is just 8-for-27 (30 percent) when it comes to two point shots. Chasing him off the three point line and making him put it on the deck has to be a point of emphasis for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright defensively. Kentucky is at its best when Andrew Harrison is moving the ball well, Aaron Harrison is open on the wing and James Young is either knocking down triples or slashing through the defense, opening up the lane for Randle in the post. Of course, Randle is so good and so strong that he can do a number of things on the low block. The freshman has 50+ pounds on Connecticut’s four man DeAndre Daniels and nearly 40 pounds on Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, both of whom are good defensively but also quite raw by the same token. Ollie may very well wrinkle in some zone to keep Kentucky out of the lane and dare it to make shots. However, that is still risky because of the ability of Aaron Harrison and Young to connect from the three point line. The Huskies are sneaky good when it comes to interior defense, allowing just 42.2 percent field goal shooting inside the three point arc. That will be tested against the stronger Randle and Dakari Johnson, who is very difficult to guard when he catches the ball deep in the post. Great interior defense is a staple of the Jim Calhoun era and a part of the Connecticut culture that Ollie has carried over while building the program his way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Your Way Too Early 2014-15 AAC Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 7th, 2014

As we anxiously wait to see whether UConn can deliver a title to the American Athletic Conference in its very first season of existence, it’s important to take some time to wildly speculate about how the conference will shake out next season. We don’t yet have a complete list of who is heading to the NBA Draft and we haven’t watched even one minute of East Carolina or Tulane basketball this season, but that won’t stop us from sticking our necks out with everyone’s predicted finish for next season.

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

With Larry Brown Back, SMU Will Push Forward (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

  1. SMU. Every top team in the conference is losing at least two important pieces except for the Mustangs. Graduating senior Nick Russell was a valuable contributor this season, but SMU has guys like Keith Frazier and Sterling Brown waiting in the wings. Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore will continue to get better and don’t forget about incoming uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay who could be in the starting lineup from Day One.
  2. Connecticut. People thought Kemba Walker was irreplaceable until Shabazz Napier stepped up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Huskies have another superstar guard ready to fill the void. Napier’s departure will leave the biggest hole, but Niels Giffey was an efficient offensive player and Lasan Kromah was dependable as well. The team’s success will likely hinge whether DeAndre Daniels decides to turn pro. If he stays for his senior season and Omar Calhoun turns around a once promising career, those two and Ryan Boatright form a solid nucleus to rebuild around. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

How Connecticut Advanced to the National Championship Game

Posted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014

Seven-seed Connecticut completed its incredible run to the National Championship game by defeating favored Florida, 63-53, in Saturday night’s first national semifinal. The following are three factors that led to the Huskies advancing to its fourth appearance in the title tilt since 1999.

DeAndre Daniels is Taking the Challenge Upon Himself

DeAndre Daniels is Taking the Challenge Upon Himself

  1. DeAndre Daniels has picked the right time to play the best basketball of his career. The junior forward had a nice regular season, averaging 13.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, but there were several times when he failed to produce when Connecticut needed his production. The most notable of Daniels’ poor games were in a January 8 loss to Louisville where he scored just three points on 1-of-9 shooting, and in a February 23 loss to SMU when he finished with just six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Since the NCAA Tournament has began, though, Daniels has shown those phantom nights are things of the past. In the Huskies’ overtime victory over Saint Joseph’s in the round of 64, the junior turned in 18 key points on a very efficient 6-of-11 shooting. In the Huskies’ next win over Iowa State, Daniels was the best player on the floor and his 27 points and 10 rebounds were instrumental in helping Connecticut fend off a late Cyclones run. After a steady 12-point, eight-rebound effort in the Elite Eight victory over Michigan State, Daniels again showed he can be the best player on the floor in Connecticut’s stunning semifinal victory over Florida. He finished with 20 points and 10 boards, while being part of a strong defensive effort that held the Gators to just 53 points on 38.8 percent shooting. It is completely unexpected that Kevin Ollie’s squad will be playing for the national title on Monday night, but considering how good Daniels has been in this Tournament, it makes a lot more sense. If the junior can turn in another game-changing effort Monday, there is no reason to think the Huskies will not cut down the nets at the end of the night. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calhoun

Former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun Was All Smiles After the Game

  1. Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
  2. On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
  3. The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story