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

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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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.

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UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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UConn and the ACC: The One That Got Away

Posted by Chris Kehoe on April 4th, 2014

When the most recent jumble of conference realignment was underway, the ACC squarely targeted the Big East for its newest conquests. Commissioner John Swofford wanted to add programs that were strong in the revenue sports of football and basketball, holding distinctive geographic locations that would open up the conference to new fans and marketing possibilities. The ACC won out in a big way, snagging prominent athletic programs at Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh from the old Big East. While these programs are have had varying degrees of success in the sport that drives realignment, Notre Dame is the only football name brand (and the Irish retained their football independence). So while the current athletic landscape is shaped by the financial juggernaut that is college football, the ACC locked up some of the country’s most elite basketball programs.

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

So while the ACC may have sought greater football legitimacy as its primary goal, the league also landed two massively successful basketball programs in Syracuse and Louisville. As a result, the ACC may very well have positioned itself as the basketball conference of the future, made up of most if not all of the best programs up and down the East Coast. That is, with one notable exception. As the league plundered the Big East, it may have made a drastic mistake from a basketball perspective. The ACC left behind a basketball powerhouse in its own right, Connecticut, a school that all but pleaded for entry into the ACC and a Final Four participant in a season when no conference team made it past the Sweet Sixteen. Recall the silly preseason talk about how the ACC was supposed to be ‘the best ever’, and it leaves you wondering if the exclusion of a program like UConn was the right move. The basketball program based in Storrs has had continued and sustained excellence in the sport over a long period of time, winning the national title three times since 1999 (as well as 2004 and 2011), and putting 13 players into the NBA as lottery picks since 1994. Few programs can match that record.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 2nd, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky has already released. Today: UConn. Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent.

Where did this come from? I am not sure anyone out there had this #7 seed, which suffered a humiliating 81-48 defeat at Louisville on March 8, as a Final Four contender. Yet here they are. The Connecticut Huskies are here, and boy, did they earn it. After trailing Saint Joseph’s for a large portion of its opening round game, Connecticut manhandled Villanova to get to Madison Square Garden where it then dispatched Iowa State and Michigan State in thrilling fashion over the weekend. The Huskies are the underdog team in Arlington this week, but make no mistake; they too have a chance to win a pair of games at Jerry World.

Regardless of how they got here, Shabazz Napier and UConn are now as dangerous as ever. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Regardless of how they got here, Shabazz Napier and UConn are now as dangerous as ever. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Pre-Tournament Capsule. Connecticut played a mediocre non-conference schedule this season as games against Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and Washington looked good on paper but those teams all turned out to be not so good after all. The Huskies, as you will hear about a lot this week, hosted Florida on December 2 at Gampel Pavilion, a game they won thanks to a freakish last-second play. Shabazz Napier’s first shot attempt was so poor it hit the backboard and bounced back to him where he proceeded to drain an open jumper to hand the Gators their second loss of the season. Florida has not lost another game since then. Who had that game as a Final Four preview at the time? Nobody. Kevin Ollie’s team hosted Stanford a week before Christmas in another key non-conference game. This was a strange contest as the Huskies built a 13-point lead with 16:48 to play but could only manage an astounding eight points over the rest of the way in falling by two points to the Cardinal. Conference play saw the Huskies get off to a slow 0-2 start before returning home for a non-conference tilt against Harvard, which they won. Including the Harvard game, Connecticut won 13 of its next 15 games before a humiliating 81-48 defeat at Louisville on the final day of the regular season. The Huskies were swept by SMU and Louisville, but took two of three against Cincinnati (including a win in the AAC Tournament) and swept Memphis (three games). In the American championship game, Connecticut fell to Louisville for the third time this season. A 26-8 (12-6) record was good enough for this team to earn a #7 seed from the Selection Committee.

How They Got Here. For all intents and purposes, Connecticut should have lost to St. Joe’s in the #7/#10 game. Ken Pomeroy, in his game recap, gave the Huskies just a 16.3 percent chance of winning (down three with 49 seconds left). However, the Huskies survived and advanced thanks to tremendous rebounding and Amida Brimah’s three-point play. In fact, rebounding has been one of the main reasons why the Huskies are in this position right now. A poor rebounding team all year long has outboarded two of its four NCAA Tournament opponents and been competitive on the boards in those other games, including Sunday against fearsome Michigan State where Connecticut was +1 on the offensive glass and only -2 overall. After knocking off the Hawks, the team’s offense turned into the Napier show as he absolutely steamrolled Villanova before setting his sights on Iowa State and Michigan State in front of what was, for the most part, a jubilant home crowd at the Garden. This home court advantage undoubtedly helped the Huskies (the players admitted as much), but do not be fooled. This team is legitimate, having now taken out the #2, #3, and #4 seeds in the East Region.

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2013-14 All-Americans by the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2014

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even 10 or 15 if you add a second or third team). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only the digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls), and pick one player for each number. Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will remember most from this season. In the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. Here is my list of Players of the Year by jersey numbers.

0 – Ryan Watkins, Sr, Boise – His team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but Watkins’ senior season was one to remember. The nation’s best offensive rebounder for the second year in a row, Watkins’ efficient offense and tough defense was a constant for a Broncos team that underachieved elsewhere.

00 – Royce O’Neale, Jr, Baylor – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, a single zero and a double zero are the same number, but what fun is that? The transfer from Denver was anything but a big zero for the Bears this season, playing a big role for Scott Drew as an inside-outside threat and another big body in the Baylor zone.

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year (Photo: Ethan Hyman)

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year
(Photo: Ethan Hyman)

1 – Jabari Parker, Fr, Duke – After a quick nod to George Washington’s guard Maurice Creek, who bounced back from a career severely hampered by numerous injuries to turn in an inspiring senior season, we’ll acknowledge the fact that when we look back on 2013-14, Parker will be the guy who wore a #1 that we’ll remember most vividly. In what will likely be his lone season in Durham, he put his vast array of skills on display, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and sheer number of spectacular plays.

2 – Russ Smith, Sr, Louisville – A deep number with candidates ranging from big guys Sim Bhullar and Khem Birch to guards like Xavier Thames and Briante Weber, the nod here is a no-brainer. Smith’s career under Rick Pitino has been a whirlwind. After barely playing his freshman year, he earned big minutes as a sophomore only to show himself as a inveterate gunner who never saw a shot he didn’t like. But in his junior and senior seasons, he actually turned into a – gasp! – highly efficient offensive player. His three-point shooting improved every year and his game off the bounce was always explosive. And defensively? For the past two years, he’s been the best perimeter defender in America. Read the rest of this entry »

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Shabazz Napier’s Maturity Fuels a Final Four Run to Remember

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2014

The lasting takeaway from the tournament that began UConn’s 2010-11 season is the same memory that defined the NCAA Tournament that ended it: Kemba Walker’s brilliance. The year of Kemba may have reached a crescendo in March and early April three years ago, but it began back in November 2010, when Walker’s three-day, 90-point bender propelled the unranked Huskies to an unexpected Maui Invitational title. Lost within that preseason title run was our then-insignificant introduction to Connecticut freshman Shabazz Napier. The Massachusetts native has never been short on confidence, but back then, his self-assurance served only to speed up the game around him. Napier went 7-of-22 from the field in Maui, committed more turnovers than assists, and was a largely inconsequential element of the Huskies’ early-season championship run.

UConn Is Headed Back To The Final Four, In No Small Thanks To Their Experienced, Mature Floor General Shabazz Napier

UConn Is Headed Back To The Final Four, In No Small Thanks To Their Experienced, Mature Floor General Shabazz Napier

Of course, almost any Husky not named Kemba could have fallen into that category – both in Maui and beyond — but Napier’s opening act at the school was a representative dose of a freshman season in which reckless play and poor decision-making turned him into quite the efficiency drain. On the season, Napier shot under 33 percent from three-point range, made just 42 percent of his two-point attempts, and posted an astronomically high turnover rate of 22.3 percent. For the sake of reference, the freshman’s ball-dominating teammate, Walker, had a turnover rate nearly half that of Napier that season (11.6 %). Comparisons to NPOYs aren’t always the fairest, but either way, the statistical breakdown of Napier’s freshman year is incapable of hiding the immaturity that he brought with him to Storrs. He ended that season as a national champion and a key piece of UConn’s future, but significant refinement was needed for Napier to ever realize his potential.

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2013-14 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2014

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of eight RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November, nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 names on that list would live up to the hype: Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Louisville’s Russ Smith, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, and Kentucky’s Julius Randle. The only two players that were projected to to be a first team All-America and finished there were McDermott and Smith (actually, we recognized at the time that a 33 percent accuracy rate was the AP’s historical norm, so we did a little better than that). The nine players we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team — Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan’s Mitch McGary (spent much of the year injured), Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, and Virginia’s Joe Harris — all had exceptional seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2013-14 RTC All-America Teams.

Note on methodology: voters took postseason performance to date into consideration. Players earned three points for a First Team vote, two points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote. McDermott and Napier were the only two consensus First Team All-America selections. Coming tomorrowThe RTC Coach of the Year.

First Team All-America

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  • Doug McDermott, Senior, Creighton (consensus) (26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 52.6% FG, 44.9% 3FG). McDermott was the most prolific  and talented offensive player in the country in a season that wrapped up his marvelous collegiate career. The senior led the country in scoring and his brilliant play was the biggest reason why Creighton finished the season with a sterling 27-8 record. The brilliance of “Dougie McBuckets” saw him reach several amazing career milestones this year. His career-high 45 points in March 8’s Senior Night victory over Providence put him over the 3,000-point barrier, and he wound up finishing with 3,150 points, good for fifth on the all-time scoring list. There have been few players like Doug McDermott in college basketball history, and there will be few like him in the future. He was an amazingly unique talent that we were all privileged to watch play ball for the last four years.
  • Shabazz Napier, Senior, Connecticut (consensus) (18.1 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG). You can make an argument that no player has meant more to his team this season than Napier has meant to Connecticut. The Huskies improbably took home the East Region title and are headed to the Final Four, thanks in large part to the heroics of Napier. After a sensational regular season where the guard took home the AAC Player of the Year award, he has only elevated his play in the postseason. In the Huskies’ four NCAA Tournament victories, Napier is averaging 23.3 points per contest and has displayed his flare for the dramatic by hitting several important shots when his team needed them most. Connecticut won a national title in 2011 mostly due to the brilliance of then-point guard and NPOY Kemba Walker. If the Huskies are able to replicate that feat this season, it will be mostly due to the brilliance of Napier.
  • Jabari Parker, Freshman, Duke (22) (19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 47.3% FG). In a season when many freshmen around the country received a great deal of preseason hype, no other freshman lived up to the lofty expectations quite like Parker. The USBWA National Freshman of the Year became the first Duke freshman to earn consensus first-team All-America honors with selections to the AP and Wooden All-America teams. It is widely expected that Parker will enter the 2014 NBA Draft after just one season in Durham, and even though his Duke career did not include an NCAA Tournament victory, Parker’s terrific season will not soon be forgotten.
  • Russ Smith, Senior, Louisville (22) (18.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 46.8% FG). “Russdiculous” entered the season with high expectations and he more than lived up them by leading Louisville to another terrific campaign. After an excellent junior season, Smith only improved as a senior. Known for erratic decision-making much earlier in his career, the talented guard reinvented himself during his senior season. Smith improved his field goal percentage from by five percentage points and his three-point percentage from by six points. That brilliance led a spot as Louisville’s first consensus All-American since Clifford Rozier in the 1993-94 season. 
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Senior, Cincinnati (19) (20.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 42.3% FG, 84.5% FT). Kilpatrick finished his outstanding collegiate career with legendary Cincinnati status, as he joined NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only two Bearcats to top 2,000 career points. Along with joining Robertson in the Cincinnati record books, Kilpatrick also became the program’s all-time leader in games (140) and career minutes played (4,315). The elevation in Kilpatrick’s play as a senior also meant great things for an overachieving Cincinnati squad that was the co-AAC champion and was ranked #15 in the final AP poll.

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AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

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  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #4 Michigan State 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

  1. Vintage Connecticut. Kevin Ollie only took over the Connecticut job last season but he has wasted no time in carrying on Jim Calhoun’s legacy of hard-nosed defense. The Huskies limited Michigan State to 39.1 percent shooting and, more importantly, kept them out of the paint and off the free throw line. It was a game of runs with Connecticut jumping out to an early lead, Michigan State firing back and the Huskies eventually closing the door. The Huskies did a great job limiting any dribble penetration by the Spartans and swarmed Adreian Payne any time he touched the ball deep in the post. In the end, it was consistent defense and a great game plan by Kevin Ollie and his players that carried them to the win.
  2. Michigan State couldn’t get anything inside.  For the game, Michigan State was limited to six points in the paint. With Gary Harris (who had a great game) content to shoot jumpers and Keith Appling still bothered by a nagging injury, the Spartans got very little, if any, dribble penetration. When they looked for Payne in the post, he was double or even tripled teamed at times. After a great game against Virginia on Friday night, Branden Dawson (five points) was a non-factor against the physical Huskies. With Michigan State content on shooting jumpers (29 of its 46 shots were three pointers), it also had great difficulty getting to the free throw line. The inability to score inside and get to the line was Michigan State’s downfall in this game.
  3. The free throw line made the difference. Coming into the game, more focus was on the great perimeter shooting both teams featured. That proved not to be the deciding factor in any way as Michigan State was 15 percentage points better than Connecticut from deep. However, it was the free throw line that won this one for the Huskies. Connecticut made 21-of-22 free throws (95.5 percent) while Michigan State only made eight trips to the charity stripe. The Spartans, who entered today’s action ranked an abysmal No. 316 in free throw rate, simply shot too many jumpers and never adjusted to what the Huskies were doing defensively in the paint. With Appling’s injury still being a factor, Michigan State just could not get any dribble penetration and their half court offense looked rather stagnant. Give the Huskies credit for not fouling, too. They recorded only 12 fouls for the game.

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East Region Final Analysis: Michigan State vs. Connecticut

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut – East Regional Final (at New York, NY) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Cinderella story Connecticut is on the precipice of its fifth Final Four in school history, but to get there the Huskies will have to get past a focused group of Spartans. Michigan State outlasted Virginia on Friday evening in what was a good old-fashioned slugfest. Should the Spartans get past the Huskies on Sunday afternoon in New York, Tom Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player he has coached at Michigan State to a Final Four will continue.

Can Izzo Lead The Spartans To Another Final Four?

While Connecticut has rebounded the basketball very well in this tournament, it has to be a concern for Kevin Ollie ahead of this game. The statistics show Michigan State is a much better rebounding team and that will result in crucial bonus possessions for the Spartans if it proves to be the case. As always, Izzo’s teams pride themselves on toughness, defense and rebounding. On the boards, the athletic Spartans have a significant edge. The Huskies will need DeAndre Daniels to have a similar game to the one he had against Iowa State on Friday, although going up against Adreian Payne and company will be much more difficult than an undersized and shorthanded Iowa State group. Offensively, Connecticut must shoot the ball well from the perimeter and get good dribble penetration from Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. A combination of those two things is the only way the Huskies can open up the floor and break down Michigan State’s defense. Napier, who has been turnover-prone over his career, must take good care of the basketball as to not fuel the lethal Spartans transition game.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 30th, 2014

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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.

South Region

West Region

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