The Toughest Team Always Wins: A Navy SEAL Teaches Toughness

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on November 21st, 2013

The toughest team always wins.

The visiting Virginia Commonwealth Rams have the ball under their own basket with 9.8 seconds to go, moments after a free throw from Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon tied the game at 56.

“C’mon, you guys, you can do this,” former Navy SEAL John McGuire thought as he sat directly behind VCU’s bench. “Focus.”

Rams point guard Rob Brandenburg brings the ball past halfcourt, cuts to his right and passes to shooting guard Treveon Graham above the top of the key. Graham launches a three-pointer from nearly 30 feet away, snapping the net with just three seconds remaining. The Cavaliers miss a final-second heave.

Just like McGuire taught them.


McGuire, who rode on the Rams’ bus to Charlottesville and gave the pregame speech, has worked with coach Shaka Smart’s team since just after the Final Four run in 2011. The former sniper instructor now runs SEAL Team Physical Training, a Richmond, Virginia, business that focuses on fitness and team-building exercises, including for athletic teams. Smart found out about SEAL Team PT through word of mouth and called McGuire in November 2010, asking about his philosophies on teamwork and building leaders. “I think he liked what he heard,” McGuire said.

Since beginning work with VCU, SEAL Team PT has worked with nine Division I men’s basketball programs, along with college football, lacrosse, women’s basketball and baseball teams. Last offseason, McGuire personally worked with VCU, Toledo and Illinois, teams that are a combined 10-0 in 2013-14.


Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

McGuire prides himself on taking people out of their comfort zones with his drills, many of them taken from his Navy SEAL training. Working on an unfamiliar task levels the playing field. It forces the people taking part to work together, lead, be confident and communicate. Players are usually divided into teams for their tasks, which can include anything from push-ups and running to carrying a sandbag or rowing a boat together. Given the limited time constraints afforded McGuire by NCAA rules – sometimes his training sessions are as short as three one-hour sessions within a week – cultivating chemistry and rapport is at the top of his task list.

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VCU’s Versatility On Full Display Early in the Season

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 17th, 2013

Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between VCU and Winthrop in Richmond. 

The VCU Rams have risen to prominence on the national scene over the last several years due largely to their suffocating, full-court defense and long-range shooting. This has proven to be a style that’s been immensely difficult for teams to prepare for, and most opponents don’t possess the stamina or depth to hang with the Rams for an entire game. But in the infant stages of the 2013-14 season, and following a solid 92-71 win over Winthrop Saturday night, VCU has also proven that it has the ability to win games in different fashions. It’s that versatility that makes this team particularly dangerous.

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

After the Rams capped off a rugged, grinding win in Charlottesville over in-state rival Virginia on Tuesday, it became apparent that taking the tempo away from this team would no longer guarantee success. The Rams fought off a night where they were whistled for 27 personal fouls and had several key players in early foul trouble with its consistent half-court defense. While they weren’t able to press the Cavaliers full-court due to the slow-it-down style Virginia prefers, Shaka Smart’s team’s perseverance on the road against an ACC foe in prime time showed that it has the makeup of a team that can handle in-game adversity. Avoiding the letdown that sometimes plagues teams playing as many youngsters as VCU was an important barometer early in the year, and the Rams were able to get back to pressing full-court and shooting well from downtown in pulling away against Winthrop.

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2013-14 RTC Conference Preview: the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 5th, 2013

Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can find him on Twitter at @vbtn.

 

Top Storylines

  • Conference Realignment, Round Two – When back in March 2012, Temple — followed quickly by Charlotte — announced their intent to leave the conference at the end of the 2012-13 season, Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade had nearly 15 months to deliver their replacements. The former ACC Associate Commissioner took less than eight weeks to ink two stellar programs (VCU and Butler) that could potentially eclipse the departing teams. Through an accident of timing, the conference drew five NCAA bids from its 16 teams, matching their previous bid highs of 1996-97 and 1997-98. The A-10’s second brush with Realignment Fever (Butler and Xavier to the Big East, effective June 30, 2013) handed McGlade a far smaller window to audition replacements. Her second attempt at matchmaking yielded George Mason and Davidson, two solid additions that fall short of her first effort. That headliners Temple, Xavier and Butler (Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye) departed together, with Davidson not due to join until 2014-15, leaves the conference with less name recognition than it has had since the early 1990s.

    It has been a whirlwind 18 months for Bernadette McGlade and the A10 conference. (AP)

    It has been a whirlwind 18 months for Bernadette McGlade and the Atlantic 10 conference. (AP)

  • The “It” Place – Inking a five-year deal with the Barclays Center to host the Atlantic 10 Tournament seemed prudent at the time. The shovels had barely turned the dirt on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and the conference was in the early stages of negotiations for television coverage. McGlade’s gamble paid dividends as the 2013 conference tournament offered the strongest field in a decade in one of the year’s hottest new basketball venues. Couple the exposure from basketball (the Brooklyn Nets, the A-10 Tournament, several in season double- and triple-headers) and music, and suddenly the Barclays Center has become one of the most popular entertainment venues in New York City. For the A-10, the challenge will be to develop comparable gate numbers to those of the venue’s higher profile entertainment offerings.

Predicted Order of Finish

Rankings from the conference coaches’ Media Day Poll are in square brackets to the right of the projected conference record.

  1. Virginia Commonwealth (13-3) [#1]
  2. Saint Louis (12-4) [#2]
  3. La Salle (12-4) [#3]
  4. Massachusetts (11-5) [#4]
  5. George Washington (10-6) [#10]
  6. Richmond (9-7) [#6]
  7. George Mason (9-7) [#8]
  8. Dayton (7-9) [$7]
  9. Rhode Island (7-9) [#9]
  10. St. Joseph’s (6-10) [#5]
  11. Fordham (4-12) [#11]
  12. St. Bonaventure (3-13) [#12]
  13. Duquesne (1-15) [#13]

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Morning Five: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 21st, 2013

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  1. As you may have noticed from ESPNU’s coverage, Friday night was the closest thing we have this year to Midnight Madness as the new practice rules have led to a dilution of the event as teams have spread out their first official practice dates. The big spectacles were widely covered by ESPN and its array of analysts, but the biggest event of the weekend may have happened behind the scenes at Kansas two weeks after “Late Night in the Phog” as the Jayhawks hosted Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones on their official visit. The pair, who have repeatedly expressed their desire to play together, are the top package deal this season (or almost any season that we can remember). Although they may have missed the typical March Madness theatrics that many recruits have become accustomed too they were able to see the current group of Jayhawks play in an open scrimmage with a full house at Allen Fieldhouse. For their part, both Okafor and Jones appear to have enjoyed their visits, but they are visiting Duke this coming weekend, which as of now is their last scheduled visit, so there is a chance that we could be hearing their choice fairly soon.
  2. The Okafor-Jones combo might be getting all the hype, but the potential for a Cliff Alexander-JaQuan Lyle combo deal is not far behind. That pair made a visit to Memphis over the weekend and while they both reportedly enjoyed their visit the more interesting point is that Alexander’s mother sounded less than certain that the pair would be committing together. Alexander is the key piece here and has also visited Kansas and DePaul with a visit planned for Illinois next weekend. He is still considering visiting Michigan State, but is set to announce his decision on November 16 on ESPNU.
  3. The details of coaching contracts are usually too boring to be worth mentioning, but those in Shaka Smart‘s contract caught our attention. The base salary of $450,000, supplemental income rising from $850,000 to $950,000 then $1 million, and duration of 10 years are not particularly noteworthy. What is interesting is that he will get an extra $5,000 for each win over a member of the AAC (think Shaka wants to move to the AAC?) and $2,000 for beating Old Dominion. He also receives $4,000 for each player that graduates by the summer that that player’s eligibility is up and $2,000 if it happens within one year of that player’s eligibility expiring. As for other schools that are looking at luring Shaka away from VCU, if he leaves before April 30 of next year his buyout is $650,000 and drops by $100,000 every year after that. Oh, and it will also cost the school that lures Shaka away a home-and-home or an additional $250,000.
  4. With his preliminary hearing for allegedly stealing from a friend’s apartment less than a month away, Savon Goodman decided to leave the UNLV program on Friday. Goodman has been charged with conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary, and grand larceny after being accused of stealing $500, a pair of shoes, and 26 video games from a friend’s apartment in May. In August, Dave Rice announced that Goodman would not play this season and his future with the program was uncertain, but did not rule out the possibility of Goodman’s return (and we have seen players return to play from far worse than what Goodman is accused of doing). We are not sure what eventually made Goodman decide to leave the program ahead of his preliminary hearing on November 12 as the Rebels as a team in need of inside players so it would seem that the door would have been open for him to return after this season if he behaved in a way that Rice and the program felt was appropriate.
  5. It looks like former Auburn guard Varez Ward could avoid facing charges of point-shaving by entering into a pre-trial diversion program. Ward is the second Division I player to face such charges, but unlike San Diego’s Brandon Johnson his involvement in the game he is accused of shaving points in seems to be minimal as he appeared to his injure his leg after playing only 19 seconds (against Arkansas on January 25, 2012). However, the reason for the apparent deal is that he has no history of felony convictions or drug addictions (Ward has previously pleaded not guilty). Ward still needs his deal to be approved by the U.S. Probation Office and a federal judge before it can be official.
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Morning Five: 03.28.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2013

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  1. If you are a Minnesota or UCLA fan dreaming about having Shaka Smart coach your team you can wake up now because that is nothing more than a fantasy as Smart announced that he will be staying at VCU with a new extension. When comparing the two potential destinations UCLA would have been a much more desirable destination than Minnesota except that the current athletic director at Minnesota was the person who hired Smart at VCU when he was a relative unknown. Although VCU fans have to be thrilled with keeping Smart he also makes out quite well thanks to the threat of his departure as his annual salary is expected to go up from $1.2 million to $1.5 million per year with the extension running through 2023.
  2. He is not nearly the hot commodity that Shaka is, but Josh Pastner has also announced that he will be staying at Memphis. We are not quite sure why he felt the need to make this announcement because we are not sure which better position (USC? #DausterForUSC) there is out there that would want Pastner as he has not exactly overwhelmed us with his success. Honestly if the Tigers had not won a game in the NCAA Tournament this season we would have questioned whether the administration there should look at moving in a different direction. Instead, he wins one NCAA Tournament game and gets an extension, which is still be worked out. It will be several weeks before details of the extension are worked out, but it might say something about the financial state of college athletics that a guy coaching at one of the best programs in the country can get an extension off of a two-point win over a WCC bubble team.
  3. One (former assistant) coach who is on the move is Chris Collins. As we mentioned yesterday morning the Duke assistant was the frontrunner for the Northwestern opening and last night the school made it official. Collins will stay with the Blue Devils until the end of their NCAA Tournament run with Nate James being promoted to assistant coach at Duke to fill the void left by Collins. As we said yesterday Collins has the pedigree (not only from the Krzyzewski tree, but also from his father Doug), but as Jeff Eisenberg points out many of Krzyzewski’s disciples have been unsuccessful when they are not by his side.
  4. If you thought the NCAA’s mess handling the Miami case was going to stop being ugly, you would be wrong as the school is now accusing the NCAA of having another investigator work with Nevin Shapiro’s attorney. They also accuse the NCAA of other “unethical” behavior including use false statements to convince other witnesses to confess to offenses that they otherwise would not admit to. At this point the case has gotten so messy and damaging to the reputation of the NCAA that if we were the NCAA we would seriously consider dropping it because any punishment handed down would likely be laughed at by the public and member institutions given how sloppily the case has been handled thus far.
  5. The Marshall Henderson story has been rehashed by nearly every media outlet in the country by now, but the thing that gets left out of most stories is the question of why we as college basketball fans are willing to put up with Henderson’s antics and background when the public shuns African-American players with similar problems. The article focuses on how Tyrann Mathieu was treated by the media and his program for offenses that if you compare them to what Henderson has been convicted of seem fairly tame in comparison. A few people will see this article as an attempt at trolling, but to us it seems like a question worth discussing as it pertains not just to sports, but society in general.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 27th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. News on this UCLA head coaching search is moving quickly with Pete Thamel reporting that the Bruins are moving on down the list as Shaka Smart is working on an extension with VCU and Brad Stevens is reportedly not interested in the job. From out of the blue, apparently UCLA boosters are interested in their former assistant coach and current N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried. Gottfried is fresh off of leading a team with arguably more talent that this year’s UCLA team to a fourth-place tie in the ACC and an early NCAA Tournament exit. Throw in his four other exits from the NCAA Tournament in his team’s first game, one Sweet Sixteen and one Elite Eight in nine Tournament appearances, and it is clear just what an upgrade he would be over UCLA’s former coach.
  2. Across town, one of USC’s potential targets for its open head coaching position is now officially off the market, as Memphis head coach Josh Pastner has committed to staying in his current position at Memphis and is working on details for a new five-year contract. But as the search for a new coach continues, you’ve got to wonder exactly what athletic director Pat Haden has been doing for the last couple months. Ostensibly, part of the reason that Kevin O’Neill was fired abruptly in the middle of the season was so that USC could get a jump start on finding a new guy. Apparently, that hasn’t worked out so well, which is just one reason I get a kick out of seeing things like “USC is a better job than UCLA” every so often these last couple days.
  3. The Pac-12 conference announced its All-Academic teams for basketball today and, before we get to the names on those teams, let’s just say we’re grateful that these teams only have five players on each team. Good to see that whoever is putting these teams together has more sense than those who come up with the 10-man All-Conference team. Anyway, here’s the five-man first team, with all players checking in with a GPA above 3.5: Sabatino Chen from Colorado, Carrick Felix from Arizona State, Jeremy Olsen from Utah, and John Gage and Robbie Lemons, both from Stanford. The second team features four additional Stanford players (Andy Brown, Stefan Nastic, Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle), with a seventh player from that roster (Anthony Brown) earning honorable mention. Special congratulations go out to Powell for being the only guy on these lists to also earn RTC All-Pac-12 first team honors. And, taking in that impressive haul makes it a lot clearer why Johnny Dawkins is getting another chance on The Farm.
  4. California’s season ended on Saturday with a loss to Syracuse in the round of 32, equaling the program’s best NCAA Tournament finish in the last 16 years. And so the question that California Golden Blogs asks is, does that make the season a success? The answers are almost resoundingly positive, with people noting that in the middle of January, the Golden Bears probably weren’t even on the radar for an NCAA invite, but that first stat – no Sweet Sixteen since 1997 – that’s gotta sting a little bit.
  5. Lastly, we’ve offered up our opinions on what we hope many of the Pac-12 underclassmen decide with regards to the NBA Draft, but Jack Follman of Pacific Takes also offers up his observations, suggesting that, aside from Shabazz Muhammad, who is already gone, Dewayne Dedmon and Allen Crabbe may well be the only other guys around the conference who leave early. While we hope that would ultimately be the case, as Eric Moreland has already shown us, there are always a couple of guys that come from off the radar to make peculiar decisions to leave early. Stay tuned.
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Morning Five: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 26th, 2013

morning5

    1. After a run of three straight trips to the Final Four UCLA has floundered despite its rich tradition and fertile recruiting base, which led to the eventual firing of Ben Howland. Many writers have tried to pinpoint the reason that Howland was unable to reach the same level of success he had early in his run at UCLA, but perhaps the most interesting theory we have heard comes from George Dohrmann (you may remember him for being rather unpopular around UCLA) who traces Howland’s downfall to an incident in 2009 where Howland turned his back on a recruit who Howland had offered a scholarship too then waited just long enough where the recruit was unable to secure another equally coveted scholarship offer. We are not quite sure that we put as much weight on that incident as Dohrmann appears to, but it certainly didn’t help. The question is whether UCLA can get a coach who is able to lift them back into contention for national titles. There are some pundits who question whether UCLA can become a national power again (we think it can although obviously never at the level of the Wooden dynasty), but Bill Plaschke is not among them and feels that the firing of Howland was a step in the right direction. If the Bruins are to become a national power again, Plaschke is probably right, but we will need to see who the UCLA administration can bring in to take back the local recruiting scene and make UCLA a premier destination for recruits again.
    2. Apparently beating a coach who was about to be fired (Howland) was not enough for Tubby Smith as he was fired by Minnesota yesterday. In the end, the NCAA Tournament and the season overall was a fairly accurate reflection of Smith’s time at Minnesota–full of ups and downs, which led the team to seemingly surprise and disappoint its fans at the same time. After leaving Kentucky following the decline of the program from a title in his first year (aka Pitino’s leftovers) to one that led it to the hands of Billy Clyde, Smith came to Minnesota with the expectation that he could help turn around a program that had shown great potential at times, but always remained a middle-tier Big Ten program at best. In the end Smith left the program roughly where he found it–the middle to bottom of the conference–after making the NCAA Tournament three times in six years (advancing past their first game only once, which was this year) and never finishing better than sixth in the conference as he finished with a 124-81 record overall and 46-62 in the Big Ten. Those clearly are not stellar numbers, but the question is whether Minnesota can land a bigger name than Smith (certainly nobody with a more impressive mustache than the one Smith sported this season). We have heard Shaka Smart‘s name thrown around online, but we can’t imagine that he would even bother talking to Minnesota when more enticing jobs are available (see above). The one name that would be interesting is former NBA coach Flip Saunders, who coached the Timberwolves and was offered up by his colleague Andy Katz (clearly trying to kill off the competition at ESPN).
    3. If you are looking for your buzzkill story line of the Sweet 16, Tim Layden has you covered as he digs into the resume of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Enfield was primarily known for various blogs talking about his wife’s modeling career, but with each win there has been increasing scrutiny on his past including his involvement in a software company TractManager that Layden claims Enfield’s involvement is not as deep as Enfield has previously claimed. Honestly, we think this is basically a non-story and are surprised that SI decided to run with it, but we would not be surprised to see somebody try to make this into a media question on the days leading up to the Sweet 16.
    4. The season just ended, but teams have already started raiding other school’s coaching staffs and Brad Stevens’ Butler program is not immune to it as South Alabama hired Matthew Graves, Butler’s associate head coach. The hiring is not particularly surprising as the Jaguars were looking to replace Ronnie Arrow, who left after just 10 games this past season, but it is somewhat surprising that they would hire somebody who admitted that he “didn’t know a lot about South Alabama except for that moment before I looked into it” (last paragraph). Still the Stevens’ bloodline was probably good enough for a Sun Belt school, but it will be interesting to see if a Stevens disciple can carry on the tradition away from Butler (plenty of coaching trees have shown that results tend to be quite variable).
    5. There have been plenty of sportswriters who say college basketball is dying and have pointed to a few atrocious games this season as evidence, but don’t tell that to the American public at least according to a press release from Turner, which claims that NCAA ratings were the highest they have been for the opening weekend in 23 years. We would like to believe the headline number, but we get the feeling that these are probably more reflective of good numbers relative to the past few years that have been largely aided for the period preceding that in which there was only one channel for the NCAA Tournament to gather its cumulative rating from rather than the four channels viewers currently have to choose from during the opening weekend.
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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.25.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 25th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. On Saturday evening, word began to trickle out through various national reports that UCLA had fired head coach Ben Howland. Later that night, UCLA issued a statement disputing those reports. And then Sunday evening, the school officially announced his firing. It counts as “news” only in the strictest sense of the word, as exactly nobody was surprised by the announcement, but it does open up what should be an entertaining coaching search as the Bruins shoot for the stars and then wind up with… Mike Brown? Certainly, Jeff Goodman has better sources than I as to the UCLA coaching search, but if Mike Brown is the next UCLA head coach, I’ll walk down Sunset Boulevard in my boxers. Right after I join the UCLA fans rioting and looting with pitchforks and torches at the Morgan Center. Most reports indicate that Shaka Smart is the first choice for UCLA, though it remains to be seen whether he is interested. Other names associated with the search include Brad Stevens, Jay Wright and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar.
  2. The college basketball guys at CBS Sports also have their opinions on who will wind up with the vacant USC coaching job and, as we learned this weekend, it isn’t going to be Jamie Dixon. Other candidates for the job include Smart (apparently on everyone’s wish list), Memphis’ Josh Pastner and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, although with the UCLA job open, it may be awhile before the USC decision is made.
  3. Certainly by now you all know that Arizona and Oregon are still marching along, while California, Colorado and those Bruins have all bowed out of the NCAA Tournament. But what about those lesser tournaments? Well, after winning the NIT title last season, Stanford’s attempted run to a second-straight lesser title ended on Saturday at Alabama. Arizona State, likewise, bombed out in the second round of the NIT in a barnburner at Baylor, while Washington got dropped by BYU in the first round.
  4. The other thing we see this time of year when teams’ seasons begin to end are players announcing their intentions for the NBA Draft. Oregon State’s Eric Moreland became the first Pac-12 player to officially declare (aside from Shabazz Muhammad having Howland declare for him, that is) his intentions to explore his NBA appeal without the help of an agent, leaving him with a chance to return to Corvallis. However, speculation is that Moreland’s time at OSU is done and that he’ll be playing for pay next season. While there’s little chance that the offensively raw Moreland will earn a guaranteed first round money even in what is considered a weak draft class, his athletic ability could earn him a second round flyer or, more likely, D-League or overseas offers.
  5. Meanwhile, Arizona State fans will have to sweat out Jahii Carson’s decision over the next couple weeks. Carson expects to consult with the NBA to suss out his draft status and “test the waters,” but depending on what he hears back, he could return. Carson’s got the speed, athleticism and moxie to be a very good NBA player, but at the end of the day, right now he’s a sub-6’0” point guard who lacks a completely reliable jumper. The odds are in favor of Carson returning for his sophomore season, but all he needs is one NBA GM to profess his undying love to convince Carson to follow the money. Stay tuned.
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A Pair Of Job Openings In Southern California

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013

When UCLA bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in convincing fashion to Minnesota, the Ben Howland era in Westwood ended along with the Bruins’ season (an official announcement is expected in the next couple days). Meanwhile, across town, USC’s first target for their open head coaching position, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, signed an extension with his current school, effectively eliminating him from contention for that job. With all other coaches in the conferences expected back next season (Stanford has announced that Johnny Dawkins will return, and it looks like Ken Bone will return to Washington State, though no official announcement has been made), we’ll take a quick look at those two jobs and try to read the tea leaves a bit as to what the future may hold.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Despite Early Success, Ben Howland’s Time As The UCLA Coach Has Ended (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

While UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero made no decisive comment following the game Friday night (“We’ll take stock in the next couple of days and talk like we always do with all coaches,” he said), expectations are that sooner rather than later we’ll have an announcement that the partnership between Howland and UCLA will end. And, regardless of whether Guerrero has an improvement lined up, this is a move that has to be made – for both parties. The relationship has soured, the fickle UCLA fan base has abandoned ship, West Coast recruiting has largely dried up, Howland seems to have compromised his principles, and, the kiss of death, Bill Walton has weighed in heavily in favor of a change at the top of the program. The excitement of three straight Final Four trips from 2006-08 is a distant memory. Howland is still a very good coach, but he’s not a very good coach going forward for UCLA and it is time for both sides to move on.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan 78, #5 VCU 53

Posted by Will Tucker on March 23rd, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 VCU and #12 Akron from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

McGary Was a Huge Factor for the Wolverines Today

McGary Was a Huge Factor for the Wolverines Today

  1. VCU had no answer for Mitch McGary in the post. Juvonte Reddic challenged him well on both ends of the floor in the opening minutes, but once Reddic picked up his second foul less than 7 minutes in, he had to sit. With Reddic out, McGary exploited the lack of size in the Rams’ frontcourt. David Hinton and Justin Tuoyo really struggled with his size, at which point 6’4 Troy Daniels and 6’5 Traveon Graham had the misfortune of alternating on McGary. Shaka was forced to put Juvonte Reddic back in two minutes before halftime with two fouls, and he picked up his third less than four minutes into the second half. McGary ended up with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and keyed advantages of 41-24 in rebounding and 12-6 in second-chance points.
  2. The Rams depleted all their hot shooting on Thursday. After hitting 8 of 16 threes and shooting 54% from the field in their blowout win over Akron, the Rams shot 30% in the first half and connected on just 1 of 8 threes. They ended the game at 40%, but most of the second half scoring took place effectively in garbage time. Perhaps VCU’s hot streak lulled them into complacency, or maybe the hostile crowd had an impact on them, but the result was the same. “The shots that were open, we just didn’t make,” said Rob Brandenberg. But the results are encouraging for Michigan fans that have heard their team’s defense disparaged all season.
  3. John Beilein beat Shaka Smart at his own game. Michigan dictated a frantic pace from the opening tip, with McGary cleaning the defensive glass and making outlets to Trey Burke, who deftly pushed the ball in transition with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Michigan forced 11 VCU turnovers and built a +7 margin in points off turnovers, using stout transition defense and running the fast break to perfection. Burke was responsible for 7 of Michigan’s 12 turnovers, but he atoned with 7 assists and 18 points. It was a brilliant strategy that demonstrated the versatility of John Beilein’s team and the preparatory abilities of its coach, who typically isn’t mentioned in the same group as Tom Izzo and Coach K. His game plan helped Michigan reach its first Sweet Sixteen in 19 years.

Star of the Game. Mitch McGary (21 points, 14 rebounds) was the single most dominant player on the court today. While Michigan’s guards beat the VCU press and got McGary open looks, it was the freshman center who controlled the pace of the game with his work on the defensive glass and superlative hustle on defense. McGary helped keep Reddic benched with fouls, he disrupted driving lanes for VCU’s guards, and he set crushing screens in the set offense to open space for Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by KDoyle on March 23rd, 2013

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#4 Michigan vs. #5 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

It’s Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

The even-keeled and veteran John Beilein, an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, and the scoring prowess of Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Shaka Smart’s NCAA Tournament charm and relentless havoc defense led by Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Make no mistake about it, Michigan vs. Virginia Commonwealth has the potential to be an instant classic. When the brackets were released this past Sunday evening, many of the talking heads on ESPN and other networks fell in love with Virginia Commonwealth and picked the Rams to advance deep into the Tournament. Jay Bilas, in particular, referenced their havoc defense and how it is so difficult to prepare for in such limited time. Bilas is right, their defense is a bear for any team to cope with. Just look at what the Rams did to Akron, albeit a depleted Zips teams. Lest we forget that Michigan is coached by one of the best in the business and has a backcourt consisting of two future NBA players? Burke has a 3.3 assist to turnover ratio and the Wolverines, as a team, take impeccable care of the basketball ranking #1 in the country in turnover percentage. On the flipside, VCU is #1 in turnovers forced. Something has to give, right? Assuming Burke takes care of the ball, limits Michigan’s turnovers, and turns it into a halfcourt game the Wolverines have the advantage. The Rams are very susceptible in giving up points inside the arc and are a weak defensive rebounding team. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will have opportunities to score inside once Michigan is able to settle into their offense. In many of the games where VCU has had success, they have largely controlled the game’s tempo and forced 20+ turnovers that led to easy transition points. It is foolish to imply that the Rams are a one trick pony, though. They have three deadly three point shooters in Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg, and Treveon Graham, along with Juvonte Reddic who will challenge the Michigan big men in the paint. Ultimately, the game comes down to Trey Burke handling VCU’s pressure, thus forcing the game to be played in the halfcourt. I’m not betting against an All-American point guard, nor a coach like John Beilein.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

#3 Michigan State vs. #6 Memphis – Midwest Regional Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Memphis’ Thursday victory over Saint Mary’s may not have been the most dominating of wins, but it advanced the Tigers to the round of 32 all the same. Michigan State awaits Memphis there, and Sparty looked awfully solid in dispatching Valpo in their Tournament opener. Derrick Nix was dominant against the Crusaders, as the smaller Valpo front line could not match-up with the burly Spartan captain. The final damage was 23 points and 15 rebounds for Nix, and a +23 edge on the boards for Michigan State. First order of business for the Tigers will be doing what Valpo could not in matching that trademark Spartan physicality – on the glass or otherwise. We all know how athletic this Memphis team is (across the board), but a second round win over a WCC team offers no conclusive evidence as to the toughness of this group. Beating the Spartans would. The Memphis frontcourt was solid against the Gaels, but obviously will need to elevate their play even further on Saturday. DJ Stephens was at his springy, high-flying best Thursday though, blocking eight shots and providing multiple highlight-reel caliber dunks – a reminder for all of us to say a nightly prayer for a Final Four that does not include Memphis, if only so that we see Stephens in that weekend’s dunk contest. I digress however, so back to Thursday, where Stephens and co. got a big boost from Tarik Black, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and didn’t miss a shot in his best individual game since January. Memphis fans would certainly welcome a repeat performance on Saturday against the Spartans. For all their tough, physical banging, Michigan State does have the athletes to match up with Memphis up front, with Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne adding the explosive athleticism that the plodding Nix lacks. The matchup in the backcourt will be equally important (and athletic), as Gary Harris and Keith Appling square off with the Tigers’ Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson.

Getting any kind of NCAA Tournament win was big for Memphis. But getting a win over Tom Izzo and Michigan State, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line? It would completely legitimize everything Josh Pastner has done since taking over four seasons ago. If the Tigers can force turnovers and get easy buckets like they did at times against Saint Mary’s, there’s a shot that it happens. I just can’t see it though, as I expect Michigan State to make this a half-court game that Memphis never truly settles into.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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