The ACC’s Soft Middle Tier: Time to Panic Yet?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on November 14th, 2013

We are less than one week into the start of the 2013-14 college basketball season and the median of the ACC is nearing panic mode. Maybe not quite yet, but things certainly could have started better for the NCAA’s mightiest conference. To date, N.C. State has lost to Cincinnati by 11, Virginia lost to in-state rival VCU (displaying the power shift between traditional Virginia basketball schools), Miami barely squeaked by Georgia Southern in overtime and posted an inexcusable overtime loss to St. Francis (NY), and Boston College suffered an opening defeat to Providence and followed that up with a 13-point shellacking at the hands of a game Massachusetts squad. What does this all mean for the ‘almighty’ ACC as the nation’s premier basketball conference? Does this, for one, quiet the whispers of the ACC as the greatest basketball conference of all-time?

Boston College

BC has little to celebrate after an 0-2 start (Michael Ivins/US Presswire)

A lot of a conference’s overall reputation and greatness has to be attributed to its depth and the overall quality of teams across the board. Now VCU happens to be a top-25 team that has largely surpassed the Virginia basketball program of late under Shaka Smart, but a team that has ACC title aspirations and is laden with senior leaders needs to win games versus A-10 programs, especially if it doesn’t wish to find itself on the bubble again. N.C. State is in what most people consider a rebuilding year under Mark Gottfried, but Cincinnati is not a powerhouse and the middle of the league must prove formidable for the ACC to solidify its place in history. Last Friday night, Maryland lost to a top-25 Connecticut team boasting one of the best backcourts in the nation by only a single point, but the Terps walked away with a close loss rather than gloating about a big win on their non-conference résumé. Miami wasn’t expected to have a great year after losing Kenny Kadji, Shane Larkin, Reggie Johnson, Durand Scott and the rest of its roster from last season, but losing to a NEC foe is a humbling step backward, to say the least.

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AAC Team Previews: Central Florida Knights

Posted by CD Bradley on November 4th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism. 

Central Florida

Strengths: Experience and flexibility. The Knights’ starting lineup is made up of five returnees, all of whom averaged at least 20 minutes per game for a 20-win team last season. Their best player, 6’6” Isaiah Sykes, led the team in scoring, assists and steals and was second in rebounding last season, and can play four positions. Their center by default, 6’7” Kasey Wilson, led Conference USA in three-point shooting last season, making 42-of-84 from long range. That versatility could cause match-up problems for some teams and put the Knights in numerous advantageous scoring positions.

Isaiah Sykes, the do-everything wing for Central Florida, will have to do even more this season. (ucfknights.com)

Isaiah Sykes, the do-everything wing for Central Florida, will have to do even more this season. (ucfknights.com)

Weaknesses: Defense and rebounding. Even with all the returning players, UCF has one big loss to overcome: center Keith Clanton, the school’s all-time leading rebounder, who pulled down nearly a quarter of the team’s rebounds last season and nearly half its blocks. But even with him, the team still allowed opponents to shoot 49.4 percent on two-point attempts (good for #239 in the country, according to KenPom.com) and to grab 33.1 percent of rebounds on the defensive end (#229 nationally). Without Clanton, a team that allowed foes to make too many close shots and rebound too many of the few they missed is going to have some major problems. Unless 6’8” JuCo star Eugene McCrory can make a big difference at the defensive end, the Knights don’t look to have many answers.

Schedule: The non-conference slate offers only one real opportunity for a marquee win, and it’s very early on when Florida State visits Orlando on November 13. Otherwise it’s possible the Knights won’t face another top 100 RPI team before conference play (although it’s not necessarily their fault that a road game at Miami (FL) the week before Thanksgiving won’t feature Shane Larkin). AAC play starts with a bang, with preseason favorite Louisville visiting Orlando on New Year’s Eve. The conference slate is front-loaded, though, as they close with at Houston, Rutgers, at SMU, at Temple and Houston.

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Morning Five: 05.21.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 21st, 2013

morning5

  1. Kansas has made a rather rapid transition from a contender for the Big 12 title (just because they win it every year) to  an interesting potential Final Four team. The obvious big move was the addition of Andrew Wiggins last week, but yesterday’s addition of Tarik Black as he announced his transfer from Memphis to Kansas could make the Jayhawks a more formidable team in March. The biggest part of the transfer is that Black will be able to play next year for what is expected to be Wiggins’ only year in Lawrence. Although Black’s numbers last year–8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game coming off the bench–will not blow anybody away, but he was one of the most coveted available transfers because there are very few players of his size with his numbers that are looking to transfer. The big question for Black and the Jayhawks is whether Black can regain the form that he had early in his career or if he will continue the downward trend his college career has had recently.
  2. One of the interesting aspects of conference realignment is how players are able to transfer between schools that used to be considered conference rivals. One such case is that of Deuce Bello, who will be transferring from Baylor to Missouri in a move that was made significantly easier with the Tigers move to the SEC. Bello has been an Internet sensation since high school thanks to his ridiculous dunks, but his on-court production has been meager at best as averaged just 2.4 points last season as a sophomore. Several writers have speculated that the change in scenery may bring out Bello’s potential, but we are not quite sure that athleticism necessarily translates into potential.
  3. Speaking of conference realignment, it may significantly affect the earning power of many conference commissioners, but at least for now Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott appears to come out on top in terms of compensation. Thanks to a generous compensation package that included a $1,376,000 bonus for the 2011-12 year, Scott’s total compensation exceeded $3 million narrowly beating out Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and nearly doubling SEC commissioner Mike Silve. This payout preceeds the basketball officiating scandal, which probably will not affect Scott’s salary although it oculd theoretically affect his job down the road. It will be interesting to see how conference realignment affects the salaries over the next few years.
  4. Isaiah Canaan might be headed to the NBA (hopefully), but Murray State appears to have found his replacement in Zay Jackson, who was released from jail in April and allowed to return to the team. Jackson was kicked off the team following his ridiculous hit-and-run incident in September and sentenced to 49 days in jail before being released in April. While we understand the idea of giving a player a second chance, but in Jackson’s case we have our reservations so we will be interested in hearing what Murray State has to say about the situation.
  5. It seems like NBA Draft combine numbers used to be a lot more interesting when top prospects participated, but the numbers from this year are still interesting. As the article mentions these numbers are not considered nearly as valuable among NBA teams as the comparable numbers are for NFL teams. The biggest surprises to us were Shane Larkin and Cody Zeller even though we both knew they were athletic. We just didn’t realize how athletic they were especially Zeller who was competing against everybody else without factoring in his size. If you are looking for a good way to kill some time, we suggest taking a look at the DraftExpress historical database and see how some notable recent prospects stack up.
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Closing Out the ACC Microsite

Posted by mpatton on April 29th, 2013

Well, it was an up-and-down year in the ACC filled with injuries, March disappointments and one season for the history books. We here at the RTC ACC Microsite loved chronicling every minute of it. We’ll still be providing periodic coverage throughout the summer, looking towards the NBA Draft and next year, but this marks the official end of the 2012-13 season for us. If you start getting nostalgic, here are some good places to start (in chronological order).

  • Preseason ACC Awards: Still riding the highs of my Michael Snaer mancrush after his transcendent performance in the 2012 ACC Tournament, he took the preseason ACC POY nod. We clearly meant Olivier Hanlan, not Rodney Purvis when we picked the consummate scoring frosh, we just didn’t know it yet. At least we finished one for three by picking Jim Larranaga to win COY.
This Miami team will forever be etched in the history book of ACC greats. (Photo: Robert Mayer / USA TODAY Sports)

This Miami team will forever be etched in the history book of ACC greats. (Photo: Robert Mayer / USA TODAY Sports)

  • The Martin Report feels like forever ago, but the academic jokes from North Carolina‘s rivals won’t stop for a long time. And those questions the report danced around are still out there.
  • Akil Mitchell is the best returning frontcourt man in the ACC, and Kellen was all over it last December. Especially without the likes of Mason Plumlee, Devin Booker and Alex Len, it’s fine to pencil him onto your 2013-14 preseason All-ACC teams right now.
  • Speaking of being ahead of the curve, it took us until three days into 2013 to take note of Hanlan and his freshman teammate Joe Rahon. After one of the best rookie performances in ACC Tournament history, it’s safe to say it won’t take that long next year. Also, with Scott Wood and Seth Curry graduating, it’s hard to see much competition for best shooter in the ACC.

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Morning Five: 04.29.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 29th, 2013

morning5

  1. There were so many early-entry decisions over the past three days that we will have break them into groups. The first group will be the guys who left. Perhaps the most notable is Shane Larkin, who is leaving Miami after a sophomore year in which he took his stock from not being on the NBA’s radar to being a potential first round pick. We are not quite sold on Larkin as a NBA point guard–his limitations were exposed in a few games this season–but we do not see his NBA Draft stock getting much higher especially with how little Miami will be returning next season so it made sense for him to leave. On a smaller scale, but probably more important in terms of the landscape of his conference Ray McCallum Jr. announced that he is leaving Detroit after his junior season. McCallum is in a similar Draft position or possibly a little worse than what Larkin is based on the mock drafts that we have seen, but given the information that his father (Detroit’s coach) has we would expect that he has some pretty good information on where he could expect to be selected. Finally, there is Andre Roberson, Tad Boyle’s first recruit in Boulder, who announced that he will forgo his senior season at Colorado to enter the NBA Draft. Roberson’s draft stock appears to be similar to the other two although Roberson’s position in mock drafts has varied more than the other two.
  2. While a trio of players announced their departure from the college game another trio announced that they will be staying. The most significant in terms of the national championship picture is Adreian Payne, who announced that he will return to Michigan State for his senior season. Out of all of the players considering entering the NBA Draft early opinion on Payne may have been the most divided. He probably could have come out and been a first-round pick, but if he returns and improves his game he should be a lottery pick next year. The next biggest announcement was the Isaiah Austin will be returning to Baylor for his sophomore season. Austin seemed to be a fairly safe bet to be a first-round pick so his decision is a bit surprising, but it has been reported that he was diagnosed with a torn labrum, which would affect his NBA Draft workouts, and he clearly has some areas to work on his game so it doesn’t seem unreasonable. We will leave the question of coming back to Scott Drew to work on those deficiencies for another column. Shabazz Napier may not garner the same headlines as the other two players that we mentioned, but his decision to return to Connecticut for his senior season may have an equally significant impact on his team’s success. We are glad that Napier decided to return to school because he was at best a late second round pick although the fact that he waited so long to announce might suggest that someone was putting thoughts in his head that he could have been a first-round pick. Fortunately he did not listen to those voices and will return to finish his college career in Storrs.
  3. Most of the attention has been focused on NBA Draft decisions, but there were a pair of notable transfers. On Friday, Ahmad Starks announced that he is transferring from Oregon State. Starks, who has one more season of eligibility left is reportedly looking at Bradley or Illinois to be close to his ailing grandmother. Starks would be a huge addition for either program and given the way the family hardship waivers have been getting cleared by the NCAA we have no doubt that he would be able to play next season. The other transfer announcement is more of an update as Rutgers transfer Eli Carter has narrowed his list down to Florida and Maryland. Normally we would assume that Carter would have to sit out a year, but after the NCAA’s ruling on the players at Rice and how they received a waiver due to the abuse they alleged at the school we would not be surprised to see Carter and other Rutgers transfers to try for a similar waiver given the video evidence against Mike Rice.
  4. We may have finally moved past conference realignment, but it appears that conferences are looking at creating their own version of Manifest Destiny as the ACC is looking at expanding its brand into Europe by playing games there. As the article notes the entire idea is in the preliminary stages so a lot of work needs to be done, but other schools have played games overseas with some success. Our big qustion is how this would work at the conference level. It works great when teams are playing glorified exhibition games or when there is well-defined revenue-sharing the way that professional leagues do, but what happens when a school loses a lucrative home-game that could be the difference between them becoming bowl-eligible or being on the right side of the bubble. Obviously pro sports teams deal with this issue too, but they have more well-defined revenue-sharing agreements and have a much stronger central leadership structure that allows them to issue edicts that will be followed.
  5. It is a move that probably will not attract much attention on the coaching carousel, but UNC-Asheville filled its head coaching vacancy as it introduced Nick McDevitt as its next head coach. McDevitt, who played for the school from 1997 to 2001, had been an assistant with the team before taking over the head coaching responsibilities when the former coach left to take a job on the staff at UNC-Wilmington. McDevitt has no experience as a head coach so we are withholding judgement on his ability to coach so hopefully his alma mater gives him a chance to prove himself.
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ACC M5: 04.05.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on April 5th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. State of the U: Miami filed a 45-page motion for the NCAA to dismiss all charges against the university due to the NCAA’s questionable actions during the investigation (which have already resulted in multiple firings at several levels of the NCAA enforcement staff). Miami is officially not going away, no matter how much the NCAA wants it to. Between USA Today‘s recent blitzkrieg of Mark Emmert, the Miami fiasco and what I expect to be substantial fallout from any NCAA reaction to Miami, look for the NCAA to have a new person at its head in the near future.
  2. San Jose Mercury News: Filed away under “fun historical ACC coaching factoids” is this gem from Jeff Faraudo. Apparently NC State legend Everett Case popularized cutting down the nets in college basketball, bringing the tradition from Indiana high schools. That leads me to believe that one of the colleges in Indiana probably did it first (and helps explain the Hoosiers’ zealous behavior for cutting down the nets this season), but Case made it big — especially once he led the way for the ACC Tournament, which would’ve given Case the platform to spread his tradition.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: Dan Collins does a great job previewing Wake Forest’s basketball team for next season player by player before coming to the conclusion that Codi Miller-McIntyre holds the key to the Demon Deacons’ success. I have a couple of thoughts on his take: I agree wholeheartedly that next year’s Wake Forest team will only be as good as Miller-McIntyre, but I think the most valuable players will be Devin Thomas and Travis McKie. Despite the fan base’s dismay over keeping Jeff Bzdelik on board, there’s a lot more talent on this roster than people give it credit for (and a lot more talent than Clemson or Virginia Tech will have next season). That said, Bzdelik needs his rising sophomore point guard to break out.
  4. Run the Floor: Miami has had a rough go at the NBA Draft recently. The school boasts three current NBA players amongst its alumni ranks, but John Salmons was the last player to be drafted in the first round in 2002 (James Jones was drafted in the second round and DeQuan Jones wasn’t drafted at all). This year that could change if Shane Larkin decides to go pro. He probably played himself into the first round this season, despite his size (although he looks taller than his listing). Kenny Kadji has the second-best chance, but his age will hurt him significantly (though whatever NBA team gets him in the second round should be thrilled).
  5. Blogger So Dear: Another player who will look to help Wake Forest next year is Daniel Green, the freshman starting center who tore his ACL before last season. It’s unclear exactly what Green will mean, other than added size and strength, but he could be another big piece of Wake Forest’s turnaround. The biggest issue for Jeff Bzdelik is playing Green and Thomas at the same time forces Travis McKie to play more on the perimeter against quicker defenders. Regardless, Green should help shore up the boards in Winston-Salem.

EXTRA: Shane Ryan did an awesomely esoteric piece on the history of basic basketball statistics — mostly focused on the “dead ball rebound” (the statistic that balances the rebound/missed shots books without rewarding teams or individuals). It’s worth a read.

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ACC M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on April 4th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. ESPN: With ACC play officially over, you can expect more of these pieces to pop up. Here’s a cool one from JA Adande (though Grant Hill probably contributed just as much) on talking to Hill about his career. Something younger fans might be surprised by is that Hill owned 29 (!!!) triple-doubles during his first five NBA seasons (and none since) before his career-defining injury took hold, which until recently was good for second most among active players. Hill is a guy that, should he want to be, could become a great coach. But there’s something about him that makes you think he’d probably be pretty good at whatever he ends up doing.
  2. Tar Heel Blog: USA Today released its annual coaching salary spreadsheet, but Brian Barbour noticed an oddity with Roy Williams‘ pay: North Carolina’s coach was listed at a remarkably cheap $1.7 million dollars a year (significantly under other top-tier coaches) despite other estimates of Williams’ salary being north of a couple million per year. This begs the question as to exactly where the data comes from and whether it takes into account the many sources of income coaches have. For instance, I expect Mike Krzyzewski‘s jaw-dropping $7.2 million figure includes everything. The figure reported for Williams may not include all of his extra income (bonuses, speaking engagements, basketball camps, Nike deals, etc.). But all told, North Carolina is getting a phenomenal deal with Williams. Per dollar as reported here, you couldn’t find a more accomplished coach in the country.
  3. Testudo Times: If you’re looking to catch up on Maryland hoops, this is a good round-up of links mostly covering the loss to Iowa but also talking about the future of Terrapins basketball. Maryland is a really interesting team going forward and it’s really unfortunate it won’t be in the ACC down the stretch of the careers of Seth Allen, Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell. I think all four will be three- or four-year guys, and the group represents a phenomenal base for Mark Turgeon to build this program.
  4. State of the U: Speaking of looks towards the future, here’s a really optimistic take on Miami going forward. I agree completely that Shane Larkin‘s return is absolutely critical, but I think Miami will really struggle to get an at-large bid unless Tonye Jekiri just explodes this offseason (I think he’s a couple of years away though). Larkin is a really interesting take. His situation is very similar to Trey Burke’s last offseason, as an undersized point guard oozing with skill. The only difference — which, granted, is a huge difference — is that instead of a top-10 or top-five team coming back, Miami loses almost everything from this year’s team. I lean towards Larkin leaving Coral Gables, but if he gets specific criticism back from the official NBA Draft board there’s a good chance he’ll return.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: NC State fans can back away from the ledge. TJ Warren will be back for his sophomore season to show off his skills as the number one scoring option on the team. Warren might have been the highest drafted of the Wolfpack players entering the draft had he gone, but he has the potential to break into the lottery if he has another year of high-efficiency numbers (with more teams focusing on him). Now the Wolfpack can move on towards filling out the rest of their roster instead of trying to keep everyone home.

EXTRA: This is a phenomenal take on the complexity of Mike Rice‘s “situation.” And the complexity doesn’t begin with Rice, it’s coaches who use similar tactics. Expect more on this later.

VIDEO EXTRA: In what’s becoming an annual tradition, Draft Express gave North Carolina and Duke McDonald’s All-American signees a place to vent some trash talk.

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The ACC in the NCAAs: Previewing Marquette vs. Miami

Posted by KCarpenter on March 28th, 2013

It wasn’t always easy for Miami to get to this year’s Sweet Sixteen, but it was certainly never easy for Marquette to make the same journey. Ultra-tight games and impressive comebacks highlighted the Golden Eagles’ close wins over Davidson and Butler, while Miami romped over Pacific and held on against Illinois. Say what you will about Buzz Williams‘ team, but improbably this team has figured out how to handle the big gut-check moments. During the regular season, Marquette played four overtime games and won three of them. I’m honestly uncertain if “clutchness” is a real phenomenon, but the Golden Eagles give my doubts doubts.

Larranaga and Larkin Intend to Take the Hurricanes to the School's First Final Four

Larranaga and Larkin Intend to Take the Hurricanes to the School’s First Final Four

Big news came for Miami when it was announced that Reggie Johnson would not be traveling with the team for tonight’s match-up, but it’s unclear just how significant this news actually is. Johnson missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and was out of shape and often ineffectual when he finally returned to the court. Against the smallish Golden Eagles, how much would the lumbering Johnson actually have played anyway? In Miami’s statement game in the ACC championship against small ball North Carolina, the center played all of three minutes. His time instead went to Rion Brown and Julian Gamble,  a pair of players who supercharge the Hurricanes’ offense and defense. It feels unlikely that Johnson would have (or should have) played all that much against Marquette. It’s not that this news doesn’t have a big impact on Miami’s title chances, but for the purposes of this match-up, it doesn’t feel particularly significant for those who have watched this team closely.

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ACC M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 26th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Solid remembrance of Dean Smith here. The thing that’s so sad about Smith’s mental deterioration over the past few years is just how smart he was. He reportedly had an almost photographic memory (the same sort of memory successful politicians call upon to remember the countless people they meet); he was first and foremost an innovator (touching everything from “four corners” to tempo-free stats — though if you run four corners often, it makes sense you’d look past per game statistics); and he apparently was an avid reader of philosophy. While John Drescher’s piece was about Smith, he sets it up in contrast with Jeff Bzdelik’s recent quote: “I don’t read the newspapers or the Internet, and that’s the truth.” 
  2. SBNation: One thing that stands out about North Carolina is the “family” concept. You hear that word thrown around a lot in sports just because of the massive amount of time players spend together. But there is a closeness to North Carolina’s graduates that you don’t see at a lot of other places. Maybe it’s just the fact many of them are good enough to continue playing professionally, but listening to Kendall Marshall talk about it, there’s definitely a special bond there. Interestingly, the other school where I hear “family” thrown around frequently is Kansas (whose unofficial team motto, which is inked in the middle of Travis Releford’s chest, was Family Over Everything a couple of years ago).
  3. FSUnews.com: Michael Snaer is a living legend at Florida State. This is a tremendous article on his tough senior season. It was a season that really signifies how dedicated to the Florida State program Snaer was. Sure the Seminoles didn’t get to cut down the nets again this year, but he pushed a group of very young players to get better. In the process, Snaer probably learned more about his leadership than all three previous seasons combined. He was the go-to guy and backcourt defensive stopper his junior year, but that team didn’t need him to carry it — it wasn’t riddled by injury or loaded with youth. This year was his test. We won’t know until we see the next few years unfold, but it looks like Snaer has made a significant culture change within the Seminole program. That should mean something going forward.
  4. ACC Sports Journal: Barry Jacobs does a great job recounting NC State‘s “missed opportunity” this season. The Wolfpack went from preseason ACC champions to right where they finished last season. Part of this was due to oversight from the media, who expected the Wolfpack to pick up right where they left off last season. But anyone who watched NC State against Duke (at home) or the woodshed beating of Virginia in the ACC Tournament had to wonder: “What if this team played with that kind of intensity every night?” More representative were the incredible highs and lows throughout games (see the Wolfpack almost beating the brakes off North Carolina before letting the Tar Heels come back, or falling behind 18 to Temple before cutting the deficit to a single possession in the last few minutes). The consistency was never there this season.
  5. Blogger So Dear: This ode to Florida Gulf Coast was only missing the acknowledgement of why the Eagles’ run resonates so strongly with Wake Forest fans (or at least my theory). It’s not because Demon Deacon fans dream of being that Cinderella team (though they may). It’s because the loose basketball opined for reaches back to the run-and-gun Wake Forest days under Skip Prosser. Don’t let that take away from Prosser’s ability to coach: he was an offensive genius. But his system had similar space for improvisation. And it was fun to watch.

Reasons to pull for Miami:

  1. Julian Gamble only photobombs after wins.
  2. More Jim Larranaga dancing?
Julian Gamble photobombs Shane Larkin's interview. (gif: The Big Lead)

Julian Gamble photobombs Shane Larkin’s interview. (gif: The Big Lead)

larranaga-dance

Jim Larranaga goes straight from a boxing impression into a jig. (gif: College Basketball Talk)

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 63, #7 Illinois 59

Posted by WCarey on March 24th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #7 Illinois in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  1. The way Miami won this game was important. The Hurricanes have received a great deal of national attention due to the fact that their roster had zero NCAA Tournament experience before this year’s event. Miami coasted to an easy win over Pacific in its first game, but as a two-seed, that type of win is expected. Needing a test to prove its NCAA Tournament toughness, the Hurricanes definitely received one from Illinois. The Illini took a 55-54 lead with 1:24 to play and Miami kept its collective cool and was able to come back and grab the victory. On the possession after Illinois took the lead, Miami sophomore guard Shane Larkin nailed a ridiculously difficult step back three-pointer at the 1:04 mark to give the Hurricanes a two-point lead. Miami was able to maintain that lead and earn the victory by calmly going 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch and not allowing Illinois to get anything easy on the offensive end of the court.
  2. Illinois deserves a lot of credit for the way it played. The Illini did not shoot the ball very well all night – just 37.7% from the field and 25.9% from three – but it fought hard all game and pushed Miami to the brink. In his postgame remarks, Illini coach John Groce spoke of how his team has battled hard all season and that they have gotten contributions from everyone all season. That was definitely the case against Miami, as different guys stepped up in different spots to make an impact. On a night where the usually solid D.J. Richardson was just 1-of-11 from the field, senior forward Tyler Griffey stepped up for the Illini with 12 huge points on a 4-of-6 performance from deep. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was a force inside all night, as he finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds while playing very rugged defense against the Miami frontline. Senior guard Brandon Paul struggled at-times with his shot, but he certainly showcased his ability to take over a game with his performance Sunday night. The Illini might not have been victorious, but their effort and the way they played was certainly admirable.
  3. A blown call definitely had an impact on the game. When Richardson missed a three-point attempt with 43 seconds to play in what was a 57-55 game at the time, it clearly looked like the ball last touched the hand of Miami forward Kenny Kadji before going out-of-bounds. The ball was incorrectly rewarded to Miami, which resulted in guard Durand Scott nailing two clutch free throws to give the Hurricanes a four-point lead. While the Illini were able to trim the lead down to two again with 22 seconds to play, they never again had the chance to tie. There were many other reasons why Miami won and Illinois lost, but this call certainly had an impact on the last 43 seconds of what was a thrilling game.

Star(s) of the Game. Rion Brown and Shane Larkin, Miami. The junior Brown was outstanding for the Hurricanes off the bench. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from deep. In a game where every shot was crucial, it seemed like every one Brown made was of great importance to the outcome of the game. Larkin turned in a normal stellar performance – 17 points and five assists – but the reason he makes this category is due to the ridiculous step back three-pointer he nailed to give his team a lead it would never relinquish with one minute to play.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 78, #15 Pacific 49

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #15 Pacific in Austin.

Jim Larranaga's squad cruised past Pacific Friday afternoon. (AP)

Jim Larranaga’s squad cruised past Pacific Friday afternoon. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Miami came to play. There were some worries about the Hurricanes’ preparedness entering the tournament as no one on the team had any NCAA Tournament experience. Miami put these worries to rest early in its Round of 64 trouncing of Pacific. The Hurricanes looked ready to play from the get-go and maintained a double-digit lead from the 11:03 mark of the first half to the end of the game. When the Hurricanes struggled this season, much of it had to do with inconsistent offense and poor defense. Against Pacific, Miami was very efficient on offense, shooting 46.2% from the field by getting many quality looks throughout the afternoon. Its defensive effort was quality all night as they forced Pacific into taking plenty of poor shots – the Tigers finished the game shooting just 33.3%. While it might be logical to worry about Miami’s NCAA Tournament experience as the tournament goes on, the Hurricanes showed they were plenty capable of playing on the big stage.
  2. Miami’s guard play is definitely worth the price of admission. There are few – if any – teams in the country who have backcourt play as solid as Miami’s backcourt play. Sophomore Shane Larkin and senior Durand Scott provide the Hurricanes with everything a team could possibly want from its guards. Larkin, who was the coaches’ ACC Player of the Year, is a dynamic playmaker with the ability to get to the rim at will. Larkin draws plenty of national acclaim for his ability on the offensive end of the court, but his defensive presence is also quite notable. A scrappy defender who deflects many passes and has the propensity to draw charges, Larkin does an excellent job of frustrating the opposition’s backcourt. Miami refers to Scott as “the heart and soul of the Miami Hurricanes with a junkyard dog game” in its game notes and that description could not be any truer. Scott certainly has the ability to score, he averaged 13.2 points per game in the regular season, but his true presence is felt as a leader and on the defensive end of the court. The Hurricanes are a veteran-laden team, but it is undeniable that Scott is their leader. While watching Scott defend, it is easy to see why he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year – he is tough, quick, and relentless. Backcourt play is very important in March and Miami’s backcourt certainly gives it a chance to make a special run.
  3. Bravo to Bob Thomason on a great career. The loss to Miami wrapped up Pacific coach Bob Thomason’s 25th and final season as the head coach of his alma mater. He finished his career at the school with a record of 437-321. Thomason led the Tigers to five NCAA Tournament appearances and they won a game in both the 2004 and 2005 tournaments. In what is now a culture of mercenary head coaches, it is important to recognize the dedication Thomason had to one program over a long period of time. Here’s to a great career by Thomason with hopes of him enjoying retirement.

Star of the Game. Durand Scott, Miami. When the Hurricanes took a 21-point lead into halftime, Scott only had three points, but he had done a tremendous job defensively in helping limit Pacific to just 29.2% shooting. Scott’s offensive explosion began soon after the second half began. He scored the team’s first seven points of the second frame and finished with 18 total points for the second 20 minutes. Scott’s strong performance in the second half certainly ended any hopes Pacific might have had about making a comeback.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Marquette Golden Eagles

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 21st, 2013

Marquette rode a dominant season at home, where the Golden Eagles finished a perfect 16-0, to a 14-4 Big East record which tied Louisville and Georgetown atop the Big East.  Buzz Williams’ team notched big wins over NCAA Tournament teams Wisconsin, Georgetown, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh twice.  Marquette had a double bye in the Big East tournament, but dropped its quarterfinal match-up against Notre Dame.

marquette over ND

Marquette Raced to Another Great Season Under Buzz Williams

Region: East
Seed: No. 3
Record: 23-8 (14-4 Big East)
Matchup: vs. Davidson in Lexington

Key Player: When he can stay on the floor, Davante Gardner is a total mismatch for most of the teams that Marquette will run into this March.  The 6’8″, 290-pound bruiser averages over 11 points in just over 21 minutes per game with remarkable efficiency. He shoots at a 58% clip from the floor, and is among the best free throw shooters in the conference at 84% from the line. When Marquette finds a mismatch down low, he can exploit it and find himself camped there all night.

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