Rushed Reactions: #1 Florida 79, #4 UCLA 68

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 27th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Florida’s 79-68 win over #4 UCLA. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wilbekin Comes Through. Though he struggled for much of the night, when it mattered senior all-American Scottie Wilbekin came through for Florida. Wilbekin shot only 5-of-13 on the night, but finished with several huge buckets down the stretch and showed why he was the SEC Player of the Year. Wilbekin’s ability to lead his team to wins in close games is the difference between this year’s Florida team and last year’s Elite Eight squad. And if coach Billy Donovan has his way, he’ll be a main reason this team takes the next step.
  2. Michael Frazier can Shoot. For whatever reason, UCLA let the Gators’ best shooter have open looks all evening. Frazier made five of the eight threes he attempted, but the ones that didn’t go in were wide open looks. He finished with a game-high 19 points. Earlier this season, Frazier set a Florida record with 11 threes made against South Carolina, and if the sharpshooting sophomore can continue to make shots from the perimeter, it will be tough for anyone to beat the Gators the rest of the way.
  3. Gators Dominate the Glass. Despite a relatively poor first half performance that saw Florida get only three points from Wilbekin and nothing from senior center Patric Young, the Gators led by six at the break. This was largely due to keeping UCLA off the boards, particularly on the offensive end. In fact, UCLA had only one offensive rebound in the half, and it was followed immediately by a Florida block. On the night, the Gators out-rebounded UCLA, 40-30, and gave up only eight offensive boards to the Bruins for the game. It allowed Florida to move on despite getting very little offense from Young and his frontcourt mates. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 82, #10 Stanford 72

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 27th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report after #11 Dayton’s 82-72 win over #10 Stanford. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

The entire Dayton program had plenty to smile about Thursday night. (John Bazemore/Getty Images)

The entire Dayton program had plenty to smile about Thursday night. (John Bazemore/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Taking Care of and Sharing the Ball. Many thought Dayton would struggle to handle Stanford’s size, but the Flyers were able to control the game by taking care of the ball and by moving it on the offensive end and getting excellent looks all night. Dayton ended up with only 10 turnovers and 19 assists on 28 baskets, not to mention the fact that they never trailed after the 9:32 mark of the first half. The Flyers’ performance on the offensive end was a clinic, as they held their own on the glass against the bigger Cardinal, ultimately shooting 48% for the game. Dayton also had a balanced attack, as it had three players in double figures, and 11 players scored overall. Stanford, meanwhile, got only two points from its bench. And while Stanford’s leading scorer, Chasson Randle, ended up with a game-high 21 points, he was held to 5-of-21 shooting and was forced into a number of bad shots.
  2. Size Doesn’t Always Matter. After trailing by 10 at the half, Stanford came out in the second half with a concerted effort to get the ball to Stefan Nastic and Dwight Powell, its low-post stalwarts. It worked, as the Cardinal cut the lead to four early in the half, but Dayton was able to adjust. Every time the Cardinal cut into the Flyers’ lead, Dayton was able to get an easy basket and stop the run. Unlike Kansas, the Flyers did not allow Stanford to take them out of their offense, and they outworked the Cardinal big men for key offensive rebounds when they weren’t making shots. On the defensive end, Dayton held Stanford to only 37.9% shooting.
  3. Dayton Shows it Belongs. Dayton is the only team left in the NCAA Tournament that is not from a BCS conference. The Flyers spent most of the season on the bubble, but have taken advantage of their bid in advancing to the school’s first Elite Eight appearance since 1984. After taking care of two traditional powers in Ohio State and Syracuse, Dayton got a favorable draw with tenth-seeded Stanford, and took advantage. The Flyers clearly were not intimidated by the big stage, and showed they belong. They will now get a chance to advance to their first ever Final Four, and though they will be prohibitive underdogs in their next game, Archie Miller’s squad should not be counted out. Read the rest of this entry »
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Sweet Sixteen Preview: Highlighting One Thing to Watch For Each Team

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 27th, 2013

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Two rounds of NCAA Tournament play have come and gone. Favorites have flopped, upsets have left bracket-wielding fans frustrated everywhere and Florida Gulf Coast is in the Sweet Sixteen. That last one still doesn’t register; how does a team that gained full Division I postseason eligibility just this season, with an entrepreneurial and supermodel-boasting wife in tow pushing them along the whole way, knock off, in sequence, National Player of the Year and projected lottery pick Otto Porter, then follow it up by utterly demoralizing Jamaal Franklin and San Diego State?

Of all the interesting storylines heading into the Sweet 16, none is more captivating than Florida Gulf Coast (Getty Images).

Of all the interesting storylines heading into the Sweet Sixteen, none is more captivating than Florida Gulf Coast (Getty Images).

Everyone will have their eyes on FGCU to see what happens next, naturally, but the next round of bracket proceedings, the Sweet Sixteen, offers more than one team, one storyline, one Brett Comer lob, to watch. Here are 16 items, one specific to each team, to keep an eye on — with the common denominator of shining a new analytical light on each match-up. If Florida Gulf Coast has already revolutionized everything we’ve come to know about today’s scoring-averse, slowdown, micro-managed game, where does that leave us – the humble writers who serve to clarify, in long form, what you see on the court – in attempting to understand the remaining rounds of this Tournament? Onward:

1. Is Louisville The Best Thing On The Block? It sure looks that way, and that’s without even seeing Louisville come up against a team capable of challenging Russ Smith and Peyton Siva on the perimeter, of pulling Gorgui Dieng away from the basket, and decoding Louisville’s No. 1 efficiency defense. Colorado State was the closest thing, and the Rams were hopelessly overmatched on both ends of the floor. The Cardinals got the good side of Russ Smith in that match-up, scoring 27 points and committing just one turnover, and when that happens and Louisville maintains its trademark stingy point-prevention, Rick Pitino’s team is tough to beat. The question is whether Oregon, criminally underseeded as a #12, can use its bruising defensive style to counter the Cardinals’ championship formula. Louisville has done nothing thus far to refute its national frontrunner status, and unless Ducks coach Dana Altman can poke holes in U of L’s defensive fortress with Damyeon Dotson and E.J. Singler on the perimeter, and Arsalan Kazemi keeps up his insane rebounding pace (he’s averaging 16.5 boards per game in Tournament play), the Cardinals will maintain that status and waltz into the Elite Eight undeterred.

2. The End Of Ohio State’s One-Dimensional Scoring Problem.

For most of the season, behind Ohio State’s plainly suffocating perimeter defense, headed by one rosy-cheeked point guard roundly regarded as the nation’s best on-ball defender, lay an offense with one glaring problem: DeShaun Thomas was doing everything. For as devastating as Thomas can be, and as versatile as his scoring arsenal has become – Thomas is just as quick to camp out on the perimeter as he is to back down an opponent in the post – the Buckeyes needed a reliable ancillary scoring option. And during Tournament play (and increasingly at the end of the regular season), they’ve gotten exactly that. In a second-round bout against Iona, Sam Thompson (20 points) and Lenzelle Smith (12) were in double figures; Craft (18) stole the show in the next match-up with Iowa State, and there was no greater symbolic statement to his newfound offensive chutzpah than when he looked off Thomas on a critical final possession, lulled Cyclones’ forward Georges Niang to sleep with a deft walk-up dribble, and iced a game-winning three while holding up his wrist on the follow through as his teammates celebrated a squeaky escape. LeBron James took notice. You should, too.

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ACC Morning Five: 03.21.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 21st, 2012

  1. Fox Sports Carolinas: Andrew Jones does a solid job breaking down Duke‘s struggles this year. The article is specifically relevant on the end of the season, as I think the “lack of spirit” only settled in after the North Carolina game at Duke. But the issues are definitely there. I’d probably order my list like this (in order of greatest to least importance): (1) lack of a leader, (2) defense, (3) reliance on one player, (4) reliance on the three, (5) point guard issues. Some things are interconnected. The depressing thing for Duke fans is things may get worse before they get better depending on who stays and who goes this year.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the scoring decline in the ACC. Since 2001 when the league peaked–averaging 79.3 points a game–the scoring has been steadily dropping to this year’s low of 68.5. In 2001 the league’s lowest scorer (Florida State) actually averaged higher scoring than this year’s league average. Part of the recent drop can be associated with coaching turnover and conference expansion creating diluted talent and new styles (see: Boston College and Virginia, respectively). The rest is probably a part of the national trend of offenses getting more efficient while slowing down. I hope someone analyzes the roots of this phenomenon.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: Want to know one reason NC State looks a lot better as of late? Richard Howell is seeing more playing time. Howell and fellow frontmen CJ Leslie and DeShawn Painter all improved significantly, but Howell’s tendency to pick up quick fouls kept him off the court during the regular season. Howell’s presence is going to be extra-critical this weekend against Kansas, as he’s a significantly better rebounder than Painter. The Wolfpack will need his presence on the glass to help limit the Jayhawks to one shot.
  4. Testudo Times: Ben Broman over at Testudo Times took a look at Nick Faust‘s season and very promising prognosis. Faust started the year horrendously on offense–largely because he was forced to take too large a role on an offense with too few weapons–but his talent has always been evident. Multiple people have said this throughout the year (especially down the stretch when things started clicking for the freshman): next year Faust could easily find himself on an All-ACC team. Frankly, he should probably find himself on two if his defense continues to improve and he gets his offensive mojo back.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: This is a very interesting interview with Brian Gregory. Probably the most insightful comment is on one thing he learned about the ACC, which was the physical nature of the conference. For a long time the Big East and Big Ten were known as the tough leagues (they still are), but the ACC is definitely becoming a tougher conference (Duke, Florida State, Miami and Virginia are very physical teams). I also thought Gregory’s reflection on his team was interesting even after taking it with a grain of “coach speak” salt.
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Night Line: Reloaded San Diego State Has Picked Up Where Last Season Left Off

Posted by EJacoby on January 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

When you lose four starters, 73% of your scoring production, and one NBA lottery pick from the season before, it usually means that a year of rebuilding awaits your basketball program. But for San Diego State, a fresh slate of players who mainly watched and waited their turns last season have picked up where Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas left off. Tuesday night’s road victory over Wyoming improved No. 15 SDSU to 18-2 on the season and 3-0 in Mountain West conference play as one of the most surprising teams in the country. Veteran coach Steve Fisher and the new-look Aztecs have wildly exceeded expectations and are looking to match or surpass last season’s run to the Sweet Sixteen.

Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Junior guards Chase Tapley and James Rahon are the only current Aztecs who played significant minutes on last year’s outstanding 34-3 team that won the MWC and advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament before falling to the eventual National Champion UConn Huskies. Tapley was a starter and averaged 8.6 PPG a year ago, but this season has taken his game to a whole new level. The shooting guard leads the Mountain West in scoring (16.4 PPG) and steals (2.05 SPG) while hitting a tremendous 46.7% from behind the arc on over five attempts per game. His growth from role player to star guard, however, is not even the biggest improvement on the team. That distinction goes to sophomore Jamaal Franklin, who hardly rose off the bench last season (8.1 MPG), but who’s now developed into one of the most talented players in the conference. He didn’t start the first 10 games of this season, but Fisher has had him in the lineup in the past 10 after he flashed tremendous skills and strength at the small forward position. He’s now averaging 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game as a versatile threat for the Aztecs.

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Tracking The Four: Let’s Play 21 Questions

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

For this week’s wildcard edition of TT4, we’re going to tackle some burning questions regarding each team. All four teams have pressing issues as they try to hit their strides in conference play, and there’s one team on our list that specifically needs to find some answers, quickly, if they want to stay relevant as a contender. Find out the answers to each question, or at least our quick takes, below each question. If you want to play along, comment with any of your answers!!!

Is Mike Moser the Best Player of our Four Teams? (Getty Images/E. Miller)

1. Which game on Syracuse and Murray State’s schedules should be circled as their toughest challenge to an undefeated regular season?

Monday night’s game in Cincinnati is Syracuse’s first shot at going down, while Murray State’s game on February 15 at Southeast Missouri State will be their toughest test.

2. Can Indiana recover from this losing streak to regain their status as a top three team in the Big Ten?

They’ll be able to recover, but Indiana is not a top three Big Ten team (OSU, UM, & Michigan State are better).

3. Will UNLV be able to win big games outside of Las Vegas, like SDSU did in The Pit this week?

They’ve already played seven true road games, so yes this will help UNLV win conference road games.

4. The Hoosiers have lost three straight games while the Racers have won 19 straight, but who would win on a neutral court if they played today?

We’d love to see this in the NCAA Tournament and today we’re going with Indiana, but if Ivan Aska comes back strong for MSU, ask again in two weeks.

5. When they inevitably need a bucket in crunch time, whom will Syracuse and Jim Boeheim draw the play for?

He doesn’t specialize in taking over games, but Kris Joseph is still the most talented offensive player and toughest mismatch on the team, so he should get his number called.

6. Will UNLV’s 69.1% free throw percentage come back to haunt them at some point this season?

Although it’s the worst of these four teams, no a 69% rate should not be a huge concern for the Rebels.

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RTC Travelogue: New Orleans, Part I

Posted by jstevrtc on April 1st, 2011

RTC Senior Editor John Stevens covered the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in New Orleans for us last week. In addition to watching Butler emerge as the Southeast Region champion, he also had time to check out a little bit of the city. Occasionally on RTC we like to get out of our comfort zone and write up a travelogue of our experiences for your amusement. He’s home and (we think) fully recovered from the both the amazing basketball he saw and his time in the Big Easy, so here is Part I of John’s sumbission from New Orleans.

If you’re looking forward to the destination, one of the great feelings a person can have, for my money, is the series of moments right before a journey starts. Nothing screams of possibilities more than a plane awaiting its turn on a runway, an empty passport, or a camera memory card with no photos. But when RTC’s founder, correspondent wrangler and assignement hander-outer called me to talk about where I’d be traveling and what games I could possibly cover in the post-season, I wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.

John Makes His First Approach To the Quarter -- It Went Downhill From Here

I covered many games in many locales for RTC this season, and frankly, I was tired. I also remembered how I did the same thing last season, and how fatigued I was after the 10-hour car trip to the Big 12 Tournament last year. It was a total blast to cover. I loved every single moment of being there, and I can still taste the Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue. I spent way too much time in the Power and Light District. ButI always spend too much money and push my poor automobile too hard (nothing like an engine rebuild around Christmastime!). By the time I got off the phone with him, though, my defenses had been proven futile. He landed quick jabs by telling me that I was signed up for the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, the First Four in Dayton, and the Cleveland sub-regional.

Then he finished me with this right cross: “And…you’re also penciled in for the regional in New Orleans.”

As if having a media pass to the nation’s greatest sporting event in four different locations wasn’t enough, I had the opportunity to go to one of the country’s coolest cities. I’d always wanted to go to New Orleans. He knew I couldn’t resist that, the dirty dog that he is. I had more fun covering the games in Indianapolis, Dayton, and Cleveland than I thought I would, and that made me anticipate New Orleans even more. My flight to the Crescent City was at 6:00 AM on Thursday, the day of the Sweet 16 games. I barely slept the night before out of excitement. To me, the night and even the minutes before such a journey like this starts are every bit as good as being on the trip itself.

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Sweet 16 Chat

Posted by nvr1983 on March 25th, 2009

If you’re looking for a chat about planning your Super Sweet 16th birthday party, you have come to the wrong place. If you want to discuss this weekend’s college basketball action at the #1 source* for college basketball news and insight, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll be taking all of your questions and offering our unique brand of insights so come with all questions and bring along some friends. I’m planning on going from 1 PM to 3 PM ET so come back then.

*The NCAA might not agree with this claim.

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One last shining moment for this season. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on April 6th, 2008

After Saturday night’s blowouts, we can only hope that tonight’s title bout will give us a great game to finish off the season. I think both teams have too much talent to get blown out, but I never would have expected UNC to fall behind 40-12 before nearly making Billy Packer look like an ass (again).

I’ll offer my take and hopefully rtmsf will add his too later (see below).

Aside from a shaky performance at the free throw line against Mississippi State that made their 2nd round game much closer than it should have been, Memphis has totally dominated the opposition on its way to Monday night. I don’t think I am going too far into the realm of hyperbole when I say that their performance in the last 3 games has been as dominant as any team I can remember from the Sweet 16 to the National Semifinals. The even more amazing thing is that a lot of people were picking the Tigers to lose each of those games. The Tigers gave us all an indication of how far off we were in the first game of that stretch when they destroyed Michigan State in their Sweet 16 game as they led 50-20 at half. After easily beating Texas in Houston to advance to the Final 4, the Tigers had a little tougher time with the Bruins who hung tough for a half. Despite the close score for most of the game, I never got the sense that Memphis might lose the game. Of course, the poor FT shooting was at the back of my mind. As I noted in my post immediately after the game, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose completely dominated the game with Rose controlling the game from end-to-end and CDR controlling it inside the 3-pt line. Joey Dorsey also submitted what may be the greatest 0-point performance in a Final 4 by a non-PG (I can’t think of a great 0-pt performance by a PG, but just trying to be safe). Memphis also got a solid performance out of Shawn Taggert. One thing that has gone largely overlooked in the CDR-Rose lovefest was how good the Tigers played defense, which is something they have been doing all year. Perhaps it is because they are so captivating on offense or the fact that they rely on length and instincts rather than the Shane Battier step-in-front-for-the-charge style that the ESPN analysts seem to love so much. In any case, the Tigers’ defense is what really gets things going for them. Perhaps, if their key guys stuck around for another year or two or Rose came in a few years earlier (and they learned how to shoot FTs), we would be talking about this Memphis team along the lines of a 21st century Runnin’ Rebs team.

As for Kansas, like I said on Saturday night I’m not really sure what to say. They had one of the easiest paths to the Final 4 (based on opponents’ seed) that I can remember and the cruised all the way to San Antonio with the exception of the Davidson game where they looked tight. However, they made up for it on Saturday night against #1 overall seed UNC. Their performance in the first 15 minutes of the game was among the best I have ever seen at the college level. They were all over the court hounding UNC into countless turnovers as they jumped out to a 40-12 lead. The image of the game for me was little-used, but much-hyped freshman Cole Aldrich ripping the ball away from everybody’s national POY Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough. After Billy Packer declared the game was over with 7:32 left in the 1st half, Kansas fell apart and appeared to be headed towards an epic collapse when UNC brought the game to 54-50 with 11:16 left in the game. The Jayhawks survived with a late run of their own (possibly due to UNC running out of gas too). If you watched the first half of the game, you are aware of the tremendous pressure that the Kansas guards can exert. That pressure will certainly be put to a challenge against the Tigers’ talented backcourt.

A couple key things to watch tonight:
1) What tempo does Kansas want to play at? Kansas showed us on Saturday night that it can thrive on a fast pace against a very talented team. However, as you have probably read Kansas has the ability to play at both a quick (talented guards & inside guys who can run) and slow pace (guards who can penetrate & multiple inside guys with developed post games). Normally I would recommend that Bill Self flip a coin and use that to decide which way to play because Kansas can win either way, but against Memphis that is a different story. While the Tigers have talented, athletic guys at every position, they are much better when the game is up-tempo and they can use their athleticism. The Tigers lack a traditional inside game and don’t have many great outside shooters. Thus, Self should really thing about trying to slow the game down. It sounds crazy given how good Kansas looked against UNC (and it’s easier said than done), but doing so would give the Jayhawks their best shot at winning their first title since Danny Manning and Larry Brown led them to the promised land in 1988.

2) Who will guard Derrick Rose? Kansas has 2 exceptional defensive guards in Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, who both did a great job harassing UNC in the first half. As you may have heard, Rose is a completely different beast. As good as the Jayhawk defenders are, I don’t think they can stay with Rose if it is an uptempo game. However, if Bill Self listens to me and slows the pace of the game down, Kansas can use both in addition to Brandon Rush to try to contain Rose. I am assuming Rush will draw CDR, which is a tough assignment in itself, but he will need to help off CDR if and when Rose gets by his man.

3) Will Dorsey stay out of foul trouble? Shawn Taggert is a nice player, but he isn’t really built to battle the big guys from Kansas. If Memphis is going to win the title, they will need Dorsey on the court as he is the only one with the strength to give the Tigers an edge in this match-up. Dorsey will have to win the battle (or at least limit the Jayhawks’ advantage) against Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, & Co. if Memphis wants to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

Who will take home the trophy?

Opening Line: Pick ‘em.
Prediction: It looks like the money in Vegas is going towards Memphis winning as the line has shifted to Memphis -2, which is a pretty big shift for a game that was originally a pick ‘em less than 24 hours ago. I could see this game going either way, but in the end I think the brilliance of Rose (assuming he lays off the Gummy Bears) and solid all-around play of CDR will carry the day. Plus, as I’ve learned decision markets are usually pretty reliable indicators of what will happen so I’m going with the Tigers in a hard-fought battle.

rtmsf take:

We’re still in considerable shock at just how dominant Kansas looked vs. North Carolina Saturday night. For the first ten minutes of that game, it appeared as if KU was playing Colorado in the Phog; NOT the de facto tournament favorite led by everybody’s favorite superhero, Tyler Hansbrough. Kansas was bigger, quicker, faster, and simply wanted it more. One thing we believe was a major factor but has been left unsaid in much of the MSM was that the KU players spent the entire week hearing Roy this and Roy that and they wanted to stick it to him for leaving the program in the manner that he did (even though his departure predates all of their arrivals at KU). Of course, all of the players and certainly Bill Self will deny this forever more, but KU played that first half as if something had been stolen from them. Carolina didn’t play with the same fire and intensity, and it showed (40-12). We’ll leave it to the KU fans to provide this info, but we can’t remember the last time a Roy Williams coached team was so thoroughly and completely dominated as they were last night. If it has happened at all, we’re guessing it would have been in the 90s.

As for the other semifinal, UCLA’s tendency to endure prolonged scoring droughts ultimately proved ineffective when facing a team with the caliber of Memphis’ talent. We were surprised with just how thoroughly dominated Darren Collison was by Derrick Rose as well as UCLA’s maddening inability to get the ball to Kevin Love in the post. Part of that was the Tiger defense making it very difficult for Love to find his preferred spots, but part of it is also attributable to poor decision-making by Mbah a Moute, Collison and others. It wouldn’t ultimately have mattered, because the Bruins were an offensively flawed team and they were never going to score enough points to threaten Memphis, but it still surprised us.

So we’re now left with the two least flawed teams in the tournament. It’s been well documented that Memphis struggles with FTs, and it showed in their one semi-scare against Mississippi St. in the second round; it’s also been commonly discussed that Bill Self teams have a tendency to choke under pressure, and KU certainly had a scare against Davidson and looked shaky at times yesterday after leading by 28 points. But these are ultimately nitpicks because both of these teams are beyond excellent and filled with NBA talent all over the floor. So which of these two squads is better and will win Monday night?

The thing that really stood out to us when we were watching the Carolina massacre was just how big and athletic Kansas looked compared to UNC (a team that itself has a reputation for size and athleticism). We think that this is the one area where Memphis can be exploited. UCLA was unable to capitalize on this advantage because only Love was a capable scorer on the blocks. Kansas can get offense underneath from not only Arthur, Jackson and Kaun off the bench, but also apparently from Cole Aldrich (who looked fantastic (8/7) in his 16 minutes yesterday). We think this is the mismatch that will have Bill Self salivating for the next 20 hours or so.

Memphis will counter with the silky smooth Derrick Rose (25/9/4 assts) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (28/4), but with the perimeter defense that we expect from the KU guards (who held the UNC perimeter players to 16-47 shooting), we think that Memphis is going to have trouble finding enough offense to match the Jayhawks. Put simply, there’s absolutely no way we see that the KU defense allows 83% of Memphis’ points to come from the backcourt as UCLA did, and who among the Memphis bigs will pick up the scoring slack? Dorsey? Taggart? Dozier? If that group collectively scores over 15 pts, we’ll be shocked.

So despite what the decision markets and our compadre on this blog suggest, we’re going with the Jayhawks to cut down the nets tomorrow night. Bill Self gets his first title, and John Calipari starts to hear the ignoble distinction of being the best active coach to not win a championship.

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Greatest Games: Duke-UNLV 1991

Posted by nvr1983 on April 3rd, 2008

As you may have heard, for the first time ever the Final 4 will feature four #1 seeds. Although some people have been complaining about the lack of surprises, I was quite content watching Davidson make it to the Elite 8. As for the top 4 teams in the country making it to the Final 4 being the latest sign of the college basketball apocalypse, I really don’t see it as being much different than several other years where only #1 and #2 seeds made the Final 4. Would you really feel any different about this Final 4 if Texas had beaten Memphis? I doubt it unless you are a Longhorn or Tiger fan. Anyways, with a little more than 36 hours until the tip of the first semifinal I thought I would whet your appetite for the potentially great games we may see on Saturday and Monday night. On to the game. . .

With the exception of the 1992 Duke-Kentucky East Regional Final, a case can be made that Duke’s upset of UNLV in the 1991 National Semifinals was the most significant game of the past 20 years. This was the game that put Duke and Mike Krzyzewski over the top going from lovable losers to the team to beat most years. While the Blue Devils still needed to beat Kansas in the championship game (featuring Grant Hill’s alley-oop dunk from Bobby Hurley), most college fans will remember this as the de facto championship game much like the Miracle on Ice (the US had to beat Finland to win the gold). To put this game in context, you have to remember that UNLV had crushed Duke the year before in the championship game 101-71 (a record 30-pt margin).

Here is the box score from the championship game (not a pretty picture unless you were a Duke hater at the time).

UNLV came into this game undefeated and was widely expected to become the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers (featuring Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson, and Scott May) to go undefeated. Many experts were already speculating about where this UNLV team ranked all-time not unlike what happened with a certain football team from Massachusetts this year (minus the videotaping, but probably with more hookers). Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels came into the game 34-0 beating their opponents by an average of more than 27.5 points while averaging a ridiculous 98.3 PPG. They were led by Larry Johnson (National POY), Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony, and Stacy Augmon). Some of our younger readers may not realize how great these guys were in college so we’ll just say you should think about what Memphis did to Michigan State in the 1st half of their Sweet 16 game this year. Now imagine a team doing that every game. That’s what this UNLV team was like for the entire season. UNLV ran through the tournament with the exception of an 8-point victory against a Georgetown team that featured Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

On the other side of the ball, Duke came in with a respectable 30-5 record, but was only the #2 seed in its own region. After the championship game the year before nobody expected this game to be close. Duke had added Grant Hill to their roster, but he was only a freshman and nowhere near the player he was by the time he was a senior that carried a YMCA team to the 1994 championship game. In addition, the Blue Devils had lost 2 of their top players (Phil Henderson and Alaa Abdelnaby) from the year before to graduation. This was Duke’s 4th consecutive Final 4 appearance and 5th in 6 years, but they had failed to seal the deal and were becoming the Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills before there were the Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills. In the NCAA tournament, Duke advanced to the Final 4 through a relatively easy bracket thanks to some early-round upsets (beat a 15, 7, 11, and 4 seed to win the Midwest Region).

Thanks to the miracle of YouTube we can bring you footage from that game including a pregame and postgame clip.

[Editor's Note: For some reason the embedding isn't working properly except for the last video. All the videos are still up on YouTube. If you click anywhere in the box except on the "Play" button, it will load in an outside window. Sorry for the inconvenience, we're trying to figure out how to fix this.]

-Pre-game buildup and interviews with Tarkanian and Duke assistant coach (and current Harvard coach) Tommy Amaker

-Player introductions and opening minutes

-From 2:30 left in 2nd half until Laettner goes to the line.

-Laettner at the line with scored tied at 77 to post-game celebration.

-Newscast and reaction.

By the next day, the media knew they had witnessed one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. As the years passed and we only saw a few teams of the caliber of that UNLV team (’92 Duke and ’96 Kentucky), the upset grew in legend to the point where in 2000 The Sporting News ranked it as the 4th best biggest NCAA tournament upset ever and the ESPN Page 2 readers ranked it as the 4th greatest sports upset ever. I think the Page 2 poll is way off as I consider it a huge upset, but probably not in the same class as the others mentioned in that list. However, I think TSN probably comes pretty close as ridiculous as it sounds for a #2 seed beating a #1 seed to be such a big upset.

We all know what happened afterwards. Duke went on to win the first of their back-to-back titles and grew into one of the most powerful sports programs of the past 20 years while Jerry Tarkanian was fired by UNLV in 1992 and floated around the basketball universe including stops at the San Antonio Spurs and Fresno State. UNLV never reached the same heights again and only has had a measure of success with Lon Kruger getting them to the 2007 Sweet 16.

rtmsf addendum:  This is a great recap of the climate surrounding this game.  The 91 UNLV team was considered an absolute juggernaut.  We for one will never forget the highly anticipated 1-2 regular season matchup between #1 UNLV and #2 Arkansas at the old Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville (a place where the Hawgs were nearly unbeatable at the time).  UNLV absolutely blitzed the Hawgs to open the second half, never looking back in a display of athleticism and prowess virtually unmatched in all of our years watching college basketball.

One other point on this 91 Duke-UNLV game.  Two months after the game, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a photo of UNLV players Anderson Hunt, Moses Scurry and David Butler sitting in a hot tub drinking beer with convicted felon and noted “sports fixer” Richard Perry (see below).

UNLV Hot Tub

Perry had been involved in a point shaving scandal at Boston College in the 70s, and there was no shortage of similar conspiracy theories being thrown around at the time based on UNLV’s confounding loss to Duke in the national semifinals.  Where there’s smoke there’s fire goes the saying, and the DOJ even felt there was sufficient cause to open an investigation into the possibility that some UNLV players may have fixed the game.  To date, we’ve never heard anything come out of these allegations, but there are some who remain convinced something fishy went on during that game.

A final point that nvr1983 touched on but sounds completely absurd today is that, at the time of that 91 game, Duke was “America’s Team.”  The hatred and vitriol enabled by the last 15 years of Dookie V. and ESPN had not yet taken hold, and most of the basketball public was happy to see the plucky guys from Durham (who were indeed becoming the Bills of college basketball) finally break through and win a title against the bullies from UNLV.  My, how things have changed.

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Sweet 16 Preview: South & Midwest Regions

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2008

South
- #1 Memphis vs. #5 Michigan State (9:57 PM): It seems like a lot of analysts consider this the best of the Sweet 16 games. I just don’t see it. I’d take either of the 2-3 matchups (Tennessee/Louisville or Texas/Stanford) over this game, but I still think it should be an interesting game.

Tom Izzo has done a good job getting the Spartans back on track after a bad February stretch where they lost 3 of 4 games. The Spartans returned all 5 starters from last year so they obviously have experience, which helped them withstand that rough stretch. However, coming into the tournament not a lot of people were giving them much respect particularly with Pittsburgh waiting in the 2nd round. The Spartans surprised a lot of people, including me, by knocking off the Panthers. The Spartans are led offensively by a pair of 2nd team All-Big 10 players: Raymar Morgan and the more-heralded Drew Neitzel. The duo, who average 14.2 and 14.1 PPG respectively, will need a big performance out of freshman PG Kalin Lucas if they want to try to run with the Tigers (IMO not the best strategy).

If you’re a college basketball fan (and if you’re on this blog you certainly are one unless you ended up here doing a Google search for Erin Andrews), you know about Memphis’s inability to hit free throws. I don’t buy into John Calipari that Memphis won their 2nd round game against Mississippi State at the free throw line because they made more free throws despite going 15/32 from the line. It seems like there hasn’t been a single analyst who picks Memphis to win the title, but when I look at this team I see an unbelievably athletic team that is 35-1 and came very close to being undefeated at this point in the season. The Tigers like to run and utilize a Dribble-Drive Motion offense. Leading the attack are Chris Douglas-Roberts and the ridiculously fast freshman PG Derrick Rose. While having those two along might be enough to sustain an offense, Calipari also has solid players in Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, and Antonio Anderson. The result is an unconvential offense filled with freakish athletes, a combination that is very hard to defend. One big key for Memphis will be is if they can keep Dorsey out of foul trouble as he is their muscle inside (at least as long as he doesn’t try to talk trash like he did last year before he got beat down by Greg Oden).

Opening Line: Memphis -5.
Prediction: A lot of analysts think the Tigers will be the first #1 seed to lose. I could definitely see that happening, but just not in this round. The Tigers have too much talent for the Spartans. If the Spartans have an X-factor, it would be Lucas. Unfortunately, he will be going against Rose who is several levels above Lucas at this point in their careers. The result is Memphis winning by 5-10 points. I think they will outplay the Spartans, but will keep the game close with their “winning” free throw shooting.

- #2 Texas vs. #3 Stanford (7:27 PM): Along with the Tennessee-Louisville game, this was our favorite game of the long weekend. Hopefully, this turns out to be more exciting than than the Cardinals rout was.

I’ll get this over with now: nobody left in the tournament can guard Brook Lopez. If he’s on, he should be getting 30 a night for the rest of the tournament. By now everyone knows that his twin brother Robin is the more defensive-minded one, which has led some people to speculate that Robin may be more successful as a pro (think Joakim Noah or Anderson Varejao). While those two will control the inside, the Cardinal use Lawrence Hill, Anthony Goods, and Mitch Johnson to control the perimeter. This trio hasn’t gotten much respect including from yours truly. However, if Stanford wants to beat Texas in Houston, they will need this group to control D.J. Augustin (and for Trent Johnson to stick around for the 2nd half).

Rick Barnes has done a great job making the Longhorns into a national title contender a year after losing Kevin Durant to the NBA. The Longhorns are led by D.J. Augustin, who has taken his game to another level as he has not had Durant to bail him out like last year. Augustin also has great support from A.J. Abrams, Damion James, and Connor Atchley. While the Longhorns don’t really have an answer for Brook Lopez, I don’t know how well the Lopez twins are going to be able to guard Atchley when he steps behind the 3 pt line where he has shot 42.3% (41/97) for the year.

Opening Line: Texas -1.
Prediction: If this game was outside of Texas, I probably would have gone with Stanford and the big guy inside. In the end, I think the homecourt and the Longhorns edge on the perimeter will let them pull away at the end of the game.

Midwest
- #1 Kansas vs. #12 Villanova (9:40 PM): This weekend in Detroit will once again focus all the attention on Bill Self and his heretofore confounding inability to get extremely talented teams into the F4 (o-4 trips to the E8). Considering that this bracket was blown apart by Cinderellas last weekend, the Jayhawks are the odds on favorite to win this region.

Villanova has looked really good in their two games against Clemson and Siena, shooting 52% and holding its opponents to only 37%. Scottie Reynolds has found his stroke, averaging 23 ppg thus far in the Tourney, and dropping eight threes in the two games. Look for Kansas to focus in on stopping Reynolds, as Villanova simply isn’t nearly as good of a team when he’s misfiring (27 total pts in Nova’s last three Ls).

But let’s be serious here. Kansas is the most talented team that Villanova has faced this season, and their season-long inconsistency is the reason they ended up a #12 seed. Their best wins of the year were probably close wins over Pitt and UConn at home, and neither of those teams bring the noise on offense (#1 off. efficency) and defense (#5 def. efficiency) as Kansas does. Villanova will play hard, but by most measures, a run to the Sweet 16 renders their season a successful one, and they’ll be happy to be there tonight. Kansas has much larger aspirations in mind, and as such, we expect a blowout win here tonight.

Opening Line: Kansas -11.5.
Prediction: KU jumps out early and often. Villanova makes a run in the second half to make things interesting, but they never seriously threaten the Jayhawks tonight. Bill Self’s albatross will be judged on Sunday.

- #3 Wisconsin vs. #10 Davidson (7:10 PM): The undercard in Detroit tonight could end up being a total washout, we’re afraid. Davidson has looked fantastic in its two come-from-behind upsets of Gonzaga and Georgetown last weekend, and Stephen Curry’s legend is already concretely imprinted into the national consciousness. But we have a sneaky suspicion that the #1 defensive team in the land will absolutely lock up Curry, leaving the rest of the Wildcats struggling to pick up the slack.

The game that concerns us was the 6-19 (3-10 from 3) clunker (15 pts) that Curry put up against UCLA back in December. The Bruin defense (#2 nationally) keyed on Curry, which allowed the other Davidson shooters to get open looks early, as Davidson ran out to a quick early lead. But once UCLA figured out that they were going to have to guard all the Davidson shooters, they took control of the game and pulled away easily in the second half.

Wisconsin will probably employ a similar strategy. They’ll slow the game down to a crawl, and essentially dare anyone but Curry to beat them. You can count on a bruising, grinding, no-mistakes gameplan by Bo Ryan’s team, and honestly, short of a superhuman effort by Curry again, we don’t see any way that Davidson wins their way into the Elite 8. Gonzaga was soft mentally, and Georgetown forgot that they had a 7’3 beast underneath the basket, but Wisconsin is a different story.

Opening Line: Wisconsin -4.
Prediction: As much as we’d like to see the Curry bandwagon continue for another game, we just don’t think it’s possible. The Badgers will bump and grind him into a poor shooting night, giving him and his teammates more motivation for next year’s possible dream season.

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Sweet 16 Preview: West Region

Posted by nvr1983 on March 27th, 2008

- #1 UCLA vs. #12 Western Kentucky (9:40 PM): Already more than one analyst has declared that WKU is going to pull off the monumental upset in this game. And one UCLA blog is seriously tempting the Weauxfgods with its rather brazen mocking of the Hilltoppers’ chances in tonight’s game. (Retracted strikethrough: rtmsf thinks he is the Dennis Miller of the college basketball blog world). So we ask ourselves – is this possible? Could UCLA lose to a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16?

One thing we know for certain is that the Bruins will not score enough points to obliterate the Hilltoppers. The question is whether the Toppers will be able to score enough points to put enough pressure on the Bruins to make something interesting happen. The answer lies in WKU’s backcourt of Courtney Lee (20/5/2) and Tyrone Brazelton (14/3/4), who have collectively averaged 44 PPG in the NCAAs thus far. UCLA’s perimeter defense is notoriously good at shutting players down, but will have their hands full with this pair.

On the other side of the ball, the Bruins have talented guys at every position. While uber-frosh Kevin Love has taken most of the headlines, Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Russell Westbrook have provided solid perimeter play to compliment the Pac-10 POY along with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the inside. The Bruins cruised in their first round game, but ran into a stiff challenge in the 2nd round against Texas A&M. In the end, they survived with some timely shooting from Love and a little help from the stripes. One of the concerns for the Bruins is that while their Ben Howland-designed defense has been as good as advertised, they have struggled offensively in the tournament outside of Love and Collison, who combined for 40 of the team’s 51 points versus the Aggies. UCLA is talented enough and this region is weak enough that they probably can get to San Antonio without bringing their “A” game, but eventually they will need more from Shipp and Mbah a Moute, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle.

Opening Line: UCLA -13
Prediction: I think that UCLA will eventually get pissed off at all the press they have gotten for getting away with calls (looking around . . .). This is a really big spread for a Sweet 16 game, but I guess it is a 1 vs. 12 so maybe it isn’t that big of a spread. Maybe Vegas Watch knows what a typical 1-12 spread is although I don’t think it happens that often. Anyways, the Bruins should be too much for the Hilltoppers and advance by double digits pulling away at the end after a hard-fought game. Even if their offense isn’t clicking, their intensity and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball will rattle Western Kentucky.

- #3 Xavier vs. #7 West Virginia (7:10 PM): The Musketeers may be the least heralded #3 seed of all-time and could be considered a mid-major of Cinderella of sorts, but after West Virginia knocked out Duke I’m pretty sure the Mountaineers have enough national goodwill that the crowd won’t be rooting that hard against them.

As I noted in an earlier preview, Xavier throws out a deep lineup with 5 players now averaging between 10.1 and 12.1 PPG to go along with a solid defense. For those that still doubt they are a legit team, I would suggest that you look at their wins over teams from power conferences in the first 2 rounds. Yes, Georgia’s record was mediocre at best, but they were hot coming off their SEC tournament run while Purdue had been a solid team the entire season in the Big 10, which admittedly isn’t having a great year.

West Virginia will counter with Joe Alexander, a rtmsf favorite, and a set of players who have adjusted well to the contrast in styles between current coach Bob Huggins and former coach John Beilein. As anyone who watched this team come from behind to beat #2 seed Duke in the 2nd round knows, Huggins has a nice stable of guys who can really play as they controlled the 2nd half of that game.

Opening Line: Pick ‘em
Prediction: I’m going with the A-10 champs. These two teams are pretty evenly matched. Xavier doesn’t have a “star player” like Alexander, but they probably have a little more depth and experience and I’m going with that for the win.

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