NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2013

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Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the East Region in Washington, DC, and the West Region in Los Angeles, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#2 Miami vs. #3 Marquette — East Regional Semifinal (at Washington, D.C.) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS.

Let's Hope Buzz Keeps This in the Closet If He Makes the Elite Eight

Let’s Hope Buzz Keeps This in the Closet If He Makes the Elite Eight

Two coaches and teams that have significantly overachieved this season collide in tonight’s first regional semifinal game in our nation’s capital. Marquette has been the quintessential “survive and advance” team through its two games of this NCAA Tournament having gotten by Davidson and Butler in thrilling fashion. In this match-up, the Golden Eagles will have to overcome some notable disadvantages coming in to it. Even though Reggie Johnson will not play for Miami, he hasn’t been playing all that well of late so his loss isn’t a huge hit for the Hurricanes. Marquette is a team that thrives off of dribble penetration and offensive rebounding so Jim Larranaga’s game plan will no doubt focus on that. Buzz Williams doesn’t have the three point shooters needed to open up his offense, one that is highly dependent on Vander Blue and others creating and getting into the paint. If Miami defends the paint well, can keep Marquette off the free throw line for the most part and win the turnover battle (Marquette averages 14 per game and Miami is #18 in offensive turnover percentage) it should win the game. However, it’s not always so simple. In addition to the dynamic Blue, Jamil Wilson could be a very difficult match-up for Miami. Wilson is a bouncy 6’7 player who can create off the bounce and isn’t afraid of contact around the rim. He could be Marquette’s most important player in deciding the outcome of this one. The intangibles in this game strongly favor the Golden Eagles. It hasn’t just been in this tournament but Marquette has a ton of experience playing in and winning close games over the last few seasons. This team knows how to win and make plays in big moments down the stretch and that becomes such a valuable asset in the NCAA Tournament. We think Miami’s game against Illinois, where the Hurricanes were pushed a bit, was a good thing but it could be only a matter of time as the Hurricanes lack of tournament experience catches up to them. This may be the game as the pressure and scrutiny ramps up, especially against a team with so much experience in one or two possession games. Although this appears to be a good match-up for Miami on paper, there’s a reason why they play the games. The Golden Eagles may come away with another squeaker of a win.

The RTC Certified Pick: Marquette.

#2 Ohio State vs. #6 Arizona – West Regional Semifinal (at Los Angeles, CA) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

The Thad Matta/Sean Miller backstory gives this matchup plenty of pizzazz, but even without that part of the story, this is quite a battle. You can just run down this game matchup by matchup and find plenty of compelling storylines. At point guard, the Mark Lyons vs. Aaron Craft face-off alone makes this a must-watch game, with Craft one of the nation’s most disruptive perimeter defenders and Lyons one of the most dangerous offensive players off the bounce. While Lyons has the reputation of a guy who is a killer in the clutch, he’ll need to play within himself against Craft and make sure not to force too much against his pressure. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, Lyons is no slouch on defense himself and Craft an improving, but still somewhat limited scorer. You could do worse that spending the entire 40 minutes of action just watching those two go at it. Elsewhere, the next biggest potential matchup is DeShaun Thomas and Solomon Hill. Thomas is the Buckeyes lone pure scoring threat and Hill will certainly be guarding him for much of the game. Thomas has got a pretty complete offensive game, with range from three, a solid pull-up game off the bounce, some post-up ability and the ability to get on the offensive glass. But, luckily for Arizona, Hill’s defensive versatility can match Thomas’ game, as he’s as comfortable guarding in the post as he is away from the hoop. On the other end of the court, Thomas’ defensive game has improved, but he’s still a long ways from a defensive stopper, although depending on the matchups on the court, he might not be the guy tasked with checking Hill. Arizona doesn’t necessarily need Hill to outscore Thomas in this matchup, but if he can take him out of his comfort zone, OSU will have to count on other less polished scorers to have big games. And there are other great matchups all across the court. Nick Johnson is Arizona’s best perimeter defender and he could take a crack at anyone from Craft to Lenzelle Smith to Shannon Scott, even to Thomas for a stretch if needed. In the paint, Arizona’s three freshman bigs have been playing well of late, but they’ve got big physical veteran Bucks ready to bang with them all day long. And then there are X-factors like Kevin Parrom and LaQuinton Ross. Parrom, a senior, has turned into an excellent third-scorer for the Wildcats, while Ross is starting to live up to the high expectations he earned back in high school. All over the rosters there are strength-on-strength battles, leading me to believe that when we come out of the final media timeout, we’ll be in a dead heat. In that situation, give me the team most capable of putting the ball in the net in a variety of ways. And in this case, that is the Wildcats, with Lyons, Hill, Parrom and even Johnson and Grant Jerrett all capable of filling it up.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona

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The RTC Podblasts: South and Midwest Regions

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2013

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Happy Sweet Sixteen, everyone. The RTC Podcast crew is back with several of our NCAA Tournament Region correspondents this week to break down what we saw over the weekend and what to expect in the coming one. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) is our host, with Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) and Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) joining us to discuss the South and Midwest Regions, respectively. We’ll have our podblasts for the other two regions up a bit later today, so be sure to watch for those as well. Enjoy the Sweet Sixteen!

South Region

  • 0:00-6:47 – DUNK CITY!
  • 6:47-11:41 – FGCU Chances Against In-State “Rival” Florida
  • 11:41-16:18 – Kansas Under the Radar Struggles
  • 16:18-20:04 – Michigan Looking Good Again (With Kevin’s Florida Love Mixed In)
  • 20:04-25:11 – Previewing a Hypothetical Florida-Michigan Game
  • 25:11-33:35 – Minnesota-UCLA Battle of the Walking Dead Coaches

 

Midwest Region

  • 0:00-3:30 – Oregon’s Proving the Committee Wrong
  • 3:30-7:22 – Louisville Proving the Committee Right
  • 7:22-11:13 – Clash of the Coaching Titans in Duke-Michigan State
  • 11:13-13:53 – Final Four Picks
  • 13:53-17:20 – Favorite Game of the Region
  • 17:20-20:15 – Surprises of the Opening Weekend
  • 20:15-24:40 – Opening Weekend MVPs and More Oregon TAlke
  • 24:40-27:00 – Opening Weekend LVPs
  • 27:00-31:22 – Coaches That Deserve Ben Howland-Tubby Smith Treatment
  • 31:22- 34:50 – Hedge Your Bets Predictions
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ATB: Syracuse Survives, OSU Recovers, and Upset City in the West…

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Half of our Elite Eight teams are set, with the East and West regions completing their semifinal matchups on Thursday night. The East Region in Boston finished as expected, with chalk advancing to the Elite Eight in the form of Syracuse and Ohio State for what should be a fantastic regional final on Saturday. But the story in Phoenix was much different, as the favored #1 and #3 seeds went down in games that were dominated by the lower seeds. Only one game on the night finished in single digits but there was plenty of exciting basketball that took place. And the one game that was a close one happened to be one of the Big Dance’s best. Let’s break it down… 

Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor’s Shot Falls Short, #1 Syracuse Survives.

Wisconsin is Devastated After Coming so Close Against Syracuse (Getty Images/J. Rogash)

Our first game of the night was a classic, one that featured two very different teams that both executed at an extremely high level offensively. Four-seed Wisconsin brought its patented ball-control, super-slow tempo game plan into Boston with hopes of knocking off top-seeded Syracuse with a methodical approach, good shooting, and strong collective defense. But no defense could stop what either team was bringing to the table in this one. The Badgers executed their plan offensively, hitting an amazing 14-27 from three-point range in a wonderful display of outside shooting that would usually be enough for a victory. But the Orange were just as strong on the other end, converting 55.1% of their field goals with easy baskets in the paint from a variety of one-on-one scorers. The two teams combined for just 12 turnovers and this game came down to the very last shot, one that fell short on a long three-point attempt from Jordan Taylor on a broken offensive play. Despite the fairly low 64-63 final score, the game featured crisp execution throughout its entirety. Syracuse was just one possession better, thanks to its easy offense earned through superior athleticism and playmaking in the half court. It’s on to the Elite Eight for the Orange!

Also Worth Chatting About. The First #1-Seed to Fall are Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Everyone knows that March is Michigan State’s month. Tom Izzo has brought the Spartans to six Final Fours in his tenure, and he had never been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament before the final weekend when his team was a #1 seed. That came to an end on Thursday, when Michigan State was outplayed from the start by Rick Pitino’s #4 Louisville Cardinals. The Spartans racked up more turnovers (15) than made field goals (14) while shooting 28.6% from the field. Louisville was too athletic and strong defensively, essentially beating Michigan State at its own game. The Cardinals won the battle on the boards, in the turnover margin, and from behind the arc (they shot 9-23 compared to 5-21 for MSU). Gorgui Dieng racked up seven blocks and three steals to go along with nine rebounds in an elite defensive performance, and Peyton Siva ran the offense well with nine assists. Izzo’s March mystique could not get his players to put the ball in the basket, and our first #1 seed finally goes down.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin – East Region Semifinals (at Boston, MA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Bo Ryan Is Looking For His Second Trip to the Elite Eight at Wisconsin

Perhaps the most fascinating matchup to date in the entire NCAA Tournament will take place in tonight’s first game from Boston. Wisconsin, the most patient and deliberate team in the country, takes on a Syracuse team that has won 33 games due in large part to a lethal transition attack. While Syracuse ranks #202 in tempo, the Orange thrive on the fast break. You hear a lot about Jim Boeheim’s team struggling on the defensive glass and some of that is due to the fact that his guards already start out on the break when a shot goes up, taking them completely out of position to rebound. Without Fab Melo around to man the middle, Syracuse’s rebounding issues could be a major problem against the physical and deliberate Badgers. It’s always easier to slow a game down than to speed it up and that’s what Wisconsin is going to do. Syracuse will be forced to score in the half court against one of the strongest defenses in the entire nation. The big question will be whether Syracuse, already not one of the better half court teams, can get the ball inside and avoid settling for jump shots. At times this season the Orange have been frustrated and forced into shooting contested jumpers. Syracuse needs to utilize strong ball screening action in order to free up shooters. Wisconsin’s players will fight through screens and stick with you so using the pick-and-roll also wouldn’t be a bad idea. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers match up very well on the defensive end. The question for them will be whether they can score enough to win. Syracuse obviously has more offensive weapons but Bo Ryan has Jordan Taylor to take control of the game for his team. Taylor is the only player on Wisconsin capable of creating his own shot and that will be critical against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Wisconsin shoots a bunch of three-pointers and it will have to make quite a few in order to knock off the top-seeded Orange. Syracuse’s zone encourages opposing teams to shoot over it but Wisconsin can actually make them, a major difference from Kansas State last week. If Boeheim chooses to extend his zone out on Wisconsin’s shooters, that will free up the Melo-less middle for Jared Berggren to go to work off screen and rolls in addition to opening up driving lanes for Taylor. Expect Jim Boeheim to adjust how his defense attacks Wisconsin as the game goes along, something he certainly has experience with. This will be a clean game between two teams with great defenses and terrific ball protection. Should it come down to free throws, Wisconsin has the edge. Syracuse is the better team and has many more offensive threats but the Tournament is all about matchups. We think the Badgers will make just enough shots to pull off the upset.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin

#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville – West Regional Semifinal (at Phoenix, AZ) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

One of the things we college basketball fans tend to really like about this time of year are the surprises. Not just the obvious ones like Butler running to the national title game or Villanova playing the perfect game against Georgetown, but more subtle ones like teams unveiling a new wrinkle to their offense or players making plays that you hadn’t known they were able to make. As for this game, however, don’t expect many surprises; we all more or less know how this is going to go down. We’ve seen Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino enough over the years to know what they want to do, and we’ve seen the 2012 vintages of both of these clubs to know what they are capable of. Michigan State is going to defend like crazy in the halfcourt, pound the glass on both ends of the court and try to knock Louisville around enough so that the Cards will be forced into submission late in the game. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going to turn up the pressure defensively, try to force turnovers, rely on Gorgui Dieng to block shots in the middle and watch Peyton Siva get penetration and create offense off the bounce. It is likely going to be a low-scoring game that is still in doubt late into the second half and it will come down to which of these teams is capable of making the most plays down the stretch. While Siva’s numbers on the season are not great, he has been a different player since the Big East Tournament started, getting into the lane seemingly at will, creating opportunities for himself and for others and pitching in everywhere on the floor on his way to 13 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game over the six-game stretch. He does a lot of damage in the pick-and-roll game, so not only will Spartan guard Keith Appling have to be on his game defensively, but whichever big man gets involved in the screen needs to do a good job of keeping Siva out of the lane. Draymond Green is clearly the big factor for Michigan State, and he too has been on fire of late, averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and shooting it at a 64.3% eFG in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Chane Benahan appears to be the most obvious individual matchup for Green, but it is going to have to be a full team effort for the Cards to slow the All-American down. Louisville will need to pressure the Spartan guards, keeping them from getting into their halfcourt offense easily and, perhaps more importantly, dedicate themselves to keeping Spartans like Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix off the offensive glass. However, given their relative lack of size (only Dieng is taller than 6’8”) and struggles with defensive rebounding, this could be the eventual downfall of the Cards. While they’ll certainly get their share of stops and turnovers, allowing Green and company second opportunities is a recipe for disaster.

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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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Quantifying North Carolina’s Offense With and Without Kendall Marshall

Posted by mpatton on March 20th, 2012

With Kendall Marshall‘s status looking more and more like he won’t play this weekend, I tried to project his impact using statistics to evaluate North Carolina‘s prognosis without him. Using play-by-play data from North Carolina’s athletic site and StatSheet.com, I charted the Tar Heels’ offensive efficiency with and without Marshall on the floor. I only used games against at-large NCAA Tournament teams since Dexter Strickland’s injury.

How Will Marshall's Injury Affect North Carolina?

Unfortunately, there’s very little to be drawn from the data with Marshall out of the game. The issue is that Roy Williams has been playing his star point guard 35 minutes or more most games, leaving Stilman White with very few possessions. Sometimes that makes White look ineffective; sometimes it makes him look like a savant.

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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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Groundhog Day: Can It Predict March Success?

Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2011

Today is Groundhog Day, and with much of the nation under snow, ice and feeling a lot like the inside of a commercial freezer, it may seem very hard to believe, but Punxsatawney Phil actually predicted an early spring this year.  Whether his prediction about March comes to pass is debatable, but it got us thinking that the celebration of his day makes for a good assessment point to see if what we think we know at this point of the season passes muster in less than six weeks.  Generally speaking, do the teams ranked highly on February 2 do well in March?  How predictive are the major polls today compared with what ultimately happens next month?  We’re not sophisticated enough to run high-level regressions on this stuff, but we were able to eyeball some of the numbers and come to some basic conclusions below.

He Can Predict Weather, But Can He Predict Hoops?

The first thing we did was look at the AP, ESPN/USA Today and the RPI ratings on or about Groundhog Day for the last three seasons.  Notably absent are the Pomeroy ratings, but to our knowledge, he doesn’t keep historical daily archives available for public consumption.  So we’ll deal with what we have.  We then averaged the top sixteen teams using those three metrics and then compared them with their ultimate season outcomes (NCAA Tournament seed; Sweet Sixteen appearance; Final Four appearance).  It’s a rudimentary analysis, but as you can see, below, Groundhog Day seems to be a fair to good predictor of March outcomes.  Here are the last three years worth of data:

As you can see above, eleven of the sixteen teams ranked in the aggregate top sixteen ended up getting a top four NCAA seed, and a full half of these teams made it to the Sweet Sixteen.  This year was the only incident in the three-year window where a Final Four team (Butler) came from outside the Groundhog Day top 16.  On to 2008-09:

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The New NCAA Tournament — We Can Live With It

Posted by jstevrtc on July 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.

The NCAA got around to announcing “The Decision” regarding the layout of the now 68-team tournament and specifically the makeup of the competitors in the four “play-in games” today, and the end result?  Punt.

Getting the terminology out of the way first, these games are officially no longer part of the Opening Round, nor are they “play-in games” (not that they ever were). They now make up the entirety of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, otherwise known as the First Four. Those games that get played on Thursday and Friday? Those are now the Second Round, with the weekend games now the Third Round, with the winners there still advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

We knew before today that there were three main options that the NCAA was considering: the final eight at-large teams matching up, the lowest eight automatic qualifiers matching up, or some combination of the two. That last one, that’s what we got. And you know what? That’s probably the best decision.

The NCAA dropped back and punted, here -- but the resulting field position isn't that bad.

If the NCAA had chosen to send only the lowest eight qualifiers to these games, there would have been numerous problems, not the least of which would be a continuation of the idea that those first four games aren’t really part of the NCAA Tournament. The teams that advance from one-bid conferences like the MEAC, SWAC, American East and Big Sky (to name just a few of the usual suspects) would battle it out in Dayton in relative anonymity for the right to advance to their chance to get killed by a one-seed, while your typical college basketball fan would ignore the whole thing. In the process, sure, the teams involved would have a better chance at winning a game in the NCAA Tournament and thereby earning themselves an extra share of the proceeds from the tournament, but once the “actual” tournament started, there would be four less automatic qualifiers sticking around for their chance to get on national television and test out their slingshot against Goliath. Then there’s also the fact that after spending $10.8 billion on the rights to the tournament, the first four games of the package would be a total wash for the television networks, stuck broadcasting games like Mississippi Valley State against Northern Arizona to a national television audience of almost four digits.

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RTC (Sorta) Live: Sweet Sixteen Day One

Posted by jstevrtc on March 25th, 2010

It’s here.  We’ve endured the three-day layoff and it’s time for more hoops.  We know you already know, but here’s our lineup for today in the order in which they’ll be showing up on our screens:

  • #1 Syracuse vs #5 Butler
  • #2 West Virginia vs #11 Washington
  • #2 Kansas State vs #6 Xavier
  • #1 Kentucky vs #12 Cornell

Everyone’s been talking about Cornell  (and Northern Iowa in the Midwest) — and well they should — but we doubt Butler, Xavier, and Washington will go quietly.  That’s how great this tournament has been; because of the achievements of teams like Cornell and Northern Iowa, we’ve heard next to nothing about what Xavier and Washington have done! Syracuse will not have Arinze Onuaku and you’ve heard about the Darryl Bryant injury by now, so we expect the Huskies will try to make life difficult for Joe Mazzulla.  It should be an amazing four games tonight, to say the least, and we’ll crank up the live window (located after the jump) about 15 minutes before the first tip.  We hope that as you watch the games you’ll join us for some live discussion, as well.  It’s Sweet Sixteen time!

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ATB: NCAA First Weekend Thoughts

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2009

afterbuzzer1

First Weekend Storylines. Like most of you guys, we figure we watched approximately 38 hours of basketball last weekend over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament.  Since we were in Vegas taking advantage of the sportsbooks’ multiple huge-screen tvs, we pretty much saw pieces of every game on the dance card.  Here are some of our thoughts and observations based on the sensory overload (speaking of sensory, that chick making bedroom eyes at the burger in the McDonald’s commercial is ridiculously difficult to remove from the internal hard drive).

Coach K, Your Filet o’ Sole Has Arrived.  From our point of view, at least in terms of the elite teams of each conference, there was never any question that the Big East was much stronger than that of the ACC this year.  The fact that anyone was even questioning this seemed odd.  This year, the Big East had six teams (of seven bids) with a reasonable shot to make a run at the F4 – UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville, Villanova and Marquette, and the first five of that group is still standing (the most ever by a single conference in the Sweets, btw); the ACC had three (of seven bids) – Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, but only the twin towers of Tobacco Road royalty are left dancing.   The simple fact of the matter is that the ACC’s middle – comprised of Clemson, Florida St., Maryland, BC and Virginia Tech (NIT) – were only “solid” teams that had significant weaknesses due to personnel or other issues.  Conversely, the equivalent caliber teams from the Big East (with the notable exception of WVU) were left out of the Big Dance.  This group includes Providence, Cincinnati, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and there shouldn’t be any dissent as to the fact that each of these teams would have competed for the middle of the ACC with the above group and several would have also earned bids on the basis of the occasional upset (see: Maryland and BC).  Sitting where we are now, with five Big East teams a mere two wins away from the F4, it wouldn’t shock us to see all four slots filled by a BE team.  This is still an unlikely scenario, but keep in mind that only Villanova is considered an underdog to reach the next round (Syracuse is a pick’em against Oklahoma), and all five of these teams are more than capable.

footinmouth

#1 Seeds. UConn looked absolutely dominant in its two games, and while not much can be discerned from a 56-pt dismantling of Chattanooga, the 92-66 beatdown of a Texas A&M team that was coming on strong must be viewed with awe.   The Huskies will get the best team in the Big Ten next – Purdue – but we have trouble believing that the Boilers will challenge Jim Calhoun’s team at this point.  Suddenly a #1/#2 matchup against Memphis in the regional finals looks very appealing.  UNC bombed Radford in its first round game before riding a partisan crowd’s energy and Ty Lawson’s toe to a breakaway win over LSU in the second round, 84-70.   The Heels should put away Gonzaga easily in the next round (we doubt Heytvelt will dominate Hansbrough this time around), but a regional final against either Oklahoma or Syracuse could present all kinds of problems for the Tar Heels.   Louisville and Pittsburgh both struggled to put opponents away in both their first and second round games.   Both of these teams sometimes have trouble scoring, and we have to wonder when a prolonged scoring drought against a good team will be enough to end their run to the title.   Pitt should have a relatively easy go of it with its next game against Xavier, but we’re looking at Louisville’s next game against Arizona and wondering what might happen if the trio of Budinger, Wise and Hill are all making shots.

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Sweetest NCAA Memories #6: Butler to the Sweets

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2009

memories

RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory,  something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today.  Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month.  We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

Your School, Your Time (submitted by Damon Lewis of the Horizon League Network)

Growing up I always thought of myself as a big time college basketball fan.  I remember feeling very fortunate that my school always held half-days on the first Thursday-Friday of March Madness.  Sure, it was pure coincidence, but I liked to think that it was somehow a sign that we were supposed to be watching the games, and that’s exactly what I did.  It wasn’t until I went to college at Butler that I learned what March Madness was truly all about.  After having collected 25 wins in 2001-2002, and falling victim to a rage-tastic NCAA snub, the Bulldogs responded the following season with 25 more wins, and this time an at-large bid into the Big Dance.  Birmingham, Alabama was the site, Mississippi State was the draw, and there was no question I’d be attending.  The first step was figuring out “how” and the second step was figuring out “when” – as many of my friends and I had a fraternity formal scheduled for the exact same weekend.  It didn’t take long for the plans to come together, however.  We’d leave Friday morning, and 8 hours later we’d be in Birmingham, just in time to be able to watch a potential 2nd-round opponent, the Louisville Cardinals.  After the game, we’d drive straight back and attend our formal the next night on a few hours of sleep.  Just another day in the life of a college kid, right?

Butler Rode Cornette & Co. to the Second Weekend (photo credit: enquirer.com)

Butler Rode Cornette & Co. to the Second Weekend (photo credit: enquirer.com)

All went as planned.  Myself and 3 others drove all day on Friday, constantly going over why we thought our Bulldogs (not Mississippi State’s) would be victorious.  We tried to convince ourselves all afternoon that we’d be marching on, but none of us really believed it.  We were just happy to be able to escape the cold air of Indianapolis for a day.  Soon enough we arrived, and caught a glimpse of why Louisville was so feared that season (02-03).  They hammered Austin Peay in the first game of the night session, ending the Governors’ season.  As that game ended, the butterflies really started to build.  I was at an NCAA Tournament game, and not to just watch and enjoy the action.  I was there for MY team.  And I can tell you, win or lose, there’s nothing like being able to root for your team at the NCAA Tournament.  When you’re a heavy underdog, playing a team from the SEC, in SEC country, there’s something about feeling that momentum build as David is taking its best shots at Goliath.

As tip-time neared, everything that had been absorbed from watching Butler for an entire season began racing through my brain.  They needed to shoot well from the perimeter, stay out of foul trouble, and most importantly – control the tempo.  That Butler squad enjoyed grinding out possessions, and they were damn good at it.  At the same time, everything that had been absorbed from that entire week – pundits predicting a massive Mississippi State victory for being seeded too low as a #5 – also came rushing to the front of my brain.  It was a different, unsettling feeling, one that I haven’t felt about any Butler basketball team ever since.  The game took shape – painfully slow – just the type that Butler wanted.  There were punches, counter-punches, and counter-counter-punches, all spread VERY far and wide across both 20-minute halves.  Slowly, the “neutral” fans began to get on Butler’s bandwagon, and before anyone knew it, the game was still up for grabs with just seconds remaining.  Then this happened…

That feeling is one that I’ll never, ever forget.  They had done it, and David had advanced to the Round of 32.  Other friends of mine stayed in Birmingham.  They called their dates to our fraternity formal and cancelled on them, but it was understandable given the circumstances.  Our small crew of four hopped back in the car and drove all night up I-65 back to Indianapolis.  It was the fastest eight hours I’ve ever spent in a car.  We went to our formal on Saturday night, and of course the victory was all anyone could talk about.  A fun time was had by all, but I don’t remember all that much of it.  I was already thinking about Sunday’s showdown with Louisville.  Combine that with the lack of sleep and an excessive amount of malted hops, and, well, you get the picture.  Everyone woke up early Sunday morning and headed back to campus to see if our classmates had one more unthinkable performance in them.  This is what we saw…

Needless to say, the scene on campus was unreal.  Everyone ran out of their housing units as soon as the final buzzer sounded, and it was pandemonium in the streets.  Sure, there were only a couple-thousand out there, but that was easily over half the campus!  To this day, I think about that 48-hour period every time March rolls around.  And, honestly, I usually end up telling this story to someone, whether they’ve heard it already or not.  I’ve been to several of Butler’s NCAA Tournament games since that weekend, but the sequel is never, EVER as good as the original.  That is, unless the latest sequel involves a run to the Elite 8 (or beyond) in the next couple weeks…

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