ACC Back in the Final Four With Two Teams, Again…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2016

When North Carolina squares off with Syracuse in Saturday’s late national semifinal, it will mark the sixth time in league history that the ACC has entered two schools into the season’s final weekend. It’s been a great March Madness showing for the conference, with a record six schools in the Sweet Sixteen, a record-tying four teams in the Elite Eight, and an overall 18-5 record. The last time the ACC sent two teams to the Final Four was in 2004, when the league still carried nine teams. Since then, the ACC has undergone two major expansions that resulted in an immediate and noticeable downturn in its long tradition of basketball excellence. But combined with last year’s fine NCAA Tourney showing, it appears that the ACC has regained its status as the best among the nation’s major hoops conferences.

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday's National Semi-Finals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday’s National Semifinals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a little surprising how often individual conferences send multiple teams to the same Final Four. Of course, only one school per conference could participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first 36 years of the event. That changed in 1975 — thanks in large part to Maryland’s exclusion in 1974 — and, from there, it only took one season for a league to place two teams in the season’s final weekend — Indiana defeated fellow Big Ten school Michigan in the 1976 title game. In 1980, the Big Dance became a fully open tournament, with no limit on the number of teams a conference could send. Since then, 65 percent (24 of 37) of the subsequent Final Fours have featured multiple teams from the same conference. Particular hats off to the 1985 Big East, a league that sent three of its members to the Final Four. As you can see below, the Big Ten leads the way with multiple appearances over that span.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Ernie Johnson

Posted by Chris Stone on March 30th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

Turner Sports‘ Ernie Johnson is perhaps best known for his role mediating the rambunctious crew on TNT’s Inside the NBA, but this weekend he will host TBS’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four and National Championship. With the event just days away, we had an opportunity to sit down with Johnson to discuss the NCAA Tournament’s first championship on cable, the differences between preparing for the NBA and March Madness, and what advice he has for sports media hopefuls.

Rush the Court: As a longtime employee and icon for Turner, can you give us your thoughts on what it means to have this level of coverage for such a huge event in the college basketball world?

Ernie Johnson: Well, first of all, let’s go with longtime employee and you can hold off on the icon. It means a lot to all of us. It really does. I’ve been there since 1989. I’ve seen this company grow in ways we never thought and then have properties that I didn’t know we’d be covering. We were all excited when we signed the deal with CBS to team up on this for a long time and we knew somewhere down the road this would happen, but now that it’s here, it is very special. It’s certainly a point of pride for all of us that when you want to watch the games Saturday and on Monday night, you’ll be watching it on TBS. Turner’s got the championship game in the NCAA Tournament. We are pumped about that.

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Ernie Johnson will host studio coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four this weekend. (Credit: CSE)

Rush the Court: You also have the Team Streams as well, right?

Johnson: Yeah. They’re going to have the homer broadcasts, for lack of a better word. My hope is that everybody gets that stream, but I know that not everybody will because somebody will think, “OK, let’s watch the game on TNT,” and expect to hear Jim Nantz and Grant Hill and Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson on there and they’re going to get somebody that yells and they’re going to be cheering like mad for Villanova and they’re from Oklahoma and they’re ticked. It happened last year, too. We had people on social media going nuts saying, “What are these guys doing? Why don’t they just wave their pom-poms?” Hey, you’re watching the wrong channel. So really, right down the middle, the standard broadcast, TBS. If you’re anywhere but TBS and you’re watching the game, you’re going to hear some cheerleading.

Rush the Court: As we head into the Final Four, we’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to March Madness, so we were curious what storylines you are most interested in now that we’re down to just four teams.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Finally, Syracuse. 

How Syracuse Got Here

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Midwest Region Champions. Syracuse took a ride through the Midwest region that few expected. The tenth-seeded Orange defeated Dayton in round one, then made the most of a fortunate second round draw by knocking off fifteenth-seeded, Spartan-slaying, Middle Tennessee State. Jim Boeheim’s team proceeded to find lightning in a bottle twice at the Chicago regional, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Gonzaga before supplying the most shocking victory of this stunning Syracuse March run: a regional final victory over #1 Virginia in which they overcame a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

The Coach

Jim Boeheim. No stranger to Final Fours (this will be his fifth), even Boeheim himself has to be surprised to be making the trip to Houston this week. No Syracuse team has ever entered the Tournament with a higher seed than this one, and an uninspiring regular season left little hint that a run like this was coming. Boeheim has always enjoyed a little disrespect from the media and he’s been masterful in using the “nobody believes we deserve to be here” narrative as fuel for this run. If he can use that rallying cry (or any other tactic) to grind out two more wins in Houston, this will undoubtedly go down as his greatest coaching job in a career full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 68, #1 Virginia 62

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Late Syracuse surge stuns Virginia. When London Perrantes hit his sixth three of the game with 9:33 to go, the Cavaliers led by 15 points (54-39). The Orange looked tired, Virginia appeared as steady as ever, and there seemed little doubt that Tony Bennett was minutes away from his first trip to the Final Four. Then everything changed. Syracuse uncorked a six-minute, 25-4 run that lifted the Orange into the driver’s seat. An experienced, methodical Virginia team unraveled, while Syracuse’s collection of talented but enigmatic freshmen – most notably Malachi Richardson – seized the moment in forcing turnovers and converting on the opposite end. The Midwest region surprised from opening tip last Thursday all the way through to the final minutes this evening.
  2. ACC Player of the Year struggles. Malcolm Brogdon probably didn’t expect his career to end today, and particularly not in the fashion in which it did. The Cavaliers’ star made just two of his 14 field goal attempts, including just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Tonight was also a poor display of Brogdon’s normally paralyzing individual defense, as he struggled to contain Richardson late in the second half. Brogdon did some things well – he handed out seven assists and made all seven of his free throw attempts – but his subpar effort was an undeniably critical element of the Virginia loss.
  3. Finally time to respect the Orange. Jim Boeheim mentioned on Friday that it seemed like every Syracuse opponent in this NCAA Tournament was suddenly considered bad once they lost to the Orange. That trend will be unlikely to continue after tonight. Beating Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga – all seeded #7 or higher – shouldn’t be discarded as nothing, but tonight’s takedown of a national title contender has to fully validate this unexpected postseason run. They may not head to Houston as a Final Four favorite, but Boeheim’s team has proven it must be taken seriously.

Star of the Game. Malachi Richardson, Syracuse. The gifted Syracuse freshman was the key player in the Syracuse comeback, scoring 14 points in the decisive 25-4 spurt that sent the Orange into the Final Four. His three-pointer over Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, with three and a half minutes to play put the Orange up six and should stand as the most memorable bucket in a wild regional final. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 63, #11 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Gonzaga attacks Syracuse zone creatively. The Zags had great ball movement early on, which helped them build an early 18-8 lead. Guards found Kyle Wiltjer (23 points, five rebounds) on flashes to the post, Domantas Sabonis (19 points, 17 rebounds) on quickly conceived entry passes, and Gonzaga was generally patient in attacking Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. That ball movement disappeared in the last five minutes of the first half and first five of the second, as the Syracuse length and constant pressure finally began to force a few Gonzaga turnovers. But Gonzaga emerged from a Mark Few timeout with renewed purpose, and despite shooting just one free throw in the first 37 minutes of the game, rediscovered their offensive flow. One especially effective tactic employed: the use of a quicker tempo to find Sabonis for post touches before the zone was fully set.
  2. Gonzaga meltdown or Syracuse heroics? Or both? It wasn’t pretty, but Syracuse advanced on the back of Michael Gbinije and some timely plays on both sides of the ball. Gonzaga channeled their inner Northern Iowa in coughing the ball up twice on their own side of halfcourt in the last two minutes, but give the Orange credit for creating pressure and then taking advantage of the Zag miscues. Gonzaga’s nine-point lead with 6:30 to play was erased once and for all when Gbinije came up with a loose ball and layup with 22 seconds to play to put the Orange up one. This will go down as a Gonzaga collapse, but don’t overlook Syracuse’s role in making it happen.
  3. Orange win with ugly offense. Jim Boeheim admitted that offense was a major problem for the Orange tonight. Offensive struggles are nothing new for a Syracuse team ranked outside the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency, but tonight was an unusually ugly winning performance. Syracuse shot just 36 percent from the floor and 33 percent from long-range, while Trevor Cooney was the only player on the Syracuse roster who made more shots than he missed (5-9 from the floor). The Orange did make 14 of their 16 free throws (compared to just 4-5 for Gonzaga) and only turned the ball over nine times, eight less than the Zags.

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Secrets to Sweet Sixteen Success: Factoids on Each Team

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 24th, 2016

With a weekend full of brackets busted and buzzers beaten now behind us, the NCAA Tournament turns to a new and exciting chapter. Gone are the small school darlings and Cinderella dreamers hoping to make the most of the Year of Parity; remaining are a host of blue-bloods with a wide range of expectations and capabilities. The bracket hasn’t played completely chalky with stalwarts like Michigan State and Kentucky sitting at home and some double-digit seeds still alive. But rather than welcoming new faces to the Sweet Sixteen, it was Indiana that dispatched Kentucky and the low-seeded outsiders crashing the party are the likes of Syracuse and Gonzaga, the closest thing we have to a MINO (mid-major in name only?). March Madness has its storied traditions and history, but each team, each season, and each match-up is a unique snowflake with a lot of interesting context. Let’s examine something special about the run of each of the 16 remaining teams as we head into the second weekend.

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas. Senior Perry Ellis may have just put together one of the most under-the-radar All-America campaigns in modern history. The evolution of his game has been a revelation for Kansas this season, and he’s not slowing down, with games of at least 17 points in every game this March. As but one example, Ellis made as many threes this season as he did in his prior three.
  • Maryland. The Terrapins’ quest to finally be recognized and treated like a Big Ten program becomes a little stronger with each ensuing NCAA Tournament win. They still hold the ultimate bragging right among conference teams — The last Big Ten team to win the National Championship was Maryland (as an ACC member) in 2002.
  • Miami. Jim Larranaga has proven to be a godsend for the Miami basketball program. In just five seasons, he’s already become the only coach to take the Hurricanes to multiple Sweet Sixteens. If Miami can top Villanova tonight, the Hurricanes would make its first ever appearance in the Elite Eight on Saturday — uncharted territory for Miami but not for Larranaga (George Mason, 2006).
  • Villanova. Though rivalries of Philadelphia basketball run deep, the casual fan in the City of Brotherly Love has enjoyed a successful long-term run. With Villanova’s two wins last weekend, a team from Philly’s Big 5 (Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn) has advanced to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play in 10 of the last 20 years. The residents of Hawk Hill or North Philly may not be especially thrilled for their friends from the Main Line, but the levels of success and respect among the Philadelphia schools make their common bond that much more special.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. Michigan State’s shocking first round loss to Middle Tennessee State sent reverberations throughout the entire bracket, but especially within the Midwest Region. The loss rendered meaningless all the pre-Tournament talk about Virginia’s poor fortune in drawing the Spartans in their region, as the Cavaliers are now a clear favorite to advance to Houston. Tony Bennett’s team handled business in dispatching Hampton and Butler in the first two rounds. Getting two more victories will be no cinch, but Virginia should arrive in Chicago with no shortage of confidence.

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there's little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there’s little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Gonzaga. If the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t Gonzaga, this really would be a beautiful Cinderella story. With non-existent at-large hopes, a talented mid-major sweeps through its conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field and wins its two first weekend games as a double-digit seed. Cute story, right? Except when it’s Gonzaga, a program that has been to 18 straight Tournaments with wins in each of the last eight and is coming off an Elite Eight appearance. After beating #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah by a combined 39 points, Mark Few’s team heads to Chicago as a dangerous team – and a likely favorite in its Sweet Sixteen matchup with Syracuse. Beating the Orange won’t be an easy first step, but if the Zags can advance to a regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State, forget their uninspiring regular season and double-digit seed line – this team has the talent and pedigree to break through to deliver the program’s maiden voyage to the Final Four. Wouldn’t that be a Cinderella story, of sorts?

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 75, #15 Middle Tennessee State 50

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways:

Syracuse's Michael Gbinije rises for a highlight dunk on Sunday night. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije rises for a highlight dunk on Sunday night. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  1. The Blue Raiders Were Panicking Early On: Perhaps Middle Tennessee State was experiencing a bit of a hangover after beating Michigan State. Maybe Friday’s win emptied the energy reserves to some degree. Either way, the Blue Raiders were neither relaxed nor confident early on, as they shot 4-for-18 to start the game. Coach Kermit Davis used two of his four timeouts in the first ten minutes of game action. This Cinderella story looked to be over as abruptly as it started.
  2. Despite All Of That, Syracuse Left The Door Open: Yes, the Orange had a four-point lead going into halftime, but it felt like the lead should have been larger. Syracuse started the game by out-rebounding the Blue Raiders 14-7 but allowed MTSU to grab 12 of the last 16 rebounds to close the half. SU lacked the tenacity that helped them build a 12-point lead midway through the first half.
  3. Syracuse’s Closing Burst: SU went on a 25-5 run over the course of 11 second half minutes, a burst that extended their lead to 21 points. Syracuse did a great job confusing Middle Tennessee with its vaunted 2-3 zone, and the Blue Raiders simply weren’t getting the friendly rolls and bounces that had fallen their way Friday afternoon. Reggie Upshaw finished just 1-for-10 against the Orange, two nights after scoring 21 points in the upset of Michigan State. Cinderella had her fun at the ball on Friday, but the clock decisively struck midnight on the Blue Raiders today. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 70, #7 Dayton 51

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways:

Syracuse's Malachi Richardson attempts a pass to teammate Trevor Cooney. (Credit: Syracuse.com)

Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson attempts a pass down low. (Credit: Syracuse.com)

  1. The Potential of Malachi Richardson Is Frightening: At 20 years old, you might not find many freshmen at that age nor will you find many more versatile wings than Richardson. The 6’6″ wing with a 7’0″ wingspan scored 10 points in a variety of ways — mostly drives and spot-up threes — within a span of five minutes early in the first half on his way to becoming the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. It’s easy to see why NBA scouts are digging his skills.
  2. Dayton’s Balanced Attack Was Thrown All Out Of Whack: The Flyers came into today’s game with four players averaging in double figures: Charles Cooke (15.7 PPG), Dyshawn Pierre (13.0 PPG), Scoochie Smith (11.7 PPG)) and Kendall Pollard (10.6 PPG). Today, these four combined for only 36 points. The worst stretch had by the Flyers is when they went on a more than five-minute scoring drought in the second half. I couldn’t tell what Archie Miller‘s sweating situation was since he wore his jacket throughout the game, but I can bet he wasn’t dry.
  3. Syracuse’s Patented Zone Was Effective: With the aforementioned scoring droughts for the Flyers, we couldn’t really determine just how effective the Orange’s zone was. The Flyers shot 29.6 percent from the floor in the second half when Trevor Cooney started connecting on three-pointers. Zone may be for cowards, some say, but if your team isn’t able to score against it, what does that say about the Flyers?

Quotables: “Anyone that said we don’t deserve to be in the Tournament doesn’t know about basketball.” – Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, on his team’s at-large bid

Sights and Sounds: With 7:38 to go in the game, Malachi Richardson was whistled for a foul. A Dayton fan behind the basket stood up and yelled at a ref, “Yes! Yes! You finally called a foul! I didn’t think you would but you did!”

What’s Next: The Orange will face the winner of the Michigan State-Middle Tennessee State game on Sunday. Time and television designation are to be determined.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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