Pac-12 Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on April 2nd, 2012

  1. After four consecutive wins to start the CBI tournament, Washington State’s season ended Friday night with a second consecutive loss in the three-game championship series against Pittsburgh. Both teams played without their leading scorers, as Washington State’s Brock Motum and Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs both sat out with sprained ankles. Reggie Moore led the way for the Cougars with his fourth consecutive double-digit scoring output, but his 18 points to go with five assists were not enough to overcome a 12-2 Panther run in the middle of the second half that broke open a tight game. In the end, the Cougs lost by six and wrap up their season with a 19-18 overall record.
  2. With all of the Pac-12 schools having now completed their seasons on the court, and with no coaching changes expected, the biggest question remaining for any of the conference programs is the decisions of Washington’s Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten in regards to the NBA Draft. The first shoe dropped on Sunday for the Huskies, as Ross announced his intention to declare for the NBA Draft. Wroten, however, has yet to announce his choice, although it is widely suspected that his days in Seattle are done as well. And, not only are Huskies fans making peace with that eventuality, there is also talk that they may be better off without him. With Abdul Gaddy due back next season for his senior year and redshirt freshman point guard Andrew Andrews ready to step into the breach as well, UW has plenty of talent in the backcourt. And chemistry-wise, Lorenzo Romar’s team may be better off without the distraction of Wroten around. Sounds like a rationalization to me.
  3. At Utah, however, there is no cache of extra talent lying around Larry Krystkowiak’s roster, so any early defections for the program will sting. On Friday, news came down that three Ute players would be transferring out of the program: Chris Hines, Kareem Storey and Javon Dawson. Given that Krystkowiak had signed more players than he had scholarships available, we all knew that there would be some changeover in the program, but this list of names was something of a surprise. Individually, none of those three players is much of a loss for the Utes, but as a trio of relatively experienced players, it is a hit. Hines, in particular, is a surprise, given that he was expected back as a team leader for his senior season next year, but given that he will graduate this year, he’ll be eligible to play immediately wherever he winds up next season, likely at a program a notch down from the Pac-12 level.
  4. Tonight, Oregon basketball fans will watch the NCAA title game with interest, as two of their own will be playing for Kentucky in their quest for a championship. Terrence Jones and Kyle Wiltjer were both prep stars in Portland, but rather than stick around to play for one of the in-state schools, both opted to head across the country to continue their basketball careers. And next season, another Oregonian – 6’10 center Landen Lucas – will don a Kansas uniform for his collegiate career rather than a Duck or Beaver jersey. It’s easier said than done, but for either program to take the next step, head coaches Dana Altman and Craig Robinson need to find a way to keep elite home-state prospects from looking elsewhere for their collegiate careers.
  5. While Shabazz Muhammad gets the most publicity, there is another elite high school recruit still available who is considering UCLA. Georgia’s Tony Parker is a 6’9” center, currently rated the #21 recruit in the 2012 class who has the Bruins as one of his seven potential landing spots. There is speculation that wherever Muhammad ends up could tip Parker’s hand, as both players have UCLA and Duke among their final choices. After playing in the McDonald’s All-American game last week, Parker is now getting ready for the Jordan Brand Classic in two weeks.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

College basketball fans, this is it. A champion will be crowned tonight in front of 70,000+ people packed into the Superdome. Savor it because this beautiful sport of ours won’t be seen again for seven long and painful months. Between tonight and early November, many things will happen. Baseball and football will begin new seasons. The NBA will end one season and begin another. A long, hot summer will come and go. A presidential election will be held. All of this before we see another college basketball game that matters, after tonight’s phenomenal finale of course.

#1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas – National Championship (at New Orleans, LA) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS

It’s not often when the consensus top two players meet in the final game of the season, but that’s exactly what we have as Anthony Davis and Kentucky face Thomas Robinson and Kansas. You could make an argument that Bill Self and John Calipari are the best coaches in the sport as well, matched up in a battle between the two winningest programs in NCAA history. This has the makings of a special night, one that might trump them all in terms of the pregame storylines. Kentucky enters the game as a solid favorite (six points in Las Vegas) and won the first meeting by 10 points on November 15 at Madison Square Garden. Who had that as the national championship preview after watching it? Maybe you had the Kentucky half, but you certainly did not have the Kansas half of the equation. Plenty has changed since then, but there are a few things we can glean from that game. Kansas jumped out to an early lead before Kentucky rallied to tie it at the half and took control after the break. The Wildcats shot 51% but committed 19 turnovers (25.6% of possessions, their fifth highest total of the season). There were 45 fouls called in the game and Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor went to the line 17 times as a result. Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, limiting Kansas to 34% shooting and 4-15 from deep. The Wildcats blocked 13 shots (seven courtesy of Davis) and won the game in comfortable fashion.

Anthony Davis Will Need To Show Thomas Robinson Why He Is The National Player Of The Year

Tonight’s contest is a matchup between two elite defensive teams, tied for the national lead in defensive two-point percentage  (39.8%). The battles at the power forward and center positions are absolutely fantastic. Davis and Terrence Jones go up against Jeff Withey and Robinson, four outstanding defensive players and three who can change the game offensively as well. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation while Davis and Withey are the top two shot blockers. Jones can electrify the crowd with his athleticism and can also stretch his game to the three-point line. Kentucky is the more talented team, but Kansas has shown an incredible level of grit and toughness throughout the season, never more so than in the NCAA Tournament. Overcoming deficits against Purdue and Ohio State, plus putting away NC State and North Carolina late in the game has shown us this Kansas team is no fluke. The Jayhawks have absolutely nothing to lose in this game and are the more experienced team by a wide margin. On the other hand, Kentucky has one more game to go in order to live up to the preseason expectation of winning the program’s eighth national championship.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: National Semifinals

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

For even more analysis of these fantastic games, check out Zach Hayes’ ultimate breakdowns for each matchup. UK-UL can be found here and OSU-KU here.

#1 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville – National Semifinal (at New Orleans, LA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

The RTC NPOY Is Two Wins From a Championship

Kentucky. Louisville. In the Final Four. Armageddon in the Commonwealth. Yep, it’s well worth the hype. The 44th meeting between these bitter in-state rivals comes to us from the ultimate setting in the national semifinals at the Superdome on Saturday night. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 29-14, and has won six of the past eight meetings dating back to 2004. The Wildcats enter this game with just two losses on the season and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. In order to advance to the championship game, Kentucky must continue to defend at a high level. By no means is Louisville an offensive juggernaut and that’s where the stifling UK defense must take control of the game. With shot blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis on the back line of its defense, Kentucky and its #1 eFG% defense should be able to limit the Cardinals offensively. Do that and you would think the Wildcats have enough offensive weapons to win the game. But it’s not always that simple. While John Calipari and his team have a huge edge in talent, all the intangibles favor Louisville. When Rick Pitino said they would need to put fences on bridges in Lexington if Kentucky loses to Louisville, he wasn’t kidding. All of the pressure is on Kentucky, a team expected to win a national title. Louisville, a team that went 10-8 in a down Big East, certainly wasn’t expected to make it this far. The Cardinals have absolutely no pressure on them in this game and Pitino would love nothing more than to stick it in the face of Calipari and Kentucky fans. Pitino and his players couldn’t wait to talk about the matchup last week while Cal and his squad kept on saying this is just another game. That’s pure BS. They know the stakes and the weight on the collective shoulders of this young team could perhaps be Louisville’s best chance to win. The Cardinals boast the top defensive efficiency in the land so a grinder-type game should be expected. Three of the last four games in this rivalry have been decided by nine points or less and, despite the talent gap, we’d be surprised if this one isn’t as well given the stakes. The key for Louisville will be to push the pace and score in transition without allowing Kentucky to do the same. UK is lethal in transition but a game with fewer possessions favors the Wildcats. They excelled at a slower pace in the second half of the SEC season and we’re just not sure Louisville will be able to score enough points in a low possession half court game. That means Louisville, and Peyton Siva specifically, can’t turn the ball over. If the Cardinals wait and let Davis and UK set up in half court defense, their task becomes incredibly tough. Scoring in transition takes the Davis defensive threat away and allows the Cardinals to set up their zone press. Pitino is a master at morphing his matchup zone into man-to-man defense in the blink of an eye and changing defenses could throw Kentucky off balance. The best way to beat UK is to take away Davis inside (Gorgui Dieng can do that, provided he stays out of foul trouble) and force them to make jump shots. Kentucky doesn’t take many outside shots but Louisville’s defense could force them into contested mid-range looks that might not fall. One problem area for the Cardinals could be the defensive glass. If UK is taking lots of jumpers (a good thing for Louisville), UL must block out and prevent Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from crashing the offensive glass. Louisville has struggled all year in this department but must come up with a better effort on Saturday night. Siva makes everything go for Louisville and it’ll be interesting to see if Calipari puts Kidd-Gilchrist on him at times as he has done with other point guards this season. The freshman with an unquenchable motor could frustrate Siva and force him into turnovers, fueling UK’s transition attack. While we feel the intangible aspect of this game favors Louisville in a big way and we’d love to pick the Cardinals just for that (and to be different), Kentucky’s superior talent is undeniable. Louisville will make it close but Kentucky simply has too much in the end and should advance to play for all the marbles on Monday night.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by zhayes9 on March 27th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

The hysteria leading up to Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky national semifinal will be unprecedented.

The mutual loathing between legends John Calipari and Rick Pitino is only matched by the contempt between the two fan bases. Such a passionate and deep-seeded rivalry playing out on the grandest of stages is tantalizing to even the most casual observer. But once the smoke clears and the ball is tipped, those juicy storylines all become secondary, fading into the background with the hype and frenzy. Suddenly all that’s relevant is Peyton Siva’s speed, Kyle Kuric’s smooth jumper, Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the open floor.

For the lowdown on what to expect from the biggest basketball game in the history of the commonwealth, here’s a full-fledged Dr. Jack-style breakdown covering every aspect of Saturday’s opener:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist celebrating Kentucky's regional final win

Backcourt- It’s no accident that Peyton Siva’s remarkable late-season turnaround has coincided with Louisville’s spurt from a seventh place finish in the Big East to the Final Four in New Orleans. Russ Smith is an irrepressible, confident ball stopper just as prone to a mindless turnover as he to is scoring 10 points in the blink of an eye. Siva and Smith provide the engine to Louisville’s attack, while athletic two-guard Chris Smith and long-range marksman Kyle Kuric are Pitino’s steady cogs. Kentucky’s Achilles heel was long considered freshman point Marquis Teague, but he’s significantly cut down on his turnovers and can pack an unexpected scoring punch. Doron Lamb is a superior gunner to Kuric, shooting a fantastic 47% over his career from three. Look for Calipari to plug versatile swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Siva to stifle the Cardinals’ offense. Kidd-Gilchrist is a standout defender and the best collegiate player in transition since Derrick Rose. Edge: Kentucky.

Frontcourt- The progression of Louisville center Gorgui Dieng from a raw, bungling, and clumsy big man to a premier post defender and competent scoring threat in just two seasons has been nothing short of incredible. The popular crutch that freshmen are sophomores by the time March rolls around is often untrue, but it applies in the case of Chane Behanan, a gifted offensive rebounder who will be asked to contain Terrence Jones. When Jones is engaged, active and filling up the stat sheet, Kentucky is unstoppable. Anthony Davis has had an OK year: number one high school recruit, starting center for top-ranked Kentucky, national freshman of the year, likely national player of the year, and future top overall pick in the NBA Draft. Only North Carolina can come close to matching Kentucky’s weaponry down low. Edge: Kentucky.

Bench- Neither team extends very deep into their bench, yet both boast a de facto starter in Russ Smith and Darius Miller. At just 38% from two and 31% from three, Smith isn’t exactly the pillar of efficiency, but for a team that didn’t finish in the top 100 in offensive efficiency and scored less than 60 points in five of their final six conference games, Pitino will gladly accept the good with the bad (per Luke Winn, Pitino likes to say Smith “makes coffee nervous”). Any coach in America would love to have Darius Miller on their team, a steady wing defender equally adept at attacking off the dribble or firing from deep. Louisville steady defender Jared Swopshire and Kentucky pick-and-pop threat Kyle Wiltjer also see limited time off the pine. Slight Edge: Louisville.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Sunday

Posted by EJacoby on March 25th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Kevin Doyle (South) and Evan Jacoby (Midwest) contributed to this preview.

#1 Kentucky vs. #3 Baylor – South Regional Final (at Atlanta, GA) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Despite there being four double digit seeds advancing to the third round, two of the teams many predicted to reach the South Region Final will meet on Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome: Kentucky and Baylor. Kentucky has been nothing short of impressive and, at times, downright jaw dropping to watch; their speed, athleticism, length, and sheer ability cannot be matched—or can it? The Baylor Bears will look to pull off the upset and ruin millions of brackets across the nation in the process. After watching both teams compete on Friday evening, Kentucky demonstrated why they are the top team in the land, but it would be foolish for one to believe that they are invincible and Baylor doesn’t have the horses to knock off the Wildcats. The individual matchup that seemingly everyone is focusing on is in the frontcourt between Anthony Davis and Perry Jones III; both move like an athletic two guard, but have the imposing presence of a seven footer with an endless wingspan. But, let’s not forget about Terrence Jones and Quincy Acy, both dominant players in their own right. As we have seen throughout the tournament, especially lately, officiating crews seem to have quick whistles. Against Indiana, Davis picked up two quick fouls and sat for the remainder of the first half; it was an obvious, yet brilliant move by Tom Crean to get Davis on the bench. Expect Scott Drew to employ a similar tactic; he would be foolish not to dump the ball inside on Baylor’s early possessions in an effort to get Davis and Jones to the bench. When you have forwards running like guards, and guards running like track stars, expect this game to be played at a frantic pace. As has been the case throughout the year, when a rebound is corralled by either Kentucky or Baylor, there are instantaneously four players filling the lanes down the floor, and it doesn’t take long for the ball to move from one basket to the other. Baylor’s Pierre Jackson and Kentucky’s Marquis Teague are two of the best in the game in pushing the ball in transition. While the offensive proficiency of both teams will, no doubt, be the focal point of the game, the team that strings together a series of critical defensive stops will ultimately be the team that wins. Kentucky’s three point defense has been exceptional all season—a good thing since Baylor is a strong outside shooting team—while their interior defense is the best in college basketball bar none. The Bears will give Kentucky a run for their money, but the Cats and Calipari prevail in the end and march on to New Orleans.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Kevin Doyle (South) and Evan Jacoby (Midwest) contributed to this preview.

#3 Baylor vs. #10 Xavier – South Regional Semifinal (at Atlanta, GA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Baylor was supposed to be here, Xavier was not. That is the beauty of March Madness and the NCAA Tournament though: play it out on the floor. One can review all the matchups, crunch the numbers, and look at past tournament history, but sometimes simply getting hot at the right time is a more important factor than anything else. The Xavier Musketeers, an up-and-down team all year following the brawl against Cincinnati back in December, are peaking at just the right time. After a 21 game stretch in the middle of the year that saw Xavier go 10-11, they rebounded by winning five of six; the melee seems like a thing of the distant past right now. What teams should now begin to take notice of: Tu Holloway is back to playing at the level of an All-American. Not to mention, Kenny Frease is looking like one of the most dominant big men in the country after dismantling the Lehigh front line last Sunday. Despite all of this, Baylor is a downright scary team to be playing this weekend, especially with the shooting prowess of Brady Heslip who is a combined 14-22 from downtown. Xavier’s three-point defense is one of the best in the nation as they allow opponents to shoot just 30% from the outside, but can they contain the hot shooting Heslip and the steady Pierre Jackson? Consequently, if Heslip and Jackson are not connecting from distance, the onus will be on Perry Jones III. The Jones-Frease matchup down low is one to keep an eye on, and if we are to take any stock in the first two games, Frease is the one playing better of the two as Jones has combined to score just nine points on 4-14 shooting against South Dakota State and Colorado. A streaky scorer throughout the year, Jones has scored in single digits nine times and double digits 19 times; the Bears will need the latter of Jones’ scoring efforts to keep Xavier honest on defense. Baylor’s only losses this year have come against Big 12 opponents, and I expect this trend to continue as the Bears hold off Holloway and the Musketeers.

The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor

#1 North Carolina vs. #13 Ohio – Midwest Region Semifinals (at St. Louis, MO) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

The storylines leading up to this game have been completely taken over by Kendall Marshall’s “wrist watch”, but once the ball tips off on Friday night and Marshall is presumably unable to play, then we can finally focus on the matchups in-game. Of course, Marshall’s expected absence will then be the main factor to watch in the game. How will North Carolina distribute minutes at the point guard position against the harassing perimeter defense of D.J. Cooper? Expect Roy Williams to explore several different options, including seldom-used reserves Stilman White and Justin Watts. Both White and Watts average under seven minutes per game and were never expected to be significant factors for the team, but they are the only players with experience at the lead guard spot. But since neither guy is likely to make much of an impact offensively, UNC also could experiment by placing Harrison Barnes at the position in a point-forward role. Barnes has the size to see over any defenders but has never been asked to run an offense. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, two primary wing shooters, could help Barnes bring the ball up in a point guard by-committee approach, as well.

Regardless, as long as the point guard replacements or by-committee members don’t turn the ball over at an alarming rate, then Carolina should still have the advantage in this game on both ends because of its tremendous forwards. Ohio’s regular rotation only includes two bangers in the post in Reggie Keely and Jon Smith, and while Keely is a solid post defender with bulk at 265 pounds, neither of those players is taller than 6’8”. It will be an adventure trying to defend the most talented front line in the country. Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and James Michael McAdoo should have a field day in the paint, and the lack of a point guard means that every UNC possession should include an early paint touch. Expect big numbers from this trio. But if Ohio is somehow able to key on the UNC bigs and stop the domination in the paint, then the Bobcats can pull another upset by gaining an advantage on the perimeter. Nick Kellogg and Walter Offutt must hit a high percentage of shots from the outside and D.J. Cooper will need another breakout performance to carry this team. It just seems unlikely that Ohio has enough firepower to hang with Carolina’s athletes on the interior. With or without Marshall, roll with North Carolina in this one.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.19.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 19th, 2012

  1. They were the last hope for the Pac-12, and for 30 minutes or so, it looked like Colorado had a good chance to extend their Cinderella run through the weekend. But too much Brady Heslip and too little defensive rebounding doomed the Buffaloes against Baylor, sending the conference to an early end in the NCAAs. But, looking back on the season for Colorado, it was a magical run, including a five-game win streak taking them from the outside of the tournament bubble to a Round of 32 appearance with a Pac-12 Tournament title mixed in there. All things considered, it was as good of a season as could have been expected of a Buff team that was missing its four leading scorers from the previous season and was picked as low as 11th in preseason Pac-12 rankings. And, despite the loss of seniors Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson, and Austin Dufault, the future is bright in Boulder.
  2. There are a handful of Pac-12 teams whose season still go on in lesser tournaments, highlighted by Oregon, who pulled off a 108-97 win over Iowa on Sunday in the  second round of the NIT in the highest scoring game in regulation this season. The Ducks trailed by as many as 15 in the game, but behind E.J. Singler’s 25 points and four other players who scored in double figures, the Ducks advanced.
  3. And the Ducks next step is a trip up I-5 to Seattle for a quarterfinal matchup with conference rival Washington, who advanced by slamming Northwestern on Friday night, 76-55. The Huskies earned the win by using their athleticism to kill the Wildcats on the glass, force plenty of bad shots and just generally get them out of rhythm. Oh, and Terrence Ross lit them up for 32 points and eight rebounds. Tony Wroten, who took a lot of heat in the aftermath of the Huskies’ Pac-12 Tournament loss has struggled to rediscover his scoring touch (just 11 points on ten field goal attempts in two NIT games), but has handed out 15 dimes. Oregon State is the final Pac-12 team still playing, and they’ll get their season back underway tonight when they host TCU in the CBI.
  4. While we’re on the topic of the three remaining Pac-12 schools, all in the northwest, The Columbian points out that one of the reasons that the Pac-12 may be down is their inability to tie up local prospects. By way of example, Greg Jayne points out that the quintet of Peyton Siva, Brad Tinsley, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer, and Brian Conklin – all kids from either Oregon or Washington who are playing elsewhere – would be a pretty darn good start on an NCAA Tournament team. The gauntlet is thrown for Lorenzo Romar, Craig Robinson, and Dana Altman: keep your local prospects at home.
  5. Lastly, in what must be considered good news for UCLA and Ben Howland, Shabazz Muhammad will be taking his final official visit to the Westwood campus at some point in early April and then will announce his decision a couple of days later. While Muhammad hadn’t previously intended to use an official visit at UCLA (since he had already visited the campus on multiple occasions unofficially), the plan is to check back in with the Bruin program in the wake of last month’s controversial Sports Illustrated article and “get the nuts and bolts of that,” according to his father Ron Holmes. Still, as UCLA has long been considered the favorite to earn the services of the elite high school prospect, the fact that he is heading back to Los Angeles just days before his announcement at the very least gives Howland and company to make the final big sales pitch.
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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 87, #8 Iowa State 71

Posted by jstevrtc on March 17th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. When Kentucky shoots like that, forget it. The Wildcats shot 48% in the first half and led by 11. They shot 16-25 (that is not a typo, 64%) in the second half. Listen, you don’t need to be some kind of genius to know that when this UK team shoots like that, the only thing you can do is hand them the trophy. If you saw the game, you’d agree that Iowa State didn’t play that badly. They did a super job of battling back on the boards compared to their effort there in the first half. They kept Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a single late bucket. Terrence Jones only managed three scores. Iowa State’s downfall was that the threes just weren’t falling (3-22, 13.6%). Didn’t matter if they were open looks or not; they just didn’t go down. And Kentucky hits 10-20? Simple math.
  2. Marquis Teague can kill you many ways. He’s quick enough to go by you when he drives to the goal (he showed Scott Christopherson and Bubu Palo that tonight, both very game defenders, and he fouled the latter out in just 11 minutes), but he also noticed that it was his man who was leaving to double the post most of the night. That left him open for jumpers, and he went 10-14 on the night by both hitting open shots as well as driving into the space the ISU defense gave him.
  3. Did we mention the shooting? One of the compelling things about this shooting display by Kentucky was that so many of the shots were NOT from close range. Iowa state WON the points-in-the-paint battle. The Wildcats shot that percentage by hitting a lot of jump shots. Yeesh.

Star of the Game. Tough call here between Teague (24/7 assists on 10-14 shooting) and Darius Miller (19/6 boards on 7-11). Teague was brilliant at taking what the defense gave him while still finding a way to get his teammates involved with seven dimes, but it was Miller who hit some extremely tough shots (and a couple of threes) that keyed the late first-half run that helped UK put some space between themselves and the Cyclones.

Sights & Sounds. In the post-game press conference, ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg said, “We’re going to leave Lexington…I mean, [resigned laugh] Louisville with our heads held high.” It was an HONEST mistake. This undoubtedly felt like Rupp Arena, given the blue-clad fans who packed the KFC Yum! Center. There were a few times early in both halves where Kentucky needed an emotional lift. The crowd helped provide it.

Quotable. Asked about playing Indiana and good friend Tom Crean in the Sweet 16, Calipari noted, “I don’t like playing friends. When they win, I’m sick about it. When I win, I enjoy it for a bit, but then I don’t, because I know what they’re going through.” He then added, “And I know he’s gonna watch every single piece of film anyone has on us, so [looking into TV cameras] Tommy, if you’re watching, I’m putting in two new out-of-bounds plays, some new side-outs, and two new offenses.”

What’s Next? A rematch between two of the seminal programs of our sport. A rematch between friends, Crean and Calipari. A rematch between an overall #1-seed who is rolling, and one of the two teams to draw blood from them this season. Indiana versus Kentucky in the second week of the Tournament. We can’t wait.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 81, #16 Western Kentucky 66

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  All Business. Kentucky had this one wrapped up and in the mail by halftime. The specific play that did it was at the end of the half when the Wildcats put together an Anthony Davis dunk, a Doron Lamb three, and a block by Davis to lift the lead at 19 and bring the crowd to life. Western Kentucky walked off the floor and, frankly, didn’t provide much resistance upon coming out for the second half.
  2. There Was a Little (One-Sided) Fun, Actually. Watch for two straight Davis alley-oop dunks on your favorite highlight show tonight if you didn’t see them live. He got a technical on the second one…for pulling his KNEES up to the rim. Deserved it for the knee maneuver, and probably would have broken his back if he had let go of the rim, but hey, it looked cool.
  3. How Long Will the Wildcats’ Legs Hold Up? John Calipari has played seven guys, and almost EXCLUSIVELY seven guys, all year long. They’ve played such tough defense and quick, motion offense for a long, hard year. Even with a lead that got up to 30 at one point, Calipari still had his blue-chippers in there with less than ten minutes to go. He didn’t clear his bench until there was less than a minute left. There was a little bit of buzz along press row as to whether Cal’s affinity for leaving his big boys in to close out games even with big leads will eventually cause the legs to fail, given the minutes those seven guys have had to log all season — maybe against, say, a Connecticut or Iowa State? — a buzz not mitigated by the fact that Calipari’s boys let up on defense near the finish line, allowing the ‘Toppers to get the lead down to 15 by the final buzzer.

Star of the Game. Terrence Jones donated 22/10 to the UK cause and was rivaled only by Davis’ 16/9 and seven blocks. Let’s be fair, though. WKU has a couple of ballers, notably freshmen T. J. Price (21/4 on 6-11) and Derrick Gordon (12/5). Once the UK defense decided to take them out of the game (especially Price) at the start of the second half, the matter was decided, but safe to say those gents will have WKU back in the Tournament in short order — and not as a 16-seed.

Quotable. Calipari, who has remarked in the past about how he’s not really a fan of tournament-format basketball: “I’ve told my guys, just forget about the whole tournament. We’re just playing basketball. I told them tonight, I don’t care about offense, let’s just play defense. Let’s show everyone what kind of defensive team we can be.”

Sights & Sounds. Credit to the WKU band for the taunts during Kentucky’s free throws, referencing Davis’ unibrow, questions of Kentucky players’ gender, and other cleverness. They were doing what they could. UK finished 18-25 from the line for 72%.

What’s Next? Everyone knows what’s next. Not many UK fans will leave the KFC Yum! Center until they know who their team is playing on Saturday. There is a palpable fear of Connecticut in this building. UK fans know the Huskies have enough NBA talent on that team to challenge the ‘Cats, and of course UConn disposed of UK last year in the Final Four. A burnt child, indeed, shuns fire.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region here.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.

The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC). Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Colorado (23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.

Grossly Underseeded: #14 South Dakota State (27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.

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How Historically Great is This Year’s Kentucky Team?

Posted by EJacoby on February 27th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

Last week included much debate about some of the all-time great teams in college basketball. First, we released our RTC Mount Rushmore of the most significant people in NCAA basketball history, which featured discussion about the leaders of several great programs. Then, CBSSports.com released their ballots ranking the 16 greatest teams in college history, followed by our own Joshua Weill highlighting Rodrick Rhodes and his (lack of) impact on the 1996 Kentucky ‘Untouchables,’ the team ranked third all-time by CBS. Meanwhile, this year’s Kentucky Wildcats won another impressive conference road game over Mississippi State and outlasted Vanderbilt on Saturday to improve its record to 28-1 overall and 14-0 in SEC play. All of this got us to thinking: How historically great is this year’s Kentucky squad compared to some of its contemporaries? Let’s take a look at how John Calipari’s team matches up to some dominant modern teams.

How Strong is this Year's Kentucky Team, Historically? (AP Photo/ J. Crisp)

If it weren’t for Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three on December 10, Kentucky would be 28-0 right now and in the discussion to go undefeated. Instead, Indiana got the win that day and quieted the Wildcats’ buzz for an extended period. Forward Terrence Jones had just four points, one rebound, and six turnovers in that game, concerning many fans that the team could not reach its potential without its go-to offensive guy playing at his highest level. But since that game, UK has cruised in its 14 conference games and Jones has been just fine, averaging 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in SEC play. Those numbers are way down from last season and far from the dominance we all expected, but with five other stars on the team this hasn’t been an issue. Shooting 49.6% with just 1.8 turnovers per game, Jones has been quite alright.

The rest of this Kentucky lineup is filled with pros at every position. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller all average double-figure scoring on the season, while freshman point guard Marquis Teague is at 9.6 points and 4.7 assists per game on the year. The three freshmen — Davis, Gilchrist, and Teague — are all projected NBA lottery picks according to DraftExpress.com, while sophomores Jones and Lamb are expected to be selected in the first round as well whenever they declare. The senior leader Miller may very well find his way onto an NBA roster too, as he is currently a top 25 available senior as ranked by DraftExpress.

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SEC Morning Five: 02.20.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 20th, 2012

  1. With Anthony Davis on the bench in foul trouble during the first half of Kentucky’s win over Ole Miss, the Cats needed another game changer. Kentucky received a boost from freshman Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer scored 13 points, his SEC high on five of six shooting, including three of four three point shooting. “I really (give) credit to my hard work this week,” Wiltjer said. “I’ve really put in a lot of time getting extra reps because I really feel that pays off and builds confidence.” Wiltjer must continue improving on rebounding and defense in order to keep getting playing time down the stretch.
  2. Another Wildcat had to step up because of Davis’ absence in the first half. Terrence Jones recorded his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. But coach John Calipari wants this every game. “Terrence, this is what you should be every game we play,” Calipari said. “It should be a double-double. Without an excuse. I don’t want to hear it. You should be a double-double. You’re a top five player.” Jones’ numbers have slipped significantly from his freshman year. Last season, Jones finished with 13 double-doubles on the season.
  3. Mississippi State is 1-5 on the road in the SEC, and after losing to both LSU and Auburn, the Bulldogs have dropped three games in a row. Rick Stansbury‘s squad is looking forward to being back in Starkville as they need a big win over top-ranked Kentucky. “I don’t know if your back is against the wall,” Stansbury said. “You have the best team in the country coming to your place. That’s all you need to feel. That’s all that matters. If you don’t feel that, you don’t feel anything. It’s an opportunity for us. That’s what it is. We’re not worried about our backs. We have a great opportunity ahead of us on Tuesday night. That’s the way we’re going to look at it.” Mississippi State could certainly use the boost. After these recent losses, the Bulldogs have fallen to 57th in the current RPI rankings.
  4. One possible reason for the Bulldogs’ struggles is the absence of forward Renardo Sidney. Sidney sat out Mississippi State’s loss on Saturday due to back spasms. “He said he couldn’t go, so that’s kind of where we left it at,” Stansbury said. Sidney’s presence will be crucial if the Bulldogs have a chance to beat Kentucky on Tuesday. In last season’s game in Lexington, Sidney added 11 points and eight rebounds in an 85-79 loss.
  5. Florida freshman Bradley Beal received a technical foul after a highlight worthy dunk against Alabama. After rising over seven-foot tall Moussa Gueye. Beal and Gators’ center Patric Young, turned to each other, put their hands together and bowed. The referee saw this as a sign of showing off, but was this action really excessive? The Gators were up 12 at the time, giving the Crimson Tide an opportunity to fight back with 1:16 left to play. Luckily for Beal the Gators held on to win, and he didn’t have to feel the wrath of coach Billy Donovan if that play let Alabama back in the game.
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