Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 71, #3 Texas Tech 59

Posted by Matt Patton on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@mpatton08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Donte DiVincenzo ignites the Villanova crowd in the second half of their Elite Eight win (photo credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  1. Villanova doesn’t have to outshoot its opponents to win. Villanova won this game for two main reasons, and neither is a hallmark of this squad. First, the Wildcats dominated Texas Tech on the glass. They rebounded 37 percent of their own misses (20 offensive boards in all), extending their possessions and shortening the game. While they didn’t get all that many second-chance points, those rebounds forced the Red Raiders to expend more energy on defense with less time to mount a comeback. The second reason Jay Wright‘s team won today was because of their work defending the paint. Villanova had a good two-point defense this year (holding opponents to 49 percent shooting from the field), but their work in Boston this weekend was phenomenal. Wright’s team held Texas Tech to 7-of-24 shooting on layups despite foul trouble for much of the game for big man Omari Spellman. In fact, Texas Tech missed their last 10 layups of the game, covering the last 12 minutes of action (which was also when they were trying to mount an ultimately futile comeback).
  2. Villanova’s ball movement is probably unparalleled in college basketball. The threes didn’t fall for Villanova today, but the Wildcats space the floor better than any other team in college basketball. The whole rotation can shoot, so Jalen Brunson will frequently drive the ball inside as the other four players on the floor spread themselves around the perimeter. If Brunson’s pass to the corner or wing doesn’t find a wide-open shooter, the swing pass does. This exact scenario played out multiple times per game against West Virginia and Texas Tech this weekend. Brunson also doesn’t have to drive the ball to be successful. He posted up and backed down his Texas Tech defender multiple times today — most of the time he was looking for his own shot there, but he also had ample opportunity to pass out if anyone even hinted at helping off their man.
  3. Keenan Evans didn’t provide the spark Texas Tech needed from its best offensive player. Evans, who disclosed after the game that he has been playing for the last month with a broken big toe, wound up shooting 3-of-14 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from three. He was able to get to the line, which is another place the Red Raiders struggled, but when Texas Tech cut it to five points with five minutes left in the game, it seemed like the moment when Evans might step up. It’s hard to say how painful that injury was for him, but you can bet that it affected his explosiveness and balance with the ball throughout the postseason this year.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds (six on the offensive ends) today, and was really the guy who stymied both of Texas Tech’s best opportunities to come back in the second half. When Brandone Francis hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to five with six minutes remaining, it was Paschall who blocked Zach Smith’s subsequent layup that would have made it a one-possession game. With four minutes to play and the deficit again five points, it was Paschall who hauled in Brunson’s missed three while getting fouled.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas Tech 78, #2 Purdue 65

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Texas Tech’s depth is a big part of their run. (Photo credit: Lubboc Avalanche Journal)

  1. Texas Tech is deep. The Red Raiders outscored Purdue’s bench 33-6 tonight. Four players wound up in double figures, and Niem Stevenson had nine of those points. For most of the game All-American Keenan Evans was ineffective (he was 1-of-6 from the field at the under-eight media timeout in the second half), but Texas Tech remained in control. Somehow he still ended up Texas Tech’s leading scorer, but his points mostly served to maintain rather than build the lead. In contrast to the injury-hampered Boilermakers, only Evans finished with more than 30 minutes. That bodes well for the quick turnaround coming before Sunday.
  2. Carsen Edwards versus Jalen Brunson was the matchup we’ll never get to see. With the rest of his team ineffective and hesitant, Edwards was poetry in motion tonight. He finished with 30 points on 20 shots and, amazingly, only one turnover. Edwards has a nose for the ball and like Brunson always finds a way to carve up double-teams. Edwards kept the Boilermakers within striking distance until the last five minutes of the game when an 11-0 Red Raiders run sealed it. The backup matchup of Brunson and Evans should still be must-see basketball, but their styles of play are much more distinct.
  3. Injuries bite. Without Isaac Haas, Purdue had no viable inside presence to combat Texas Tech with tonight. Matt Haarms and Vincent Edwards were non-factors. Edwards’ four offensive boards were more than cancelled out by his six turnovers. Haas’ absence hurt Purdue’s presence on the defensive boards and probably contributed to the team’s turnovers. Without being able to play inside-out, the offense sputtered for long stretches at a time. After the game, Purdue head coach Matt Painter noted, “Empty possessions really hurt us where we weren’t getting a shot at all, and that was probably the hardest thing for us, where they were getting in transition, getting the layups and the dunks.” In addition to dominating the bench points, Texas Tech owned a 15-2 advantage in points off turnovers. Had Purdue not hit nearly 40 percent of its threes this evening, this game could have been incredibly ugly.

Stars of the Game: Justin Gray and Zhaire Smith played like stars in finishing a combined 13-of-18 from the field for 26 points and 12 boards (five offensive) collectively. They’ll need to continue their excellence on Sunday and Beard will need a lot out of Gray in particular against Villanova’s more intact frontline.

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Big 12 Keys to Sweet Sixteen Success

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2018

Last weekend, the Big 12 propelled four teams into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002. That year, two of those teams  (Kansas and Oklahoma) went on to make the Final Four, although neither prevailed in their respective National Semifinal game. As KansasTexas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State prepare for their second weekend action, here are each team’s keys to surviving to play another game.

Kansas guard Malik Newman is shooting a scorching 57 percent from deep over his last nine games. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • Kansas: Avoid a cold shooting night. Kansas has been one of the most prolific and consistent three-point shooting teams in the country this season. As a team, the Jayhawks have shot 40.3 percent from distance with only one outing at less than 35 percent over their last nine games. Clemson doesn’t have a ton of length and is perfectly fine in letting opponents fire away while they focus on forcing tough angles inside, so while Udoka Azubuike starting is a positive development, Friday’s outcome will likely hinge more on whether the Jayhawks hit their threes early. A hot-shooting Kansas team will cause problems for the Tigers very quickly, but if they start off cold and lose confidence, the Jayhawks will be as vulnerable as they’ve been on their worst days of the season.
  • Texas Tech: Capitalize on the injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas. The Red Raiders have been a tremendous defensive team all season, but have had trouble containing highly efficient big men, so the elbow injury that Purdue’s Isaac Haas suffered in the Round of 64 should be a boon to Chris Beard‘s team whether he plays or not. Matt Haarms will alter some shots, but the key for Texas Tech will be to not let his presence keep them from attacking closeouts and drawing contact. The Red Raiders will also need to discourage Purdue’s shooters on the defensive end, an area in which they haven’t excelled despite their athleticism and depth. Still, I like their chances.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. Today and tomorrow we reset each of the four regions. 

New Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-4). The Wildcats did nothing to put their ‘favorite’ status into question over the weekend. In fact, they may have actually established themselves as the new odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. After handling #16 seed Radford by 27 points in the First Round, Villanova put on a second half clinic against #9 Alabama in the Round of 32, outscoring the Crimson Tide 49-21 over the final 20 minutes and finishing the game with 17 made three-pointers. On the weekend, in fact, Villanova shot a combined 31-of-68 (46%) from long range, its spread offense looking more lethal than ever. Now ranked #1 by KenPom with the most efficient offense in America, the Wildcats roll into Boston looking Final Four ready — especially considering the season-ending injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas in the other half of this bracket.

Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. (Yahoo Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #5 West Virginia (26-10). We had to put someone here, right? In an overall bracket riddled with chaos, the East Region remained more uniform than most, leaving #5 West Virginia as the “dark horse” if there is one. Entering the NCAA Tournament, KenPom gave the Mountaineers only a 42.6 percent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen, odds that changed dramatically once Marshall upset #4 Wichita State on Friday. West Virginia now heads to Boston where it will be a clear underdog against #1 Villanova, which is probably just how Bob Huggins and his aggressive group likes it.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #13 Marshall (25-11). Hunter became the hunted in San Diego, where #4 Wichita State — usually the one busting brackets — fell victim to Marshall’s high-powered attack. Entering Friday, the Shockers had won at least one game as a lower-seeded team in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the Final Four as a #9 seed in 2013. Simply put, Wichita State feels comfortable wearing the underdog hat — even in games in which it is favored, like that 2014 classic against #8 seed Kentucky. But this time around, Gregg Marshall’s group felt like Goliath, and perhaps that unfamiliar pressure wore on the Shockers down the stretch. While Wichita State tightened in the second half, the Thundering Herd just kept on shooting. The result was an upset we did not see coming.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Purdue. We fully expected Purdue to reach the Sweet Sixteen. What we did not expect was how much uncertainty it would endure to get there. After pounding Cal State Fullerton in the First Round, the team announced that senior Isaac Haas — the Boilermakers’ second-leading scorer and premier post-threat — would miss the remainder of the NCAA Tournament with a fractured elbow. Subsequent reports revealed that he might see limited action. Finally, his arm brace failed to clear NCAA safety standards, meaning the Boilermakers would have to beat Butler without him. They did, thanks in large part to the brilliance of Vincent Edwards (20 points), but not before two days filled with doubt.

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Big 12 Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on March 14th, 2018

With Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Tech set to play in the Round of 64 tomorrow, Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) break down the burning questions facing the Sooners, Jayhawks and Red Raiders.

Will tomorrow be the last day we see Trae Young in an Oklahoma uniform? (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Brian Goodman: A lot of people are understandably down on Oklahoma after their disastrous finish to the regular season and early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, but the Big Dance can have a way of breathing new life into teams who are limping into it. Do you see the Sooners turning over a new leaf tomorrow afternoon?

Chris Stone: The Sooners don’t exactly look like they want to be playing basketball anymore, so I’m leaning no here. The team doesn’t seem like they enjoy playing together; Trae Young is admittedly tuckered out; and the defense has been a disaster. I expect Rhode Island’s Jared Terrell to set the tone defensively in this game by getting into Young early. It wouldn’t surprise me if Oklahoma wilts from there.

BG: Silvio De Sousa and Malik Newman needed to have big games for Kansas last weekend in the Big 12 Tournament and both delivered. With Udoka Azubuike still on the mend, how important are those two players to the team’s overall prospects?

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Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

Every passing postseason where a Big 12 team gets bounced in embarrassing fashion or fails to maximize its potential by way of an otherwise-excusable loss becomes another pock mark on the conference’s reputation. Oklahoma got the Big 12 off the schneid with a Final Four Run in 2016, but it hasn’t been enough. There’s never been more pressure on the league to produce than there is this year, and seven teams will get a bite at the apple. Another Big 12 team has to break through eventually… right?

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

Behind senior guard Devonte’ Graham, Kansas will aim to cut down the nets in San Antonio. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Best Case: The recent breakouts of Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa continue into the NCAA Tournament, buying additional time for Udoka Azubuike to recover from his MCL injury. With the Jayhawks’ starting center at full strength for the second weekend, Bill Self makes his third Final Four as the Kansas head coach.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble and a cold shooting night around the perimeter spell another early exit, this time in the Round of 32.

Texas Tech (#3 East)

  • Best Case: Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray take advantage of a nearly week-long break and get healthy, and the Red Raiders channel the best version of themselves to their first ever Elite Eight appearance.
  • Worst Case: The Red Raiders continue to slide and are defeated at the hands of Stephen F. Austin, a team that bears some striking similarities to the West Virginia team that bested Tech in two of their three meetings.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 63

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2018

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Three Key Takeaways.

Daxter Miles Gets a Third Shot This Season at Kansas (USA Today Images)

  1. Not Your In-Laws’ Mountaineers. West Virginia’s trademark press didn’t generate the same results as usual, as the Red Raiders turned the ball over on just 15.6 percent of their possessions Friday night. On most nights, that would cause trouble for the Mountaineers since they have such a hard time scoring in Bob Huggins‘ motion offense, but they scored an even 1.00 points per possession in the winning effort. After the game, Huggins acknowledged that the grind of the conference tournament environment led him to pull back the reins, but the adjustment clearly worked. The Mountaineers actually relinquished their Big 12 defensive turnover percentage crown to Kansas State this season as conference opponents have grown accustomed to West Virginia’s brand of havoc; while it would be silly to expect the Mountaineers to completely abandon their hallmark defensive style, their ability to create offense without relying as heavily on turnovers is a positive sign moving forward.
  2. Texas Tech’s offense regresses. Chris Beard‘s team appeared to find its footing over the back half of conference play, as it entered Friday night’s game having scored at least 1.09 points per possession in its previous five outings. West Virginia, however, made frontcourt offense a struggle for the most surprising team in the Big 12. Keenan Evans and Tommy Hamilton IV were the only players who were able to get into any semblance of rhythm, and even then, it was fleeting; Evans uncharacteristically — and unsuccessfully — played hero ball on the game’s decisive possession, and the half-court heave on the next trip looked good out of his hand but rimmed out at the buzzer. Credit is also due to the Mountaineers’ interior defense, as Sagaba KonateEsa Ahmad and Wesley Harris frequently met the Red Raiders at the rim and emerged victorious more often than not.
  3. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are looking to go out with a bang. It’s strange knowing that Carter and Miles have just one more game left at the Sprint Center, and on Friday night the senior duo made sure to leave an imprint, combining for 39 points and an atypically hot 9-of-16 clip from distance. The Mountaineers were unusually competent in the half-court, and their leaders needed to be as they didn’t get very much help from their supporting cast.

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Big 12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2018

After an intense two months of regular season play, postseason action will finally open tonight when the Big 12 Tournament tips off from Kansas City. The league is currently ripe for seven NCAA Tournament teams, with an eighth in sight and perhaps even a ninth if things really get wild. No matter how the at-large picture pans out, nearly every team in the league has something to play for, which means that there will be no shortage of storylines to monitor this week. Let’s break down this week’s event.

West Virginia seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles begin their encore this week in Kansas City. (Nick Golden/The Daily Athenaeum)

  • The Favorite: After extending its regular season conference title streak to an unprecedented 14 seasons in a row, Kansas is once again the favorite to win this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament, alhough not overwhelmingly. It’s easy to see why most projections are looking Kansas’ way. The Jayhawks have the league’s best player/coach duo in Devonte’ Graham and Bill Self and are clicking offensively (last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State notwithstanding). Additionally, the Jayhawks will be playing right in their own backyard, motivated by the potential of capturing a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
  • Contenders: There are some valid reasons to fade Kansas, too. Counting on a thin team to win three games in as many days is challenging enough without accounting for the stiff competition it figures to face, and Texas Tech and West Virginia would love nothing more than to improve their NCAA seeding by beating the regular season champ. Stud Red Raiders guard Keenan Evans showed no ill effects over the weekend from a toe injury that hampered him in late February, and the Mountaineers’ deep rotation could go a long way toward countering the downsides of the game-per-day environment should West Virginia advance to Friday’s semifinals.

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Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2018

That was a fun regular season. Kansas won the Big 12 as predicted by, well, anyone with a pulse, but the level of drama surrounding the crown was more substantial than in any year I can remember following the league. After being picked to finish seventh in the conference standings, Texas Tech matched the Jayhawks blow for blow for the first six weeks of league play before spinning out to close the regular season. Even West Virginia, which fell out of the race earlier than anticipated, recovered nicely from its late January slide. Trae Young and Oklahoma completely lost its arc after getting tabbed as a #4 seed in the early bracket reveal, and the bottom half of the Big 12 proved why this was the best conference season by any league since such things have been measured. The fact that only 4-14 Iowa State has no hope of making the NCAA Tournament with Selection Sunday only six days away is something the conference should be very happy about.

Devonte’ Graham put Kansas on his back to lead the Jayhawks in 2017-18. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

All Big-12 Team

  • Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
  • Dean Wade, Kansas State

The coaches made the right call with their picks, but let’s be serious — this was impossible to mess up. You could have made an argument for Texas’ Mohamed Bamba over Wade up until mid-February, but the Kansas State big man was so terrific down the stretch that Bamba would’ve been hard-pressed to make up the gap even had he not missed his last two games. More on Wade in a bit.

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