2013-14 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2013

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And so it begins. The time of year where we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams finally playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With the games commencing on Friday evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2013-14 Preseason Top 25. Starting November 18, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2012-13 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas), and swung and missed on others (Kentucky, NC State, Missouri, UCLA). We promise to do better this time around.

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Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Majority Likes Kentucky – Four out of our seven pollsters are in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the other two teams that were picked first were Louisville (one #1 vote) and Michigan State (two #1 votes). It is really difficult to argue with any of the three selections, but Kentucky reigned supreme due to the star-studded recruiting class of Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson that John Calipari was able to lure to Lexington. Do not forget that Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein also return for the Wildcats. Defending national champion Louisville is once again loaded with talent, led by preseason All-American Russ Smith and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Michigan State is a squad that was helped immensely when both sophomore Gary Harris and senior Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to return to East Lansing.

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Big Ten M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 5th, 2013

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  1. The Cliff Alexander recruitment may now need to be classified as an official circus. Earlier in the day, long-time Illinois-based recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt tweeted that when Alexander announces, the “2 final caps on [the] table will be Illinois & DePaul,” effectively eliminating Kansas and Memphis from contention. After which, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com tweeted that Alexander had not in fact cut his list to these two schools. Schmidt later clarified that his tweet did not mean Alexander will necessarily cut his list but that these two schools would be there until the end. It seems with this recruitment there is a new rumor each and every day. Alexander is supremely talented, and his recruitment is certainly worth any headache it may cause John Groce and his staff. But the topsy-turvy nature of his recruitment reflects poorly on him and begs the question of whether Alexander will be as big of a distraction on the court as his recruitment has been. It’s probably in the interest of Alexander and those around him to get past this side show and back to basketball.
  2. Mitch McGary was instrumental in Michigan’s run to the National Championship game last March. After a somewhat disappointing freshman year, relative to his standing in the rankings, McGary finally put it together and averaged 14.3 PPG and 10.7 RPG during the NCAA Tournament. Though he had the opportunity to leave for the NBA, McGary decided to come back to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship and another Final Four run. On Monday, McGary was selected by the Associated Press as a Preseason First Team All-American. The departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will give McGary ample opportunity to take on a bigger role and make another leap in his development. Now that his freshman jitters are gone, McGary will need to prove he can consistently be the star that everyone thinks he can be.
  3. Apparently, Yogi Ferrell is still not over Indiana’s loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. In case you forgot, Indiana’s high-powered offense was completely neutralized by Syracuse’s zone. Ferrell went scoreless in that game and the bad taste in his mouth has driven him to address one of his biggest weaknesses from last season: shooting. Last year, Ferrell shot a very pedestrian 40.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from beyond the arc, but he has taken this offseason to fix his mechanics and hit the gym hard. We may have gotten a taste of what’s to come when he hit six three-pointers in the Hoosiers’ October 26 exhibition game. If Ferrell can be a consistent threat from deep, that will open up the driving lanes for himself and Will Sheehey. It will also give more space down low for freshman Noah Vonleh to be effective scoring on the block.
  4. Drew Crawford is one good teammate. He was on pace to graduate at the end of the spring semester and could have applied for a graduate transfer to another school. He could have easily gone to a school where he would have had the opportunity to do something he’s never done before — play in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the coach that had recruited and mentored him during his tenure at Evanston was now gone. He had every reason to go but decided to stay to help his school and teammates transition into the Chris Collins era. The current environment has both coaches and players eager to make moves to the next best situation, so what Crawford did here is refreshing. Northwestern will struggle this season and Crawford will most likely never play in the NCAA Tournament in his collegiate career, but his selflessness is to be commended and admired.
  5. Gary Harris was selected as the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year during media day. An outstanding freshman, he was hampered by a nagging shoulder injury last season and is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered back in August. If there is any concern with him this season, it’s his ongoing health. His performance during last night’s exhibition game may have alleviated some of those fears.  Harris scored 21 points and went 5-of-7 from deep. While projecting what a player will do in a season based off one exhibition game is unwise, we already know Harris is a special player and he will be in store for a special season as long as he can stay healthy.
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Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary’s Returns Guarantee No Post-National Final Hangover

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 19th, 2013

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

Compared to the gutting four-man exodus that could have been, Michigan can breathe a collective sigh relief after Thursday’s news that starting forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III will extend their college basketball careers for at least one more season. The alternative – McGary and Robinson turning their March spotlights and intriguing individual games into mid-to-late first round draft picks – would have necessitated a full-blown, revamped, freshmen-buoyed rebuilding project. Instead, the Wolverines won’t be rebuilding next season. They will be challenging, and quite possibly winning, a Big Ten championship.

Bringing back two key cogs like McGary and Robinson III gives Michigan enough firepower for a run at a Big Ten championship in 2013-14 (USA TODAY Sports).

Bringing back two key cogs like McGary and Robinson III gives Michigan enough firepower for a run at a Big Ten championship in 2013-14 (USA TODAY Sports).

But, wait, didn’t Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., two starters on Michigan’s national finalist squad, the former a consensus National Player of the Year, just declare their intentions to do the very thing we are celebrating McGary and Robinson for not doing, for entering the NBA Draft? How can Michigan possibly recover from losing two hugely important perimeter stars from its roster? Those are valid questions to ask for any team who waves goodbye to two pivotal starters, let alone the unanimously considered best player in the country. Not even in Kentucky’s annually warped recruit-draft-restock business is losing a player of Burke’s caliber, and a secondary scorer with Hardaway’s athletic talents and experience, a welcome experience.

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Morning Five: 04.18.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2013

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  1. As we mentioned yesterday Marcus Smart announced that he would return to Oklahoma State and now he will have some company as Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown also announced that they will be returning to Stillwater. We has won’t get into the debate about whether or not Smart should have left because every writer has either chimed in for it, against it, or (our personal favorite) railed against those who were for it or against it. Although they did not rise from a stage in a ridiculous ceremony held in Miami three summers ago it should be cause for celebration as the Cowboys are now legitimate Big 12 contenders. We still would not bet against Bill Self, but the Big 12 race just got a lot more interesting.
  2. The mood in Ann Arbor was not quite as festive, but the decision by Tim Hardaway Jr. to leave Michigan a year early was expected by many. We are not completely sold on Hardaway Jr. ever becoming a NBA starter, but he certainly has the requisite physical skills and a good enough outside shot that he will get some looks from NBA teams. One of the more interesting things about his game is how little it has progressed (at least in terms of his statistics) over his three years at Michigan. We don’t normally advocate players leaving school early unless they think they are guaranteed a NBA roster spot (read: are assured of being a first round pick), but Hardaway Jr. has not shown as much progression from one season to the next as you would hope and this year’s class is weak (and his family should be financially secure) so we think it is a reasonable decision.
  3. If Hardaway Jr or any other Michigan players need any advice they can always turn to team captain Josh Bartelstein, the son of NBA agent Mark Bartelstein who has a fairly impressive list of clients, Based on the advice that Josh offered for the article it sounds like he would be a pretty good place for these players to start. We are sure that plenty of other schools have alumni that offer advice to players about whether or not they should or should not go, but probably very few are able to do so through current players. It will be interesting to see if the Michigan players decide to sign with Josh’s father.
  4. Florida Gulf Coast has had one of the more unique coaching searches for a mid-major given the sudden popularity of “Dunk City”, which the city is still calling itself in press releases. Yesterday the school announced that Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley would be the school’s head coach. Dooley may not be the huge name that some people thought the school could get, but realistically an assistant at one of the top programs in the country who also has head coaching experience (with a winning record) is a solid get for a school that most people did not know existed two months ago. Dooley has a reputation as a great recruiter although you can argue that being at Kansas helps a lot in doing that, but he should have some advantages (location and a style of play that appeals to recruits if he chooses to keep it) that could help him be successful in his new job.
  5. Yesterday Cincinnati announced that it would be extending Mick Cronin‘s contract, which should not be a surprise, but we have to say we are somewhat surprised by the length of the extension: one year with the possibility of three more years. Cronin, who already has four years left on his contact, can have the extension go from one year to three years if the Bearcats in either of the next two years. Cronin certainly is deserving of an extension given his team’s performance, but we have to wonder why the school would give him such a short extension with the understanding it is planning on keeping him for at least five more years. We just don’t see the point in adding on one year at this point.
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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 8th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC Contributor and filed this preview of tonight’s game for all the marbles. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

The National Championship Game: #1 Louisville (34-5) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will have the call live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.

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After five months and 5,744 regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament games, the college basketball season comes down to one game on one night in Atlanta. Top overall seed Louisville enters the game as the favorite but by no means will this be a walk in the park. The Cardinals are in search of their third national championship this evening and their first since 1986. On the other side, Michigan is looking for its second national title, having won it all once before in 1989. It is somewhat hard to believe given the strength of the two leagues over the years but this is the first national championship game between Big East and Big Ten schools since the aforementioned Wolverines held off Seton Hall in overtime to win it all at the Kingdome in Seattle 24 years ago.

Louisville has now won 15 straight games after surviving a major scare from Wichita State on Saturday night. In fact, the Cardinals have won 18 of their past 19 games since a three game losing streak in January and the one loss was in five overtimes to Notre Dame. This game features the nation’s best defense (Louisville) and the most efficient offensive team in the land (Michigan) going head to head in what should be a terrific basketball game. For the Cardinals to win, they must attack the rim and use their defense to fuel their offense. Rick Pitino’s team is no slouch offensively (#5 in efficiency), but its offense is largely predicated off its ability to create live ball turnovers and score in transition. Louisville is lethal in transition but not great in the half court unless it attacks the basket, either with its guards off the bounce or great athletes like Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan working the baseline and the low block. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Wichita State forced Louisville into way too many jump shots for Pitino’s liking and it almost cost the Cardinals dearly. The Shockers were rattled by a series of turnovers late in the second half and lost the game because of it. Louisville’s ball pressure is the best in the country and it starts with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both play the passing lanes so well but Smith in particular is among the nation’s best defenders. After it scores, Louisville’s full court pressure takes full effect. The big question in this game will be whether the Cardinals (#2 in forcing turnovers) can turn over the Wolverines (#1 in ball protection) enough to fuel their offense. When Michigan played VCU in the round of 32, the Wolverines obliterated Shaka Smart’s “havoc.” There is, however, one major difference between VCU and Louisville. The Rams are not a great defensive team in the half court while Louisville plays the best half court defense of any team in America. Siva has to slow down Trey Burke, who picked up just about every imaginable award this week. Michigan showed just how good of a team it is by winning its semifinal game against Syracuse without its star sophomore point guard being a major factor. While it’s fair to say Michigan has never seen a defense like this all season long, Louisville hasn’t seen an offense with as many weapons as this one. When Michigan has the ball, the battle between the best offense and the best defense could be one of epic proportions.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 5th, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • Michigan point guard Trey Burke‘s postseason award tour continued Friday when he was named as the winner of the Wooden Award.
  • Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. writes on his shoes before every game to honor friends and family who have passed away.
  • Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas entered Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Florida in a tough shooting slump – he was just 2-of-16 from deep in his last four games – but the freshman found his stroke in the team’s victory over the Gators, finishing 6-of-6 from deep. With Stauskas in a groove from the three-point line, Michigan’s offense has yet another dimension entering Saturday’s game against Syracuse.
  • Throughout his 35-year coaching career, Michigan coach John Beilein has been quite meticulous in his game preparation and that has not changed this season, as the veteran coach is still a stickler for all the details.
  • Michigan senior captain Josh Bartelstein has not made much of an impact for the Wolverines on the court, but his leadership off the court has been quite significant for the youthful squad.

Syracuse

Louisville
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino is expected to be selected for enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The official announcement will come Monday at 11 A.M.
  • Is there a bit of the Big East in the way Wichita State plays defense? Louisville coach Rick Pitino thinks so. He described the Shockers defense, as “Marquette on steroids.”
  • Louisville sophomore forward Wayne Blackshear was named the recipient of the Elite 89 Award for the 2013 Final Four. The Elite 89 Award is presented to the player with the highest-cumulative grade point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships.
  • Former Louisville assistant coach Ralph Willard will be collecting a dinner from Cardinals coach Rick Pitino in the future, as Pitino once wagered a meal with Willard that dynamic guard Russ Smith will never be a prime time player for Louisville.
  • Louisville swingman Luke Hancock transferred to the program from George Mason after Jim Larranaga was hired by Miami in 2011. Hancock’s college career was almost entirely different, as Larranaga almost passed on offering a scholarship to him.

Wichita State

  • In the current culture of conference realignment in collegiate athletics, Wichita State has remained the rock of the Missouri Valley Conference.
  • Before arriving in Wichita, Shockers coach Gregg Marshall had a very successful tenure as the head coach at Winthrop. Marshall’s success at Winthrop led to him getting the Wichita State job and the rest has been history.
  • Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk writes that Wichita State will benefit from the absence of Louisville guard Kevin Ware. With Ware sidelined, Louisville will have to turn to seldom-used walk-on Tim Henderson to play a much bigger role in Saturday’s game.
  • Wichita State forward Carl Hall has overcome a heart problem, known as neurocardiogenic syncope, to become a standout on the Shockers’ run to the Final Four.
  • Wichita State guard Ron Baker is from the small town of Scott City, Kansas. While Baker is still a small-town kid, his impact on the Shockers during their tournament run has been quite large.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 5th, 2013

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Two games to get to Monday night… here are our breakdowns.

#1 Louisville vs. #9 Wichita State – National Semifinal (at Atlanta, GA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

Pitino is Inching Closer to His Second Title (AP)

Pitino is Inching Closer to His Second Title (AP)

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top – Louisville is the heavy favorite. Vegas calls them a 10-point favorite and KenPom.com agrees. They’re on a 14-game winning streak and have won those games by an average of 18 points. In a season where for the most part there has been no clear-cut favorite all year long, we certainly have a clear-cut favorite now. If some team other than the Cardinals are cutting down the nets on Monday night, it will be a surprise. So, with that said, let’s ask how Wichita State can keep this game close? First, it begins with playing the type of defense it has played in the tournament so far (0.94 PPP allowed in their four games). In particular, the Shockers have caused trouble for some big-time guards, limiting Tray Woodall of Pitt to what he called his worst game ever, harassing Kevin Pangos into 6-of-17 shooting, holding La Salle’s perimeter players to a combined 14-of-47 shooting, and making Aaron Craft a non-factor offensively. If guys like Malcolm Armstead, Tekele Cotton, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker can turn in a similar performance and limit potentially erratic guards like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva (who, for instance, in Louisville’s last loss, combined to shoot just 5-of-25 from the field in a five-overtime loss) to poor shooting nights, that is step one for the Shockers.

Step two is having the Shocker “big” guys, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall (both just 6’8”), stay out of foul trouble and stay effective against the likes of Gorgui Dieng inside. Hall and Early have both been foul prone this season, but on a team without a ton of skilled depth up front, Gregg Marshall will need the services of those two for the bulk of the game. But not only are the Cardinals a potent offensive team, they are the nation’s best defensive team – by a long shot. In the KenPom era (dating back to 2003), they’re the only team with an adjusted defensive rating below 82.0, essentially equivalent to allowing less than 0.82 points per possession. And while Wichita has had good success offensively in this tournament (1.09 PPP), they are about to face a whole different animal. The good news is, they just got done withstanding the pressure defense of Craft, one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders. The bad news is, Smith is even better. And he’s paired with Siva who is also one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders. And should Wichita escape the perimeter pressure and get the ball inside, either on the bounce or on the pass, there’s Dieng waiting for them as a potent shot-blocker. For Wichita to have success against that defense, they’ll need to have guards like Baker, Armstead and VanVleet to connect from deep, and they’ll need Early to be able to bring his man out of the middle and knock down some perimeter shots as well, essentially softening up the Cardinal interior for exploitation later in the game.

One bit of good news for the Shockers, with Dieng attempting to block almost every shot in the paint, the Cards don’t do a great job cleaning the defensive glass, while the Shockers are among the best in the nation at getting on the offensive boards; that trend will also have to continue for the Shockers to have a chance. So, those are a whole lot of ifs and buts. And we haven’t even mentioned potent Louisville weapons like Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear. The fact is, it is going to take a major confluence of events for the Shockers to stick around in this game. They’ve shown that they not only get great coaching, but they take that coaching well. And, as always, they’re going to play angry, so if you look up at the final media timeout and see the Shockers in the ball game, don’t be, well, shocked. But more likely the talent advantage that the Cardinals have slowly but surely wears Wichita down and Rick Pitino advances to his third national championship game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 4th, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • A report broke Thursday morning that Wolverines guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft when their season comes to an end.
  • A great profile by Rod Beard of the Detroit News on the decisive leadership of Trey Burke. Burke’s leadership on and off the court has helped lead Michigan to its first Final Four in 20 years.
  • Michigan forward Mitch McGary has lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season and the now lighter freshman has been a key component of the team that is set to make its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
  • On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beilein refused to discuss the report that his guards Burke and Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft.
  • Michigan freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines gambled and gave him a late scholarship offer. That gamble has paid off majorly for the Wolverines, as Albrecht has developed into a very capable back-up to star guard Trey Burke.

Syracuse

  • Bud Polquin of Syracuse.com writes that it is coach Jim Boeheim‘s fourth Final Four appearance and it is probably not his last.
  • A lot has been made about rumors that this could possibly be Jim Boeheim‘s final season at Syracuse, but the veteran coach made known that “he fully intends to coach Syracuse in the ACC.” 
  • The path Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams has taken in his Orange career to the Final Four is quite similar to the path former Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims took to the 1996 Final Four.
  • Syracuse has decided that its motto for the week is to become legendary.
  • It is possible that Syracuse forward C.J. Fair will declare for the NBA Draft following the end of the season, but the junior is just focused on playing in the Final Four right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Profiles In-Depth: Michigan Wolverines

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 3rd, 2013

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

The last team remaining from the best conference in the country quietly enters the Final Four with much the same youthful construction of last season’s Kentucky Wildcats. Don’t believe it? True story: Michigan starts three freshman – forwards Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary – a sophomore (Trey Burke) and a junior (Tim Hardaway Jr). It is the youngest team left in this NCAA Tournament and, like Kentucky, heavily relies on three first-year stars. This weekend, that youth, the legs that power the nation’s No.1 offense, will meet a defense unlike any it has seen all season. The Wolverines have already eliminated #5 seed VCU, #1 seed Kansas and #3 seed Florida, with each game presenting a different challenge from the previous. Syracuse offers something completely unique – a hellacious 2-3 zone defense operating at full force. So let’s peel back the curtains and explore whether Michigan can survive Saturday’s semifinal and, if so, whether a follow-up win in the national championship is in the offing.

(Also feel free to revisit Tuesday’s Final Four team du jour: Wichita State)

Pre-Tournament Capsule. From November to January, everything about Michigan suggested the bullish preseason predictions – that Michigan was a top-five team, that Trey Burke was an All-American, that John Beilein’s perimeter-oriented system would flourish with so much talent at his disposal – were rooted more in reality than typical overzealous summer conjecture. The Wolverines got out to a 16-0 start, claiming non-conference wins over Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Arkansas, and entered a January 13 game at Ohio State with the No. 2 ranking and all the signs of a true Big Ten title contender. The Wolverines fell behind early and never made it back, and after following up the OSU loss with four straight wins, lost three of their next four during a brutal four-game stretch that included games at Indiana, home against Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan State.

But for a rocky scheduling patch in early February, Michigan ran into few problems it couldn't handle in the regular season (Getty Images).

But for a rocky scheduling patch in early February, Michigan ran into few problems it couldn’t handle in the regular season (Getty Images).

The constant grind of Big Ten competition – from the raucous arenas to the physicality of the play to the demanding mental and physical toll of a 40-minute contest against a multitude of top-10 teams – left Michigan tied for fourth at the end of regular season play. The early sizzle of the Wolverines’ high-powered offense and freshman star power was fading fast, and a convincing nine-point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament only hammered home the idea that Michigan was probably still too young and inexperienced to cause any serious damage in an NCAA Tournament setting.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.03.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 3rd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • Michigan freshman forward Mitch McGary, who has exploded onto the scene in the NCAA Tournament, said Tuesday that he will return to the Wolverines for his sophomore season.
  • The Wolverines are basking in their “rock star status” around Ann Arbor as they prepare for this weekend’s Final Four.
  • To replicate the challenges of the length of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, coach John Beilein is having reserve forwards Jon HorfordBlake McLimas, and Jordan Morgan challenge the Wolverines’ jump shooters during practice this week.
  • Very interesting story from Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports about how coach John Beilein is a descendant of the soldiers who inspired the film, Saving Private Ryan.
  • During last summer’s workouts, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scared his teammates with his intensity and his relentlessness helped set the tone for the team’s successful run through the season and into the Final Four.

Syracuse

  • Jim Boeheim is well-known for his no-nonsense approach to coaching and that approach has served him well as he has the Orange back in the Final Four for the first time since 2003.
  • The Orange’s 2-3 zone has successfully stifled its opposition due to the fact that they have a height advantage at every position. Guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams are 6’4″ and 6’6″, respectively, and that gives them a height advantage over nearly every backcourt they play.
  • Jim Boeheim famously blew up at ESPN‘s Andy Katz after a loss to UConn in February, but the coach is back on speaking terms with Katz and he even appeared on Katz’s ESPNU show Tuesday.
  • Forward Baye Moussa Keita does not fill up the stat sheet for the Orange on the offensive end of the court, but he has emerged as a key cog in the team’s stingy zone defense.
  • USC made waves when it announced late Monday night that it had hired Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield to fill its coaching vacancy. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was a bit perturbed by the move, saying that his associate head coach Mike Hopkins, who interviewed for the position, was by far the best candidate for the job.
 Louisville
  • Guard Russ Smith is turning in an historic NCAA Tournament. The junior is averaging 26 points per game and is shooting an impressive 54.1% from the field.
  • Injured guard Kevin Ware was released from an Indianapolis hospital Tuesday afternoon. His first stop following his release was to the team’s practice facility to return the Midwest Regional trophy coach Rick Pitino had left with him in his hospital room.
  • The positive attitude that Kevin Ware has shown in the face of his serious injury has earned him worldwide support from a multitude of people.
  • With Ware sidelined, coach Rick Pitino is mulling the possibility of shifting small forwards Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock to the backcourt in some defensive situations for Saturday’s game against Wichita State.
  • Louisville mayor Greg Fischer declared Friday as Cardinal Red Day in Louisville to honor the school’s men’s and women’s Final Four teams.

Wichita State

  • Redshirt freshman guard Ron Baker has taken an improbable journey from a lightly-recruited prospect to a walk-on to a key player in the Shockers’ unexpected run to the Final Four.
  • Coach Gregg Marshall serves as a reminder that coaches can have a “good life” away from the attention that coaching in a high-major conference brings.
  • With the team’s run to the Final Four, the players are becoming much more comfortable with all the media attention that is being levied on the squad.
  • After transferring from Oregon, guard Malcolm Armstead had to pay his own way at Wichita State and he did this by detailing cars for an area car dealership.
  • Gregg Marshall confirmed Wednesday that UCLA had contacted his representative last week, wanting to talk to the coach about the then-vacant coaching job.
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John Beilein Has Proven That He is a Great Players’ Coach

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 3rd, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

It is certainly possible that Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense could confuse the Michigan freshmen, meaning that the Wolverines may end their great season with just a Final Four appearance on Saturday. In the age of the 24-hour sports news cycle, most of the basketball pundits will be quick to point out that John Beilein has never beaten Syracuse during his time at West Virginia and it will likely raise discussions about his ability to coach on the biggest stage against the Hall of Famer. But before we get to the Final Four, let’s take a few moments to recognize the Michigan head man for his performance this season. Regardless of the result on Saturday, Beilein has not only proven that he is one of the best coaches in the nation, but more importantly, he has proven that he trusts his players and can incorporate their diverse skills into his offensive sets to field a competitive team. The following are two reasons why Beilein deserves to be respected as a players’ coach.

John Beilein's track record in Michigan shows that he can adapt quickly to the personnel on his team.

John Beilein’s track record in Michigan shows that he can adapt quickly to the personnel on his team.

  • He handled each of his freshmen in a different but effective manner. Recruiting a top-15 freshman class does not guarantee success because the coach needs to earnestly handle expectations about playing time and keep his talented players satisfied throughout the season. Kentucky’s John Calipari has somehow mastered this art of coaching freshmen but not every coach knows how to effectively use his available talent. Every one of Michigan’s “fresh five” is unique and Beilein did an excellent job in building a cohesive team by making each a key contributor this season. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III were supposed to be the studs from this class but few expected Nik Stauskas to take off offensively the way he did. As soon as Beilein recognized Stauskas’ strengths as not just a three-point shooter, but also as an effective ball-handler in the half-court, he did not hesitate to increase his playing time in December. Robinson’s skill set is very similar to that of Tim Hardaway Jr. because both have the athleticism to attack the basket and shoot from beyond the arc. Beilein did an excellent job of handling both of their expectations about roles in the offense and neither showed any outward sign of frustration. McGary’s development over the course of the season has been well-documented but Beilein kept him motivated in practice and once he noticed that his confidence began to grow in February, he immediately changed his offensive sets to include McGary’s strengths in the pick-and-roll with Trey Burke. Jordan Morgan’s injury also paved the path for McGary’s minutes but once Morgan came back into the rotation, the head coach stuck with the freshman, which has clearly paid off during the NCAA Tournament. Most old-school coaches may have gone back to the more experienced player in that situation, but Beilein knew something that most of us didn’t because McGary has played lights out in March. Even the other freshman, Caris Lavert and Spike Albrecht, played just enough minutes over the past few weeks to be in a position to contribute whenever needed. Every one of the freshmen has played a key role at some point during the season and it proves that Beilein knows how to handle different players with different skills. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 2nd, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Louisville

  • Many people around the country are very surprised that Wichita State has advanced to the Final Four, but Louisville coach Rick Pitino is not one of them. “I picked Wichita State to go to the Final Four,” Pitino said Monday during a conference call.
  • Louisville junior guard Russ Smith was named a third team All-America selection by the Associated Press.
  • When Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered his horrific compound fracture Sunday, one teammate rushed to be by his side as he laid on the court writhing in pain; that teammate was swingman Luke Hancock.
  • With the injury to guard Kevin Ware, Louisville’s backcourt depth took a bit of a hit. Walk-on Tim Henderson will be called upon to play increased minutes in Ware’s absence and Cardinals coach Rick Pitino expects him to step up in his unexpected role.
  • The injury to Ware definitely has caused and will continue to cause some adversity for Louisville, but as Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports explains, this injury is not the worst adversity head coach Rick Pitino has had to handle.

Wichita State

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