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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Set Your TiVo: 02.08.12 – Rivalry Week Headline Night

Posted by EJacoby on February 8th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Here we go, folks. Get ready for one of the very best nights of the college basketball regular season, including two 5-star showdowns. The best rivalry in the sport highlights this slate. We absolutely guarantee some great basketball tonight. Let’s get into the breakdowns:

#7 Kansas at #6 Baylor – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (*****)

Who's Going to Stop Thomas Robinson Tonight for Baylor? (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

  • Kansas has lost their last two road games at Iowa State and Missouri despite putting up a great fight in both efforts. Tonight is another opportunity to win a crucial conference road game against a team who they will be competing with for the Big 12 title. They will be looking for the season sweep of Baylor after already thrashing the Bears at home back on January 16. In order to do so, the play of Tyshawn Taylor might be the key. He’s been terrific recently at 18.5 points and 6.5 assists in those two road environments, but late-game turnovers continue to be his bugaboo. Eliminating a mistake or two at the end of the game can be the difference between a win and a loss, especially in this one with such physical front lines that may cancel each other out and leave the guards to decide this one. Along those lines, Thomas Robinson will be defended by any number of physical forwards, but that didn’t stop him from going for 27/14 in the first meeting. Nobody can shut him down when he is on. For Kansas to have an advantage, someone else needs to step up and make big shots, whether it is Conner Teahan, Travis Releford, or Elijah Johnson. They have lacked that unsung hero in road games thus far.
  • It doesn’t feel like Baylor is playing very well right now, yet their talent and depth has continued to carry them through the Big 12 slate with just two losses to top competition. Tonight is a must-win at home to avenge the earlier loss to Kansas and to keep themselves alive in the regular season title hunt. The Bears allow just 39.6% field-goal shooting on the season and will do everything in their power to contain Robinson from going off. Quincy Acy, a stellar defender (2.3 BPG), must have a great game in order to do that. Baylor has more overall scoring talent and will have the advantage if Quincy Miller and Perry Jones III just play to their abilities. At 1.12 points per possession during Big 12 play, Baylor leads the conference in offensive efficiency, but the Kansas defense is the best that they will face. Just like Kansas needs Taylor to step up late, pay attention to how Pierre Jackson performs in this game, the guard who has made nearly all of their big shots this season.
  • This game will be televised on the Deuce, but it’s just as spectacular of a matchup as the one being played simultaneously on ESPN. Baylor is just a two-point favorite at home, as we just don’t know exactly which Bears players will show up in big games. It seems like Kansas can be trusted to play well in this game, but do they have enough impact players to get the road win? I’m predicting a Baylor win by about four to six points as their pieces overwhelm Kansas by the end of the night.

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Checking In On… The Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Jayhawks Tumble In Ames: Kansas lost its first conference game, losing 74-62 to Iowa State in Ames. Kansas didn’t make many shots and sent the Cyclones to the foul line, but what will undoubtedly make Bill Self the angriest is the general lack of effort. Kansas had the second-lowest offensive rebound rate of Self’s tenure, and there were multiple times when a lone Cyclone got a loose ball despite three Jayhawks being around it. It certainly won’t be a fun couple of practices for the Jayhawks this week as they get prepped for Missouri.
  • Nash Bash: Like Kansas, Missouri was bitten by the upset bug, losing 79-72 in Stillwater. LeBryan Nash had by far the best game of his college career, pouring in 27 points on 12-18 shooting (3-4 from three), and the Cowboys held Missouri to just 4-19 shooting from distance. Missouri probably has the best offense in the country, but it is so dependent on jump shots that when they have an off night in that department, they seem to be a bit more vulnerable to an upset than the best offense in the country should be.
  • White Shows His Stripes: ESPN had a very nice story on Iowa State forward Royce White, highlighting some of the issues he has had in his life with anxiety. White had numerous criminal and other behavior issues while at Minnesota and while his anxiety should not be used as a blanket excuse, it is yet another caution that we as fans should not make our minds up about a player’s character without knowing the full story.

After Spinning His Wheels For Most Of The Season, LeBryan Nash Raised The Roof In Stillwater. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (17-4, 7-1): The Jayhawks remain in first in the rankings due to their loss being “better” than Missouri’s. They are just now hitting the meat of their conference schedule, with three of their next five games on the road at Missouri, Baylor, and Kansas State. Winning all three of them will all but lock up the conference title for Kansas, but if they play like they did in Ames they will be lucky to win one of them, and their streak of Big 12 titles could be over.
  2. Missouri (17-2, 4-1): The Tigers, as I mentioned above, rebounded nearly half of their misses at Baylor over the weekend and shot 68% from two, with Ricardo Ratliffe scoring 27 points on 11-14 shooting.  All season, they have struggled rebounding and at defending the two-point shot, so questions about how they will react when faced with size in the tournament are still valid, but they answered some of those questions on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.16.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The first official “Big Monday” of the year kicks off in a big way with four games on ESPN starting at 3:30 PM EST. We have previewed the two big ones below. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

#17 Louisville at #21 Marquette – 3:30 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • Marquette has struggled in the first half of its last three games, but it should look to come out with great energy against Louisville, an old Conference USA rival that moved to the Big East with Marquette in 2005. The Golden Eagles have won two straight games with strong second half efforts, but the key in this game will be jumping on the Cardinals from the start. Marquette likely won’t be able to score easily against Louisville’s #12 defense but Marquette can create advantages in other areas. Look for Marquette to push the pace and try to score in transition. The Golden Eagles will likely be out-rebounded so a significant turnover margin in their favor could propel them to a lot of points in transition. Louisville ranks #224 in defensive free throw rate and Marquette shoots 70.5% from the charity stripe. Creating turnovers and getting to the line will take care of any disadvantage on the glass. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder do the bulk of the offensive work for the home squad, which averages nine steals per game.
  • The Cardinals really struggle to shoot the basketball as they are ranked #137 in offensive efficiency. To win this game on the road, Louisville will have to put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season along with crashing the offensive glass when it has the ball. With Gorgui Dieng inside and a number of guards that aren’t afraid to rebound, Rick Pitino’s team has the toughness needed to get second chances around the bucket. It would be nice for the Cardinals if Russ Smith had another game like the 25-point performance on Saturday against DePaul. Smith has been inconsistent, but when he scores he really goes off. A better offensive game from Peyton Sivawould significantly help Louisville’s chances as well. He hasn’t been all that impressive in Big East play, but a smart game from their point guard will make Louisville much tougher to beat. If the Cardinals aren’t turning the ball over, they can control the pace and make it harder for Marquette to score.

    Can Rick Pitino's Team Regroup After A Tough Stretch?

  • Louisville has won six of the past seven games in this series, but may be without its leading scorer, Kyle Kuric. He sprained an ankle last week in practice and his status is questionable for today’s game. If he plays, Louisville won’t have to rely as heavily on the Smith’s for offensive production. In addition to DJO and Crowder, Buzz Williams needs a third scorer to emerge on a consistent basis. Todd Mayo can be that guy, shooting 48% in Marquette’s wins and only 33% in its losses. When Mayo and/or Vander Blue are contributing, the Golden Eagles are one of the tougher teams in America to beat. A smart game plan by Louisville would be to go after those two defensively and try to prevent them from getting touches. Johnson-Odom and Crowder will get their points, but shutting down Marquette’s ancillary pieces is the key to beating them. Louisville was blown out at Providence last week but we expect a better showing this time. Marquette is the favorite, but Louisville could make this a very close game.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.10.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 10th, 2012

  1. Frank Martin may be the most visibly emotional coach in college basketball, but he’s trying to keep his Wildcats grounded as they prepare for tonight’s matchup with undefeated Baylor at Bramlage Coliseum. Martin’s approach makes perfect sense– you never want to get too high or too low during the course of the season. But it’d be silly to think that the emotion of a revved-up home crowd in Manhattan won’t be a factor in this game. BU better be ready to match KSU’s intensity on all levels this evening.
  2. Thomas Robinson has made most of the headlines this season for Kansas, and he’s also won most of the awards. But Travis Releford earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors this week after a double-double against Kansas State. In that blowout victory, Releford scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and he also frustrated KSU leading scorer Rodney McGruder on the defensive end. Releford is often forgotten on this KU team, but he’s an important piece of Bill Self‘s attack. He’s finally at the point in his career where he can be a major contributor, and last week was an example of what he can offer.
  3. Iowa State forward Royce White is a terrific basketball player. And in one of the more absurd quotes of the 2011-12 college basketball season, Frank Haith even happens to think “he’s like Magic Johnson.” The Missouri coach, who’s preparing to play ISU on Wednesday, isn’t completely off base in the “point-forward” comparison. White is a big man with a lot of guard skills, and he can handle the basketball and make plays with the ball in his hands. But even White thinks Haith is exagerrating… just a tad. “That is outrageous,” White said. “I am nothing like Magic Johnson.”
  4. Even though Haith and Missouri lost its first game of the season at Kansas State on Saturday, it still finds itself in the Top 10 of the polls this week. It’s not time for the Tigers to hit the panic button, but they have to figure out how to play with some energy on the road. As Haith said, feeding off each other is “something you have to be able to do on the road.” Facing the upstart Cyclones on Wednesday, MU will need to flip some sort of switch to get its season back on track. Otherwise, it could be another long winter of Big 12 road losses.
  5. Oklahoma suffered a road loss in its own state on Monday, shooting 32% in Stillwater in a loss to Oklahoma State. In the aftermath of the Bedlam meltdown, coach Lon Kruger criticized his team’s offensive efficiency. Sure, his team hasn’t shot the ball well, but it’s not simply because of a lack of luck, as Kruger explained. He’s still looking for better ball movement, and against a stout OSU defense, that did not happen on Monday night. Although the Cowboys’ offense has been quite concerning this year, it’s easy to overlook how solid they’ve been defensively. Last night, half-court defense was a major plus for Travis Ford‘s team.
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Checking In On… The Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Missouri played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, and got dominated in a tough road environment losing by 16 at Kansas State. All year long people, questioned whether the Tigers had the toughness inside to be one of the elite teams in the country. In Manhattan they grabbed only 21% of their available offensive rebounds and allowed the Wildcats an offensive rebounding rate north of 40%. What’s more, 6’3” Marcus Denmon was the team’s leading rebounder in the game.
  • Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners sprinted out to a 10-2 record outside of league play, but reality set in a bit for the Sooners as Big 12 play started, losing 87-49 at Missouri and 72-61 at home against Kansas. Oklahoma is getting 18 points per game from Steven Pledger but only have two other players scoring over 8.5 per contest. They are also struggling defensively, allowing just under a point per possession this year against a fairly soft schedule.
  • The Big 12 has been much better than expected this year as they are ranked second according to the Pomeroy rankings. The Big 12 has five teams in the top 30, which is second only to the Big 10 who has 6. Even the Big East, with 16 teams, has only five. It has been the five teams (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, and Texas) that I expected to carry the load, but it nonetheless has been impressive what the Big 12 has done this year.

McGruder & The Wildcats Took Down The Tigers After Losing At Allen Fieldhouse. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Baylor (15-0, 2-0): Baylor almost suffered a potential Big 12 title-killing defeat this weekend, beating Texas Tech by only 13 on Saturday, pulling away late. The Bears turned it over 14 times in a 64 possession game, which is right in line with their season average. If their turnover rate, which ranks 235th nationally, doesn’t improve, I can’t see them competing for the Big 12 title, especially because their quality of competition will increase.
  2. Kansas (12-3, 2-0): The Jayhawks jumped out to a big lead against rival Kansas State and, though it got close in the second half, they managed to win by 18 points, a win that looked even better after what Kansas State did to Missouri. Thomas Robinson continues to be fantastic, with a 15/14 effort against the Wildcats, but the Jayhawks’ best player has been someone most fans haven’t heard much from. More on him later. Read the rest of this entry »
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Night Line: Kansas’ Offensive Weaknesses Exposed in Surprise Loss to Davidson

Posted by EJacoby on December 20th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Despite having two losses, Kansas had earned the right to be ranked No. 13 this week, thanks to some great wins (Ohio State, Georgetown, Long Beach State to name a few) and a consistent effort that’s a staple of Bill Self‘s teams. But Monday night’s loss to Davidson at the Sprint Center in Kansas City  exposed some major offensive flaws for this team that should be concerning as they head into Big 12 play. The Jayhawks saw just three players —Thomas RobinsonTyshawn Taylor, and Elijah Johnson — score in double figures, which is becoming a common theme for a team that doesn’t have much scoring prowess elsewhere. And with five more turnovers tonight, the senior point guard Taylor is up to 4.4 per game, a rate that is second worst in the entire country of qualifying players. This is not the same KU offensive juggernaut of old, and the Jayhawks’ run of consecutive Big 12 regular season championships (now at seven years) appears in jeopardy.

Davidson Controlled the Game Against Kansas on Monday (AP/O. Wagner)

The Jayhawks lost 65.4% of their scoring from last year’s 35-win team, including three early-entry NBA draft picks. That cause for concern finally reared its ugly head in Monday’s 80-74 defeat against the Wildcats, a 6-3 team coming off a 23-point loss at Charlotte. The Jayhawks had trouble keeping up with Davidson’s efficient offense, a problem that KU will no doubt have again going forward. The trio of Robinson, Taylor, and Johnson are the only three players that average in double figures for Kansas, with Robinson leading the way at 18.1 points per night. Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the other two starters, are strong defensive players but each scores about eight points per game and have shown limited offensive games. Kansas teams are used to being loaded with dynamic young players off the bench, but that’s not the case this year. The Jayhawks managed just six bench points on Monday, all of them from Connor Teahan‘s pair of made three-point shots. Outside of his 7.4 points per game, which comes mainly from the outside, no other bench player scores more than 4.6 points per night or has any defined role in the offense.

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Checking In On… the Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2011

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Kansas scored a huge win over Ohio State on Saturday. One big difference was accuracy behind the arc as the Jayhawks shot 53% from three while the Buckeyes shot just over 29%. The other key was the great defense Travis Releford displayed while guarding William Buford, limiting him to a paltry 8-23 from the field. Thomas Robinson scored 21 points on 77.8% shooting despite rumors that he was battling the flu, and Tyshawn Taylor had a career high 13 assists – against one of the best defenders in the country – all while playing with a torn meniscus.

Tyshawn Taylor Went Under The Knife Sunday, But With Finals Week And A Package Of Cupcakes On The Docket, Kansas Should Be Just Fine With Him On The Mend (Danny Medley, US Presswire)

  • Missouri keeps rolling, beating Villanova in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Navy on Saturday. They are currently favored by Ken Pomeroy in every game but two remaining on their schedule, and while I don’t think it will happen, there is at least a chance that they will be 22-0 on February 4 for perhaps the last border showdown ever with Kansas in Columbia. Entering this week, they are currently ranked in the top 15 nationally in the following offensive categories: adjusted efficiency, effective FG%, turnover rate, three-point percentage, two-point percentage and free throw percentage. There were a lot of questions aboutFrank Haith when he was hired, but for now, he seems to have passed the test.
  • Khris Middleton made his return to the Texas A&M lineup this weekend, scoring 24 points on 8-14 shooting (2-5 from three) and grabbing six rebounds. With Texas A&M struggling offensively despite starting the season 8-1, Middleton is just the medicine they need. And with the team being extremely effective defensively so far, perhaps the Aggies will prove to be Big 12 title contenders yet.

Power Rankings

  1. Missouri (9-0) – The Tigers are fantastic offensively as I noted above, but they have struggled a bit lately on the defensive end. They allowed Villanova to score over a point per trip and they are down to 41st nationally in forcing turnovers (though if the season ended today, it would be right in line with their rate last year, when they finished ninth nationally). They’ll have two cupcakes to practice against before a big rivalry matchup with Illinois on December 22. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.09.11 to 12.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It is road test Saturday as Kentucky and Ohio State face strong tests in Bloomington and Lawrence while a fierce intra-city rivalry plays out on the hardwood in Cincinnati. Also, Duke faces a challenge from Washington at MSG while Wisconsin and Gonzaga look to get back on the right track on their home floors. [Editor’s Note: There will be no Set Your TiVo on Monday due to the barren nature of that night’s schedule as most schools transition into finals week. We will resume on Tuesday.]

#6 Duke vs. Washington (at New York, NY) – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (***)

Duke is Back at MSG For Another Great Game (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

  • Duke returns to Madison Square Garden for the second time this year to take on a Washington team that also will be playing its second game in the building after a thrilling game against Marquette on Tuesday night. This game will be up-tempo and you can expect guard-heavy Duke to try to take advantage of Washington’s inability to defend the three-point shot. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly can all knock down the triple at a high rate and they’re the reasons why the Blue Devils rank #19 in that department. They’ll be shooting against a Huskies defense that ranks a paltry #262 (37.1%) against the trifecta. The Huskies used a zone at times against Marquette earlier this week. That may be effective at stopping Duke inside, but the Blue Devil guards can shoot right over it. If Lorenzo Romar goes man-to-man, his team will have to fight its way through the tremendous screening action that is a huge part of Duke’s offense, allowing shooters to get open with ease. If Duke knocks down its threes, it’ll be a long early afternoon for Washington.
  • The defensive matchups don’t look good for Washington, so you would have to think the Huskies will need to put up a lot of points in order to win. They certainly can do that against Duke’s perimeter defense, but the key will be Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox making a bunch of threes to offset the barrage that may come from the Duke shooters. Washington has the height and athleticism necessary to neutralize and even take advantage of Duke in the paint with Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant which will force the Blue Devils to make shots. Offensively, UW’s guards have to be able to penetrate to open up some outside shots while getting N’Diaye and Gant some easy buckets around the rim. That means Abdul Gaddy and (especially) Tony Wroten can’t turn the ball over. The freshman is certainly talented but he turns it over more than four times per game.
  • This is a big chance for Washington (4-3) to snag a crucial victory with hardly anything of note left on its non-conference schedule. Washington must rebound the basketball and push the pace as much as possible. The Huskies do a very good job on the boards, outrebounding Duke by an average of 10 RPG coming into the game. The Huskies need to be tough around the basket on both ends of the floor and should not be afraid to foul Mason Plumlee when he receives the ball in the post. Plumlee is a 42.3% foul shooter and should be in for a battle around the basket. While Washington may not be able to defend the three-ball straight up, the Huskies’ length and athleticism has the potential to bother Duke’s guards. Rivers can break down a defense at will but Curry is susceptible to shaky ballhanding and turnovers. If Washington can rattle Curry and put points on the board, they’ll be in the game for the long haul. We’re looking for a closer than expected game but still have to favor the Blue Devils because of their three-point shooting and the partisan crowd sure to fill Madison Square Garden.

Cincinnati @ #7 Xavier – 12:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • The Crosstown Shootout is one of the perennially underrated rivalries in the game. While the teams aren’t always great, the basketball is intense between two schools that don’t particularly care for one another. Xavier is the better team but can’t afford to take the Bearcats lightly. The Musketeers needed second half rallies to defeat Vanderbilt and Purdue before going on the road and winning at Butler this past Wednesday. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons do most of the work for this team but the X-men will need an interior presence against Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates. Gates is a load inside but Kenny Frease should be able to match up with him, at least on the defensive end. If Chris Mack’s squad can limit Gates, who is struggling with only 15 total points scored in his last two games, Xavier will be well on its way to a win at the Cintas Center.
  • Cincinnati plays terrific defense but Mick Cronin’s team really struggles to score. The Bearcats have a stunning lack of depth for a team that is supposed to contend for an upper tier finish in the Big East. Since it is putting up only 64 PPG, Cincinnati has to win games with its defense. The good news is Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon can hit from deep with some level of consistency but they’ll face their toughest test to date against a Xavier defense allowing only 25.5% shooting from the three-point line. If the shots don’t fall, Cincinnati doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially if Gates continues his lackluster play of late. To win, the Bearcats must shoot well but they also have to control the glass and the pace of the game. Holloway loves to push the ball, penetrate and get to the line where he’s an 86.2% shooter. He averages nearly ten free throw attempts per game and it’s vital that Cincinnati keep him off the charity stripe if it is to win.
  • These teams are similar with regards to their defense and toughness but Xavier is a more talented and deeper version of Cincinnati. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, it’s hard to see the Musketeers dropping this game. For the Bearcats to have a chance to pull it out, Gates has to be the player he was towards the end of last season when he was putting up 20+ points a night. In addition, Cashmere Wright can’t be turning the ball over at the rate (3.3 per game) he has so far this season. We may be making a mistake since it is a rivalry game, but Xavier by 10-15 points seems like a good bet.
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Set Your TiVo: 11.23.11

Posted by bmulvihill on November 23rd, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

If you’re sad the Maui Invitational is coming to an end today, fear not as another pre-season tourney is getting started in New York City.  The NIT Season Tip-Off gets going with some interesting power conference match-ups.  Just don’t forget to catch the late night Maui championship between two of the heaviest heavyweights in the land.  It should be a fun night of hoops on Thanksgiving Eve.

Bill Self Will Need to Figure Out a Way to Stop a Red Hot Duke Team in the Maui Invitational Championship

Oklahoma State vs. Stanford – 7 PM EST on ESPN2 HD (**)

  • Oklahoma State brings a deep squad into the game with ten players averaging double-digit minutes.  From a depth standpoint, they match-up well against a Cardinal team that also has ten players averaging double-digit minutes. Even with a deep bench, the play of one guy, freshman guard Le’Bryan Nash, may dictate how the Cowboys perform not only in this contest but throughout the season. He is going to have to pick-up his play against Stanford however as he is only shooting 33% from the field. The entire team is shooting under 50% for the season, which should be a major concern for coach Travis Ford. If his team cannot improve their shooting against Stanford, the Cowboys will be leaving Madison Square Garden with a loss.
  • Much like Oklahoma State, the Cardinal have not faced many tough defenses this season. However, they are capitalizing on the situation and making 57.5% of their two-point shots. Look for coach Johnny Dawkins to bring size off his bench to take advantage of Oklahoma State’s lack of height. The Cowboys will have to counter with 6’11” center Phillip Jurick to maintain control of the paint. If Stanford can continue its hot shooting in the paint and take advantage of the size on their bench, they can beat Oklahoma State.
  • Production from the bench will be the key factor in determining the outcome of this game. Both teams get a significant amount of support from their benches. The team with more points off the bench should win. Also, keep an eye on free throws. Both teams are shooting below 65% on the season. A few made free throws down the stretch could make a huge difference in what looks like a close contest between two mid-pack, major conference teams.

#5 Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech – 9:30PM EST on ESPN2 HD (***)

  • Syracuse looks to be running on all cylinders through four games this season. The competition has not been difficult, but they have blown out each team. Their length and athleticism has led to an impressive start on defense, as they lead the country in block shot percentage and rank seventh in turnover percentage. Virginia Tech has to be very cognizant of turnovers against the Orange because the Hokies have been prone to coughing the ball up so far this season. The long arms of Jim Boeheim’s team will create all kinds of issues for Va Tech not only on defense, but also on the offensive boards.
  • The Hokies have playing solid basketball thus far. Syracuse will be their toughest test of the season though. Seth Greenburg’s team is not a short team by any standard so it will be interesting to see how it matches up against the Syracuse length both on offense and defense. Interestingly, Virginia Tech is getting beat up on the boards. If they do not continue their hot shooting, which will be difficult against Syracuse, and cannot grab their misses, it will be long night for the kids from Blacksburg.
  • Turnovers will be a huge part of this game. Syracuse will be creating them and Virginia Tech needs to protect against them. However, the key will be how Virginia Tech’s solid half-court defense will handle Syracuse’s smart two-point shooting. If Syracuse is hitting its two-point shots early and dominating the offensive boards, they should have no problem winning.

#15 Kansas vs. #6 Duke – 10 PM EST on ESPN HD (****)

  • Duke continues to look incredibly difficult to defend. They beat Michigan in the Maui Invitational semifinals with incredible outside shooting. It is unlikely they can continue to hit over 50% of their three point shots, but until a defense proves otherwise, the Blue Devils look unstoppable from downtown. They face a solid, scrambling Kansas defense that had been defending the three point shot well until they allowed UCLA to hit 8 of 14 from deep last night. If Duke is allowed to sit outside and hit threes like that, the Jayhawks will go down fast.
  • Kansas has been relying heavily on Thomas Robinson thus far. It was good to see guards Elijah Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor, and Travis Releford pick-up some of the slack in the first half against UCLA when Robinson was not much of a factor.  Bill Self’s team must continue to spread the ball around and get offensive production from more than just Robinson if they want to beat the Blue Devils.
  • This game hinges on the Jayhawk defense and its ability to lock down on the Duke weapons. It is a tall task for any team at this point because scoring is coming from all over the court for Mike Krzyzewski’s team. Look for the Jayhawks to put a ton of pressure on the defensive perimeter to slow down the onslaught of three pointers. If they are able to do that, it will at least give them a chance. Unfortunately for Kansas, Duke has slashers like Austin Rivers and big men like the Plumlee brothers to look to if the shots are not falling from outside.

The Official RTC Star System

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2014
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

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A Quick, Fake Summary: Kansas Couldn’t Beat Pitfall and Got Tired of Tryin’…

Posted by Gerald Smith on November 16th, 2011

Kentucky‘s freshmen entered Madison Square Garden and thought they were playing a different game. Maybe they pretended they were wearing McDonald’s All-America jerseys as each player tried to make plays one-on-one. Kentucky’s offense broke against a physical Kansas defense over and over. Freshman guard Marquis Teague had six turnovers and looked like he was button-mashing in NBA Live. Thanks to a superhuman effort by Terrence Jones and a Wildcat-wide defensive effort, Kentucky remained tied 28-all at halftime.

Coach John Calipari reminded his team at halftime they should be playing a different game. (No official word from the locker room if Calipari blew on the cartridge and held the reset button while powering on.) Kentucky entered the second half playing more team-oriented basketball and applied pressure to collect a 11-2 run. Later the Wildcats blew open the game when Doron Lamb (17 points on 3-5 3FG) and Darius Miller (five points, four assists in 20 minutes off the bench) exploited Kansas’ packed-in defense with a three-point barrage. Recovered as if expending an energy tank, Teague calmed himself and allowed no further turnovers. Freshman Anthony Davis (14 points, seven rebounds, six blocks) showcased his incredible talents and proved he could contribute offensively and defensively against stronger and thicker competition.

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Big 12 vs. SEC: Previewing the Kentucky vs. Kansas Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 15th, 2011

The Champions Classic pits two of the most storied programs in college basketball in one of the most anticipated matchups of the early season. This clash features #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats taking on the #11 Kansas Jayhawks in historic Madison Square Garden. The environment is sure to be electric as two of the nation’s marquee teams come together with a lineup of extremely talented players. The game will feature star power forwards as Kentucky’s Terrence Jones takes on the Jayhawk’s Thomas Robinson. The best of the Big 12 will meet the king of the SEC. It’s Kentucky vs. Kansas. And we have everything you need to know to prepare for the their inaugural Champions Classic game.

History of the Rivalry

This section was written by Gerald Smith. Gerald is an SEC microsite writer and the SEC Correspondent for Rush the Court.

Despite the thousands of games both teams have played over a century of competition, the Wildcats and Jayhawks have faced each other only 25 previous times. Kentucky leads the overall series 19-6, but Kansas has won the last three games and five of the last eight dating back to 1985. From 1969 until 1990, the teams faced each other yearly in December. After Kansas’ 150-95 drubbing of Kentucky’s probation-limited team — which prompted a public tirade from Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino —  the schools elected not to renew the series. The schools agreed to a home-and-home series for 2005 and 2006; Bill Self’s Jayhawks won both games against Tubby Smith’s Wildcats and the regular-season series lapsed yet again.

KU Ripped UK in the 2007 NCAA Tournament

Great games dot the all-time series. In December 1973, Roger Morningstar (father of just-graduated Jayhawk, Brady) scored 20 points to give KU its first victory over UK. On New Year’s Eve in 1984, Kentucky forward Kenny Walker dominated with 37 points and 19 rebounds as Kansas lost 92-89. KU legend Danny Manning had 30 points in the losing effort. Kentucky and Kansas played twice during the 1998-99 season: A Kentucky victory in the Great Eight and another matchup in the NCAA Midwest Regional Second Round. Wildcats forward Scott Padgett drained a three-pointer to force overtime and led his team to a 92-88 victory. Jayhawk Ryan Robertson scored 31 points in a valiant effort to extend Kansas’ season.

Tuesday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden is the 23rd time that one or both of the teams were in the Top 25 when playing each other. Kansas is 12-6 overall in MSG; Kentucky is 10-3. KU coach Bill Self is 3-1 all-time against the Wildcats and 1-0 versus UK coach John Calipari — in the 2008 National Championship game that happened for Kansas but didn’t actually happen for Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. Calipari is 0-3 all-time against the Jayhawks. The two coaches were nearly on the same coaching staff: Calipari was an assistant coach at Kansas from 1982-85, then Self joined coach Larry Brown’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1985-86. Of course, KU and UK are tied all the way back to legendary coach Phog Allen and former Phog assistant turned UK coach Adolph Rupp.

Why Kansas Will Win

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