Tremendous Guard Play Masks VCU’s Interior Weakness

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 19th, 2014

This year’s VCU team is considered Shaka Smart‘s best squad since he took the reins in Richmond some five years ago. The return of the majority of last year’s team coupled with three top-100 recruits helped the Rams to a #15 ranking in the preseason AP poll, the team’s second consecutive such honor. After two wins in its first two games of the season, it’s clear that there is a lot of talent on this roster. But there is also a glaring question shadowing the team: Can the Rams consistently win without offensive production in the post?

Alie-Cox and his fellow post players need to add offense to their defensive contributions (AP)

Mo Alie-Cox and his fellow post players need to add some offense to their defensive contributions (Associated Press)

The season’s first two contests — a convincing win over Tennessee and last night’s thrilling victory over Toledo — demonstrated more of what everyone has come to expect from VCU. The Havoc defense creates all kinds of problems for opposing offenses, and the Rams have a number of players who can hit the open three-pointer. In those two contests, the Rams have already created 40 turnovers and knocked down 20 threes. What’s different about this season’s team is that they lack a skilled big man who can provide a credible offensive threat on the interior. Juvonte Reddic and his 12 points per game are gone to graduation, and the players filling in for him have done little thus far to make up for his production.

Mo Alie-Cox is the sole big man in the starting rotation, and he has contributed only nine points through two games. Jarred Guest, Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore have combined for 12 points as the frontcourt reserves. While all of these players have excellent potential, they too come with limitations. Alie-Cox is a brute force inside, but he stands at only 6’6″ and has a limited offensive skill set, making it difficult for him to match up against true centers. Guest is a senior but is still too lithe to bang with big bodies inside and often finds himself in foul trouble. Gilmore and Tillman are both freshmen, clearly learning their roles on the offensive side of the ball. The result so far has been a team living off the long ball and dribble penetration from its guards.

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Atlantic 10 Season Preview

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 17th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

The schools in the Atlantic 10 broke a conference record by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament last March. Although the seeds fell in a narrow range from #5 (Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis) to #11 (Dayton), the A-10 drew one bid fewer than the Big 12 (seven), tied the Big Ten and Pac-12 (six each), while outdrawing the American (four), the Big East (four) and the SEC (three). What a way to end a season that began with hand-wringing over the departures of Charlotte, Temple and Xavier. Although the conference standard-bearers Saint Louis and VCU did not survive the first weekend (VCU went from the hunter to the hunted, falling to Stephen F. Austin in an overtime Round of 64 game) and A-10 Tournament Champion Saint Joseph’s fell to eventual National Champion Connecticut, Dayton did advance to the Elite Eight before falling to Florida, 62-52.

Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

It was a great year for Shaka Smart, VCU, and the rest of the A10 last season. (US Presswire)

Rumors swirling around the Barclays Center during the Atlantic 10 Tournament had the A-10 in negotiations with Barclays and the Atlantic Coast Conference over access to the venue for their 2017 conference tournament. The conference had Barclays locked up through 2017, but the ACC (with ESPN’s backing) wanted a New York City venue for its 2017 and 2018 conference tournaments. The A-10 eventually agreed to relocate its tournament site for the 2017 (Pittsburgh’s Consol Center) and 2018 (Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center) seasons in exchange for an extension at the Barclays for the 2019-21 seasons and a commitment for three conference double-headers to be staged annually there in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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2013-14 All-Americans by the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2014

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even 10 or 15 if you add a second or third team). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only the digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls), and pick one player for each number. Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will remember most from this season. In the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. Here is my list of Players of the Year by jersey numbers.

0 – Ryan Watkins, Sr, Boise – His team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but Watkins’ senior season was one to remember. The nation’s best offensive rebounder for the second year in a row, Watkins’ efficient offense and tough defense was a constant for a Broncos team that underachieved elsewhere.

00 – Royce O’Neale, Jr, Baylor – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, a single zero and a double zero are the same number, but what fun is that? The transfer from Denver was anything but a big zero for the Bears this season, playing a big role for Scott Drew as an inside-outside threat and another big body in the Baylor zone.

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year (Photo: Ethan Hyman)

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year
(Photo: Ethan Hyman)

1 – Jabari Parker, Fr, Duke – After a quick nod to George Washington’s guard Maurice Creek, who bounced back from a career severely hampered by numerous injuries to turn in an inspiring senior season, we’ll acknowledge the fact that when we look back on 2013-14, Parker will be the guy who wore a #1 that we’ll remember most vividly. In what will likely be his lone season in Durham, he put his vast array of skills on display, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and sheer number of spectacular plays.

2 – Russ Smith, Sr, Louisville – A deep number with candidates ranging from big guys Sim Bhullar and Khem Birch to guards like Xavier Thames and Briante Weber, the nod here is a no-brainer. Smith’s career under Rick Pitino has been a whirlwind. After barely playing his freshman year, he earned big minutes as a sophomore only to show himself as a inveterate gunner who never saw a shot he didn’t like. But in his junior and senior seasons, he actually turned into a – gasp! – highly efficient offensive player. His three-point shooting improved every year and his game off the bounce was always explosive. And defensively? For the past two years, he’s been the best perimeter defender in America. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 23rd, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Bid Talk: 3? 4? 5!?

Two weeks of conference play has scrambled the conference’s NCAA bid picture. Going into conference play, the Atlantic 10 had five teams in the postseason conversation, increasingly a “normal” situation for the A-10. However, five conference games has shuffled the New Year’s pecking order of Massachusetts, Saint Louis, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton (last eight in). The Minutemen picked up their second loss of the season (58-55 at Richmond) after a couple of close calls (with St. Bonaventure and George Mason), as the Billikens edge closer to UMass in the hearts and minds of bracketologists — if not the poll voters (compliments of a strong opening run).

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

The Saint Louis faithful is gearing up for another run at post season play. (Saint Louis athletics)

With the losses of Temple, Xavier, and Butler to other leagues, more than a few publications predicted a step back for the conference’s overall postseason prospects. At this point the conference offers four candidates that will need consistent conference play to maintain their chances. How many bids can the conference get (maximum), and was the non-conference showing strong enough to boost any of the outlier programs into postseason contention (should any of the front runner fade)? Massachusetts (#13 in the January 20 AP poll; #12 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and St. Louis (#19 AP, #20 in the USA Today/Coaches) are legitimate “High Fliers” that should contend for the conference title and draw NCAA bids with their consistently solid play. The non-conference resumes for George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton are good enough, but their conference work could move them out of contention. GW is among those “also receiving votes” from voters in both polls. Note that Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the RPI and ESPN (the BPI) all rank five conference teams among their top 60 — see the below table of the consensus top eight conference teams below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Narratives Solidify for GW and VCU in Atlantic 10 Race

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 15th, 2014

Like most cities on the East Coast, Washington DC is a professional sports town where its NFL team is king. But for two hours on Tuesday night, Foggy Bottom transformed into a full-fledged campus town like one might find in Big Ten country. The reason? A budding intra-regional and intra-conference rivalry between George Washington and VCU. And for the first time in this young feud, the outcome of the contest had significant implications for both teams with respect to league standings and postseason prospects. George Washington made a statement with its 76-66 win over VCU and made clear that it is a serious contender to win its first Atlantic 10 title since 2005-06.  For VCU, it’s another bump in the road for what was supposed to be its most promising season since a run to the 2011 Final Four, and has Shaka Smart’s squad doing a bit of soul-searching. The outcome of this game has certainly changed the perceptions of these two teams from what was expected of them at the beginning of the season.

Sophomore Patricio Garino scored a career-high 25 points to lead the Colonials over VCU.

Sophomore Patricio Garino scored a career-high 25 points to lead the Colonials over VCU.

George Washington has quietly turned in one of the most surprising seasons in the country thus far. Picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Media Poll, the Colonials now find themselves with a 14-3 overall record that includes wins against Creighton, VCU, Maryland and Miami (FL). A major reason for their turnaround has been the dramatic improvement of their offense from last season (jumping from 0.98 to 1.09 points per possession), which has been driven by the addition of Maurice Creek, a transfer from Indiana, and the emergence of players like Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen. Against VCU on Tuesday, Larsen and reserve Patricio Garino stepped up and led the Colonials to shred the Rams’ stellar defense (it came in at 0.91 points per possession, 9th nationally) — George Washington shot 56.3 percent and scored 1.04 points per possession. This win signals that the Colonials are ready to make the Atlantic 10 a four-team race, joining the likes of VCU, UMass, and Saint Louis vying for a conference crown. They may not get the national attention their turnaround warrants, but what Mike Lonergan has done with his team has been nothing short of remarkable.

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VCU Needs Offensive Punch to Live Up to Expectations

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 4th, 2014

College basketball coaches are always stressing to players and teams that offensive performance should not dictate intensity or focus on the defensive end. If a player is struggling with his shot or having difficulty breaking down a defender, that frustration cannot be allowed to bleed over onto the defensive end. This has long been a basic tenet of basketball teaching, but if there’s one team in the country that has to ignore the notion, it’s the VCU Rams. Long known for their aggravating Havoc defense, VCU’s long-term success this season will rest largely on how well the Rams operate on the offensive end of the floor.

Treveon Graham

Offense from shooters like Treveon Graham is just as important as the trademark Havoc defense for VCU (credit: msn.foxsports.com)

Friday night’s 81-63 win over Stony Brook in Richmond was a perfect illustration of just how important offensive potency is to the entire operation for VCU. If you’re going to overwhelm opponents with a full-court press for an entire contest, you have to be able to set up that press. The Rams, when they struggle to put the ball in the basket, can’t get into the defensive setup they prefer. This turns games into more of a half-court affair, like the first half of the match-up with the Seawolves. VCU carried only a one-point lead into halftime, largely because they shot poorly until the closing minutes (a decent 40.7 percent from the field in the half, but only 25 percent from three-point range) and were often unable to set up the Havoc. The team was cold from deep, and it allowed a talented Stony Brook team to hang in it and get comfortable. This is a disturbing trend in the Rams’ three losses this season, when they shot 29.3 percent, 35.7 percent, and 36.9 percent, respectively, against Florida State, Georgetown, and Northern Iowa. Obviously it’s tough for any team to win with shooting numbers like that, but even more so for a team that’s entire game plan is predicated on watching the ball go through the net and immediately shifting into pressing mode.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 1st, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

All-Conference — Midseason Edition

First Team

With about a third of the 2013-14 season in the books and conference play coming next week, it is time to review the strongest candidates for a midseason All-Conference Team. Some of the same players show up a second year in a row. Chaz Williams, for example, is doing what everyone thought he would… just better. Other names (Cady Lalanne and Cedrick Lindsay) might be new to the list, but fans of the Minutemen and Spiders know who they are.

The RTC pre-A10 first team consists on a eclectic group of standouts.

The RTC “Pre-A10 season” first team consists on an eclectic group of standouts.

  • Guard — Chaz Williams, Massachusetts. With the resurgence of the Minutemen program, Williams stands an excellent chance to take Player of the Year honors at season’s end. The senior guard leads the conference in total assists (82) and assists per game (7.8),and leads Massachusetts in scoring (173) and points per game (15.7).
  • Guard — Cedrick Lindsay, Richmond. The junior point guard leads the Spiders in points scored (205), points per game (18.6), assists (54) and minutes played (378). Given Chris Mooney’s preference for a deep rotation, the last statistic is especially impressive as it represents 76.3 percent of the available minutes at Richmond’s point guard spot. With three games left before they start conference play — two of them very winnable — the chances are good that Richmond will start conference play with at least 10 wins in the book.
  • Guard — Treveon Graham, VCU. The 6′ 6″ off guard leads Shaka Smart’s squad in scoring (203) and points per game (15.6) and is second in rebounding (85).
  • Forward — Dwayne Evans, St. Louis. Evans was named to the preseason All-Conference First Team along with Chaz Williams, and like his UMass rival, Evans has not disappointed. The 6’6″ senior forward leads the Billikens in points scored (207) and has been a crucial piece in their 11-2 season.
  • Center — Cady Lalanne, Massachusetts. The 6’10” center might be Williams’ teammate but also his biggest competitor for Player of the Year honors. Lalanne and Williams have both been named Player of the Week twice. The junior has started all 11 games for UMass, averages a double-double (14.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG), and leads the conference in blocked shots (32).

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Dealing With Expectations

Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.

What's new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

First Team

  • Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
  • Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
  • Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
  • Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
  • Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.

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VCU’s Versatility On Full Display Early in the Season

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 17th, 2013

Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between VCU and Winthrop in Richmond. 

The VCU Rams have risen to prominence on the national scene over the last several years due largely to their suffocating, full-court defense and long-range shooting. This has proven to be a style that’s been immensely difficult for teams to prepare for, and most opponents don’t possess the stamina or depth to hang with the Rams for an entire game. But in the infant stages of the 2013-14 season, and following a solid 92-71 win over Winthrop Saturday night, VCU has also proven that it has the ability to win games in different fashions. It’s that versatility that makes this team particularly dangerous.

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

After the Rams capped off a rugged, grinding win in Charlottesville over in-state rival Virginia on Tuesday, it became apparent that taking the tempo away from this team would no longer guarantee success. The Rams fought off a night where they were whistled for 27 personal fouls and had several key players in early foul trouble with its consistent half-court defense. While they weren’t able to press the Cavaliers full-court due to the slow-it-down style Virginia prefers, Shaka Smart’s team’s perseverance on the road against an ACC foe in prime time showed that it has the makeup of a team that can handle in-game adversity. Avoiding the letdown that sometimes plagues teams playing as many youngsters as VCU was an important barometer early in the year, and the Rams were able to get back to pressing full-court and shooting well from downtown in pulling away against Winthrop.

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Who Won The Week? The Champions Classic, Oregon, and a Guard From VCU…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on November 15th, 2013

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. And man, will those be tested this winter. Today’s forecast high temperature? 39 degrees. It’s November 15. It’s only going to get worse from here.

WINNER: The Champions Classic

The outstanding play of Andrew Wiggins was just one of several highlights from the Champions Classic in Chicago. (AP)

The outstanding play of Andrew Wiggins was just one of several highlights from the Champions Classic in Chicago. (AP)

Though there was many a spectacular game in the first week of the season – and some of that is certainly just because it’s good to be back watching hoops – the Champions Classic proved a worthy spectacle to start the season. In its third year, the season-opening tournament with four of college basketball’s best programs may have hit its pinnacle thus far. The four programs are each ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll, and each came in with significant star power. Despite facing Kentucky’s heralded group of freshmen – stop me if you’ve heard that before – Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adriean Payne took Michigan State to a wire-to-wire 78-74 win in game one of the double-header. Appling’s performance was particularly spectacular, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds as a point guard, getting eight assists and nabbing four steals. The Wildcats’ most-touted recruit, Julius Randle, shone through despite the early-season backcourt inconsistency John Calipari’s teams are sometimes prone to. The freshman put up 27 points and 13 rebounds despite going against Payne for most of the night (though he did have eight turnovers). But game one’s one-freshman show was trumped by game two’s two-freshman battle. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker went back and forth throughout their teams’ match-up. Parker’s 27-point, nine-rebound stat line may have outshone Wiggins’ 22-and-six showing, but the pair’s captivating late-evening game ended up going to the Canadian’s Jayhawks, 94-83. The good news for this season is that Randle, Wiggins, and Parker all looked like the stars they were billed to be coming into college. The good news for the next three seasons? The four schools have agreed to do these neutral-site games for the next three years. See you next year.

(Related winners: Michigan State and Kansas, for getting a couple of top-level non-conference wins; Randle, Wiggins and Parker, for matching their hype. Related losers: Tarik Black, who only had a single rebound and three fouls for the Jayhawks; Kentucky and Duke.)

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by KDoyle on March 23rd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

#4 Michigan vs. #5 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

It’s Time For Burke to Play Like the NPOY (AP Photo)

The even-keeled and veteran John Beilein, an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, and the scoring prowess of Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Shaka Smart’s NCAA Tournament charm and relentless havoc defense led by Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Make no mistake about it, Michigan vs. Virginia Commonwealth has the potential to be an instant classic. When the brackets were released this past Sunday evening, many of the talking heads on ESPN and other networks fell in love with Virginia Commonwealth and picked the Rams to advance deep into the Tournament. Jay Bilas, in particular, referenced their havoc defense and how it is so difficult to prepare for in such limited time. Bilas is right, their defense is a bear for any team to cope with. Just look at what the Rams did to Akron, albeit a depleted Zips teams. Lest we forget that Michigan is coached by one of the best in the business and has a backcourt consisting of two future NBA players? Burke has a 3.3 assist to turnover ratio and the Wolverines, as a team, take impeccable care of the basketball ranking #1 in the country in turnover percentage. On the flipside, VCU is #1 in turnovers forced. Something has to give, right? Assuming Burke takes care of the ball, limits Michigan’s turnovers, and turns it into a halfcourt game the Wolverines have the advantage. The Rams are very susceptible in giving up points inside the arc and are a weak defensive rebounding team. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will have opportunities to score inside once Michigan is able to settle into their offense. In many of the games where VCU has had success, they have largely controlled the game’s tempo and forced 20+ turnovers that led to easy transition points. It is foolish to imply that the Rams are a one trick pony, though. They have three deadly three point shooters in Troy Daniels, Rob Brandenberg, and Treveon Graham, along with Juvonte Reddic who will challenge the Michigan big men in the paint. Ultimately, the game comes down to Trey Burke handling VCU’s pressure, thus forcing the game to be played in the halfcourt. I’m not betting against an All-American point guard, nor a coach like John Beilein.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

#3 Michigan State vs. #6 Memphis – Midwest Regional Third Round (at Auburn Hills, MI) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Memphis’ Thursday victory over Saint Mary’s may not have been the most dominating of wins, but it advanced the Tigers to the round of 32 all the same. Michigan State awaits Memphis there, and Sparty looked awfully solid in dispatching Valpo in their Tournament opener. Derrick Nix was dominant against the Crusaders, as the smaller Valpo front line could not match-up with the burly Spartan captain. The final damage was 23 points and 15 rebounds for Nix, and a +23 edge on the boards for Michigan State. First order of business for the Tigers will be doing what Valpo could not in matching that trademark Spartan physicality – on the glass or otherwise. We all know how athletic this Memphis team is (across the board), but a second round win over a WCC team offers no conclusive evidence as to the toughness of this group. Beating the Spartans would. The Memphis frontcourt was solid against the Gaels, but obviously will need to elevate their play even further on Saturday. DJ Stephens was at his springy, high-flying best Thursday though, blocking eight shots and providing multiple highlight-reel caliber dunks – a reminder for all of us to say a nightly prayer for a Final Four that does not include Memphis, if only so that we see Stephens in that weekend’s dunk contest. I digress however, so back to Thursday, where Stephens and co. got a big boost from Tarik Black, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and didn’t miss a shot in his best individual game since January. Memphis fans would certainly welcome a repeat performance on Saturday against the Spartans. For all their tough, physical banging, Michigan State does have the athletes to match up with Memphis up front, with Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne adding the explosive athleticism that the plodding Nix lacks. The matchup in the backcourt will be equally important (and athletic), as Gary Harris and Keith Appling square off with the Tigers’ Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson.

Getting any kind of NCAA Tournament win was big for Memphis. But getting a win over Tom Izzo and Michigan State, with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line? It would completely legitimize everything Josh Pastner has done since taking over four seasons ago. If the Tigers can force turnovers and get easy buckets like they did at times against Saint Mary’s, there’s a shot that it happens. I just can’t see it though, as I expect Michigan State to make this a half-court game that Memphis never truly settles into.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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