Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 68, #6 Xavier 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Despite Early Struggles, Senior Point Guard T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Despite His Early Struggles, T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

  1. Wake-up Time. About 30 minutes into tonight’s game, Xavier led by four points and looked very much like the better team. The Musketeers were quicker to most loose balls. They were controlling the paint. They were running their offense through Matt Stainbrook with impunity. Dee Davis was beating his man (T.J. McConnell) off the bounce just about whenever he wanted, and McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader, looked nothing like the gutsy, scrappy veteran that we’ve gotten accustomed to. Arizona looked lost on offense and disinterested on defense. The large number of Arizona fans in Staples Center was quiet. And then, against Xavier’s tough 1-3-1 zone, T.J. McConnell found himself with a good-looking 15-foot baseline jumper. He missed it, but the Musketeers couldn’t corral the defensive rebound. The senior recovered it and banked in a hoop, prompting Chris Mack to call a timeout. A couple possessions later, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed an offensive board and put it back in. On the other end of the court, he helped trap a Musketeer ball-handlers near midcourt, forcing a timeout. Following that timeout, McConnell swiped a steal from Myles Davis and, in the blink of an eye, the momentum of this game had shifted, Arizona fans were back into it, and the rest is history. A 21-9 game-closing run for the Wildcats following that McConnell second-chance bucket sealed the game.
  2. Zone Defense. The bad news is that Arizona again struggled mightily against a zone defense for large stretches of a game against a team from Ohio. Nobody but Gabe York could knock in the occasional long-range jumper. McConnell looked confused and frustrated. And whoever the Wildcats tried to turn into a play-maker in the middle of the zone had trouble finding open teammates. So, again, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: It is very likely that the Wildcats have seen their last zone defense for the year. Wisconsin isn’t going to zone them. There’s not a chance Kentucky would zone them. And we’d have to see the matchup in the final but it’s probably unlikely. Xavier stayed in the game tonight by throwing as many as four or five different defensive looks at Arizona. It uglied things up for the ‘Cats, but, hey, survive and advance.
  3. Kaleb Tarczewski. Of all the players in college basketball, there are very few that take the kind of abuse from average college basketball fans (even including Arizona fans) that Tarczewski does. But as Sean Miller puts it, “he just does his job.” Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook seemed to be getting the best of him early, using a number of pretty post moves against his single coverage on the way to a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards. But Miller views Tarczewski’s ability to guard frontcourt bigs like Stainbrook one-on-one as a key to the Wildcats’ defensive success. “Stainbrook had his moments, but he had one offensive rebound. And one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates. Because they do a great job of throwing it into him and he’s such a terrific passer that all of a sudden, the floodgates open from three or they get the ball moving and the reason it starts to move is because you had to help on Stainbrook. And then it’s both: He’s not only scoring inside, but their perimeter attack is thriving because of him. The reason we won, in my opinion, is Kaleb’s double-double and his very good defense. He did what we asked him to do.” To summarize: Tarczewski limited Stainbrook on the offensive glass, grabbed his own offensive boards on the other end, and because he was able to battle the Xavier big man to an individual draw, stifle Xavier’s half-court offense.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcwestregion for reporting from Los Angeles this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 33-3. We’re still going with the Wildcats by a hair over Wisconsin and we’re not just throwing darts; we have our reasons. First, they’re still slightly above Wisconsin in terms of KenPom rankings, especially on the defensive end of the court. Second, they’re going to have a significant home court advantage this week in Los Angeles. Third, instead of facing a #3 seed in the Sweet Sixteen, they “Cats got a slightly easier path with Xavier up next. And fourth, straight up: revenge. However, it will take a lot of work for any of these four teams to come out of this region.

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona's chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona’s chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Horse of Darkness: Xavier, #6, 23-13. The only team that has outperformed its seed to advance to this point, the Musketeers aren’t going to just be happy to have made it this far and call it a day. They’ve got enough size along the front line to hang with Arizona, and with senior point guard Dee Davis playing the best ball of his career, crafty scorer Myles Davis and athletic freshman Trevon Bluiett, they’ve got the firepower to spring an upset… Or two.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): Georgia State. After 30 minutes of giving #3 seed Baylor all it wanted last Thursday, it looked like the Panthers had run out of gas. Over the course of six possessions starting at the under-12 media timeout, the Bears grabbed five offensive boards, cleaned the glass on the defensive end after forcing four straight missed field goal attempts and put together a 10-0 run to build a 10-point lead. Coming out of the under-four media timeout, Rico Gathers hit a pair of free throws and Baylor’s lead was then at 12. The Bears wouldn’t score again. Coach’s son R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s 13 points down the stretch, including a deep three with three seconds left that sent his dad, torn Achilles and all, sprawling onto the Veterans Memorial Arena floor. It’s the iconic moment of this year’s NCAA Tournament and a play we’ll see for many Marches to come. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 1st, 2013

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  1. Earlier this week, we spent the better part of a Morning Five poking around the state of Oregon. Today, we’re gonna spend most of our time in Los Angeles, where  Steve Alford got his recruiting mojo going on Thursday when five-star recruit Kevon Looney made a verbal commitment to the Bruins. With the UCLA frontline undermanned in 2014-15, Looney’s choice of the Bruins over other big-time programs like Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee and Wisconsin is a huge boon to the program. ESPN’s scouting report on the big man is glowing: a combo forward who can hit the three, score off the bounce, and pound the boards. Still, after Alford previously got burned when Trevon Blueitt backed out of his commitment to UCLA, just remember that nothing is set in stone until that letter of intent gets signed.
  2. And as Isaac Hamilton proved to UTEP, even a signed letter of intent doesn’t exactly seal the deal. Hamilton, a four-star wing in the 2013 class, was originally the centerpiece of Tim Floyd’s recruiting class in El Paso. But Hamilton second-guessed that decision over the summer and decided that he didn’t want to play at UTEP after all. Floyd refused the youngster’s request to back out of his commitment, but Hamilton petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility after he chose UCLA for his college. Hamilton’s petition was rejected on Thursday, meaning that not only will he be ineligible to play for the Bruins this season, but he’ll lose a year of eligibility. He’ll get to practice with the squad this year, but will be relegated to scout team action.
  3. Wrapping up the news at UCLA, the Bruins got their season underway on Wednesday night with an exhibition game against Cal State San Bernardino. Despite playing without senior forward Travis Wear, who is sidelined, perhaps for up to a month, due to surgery to remove his appendix, the Bruins rolled to an easy 30-point win. Jordan Adams returned from his broken foot to lead all scorers with 25 points, while David Wear filled in ably for his brother with a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double. Tony Parker, who will team primarily with David Wear to make up for Travis Wear’s absence, had 10 points, three blocks and three boards. Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson’s debut as the Bruin point guard began with 10 points, 10 boards and five assists along with three turnovers.
  4. We’ll stop over across town before we leave LA, as ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil profiles Andy Enfield and the new USC basketball program. For a guy with a business background, Enfield is not only talking about Xs and Os with the Trojans, but about branding and selling a hip and exciting style of basketball to potential recruits. He did that and more at Florida Gulf Coast with a school that completely lacked a brand prior to last season’s Dunk City run, so Enfield sees his job at USC as different, but perhaps easier, than the task he undertook at FGCU.
  5. Lastly, here’s your reminder to flip the calendar and realize that next week at this time, we’ll be preparing to dig into our first weekend of college basketball. As such, let’s take a peek at the AP Top 25 basketball poll, released yesterday to, well, OK, nobody really cares all that much about polls in a sport where we actually decide the champion on the court of play. But, still, Top 25. Arizona leads the way for the conference, checking in at #6 overall, while Oregon checks in at #19, a few spots ahead of UCLA at #22. Four other Pac-12 schools were in the “others receiving votes” category (Colorado, Arizona State, Washington and Stanford), while California, which Doug Gottlieb notoriously had as his #10 team in the nation, was curiously absent.
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