Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016


On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.


The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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The Road to an NCAA Bid For Select Bubble Teams

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 8th, 2016

As the mid-major conference tournaments excite and entertain college basketball fans everywhere this week, teams on the bubble correspondingly shake in fear as coveted NCAA Tournament spots are snagged by pesky bid thieves. Northern Iowa (MVC), Iona (MAAC) and Green Bay (Horizon) have already collected conference tournament victories that are likely to impact the bubble equation. Power conference teams residing on the bubble still have some control over their destiny, as they are inevitably presented with multiple opportunities to bolster their resumes without having to win an entire tournament. A single victory over a fellow bubble team or an upset of a highly-ranked conference foe can provide the boost needed to rest a lot easier on Selection Sunday. Chances will vary for each of the following bubble teams, but here a few teams in need of victories this week along with a path with which to do so.


Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have The Tournament In Sight...But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have the NCAA Tournament In Sight… But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Its Path: Beat UCLA and Utah

On January 13, USC was 15-3 with wins over Arizona and UCLA in Pac-12 play along with non-conference wins over Monmouth, Wichita State and Yale. The wheels have since fallen off the Trojans, as Andy Enfield’s squad lost eight of its final 13 games to plant itself firmly on the bubble. The rigors of conference play hit his squad harder than expected, knocking the Trojans right to the edge of the NCAA Tournament. USC begins this week’s Pac-12 Tournament with its bid-clinching work clearly laid out ahead of it. Wins over UCLA (which they swept this season) in the first round and Utah (RPI #8) in the quarterfinals would safely launch the Trojans into the field.

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Report Card: Finals Week Wrap in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 22nd, 2015

Finals week is always one of the slower times of the college basketball season, but there was still a decent amount of action that took place in the American last week. With the events of the last week in mind, here’s an AAC Report Card.  

A: SMU. This was a great week for SMU. Not only did the Mustangs roll over Nicholls State and Hampton to stay undefeated, but head coach Larry Brown also returned from his nine-game suspension for rules violations. What has made this SMU team so potent? Based on the most recent KenPom ratings, SMU owns the eighth most efficient offense in college basketball and the 55th most efficient defense. That offense, with potential AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore leading the way, has carried SMU through its relatively soft non-conference schedule, but there is hardly a Mustang who hasn’t joined the party: seven of SMU’s eight rotation players have offensive ratings among the 115 best in the country. The lone exception, Keith Frazier, is still 371st nationally with an offensive rating of 116.9. There will be no postseason in Dallas, but this is a fun team that really knows how to run an offense.  

A: UConn. Following close losses to Maryland, Gonzaga and Syracuse, UConn was looking for another quality win to go along with its late November victory over Michigan. The Huskies found it in a 20-point demolition of Ohio State, a team that has struggled but managed to beat Kentucky last weekend. Kevin Ollie tightened up his rotation against the Buckeyes, reserving major minutes for only seven players. This meant no playing time for Sam Cassell Jr. and Phil Nolan and only a minute of mop-up action for freshman big man Steven Enoch. UConn will look to build on this win as they play one-win Central Connecticut on Wednesday before heading to Austin to face a rising Texas team in its final non-conference game.

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Buy or Sell: Middle of the Pack American Teams

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 7th, 2015

Since its creation, the AAC has seen a trend of clearly tiered divisions in the league. This season has been no different, as the top of the conference seems solid with three teams currently ranking among KenPom’s top 30: Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU. From there things get a bit murkier, but there still seems to be a clear middle of the pack in Tulsa and Memphis. The American has provided unexpected results before: Which of these two middle-tiered teams could make a run to the top of the league? Teaser: One is better positioned for such a surge than the other. 

SELL: Tulsa (KenPom Ranking: #60)

Tulsa needs Shaq Harrison to step up if the team would like to make a run to the top of the American.

Shaquille Harrison has done a good job leading Tulsa this year, but the bench needs to chip in more for a happy ending to this Golden Hurricane season.

Less than two weeks ago things were looking up for Tulsa. Fresh off a win over #9 Wichita State, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. However, since that game, Tulsa has struggled immensely, with losses to South Carolina, Arkansas-Little Rock, and most recently, Oral Roberts. The Golden Hurricane also had to come back from 19 points down to defeat MAC outfit Ohio University. A win over intrastate rival Oklahoma State during this span cannot be overlooked, but the Cowboys have also struggled this year (with a KenPom ranking of #98 with bad losses to Missouri State and George Mason). What’s changed in the past couple weeks? Mainly, Tulsa has gone back to its old poor habits on the offensive end of the court.

When we last checked in with the Golden Hurricane, the team had shown improvement on the offensive end, boasting the 19th-best effective field goal percentage in the country after their defeat of Wichita State. Today, that same statistic has dropped by 11 percent to 50.1%, now good for just 141st in the nation. Senior leaders like Shaquille Harrison have performed at a relatively high level (minus a four-point outing against Arkansas-Little Rock), but the bench has failed to provide consistent production. One expected bench contributor who has yet to show up is Rashad Ray. The senior played a large role for Tulsa last year, averaging 7.5 points per game. He’s managed only 2.8 points per contest this year, including zero points in a loss to South Carolina and only three in the most recent loss to Oral Roberts. Tulsa will have a few more opportunities in the non-conference schedule to boost its resume, and they will need to capitalize on them with the Wichita State win looking less stellar by the day. The Golden Hurricane needs their role players to step up and play at a higher level if they are to do so.

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Tulsa Primed to Make Noise After Beating Wichita State

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 19th, 2015

In only its second season in the American, Tulsa scored a significant early victory in beating #9 Wichita State. Last year, despite a 21-9 regular season record which included only four conference losses, Tulsa was left outside of the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. One reason for that snub was the lack of quality wins on the Golden Hurricane’s resume. They had played a relatively tough schedule but couldn’t seem to find a way to win the big games, whiffing on non-conference opportunities against Wichita State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (also of note from last year’s pre-conference slate: an embarrassing loss to Division II Southeast Oklahoma State). Heading into this year, Tulsa knew it had an opportunity to redeem itself in this early-season meeting with the Shockers. Frank Haith’s squad cashed in this time, and Tulsa fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic given how the team has performed so far this season.

Marquel Curtis has broken out offensively and looks to help lead Tulsa to the top of the American. (Tulsa World.

Marquel Curtis has broken out offensively and looks to help lead Tulsa to the top of the American. (Tulsa World)

So what seems to be the difference-maker for this year’s team? For one thing, the Golden Hurricane have come out firing on all cylinders, particularly on the offensive end. Although we are looking at an extremely small sample size, examining the effective field goal percentage as a team gives an interesting look into Tulsa’s early success. According to KenPom, Tulsa had a team effective field goal percentage of 47.1 percent a season ago, ranking among the worst groups in the country (241st nationally). This number has jumped dramatically over two games this season, to 61.7 percent, giving Tulsa the 19th-highest effective team field goal percentage in college hoops as of today. Read the rest of this entry »

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Opening Weekend Hopes in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 13th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference has the potential to be one of the better leagues in the country this year. As the college basketball season is about to tip off, we take a look at one thing each American team would like to see coming out of their opening weekend of games.

UConn: Shonn Miller averages at least eight rebounds per game.

Grad Transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Grad transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

A lot has been made this offseason about the group of fifth year transfers that Kevin Ollie has brought to Storrs. Most notable among them is the heir apparent to Ryan Boatright, Sterling Gibbs, but could Cornell transfer Shonn Miller be a bigger key to UConn’s season? Miller is a true power forward, a position UConn has struggled with of late. Last year’s team was led in rebounding by Daniel Hamilton (7.6 rebounds per game), while seven-footer Amida Brimah was only able to pull down just over four rebounds a game. Brimah’s struggles on the glass were one reason why Ollie was excited to bring in Miller, an experienced player who excelled at Cornell, averaging just under nine rebounds per game as a senior. Miller’s rebounding prowess could make him the key glue guy on this year’s UConn team. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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RTC Rewind: No. 1,000, Kansas Bill Selfing, Crazy Endings at WVU, Maryland…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 26th, 2015

One thousand wins. One, zero, zero, zero. It was a busy weekend in college basketball, but everything else was overshadowed by that number. We’ll start by stating the obvious. In a career full of them, what a truly remarkable accomplishment for Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to coach for a long time and break records and reach milestones based on longevity, but what makes Coach K so special is that he’s combined all those years with such consistent winning. His teams are perennial contenders. He’s established a tradition of greatness, and built a distinct culture over 30 years in Durham that has not eroded in the least.

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

One of the things that made win No. 1,000 so awesome was the way in which Krzyzewski and Duke achieved it. Their Sunday afternoon performance in the World’s Most Famous Arena was evocative of the culture and recipe for sustained success that he has crafted. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Blue Devils fought back with a 26-7 run to end the game. The players, of course, knew what was on the line, taking it upon themselves to come through for their coach — playing with incredible passion, emotion and commitment. They slapped the floor. They punched the air. They were determined and focused. Afterward, when his team hugged Krzyzewski and his wife and donned shirts and hats to commemorate the milestone, their love for their leader was crystal clear. And in the end, that is exactly why Coach K has been able to achieve what he has achieved. And has he ever achieved a lot! Afterward, Krzyzewski was insistent that the focus remain on the present as opposed to the past. As big of a win it was for him personally, it was also a huge one for Duke. St. John’s — seeing the resume-enhancing possibility with Duke in its building — came to play on Sunday, and made things very difficult for the Blue Devils for most of the game. But in crunch time, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor all found another gear, and it pushed Duke to a dominant finish that the Johnnies just couldn’t match.

And That Sets Up…

An ACC showdown on Wednesday in South Bend, because Notre Dame pulled out a massive comeback win of its own at NC State on Sunday. The Wolfpack jumped out to an 18-point first half lead, but the Fighting Irish’s consistent scoring allowed them to claw back into the game so that Jerian Grant and his supporting cast could showcase their ‘clutch genes’ down the stretch. Notre Dame is now 19-2 and will welcome Duke to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. What a game that will be.

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Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison Defines Throwback Guard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 21st, 2015

If you spend enough time mining websites like and for statistical oddities, you are bound to find some numbers that just don’t jibe with your understanding of college basketball and its players. For example, the season that Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison is having isn’t just at odds with everyone’s understanding of what makes for an effective shooting guard, it is nearly unbelievable. If the season were to end today, there is little doubt that Harrison would be a first team all-AAC performer. The junior has been the best player on the only undefeated team in conference play and he is probably in the mix for conference Player of the Year honors as well. He is fourth in the conference in scoring (15.4 PPG), eighth in assists (3.3 APG), second in steals (1.8 SPG), and he is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor — combining for a solid Offensive Rating of 108.9. Amid all of those impressive numbers, it is his shooting percentage that deserves the most attention because Harrison has done it without the benefit of a serviceable jump shot.

Shaquille Harrison Has Been One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC Without Being Able To Shoot

Harrison Is One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC, Only He Can’t Shoot. (James Gibbard/Tulsa World)

In his first two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Harrison was a volume scorer who occasionally filled up the box score. This season, however, he has transformed into a much more efficient offensive player without changing his style of play, which is noteworthy because he doesn’t play like a stereotypical two-guard. Frank Haith said it best after Harrison contributed 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting  in a an early January win over Houston. “He is so good off the dribble. Everyone plays him the same way, they play him for the drive,” the head coach said. “And he still drives it.” Coaches are prone to exaggeration but in this case Haith might be downplaying just how often Harrison “drives it.” Consider this comparison: According to Hoop-Math, 67.4 percent of Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor’s shot attempts come at the rim. This makes great sense because Okafor is a 6’10” athletic marvel who is probably the best big man in college basketball. Harrison, on the other hand, is a lanky 6’4″ combo guard who typically would be jacking three-pointers, but instead takes a whopping 68.2 percent of his shots at the rim. Let that sink in for a second. A combo guard from a perimeter-oriented team is taking more shots at the rim than one of the best offensive big men in recent college basketball history. It’s certainly not what a modern combo guard’s shot distribution is supposed to look like, but what’s especially crazy is that the strategy is working very well for Harrison and his team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tulsa Moves Closer to the National Conversation

Posted by Eli Linton on January 14th, 2015

Tulsa fans streamed into the Reynolds Center last night to watch their Golden Hurricane thrash UConn by eight points in a highly-anticipated AAC match-up. I have been coming to games in this building for several years now, and I have never seen a pregame buzz like this one. As the home team took control of the game from the very start, it was clear that this was a completely different team than the one that stunk up the joint against Oklahoma in December. Another noticeable thing was that a lot of the fans wore the old-school, gold-and-red Hurricane sweatshirts. The buzz, the old team colors, Tulsa’s play on the court — it was very reminiscent of the days when Tulsa was making runs to the Sweet Sixteen (1994; 1995) and Elite Eight (2000). It makes you wonder if this year’s team, now 11-5 overall and 4-0 in its inaugural season of AAC play, has found some of its old mojo.

Despite the terrible tee, the Golden Hurricane faithful were out in full force. (Cory Young/ Tulsa World)

Despite the terrible tee, the Golden Hurricane faithful were out in full force. (Cory Young/ Tulsa World)

Fresno, California, in the late 1990s was the (almost) perfect place and time for a kid like myself to be a college basketball fan. Jerry Tarkanian — then employed by Fresno State — and his nasty towel were paramount in my world, and the wild and woolly Western Athletic Conference was still in its heyday. With three legendary coaches and plenty of future NBA talent in the league, it was one of the original homes of Cinderella. At least it was for me. Tulsa — at the time coached by Bill Self, and Tubby Smith during the mid-1990s — was always near the top of those crazy, 16-team standings, and they were the team that you just hated to see come to town. As I sat on press row on Tuesday night reflecting about those teams, I couldn’t help but think that the success of those glory years under Smith and Self were the reason many of those people were back on this night. They hadn’t experienced the same buzz in that building for a long time, either. Read the rest of this entry »

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