NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

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

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 64, #8 Cincinnati 51

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Game May Have Ended on This Play (USA Today Images)

The Game May Have Ended on This Play (USA Today Images)

  1. Kentucky had to battle for this one. The final score may not indicate it but Cincinnati gave Kentucky quite the fight for most of the afternoon. Cincinnati has a reputation for being a tough, gritty team that will use its physicality all game long and that was absolutely the case on Saturday afternoon, as this game was a street fight from the opening tip. In defeat, the Bearcats had the advantage on the rebounding glass at 45-38 and had an amazing 21-12 edge on the offensive boards. This was not an easy game for Kentucky by any stretch. The Wildcats struggled offensively throughout, as they ended up shooting just 37 percent from the field and just 26.7 percent from behind the three-point line. It was not a vintage Kentucky performance, but the ‘Cats found a way to get the job done. That is what great teams do.
  2. Hanging with Kentucky and having a chance to beat Kentucky are two entirely different animals. Saturday was another example of how hanging in there with Kentucky and having a chance to beat Kentucky are two very different things. Cincinnati played really hard all afternoon and had the right plan but it ultimately just did not have enough offense to deal with Kentucky’s ferocious defensive attack. The Bearcats managed to shoot just 31.7 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from the three-point line. Starting guards Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb were a combined 5-of-24 from the field. They were also forced into committing 14 turnovers, which led to 16 Kentucky points on the other end. It is going to take an elite effort on both ends of the court to beat Kentucky this season. While Cincinnati has a lot to be proud of about its performance, it ultimately fell well short of what it needed to be to get a win.
  3. Kentucky is now 36-0 – which is the best start to a season in D-1 men’s college basketball history. Saturday’s win ensured that Kentucky – at 36-0 – is off to the greatest start in Division I men’s basketball history. When you think about all the great teams and players that have come and gone through the game in the years, this accomplishment is hard to put into words. John Calipari deserves so much credit for his ability to manage all his talent and get his guys to produce a winning effort night in and night out. It is understood that this accomplishment will likely be overlooked if the Wildcats are unable to finish as undefeated national champions, so it is important to note right now just how impressive this feat is.

Player(s) of the Game. Aaron Harrison and Trey Lyles, Kentucky. Harrison and Lyles drove the Kentucky offensive attack, finishing with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Harrison’s knack for hitting big shots was once again on display, as it seemed like every time that Kentucky needed a big bucket, it was Harrison that came through. Lyles matched Cincinnati’s physical play all afternoon, mixing it up on both ends of the court. His 11 points were accompanied by a game-high 11 rebounds.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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SEC M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 11th, 2015

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  1. It’s hard not to really get the feeling that Kentucky is going to just keep riding out wins. How can you not feel that way after the Wildcats just survived a 21-2 run deep in the second half to hang on and beat LSU? Of all their close calls this season (Ole Miss, Texas A&M), this was perhaps the most impressive because the Wildcats were completely out of sync for a large chunk of the second half. But at the end of the game, there was Andrew Harrison calmly knocking down two free throws to tie the game, and there was Karl-Anthony Towns calmly tossing in a hook shot to take the lead for good. The Wildcats again made the winning plays when it counted (e.g., Tyler Ulis’ three in the second overtime against Texas A&M), and although they could still slip up, the only game that appears to be a real test is at Georgia on March 3. The road to regular season perfection is well within view.
  2. On the other side of last night’s game is an LSU team that missed out on a tremendous opportunity. Losses to Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn have planted the Tigers firmly on the bubble, so holding on against Kentucky would have made up for several of those transgressions — finally knocking off the Wildcats cuts a marginal resume a lot of slack. It didn’t happen, of course, and like many times this season, Johnny Jones didn’t look good from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Why was Josh Gray — a player who has struggled taking care of the ball this year — driving the lane out of a timeout? Why didn’t Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin get the ball out of the final timeout? I understand the notion of going for the jugular with a Keith Hornsby three, especially in a game this big. But with a two-point deficit at home, it’s hard to fully understand a play call that doesn’t go to one of your two best players. LSU definitely showed out well in this game, but the Tigers will need to shake the loss off quickly with road games at Tennessee and Texas A&M up next.
  3. It’s difficult to label Texas A&M a “sleeping giant,” but the Aggies were a perennial top-third of the Big 12 type of program under Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon and a return to that level would provide a big boost for the SEC’s overall profile. The Aggies’ upcoming and well-timed home stand against Georgia, Florida and LSU represents a key stretch for Billy Kennedy’s club that could add some bulk to its NCAA Tournament profile. Texas A&M’s last home game attracted the largest crowd in the Kennedy era (12,722), so the next week is also a great opportunity to fire up the fan base for this and coming seasons.
  4. Billy Donovan coaching the Orlando Magic? It kind of happened once, and the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi thinks that the timing is right for it to happen again — but perhaps this time for more than a single day. On some levels the timing does seem good for everyone involved. Florida is having its most frustrating season in years, and the Magic have promising young talent like Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic playing well. For comparison’s sake, the path to NBA championship contention for Orlando looks shorter and less challenging than Boston’s when Brad Stevens left Butler. But would Donovan walk away from his program after such a disappointing season? He certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove, having built three separate groups of title contenders during his tenure in Gainesville. These are some interesting questions for a guy who has had past and perhaps unfulfilled designs on the NBA.
  5. Missouri is mired in its worst losing streak since before Norm Stewart was in charge of the program (1966-67). The streak ran to 10 losses in a row after last night’s defeat at South Carolina. Things could be getting worse in a hurry too, as Wes Clark could be out for the season after seemingly dislocating his right wrist. It was an ugly injury that caused the arena to go silent and players on both sides were visibly shaken. This is a huge blow for the Tigers since Clark (11 points against USC, 15 points against Texas A&M) has been the most consistent source of offense and penetration for a team that often struggles to score. Right now it’s hard to find another win on the schedule for the Tigers.
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Freeze Frame: The Improvement of Karl-Anthony Towns

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 10th, 2015

Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection is a notable storyline in college basketball this season, but the quest for National Championship No. 9 carries a lot more significance to Wildcats fans. Continued development from big man Karl-Anthony Towns might ensure both. Towns’ improved toughness, better passing, and a flurry of developing post moves gives Kentucky better offensive production from the low blocks and further opens up the three-point shot when opposing defenses are forced to collapse on him.

Karl-Anthony Towns production in SEC play.

Karl-Anthony Towns’ production in SEC play.

Towns has played his best basketball of the season in the last three games. His rebounding and shot-blocking have remained consistent, but he is scoring better than at any other stretch this year. Towns’ solid mid-range jumper gives head coach John Calipari the ability to use his big man at the top of the key, and his improved passing is evident in an accompanying increase in assists per game. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we look at the many different ways that Karl-Anthony Towns can hurt opposing teams, and why his sustained improvement on the offensive end of the floor could be key to the Wildcats cutting down the nets in April.

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Three Takeaways from Kentucky vs. South Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2015

When you take in a live game, sometimes you can sense that the home team thinks it can win. Everything about the aura in Colonial Life Arena on Saturday told me the Gamecocks felt they had a chance to beat the top-ranked Wildcats. The crowd was into it; the team gave 100 percent effort; and after a three-pointer from Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina led by one with just 4:31 left in the first half. That was where it all ended, though. A big-time victory wasn’t meant to be for a Gamecocks squad that looked much improved from their last couple of times out, but there were several key takeaways that we will see play out through March for Kentucky and the rest of the SEC.

Frank Martin was proud of his team's effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

Frank Martin was proud of his team’s effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

  1. “Stop saying the SEC isn’t any good” -  South Carolina coach Frank Martin was emphatic in making sure the assembled media knew his stance on the legitimacy of the conference. As he was answering another question, he couldn’t let the moment pass: “By the way, stop saying the SEC isn’t any good,” he said to the room. He has a point. At the time of this writing, the SEC has eight teams ranked among the top 60 of the RPI. Kentucky (#1), Arkansas (#24), Georgia (#26) Texas A&M (#32), LSU (#44), Alabama (#52), Tennessee (#54), and Ole Miss (#59) all are in position for consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. Additionally, according to Ken Pomeroy, the SEC is the fourth-best conference in the country, behind only the Big 12, Big East and ACC. The SEC has proven its worth this season, and Selection Sunday should assist in shedding the unfair label that the league is just Kentucky and everybody else. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts on Last Night’s Near-Shocker in Rupp Arena

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 7th, 2015

All that undefeated talk surrounding Kentucky was so 2014, right? Or maybe not. The Wildcats stole the college basketball spotlight last night by needing an overtime to defeat pesky Ole Miss, but if Jarvis Summers hadn’t settled for a deep and contested three as time expired, or if Snoop White had been a half-inch behind the three-point line on a second half jumper, Kentucky might well have opened 2015 with a home loss that nobody saw coming. For now, the Wildcats’ survival cools the notion that the team needs only roll out the ball in league play to reach the NCAA Tournament unscathed, but some warning signs became apparent. Here are several thoughts from last night’s wild game in Rupp Arena.

Andrew Harrison came up big for Kentucky, which included a key assist to his brother Aaron. (USA TODAY Sports)

Andrew Harrison came up big for Kentucky, which included a key assist to his brother Aaron. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Wildcats are the team we thought they were. Nothing that happened last night should change that. Sure, a team well-removed from the national consciousness had the Wildcats on the ropes on their home floor, but John Calipari’s team is still a defensive juggernaut with ultra-talented depth. Kentucky was never immune to slow starts or lazy play, and there were a number of factors at play in that regard — the Wildcats hadn’t played at home since December 13; they hadn’t played at all since the big December 27 win over Louisville; and their 12-0 spurt at the start seemed to take all of the air out of their defensive intensity. This sort of thing happens, and when an opponent has enough size to be a factor on the glass as well as a player like Stefan Moody making shots, Kentucky is going to find itself in a ballgame. Add the fact that Ole Miss went 9-of-17 from three — including three huge ones from Snoop White — and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an upset. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 31st, 2014

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  1. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster writes that Kentucky’s New Year’s resolution should be to give Tyler Ulis more playing time at the point guard position because he’s better than Andrew Harrison. He also writes that the reason that may not happen is because Coach Cal will be hesitant to rock the boat and upset his incumbent sophomore starter. There is no doubt that Harrison’s body language wasn’t great in the Saturday win over Louisville, but no one outside of the program knows how Harrison truly feels about his performance. Maybe he was upset that he was being outplayed by a freshman, or maybe he was upset that he laid an egg in the Wildcats’ biggest game of the year. Either way, we’ve officially reached the first blip on the Big Blue Nation drama watch. I don’t expect Harrison to lose his starting spot at Kentucky anytime soon, but if the Wildcats are in a tight game late it’s reasonable to think the freshman will have the ball in his hands.
  2. Speaking of UIis, CBSSports.com named him the Tisdale Freshman of the Week, and he cracked the top 10 of the Tisdale Award Watch for the first time this season. The diminutive but talented guard also took home the SEC’s Freshman of the Week award. He’ll never put up big stats, but it’s nice to see him getting recognition for how vital he has been to the success of the Wildcats. In one fell swoop, he’s filled Kentucky’s twin needs for a selfless distributor ( 3.7 APG; 4.3 FGA per game) and a reliable three-point shooter (52.2%). The exciting part for fans is that Ulis will almost certainly be in Lexington for multiple seasons, and if Calipari could pick one type of player to have in-house as his talented freshmen classes arrive, it would probably be a rock solid point guard with plenty of winning experience.
  3. South Carolina head coach Frank Martin might soon have another player at his disposal as freshman wing Shamiek Sheppard is now practicing after suffering a torn ACL over the summer. Without any setbacks going forward, the three-star recruit could see some playing time this season. Sheppard’s slashing ability would be a boost for a team that has only gotten to the line a measly 206 times this year (276th in the country). In the past two rebuilding seasons it might have been smarter to leave the redshirt on the freshman and save his year of eligibility, but the Gamecocks may not be rebuilding anymore. They are currently on a five-game winning streak, boast a dynamic backcourt, and are 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency. That gives them as good a shot as any SEC team to rack up a bunch of wins in league play.
  4. Alabama did not light up the scoreboard in its recent win over UCLA, but the Crimson Tide finally sealed the deal against a quality name opponent. They also didn’t set the world on fire offensively in their near-win at Wichita State, a surprise given that early in the year it looked like the Crimson Tide would have a high-powered offense. The folks at Roll Bama Roll feel that Anthony Grant has reverted back to “Grantsketball” lately in slowing down the offense and trying to grind out games, and that the Tide would be better off opening things up. The numbers bear this out, as the Tide have indeed averaged 61 possessions in their last four games after averaging 72 possessions in their first seven games. Grant knows the pulse of his team better than anyone else, but he shouldn’t be afraid to take some chances considering what Levi Randolph (16.4 PPG), Rodney Cooper (13.5 PPG) and Ricky Tarrant (10.6 PPG) are capable of doing.
  5. ESPN’s Myron Medcalf wrote a feature on Arkansas’ Bobby Portis, and it is definitely worth a read. The sophomore’s back story is inspiring, as he has had to overcome a lot of adversity to get to where he is now. The Little Rock native grew up wanting to play for the Razorbacks, and could be the player to lead them back to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008. Right now, you’d have to put him at the forefront of the SEC Player of the Year race, along with Willie Cauley-Stein, Damian Jones and Jarell Martin. Portis has been a consistent scorer and rebounder all season long, and perhaps more importantly, he didn’t fade away in the Razorbacks’ two biggest games of the year. In a road win over SMU, he had 22 points and five rebounds, and even though Arkansas got rolled by Iowa State it wasn’t because of Portis’ efforts, as he contributed 19 points and eight rebounds.
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Battle in the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by Lathan Wells & David Changas on December 27th, 2014

Kentucky, the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, faces perhaps its last truly tough test of the regular season when it enters Louisville’s Yum! Center today with both teams unbeaten and carrying designs on a second national title in the last four years (a notion that sounds crazy in December, but probably true). John Calipari has won six of seven match-ups against the Cardinals since taking over in Lexington, but Rick Pitino is on the other sideline with home court as well as the best player on the floor wearing red and white. SEC micrositer David Changas and ACC micrositer Lathan Wells got together to break down the biggest game of the college basketball weekend, and quite possibly, the entire regular season.

DC: One of Kentucky’s biggest strengths this season is its ability to grab offensive rebounds. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have struggled on the defensive glass. What can they do to neutralize this Kentucky advantage and keep the Wildcats from getting too many easy putback baskets?

Montrezl Harrell living up to his pre-season accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance (AP Photo)

Montrezl Harrell living up to his preseason accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance today. (AP Photo)

LW: This may seem perfunctory, but Louisville needs to do an incredible job of blocking out. No one in college basketball can match Kentucky’s size, so the Cards will need all of their big men to keep their assigned Wildcats on their backs. Montrezl Harrell also has to stay out of foul trouble, and Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang have to avoid the tendency to be overaggressive in a big-time situation so that they can stay on the floor as well. Another key against Kentucky is finding some rebounding help from the backcourt, so players such as Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will need to contribute in that department as well. Kentucky’s top-rated defense is so incredibly stifling that the Wildcats have coasted to most of their wins this year, but Louisville is bound to be hyped from the opening tip in this one. How would John Calipari’s team handle an early deficit, and who do you think is the one player the Wildcats absolutely need a phenomenal performance from to ensure they stay undefeated?

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Big Ten M5: 12.16.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 16th, 2014

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  1. Indiana had a solid weekend, destroying Grand Canyon by 28 points and turning the ball over only four times in the process. Prior to that win, the Hoosiers had been averaging 12.9 turnovers per game. Their relative lack of turnovers this season has been a godsend for head coach Tom Crean, as Indiana ranked 330th in the country in turnover percentage last year. This year, they’re turning the ball over on only 17 percent of their possessions, which ranks among the top 40 teams in the country.
  2. Iowa’s offensive limitations were exposed against Iowa State on Friday night as the Hawkeyes took a 15-point thumping at home against the Cyclones. Jordan Garretson of STATS.com reported that Iowa’s Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons rank 49th and 50th, respectively, in field goal percentage among Big Ten guards who have played at least eight games. There are only 65 guards that qualify for this metric, thus demonstrating the Hawkeyes’ poor performance from its backcourt so far this season. Iowa has leaned heavily on Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff and has had trouble establishing reliable threats from the three-point line — the Hawkeyes are shooting a chilly 30.3 percent from long-range, ranking 259th in the country.
  3. Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal wrote a column about Michigan State freshman Tum Tum Nairn’s performance so far this season, comparing him favorably to Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis. Ignoring their scoring totals – Nairn has played over 20 minutes in seven games this season, yet his highest point total of the year is only three — the two are most comparable when considering their per-minute assist and turnover rates. The only thing hindering Nairn from becoming the Big Ten’s next big thing is confidence in his shooting, but he is going to have to become a scoring threat for the Spartans to reach their potential this season.
  4. It’s hard to find any positives in Michigan’s abysmal play over a two-week period that culminated in the Wolverines laying an egg on Saturday at Arizona, losing by 27 in a game that the Wildcats thoroughly dominated. John Beilein has essentially turned over the center position to the trio of Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, and it worked fairly well until the end of November. In the Wolverines’ last three games, however, they have averaged fewer than 10 points and five rebounds combined, a big reason for the team’s current slide. Beilein hopes that this current skid will help motivate his big men to perform more consistently, because the Wolverines need something from them on a nightly basis.
  5. Ohio State defeated Morehead State, 87-71, on Saturday, but head coach Thad Matta found plenty of deficiencies in the Buckeyes’ play regardless. His team turned the ball over 17 times and allowed the Eagles to shoot 61.3 percent from the floor, becoming the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Buckeyes this season. Outside of the team’s nine-point loss to Louisville, Thad Matta’s squad has blown through its early season schedule with all eight wins coming by double figures. The only glaring deficiency in Ohio State’s game right now is its free throw shooting, ranking 278th nationally in getting to the line and converting their chances. It’s safe to say that we don’t really know what kind of team Ohio State is right now – and we probably won’t find out until the first week of January at the start of Big Ten play.
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