NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

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Half the day is in the books, and eight teams are headed home. We may not know what the Thursday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Last season, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions advanced to the Sweet 16. Mercer will try to repeat that accomplishment this season, but winning Friday’s game against Duke will be a very tall task. Duke forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood lead a very talented Blue Devils squad that is an elite scoring team. There are no teams with close to Duke’s talent in the Atlantic Sun so Mercer has no basis for comparison leading into Friday afternoon’s action. Another thing that is working against Mercer is its lack of NCAA Tournament experience. The Bears have not been to the tournament since 1985. On the other hand, Duke has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995. If Mercer is able to keep it close Friday, it will be because of its strong offense going up against an iffy Duke defense. Mercer averages an impressive 79.5 points per game and is shooting 47.5% from the field. Bears senior guard Langston Hall has been an impressive player throughout his collegiate career and his ability to make plays will be paramount to the team’s fortunes Friday. Mercer is a scrappy bunch that can keep it close in the first half, but expect Duke’s talent to take over in the second half and lead the Blue Devils to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

#6 Baylor vs #11 Nebraska – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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Assessing the Atlantic 10′s NCAA Tournament Chances

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 16th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The chances for six bids, a record high for the Atlantic 10, are strong. The source for the seeds is the Bracket Matrix (a consensus of approximately 100 bloggers/bracketologists).

St. Joe's Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

St. Joe’s Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

Virginia Commonwealth (#6 seed)  – For the Rams, who have had problems generating offense from the half-court all season, turnovers leading to fast breaks and transition threes are especially important. Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC approach to defense is designed to generate turnovers through aggressive pressure and quick traps. HAVOC defense values turnovers and the scoring opportunities they create over shot defense. The key to negating the Rams’ strategy is to grow old and patient. Lineups that feature upperclassmen, especially in the ball-handling positions, can break the press on most possessions and make the Rams pay with easy baskets. A turnover or two should not rattle the backcourt and cause hasty, turnover-inducing decisions like the ones that plagued George Washington in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday. thrives in a hurry-up offense and defense that values turnovers over shot defense. Break the Rams’ press and avoid the half-court traps, unlike George Washington’s guard Joe McDonald Saturday, and the opponent should have a clean look at the basket. He and freshman point guard Miguel Cartagena threw two passes away with under four minutes to play and the Colonials down nine. “You can see it in their eyes… in their body language… when they are rattled,” a scout observed. Smart’s squad is the A-10′s best bet for a deep run this NCAA Tournament. While they have their flaws, they also have an experienced coach who will get them ready to play.

Saint Louis (#6 seed) – VCU may get most of the “defense” ink, but St. Louis has compiled the most impressive defensive resume in the conference… up until two weeks ago, holding opponents to 0.93 points per possession, good for #8 in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy. The defense is vintage Rick Majerus — stifling shot defense (especially out to the three-point line) that values defensive rebounds, limited fouls and a hand in the face over turnovers. Their late February/early March slump could be anticipated because the Bills’ had a string of small point margins through much of their 12-0 start to conference play. Their 1-3 close has hurt their projected seeding and possibly their confidence. While Austin McBroom and Mike McCall are decent from beyond the arc, they are specialists. Opposing defenses know if McBroom or McCall (or forward Rob Loe) has the ball, the shot will come from the outside and anyone else will drive the lane or pass into the low post. Jordair Jett, the A-10 Player of the Year, has proven to be able to create his own shot, but everyone else needs a setup or set play to score. The Bills will have to find a third/fourth option on offense to take a deep run.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 5th, 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.

If the Season Ended Today

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The conference standings are ordered by winning percentage (in conference play through Tuesday) using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences are used here to identify those teams that might be under- or over-seeded for the conference tournament. Virginia Commonwealth closed out a 4-3 February by beating conference leader Saint Louis by 11 to open March, If this run continues, the Rams might be peaking at exactly the right time. Saint Louis’ two-game losing streak (to Duquesne by seven AT THE CHAIFETZ! and to Virginia Commonwealth by 11) will not jeopardize its conference standing. The Billikens hold a tie-breaker over Saint Joseph’s should they drop one of their two remaining games. The damage, beyond their pride, was taken by their projected NCAA Tournament seed line. Touted as a #3 for much of February, many bracketologists moved Saint Louis down to the #4 or #5 seed line as a result. Dropping their last two games would be problematic for head coach Jim Crews’ squad. The highlighted teams (Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington) have the highest conference efficiency differences of any team grouped in their respective side of the latest version of the conference tournament brackets (see below), yet neither holds the #1 or the #2 seed. The brackets below show how the conference tournament would be seeded if the season ended on Tuesday. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 26th, 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.

If the Season Ended Today

Table01140226

The conference standings are ordered by A-10 winning percentage (through February 25), using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences do not match the conference standings, but that is not unusual. A few of the larger differences, however, do stand out (note the shadings). Massachusetts, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure in particular are out of place relative to the teams above and below them. Those efficiency differences, especially if the standings hold through the end of the regular season, could play a larger than expected role in the conference tournament. Note the brackets below represent the seeds if the conference tournament were seeded based on results through Tuesday.

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What’s Trending: Rick Pitino, Bill Walton, Wichita State, Michael Sam and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 21st, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

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Bill Walton’s Mount Rushmore of Musicians

Bill Walton has no idea how many presidents are on Mount Rushmore. A must watch.

Syracuse is Not Undefeated Anymore

But that is OK. Sometimes losing helps give you perspective and alleviate some unnecessary pressure.

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That Means Wichita State is the Nation’s Lone Unbeaten

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 19th, 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.

Another Look at A-10 Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies

St. Bonaventure and the inversion of Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with George Washington and Massachusetts excepted, conference records and efficiency differences are lining up. If this seems too early for this “alignment,” do not worry, as a week of upsets can jumble the differentials and records quickly, as even 10 games is still too small a sample size. Given the unbalanced schedule, however, this may be the best available predictor out there.

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The bottom four teams identified last week (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) continue to drift away from the other conference members, even as Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth separate themselves from their conference mates. Another trend worth tracking are the defensive efficiencies and the winning percentages of individual teams. As the standard deviation suggests, there is a greater variability between the conference defensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions allowed — 7.7) than between their offensive efficiencies (points scored per 100 possessions — 3.1). For the Atlantic 10 so far this season, defense is the barometer that predicts each team’s prospects.

Pomeroy projects UMass, George Washington, the Joe’s and Spiders will tie up third through sixth place with 10-8 records. The application of tie-breakers will be necessary to set the seeds for Brooklyn should the multiple ties come to pass. If we look at those four teams as a mini-conference, the “standings” against each other so far:

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O26 Game of the Week: SDSU at The Pit, Gonzaga-BYU, Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

San Diego State (22-2) at New Mexico (19-5) – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game — this week — is a huge one for New Mexico. If it can avenge an early loss to UNLV tonight in Las Vegas, Craig Neal’s team will return home on Saturday with a chance to pull even with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings and solidify itself as an NCAA Tournament lock. Up to this point, the only major feather in the Lobos’ cap is a win over Cincinnati back in early December, so beating the Aztecs this weekend would not only shake up the conference race, it would also carry serious resume-boosting implications. Not to mention bragging rights in a match-up that features two of the best fan bases west of the Mississippi.

Kendall Williams and the Lobos  welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

Kendall Williams and the Lobos welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

In fact, considering how closely matched the game is on paper, New Mexico’s 15,000-plus screaming fans might very well become a deciding factor when it’s all said and done. According to KenPom, the Lobos are pegged as the slight favorites with a win probability of 54 percent, a figure that will dip considerably when they head to San Diego in early March. But first they get to host the Aztecs in The Pit, their menacing, subterranean arena in which they boast an all-time winning mark well over 80 percent. Not many visiting teams escape unscathed. For San Diego State fans, the silver lining is this: Steve Fisher units have gone an admirable 6-8 in the daunting stadium since he took over in 1999.

Of course, the outcome will ultimately be decided on the court, and there, each team will have distinct advantages. For New Mexico, the ability to get interior scoring from its imposing frontcourt duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow will be critical. The big men combined to average 36 points and 15 rebounds in the Lobos’ two victories over the Aztecs last year; in the one loss, they mustered just two points and nine boards total. Paint production will be especially important considering that opposing guards Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard are stingy perimeter defenders, capable of minimizing Kendall Williams’ usually-considerable offensive production. San Diego State, meanwhile, hopes to continue playing the excellent team defense that has limited opponents to around 0.94 points per possession this season, good for 17th in the country. They are long, fast, physical and will suffocate teams that are ill-prepared. On the other end, the Aztecs are led by the gifted Thames — who’s likely to win Mountain West Player of the Year — and the team-wide ability to garner second-chance looks by crashing the offensive glass. Forwards Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien must out-bang the sizable New Mexico frontcourt if San Diego State hopes to generate enough offense to survive Albuquerque. The game will be high-stakes and high-energy, so flip to The Deuce and check it out when Saturday night rolls around.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Wyoming, Billy Baron, Brian Wardle & George Mason…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

We are officially less than one month from Selection Sunday (hooray!), so standout performances (and dreadful upsets) are now more impactful than ever on conference races and NCAA Tournament aspirations. Let’s pass out some awards to the best of the best from the O26 last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Wyoming. The Pokes began the week with their biggest home win since joining the Mountain West in 1999, and ended it with their greatest defensive effort in that same span. On Tuesday night, Wyoming notched its first victory over a top-five team in Arena Auditorium in 16 years by defeating San Diego State, 68-82, to end the Aztecs’ 20-game winning streak and prompt a well-deserved rushing of the court. Not only did the Cowboys out-shoot, out-defend and out-energize Steve Fisher’s club, but they did so with style, eschewing open jumps shots (their offense is predicated on burning the shot clock and finding the best look possible) in favor of wide open dunks, time after time down the floor. At one point, as they opened up a double-figure lead midway through the second half, the team was exuding such high-flying swagger and cool confidence that it became hard to tell if you were watching  this year’s Wyoming club or last year’s Florida Gulf Coast. And when SDSU made a late charge to pull within four at the under-one minute mark, in a moment where it seemed the league powerhouse was going to exert its will, Nathan Sobey went ahead and threw down a transition slam — what else? — to bury the Aztecs for good. The last time Wyoming knocked off a team that highly ranked, the year was 1998, the opponent was Rick Majerus-led Utah, and the Cowboys’ head coach was… Larry Shyatt. The first time around.

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Who Won the Week? Tyler Ennis, Wisconsin, Grambling State & More…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 14th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. 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. This week’s main event? Watching INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State get upset by an Idaho team that was just 1-6 in its home dome at that point.

WINNER: Tyler Ennis

When you save your team’s undefeated season by making a buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off a Top 25 team on the road, you’ve got the best week imaginable. Syracuse’s freshman point guard earned top honors this week thanks to that. Tyler Ennis’ 13-point, five-assist performance in Wednesday’s 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, including that last shot, pushed the Orange’s record to 24-0 and 11-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. OK, sure, maybe they won’t make it through consecutive road games at Duke, Maryland and Virginia in the next couple of weeks, but for another few nights, the magic lives on thanks to a phenomenal shot from a freshman phenom.

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

(Related winners: Syracuse, who also beat Clemson 57-44 on Sunday; Wichita State, which gets to avoid the singular spotlight of being the nation’s only undefeated team. Related losers: Pittsburgh, but thanks for setting the stage for a star.)

LOSER: Everybody involved in the Marcus Smart fiasco

One of last year’s phenom freshman point guards hasn’t exactly had the same season in his second try. Marcus Smart’s frustration seemed encapsulated last Saturday when the Oklahoma State sophomore pushed Texas Tech purported “superfan” Jeff Orr in the stands during the Cowboys’ eventual 65-61 loss in Lubbock. Nobody wins in this. Smart rightfully earned a three-game suspension for his actions. Orr, who has been caught making obscene gestures to other players, won’t attend a Texas Tech game for the rest of the season. The Pokes’ losing streak extended to five after following their loss at the Red Raiders with an 87-68 loss Tuesday at Texas. We’ll never know what Orr actually said to provoke Smart. We’ll never know what went through Smart’s mind. But we know that his team has slipped to 16-8 and 4-7 in Big 12 play. He’ll certainly have a lot of work to do upon his return, both on the basketball court and with his reputation.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Saint Joseph’s, Tyler Haws, Eddie Payne and CCSU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Last week was incredibly entertaining all across the spectrum of college hoops, featuring numerous upsets and several finishes that made our jaws drop. Let’s pass out a few accolades to those O26 teams, players and coaches who got the job done amid all the craziness.

Langston Galloway's big shot helped spark a big week for Saint Joseph's. (SJU Athletic Communications)

Langston Galloway’s big shot helped spark a big week for Saint Joseph’s. (SJU Athletic Communications)

O26 Team of the Week

Saint Joseph’s. This current week might actually have larger implications for Saint Joseph’s, what with home games against Saint Louis and VCU, but the Hawks’ effort last week — winning on the road at Dayton and handling UMass in Hagan Area — still deserves significant recognition. Phil Martelli’s club seemed destined for a second straight loss last Wednesday against the Flyers, trailing at halftime and completely unable to get things going offensively (perhaps a carry-over from the previous game at Richmond). It would have made for devastating, potentially demoralizing, defeat, considering the upcoming slate. Then the second half began, and everything changed. The Hawks charged out of the locker room with a 27-7 run to go up 15 points with around 10 minutes to play, leaving the Dayton crowd stunned and silenced. The home team did eventually make a comeback, forcing a slew of turnovers and tying the game with 11 seconds on the clock, but Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway would not allow this opportunity to slip by, not with a season potentially in the balance: The senior used a ball screen at the top of the key, found just enough space on the right wing and banked in a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left, finishing off the Flyers and improving his club’s record to 4-2 in Atlantic 10 play.

Saturday’s game against UMass featured similar drama, but was far more redemptive for the Hawks. A month earlier, they had played well but blew a late lead against the Minutemen in Amherst, prompting the terrific Martelli line, “It’s a big-boy game, and we weren’t big enough.” His team was more than big enough this time aroun — at least for the first 38 minutes — as it outworked Derek Kellogg’s group on both ends of the floor and opened up a 16-point margin early in the second half. But just like three days before, Saint Joseph’s let a game seemingly well in hand nearly get away, as UMass point guard Chaz Williams spearheaded a late, furious charge to tie things up with 30 seconds remaining. The Hawks stepped up once again, draining five key free throws and forcing one huge turnover to put away the Minutemen and salvage hopes for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. It was the perfect culmination to a pivotal week for the Hawks, both a testament to their fortitude and proof of their staying power in the Atlantic 10.

Honorable Mentions: Lehigh (2-0: vs. Bucknell; @Boston University); Davidson (2-0: vs. Chattanooga; vs. The Citadel); Ohio (2-0: vs. Central Michigan; vs. Toledo)

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