Rushed Reactions: #3 Baylor 82, #11 USC 78

Posted by Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is in Tulsa this weekend.

Johnathan Motley, who was stellar defensively, put up big numbers in Baylor’s win over USC. (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Baylor dominated the interior. The Bears did what they always do and took care of business in the paint on the offensive end. Junior Johnathan Motley finished with 19 points and junior Terry Maston added 19 of his own. As a team, Baylor finished with 40 points — nearly half of their total — in the paint. The Bears also managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds to help extend possessions and create extra scoring opportunities. USC’s zone defense helped open up opportunities for their opponent to crash the offensive glass. This is the second big performance for Maston — he also put up 19 points in Baylor’s opening round game against New Mexico State.
  2. USC made up for it with threes. The Trojans didn’t go away quietly, though, finding opportunities to exploit Baylor’s defense — whether zone or man — from behind the three-point arc. As a team, USC finished 9-of-22 (40.9%) from deep and it was Bennie Boatwright and Elijah Stewart who led the way. Boatwright hit 4-of-9 triples while Stewart made three of his six attempts. The three-point shot can be a great equalizer in basketball as it opens up the game offensively and puts an extra point on the board. Against Baylor, Chimezie Metu was the beneficiary of the extra spacing. He finished with 28 points.
  3. Manu Lecomte was the hero. With Motley on the bench with four fouls, Baylor coach Scott Drew made a surprising decision to play a smaller lineup. The Bears have spent most of their time on the court this season with two traditional bigs, so this was a big departure for their norm. Drew was rewarded by point guard Manu Lecomte. The junior had struggled for most of the game, but found an extra gear during its most crucial stretch. He scored eight of his 12 points during a 46 second stretch to help build Baylor’s lead.

Star of the Game. While Motley’s stat line was a bit better, this award has to go to Terry Maston for his second straight important performance off the bench. In addition to his 19 points, the junior grabbed nine boards and collected a pair of steals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #11 USC 66, #6 SMU 65

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be providing on-site coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

USC pulled off the upset on Friday afternoon. (J Pat Carter / Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. USC has the talent to make the second weekend. The Trojans have been wildly inconsistent this season, often oscillating between lengthy winning streaks and tough losing stretches, but they have proven that they can compete with the top teams in the country when at their best. Sure, everyone was looking forward to a potential SMU-Baylor matchup in Sunday’s Round of 32, but USC — because of its size and versatility on the interior — should also be competitive against the Bears. The teams are oddly somewhat similar with De’Anthony Melton playing the Ish Wainwright role of versatile wing. While he scored just two points today, he also dished out three assists, grabbed a pair of boards and snagged a steal. Melton, Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu are all potential NBA players and it’s all too common for these types of teams to coalesce and make a run in March.
  2. USC’s zone changed the game. After going into halftime with an eight-point deficit, the Trojans switched it up and played a 2-3 zone against the Mustangs for much of the second half. The new defense worked magnificently as SMU looked like it hadn’t seen a zone all season. The Mustangs struggled to get dribble penetration against it with the long arms of the USC defense all over the place. SMU also failed to get the ball into the middle of the zone by passing it to the free throw line. USC outscored the Mustangs 36-27 in the final 20 minutes to come away with a one-point win.
  3. We got a One Shining Moment play. It’s always fun to try to pick out the plays that might show up in One Shining Moment at the end of the NCAA Tournament. SMU’s Semi Ojeleye delivered a no-doubt inclusion against the Trojans as he skied above everyone else for a one-handed putback slam early in the second half. Ojeleye is a special player who at 6’7″ gives head coach Tim Jankovich versatility because of his athleticism, strength and outside shooting. The junior may ultimately be bound for the NBA at the end of this season, but in the meantime, we can watch his ridiculous slam on repeat.

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Overrated/Underrated: Six Teams to Watch Down the Stretch

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 3rd, 2017

Now halfway through the conference season, things are beginning to take shape around the college basketball landscape. As we advance into February, there are a number of overrated and underrated teams in the national polls. This week let’s dive into who some of those teams are and what makes them that way.

Overrated

Baylor Played Kansas Tough But Found an All Too Familiar Result (USA Today Images)

  • Baylor, 20-2 (7-2), #2. The Bears earned some #1 votes in the most recent AP Top 25 for a reason — this is a very good team. But can Baylor keep it up for the next five weeks in the rugged Big 12? Wednesday night’s loss to Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was perhaps expected, but what about upcoming road tests at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and a home date with West Virginia? Lastly, there’s that pesky issue that Baylor wasn’t ranked in the preseason, which matters more than you’d think. Since 2006, only one team that was unranked in the preseason and ranked in the pre-tournament poll has made the Final Four. That was Shabazz Napier’s 2014 National Championship Connecticut team. These Bears feel more like last year’s Iowa club or the 2014 Syracuse team, though.
  • USC, 19-4 (6-4), NR. After a home upset of UCLA, the Trojans climbed up to a #8 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology and sat just outside the Top 25 in this week’s poll (28th). But KenPom only rates the Trojans as the 59th-best team in college basketball and that’s probably closer to reality. USC is an athletically gifted team that maximizes offensive possessions by grabbing rebounds and avoiding turnovers, but its offense isn’t very efficient (52nd nationally) and its defense generally doesn’t pick up the slack (73rd nationally). Moreover, the bottom quarter of the Pac-12 is exceptionally weak this year, inflating win totals and otherwise artificially boosting all the numbers. The Trojans played well in the non-conference with good wins over SMU and Texas A&M, but if they can’t meaningfully separate themselves from the rest of the league over the last five weeks, they may be staring a bubble disaster right in the face on Selection Sunday.

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Pac-12 Roars Out of the Gates: Opening Weekend Thoughts

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 took a lot of heat as a conference during the Big Dance last year as a number of high-seeds (forgiving Oregon) didn’t amount to deep runs in March. The beauty of college basketball is that a new year brings new chances to make a mark, and as a whole, the conference’s opening weekend was outstanding to tip off the year. Here is a rundown of some of the opening weekend action:

  • UCLA and its talented freshmen burst out of the gate and ran Pacific right out of Pauley on Friday night. The Bruins’ 119-80 victory came with very auspicious debuts for T.J. Leaf and Lonzo Ball. They combined to shoot 15-of-21 for 41 points, and Ball stuffed his first stat sheet with a very impressive 19 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds (and just one turnover) in 34 minutes. That minutes total brings us to one of the big takeaways from the game, as head coach Steve Alford used a very tight rotation, something rare for an opener that was clearly over at halftime. Leaf played 37 minutes and every starter played at least 26, with Aaron Holiday rounding out the half-dozen man rotation with 24 minutes off the bench. Nobody else logged more than six minutes off the bench.
It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

With a great freshman class in action, Steve Alford has a great chance to lead his Bruins back to the top of the conference. (USA TODAY Images)

  • UCLA came back Sunday night in a defense “optional” performance to beat Cal-State Northridge. The Bruins blitzed the Matadors’ matador defense to the tune of 62 points in the second half to overcome what was actually a small halftime deficit. Again, Alford utilized a short bench, with Holiday getting 29 minutes off the pine and Gyorgy Golomon seeing 15. With Alford depending on such a young and inexperienced core, it’s understandable why he might be willing to give his youngsters heavier doses of minutes. Bruins’ possessions lasted 12.5 seconds on average in the opener, and they didn’t take the foot off the gas against Northridge. Something’s gotta give here. Either Alford lengthens the bench or the Bruins slow down, lest they collectively collapse from exhaustion come January.

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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 13

Posted by Connor Pelton on February 13th, 2013

Congratulations to Arizona, who managed to climb through a messy week on the west coast and take the top spot in our power rankings. If Oregon could have scored a point or two in the final four and a half minutes against Colorado last Thursday, there is no doubt the Ducks would be in the driver’s seat right now. UCLA comes as a unanimous pick at the three spot. The Bruins barely squeaked by Washington on Thursday before getting a dominating win Saturday night against Washington State. Our conference team of the week comes in at number four in the form of Colorado, who is fresh off a road sweep of the Oregon schools. Arizona State was another unanimous pick at fifth after picking up an impressive win over California and dropping a close decision to Stanford. Those same Cardinal round out the upper half of the conference at sixth, and the surprising and fast-rising USC Trojans follow them. California, Washington, Oregon State, Washington State, and Utah round out the remainder of the rankings.

Rank School Record Last Week Δ CP AM PB AB Average
1 Arizona 20-3 N/A 1 1 1 2 1.25
2 Oregon 19-5 N/A 2 2 2 1 1.75
3 UCLA 18-6 N/A 3 3 3 3 3
4 Colorado 16-7 N/A 4 5 4 4 4.25
5 Arizona St 18-6 N/A 5 4 5 6 5
6 Stanford 15-9 N/A 7 6 6 5 6
7 USC 11-13 N/A 9 7 7 7 7.5
8 California 14-9 N/A 8 8 8 8 8
9 Washington 13-11 N/A 6 9 9 9 8.25
10 Oregon St 12-12 N/A 10 10 10 10 10
T11 WSU 11-13 N/A 11 12 12 11 11.5
T11 Utah 10-13 N/A 12 11 11 12 11.5
  • Matching The National Rankings. The three Pac-12 teams receiving votes in the two national polls appear in the same order in our rankings. Arizona, ranked ninth in both polls, is obviously first here. The second place Ducks come in at 23rd and 27th, respectively, in the national rankings. And UCLA, who has a solid amount of distance between the two teams closest to them, is ranked at 38th and 41st. This upper third of the conference also has another thing in common; the fact that all of them are considered locks for the NCAA Tournament right now. That could change for Oregon and UCLA with a couple losses this week, but they are on solid ground for now.
  • The USC/Washington Debate. The Trojans and Huskies had more than just Sunday’s game in common this week. Both teams spurred the most debate between one voter and the other three, as I ranked UW three spots ahead of SC, and the other voters did the opposite. Even as the Trojans had the obvious better week, I can’t justify in my mind placing a team that will struggle to make the postseason in front of a near lock for the NIT.
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Tough Weekend in LA: UCLA and USC Face NCAA Problems Again

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 4th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Situated only 12 miles apart, an angst-inducing, traffic-clogged car ride away from one another, USC and UCLA have for many years sustained an adversarial existence on the athletic playing fields. The Trojans have dominated their cross-town rivals on the gridiron of late, while the Bruins have lorded over their cardinal-and-gold clad foes on the basketball court. The rivalry is alive and well, and both teams continue to make strides hoping to find ways to outperform one another in the revenue-producing sports. It starts with recruiting, the elemental building block to any successful program. Coaches at top programs like UCLA and USC must be able to seek out and sway the nation’s best high school players to their respective institutions. The meteoric rise of recruiting, propelled by expansive coverage from general scouting sites like Rivals, Scout, 247sports and ESPN Recruiting Nation, has pushed the art of courtship into the national spotlight, and coaches/programs are now judged on their ability not only to win games and draw fans but to also attract the best prospects in the country. The two LA schools have long stood as premium destinations for top-tier high school talents, but in today’s financially-intertwined recruiting market, these programs’ reputations, coaches, facilities and prime location – who doesn’t enjoy the comfort of a sunbath on the way to practice nearly every day of the year? – don’t hold the alluring force they once did. Often times persuading the cream of the high school crop requires more than what NCAA legislation allows.

The subject of an NCAA investigation, Anderson and Muhammad might not see the court in 2012-13 (Photo credit: Albert Dickson/SportingNews)

So even when an historic program like UCLA reels in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class – as it did in 2012, built on the backs of four commitments and featuring the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, Shabazz Muhammad – at least some measure of suspicion is warranted. Athletic director Dan Guerrero revealed on Monday that the NCAA has shifted its analytical eye toward that prized recruiting haul. In a statement released by the school, Guerrero confirmed that two members of the Bruins’ incoming class have yet to receive eligibility clearance for the upcoming season. A recent report by Scout’s BruinReportOnline.com  indicated three players (Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker) are in danger of losing their eligibility, but ESPN Los Angeles, citing an unnamed source, reported the ongoing probe concerns potential recruiting violations on behalf of Anderson and Muhammad. Parker, according to the same source, has been cleared to play this season. Muhammad’s recruitment has been subjected to NCAA scrutiny over the past several months, with particular concern over his relationship with financial advisers Ken Kavanagh and Benjamin Lincoln and his method of payment for several unofficial visits. Muhammad was held out of UCLA’s recent foreign exhibition tour to China, but Anderson and Parker both attended with the team (though Parker did not play due to injury).

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