Wrapping Up the Pac-12 and Looking Ahead to 2015-16

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2015

The National Championship game is now more than a week behind us and the Final Four is almost two weeks back. Stanford’s “magical” NIT run ended 14 days ago and Arizona’s loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, capping off the last meaningful Pac-12 action of the season, is nearly three weeks ago. With Arizona State’s coaching vacancy filled and early-entry and transfer season fully in swing, that means it is well past time to put a bow on the season and begin to think about what comes next. Below, we’ll review each Pac-12 team and offer up grades on each team’s season. We’ll also take a look at what could be around the bend the next time college basketball rolls around.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Despite Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles, The 2014-15 Wildcats Came Up Shy Of Their Grandest Goals. (AP)

Arizona (A-)

The goal all year long was a Final Four. Wrapping up some unfinished business and all. Well, that goal was left incomplete. Business is still pending. Still, you’re not going to see me come down too hard on the Wildcats. While their three regular seasons losses were all suspicious in nature, their Elite Eight loss to national runner-up Wisconsin was just one of those things that happens between great teams. Sean Miller’s postgame press conference after the Badgers shot a 105.0 percent eFG in the second half was one long extended verbal shrug, a “what can you do?”, a “sh– happens.” Arizona ended its season playing its best basketball, some of the best basketball being played by any team in the nation. The Wildcats just happened to lose to one of maybe two or three other teams that were capable of playing better. We have to tack a “minus” onto that well-deserved “A” simply because I would guess Miller and T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson and all the rest would agree that the overall result of the season was tinged with some disappointment. Without a doubt, though, the Wildcats were the best team in the Pac-12. And were it not for Buzzsaw Badger, they might still be celebrating in Tucson.

What’s next: McConnell is out of eligibility. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley have said they’re forgoing their remaining eligibility to pursue NBA careers, a decision Johnson is likely to make as well. But this is Arizona. And this is Sean Miller. The ‘Cats will be fine. Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will return and take on bigger roles. Sophomores Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic will be relied upon to take big steps forward. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and junior college transfer (and 2014-15 redshirt Kadeem Allen) will jump right in. And then there’s a recruiting class featuring Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon and Chance Comanche (ESPN top-100 recruits, all) that may not even be finished yet. Yeah, don’t cry for Miller and his Wildcats; they’ll be back. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Pac: Way Back?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2015

Three Sweet Sixteen teams. One in the Elite Eight. And yet when the Final Four rolls around this weekend, it will commence without an entrant from the West Coast’s major conference, the Pac-12, for the seventh consecutive season. Arizona has nothing to be embarrassed about from its loss to Wisconsin on Saturday. Utah and UCLA both put up good fights before going down to clearly superior teams. But this is turning into something of an issue. Since the last time a Pac-12 team advanced to the Final Four (UCLA, 2008), four different Big Ten schools have earned a total of seven spots in the sport’s final weekend. The Big East has earned seven as well, although all of those but Villanova have scattered in the wind to different conferences (the new Big East does have Butler, however, which earned two Final Four appearances as part of the Horizon League). Even conferences like the Colonial (VCU, 2011), the Missouri Valley (Wichita State, 2013) and the newly formed American (Connecticut, 2014) have Final Four appearances since the last Pac-12 appearance.

Not Only Is Arizona A Player's Program, It Is The Pac-12's Best (AP)

Not Only Is Arizona A Player’s Program, It Is The Pac-12’s Best. (AP)

Furthermore, if you throw out UCLA’s three straight appearances from 2006-08, you have to go all the way back to 2001 to find another Pac-12 school (Arizona) with a Final Four appearance. In the history of the conference that starts with the word “Pacific” and ends with a number, only three schools (UCLA, Arizona and Stanford) have made the Final Four. Current member Utah got to the final weekend back in 1998 (and in 1966, for that matter) as a member of the WAC, and had previously earned spots as a member of the Mountain States conference in 1944 and 1961. Refer to the bottom of the page for the complete list of when teams in the conference last reached that level of success. So, really, I didn’t sit down expecting to write the above. I was just going to write a simple season wrap-up and wound up diving down a rabbit hole. Now I’m left with these burning questions: 1) Why does the Pac-12 find itself in such dire straits? And 2) is there any hope of significant change? Let’s dive right into the first one with the caveat that, even after thinking about this for 24 hours, I’m not sure I have a great answer. So, we’ll leave it open for further discussion. Feel free to shoot down any of my theories and propose your ideas along the way.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 63, #5 Utah 57

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Justise Winslow Starred In Duke's Sweet Sixteen Victory Friday Night (USA Today Images)

Justise Winslow Starred In Duke’s Sweet Sixteen Victory Friday Night (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke’s Dominant Defense. The Blue Devils made their way to Houston largely on the backs of a prolific offense but it was a disruptive defensive effort that fueled Friday night’s victory. In the Utah backcourt, Duke extended pressure and forced 15 Utes’ turnovers; when Utah managed to settle into the half-court offense they found the going no easier, as they made just 34.6 percent of their field goal attempts, including only 4-of-16 from behind the arc. Over the course of the last two months, an improving Duke defense has often gone unnoticed while the hyper-efficient offense has whizzed on the other end. Today, however, there is no chance it goes overlooked — this was a varied and dynamic defensive effort against a good offensive team that earned Duke a trip to the Elite Eight. If similar efforts continue, that defense could take them even further.
  2. Delon Wright Never Gets Going. Utah’s indispensable senior star was whistled for an extremely questionable third foul with 4:59 to play in the first half, relegating him to cheerleading duties for the remainder of the period. In 13 first-half minutes, he managed only two points (on 1-of-5 field-goal shooting) without an assist. Wright was far more involved in the second half – he finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three steals – but his final contributions were still insufficient for the Utes to seriously challenge Duke. He missed 10 of his 14 field goal attempts, turned the ball over as many times as he set up teammates for buckets (two), and generally failed to penetrate the Duke defense. In totality, Wright’s senior season was spectacular – he was THE catalyst for Utah’s revival. But on Friday night, much like he was in other games down the stretch, Wright just didn’t measure up to the lofty standards his early brilliance helped set.
  3. Okafor Was Contained, But No Problem For Duke. Utah did a good job containing Duke’s freshman All-American, limiting Okafor to 3-of-6 shooting from the field while forcing him into four turnovers. Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski took turns as the primary defender on Okafor, but the Utes also brought a double-team immediately upon any Okafor touch, which served well in minimizing his impact. The good news for Duke: The Blue Devils learned they could win without a standout performance from Okafor. The bad news: Future opponents could replicate the Utes defensive plan of attack to make life difficult for him. Thinking to Sunday: Will Gonzaga leave Karnowski and Sabonis to battle Okafor one-on-one?

Star of the Game. Justise Winslow, Duke. Winslow’s stellar first-weekend play carried over to tonight as the Duke freshman again stuffed the stat sheet. His final line: 21 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. It wasn’t all good for Winslow – Brekkott Chapman beat Winslow for a layup while he was celebrating a made three-point field goal, much to the chagrin of Coach K – but the versatile wing again proved his immense value on Friday night. In an unusual twist, it was Winslow who hit all three of the Duke three-point field goals, finding the range on a night where teammates Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones could not. Fearing his athleticism, Utah dared him to shoot perimeter jumpers – Winslow made them pay.

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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Tonight the Sweet Sixteen moves to Syracuse and Houston, so let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the East and South Regions.

South Storylines

1. Is this finally Gonzaga’s year? Mention Gonzaga to a casual college basketball fan, and more often than not, the word ‘overrated’ pops into his head. The Bulldogs have had some really impressive regular seasons under Mark Few, making the NCAA Tournament every year since he took over in 1999. But time after time, the Zags have come up short in March. Few has never taken Gonzaga past the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach, but this could be the year that the drought ends. This year’s team is more complete and well-rounded than most previous editions, and the final hurdle on the path to the Elite Eight is a #11 seed — albeit a strong one — in UCLA. A program-first Final Four might also be within reach, but let’s not put the cart before the horse just yet — for many reasons, the Zags need to win tonight.

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Duke’s recent Tourney hiccups. Since winning the 2010 National Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s postseason record has actually been pretty lackluster. He came into this year 5-4 in the NCAA Tournaments from 2011-14 and he has been on the wrong end of some stunning upsets — losses to #15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and #14 seed Mercer a year ago. Even the 2011 Sweet Sixteen loss to #5 seed Arizona was unexpected. It’s exactly that kind of loss that Duke will be hoping to avoid this time around against a dangerous Utah squad.

3. Back aboard the Utah bandwagon? The Utes faded from the spotlight late in the season. They lost three of their last five games and exited the Pac-12 Tournament by losing to Oregon for the second time in less than a month. But they were businesslike last weekend in handling Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, and come into tonight’s contest as only a five-point underdog against Duke. Utah has been a top 10 KenPom team since early January, and after a methodical but strong second half dispatching of the Hoyas, it seems like everybody has fallen back in love with the Utes as a Final Four sleeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.27.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 27th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • West Virginia’s Daxter Miles talked the talk but it was Kentucky that walked the walk. After Miles declared that Kentucky would be “36-1″ after playing the Mountaineers, the Wildcats proceeded to beat his team into submission by 39 points. The Kentucky players had some responses to share with the world via Twitter.
  • Last night, Kentucky showed what it could do when you make the Wildcats angry. After a historic Sweet Sixteen  beatdown of West Virginia, Ben Cohen asks the question we’ve been asking all year long: Can anyone beat Kentucky?
  • Not only did Daxter Miles‘ team lose the game despite guaranteeing victory, but he finished with no points and just one rebound. Tough day.
  • Notre Dame gained control early and took every punch Wichita State threw at it en route to an 11-point victory last night.
  • Notre Dame could have the offensive firepower to keep up with Kentucky if the Irish are able to hit their threes. But will it be enough to give the Wildcats’ their only loss of the season?
  • Could Gregg Marshall have just coached his last game at Wichita State? Having done wonders for the Shockers’ program over the last several years, will Marshall leave for a bigger job this off-season?

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

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The Sweet Sixteen continues with four more compelling games tonight in Houston and Syracuse. Here are this evening’s previews.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Houston, TX) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday's matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday’s matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Nobody forgets the tears. Nine years and three days ago, UCLA induced a very public display of emotion from Adam Morrison. The circumstances that led to the devastation were far from ordinary – the Bruins erased a 17-point second half deficit and scored the final 11 points to down the Zags and advance to the Elite Eight – but it’s the singular image of Morrison, keeled over on the floor with blue Gonzaga jersey pulled over his face, that has persisted longest in the memory banks of March. Now, almost a decade later, the two teams renew March pleasantries for the first time since Morrison’s college career came to that tearful end. The differences between this matchup and the last are too numerous to list, but there is one key similarity: Gonzaga again has a team widely perceived to be capable of winning a national title.

Mark Few’s team has made just one Sweet Sixteen since 2006, and that team (in 2009) needed only to beat a #12 and a #13 to get there. Needless to say, Gonzaga Final Four prospects haven’t been this bright since Morrison was in uniform. This Bulldog team is nearly as explosive as the ’06 bunch (emphasis on nearly: that team was #1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), but points now originate from a wider variety of sources. Six Zags average at least eight points a game, and every Gonzaga regular owns an offensive rating in excess of 110. In the first two rounds, Gonzaga averaged 86.5 points per game and posted points per possession marks of 1.23 and 1.30 against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively. Unlike in past years, the Zags we see this March look remarkably similar to the ones we watched all season. Good news for Mark Few; bad news for UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Three-Pac of Teams in the Sweet Sixteen Party

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 25th, 2015

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Four of our friends were invited to this party last weekend along with a bunch of other people. It’s been a crazy, crazy time. If I told you about everything that went down, it would probably burn off both your ears. We’ve got some stories we’ll tell the next time this group gets together, but for now, three of our crowd are still going strong. And the way things are going, there’s a chance at least one of this cast of characters closes this party down. Before we get to those party animals, let’s pay tribute to the one we lost along the way.

Oregon Is The Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early (USA Today)

Oregon is the Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early. (USA Today)

Oregon came into the year a complete mess. The offseason was literally scandalous. There was a whole new group of players to meet. Expectations were low. The whole thing could have gone off the rails at any time. Instead, chalk up a Pac-12 Player of the Year award, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, a second-place conference finish, an NCAA Tournament win and another chance to throw one hell of a scare into Wisconsin before fading late. By any reasonable measure, this season in Eugene will go down as a resounding success. Joseph Young’s trailblazing two years came to an end, but a fine young group of talented players remain in his stead. And frankly, a changing of the guard could be the breath of fresh air the program needs. Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks will headline a group of talented sophomores, while Snoop Dogg Dwayne Benjamin will be the scrappy play-making veteran he established himself as this year. As long as Dana Altman returns along the sideline (which, given that previous scandal, is not exactly a 100 percent sure thing), there’s no reason to expect anything less than another strong upper-division finish next year from the Ducks. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes 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 @rtcsouthregion for reporting from Houston this week. You can find all four regional resets here.

New Favorite: #1 Duke. The Blue Devils are well-positioned to make their first Final Four since 2010. Two wins in Charlotte (by an average of 24.0 PPG) did little to diminish their status as the South Region favorite, even with Gonzaga and Utah also impressively advancing en route to Houston. Duke, 31-4 and trending upwards, has made clear the crown will go through them.

Quinn Cook And Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise By San Diego State And Into The Sweet 16

Quinn Cook and Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise by San Diego State and into the Sweet Sixteen. (Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #11 UCLA. The only double-digit seed left standing in this NCAA Tournament is the South Region’s darkest horse, despite that double-digit seed owning more national titles than any program in the history of college basketball. UCLA’s serendipitous March has been well-documented, but 80 minutes of solid basketball earned the Bruins a trip to Houston and the second weekend. The impediment to advancement (Gonzaga) will be significantly greater in Houston; can UCLA’s mutation into Cinderella maintain itself for another weekend?

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Iowa State. It was the quick departure of a pair of #3 seeds from the Big 12 that supplied this year’s NCAA Tournament an early jolt on Thursday afternoon. Baylor’s demise on the other side of the bracket was surprising in its own right, but Iowa State’s loss to UAB was legitimately shocking. Fresh off a takedown of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones had entered this tourney with engines revving. The draw was favorable in the South – many believed a Final Four run was in the cards. At worst, a second round victory over 14-point underdog UAB felt like a certainty. But the impossible becomes possible very quickly this time of year; before anyone knew it, Iowa State had become the first casualty of the Madness of March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Utah 75, #4 Georgetown 64

Posted by rtmsf 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.

Utah (USA Today Images)

Larry Krystkowiak’s Group Headed to Its First Sweet Sixteen in a Decade (USA Today Images)

  1. Efficient and Balanced Basketball. Utah was in for quite the battle but the Utes were able to eventually pull away from Georgetown behind its multiple offensive options, nearly every one of whom understands the difference between a good shot, a better shot and the best shot (see Larry Krystkowiak’s quotes below for more on this). Against a Hoyas’ defense that shuts down the interior at the expense of giving up open looks from the perimeter, Krystkowiak’s bunch capitalized on its opportunities in both ways. The Utes connected on 14-of-24 shots from within the arc (58%) and 8-of-14 shots from behind it (57%). Their 38 shot attempts marked the second consecutive game where Utah had taken that relatively low number, but it is making up for that lost offense in spades with trips to the foul line (53 attempts over two games). Furthermore, six players scored between nine and 14 points tonight. A highly efficient offensive attacked that is diversified by multiple scoring options is a tough unit to beat, and Utah is playing like it has no interest in heading home just yet.
  2. Georgetown’s Hot Start Was Fool’s Gold. The Hoyas came burning out of the gates with five threes in the first seven minutes of action. As head coach John Thompson, III, said after the game, the hot start probably made his team a little too reliant on jump shots moving forward. A 35 percent shooting team from distance on the season, the Hoyas only made four more for the rest of the game, with three coming in the second half (and one of those when the game was all but over). Utah probably wasn’t going to be beaten tonight, but the early run allowed Georgetown — a team that can often go through long offensive funks — to stay essentially even with Utah until the final four minutes of the game.
  3. Utah’s Program Turnaround. Utah is a proud basketball program with a long history of success, but the rebuild that Krystkowiak has enabled in Salt Lake City over the past four seasons has been phenonemal. His first team, a complete laughingstock in its first season in the Pac-12, won a total of six games. But the next season his Utes were competitive, winning 15 and making a mini-run in the Pac-12 Tournament. Last season was the breakthrough year, with Utah notching 21 wins and a trip to the NIT. In year four, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s unlikely that the Utes are headed beyond Houston this year, but given the preparation and efficiency with which Utah plays, it’s not easy to count the team out.

Player of the Game. Brandon Taylor, UtahThere was no single player who stood out above the rest tonight, but Taylor’s 14 points and five assists seem as good as any. In particular, he hit a couple of second half threes that gave Utah breathing room twice as Georgetown was pushing forward, so his timeliness more than anything else was worthy of this award.

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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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Rushed Reactions: #4 Utah 57, #13 Stephen F. Austin 50

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 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.

Utah's Bench Celebrates the Big Win (USA Today Images)

Utah’s Bench Celebrates the Big Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Hanging Around, Hanging Around. Upsets in the opening round tend to occur when the favored team cannot create enough separation to psychologically convince the underdog team that their efforts are futile. Take Arizona’s domination of Texas Southern today. The lead quickly ballooned to 20 points in the first half and everybody in the building knew that there would be no realistic comeback attempt. On the other hand, a team like Baylor couldn’t quite put away Georgia State today, leaving the Panthers just enough room and time to make a 13-0 run to finish, and win, the game. Utah’s failure to put away Stephen F. Austin tonight was dangerous because it felt like the Lumberjacks were only a play or two away from wresting control away from the Utes and pulling off the big upset.
  2. When the Game Turned (or More Accurately, Didn’t Turn). To that point, Utah had allowed Stephen F. Austin to hang around for most of the second half when it seemed to start slipping away on a series of plays. With Utah up eight, Jordan Loveridge took an ill-advised three-pointer, allowing the ‘Jacks to push upcourt after the miss. Thomas Walkup (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists) then made a driving layup. On the ensuing possession, Utah turned it over and Walkup converted that into another layup, this time with an and-1 opportunity. The game was down to four points and Stephen F. Austin was starting to believe. Walkup missed the free throw, but his teammates secured the offensive rebound. When he then took a three from the left side that was on line, you just knew that it was going to drop through the net and cut the lead to one. That shot was long, but that didn’t mean the run was over. Utah missed another jumper on its next possession, and SFA answered with another jumper that missed. At this point, Utah was acting a bit panicky and it felt like all the Lumberjacks really needed was one more big play to facilitate the Utes’ collapse. Next, Utah brought the ball downcourt; Delon Wright fired up a shot that missed… and Jakob Poeltl, Utah’s star freshman big man, used his vastly superior size to block out the smaller Walkup and put back the offensive rebound. Utah was now up six.
  3. Poeltl as Difference Maker. Poeltl was also fouled on that play, and even though he missed the free throw and SFA cut it to four again, the center grabbed another offensive board on the very next possession, was fouled, and nailed those free throws to push the lead back up to six points. Although the Lumberjacks continued to push and eventually got the lead down to two on one trip, they never were able to get to a point where they could take the lead. Poeltl added another late block as well, but from the view of this observer, it was his play as Utah appeared to be collapsing that helped to keep the ship from completely sinking. The dimension that Poeltl provides as a legitimate seven-footer who is an elite offensive rebounder and rim-protector gives the Utes a defensive look that few teams in college basketball have. And he may very well have been the stopgap that saved Utah’s season from swirling down into the Willamette River here.

Player of the Game. Jakob Poeltl. Utah’s star freshman big man didn’t miss a shot from the field as he went for 18 points (7-of-7 FG), eight rebounds (three offensive) and five blocks. For a player that was on virtually nobody’s radar coming into the season, he has been a huge reason that Larry Krystkowiak’s group has returned Utah basketball to relevance.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: About Those Tourney Teams?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 18th, 2015

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Four Pac-12 teams are going dancing. And we’ve got four Burning Questions. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But, below, you’ll get takes from Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa about what to expect from the teams around the Conference of Champions this week and beyond.

Q: So, UCLA’s in the Tournament. On a scale of 1 to Holy Crap Really! how surprised are you. And can they do anything with their good fortune?

Adam Butler: I don’t know why but when the Bruins’ name was called on Sunday I wasn’t all that shocked. It makes no sense because they haven’t impressed by the numbers or the eyeball tests. But at the same time I like so many things about this team in a tournament setting. They’re the only Pac-12 team to keep things close on two occasions with Arizona and – while I don’t love moral victories – that’s something. Of course the committee doesn’t pay attention to any of the storylines so it’s not like Larry Brown ever coached UCLA or anything. I remain concerned about the Bruins’ cohesiveness but if all I need is to win one game, it’s hard not to at least be somewhat impressed with Kevon Looney and Norman Powell.

Yep, we had the same reaction, Bryce. (AP)

Yep, we had the same reaction, Bryce. (AP)

Andrew Murawa: I’m definitely all the way over on the Holy Crap Really! side of things. I just don’t get how the Bruins have done anything to deserve playing in this Tournament. They have home wins over Oregon and Utah which are, yeah, whatever, fine. Beyond that, the biggest smiley-face on their report card is only losing by an average of eight points in their two games against Arizona. Is that all you need to do these days? Play in a big conference and lose to good teams? All that said, when the Bruins have things clicking, they’re pretty fearsome. Tony Parker is coming along in the post, Kevon Looney makes “Wow!” plays on a regular basis, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have proven themselves capable of big games. And Norman Powell is just playing lights out right now. This is a team that could beat SMU by 20. Or go 10 minutes without a bucket in the second half and fade into obscurity.

Q: Oregon gets an #8 seed and has to play Oklahoma State in Omaha. Did the Ducks get screwed?

AM: Given the lack of any truly notable wins on their non-conference slate, the Ducks’ relatively strong finish to the season in a weak Pac-12 shouldn’t really hold much sway. And it didn’t. But the fact that they’ve got to go to Big 12 country to play a Cowboys team that really didn’t do a whole lot to earn much good favor can’t sit well either.

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