The Tar Heels Need Henson. While James Michael McAdoo has shown flashes of inspired play, North Carolina is a significantly better team with John Henson on the floor. McAdoo and fellow freshman Desmond Hubert are much less physically imposing when defending opposing big men. What’s more, UNC’s usually stunning rebounding takes a hit without Henson. They can get by a 16-seed without him, but Roy Williams needs John Henson on Sunday.
Slow Start for UNC. Harrison Barnes wasn’t shooting well. McAdoo was missing point-blank layups. Kendall Marshall made a couple of sloppy passes. It looked like UNC came out trying to get by the Vermont Catamounts with minimal effort, and the score for the first ten minutes–small 2 to 3 point leads–reflected that effort. Tepid starts have been somewhat of a problem for this UNC team, but it’s an especially dangerous way to play in March. If an opponent comes out firing, UNC could find themselves playing catch-up in a sudden death tournament.
No Shame for the Catamounts. Despite the score, Vermont actually looked better than an outsized #16 should look against North Carolina. They played smart, sound basketball, and only unraveled due to North Carolina’s superior size and talent. The game wasn’t close, but it was a promising sign for a young team that should have expectations of dancing again in 2013.
Star of the Game. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina. When his teammates started sluggishly, Tyler Zeller put the Tar Heels on his back, leading all players with 13 points and nine rebounds in the first half. In the second half, when Vermont trying to cut the deficit to single digits, Zeller made two outstanding blocks near the rim, bringing new energy to a quiet North Carolina crowd.
Sights and Sounds. James Michael McAdoo shot 1-for-6 in the first half, looking lost at times. That’s why the standing ovation sounded so sweet for his second half performance: 5-of-8 from the floor, getting him to a new career high of 17 points. As he came back to the UNC bench with a little more than three minutes left in the game, each UNC teammate wore broad smiles, congratulating him on a game well played.
What’s Next? The Heels meet Creighton on Sunday, which means a matchup between former high school teammates Doug McDermott and Harrison Barnes. The big question is: does John Henson play? Today was the first time in the past week Henson wasn’t wearing a wrist brace on the bench. If Roy Williams has him in the rotation against the Jays, the Heels should be safe. If not, anything could happen given Creighton’s talented front line.
Wednesday’s victory over Lamar was perhaps the best win of Vermont‘s season, excepting a nice overtime victory over Old Dominion on the road. Vermont is a solid team. They aren’t extraordinary at anything and they aren’t terrible at anything. While Stony Brook technically edged Vermont for the America East Conference regular season title, the Catamounts’ victory in the conference tourney gives them a strong claim as the class of the conference. Yet, when push comes to shove, being the best in this conference just doesn’t mean much. Out of the 32 conferences, the America East Conference ranks 29th by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. I say this not to disparage the conference or Vermont, but just to make a simple point: Vermont is outclassed by North Carolina.
Vermont Hasn't Seen Size & Athleticism Like This
That doesn’t mean the Catamounts don’t stand a chance or can’t win; it just means that they might play great and still lose. Vermont has some real talent on its roster and Brian Voelkel is a very intriguing and unique player. The fourth tallest starter, Voelkel is also the team’s principal playmaker, averaging a team-high 5.2 APG while also grabbing a team-high 8.7 RPG. Yet despite this versatile charm, Voelkel isn’t a scorer. Vermont does have a few of those, however, including Four McGlynn, a freshman guard who takes 30% of his team’s shots when he is on the floor and makes them at a very high clip (39.3% from three).
The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.
Close rivals Kansas and Missouri are sharing a facility in Omaha, despite residing in different regions on the bracket. There haven’t been any incidents between players, but fans have traded some barbs with both schools only a four-hour drive away.
Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames will try to stop N.C. State. Tapley is the lone significant holdover from last season’s veteran-laden San Diego State squad, while Thames is in his first season since transferring from Washington State.
CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander believes Long Beach State‘s early exit at the hands of New Mexicoshouldn’t cloud the legacy of the outgoing 49er senior class. Casper Ware, T.J. Robinson, Larry Anderson and Eugene Phelps came to LBSU one season after the 49ers won six games and beat Xavier and Pittsburgh in this season.
Also in Portland, behind a strong game from Peyton Siva, Louisville handled Davidson and now must prepare for the Lobos. Any chances of a deep run by Louisville hinge on Siva stringing together strong performances instead of his on-again off-again style that’s drawn criticism this season.
They may be seeded three spots better, but Marquettewill be in a de facto road environment for Saturday’s tilt with Murray State, as the KFC Yum! Center hosts the third round game 3.5 hours away from the Racers’ campus.
RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Texas – East Region Second Round (at Nashville, TN) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
These are two teams with similar statistical profiles but the Texas Longhorns are missing Alexis Wangmene, a big senior forward who would have added an extra body for Rick Barnes to go up against Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates in the paint. With a guard-oriented team and a thin front court, the Longhorns have some difficulty against the physical Bearcats. Cincinnati doesn’t have a deep front line either but Gates is the team’s third leading scorer and a key cog in its offensive flow. Neither team shoots the ball particularly well but Cincinnati has an edge on the perimeter with multiple players who can make a three. Texas ranks sub-200 in defending the triple and that’s something that could cost it the game. Cincinnati is a streaky hit-or-miss team with four capable guards surrounding Gates on the floor. As for Texas, leading scorer J’Covan Brown is pretty much the team’s only major threat. If Cincinnati can lock up Brown defensively, it will win the game rather easily. If Brown manages to get free and score close to his average of 20.1 PPG, the Bearcats will be in for a nail biter. Although Brown is the best player on the floor in this game, the edge has to go to Cincinnati because of its more balanced talent on the perimeter (including limiting turnovers), Gates in the post and the team’s overall experience. The majority of Cincinnati’s rotation is made up of juniors and seniors while four of Texas’ top six scorers are freshmen.
The RTC Certified Pick: Cincinnati.
#6 San Diego State vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Second Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV
Jamaal Franklin is a Ferocious Competitor on Both Ends for SDSU (US Presswire)
A very popular upset pick, North Carolina State comes into this game on a roll having won four of its last five games with the only loss in the ACC Tournament semifinals to North Carolina by one possession. But NC State was on the bubble just one week ago; this team has been inconsistent throughout the season. The Wolfpack lost four games in a row prior to that strong finish to the season. The key to pull this upset will be to keep pressure on a strong SDSU defense, keyed by pounding the ball inside to find points in the paint with C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and C.J. Williams. It’s doubtful that San Diego State will give Scott Wood any wide open looks from three. The Aztecs, meanwhile, may have the two best overall players in this game with Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin (17.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG) and savvy guard Chase Tapley (15.7 PPG, 43.3% three-pointers). Both players shoulder a lot of the scoring load but have been reliable in big games this season against strong MW competition. SDSU is a much stronger defensive team (93.5 defensive efficiency) and holds opponents to 40% shooting from the field. NC State has a 99.9 ‘D’ efficiency and allows too much easy offense. We’ll take the Aztecs, the stronger team all season long that has Sweet Sixteen experience from last season.
The RTC Certified Pick:San Diego State
#8 Creighton vs. #9 Alabama – Midwest Region Second Round (at Greensboro, NC) – 1:40 PM ET on TBS
The First Round Lede. Debate all you want about the structure of the new NCAA Tournament (since last year) – the First Four format is the new norm, and it must be appreciated because of the momentum it can give to the teams that win these play-in games. Of course, last year VCU began its run to the Final Four from the First Four. Over the past two nights, we saw a couple of really interesting games and a couple of blowouts. We’ll analyze the best moments for you here, as well as preview what’s next to come for the four winners. Here’s your First Round wrap-up…
Your Watercooler Moment. BYU Mounts An Enormous Second Half Comeback
Noah Hartsock Brought Intensity to BYU's Second Half Comeback (AP Photo/S. Peterson)
At the 4:00 mark of the first half of their game against Iona, the BYU Cougars trailed 55-31. Not a single soul watching this game on Tuesday night was thinking about a BYU comeback, and even the announcing crew on truTV was discussing how Iona could pose a serious threat to Marquette in the next round. But Dave Rose was not having it; the BYU coach made the necessary adjustments that included putting his defense into a 2-3 zone that it had hardly used during the season. The result was a complete shift in momentum, and the Cougars continued to convert on the offensive end while holding the Gaels to nothing offensively. Just 16 minutes later, at the 8:00 mark of the second half, Iona’s lead had vanished. BYU controlled the game from there and pulled away with a 78-72 victory, a seemingly impossible result after watching the events of the first half. The upperclassmen forward combo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies was terrific, combining for 41 points and 20 rebounds against the undersized Iona front line. The Cougars will take this momentum into Friday night when they take on Marquette in the Round of 64.
The ‘First Four’ play-in games continue on Wednesday night, hoping to repeat what was an incredible first night of games on Tuesday. We saw two of the greatest comebacks in NCAA Tournament history — in back-to-back games — on the opening night of the Big Dance! Both of tonight’s games are from the Midwest Region. Here’s what to watch for, including the primetime First Round matchup in the nightcap.
#16 Lamar vs. #16 Vermont – Midwest Region First Round ( at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 PM ET on truTV
The early game on Wednesday night pits two of the last-ranked teams on this year’s NCAA Tournament S-Curve, and the winner gets rewarded with a date against #1 seed North Carolina on Friday. There is actually an intriguing storyline in this matchup, as Lamar is coached by Pat Knight, Bob Knight’s son, who recently delivered an infamous press conference after his team lost to Stephen F. Austin on February 22. In the presser (see above), Knight lashes out at his players, throwing his seniors under the bus for their despicable performance. Crazy enough, the Cardinals got Knight’s message loud and clear and have not lost since the rant, winning six straight games by an average of 14.6 points per game. The Southland Conference champions now match up with Vermont, trying to keep the post-presser streak alive. The Catamounts, though, have won 14 of their last 15 games and play solid defense with a defensive efficiency and field-goal percentage nearing the top 50 in the country. Their job will be to stop Mike James, Lamar’s top scoring guard (17.1 PPG), who once put up 52 points in a game last season. Both teams lack size, and whomever ends up winning the battle on the boards could have the advantage in this one. Vermont’s leading scorer is a freshman who comes off the bench, Four McGlynn, at just 12 points per game. In a toss up game, we’ll go with Lamar to continue its terrific story of post-rant resiliency.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
“Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.” — Voltaire
We will undoubtedly be guilty of both this week, as we focus obsessively on college hoops… from one game to the next to the next to the next. From the TO26 perspective, this is also the time of year when Division I’s red-headed stepchildren can become the object of the nation’s attention, if only fleetingly. Which teams are best-positioned to stay in the limelight the longest? Which ones are likely to head home after just the briefest of shining moments? Today, we analyze the chances of all of the TO26 teams the East and Midwest regions, grouping them into four categories based on their chances of advancement. Within each group, we order the teams based on their potential to make a deep run.
These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen (and maybe beyond).
Creighton's Potent Three-Point Attack Gives Them a Shot at a Run to the Regionals
Creighton (#8, Midwest) — Creighton’s first-round matchup against Alabama will be fun to watch. The Bluejays will put their highly efficient offense, led by a potent three-point attack, against Alabama’s stout defense, which defends the three almost as well as anyone in the nation. Things will be uglier at the other end; Creighton’s defense has struggled all season, its mediocrity matched only by Alabama’s offense. The good news for the Bluejays is that they’re a bit tougher inside the arc – I noticed a tendency to collapse their defense to the ball line when it goes inside – which is by and large where Alabama operates. At the end of the day, I like Creighton’s chances, as they have steadier guard play, a legit go-to player, solid free throw shooting, and the ability to knock down the clutch three when needed. And if they get by the Crimson Tide, I wouldn’t be stunned by an upset of UNC. Why? The Tarheels’ defense is particularly vulnerable to the three-point shot (which will also make them susceptible to an upset loss to Michigan should that matchup materialize in the regional semifinals).
As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. In this post, we have your America East, Conference USA, MEAC, Southland, Big 12 and Pac-12 conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.
Big 12 Conference Champion (30-4, 17-4)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #11/#8/#7
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.0
Likely NCAA Seed: #1-#2
The Big 12 Champions Will Be a Very Tough Out
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
It goes without saying that a 30-win season where Missouri won the Big 12 Tournament is already one of the best years in program history. Whether the Tigers end up as a #1 or #2 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament, the elephant in the room is that despite 24 NCAA appearances and five trips to the Elite Eight (as recently as 2009), Mizzou has never experienced the grandest stage of a Final Four. Whether this is the year that the program finally breaks through depends on a number of factors, but there’s no question that Frank Haith‘s group has tremendous ability, experience and team chemistry. It will take an exceptional opponent to knock this team out of the Dance.
Missouri’s biggest strength is that it owns the most efficient offense in college basketball, scoring over three more points per 100 possessions than the second best team (Kentucky). In playing a solid non-conference and Big 12 schedule, the only team that proved capable of slowing down the Mizzou attack was Kansas State, who beat the Tigers twice by beating them up on every cut, drive and rebound attempt. The Wildcats held the seasoned group of Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Phil Pressey, and Michael Dixon to 11-36 from the field in the first game, and 19-47 in the second game for a total shooting display of 36.1% (they group shoots 47.4% on the season). If Missouri is to be upset in the NCAAs, it will be by a team who plays a similarly bruising, defensive style — trying to run with this oft-spectacular offensive squad will not work.
The Tigers’ weakness is its pedestrian defense (ranked #77 in efficiency), but their offense is so explosive that it rarely faces a situation where it has to make a stop to win the game. You might think that its lack of interior size other than Ricardo Ratliffe is another issue, but that’s not been much of a problem for them this season. Ratliffe only fouled out once all year (against Baylor’s huge front line Saturday, incidentally), and with the exception of those two K-State games, the Tigers’ experience and savvy usually allows them to dictate the style and pace of the game. In order to knock this team out, it’s going to take a tremendous defensive effort that can keep up with all of these talented guards. There are only a handful of teams in the country capable of doing that. As a result, this might finally be the year where Missouri faithful experience the wonders of the Final Four.
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets.
Conference Tournament Preview
The top four seeds in the America East have been dominating conference play all season. That’s why they’re expected to meet up in the semifinals. The team that could potentially crash the party is six-seed Hartford, which is playing close to home. If the Hawks get hot from three, there’s always a chance to pull an upset, because they love to shoot the long ball. Also, seven-seed Maine has a ton of talent, but crashed at the end of America East play, losing six of its final seven games. The highest seeded team that survives Hartford is going to get the opportunity every team wants, to host 40 minutes of basketball that will ultimately lead to a berth into the NCAA Tournament. It should make for an exciting, gritty long weekend and championship game.
A Look Back
At the beginning of the season the expectations were that Boston University, StonyBrook, Vermont and Albany would be at the top of the standings. At the end of the season, that’s exactly what we’ve got, except they’re in a slightly different order. An injury to D.J. Irving seemed to throw BU off its rhythm a little bit, but the Terriers still finished 12-4 in conference, including a win over Stony Brook and a sweep of Albany.
Vermont benefited from the continuity of having John Becker take over for Mike Lonergan, but an upset loss to Binghamton, the biggest surprise of the conference season, leaves them slightly behind the eight-ball heading into the conference tournament. But it did save the Bearcats from the indignity of needing to win the play-in game on Thursday to avoid a winless season.
The rest of the bottom of the standings worked out pretty much as expected. None of the other teams has managed to crack the upper echelon of the conference. Hartford, after starting the season 0-13, rebounded to finish 7-9 in conference and qualifies as America East’s biggest surprise.
Gerardo Suero's Quickness And Scoring Ability Caused Headaches Across The Conference.
Player of the Year:Gerardo Suero, Albany – He burst onto the scene this season after a long, circuitous route to upstate New York. On the way, he learned a lot of tricks on offense and it showed, as he was incredibly efficient while using the third most possessions in the nation when he was on the court. Suero averaged 21.7 points per game and also contributed 5.7 boards and 3.0 assists.
Coach of the Year:Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook – Pikiell wins this award because his team finished in first place. It’s tough to deal with expectations and he’s formed a talented rotation into a team that can have a different person beat you on any given night. This is the second time in three seasons that the Seawolves have won the regular season title. This time, Stony Brook needs to finish the deal and qualify for its first ever NCAA Tournament.
G Gerardo Suero, Jr. Albany
G Darryl Partin, Sr., Boston University – This team was supposed to be Partin’s this season, and after a midseason injury to D.J. Irving, it truly was. He did a good job as the go-to guy, holding down the fort and scoring 19.7 points per game until his running mate was ready to go again.
G Bryan Dougher, Sr., Stony Brook – The designated gunner on the conference’s best team, Dougher shot 37.3% from three and scored 13.4 points per game, the highest of his career, in the fewest minutes per game in his career.
F Tommy Brenton, Jr., Stony Brook – Brenton isn’t your traditional First Team player, but his defense made him one of the key players in the Seawolves’ rotation. He averaged 7.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 29.4 minutes per game this season.
F Brian Voelkel, So., Vermont – Voelkel didn’t score much, averaging just 4.9 points per game, but he was amongst the America East leaders in rebounds at 8.3 per game, and assists at 5.0 per game.
Darryl Partin (far left), Bryan Dougher, Tommy Brenton and Brian Voelkel Rounded Out The America East First Team
Freshman of the Year:Four McGlynn, Vermont – McGlynn and his top competition for this award, Maine’s Justin Edwards, look like they’ll be great cornerstones for their respective teams for years to come. McGlynn, though, was more consistent overall this season. He scored 24 points in 27 minutes in a 68-49 win over Stony Brook that was the Catamounts best victory of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year:Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook – At 6’5,” Brenton has the ability to cover anyone in America East. He’s an excellent rebounder and his offense comes from his defense. Always taking on Stony Brook’s toughest assignment, he led a defense that finished first in conference play by allowing 0.91 points per possession.
Stony Brook(20-8, 14-2)– The Seawolves have good wins at home over Cornell, Rider and Columbia, but a victory at Northeastern during BracketBusters was the first road win for SBU outside of conference play. Considering how down America East is in general this season, Stony Brook might end up in the play-in game and they could definitely win it.
Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook Are The Favorites To Win The America East Tournament (AP)
Vermont (20-11, 12-3) – The Catamounts own the America East’s best win – over Old Dominion in overtime – and its worst loss – at Binghamton. This is a solid team, but it needs every player on its game in order to win the slowdown games Vermont likes to play.
Boston University(16-15, 12-4) – The record isn’t great, but most of it can be traced to losing D.J. Irving right before a key stretch in conference play and a lack of options in the frontcourt. Joe Jones did figure out a way to beat top seed Stony Brook once, at home, but they were swept by Vermont, their likely semifinal opponent. The second one was close, 68-67, and gives the Terriers hope they can repeat as champions.
Albany(18-13, 9-7) – Head coach Will Brown has a contract extension, but the length and terms won’t be announced until after the postseason. That makes it sound like he has a lot of incentive to get the Great Danes some wins. The potential is there with Gerardo Suero, Mike Black and LoganAronhalt. The problem is up front. UA suffered two losses to Stony Brook by a total of 20 points because there’s no one who can handle SBU’s size.
New Hampshire (13-15, 7-9) – The Wildcats are hot, having won five of their last six games, including the last one Albany and UNH played on February 9. They’ve been winning close games over the elite (Albany, Boston U.) and taking care of business against the bottom. It’s straight to the elite teams on Saturday with Albany.
Hartford(8-21, 7-9) – A number of talented freshmen, including Nate Sikma and Mark Nwakamma, give the Hawks something to build upon. There’s also some positive momentum considering the 8-8 finish to the regular season after the winless streak to start. John Gallagher had to spend a lot of time getting his team ready for this level, but it should pay big dividends in 2012-13.
Maine(12-16, 6-10) – So much talent, so little to show for it. Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser are great blocks to build around, but they’re going to need some more help. The departures of Gerald McLemore and RaheemSingleton is going to leave holes in the offense next season. What TedWoodward really needs is for his team to commit to play defense. Maine has allowed six of its last seven opponents to score at least a point per possession and lost each of those games.
UMBC(4-25, 3-13) – Losing Chris De La Rosa at the beginning of the season basically tanked the Retrievers’ season. Along the way, though, ChasePlummer picked up a lot of the slack and walk-on Ryan Cook became an integral part of the rotation. Both those players will be back next season as UMBC tries to find a new way to hold down opponents after surrendering a conference-worst 1.12 points per possession this season.
Binghamton(1-28, 1-15) – All those losses have exposed the fact that changes still need to be made in upstate New York. The Bearcats have left Mark Macon with an almost impossible situation and while there’s some talent on the roster, Robert Mansell’s knee injury and Ben Dickinson’s immature actions on the court leave questions that need to be answered before next season.
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets.
The Week That Was
Binghamton Breaks Through: The Bearcats sure picked a good time to win their first game of the season. After starting 0-26 they took down Vermont 57-53 and the students rushed the court. Robert Mansell scored 18 and Ben Dickson added 16 for Binghamton. The Bearcats led by as many as 12 points during the game, by far the most this season, and held on for the victory.
Albany All Banged Up:Will Brown’s team is hurting. Just seven players got on the court during the Great Danes’ BracketBusters game against Rider, which Albany won. Guys sitting on the bench included Gerardo Suero and Logan Aronhalt – Albany’s top two scorers – and Luke Devlin. Devlin and Aronhalt are battling knee problems, while Suero missed the game against Rider because of a case of shingles. Suero and Aronhalt both returned in a 74-63 win over Binghamton. Suero played 25 minutes and Aronhalt nine. The plus side for Albany is that it will have had more than a week off before the conference quarterfinals for players to rest.
Brackets Busted: The America East went a surprising 5-4 during BracketBusters. Stony Brook picked up a nice win over Northeastern, Vermont beat Niagara by 22 and Albany got a win over Rider. Overall, the conference did well and helped itself out by beating two teams from the CAA and three from the MAAC.
An RTC In Binghamton To Snap A 27-Game Losing Streak Proved Cathartic. (Daniel O'Connor/Binghamton Pipe Dream)
Stony Brook (19-8, 13-2) – The Seawolves have done everything asked of them this season. Their two losses are on the road at the teams sitting in second and third in the power rankings. They’ll almost certainly have the #1 seed, a home championship game, if they make it through two rounds in Hartford, and a top seed in the NIT.
Vermont (19-11, 12-3) – How about we all agree that the Binghamton game didn’t happen? If that’s the case, the Catamounts should certainly be in this spot. Vermont had won 10 games in a row at that point. Odd note about the Catamounts: they have got both the best free throw percentage and free throw percentage against during conference play. Read the rest of this entry »