Morning Five: 07.21.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 21st, 2015

  1. Last night, Harry Giles, the top recruit in the class of 2016, announced his five finalists: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Giles, a 6’10” forward from Winston Salem, has been reported to be interested in playing alongside Jayson Tatum, a top five recruit in the class of 2016 and Giles’ roommate while they played for Team US in the U19 FIBA World Championships. Given that Tatum committed to Duke earlier this month it would seem that the Blue Devils would be favorites for Giles although the hometown pull of Winston Salem and the fact that Chris Paul is the sponsor of his AAU team (and probably in Giles’ ear a lot) could sway him to go to Wake. Giles has not set a date for when he will make his choice, but if you want to learn more about him be sure to check out Luke Winn’s profile on Giles.
  2. Yesterday, the NCAA announced some tweaks to its NCAA Tournament selection process that address the play-in games (yes, that’s what they are) and how the highest seeded teams are placed in the bracket. The play-in game change is a really just a revision in the language that gives the Selection Committee the autonomy to select whichever teams it sees fit to be placed in the play-in games. As you may remember this past March, UCLA’s inclusion in the main field without having to even win a play-in game generated quite a bit of controversy given their unimpressive resume. UCLA avoided the play-in games as they were not technically one of the last four teams in. If that happens again this year, the NCAA can point to this clause as a reason to put a team like that in the play-in games. The other change allows the Selection Committee greater freedom in balancing its top two seed lines. Now instead of focusing on geography when placing these teams they can focus on competitive balance. An example of this was the near-meltdown last year on Twitter when Wisconsin and Kentucky were almost placed in the same (Midwest) region. While they won’t go to the S-curve that Joe Lunardi loves to talk about, they will try to make the top two seed lines more evenly balanced.
  3. The NCAA also announced yesterday that it will be distributing an additional $18.9 million to its member schools to help offset the schools expenses for cost-of-attendance, additional food, and various other expenses. The money will be distributed evenly to every Division 1 school so it works out to around $55,000 per school. While that might seem like a small amount (and it probably is to the big-name programs), it is actually a fairly large sum of money to schools that operate on more modest budgets. This $18.9 million will be in addition to the more than $500 million the NCAA already distributes to the schools and conferences. Having said that, we’re sure that Mark Emmert and the rest of the NCAA big shots in Indianapolis will still manage to get by.
  4. As much as we hate what some lawyers do, we have to admit that occasionally be of some use. Such is the case of Austin Nichols, who announced that he was transferring from Memphis at the beginning of the month. While the announcement was not that unusual given the mass exodus out of the program, the timing irritated many within the Memphis program as well as few writers who voiced their displeasure with his timing. So when Memphis announced that they would not be granting Nichols a release to any AAC schools, Tennessee, Virginia, Iowa, and Providence most people assumed it would be a drawn-out battle between the two sides particularly since Virginia is widely considered the favorite to land Nichols–they had been one of his favorites before he went to Memphis and there are reports that billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II may be steering him there. Instead of waiting for Memphis to give in to public pressure, the Nichols’ family hired a high-priced attorney who cited the Sherman Antitrust Act while questioning the legality of the transfer restrictions. If you thought the Ed O’Bannon case was bad for the NCAA, you can imagine what an antitrust case would have looked like. As you can imagine, Memphis quickly “reviewed” the case and removed any transfer restrictions.
  5. If you want to know why conferences (and in some cases schools) are so eager to get their own TV networks, we would refer you to the report that the Big Ten distributed $1 million to each of its schools for the 2014-15 fiscal year from the revenue it generated from the Big Ten Network. While the BTN has been profitable since the 2011-12 fiscal year, the conference had been holding back that money to deal with conference realignment. The $1 million per school may fall short of what some other conferences have been able to generate, but when it makes up approximately 3% of the money a school receives from the one of the most prominent conferences in America it is far from an insignificant amount.
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ACC 2015-16 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2015

Now that most of the NBA Draft entry decisions involving ACC players have been made, we can now make some reasonable preliminary guesses about how next season’s ACC standings will look. More roster changes will inevitably occur with a few prominent recruiting targets still on the board (e.g., Brandon Ingram) and some unanticipated transfers, but we can already get a sense as to the overall strength of next year’s league even this far out. The table below that shows the 15 players of this year’s all-ACC teams reveals just how dramatically different the conference will look next year.

All-ACC

Attrition From the All-ACC Teams Show that Virginia and North Carolina Look to Lead the Conference Next Season

Overall, the league doesn’t appear to have as many elite teams next season – Duke and Louisville both lost their top four players while Notre Dame said goodbye to its top two. That leaves North Carolina and Virginia as the only remaining ACC teams that appear to return enough talent to become national title contenders. The good news is that next year’s middle of the pack looks to be much deeper, meaning that the league will have an opportunity to earn as many as eight or nine NCAA bids next March. Here are our 2015-16 ACC Way-Too-Early Power Rankings.

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2014-15: ACC Year in Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 17th, 2015

The 2014-15 season will go down as one of the most successful campaigns in the ACC’s long and illustrious history. It was the kind of year that commissioner John Swofford must have envisioned when the conference completed its last round of expansion. It was also important for the league to have this kind of performance after an extremely disappointing run last season, its first as a giant 15- team group featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. Before we put a bow on the season, let’s take a quick look at how the season played out with a review of some of the highlights and lowlights.

Highlights

Notre Dame celebrates its first ever conference tournament championship. (Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame celebrates its first ever conference tournament championship.
(Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Regular Season Excellence. The ACC began the year with four schools ranked in the preseason AP top 10 and the league maintained a strong presence at the top of the rankings all season long, finishing with five of the final poll’s top 17 teams. In addition to Duke’s fine year – which included Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win, Virginia was also a mainstay at the top of the rankings, getting off to a 19-0 start on the way to the Cavaliers’ second straight ACC regular season title. Perhaps the Cavaliers would have joined Duke in Indianapolis at the Final Four if not for an untimely late season injury to Justin Anderson. The ACC’s surprise team was clearly Notre Dame, as Mike Brey’s program won its first conference tournament in school history in only its second year as an ACC member. The Irish’s near-upset of undefeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight may have been the best game of the entire NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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The 2014-15 College Basketball Season: The Story of 38-1

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 8th, 2015

The legacy of the this season’s Duke Blue Devils has been affirmed and the record books will forever remember Coach K’s band of youngsters as the 2015 National Champions. His was a talented group that was very good in November and great by April, completing a transformation that left them fully deserving of the esteemed opinions that will forever accompany them. One could even make a case that this team was as good or better than any National Champion in the last decade; the Blue Devils may not have been perfect, but they proved elite in a top-heavy year that included several great teams. The funny thing is, though, that when we think back on the this college basketball season in 20 years, NOBODY will begin the conversation with Duke. From November 14 until April 4, the only story in college basketball was Kentucky. Mike Krzyzewski’s club managed to steal the spotlight just in time for championship Monday, but even the Blue Devils’ historic season will be viewed through the prism of Kentucky’s unfulfilled chase of perfection. It says here that history will be kind to those Wildcats.

The Blue Devils Are Deserving National Champions, But Duke's Title Doesn't Mean Kentucky's Historic Season Will Be Soon Forgotten

The Blue Devils Are Deserving National Champions, But Duke’s Title Doesn’t Mean Kentucky’s Historic Season Will Be Soon Forgotten

Chatter about John Calipari’s platoon system dominated the early November college basketball news cycle in both Lexington and nationally. The early success of his team’s five-for-five substitutions included a 32-point pasting of Kansas and a dominant dissection of UCLA (remember when Kentucky held 28-2 and 43-7 leads against the Bruins en route to a 39-point win?) and did NOTHING to shift the spotlight off of Cal’s ‘Cats. It wasn’t as if compelling storylines weren’t emerging elsewhere — the Jahlil Okafor/Frank Kaminsky National Player of the Year race was well underway by the end of 2014; as was Virginia’s program-validating opening surge (12-0 in 2014 would eventually become 19-0 by late January), while Arizona, Villanova and Northern Iowa were all busy laying groundwork for their wildly successful seasons to come. Interesting things were happening all across the college basketball landscape, but we couldn’t take our eyes off of the doings in Lexington. This Wildcats’ season reeked of history from the get-go.

Kentucky’s season ended somewhere short of history on Saturday night, or at least the kind of history that the Wildcats had envisioned making. Just seven days after winning the most watched college basketball game in cable television history, Kentucky lost the most watched Final Four game in 19 years. The sudden and dramatic presence of a number other than zero in the loss column ended the coupled dreams of both perfect season and national title, but the magnitude of fans following the Kentucky experience made one thing very clear: These Wildcats had already made history. John Calipari certainly thought so: “This season is historic,” he said. “I just can’t believe anybody is going to do what these kids just did to get to this point unblemished with the schedule they played, then how they did it.”

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 60, #2 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions 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.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year. (rushthecourt)

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year.

  1. Michigan State’s defense is toxic for Virginia shooters. For the second year in a row, the Cavaliers struggled to put the ball in the hoop against the Spartans in NCAA play. In last year’s East Regional semifinal, Virginia shot 35 percent from the field and things were even worse in this one, as the Cavaliers went 17-for-57 (29.8%) from the floor. Malcolm Brogdon, in particular, has not liked seeing the green Spartan jerseys. Last year he suffered through a 4-for-14 shooting night and this time he only managed nine points, going 3-of-12 from the floor. As expected, the Cavaliers’ defense and rebounding kept them in the game, but in the end, Virginia’s offense just wasn’t up to par for the second year in a row.
  2. Michigan State is one tough #7 Seed.  As soon as the brackets came out last Sunday night, almost everyone agreed that the Spartans were underseeded. That certainly appears to be a correct assessment and Virginia paid the price for it. Perhaps if the Big Ten Tournament title game was played earlier in the day last Sunday, the Selection Committee would have had time to more properly seed Michigan State. In any event, that day’s tough overtime loss to Wisconsin, combined with this win, show that the Spartans are capable of getting Tom Izzo back to the Final Four again. And it doesn’t hurt that the East Region’s top seed, Villanova is already home too.
  3. Branden Dawson did it again. Last year, Dawson torched the Cavaliers with 24 points and 10 rebounds, and he proved to a tough match-up again – on both ends of the floor. Today, the senior forward punished Virginia in the paint, finishing the game with 15 points, nine boards, and four blocks. Just like we thought, it was a man’s game inside, and Dawson was the baddest dude of them all. His first leap is so quick and explosive, which enabled him to outreach everyone for many fifty-fifty balls.

Star of the Game. Travis Trice, Michigan State. The senior guard got the Spartans off to a blazing start with an amazing offensive display. In the first five and a half minutes of the game, Trice had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting including three 3-pointers, as Michigan State grabbed an early 11 point lead. He finished with 23 points and his dagger three with just under three minutes to go giving the Spartans enough breathing room to close the game out.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 22nd, 2015

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For the majority of programs around the country, making the Sweet 16 is the start of what would be considered a “successful” season. While many of the programs set to participate in today’s Third Round have aspirations that extend well beyond the final 16, making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament has always been a mark of accomplishment. After today, eight teams will punch their ticket to next week. Here are eight preview’s of Sunday’s games.

#2 Virginia vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:10 PM ET on CBS

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for Virginia is that Justin Anderson – still recovering from a broken finger – looked more like his old self against Belmont on Friday, scoring 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting and earning several trips to the free throw line. The bad news is that its vaunted defense allowed the #15-seeded Bruins to shoot 59 percent from two-point range and hang around for most of the afternoon. Michigan State, meanwhile, made relatively easy work of Georgia. Which makes one wonder: Is an upset a-brewin’ in Charlotte? Belmont found success by using its three-point barrage to spread out the Cavaliers’ Pack-Line defense, then exploiting the resultant lanes. The Spartans – while not quite as deep-ball oriented – attempt over one-third of their shots from behind the arc and hit nearly 39 percent of the time. On top of that, Tom Izzo’s club is very effective on both the offensive and defensive glass, led by rejuvenated forward Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9 RPG). If Michigan State can stretch the defense, penetrate those openings and create second-chance opportunities, it might be able to find success against America’s second-most-efficient defense. Unfortunately, if Anderson takes another step forward, that might not be enough. With the 6’6” wing knocking down perimeter jumpers and attacking the lane on Friday, Virginia scored 1.22 points per possession – its most since February 28th – and looked much closer to the patient-but-efficient offense that dominated opponents in December and January. No matter how well the Spartans spread the floor, they are never going to score at will against Tony Bennett’s defense – no one does – so their ability to get stops will become crucial. But if Anderson is earning trips to free throw line and scorching from behind the arc, I’m not sure Izzo’s bunch can get enough stops to win this game. Expect Michigan State to stay within striking distance for 35-plus minutes, but count on Anderson to make the difference in the end.

The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia

#1 Duke vs. #8 San Diego State — South Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 2:40 pm ET on CBS

Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Steve Fisher vs. Coach K? Sign me up! (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Duke and San Diego State will play for the first ever in what highlights as an extremely intriguing matchup. The Aztecs were clinical in discarding St. John’s Friday night, even showing an unusual accuracy from three-point range (9-of-22 on threes). When Steve Fisher’s team can find ways to score the basketball – from three-point range or elsewhere – they become a difficult team to beat. There is little inconsistency to the Aztecs’ efforts on the defensive end, where they regularly cause intense trauma to opponents. That defensive activity is what should have Coach K’s attention right about now. Duke guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones stand 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively; no Aztec guard is shorter than 6’3”, and wings like Winston Shepard (6’8”) and Dwayne Polee (6’7”) will also take turns harassing Duke’s pair of star guards. The Blue Devils did manage well against Virginia and their bigger group of guards, but San Diego State presents a longer, more athletic challenge than even the Cavaliers. Of course, the question on the flip side is one that has long plagued the Aztecs: How will SDSU score points? Duke’s defense has taken nights off this year, sure, but there should be some trust that Coach K can devise a game plan capable of removing easy-bucket opportunities. The Aztecs’ best bet may be a continuation of the long-range prowess they displayed Friday night. There are guys on the roster who can knock down those deep shots – Quinn, Shrigley and Polee prime among them. Can they hit enough to complement the terrifying SDSU defense?

San Diego State would be a more appealing pick to pull the stunner if this game were not being played in Charlotte. As is, they are faced with defeating a #1 seed in a virtual road game, a proposition that even the strongest of stylistic matchups can fail to enact. Duke should be scared – the Aztecs are a truly scary matchup in this spot – but expect San Diego State to fall a shot or two short of swinging the upset. Duke will leave the home cooking behind in advancing to Houston.

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

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 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

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Virginia 79, #15 Belmont 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

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.

Rick Byrd and Belmont competed well but still couldn't get that elusive first NCAA win. (Gerald Herbert/AP Photo)

Rick Byrd and Belmont competed well but still couldn’t get that elusive first NCAA win.
(Gerald Herbert/AP Photo)

  1. It was another slow NCAA start for Virginia. Last year, #16 Coastal Carolina led Virginia most of the first half in the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament opener and today started out the same way. Belmont jumped out to an early six-point lead, making eight of its first 12 shots against the vaunted Virginia defense. Virginia came back behind Malcolm Brogdon and appeared to have the game under control, but Belmont didn’t quit and made things very interesting down the stretch. For the second straight outing, the Cavaliers’ highly regarded defense has shown some notable flaws. North Carolina shot about 55 percent from the field against it in the ACC Tournament last week, and Belmont’s attacking spread offense caused more problems than expected today. Not only did the Bruins shake free to make 8-of-25 threes, but they also managed to make a remarkable 59.4 percent of their two-point tries and outscored the bigger Cavaliers in the paint (+4).
  2. Belmont has learned how to be competitive in the NCAA Tourney but not yet how to win in it. The Bruins fell short again for the seventh time in seven trips to the Big Dance, all of them as a double-digit seed. In its first two trips, Belmont suffered blowout losses, but Rick Byrd’s program has shown that it is no longer intimidated by the situation. Before today, the margins of defeat in Belmont’s four previous appearances were all under 20 points, with the most memorable of those being a one-point loss to #2 Duke in 2008. This performance fits in nicely as Belmont’s next-best NCAA effort. While this year’s OVC championship was something of a surprise, next year’s Bruins squad should be better with a solid nucleus returning and the goal of returning to the NCAAs and finally breaking through with a win.
  3. Justin Anderson is starting to shake off the rust. In his return last week, Anderson didn’t score in two ACC Tournament games while playing limited minutes. He came off the bench again today, but he was much more productive. Anderson played 26 minutes and scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor that included a solid 6-of-7 from the foul line. More important than that, he seemed very comfortable in his movements on both ends. It’s critical that Anderson progresses back to where he was in January when the Cavaliers’ offense was really clicking and looked Final Four worthy.

Star of the Game.  Craig Bradshaw, Belmont. The junior guard did a number on the famous Virginia pack-line defense, even banking in a three that looked intentional (at least he sold it well). Bradshaw finished with 25 points and also led all rebounders with nine boards. He was equally effective from both sides of the arc, making 5-of-9 from deep and hitting 5-of-10 on two-point shots.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

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

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Dreams of an ACC First Weekend

Posted by Matt Patton on March 18th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The ACC’s six NCAA Tournament teams have a lot on the line this weekend. Let’s take a look at each to determine how their current status projects in getting through the first weekend and beyond.

  • Duke: The Blue Devils look to avoid another early exit after suffering two huge round of 32 upsets in the last three years (Mercer – 2014; Lehigh – 2012). The 2013 team advanced according to seed, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the regional final, but that Duke squad was led by three seniors. The makeup of this year’s group — with only one senior — is very similar to those two young Duke teams that were bounced by double-digit seeds. But don’t expect another opening game debacle this year since Duke has earned the advantage of a #1 seed for the first time since 2011. Just getting out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament unscathed is not the goal for this team, however, as anything short of an Elite Eight appearance would be a major disappointment. Duke has won several games in tough environments already this season, but the finality of the NCAA Tournament could cause Coach K’s inexperienced team to tighten up. If it can handle a potential grinder on Sunday, that may be enough to loosen up the Devils for a much deeper run.
Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Virginia: All eyes will be on Justin Anderson when the Cavaliers take the court in Friday’s opener against Belmont. For Virginia to make a Final Four run, they’re going to need to have Anderson (and his offensive game) back in shape quickly. Assuming they handle the Bruins, Michigan State looms as the likely third round opponent in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen meeting in Madison Square Garden. The Spartans won that tightly contested game and come in to this year’s NCAA Tournament probably playing better than Virginia is right now. Good defense and a revenge factor will not be enough, though – the Cavaliers need buckets, and a healthy Anderson gets them easier than anyone else on the team. If Virginia makes it out of Charlotte, it will likely mean that Anderson has regained his effectiveness and that means bad news for the rest of the East Region.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

Here are some quick thoughts on the ACC teams that were selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Duke, #1 Seed, South: Duke took the top spot in the South. This isn’t really surprising to anyone, and the more I thought about it the more sense Duke makes as a #1 seed (if you throw out made-up rules about not having won their conference). Duke only lost one of its last 13 games; it notched huge road wins against Wisconsin and Virginia (two teams it would be competing with for that last #1 seed); it swept North Carolina. Losing two of three to Notre Dame definitely gave me pause, but the Blue Devils had the overall profile of a #1 seed. As far as their bracket goes, they have a potential rematch with St. John’s in the round of 32 (a team that Duke beat in a close game for Coach K’s 1,000th win) or a San Diego State team that could be a real problem if they’re shooting well. The other half of Duke’s region is a lot more challenging although I like the way they match up with a lot of the teams in the South Region. This will be the region of pure offense (minus the Aztecs), and it could create some crazy results.

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

Virginia, #2 Seed, East: Virginia was pseudo-snubbed to get a #2 seed. And while I doubt the committee will publicly say it, the Cavaliers’ mediocre play with Justin Anderson back in the lineup probably affected their seeding. This team might be the second-best group in the country if he gets back to where he was before the injury, but losing two of your last three games doesn’t instill confidence from the Selection Committee. Virginia also got a very favorable bracket. Other than Oklahoma or Michigan State conjuring up some March magic, I don’t see a lot of resistance in their way prior to the regional finals. The other half of the bracket looks like a recipe for chaos, which could also play into the Cavaliers’ hands. Long story short, I don’t have a problem with Virginia on the second line in the East Region. They played like a #1 seed for most of the year and still have a great shot to make it to the Final Four.

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