Conference Tournament Primer: Sun Belt Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-16
Site: New Orleans Lakefront Arena (New Orleans, LA)

SunBelt

What to expect: Georgia State won the regular season Sun Belt title by five games and will be the clear-cut favorite in New Orleans. The Panthers are lethal on the offensive end, led by a pair of guards – coach’s son R.J. Hunter and Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow – who average more than 17 points per night and rarely turn the ball over. They rank among the 25 most efficient offenses in the country, a scoring prowess that enabled them to win 14 straight games earlier this year (school record) and finish 17-1 in the conference. However, the top seed has not won this tournament since 2009, including a recent stretch of three-straight champions seeded fifth or worse, and talent does exist elsewhere — Louisiana-Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton is a legitimate NBA prospect, while his frontcourt teammate Shawn Long averages 19 points and 10 boards a night. Arkansas State and the Ragin’ Cajuns both gave Georgia State trouble in the regular season. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, has a chance to win this tournament for the third straight year. Any one of those three could spoil the Panthers’ outstanding run.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 64, #16 Western Kentucky 57

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 22nd, 2013

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Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Kansas City pod of this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways:

Western Kentucky gave Kansas a ride, but Jeff Withey was the difference and Kansas escaped. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

Western Kentucky gave Kansas a ride, but Jeff Withey was the difference and Kansas escaped. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

  1. For 35 minutes, Western Kentucky evoked ghosts of Kansas tournament past, but not in the classical sense. Even dating back to the Paul Pierce era, the Jayhawks have lost tournament heartbreakers and pulled out near-misses to far inferior teams with undersized sweet-shooting talents. That wasn’t the case tonight, as Western Kentucky held a 31-30 halftime lead despite just one made three. Rather, the Hilltopers made good use of George Fant’s fearlessness, Jamal Crook’s elusiveness and T.J. Price’s nose for the ball to send the hometown crowd into a prolonged state of anxiety. Western Kentucky matched Kansas in the shooting department in the first half, but frustrated Jeff Withey into a pair of fouls and outdoing the Jayhawks on the glass. Kansas’ backcourt struggled mightily, leaving the bulk of the work to Withey and freshman Perry Ellis. Kansas’ defense adjusted at halftime – what else would you expect from Bill Self? – and forced Western Kentucky into an icy 20.5% clip in the second half.
  2. Jeff Withey saved Kansas from the wrong side of history. The Jayhawks’ paint protector dug KU out of the mess with big blocks and baskets in the closing minutes. Withey rejected seven shots total, which begs the question of why exactly the Hilltoppers continued to run at him. Fant had some success against him in the first half, but the Big 12′s all-time blocks leader was having none of it after the intermission, and his contributions on both ends of the court helped Kansas avoid an historic upset. One of the big storylines Sunday will be how Bill Self utilizes his center against a heavily perimeter-oriented Tar Heel squad.
  3. The Jayhawks will need much more out of its backcourt on Sunday. Against a far inferior squad, Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore combined for just 21 points, a handful of which came in the closing seconds as Western Kentucky desperately tried to come back. The issue wasn’t as much Jamal Crook, Caden Dickerson and T.J. Price being problematic defensively as much as Kansas making suspect decisions. The Jayhawk backcourt finished the game sloppily in the closing seconds, giving Western Kentucky several opportunities that it didn’t earn down the stretch. Looking forward, Kansas has struggled against pressure defense throughout the season, so it will definitely be interesting to see how the Tar Heels approach the Jayhawks defensively.

Star Of The Game: Jeff Withey (17 points, six rebounds, seven blocks) - Kansas’ center was everywhere Friday night, coming up huge in the second half to give KU’s sputtering offense the opportunities it needed to gain separation. It became mind-boggling to see the Hilltoppers continue to dribble right at Withey, and he turned them away at seemingly every opportunity.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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Bracket Prep: Western Kentucky, Davidson, James Madison, Gonzaga & Iona

Posted by BHayes on March 12th, 2013

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Championship Week continued in full blast on Monday night, as five more NCAA Tournament tickets were punched. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Western Kentucky

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again -- Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again — Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

  • Sun Belt Champion (20-15, 14-10)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #166/#183/#184
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Who needs the regular season anyways? For the second consecutive campaign, Western Kentucky saw months of mediocrity give way to an unlikely week of dominance at the Sun Belt Tournament, where they depart as champions again. The sequel may never be as thrilling as the original – the 2012 Hilltoppers were just 9-18 (!) before winning their final six games to earn the auto-bid – but this Western Kentucky team is as unlikely a Big Dance participant as any.
  2. Western Kentucky isn’t elite in any one facet of the game, but they may be able to match up with their opening round opponent with regard to physicality and toughness. The Hilltoppers are third in the Sun Belt in effective height, and also rank third in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. 6’6” sophomore George Fant is slightly undersized for the amount of time he spends in the paint, but leads the team in rebounding at 6.6 boards per game. Fant also ranks in the top 50 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Senior Jamal Crooks (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG) is another high-motor Hilltopper – his emotional energy and leadership is a crucial reserve for the young team around him.
  3. Expect WKU to compete on both ends, but don’t mistake intensity with skill. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, turn the ball over at an unacceptable clip (on 22.3% of possessions), and don’t play a whole lot of defense either. It all adds up to a rather unimpressive paper profile, and the 10-10 Sun Belt record before this week does little to make you feel better about things. The exact seed line will depend on what happens elsewhere, but either way, it’s hard to envision the Hilltoppers being competitive, much less capable of manufacturing an upset for the ages.

Davidson

Soak It In De'Mon -- You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

Soak It In De’Mon — You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

  • Southern Conference Champion (26-7, 20-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #69/#66/#67
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +9.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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The Other 26: Five Intriguing Championship Week Storylines

Posted by IRenko on March 9th, 2013

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.

With regular season action having wound down, we’ll dispense with our standard format this week in favor of a streamlined focus on five key Championship Week storylines, along with, as always, our updated top 10 rankings.  I joined the RTC Podblast crew on Wednesday for a full-fledged preview of TO26 conference tournament action, talking about the most exciting tournaments, the most anticipated matchups, potential bid stealers, and more. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you to the sweet, dulcet sounds of my voice for more on those big picture topics, and instead offer five less obvious storylines to follow. 

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

  1. Will Cinderella Show up Early? — If you love to cheer on Cinderella squads as they try to knock off highly-seeded favorites, there’s no need to wait for the Big Dance. The conference tournaments comprise more than two dozen Little Dances, in which a Cinderella run is as likely as it is later in March. Last year, Western Kentucky managed to snare the Sun Belt’s automatic bid, despite entering the postseason tournament with a #7 seed and an 11-18 record. Can anyone manage the feat this year? Already, we have a great underdog story brewing in the WCC, where Loyola Marymount, which went 1-15 in regular season conference play, has won two tournament games to secure a semifinal berth. It will take a true miracle to overcome their next obstacle — the number one team in the country, Gonzaga — but miracles are what March is for.
  2. Can New Mexico Secure a #2 Seed? – Gonzaga appears poised to plant the TO26 banner on the top seed line, but is it possible that another TO26 team could find itself just one line down? Our latest bracketology hands the Lobos a #2 seed, though many other projections predict a #3 seed. A run through the MW Tournament — on the heels of a two-loss regular season in what is the conference’s deepest, most competitive year in memory — would, one would hope, be enough to give the Lobos their highest seed in school history (they twice notched a #3 seed, including in 2010). And it would be the first time that two TO26 squads landed two of the top eight seeds since 2004, when St. Joseph’s and Gonzaga each managed the feat.
  3. Will Akron Regroup? — A week ago, Akron was riding a 19-game winning streak, was undefeated in MAC play, and was two games clear of Ohio in the East Division standings with three games left. The Zips fell last Saturday in a surprising 81-67 loss to Buffalo, in which they were torched by Javon McCrea for 28 points. But that was a mere bump in the road compared to what happened next. On Thursday, it was announced that junior point guard Alex Abreu had been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on felony charges of marijuana trafficking, and in their first game without him last night, the Zips fell at home to Kent State, 66-61. Worse than blowing their lead atop the East Division (if Ohio wins Saturday, the teams will end the regular season tied), the Zips are now limping into the postseason with little chance of an at-large bid and needing to win three straight MAC tournament games without Abreu to make good on their once-promising March prospects. How important is Abreu to this team? He’s third in scoring, at 10.3 points per game, and shoots a team-leading 39.4 percent from three-point range. But more than that, he is the facilitator that makes Akron’s offense go, notching six assists per game, for which he ranks in the top 20 nationally. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2012-13 Happens: Reason #14 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2012

And away we go, headfirst into another season heralded by our 2012-13 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured here what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back the goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head. Enjoy!

#14 – Where Comeback Tuesday Night Happens


We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 seasons.

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Morning Five: 05.07.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 7th, 2012

  1. The past season was an interesting one for Xavier‘s Mark Lyons and after a falling out with Chris Mack, reportedly based on Lyons’ tendency to try to take over games and play outside of the team’s system, he decided to transfer making him one of the most coveted transfers on the market. On Sunday his name announced that he would be heading to Arizona (clarified in a subsequent tweet). The mercurial rising senior, who averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game last season will likely start for the Wildcats next season as he is set to graduate from Xavier this summer and would be eligible to play next season if he enrolls in a graduate program at Arizona that is not offered at Xavier. One of the more interesting aspects of the transfer is that it reunites Lyons with Sean Miller, the coach who recruited Lyons to Xavier before himself departing to Arizona. The arrival of Lyons in Tucson this summer likely shifts the balance of power in the Pac-12 from Pauley Pavilion to the McKale Center and adds to the conference’s respectability even if we still have doubts about the rest of the conference after the top two teams.
  2. On Saturday, Trent Lockett announced that he will transfer from Arizona State to Marquette for his senior season to be closer to his mother who is battling cancer. Lockett, who already completed his undergraduate degree, should be eligible to play for Marquette next season either through enrolling in a graduate program at Marquette that is not offered at Arizona State or through a family hardship waiver. Last season, he averaged 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for a dysfunctional Sun Devil team and although he is joining a much better team he should get plenty of court time for a team that lost its two best players to graduation.
  3. Lyons and Lockett may have a more immediate impact, but the biggest transfer news of the weekend may be Derrick Gordon who announced on Friday afternoon that he was leaving Western Kentucky to go to Massachusetts. The freshman guard averaged 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament and managing to put up some decent numbers against eventual national champion Kentucky (12 points and 5 rebounds) when he got there. Gordon will have to sit out next season, but he does have three more seasons of eligibility left making his impact much more important in the long-term and could serve as a foundation for the program to build around for the future rather than just one year like the two players we already mentioned.
  4. Having brought Kentucky its eighth national title a month ago, John Calipari took his team to the White House on Friday. While the White House visit was most likely the most memorable part of Calipari’s day, getting a 8.3% pay raise (or $400,000 extra guaranteed per year) was a nice cherry on top. Although we would like to think that this was just a thank you for bringing title #8 to Lexington, this was more likely a preemptive strike against any other basketball organizations that might try to lure Calipari away from Rupp Arena like a certain organization that could use someone to lead them who can keep their players focused on the opposition and not fire extinguishers. With the President election coming up in November, President Obama is doing more than just inviting the national champion Kentucky Wildcats to the White House. He is also campaigning for reelection and to do that he will be relying in large part on his campaign rallies. While we are not aware of any deals President Obama made with John Calipari, he did enlist the help of another well-known coach: Shaka Smart. The Virginia Commonwealth coach hosted a rally for President Obama on Saturday. It is unlikely that Smart, who was a guest of Obama at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, will help deliver the state of Virginia for Obama, but when you have a popular local figure it seems like Obama picked the right coach in the state of Virginia to bring out to pull in a few extra votes.
  5. While some teams go to exotic destinations for their offseason trips they usually stick to fairly frequently visited destinations such as France, China, and the like. That will not be the case for Washington this year as they will also head to Senegal as part of a 15-day trip. In addition to stops in Spain, France, and Monaco, the Huskies will also visit Senegal and play a game in Dakar. The impetus for the trip is senior Aziz N’Diaye, who is from Senegal, and serves as one of the more unique ways to honor a tradition of rewarding seniors with a game in their hometown. The trip will also serve as a way for the Huskies to get used to their new pieces as they will have to adjust to live after underachieving last season before losing their two best players early to the NBA Draft.
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Morning Five: 04.19.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 19th, 2012

  1. The top of the ACC might look a little different next season after C.J. Leslie announced that he would will return for his junior season at North Carolina State. An argument can be made that the return of Leslie, who would have been a borderline first round pick this year, could shift the balance of power in the ACC next season. We will always assume that Duke and North Carolina will be up there too, but both teams lose significant pieces from their teams and frankly Duke overachieved last year. With Leslie returning and a very solid freshman class coming in it does not seem that far-fetched that the Wolfpack could be considered the favorites in the ACC next season, which is something that we have not seen for a very long time.
  2. With most of the top incoming recruits committed the battle for the few remaining top recruits is heated and that certainly is the case for Tony Parker. The 6’9″ 280-pound high school senior has narrowed his list to Duke, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio State, and UCLA. Although reports earlier this week indicated that Parker was headed to UCLA, but Parker’s high school coach denies that anything has been set and will announce his decision on Monday. If Parker is indeed headed to UCLA, it could give the Bruins a legitimate argument for the top class in the country. Of course, it would also lead to plenty of Josh Smith jokes (you can figure those ones out yourself).
  3. For much of the past year we have been keeping an eye on Connecticut‘s 2013 APR ban and their eventual failed appeal. For the most part we ignored the similar plight of Toledo, but now the Rockets will be joining the Huskies on the sideline as they will also be banned from the 2013 NCAA Tournament due to their low APR scores. Obviously Toledo’s absence will be much less noticeable than Connecticut’s (primarily because they probably would not have made it even if they were eligible). Toledo seems to be holding out hope that the NCAA will allow them to count their 2011-12 APR score which would allow them to sneak over the low threshold. UNC-Wilmington appears to be in a similar situation. Since the NCAA did not grant an exemption to Connecticut we are not sure how the NCAA would let them get away with that now.
  4. With Johnny Jones having left to take over at LSU the administration at North Texas has been looking for his replacement. However, unlike many schools they do not appear to be in a hurry to name his replacement. According to the school’s athletic director they are looking at a variety of potential replacements including a current assistant coach at the school, a few fairly big-name former coaches, and a few other assistants. The school claims that it plans on having made a decision within the next ten days so it should be not too long until they have a coach, but we would not expect anything in the next few days.
  5. Frequent readers of this site are aware that we rarely talk about women’s college basketball and when we do it is for a major issue. This one definitely qualifies. Just a year after she revealed that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Pat Summitt has given up her title as head coach at Tennessee. Summitt will have the title of Head Coach Emeritus that allows her to come to practices and participate in on-campus recruiting, but the team’s actual head coach will be Holly Warlick. We are not a women’s college basketball site or we would have probably devoted the next week to posts about Summitt so we will sum it up with this: 1,098 wins, 38 seasons, 18 Final Fours, and 8 National Championships. Greatest women’s college basketball coach ever.
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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 81, #16 Western Kentucky 66

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  All Business. Kentucky had this one wrapped up and in the mail by halftime. The specific play that did it was at the end of the half when the Wildcats put together an Anthony Davis dunk, a Doron Lamb three, and a block by Davis to lift the lead at 19 and bring the crowd to life. Western Kentucky walked off the floor and, frankly, didn’t provide much resistance upon coming out for the second half.
  2. There Was a Little (One-Sided) Fun, Actually. Watch for two straight Davis alley-oop dunks on your favorite highlight show tonight if you didn’t see them live. He got a technical on the second one…for pulling his KNEES up to the rim. Deserved it for the knee maneuver, and probably would have broken his back if he had let go of the rim, but hey, it looked cool.
  3. How Long Will the Wildcats’ Legs Hold Up? John Calipari has played seven guys, and almost EXCLUSIVELY seven guys, all year long. They’ve played such tough defense and quick, motion offense for a long, hard year. Even with a lead that got up to 30 at one point, Calipari still had his blue-chippers in there with less than ten minutes to go. He didn’t clear his bench until there was less than a minute left. There was a little bit of buzz along press row as to whether Cal’s affinity for leaving his big boys in to close out games even with big leads will eventually cause the legs to fail, given the minutes those seven guys have had to log all season — maybe against, say, a Connecticut or Iowa State? — a buzz not mitigated by the fact that Calipari’s boys let up on defense near the finish line, allowing the ‘Toppers to get the lead down to 15 by the final buzzer.

Star of the Game. Terrence Jones donated 22/10 to the UK cause and was rivaled only by Davis’ 16/9 and seven blocks. Let’s be fair, though. WKU has a couple of ballers, notably freshmen T. J. Price (21/4 on 6-11) and Derrick Gordon (12/5). Once the UK defense decided to take them out of the game (especially Price) at the start of the second half, the matter was decided, but safe to say those gents will have WKU back in the Tournament in short order — and not as a 16-seed.

Quotable. Calipari, who has remarked in the past about how he’s not really a fan of tournament-format basketball: “I’ve told my guys, just forget about the whole tournament. We’re just playing basketball. I told them tonight, I don’t care about offense, let’s just play defense. Let’s show everyone what kind of defensive team we can be.”

Sights & Sounds. Credit to the WKU band for the taunts during Kentucky’s free throws, referencing Davis’ unibrow, questions of Kentucky players’ gender, and other cleverness. They were doing what they could. UK finished 18-25 from the line for 72%.

What’s Next? Everyone knows what’s next. Not many UK fans will leave the KFC Yum! Center until they know who their team is playing on Saturday. There is a palpable fear of Connecticut in this building. UK fans know the Huskies have enough NBA talent on that team to challenge the ‘Cats, and of course UConn disposed of UK last year in the Final Four. A burnt child, indeed, shuns fire.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round — Thursday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Kentucky vs. #16 Western Kentucky – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

The Pressure is Squarely on Calipari This Year

It is all gravy from here on out for Ray Harper and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Standing at 9-18 at one point this season, WKU turned things around in a big way as they won the Sun Belt conference tournament to earn the automatic bid to the Big Dance. Trailing Mississippi Valley State by 16 points with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, the Hilltoppers ended the game on a 22-5 run to win by one point. Make no mistake about it, Western Kentucky’s magical run will end against Kentucky, but what a run it was. WKU was at their best against Mississippi Valley when they were pressuring the ball and running in transition, but this will simply not work against the Wildcats. It is senseless to breakdown the match ups as Kentucky is staggeringly better at every position, but don’t be surprised if the ‘Toppers keep it close for a good chunk of the first half as they are playing with house money and in their home state.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

#5 Wichita State vs. #12 Virginia Commonwealth – South Region Second Round (at Portland, OR) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

One of the most intriguing games in not just the South Region, but the entire second round as a whole, Wichita State and Virginia Commonwealth proved to be two of the top mid-majors throughout the season. Wichita did it with their high-powered and efficient offense, while VCU with their pressure and relentless defense. The victor in this one will most likely be the team that excels in what they do best better than the opposition. If Joe Ragland is hitting shots from the perimeter and Garrett Stutz is his usual force down on the blocks, the Shockers will be in a good position to advance. However, much of the success Wichita has will hinge on whether they can protect the basketball and not let VCU get out in transition as the Rams force more turnovers better than any team in the country. A half court game certainly favors Wichita State, but Bradford Burgess and Darius Theus will look to push the ball every chance they have. In the end, Stutz on the inside and the slew of exceptional shooters Wichita State will throw at VCU proves to be too much for the Rams to overcome.

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ATB: And Then There Were 64 — First Four Breakdown

Posted by EJacoby on March 15th, 2012

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.

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