Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 78, #1 Wichita State 76

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points in a losing effort. (AP)

  1. It was the best game of the year. Kentucky and Wichita State played an absolute classic. Not only was it the best NCAA Tournament game this season, it will likely stay that way. And it easily topped any regular season game simply because all that was on the line. The Wildcats and Shockers threw punch after punch, made run and after run, until Fred Van Vleet’s three clanked off the rim at the buzzer. It’s unfortunate that one of these teams had to lose. This game was fitting of a national championship game rather than a round of 32 game, and it may have been the best round of 32 game in the history of the Big Dance.
  2. Wichita State belongs among the nation’s elite. The Shockers were counted out all year long. It seemed like half the nation thought they weren’t good enough. Well, the detractors need to close their mouths. I don’t care that they were the first #1 seed to lose. They played a magnificent basketball game they certainly could have won, and it’s a real shame the Shockers will be going home early. A brilliant season that started with 35 straight wins ended in disappointment. But that shouldn’t take anything away from what the Shockers accomplished this year. Wichita State can play with anybody.
  3. Kentucky played like 40-0 Kentucky. Remember before the season began when there was all that conversation about preseason #1 Kentucky going 40-0? Well, the Wildcats finally played like the team they were expected to be on Sunday afternoon. They were focused, they competed unbelievably hard for 40 minutes, they defended, and they hit shots. The heralded freshman class lived up to its preseason billing. They were absolutely terrific in scoring 68 of Kentucky’s points. From Julius Randle to the Harrison twins to James Young, they were magnificent — if, and it’s big if, but if Kentucky can continue to play at this level, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t cut down the nets in Arlington, Texas, as national champions two weeks from now.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. Yes, even in a losing effort. The senior forward poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Early pulled down seven rebounds, didn’t commit a turnover, and recorded a steal and a block. Early hit big shot after big shot in the second half, and threw down a monster posterizing dunk in the opening half. The only thing he did wrong was a missed layup with three minutes remaining in the tight contest that would have given Wichita State a three-point lead.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Wichita State 64, #16 Cal Poly 37

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State rolled past Cal Poly. (Peter Aiken)

  1. Wichita State did something Florida and Arizona couldn’t. The Shockers, the third #1 seed to play in this season’s NCAA Tournament, didn’t have much trouble with their allotted #16 seed. Florida and Arizona, however, couldn’t say that. Florida didn’t pull away from Albany until late in its game on Thursday, and Arizona was down 7-0 early and won by just single figures against Weber State. Wichita State dominated from the get-go, opening up a 21-5 edge and cruising the rest of the way. The 14-20 Cal Poly Mustangs never mounted any sort of legitimate challenge.
  2. The Shockers locked down defensively. After an 11-day layoff following their MVC Tournament title win, there was no sign of rust from Wichita State on that end. Instead, a fresh Shocker team hounded Cal Poly all over the floor, all night long. Cal Poly struggled to run any kind of offense, often having to settle for a contested three-pointer at the end of the shot clock. Cal Poly even had an 11-minute field goal drought in the first half. Cal Poly shot just 21 percent from the field for the game, going 12-of-58 from the floor. The Mustangs weren’t any better from three-point range, connecting on just 5-of-28 attempts (18 percent).
  3. There was one thing the Shockers didn’t do well. This is really nit-picking here, but if there was any concern for Wichita State on Friday night, it came at the foul line. The Shockers went just 12-of-21 (57 percent) from the charity stripe. Obviously it didn’t matter in a game of that nature, and probably is just an aberration for a team that shoots 73 percent from the foul line on the season.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. How does 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting strike you? Oh wait, that was just in the first half alone. The Shocker forward played just five minutes in the second half before calling it a night, finishing with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 19 minutes of playing time. Early ouscored Cal Poly by himself in the first half, 19-13, and it took the Mustangs until the 13-minute mark in the second half to tie his output. The Mustangs finally broke the 20-point barrier at the 11:48 mark. Early went 3-of-8 from beyond the arc and also corralled seven rebounds.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2014

As expected, the SEC earned only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Top-ranked Florida and Kentucky have been locks for some time, and Tennessee secured its status with an impressive finish down the stretch. Based upon their finishes, it’s hard to argue that Missouri and Arkansas, both of which spent significant time on the bubble this year, deserved to get in. We look at how each of the three teams that did make it fared with their selections, and where they go from here.

Florida Gators (No. 1 seed, South Region)

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

  • Opening Round Opponent: The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the Tournament, open with the winner of the Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s First Four game in Dayton. It’s a safe bet that Florida won’t be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16.
  • Looking Ahead: With a win in the second round, Florida will face the winner of Colorado/Pittsburgh game in Orlando. The Gators will have a significant advantage playing in their own backyard, and should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they should get VCU or UCLA, and a trip to the regional finals could involve a match-up against Kansas, Syracuse or Ohio State.
  • How Far Can They Go? A potential Elite Eight game with Kansas could be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best, though both teams have work to do before than they can think about that. The Gators have a favorable draw to the regional final, though UCLA could present a challenge if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, we think Florida plays good enough defense to emerge from this region, and the Gators should make the Final Four. We’d be foolish to the think the overall top seed in the Tournament, which has now won 26 consecutive games, can’t win it all.

Kentucky Wildcats (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region)

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Wichita State Makes History on its Way to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 9th, 2014

Twenty-three years ago. That’s the last time a college basketball team entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated. Until now. The Wichita State Shockers completed their inexorable march toward regular season perfection with an 83-69 victory against Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game Sunday afternoon at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Thirty-four times opponents attempted to end Wichita State’s bid for perfection, and 34 times they failed. The 1990-91 UNLV team that entered the NCAA Tournament at 30-0 will no longer be the answer to a modern-day trivia question. That honor now belongs to Wichita State. “I wouldn’t say it was a celebration or a relief, but we understand what we accomplished is something special,” Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early said. “At the same time we still have business to take care of.” Added Wichita State guard Fred Van Vleet: “We’re not going to hide from it. We’re going to embrace it and appreciate it. This stuff doesn’t happen.”

Wichita Has Surprised Everyone On Its Way to Unbeaten Heading Into Selection Sunday (credit: TSN/Ryan Fagan)

Wichita Has Surprised Everyone On Its Way to Unbeaten Heading Into Selection Sunday (credit: TSN/Ryan Fagan)

Let’s forget the omnipresent strength-of-schedule argument surrounding the Shockers. Let’s forget the detractors who won’t be satisfied until Wichita State proves itself in the Big Dance. Let’s celebrate the accomplishment for what it is. Wichita State is just the second team in history to begin the season with 34 straight wins. The other? That UNLV squad that reached the Final Four at 34-0 before falling to Duke. This is one of the biggest stories in the history of college basketball. The Shockers pulled off a feat that’s only been done once before. And should they — with their inevitable #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — be able to avoid the first #16 over #1 upset in Big Dance history, Wichita State would stand alone as the only team to start a college basketball season with 35 consecutive victories. “It’s got to be [one of the greatest stories in college basketball history],” Van Vleet said. “You’re talking about 34 up, 34 down. I don’t care who you’re playing or where you’re at or where you’re from, 34-0 is 34-0.”

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Wichita State’s Pursuit of Perfection Continues Friday in Arch Madness

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 6th, 2014

The Wichita State Shockers are looking to make some more history. After finishing the regular season undefeated at 31-0, becoming the first team to accomplish the feat since Saint Joseph’s in 2004, the Shockers look to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since UNLV pulled off the trick in 1991. Will Wichita State succeed in its pursuit of perfection? Based on its dominance of Missouri Valley Conference foes this season, you’d have to think the odds are in the Shockers’ favor to run through Arch Madness. Only three league opponents stayed within single figures of Wichita State this season, and just one — Missouri State — played them within six points. That 72-69 overtime win came on January 11 after the Shockers had rallied from 19 points down with 11:48 left in the game. Otherwise it’s been mostly an exercise in cruise control for Gregg Marshall’s team. Those numbers don’t really inspire much confidence for a shocking winner this weekend. In fact, Ken Pomeroy gives Wichita State a 78 percent chance to earn the league’s automatic bid.

Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers look to remain unbeaten through the MVC Tournament.

Fred Van Vleet and the Wichita State Shockers look to remain unbeaten through the MVC Tournament.

Let’s take a look at the Shockers’ likely path in the MVC Tournament. First up will be the winner of the #8/#9 game between Drake and Evansville, which tips off this evening. In the four games Wichita State played against the two opponents this season, the Shockers won by an average of 19 points with the closest an 81-67 victory against the Aces on February 1. There’s virtually no way that Wichita State drops its quarterfinal game, as KenPom gives the Shockers a 95.2 percent chance of advancing to the semifinals on Saturday. That’s where Wichita State would meet either Missouri State or Illinois State, depending on Friday’s result between the two. Sure, the former gave the Shockers quite a scare two months ago before capitulating in overtime, but Wichita State rolled through the Bears in the return game last Saturday, winning by 23 points in the regular season clincher. The Shockers beat Illinois State by an average of 17 points in their two meetings this season as well. KenPom gives Wichita State an 87.4 percent chance to advance to the title game here.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 6th, 2014

Day four of Championship Fortnight means three more conferences tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the MAAC, MVC and WCC get started.

Dates: March 6-9
Site: Scottrade Center (Saint Louis, MO)

2014 mvc tourney bracket

What to expect: The big story here will be Wichita State’s undefeated season. Can the Shockers become the first team since 1991 UNLV to enter the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record? Or will Indiana State or Northern Iowa pull an upset and force Wichita State to settle for equaling 10-year-old history? Recall Saint Joseph’s went unbeaten during the 2004 regular season before falling in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The MVC is down compared to years past, undoubtedly exacerbated by Creighton’s departure to the Big East, and it will be a shocker if Wichita State and Indiana State don’t meet in Sunday’s tournament final.

Favorite: Wichita State. As if this needed answering. The Shockers have romped through the Missouri Valley this season, winning their 18 games by an average 15.6 points per game. Wichita State is a top-15 team on offense and defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, and it would be a monumental upset if the Shockers don’t enter the NCAA Tournament with a 34-0 record.

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Final Four Profiles In-Depth: Wichita State Shockers

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 2nd, 2013

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

With the possible exception of Wichita State, there are no earth shattering secrets to reveal about the four teams remaining in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This Final Four comes packaged with a little bit of everything: the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing (Louisville); a 900-win coach with a legendary zone defense at his disposal (Syracuse); a fifth-place Big Ten team catching fire at just the right time (Michigan); and the Shockers, the barely name-recognizable MVC power whose four-win run has not been given its proper due. It is a fun mix that sets up any number of possible outcomes in Atlanta this weekend. Will Louisville continue its robotic obliteration in the national semifinal and final rounds? Will Wichita State “shock” (better to get that pun out of the way sooner than later) the college basketball world? Can Michigan’s youth handle the national spotlight? Or will Syracuse’s zone throw two more offenses into utter dysfunction?

The Biggest underdog left in the field, Wichita State faces a tough matchup Saturday against Louisville (Getty Images).

The Biggest underdog left in the field, Wichita State faces a tough match-up Saturday against Louisville (Getty Images).

All of these questions are worth thinking about, but the answers are never as clear as what’s on the surface. Louisville, at the moment, looks like the best team in the country; the Shockers look overmatched. But if you think even for a second analyzing Final Four match-ups is as simple as the above A > B comparison, think again: These games are inherently unpredictable. That’s what makes them fun – what makes this entire Tournament comprise the most entertaining three-week period in American sports.

By now you’re well-schooled on each of the remaining participants, but I’m going to try and take you deeper, to dig beneath the superficial qualities that make both match-ups objectively simple to figure out. Here, I’ll take you in different directions, raise hopefully enlightening statistical analysis and maybe, by the end, you’ll have a greater sense of how each team stands going into what should be another excellent weekend of NCAA Tournament hoops.

To start off our team preview series, which you can expect each day from now until Friday, the least known commodity on the block, Wichita State, is up to bat.

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. One year removed from earning a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a highly successful 27-6 win season and an MVC regular season championship, Wichita State entered 2012-13 with rightfully lowered expectations. You lose your top five scorers from a year ago, enter an overall improved league with an even more improved chief rival (Creighton), and you get the feeling a return trip to the NCAA Tournament maybe just isn’t in the cards this season. This was set up to be a textbook transition year, a season to take inventory and reload for the future. The spoils of 2011-12 – an at-large Tournament berth, regular season conference championship, that kind of stuff – were pretty much off the table. Now Gregg Marshall’s team has not only exceeded last season’s first-round Tourney knockout, but find themselves two wins away from the completely unthinkable: a first-ever national championship.

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