Big Ten Weekly Five: 09.06.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on September 6th, 2012

  1. Coming into this summer, it was widely known that there was going to be some decisions to be made in terms of Indiana’s roster and the number of scholarship spots that would be allotted. It was also pretty widely known that Matt Roth was a likely candidate to be the odd man out. That came to fruition this week when it was learned that Roth’s time with the Hoosiers is over. The writing had been on the wall, though, with Roth already completing his undergraduate work and participating in the Senior Night festivities last season at Assembly Hall. But, as ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan points out, it’s a shame to see a player who started his career at IU when the Hoosiers really needed him have it end when the rebuilding process has finally been completed.
  2. If Nebraska wants to establish its authority in the Big Ten — and in its own state — it will have plenty of opportunities in its sophomore Big Ten season. The Cornhuskers’ schedule poses plenty of challenges this year, including the first five conference games in January – at Ohio State, against Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Michigan State and against Purdue. Not the easiest way to break into Big Ten play. This also comes weeks after the Huskers will host Creighton (and Nebraska-Omaha), in a fight for in-state bragging rights. Creighton has been the superior Nebraska program for years. Will the tide turn under new Huskers coach Tim Miles?
  3. CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman reports that Purdue is alive and well after the departure of poster child Robbie Hummel, thanks in part to a trip overseas for an exhibition set in Italy. Head coach Matt Painter recognizes that nothing is going to come easy for this group — which is suddenly without Hummel, Lewis Jackson, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, who carried the program back to relevance in recent years — that is certain to have growing pains in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. ”Inexperience and our ability to be good defensively,” Painter said were his biggest concerns after the trip. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re going to have to be good together.” Purdue lost three of its top four scorers from last season, and lone senior D.J. Byrd is going to have to shoulder a heavy load to keep the Boilermakers near the top of the conference.
  4. Entering his senior season, it was expected that Ohio State’s William Buford would be competing for a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team and perhaps some good standing in the 2012 NBA Draft. Instead, he was inconsistent for the Buckeyes and went undrafted. He will get a chance to play professional ball, though — alongside former Purdue standout Robbie Hummel — in Santiago, Spain. “I thought trying to make it to the NBA this year was kind of a risk,” Buford said during his introductory news conference, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “So I figured why not come to the best league besides the NBA.” It’s probably not the plan Buford envisioned a year or two ago, but with his tools, he can spend a couple years overseas and have a great shot at cracking an NBA roster.
  5. In any successful athletic program, the basketball and football programs have to be able to feed off each other while both maintaining a certain level of consistent excellence. That’s what they’re shooting for at Penn State, where both teams — albeit for different reasons — are undergoing some serious rebuilding. While that’s been going on, basketball coach Patrick Chambers and football coach Bill O’Brien have forged a friendship. Together, as they told David Jones of the Patriot-News, they hope to restore Penn State athletics to a place of high standing. “We’ve become fast friends,” Chambers said. “We’ve got a good relationship and a very trusting relationship.”
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Bidding Them Farewell: Paying Homage to the Undrafted College Seniors

Posted by EJacoby on July 2nd, 2012

The NBA Draft is only two rounds long, so it’s quite difficult to crack the top 60 eligible draftees into the league in a given year. It’s even more challenging for graduating seniors, who not only compete with younger collegians but also foreign prospects from around the world who possess greater ‘upside’ in the minds of NBA evaluators. Constantly in search of the next hidden gem, general managers tend to overlook the players they’ve watched over the past four seasons in college. Only four seniors were picked in the first round during last Thursday’s draft, and while another 17 made it into the second there was still a large pool of graduates who didn’t hear their names called. There were far more than 21 impactful seniors in college basketball last season, and we’re here to honor the careers of those who didn’t get selected. We won’t forget the contributions of these following players, and with hard work and a little luck they should have a strong chance of cracking an NBA roster in the future.

Kevin Jones had a brilliant college career but wasn’t recognized on draft night (Getty Images)

  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – A career that included a trip to the Final Four as a sophomore and leading the Big East in scoring and rebounding as a senior wasn’t enough to merit consideration by the NBA. Jones averaged 19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks last season on 50.9% shooting from the field and 78.0% shooting from the line while also making a three-pointer per game. He also led the conference in Offensive Rating, this all coming on a squad with little offensive help elsewhere.
  • William Buford, Ohio State – Buford was a McDonald’s All-American guard with prototypical 6’6″ size who averaged double figures every season at Ohio State, making two Sweet Sixteens and a Final Four. He shoots it well and has shown a strong tendency to fit into an offensive scheme with other talented scorers, but his inability to take over games perhaps made him overlooked by scouts.
  • Scott Machado, Iona – Machado led the country in assists last season (9.9 per game) while also reaching career highs in points, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage as the leader of an at-large NCAA Tournament team. Even in a weak point guard draft, no team pulled the trigger on Machado, but he’ll have a great chance to dazzle in Summer League as one of the more polished floor leaders. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Ohio State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 5th, 2012

The last five minutes of the Final Four game were a blur for the Buckeyes. Despite cruising for most of the game, Ohio State tightened up during the final few minutes of the loss to Kansas. Jared Sullinger had some issues in the paint against the longer Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson dominated the Buckeyes in the paint on the offensive end. But regardless of the outcome of the game, Thad Matta did an excellent job with his young Buckeyes as he led them to its second Final Four in six seasons. What used to be a great accomplishment for OSU basketball to make the Final Four has now become an expectation during Matta’s regime. And that’s a good expectation because he has raised the bar in Columbus with consistent incoming talent and superb coaching. Both of his best recruiting classes – one with Greg Oden and another with Jared Sullinger — have resulted in a trip to the Final Four. It is only a matter of time before Matta cracks the Final Four barrier and wins the national title. Every young coach had to go through some growing pains – Bill Self, Roy Williams and the latest addition to the championship table, John Calipari. Let’s take a trip back through the 2011-12 campaign and assess OSU’s overall performance.

Aaron Craft will need to step up offensively for The Buckeyes in 2012-13

  • In a nutshell: Jared Sullinger returned to Columbus for another year of education, late night meals at Taco Bell, and a national championship.  Even though he fell short of the title, a Final Four caps off two great years of college ball before he heads to the NBA. Thad Matta’s freshman class 2011 showed tremendous improvement as Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft added new facets to their game. Along with Lenzelle Smith, Jr., the core of that group should be back next season for another run at a Big Ten championship. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on April 2nd, 2012

  1. It came down to the wire for Ohio State in its national semifinal loss to Kansas on Saturday, and it did not end well. The Buckeyes let a game that they were seemingly in control of nearly throughout slip away as the Jayhawks climbed back from a 13-point margin. Thad Matta saw his team playing some of its best basketball at the end of the year, but did not see it execute well at the end of the game that mattered most.
  2. And with that, we likely bid farewell to Jared Sullinger, possibly Deshaun Thomas and definitely William Buford as the last Big Ten team puts the finishing touches on its season. Sullinger surprised a few by coming back for his sophomore season and Thomas has emerged as possibly the team’s best talent. So how much will be left in the cupboard next year? Possibly more than you think, says Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch.
  3. The clock ran out on Michigan State‘s exceptional season, but the accolades continue to pile up for star senior Draymond Green and coach Tom Izzo. Green was named the National Player of the Year by the NABC on Sunday, the first Spartan to receive such an honor since Shawn Respert in 1995. In turn, Izzo was named Coach of the Year for the second time of his career. “For me to win an award of such great magnitude means a lot for me to be able to contribute to making this an even better program,” Green said.
  4. Michigan coach John Beilein had a few things to say on Yahoo! Sports Radio this weekend, but did not get into the situation regarding his star point guard’s possible return to Ann Arbor. Beilein reflected on the season, refusing to call it a disappointment. ”We had a great group of young guys that played their tails off, we won a Big Ten championship, which has only happened 13 times in Michigan history,” Beilein said. “(It) hasn’t happened in (26 years). We feel good.” The topic of Trey Burke, who is expected to make a decision about the NBA Draft early this week, did not come up.
  5. For Patrick Chambers, his first year at Penn State was all about attitude. He saw enough, and he’s looking for more. Chambers looked back on this past season, said he liked what he saw, but is hopeful for a brighter future for the Nittany Lions.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: National Semifinals

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

For even more analysis of these fantastic games, check out Zach Hayes’ ultimate breakdowns for each matchup. UK-UL can be found here and OSU-KU here.

#1 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville – National Semifinal (at New Orleans, LA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

The RTC NPOY Is Two Wins From a Championship

Kentucky. Louisville. In the Final Four. Armageddon in the Commonwealth. Yep, it’s well worth the hype. The 44th meeting between these bitter in-state rivals comes to us from the ultimate setting in the national semifinals at the Superdome on Saturday night. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 29-14, and has won six of the past eight meetings dating back to 2004. The Wildcats enter this game with just two losses on the season and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. In order to advance to the championship game, Kentucky must continue to defend at a high level. By no means is Louisville an offensive juggernaut and that’s where the stifling UK defense must take control of the game. With shot blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis on the back line of its defense, Kentucky and its #1 eFG% defense should be able to limit the Cardinals offensively. Do that and you would think the Wildcats have enough offensive weapons to win the game. But it’s not always that simple. While John Calipari and his team have a huge edge in talent, all the intangibles favor Louisville. When Rick Pitino said they would need to put fences on bridges in Lexington if Kentucky loses to Louisville, he wasn’t kidding. All of the pressure is on Kentucky, a team expected to win a national title. Louisville, a team that went 10-8 in a down Big East, certainly wasn’t expected to make it this far. The Cardinals have absolutely no pressure on them in this game and Pitino would love nothing more than to stick it in the face of Calipari and Kentucky fans. Pitino and his players couldn’t wait to talk about the matchup last week while Cal and his squad kept on saying this is just another game. That’s pure BS. They know the stakes and the weight on the collective shoulders of this young team could perhaps be Louisville’s best chance to win. The Cardinals boast the top defensive efficiency in the land so a grinder-type game should be expected. Three of the last four games in this rivalry have been decided by nine points or less and, despite the talent gap, we’d be surprised if this one isn’t as well given the stakes. The key for Louisville will be to push the pace and score in transition without allowing Kentucky to do the same. UK is lethal in transition but a game with fewer possessions favors the Wildcats. They excelled at a slower pace in the second half of the SEC season and we’re just not sure Louisville will be able to score enough points in a low possession half court game. That means Louisville, and Peyton Siva specifically, can’t turn the ball over. If the Cardinals wait and let Davis and UK set up in half court defense, their task becomes incredibly tough. Scoring in transition takes the Davis defensive threat away and allows the Cardinals to set up their zone press. Pitino is a master at morphing his matchup zone into man-to-man defense in the blink of an eye and changing defenses could throw Kentucky off balance. The best way to beat UK is to take away Davis inside (Gorgui Dieng can do that, provided he stays out of foul trouble) and force them to make jump shots. Kentucky doesn’t take many outside shots but Louisville’s defense could force them into contested mid-range looks that might not fall. One problem area for the Cardinals could be the defensive glass. If UK is taking lots of jumpers (a good thing for Louisville), UL must block out and prevent Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from crashing the offensive glass. Louisville has struggled all year in this department but must come up with a better effort on Saturday night. Siva makes everything go for Louisville and it’ll be interesting to see if Calipari puts Kidd-Gilchrist on him at times as he has done with other point guards this season. The freshman with an unquenchable motor could frustrate Siva and force him into turnovers, fueling UK’s transition attack. While we feel the intangible aspect of this game favors Louisville in a big way and we’d love to pick the Cardinals just for that (and to be different), Kentucky’s superior talent is undeniable. Louisville will make it close but Kentucky simply has too much in the end and should advance to play for all the marbles on Monday night.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.29.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 29th, 2012

  1. Could this nightmare of a coaching search finally be coming to an end for Illinois? According to the Chicago Tribune‘s Shannon Ryan, the hire of Ohio’s John Groce as the next Fighting Illini coach is “imminent.” Donors and alumni at Ohio have been scrambling over the last few days to find ways to offer Groce a pay bump to stay in Athens, but it seems that it’s only a matter of his contract at Illinois that is keeping Groce from officially donning a new school’s colors.
  2. So what does this whole circus say about Illinois, the state of its basketball program, and the coaching job itself? The Tribune‘s David Haugh doesn’t sugarcoat it when he writes that it just goes to show that Illinois is not the prestigious program perhaps it thought it was. It wasn’t so much the number of mid-major (and even power conference) coaches who turned the job down, but the way in which Groce was able to negotiate the terms of his pending contract. It’s humbling for Illinois fans but surely the next coach will be looking to restore that luster.
  3. Minnesota was left out of the NCAA Tournament, but Tubby Smith’s club is making the most of its postseason. The Golden Gophers have worked their way into the NIT championship game tonight in New York, where they’ll take on Stanford. Coincidentally, that’s the same program that Minnesota freshman point guard Andre Hollins nearly played for. Thursday, Hollins — who had 20 points and five assists in Tuesday’s 68-67 overtime win over Washington — will have the chance to show Stanford what it missed out on.
  4. With all the attention paid toward All-American Jared Sullinger, X-factor Deshaun Thomas, and feisty point guard Aaron Craft, senior William Buford has practically fallen by the wayside. The Ohio State veteran has big-time capabilities that we’ve seen before. The problem is, we’ve also seen him go unnoticed. If those former qualities emerge in New Orleans, it could mean big things for Ohio State.
  5. Speaking of Sullinger, Ohio State’s big man has done what he came back to do, taking the Buckeyes to a Final Four with a reasonable shot at a national title. And, as Michael Rosenberg writes, in doing that, he’s silenced some of his critics. But most importantly, the extra year in college has allowed him to mature and prepare himself for a professional basketball life ahead.
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Thad Matta: Great Recruiter… and Coach

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 28th, 2012

Tom Izzo’s teams rebound the ball and play tough defense. Bo Ryan trains his players to adhere to a disciplined offensive system for every minute of the game. Matt Painter seems to be cut from the same wood as his former coach and Big Ten icon, Gene Keady. He instills confidence and toughness into his team, regardless of the talent level. Tom Crean is a dynamic recruiter and has the advantage of being at one of the blue-blood programs. Every established coach in the Big Ten has a specific brand of basketball associated with them. What about Thad Matta? What separates him from the rest?

Thad Matta deserves credit for player development and management.

For years, Matta was known as just a dynamic recruiter – a coach who can consistently bring in a top 25 class of freshman, most of whom would not stick around for more than a year or two in college. Nobody was surprised to see Greg Oden leave for the NBA but few expected Mike Conley and Daequan Cook to join him after just one season in Columbus. Matta recruited the likes of B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, both centers who took their talents to the NBA but didn’t really pan out at the next level. Even though Matta led the 2006 class to the 2007 Final Four, the run was largely just credited to the talent on the team, not necessarily his coaching prowess. But after a second Final Four in six seasons, that image needs to change. Thad Matta is more than just a recruiter; he has shaped himself into a dynamic coach as well. Let’s examine his career at Ohio State to understand why he should be considered a complete coach in college – one who can recruit and is excellent at molding his team into a cohesive unit based on the talent available.

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

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Four Thoughts On Ohio State vs. Syracuse

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2012

About a year ago, Jared Sullinger shocked the press room by announcing that the would be back for another season despite being projected as a top 10 choice in the NBA Draft. Coming off a brutal loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, he seemed very confident about his reasons to return to Columbus, one of them being unfinished business because he wanted to lead Ohio State back to the Final Four. Several comparisons have been made between the recruiting class with Greg Oden to the one with Jared Sullinger. Both classes were highly touted and Oden along with Mike Conley led the Buckeyes to the National Championship game where they lost to Florida. Last year’s recruiting class — Sullinger, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas — has lived up to the hype as they led Ohio State back to the Final Four Saturday by beating Syracuse 77-70. Let’s examine four key factors that led to the victory over the weekend.

Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes executed an excellent game plan to beat 'Cuse. (nwitimes.com)

  1. The Buckeyes did not settle for three-point shots. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone forces the opposing teams to settle for long-range shots during the game. Syracuse frustrates opponents to an extent where they believe that the only way to break it is to chuck up 25-footers. Three-point shooting is one key to break the zone but only with quality looks and when the looks are not there, teams need to attack the paint to force the zone to fall apart. On Thursday night, Wisconsin shot 14-27 against ‘Cuse but they forgot about other ways to score, one of them being to attack the basket. Ohio State’s wings did an excellent job of cutting their way into the paint against the Orange, resulting in 42 free throw attempts. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas could have settled for flat-footed threes but rather they stayed active and remained close to the hoop with their shot selection. Both of them combined for 1-7 from the long-range but 8-10 from the charity line. Overall, the Buckeyes shot only 4-13 (30.8%) from deep but their limited three-point attempts allowed them to exploit the zone via the post, not from 25 feet away from the hoop. Read the rest of this entry »
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Weekend Wrap: Buckeyes to the Final Four; Spartans, Hoosiers, Badgers Fall

Posted by jnowak on March 25th, 2012

Four teams enter, one team leaves. The Big Ten had four representatives advance to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play, but just Ohio State — considered by many to be the toast of the league for much of the season before Michigan State emerged as Big Ten Tournament champions and the conference’s lone #1 seed — will be suiting up in New Orleans next weekend. Here are a few thoughts from the weekend’s action:

Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Deshaun Thomas celebrate their team's win against Syracuse on Saturday. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

  • Tom Izzo was right — The esteemed Michigan State coach, who knows a thing or two about getting through March, has recognized all along that this is not his most talented team but it had as much capability as any other because of its intangible qualities. Because of this, Izzo has also said all along that the group’s margin for error was smaller than maybe ever before. That came to fruition against a red-hot Louisville group on Thursday, as the Spartans turned in one of the worst offensive performances of the tournament. The Cardinals never allowed the Spartans to get into a rhythm and it led to an early exit. If it’s any consolation, Michigan State has been eliminated by a Final Four team in six of the last eight seasons.
  • Does Ohio State have what it takes? — The Buckeyes are Bourbon Street-bound, but can they win two more games? They wouldn’t have to play the top team in the tournament (Kentucky) presumably until the national title game, and have shown that they can keep finding ways to win. They did it without Jared Sullinger for most of the first half Saturday, and William Buford and Deshaun Thomas were both pretty quiet. If everything clicks for this group, they can certainly hang with anybody.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2012

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Final (at Phoenix, AZ) – 4:30 PM ET on CBS

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

Pitino & Donovan Have a Great Amount of Respect For Each Other (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s master versus pupil in a battle for the Final Four. Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino first gained national attention at roughly the same time as Donovan was the star player on Pitino’s 1987 Providence College team that made an improbable run to the Final Four, but their relationship didn’t stop there. Dovovan’s single year in the NBA was spent with Pitino as his head coach, and when he gave up his job on Wall Street to get back into basketball, it was to Pitino’s staff at Kentucky that he went. Since then, Donovan has had plenty of success, including back-to-back national championships, giving him one more for his career than his mentor, but in head-to-head matchups, Donovan’s teams have never won in six meetings. As for this meeting, we’ve got a couple of really interesting clashes here. First and foremost, we get to watch a Florida offense that is the third most efficient offense in the country competing against a Louisville team who has, on the strength of Thursday night’s absolute destruction of a good Michigan State offense, taken over the number one spot in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals did a lot of things right defensively in that game (grabbing over 80% of defensive rebound opportunities and limiting their opponent to just a 33.7% eFG night among them), but perhaps the key to the game was their ability to force turnovers on 25% of the Spartans’ possessions. That type of thing could be very hard to come by against a guard-heavy Gator team that generally does not turn the ball over with great regularity. Furthermore, when the Cards’ opponents do get into the halfcourt against them, their goal is often to force the other team into making tough shots over them, something that Florida can do very well. Not only are guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal all very capable shot-makers from both beyond and inside the three-point line, but stretch-four Erik Murphy is capable of pulling a defender like Chane Behanan away from the basket and further opening things up in the lane. On the other side of the court, it is no secret that Louisville has trouble scoring; they’ve only scored 0.98 points per possession over the course of their current seven-game postseason winning streak (which goes to show how good their defense has been – 0.86 PPP against good competition). And Florida’s defense is definitely on the uptick, as they’ve allowed just 0.78 PPP in the NCAA Tournament, including just 0.87 against a very good Marquette offense. Further, if the Cards are unable to force turnovers with regularity, they’re not going to be able to get out in the open court and get easy baskets, meaning they’ll need to find some type of consistent offense in the halfcourt game. If that’s the case, they’ll need the good Russ Smith to show up, they’ll need Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric knocking down threes, and, most of all, they’ll need an aggressive Peyton Siva getting penetration and finding offense for himself and for his teammates. All of those things can happen, but sooner or later, the lack of offensive coherency is going to come back to cost the Cards, and the Gators look to be the perfect team to take advantage of it.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

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ATB: Syracuse Survives, OSU Recovers, and Upset City in the West…

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Half of our Elite Eight teams are set, with the East and West regions completing their semifinal matchups on Thursday night. The East Region in Boston finished as expected, with chalk advancing to the Elite Eight in the form of Syracuse and Ohio State for what should be a fantastic regional final on Saturday. But the story in Phoenix was much different, as the favored #1 and #3 seeds went down in games that were dominated by the lower seeds. Only one game on the night finished in single digits but there was plenty of exciting basketball that took place. And the one game that was a close one happened to be one of the Big Dance’s best. Let’s break it down… 

Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor’s Shot Falls Short, #1 Syracuse Survives.

Wisconsin is Devastated After Coming so Close Against Syracuse (Getty Images/J. Rogash)

Our first game of the night was a classic, one that featured two very different teams that both executed at an extremely high level offensively. Four-seed Wisconsin brought its patented ball-control, super-slow tempo game plan into Boston with hopes of knocking off top-seeded Syracuse with a methodical approach, good shooting, and strong collective defense. But no defense could stop what either team was bringing to the table in this one. The Badgers executed their plan offensively, hitting an amazing 14-27 from three-point range in a wonderful display of outside shooting that would usually be enough for a victory. But the Orange were just as strong on the other end, converting 55.1% of their field goals with easy baskets in the paint from a variety of one-on-one scorers. The two teams combined for just 12 turnovers and this game came down to the very last shot, one that fell short on a long three-point attempt from Jordan Taylor on a broken offensive play. Despite the fairly low 64-63 final score, the game featured crisp execution throughout its entirety. Syracuse was just one possession better, thanks to its easy offense earned through superior athleticism and playmaking in the half court. It’s on to the Elite Eight for the Orange!

Also Worth Chatting About. The First #1-Seed to Fall are Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Everyone knows that March is Michigan State’s month. Tom Izzo has brought the Spartans to six Final Fours in his tenure, and he had never been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament before the final weekend when his team was a #1 seed. That came to an end on Thursday, when Michigan State was outplayed from the start by Rick Pitino’s #4 Louisville Cardinals. The Spartans racked up more turnovers (15) than made field goals (14) while shooting 28.6% from the field. Louisville was too athletic and strong defensively, essentially beating Michigan State at its own game. The Cardinals won the battle on the boards, in the turnover margin, and from behind the arc (they shot 9-23 compared to 5-21 for MSU). Gorgui Dieng racked up seven blocks and three steals to go along with nine rebounds in an elite defensive performance, and Peyton Siva ran the offense well with nine assists. Izzo’s March mystique could not get his players to put the ball in the basket, and our first #1 seed finally goes down.

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