A Final Look at Wisconsin’s Two-Year Run

Posted by Alex Moscoso on April 16th, 2015

It’s been more than a week since the final buzzer went off at Lucas Oil Stadium, signaling the end of the National Championship game, another Duke national title, and the last moments of an incredible two-year run from the unlikeliest of powerhouses, Wisconsin. This year’s squad of goofy and affable but supremely talented Badgers had come up just a little short in the biggest game of their lives. With a nine-point lead, 13:23 left on the clock, and two of Duke’s best players, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, on the bench due to foul trouble, Wisconsin was certainly as close as any Big Ten team has been in 15 years to winning the crown. But there would be no story book ending. Instead, things played out as they usually do in college basketball, as the team with more talent eventually took control and won the game. Even if not on this night, Bo Ryan’s program throughout his 14 seasons in Madison has consistently bucked that trend, winning a bunch more games than what his roster suggested was possible.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin has accomplished much in the last two years, including a change in the perception of its program and coach. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

This group of Badgers was no different. Sure, they boasted the National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky, but the senior was a shining example of expectations exceeded — going from an unheralded high school recruit to the shiniest of college basketball stars. But in the end, the Blue Devils surged on the back of a little-used but nevertheless talented freshman, Grayson Allen. The bouncy guard effectively ended the narrative many casual fans hoped would win the day — that of a pristine basketball environment of yesteryear with in-state kids playing all four years for their home university, versus the more itinerant one-and-done culture of today. This thinking vastly oversimplifies the makeup of both these teams and programs, of course, but it is a common sentiment in college basketball and it is one of the reasons the Badgers attracted so many new fans in their run to the Final Four.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Even With Two F4 Teams, Was the Big Ten a Disappointment?

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 14th, 2015

Coming off of the high of putting three teams into the Elite Eight and one of those into the Final Four a year ago, the Big Ten slipped back to the pack in terms of conference superiority this season. Despite winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and advancing two more teams to the sport’s final weekend, the Big 12 and the Big East put together better regular seasons by most reasonable metrics. The question coming out of this season is whether the 2014-15 campaign actually was a disappointment or did Wisconsin and Michigan State’s runs to the Final Four erase the league’s previous sins?

Did the tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State help make up for the non-conference losses in the B1G?

Did the NCAA Tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State make up for the Big Ten’s non-conference performance?

  • Reasons for Disappointment: The league took a hit in terms of its early credibility with some really bad non-conference losses. Some of those opponents — like Eastern Washington and Texas Southern — eventually went on to make the NCAA Tournament, but a 136-44 record with 16 losses to non-power conference foes led to the writing of the league’s epitaph before conference play had even started. Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska weren’t Top 25 teams for very long after rough starts. Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana blew multiple chances for marquee wins. And while the addition of Maryland made the league stronger at the top, Rutgers’ 8-5 non-conference record was fool’s gold on its way to a 2-16 Big Ten campaign. It’s an open question whether Illinois and Minnesota underachieved with experienced lineups that were unable to notch NCAA Tournament berths this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

A Column of Enchantment: Offseason Blues, Man

Posted by Joseph Nardone on April 9th, 2015

That was fun. We got to experience college basketball in its best form during the NCAA Tournament. We had upsets, fun stories, and a slew of hyperbole (my personal favorite). The season even ended with the vampire known to the public as Coach K winning his fifth national title. It couldn’t have gone better, really. I mean that. The ratings were good; people used those ratings to blindly ignore glaring issues within the sport; and the world is a better place for it… or something — likely something, but whatever.

This man scoffs at your criticism. (AP)

This man scoffs at your criticism. (AP)

It is over, though. Sad days are upon us. Grab a box of tissues if you will, but (spoiler alert) the college basketball season is over. Dead. Murdered by the final buzzer going off in the championship game. The 2014-15 season is history. Ancient history if you hate Duke and just a rumor of a season that will join other urban legends if you are a Kentucky fan. Regardless, it is over and it isn’t coming back unless George Carlin shows up at your doorstep with a gosh slam phone booth (under 28 year-olds, Google it). If my mom taught me anything — well, anything other than knowing I am the greatest, ever — it is the past is in the past for a reason. It is time to move on. I mean, we gave the Duke fan base a full three days to relish in their victory. Time is up now. Seriously, Duke, what have you done for me lately? Not to mention that Coach K’s acceptance (all the sarcasm) of the one-and-done philosophy being used as a way to further elevate his standing is as laughable as it is to look in the mirror. What, just me?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten 2015-16 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 8th, 2015

The “way-too-early” portion of this exercise holds even more weight this year because so many elite prospects are still uncommitted. Both Caleb Swanigan and Jaylen Brown —  elite McDonald’s All-Americans with program-changing potential — as well as Thon Maker, another possible immediate impact player, could still pick Big Ten teams. There are also a half-dozen or so NBA decisions pending from underclassmen that could significantly alter next season’s Big Ten landscape. What follows here is a look at where things stand right now, assuming that Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway all leave early.

Melo Trimble returning for his sophomore year has Maryland looking like an early B1G title favorite for next season. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble returning for his sophomore year has Maryland looking like an early Big Ten title favorite next season. (David J. Philip/AP)

  1. Maryland: The Terps should return three starters unless Jake Layman decides to leave early. Melo Trimble could be a national Player of the Year candidate and star freshman Diamond Stone will be an upgrade down low. The return and probable improvement of this year’s freshmen combined with newcomers like Stone and transfer Robert Carter Jr. should make this team deeper and better than this year’s unit that exceeded expectations.
  2. Michigan State: Losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson to graduation will sting, but newcomers Eron Harris and Devonta Davis will do more than balance out those losses. Everyone else who played more than 10 minutes per game this season is expected to be back, and Denzel Valentine should develop into a star in his senior season. This year’s March run will be a catalyst for much bigger things in 2015-16.
  3. Indiana: This spot among the Big Ten’s top three could change if any of Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams or James Blackmon Jr. decides to leave, but all are expected to return. The primary addition that makes next season look so promising is that 6’10” freshman Thomas Bryant will enter the program. The center who can run the floor and defend will give the Hoosiers what they were missing on the inside during an up-and-down 9-9 Big Ten season. If Tom Crean can get Thon Maker to commit to Indiana as well, he has enough talent on hand to become a top 10 team nationally next season. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition, Part Two

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K Addressed the Home Fans on Tuesday in Durham (USA Today Images)

Coach K Addressed the Home Fans on Tuesday in Durham (USA Today Images)

  • Coach K had a response for Bo Ryan’s “rent-a-player” remark that the Wisconsin head coach made after his team’s loss to Duke on Monday. “Duke doesn’t rent a player,” Krzyzewski said. “We have one of the great schools in the world, and when we recruit a young man, we recruit a young man because of three things: One, he has the academic potential to do well at Duke; two, he has the talent to do well; and three, he has great character. All the guys on my team fit that description 100 percent.”
  • Duke‘s freshmen led the Blue Devils to this season’s National Title, but things may not be looking so bright in Durham next season if they all — particularly Tyus Jones, considering Duke’s lack of a point guard option behind him — head to the NBA.
  • Announced as a package deal when the duo committed to Duke as high school seniors, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones share a friendship that “goes beyond basketball.” After the final buzzer sounded on Monday night, the two were found embracing at half-court. “We told each other we loved each other,” Okafor said. “This is what we dreamed of.”
  • Jahlil Okafor may be the consensus All-American, but is teammate Justise Winslow the better NBA prospect?
  • Though Mike Krzyzewski is an old school coach, his ability to adapt was in large part responsible for Duke’s fifth National Championship. From starting three freshmen to playing zone defense to winning the finale without major contributions from Okafor or Winslow, this season was arguably the greatest coaching job of the Duke legend’s illustrious career.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan Has Gotten Progressively Closer to the Ring (USA Today Images)

Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan Has Gotten Progressively Closer to the Ring (USA Today Images)

  • Wisconsin will be expected to fall in the Big Ten pecking order next season but the Badgers may end up better than most expect. With the emergence of point guard Bronson Koenig, the Badgers actually look to be in “good hands.”
  • Though he was never expected to leave for the NBA, power forward Nigel Hayes officially confirmed that he will be back next season. “I’m nowhere near good enough to do anything else besides come back,” Hayes said.
  • Many are pressing Sam Dekker for a decision on whether he’ll turn pro this spring, but Dekker first wants to get the bad taste of Monday’s game out of his mouth. “I can’t really worry about it. I’m going to get home, cool down with the guys, do what I need to do, talk to who I need to talk to make an educated decision,” he said.
  • Frank Kaminsky‘s ride in college hoops is over, but the National Player of the Year has a new challenge on his hands with the NBA.
  • Lost among Kaminsky and Dekker’s excellent seasons was the equally outstanding play of senior Josh Gasser. Although he didn’t put up the same numbers as his counterparts, his defense and leadership will be sorely missed.
Share this story

Circle of March: Duke Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2015

And so it’s done. From 333 eligible teams 36 days ago to just one standing as the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, Duke is the 2014-15 National Champion, and once again the Circle of March has officially and regrettably come full circle. Below is our animated edition. On to next year, folks!

2015_CircleofMarch_animated (2)

Eliminations (04.06.15)

  • Wisconsin

 

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 7th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K's Blue Devils Cut Down the Nets for the Fifth Time (USA Today Images)

Coach K’s Blue Devils Cut Down the Nets for the Fifth Time (USA Today Images)

  • Over the past three decades, Coach K has gained a reputation for winning with three- and four-year players. However, in recent years he has changed his strategy a bit and it paid off last night. Duke’s freshmen scored 60 of the Blue Devils’ 68 points, including all 37 of them in the second half. “I’m grateful for those young guys,” senior Quinn Cook said, “because, you know, for them to perform like that on the stage like this says a lot about [their] confidence. I’m just thankful that they came to Duke.”
  • For Duke, it was Grayson Allen who stepped up as an unexpected hero in the second half of the National Championship game. Duke’s least-heralded freshman, a player who averaged just four points per game this season, contributed 16 big points, most of which came when Duke needed them most. “We were kind of dead in the water,” Coach K said. “We were nine points down and Grayson just put us on his back.”
  • Frank Kaminsky kept Jahlil Okafor in check and in foul trouble for most of the game, but Okafor was finally effective in crunch time. Despite only scoring 10 points in 22 minutes of action, Okafor came through with two huge buckets in the final three minutes of the game.
  • It wasn’t Jahlil Okafor or Justise Winslow – the crown jewels of Duke’s freshman class – who came away with Most Outstanding Player honors, but Tyus Jones, the point guard who held everything together for the Blue Devils all season long. With 23 points that included two dagger three-pointers in the final four minutes, Jones earned it.
  • Duke was known for its elite offense this year, but it was its “gritty” play down the stretch that got the Blue Devils to the promised land. “We were close [to being dead in the water],” Coach K said afterward. “Those last eight to nine minutes were spectacular basketball by our kids. Gritty basketball.”

Wisconsin

And the Agony of Being on the Losing End (USA Today Images)

And the Agony of Being on the Losing End (USA Today Images)

  • For Bo Ryan, it was tough to resist ripping the (controversial) officials during last night’s Championship Game loss to Duke. “You just have to be able to handle all the hands and the checking. There was more body contact in this game than any game we’ve played all year and I just feel sorry for my guys that all of a sudden a game was like that,” Ryan said.“I think they had a… they’re struggling with that a little bit. We missed some opportunities, they hit some tough shots, but you know — it’s just a shame that it had to be played that way.”
  • Bo Ryan wasn’t the only Badger to complain about the referees, as sophomore point guard Bronson Koenig got in on the action after the game. When asked about what gave Duke the momentum after Wisconsin had built a nine-point lead, Koenig replied, “Pick which and-one was called for them.”
  • Frank Kaminsky,  to no one’s surprise, had an outstanding game with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but it simply wasn’t enough for the Badgers.
  • With his breakthrough junior campaign now over, the big question in Madison is whether Sam Dekker will return to school for his senior season. Dekker may have a sour taste in his mouth after losing in last night’s National Championship Game, but a phenomenal NCAA Tournament almost certainly solidified him as a first round pick.
  • After last night’s disappointing loss, Bo Ryan seemingly took a shot at Duke and its surplus of NBA-bound freshmen. “All the seniors that I’ve had — hard to say the word. But every player that’s played through the program, okay, we don’t do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year guy. That’s okay. If other people do that, that’s okay,” Ryan said. “I like trying to build from within. It’s just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back.”
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 68, #1 Wisconsin 63

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 6th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Once again, Duke is on top of the college basketball world. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Once again, Duke is on top of the college basketball world. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  1. Who needs Kentucky? This isn’t meant to play down what the Wildcats accomplished, which was spectacular, but coming into the final there seemed to be a feeling that the story of the Final Four would be about Kentucky not going undefeated. It is hard to judge these type of things in the moment, but after tonight’s incredible final we doubt that will be the case. The overnight CBS ratings might argue otherwise in the morning, but we cannot imagine how this game could have been any better with the Wildcats in it. You can argue all you want about the historical significance of having an undefeated season on the line, but at the end of the day tonight would have been about a national championship game. What these two teams delivered tonight was the sport played at its highest level. Now if we could only find a way to fix this sport.
  2. Duke’s freshmen came up huge tonight just not the ones you expected. Most of the season the media lavished its praises on Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow, but it was a pair of freshmen who got them to the finish line. Okay, maybe we could have seen Tyus Jones doing this, but there is no way anybody could have foreseen Grayson Allen dominating stretches of a national title game. Plenty of people will point out that he was a McDonald’s All-American, but there are different forms of McDonald’s All-American–those that are going to be immediate stars and those that take a while to develop–and Allen was definitely the latter. Okafor (10 points) and Winslow (11 points and 9 rebounds) both contributed, but were limited by foul trouble. Instead Jones (23 points and 5 rebounds) and Allen (16 points in 21 minutes) led the way. Overall the freshmen scored 60 of the team’s 68 points including all 37 points in the second half.
  3. Wisconsin was a phenomenal team. Let’s be clear about one thing: Its win over Kentucky on Saturday night was no fluke. This was a phenomenal team that outside of two losses to Duke only lost two games all season (one a loss at Rutgers that we are going to write off as an aberration with Kaminsky out since we can’t comprehend it otherwise) and had an incredible run nearly being the first team to beat 16-8-4-2-1-1 seeds (the toughest possible route for a #1 seed) en route to a title. It was a remarkable team with Frank Kaminsky being absolutely deserving of his multiple player of the year awards and Sam Dekker finally putting together the complete game we all had been waiting for since he set foot on the Wisconsin campus.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Final Four Previews: Wisconsin/Duke Will Win If…

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Championship Monday is always bitter sweet for college basketball fans. On the one hand, it means the two best teams in the country will finally play for the ultimate crown and go down in the history books. On the other hand, it also means that the college basketball season is finally coming to an end. For this particular 2014-15 season, however, what an ending this is set to be. While the nation didn’t quite get the “dream” finals matchup, tonight’s contest is not a bad consolation prize by any means as arguably the best offensive basketball team in recent memory goes up against arguably the most traditional of traditional powers that the sport has ever seen. We’re just a couple hours away from tip-off, but in the meantime …

No shock here - Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight's National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

No shock here – Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight’s National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Wisconsin Will Win If

  • It continues to play like the greatest collegiate offense in recent history, which it most assuredly is. For the year, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 128.5, equivalent to 128 points per 100 offensive possessions against an average defense, the best by a rather significant margin. In the NCAA Tournament, with higher stakes and tougher opponents, the Badgers are still averaging 128 points per 100 offensive possessions, even after playing two of the season’s best three defenses in their past two games. While Duke’s is playing its best defensive basketball of the season (they’re allowing 87 points per 100 defensive possessions in the tournament), at this point doubting the effectiveness of the Wisconsin offense is questionable at best.
  • Frank Kaminsky gets the better of the Jahlil Okafor. The key matchup to watch, of course, will be Kaminsky vs. Okafor (the only two unanimous RTC All-American choices) although of course, it won’t always be a mano v. mano type of thing. However, it is a fascinating matchup. Okafor may be the best post-up big man since Tim Duncan, while Kaminsky’s ability to be equally effective inside or out gives him a great advantage. Much of Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on the ability of its talented big men to step away from the hoop, open up the floor and create opportunities for clean looks. Okafor is in no way foul prone, but if the relatively inexperienced freshman gets frustrated by Kaminsky’s veteran wiles, the Blue Devils could be behind the eight-ball. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Circle of March: Vol. XXVI

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2015

And then there were two. With Saturday’s eliminations of Kentucky and Michigan State, the Circle of March is down to its final permutation before we crown this season’s National Champion.

2015_CircleofMarch_V26

Eliminations (04.04.15)

  • Michigan State
  • Kentucky
Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Duke has been criticized this season for not being as defensively sharp as some of the past Blue Devils teams. After last night’s dominant Final Four victory over Michigan State, however, the doubters are starting to come around. “A lot of people said we couldn’t play defense,” Duke guard Matt Jones said. “For the most part in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve been a very good defensive team. Now we just have to do it one more time on Monday.”
  • Taunting or not, there’s no doubt that Grayson Allen‘s monster dunk sent a message to Michigan State.
  • On Monday night, Duke will play for a National Championship in the same place where it won its last one: Indianapolis.
  • Jahlil Okafor‘s father believes that his son should have been named National Player of the Year over Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Okafor will have the chance to prove it on Monday, as the Blue Devils will go up against Kaminsky’s team.
  • Justise Winslow is a name you might want to remember for the future… Take it from Charles Barkley. During the pregame show last night, Barkley referred to Winslow as “Winstons Justice.” Ouch.

Wisconsin

  • Sam Dekker wasn’t as dominant as he had been in the past two games, but he was just as clutch. Tied 60-60, Dekker hit a step-back three to give Wisconsin the lead, then drew a charge on Kentucky’s very next possession.
  • Perhaps Frank Kaminsky‘s 2011 Tweet of “I hate Kentucky” foreshadowed last night’s victory over the previously undefeated Wildcats.
  • Wisconsin did it. Against all odds, the Badgers gave Kentucky its first loss of the season in a matchup they’ve wanted since last March. “This is something we’ve been talking about since day one this season,” Sam Dekker said. “Look where we are now.”
  • Somehow, Trey Lyle’s slap on Josh Gasser wasn’t called a flagrant one foul, but it didn’t matter for Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin lost to Duke earlier this season but the Badgers are far from scared. “They were a tough team,” [point guard Bronson] Koenig said. “They have a great backcourt and they’ve got Jahlil [Okafor]. So it’s going to be a tough game.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Final Four Previews: Kentucky/Wisconsin Will Win If…

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on April 4th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Kentucky Will Win If…

  • It controls the game defensively, does not allow Frank Kaminsky to get comfortable in the post, and is very opportunistic offensively. The Wildcats did not turn in a vintage defensive performance in their hard-fought 68-66 triumph over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. The Irish shot a respectable 46.4% from the field, collected 13 offensive rebounds, and had a 16-to-7 turnover ratio. Those numbers were quite different than the ones the opposition has routinely put up against Kentucky this season. Even more troubling for the Wildcats, mercurial Irish forward Zach Auguste had a standout game against the vaunted Kentucky frontline, finishing with 20 points (1o-of-13 FG) and nine rebounds.

    Willie Cauley-Stein's defense will be critical in Saturday's matchup. (AP)

    Willie Cauley-Stein’s defense will be critical in Saturday’s matchup. (AP)

  • Kentucky has to rededicate itself on the defensive end if it wants to best Wisconsin and advance to the title game. Much like Notre Dame, the Badgers have one of the best offenses in the country and they will definitely take advantage of defensive breakdowns. That vaunted frontline is going to need to be at its very best because Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky has the ability to completely take over a game in the post. Against a very large Arizona team in the Elite Eight, Kaminsky was able to get comfortable in the post all night, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story