Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.06.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 6th, 2014

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

Kentucky

  • Yet again, Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison advanced the Wildcats with a late three-pointer. Harrison also hit the game-winning three in the Elite Eight against Michigan.
  • With Kentucky’s big win last night, the Wildcats will meet UConn in what is definitely an “unlikely title game.” With Kentucky as an 8-seed and UConn as a 7-seed, this is the all-time highest combined seed total in the National Championship Game.
  • They love their basketball in Lexington, and the students were sure to celebrate after their Wildcats reached their second championship game in the past three years.
  • Kentucky has gone from one of the most frustrating teams in Wildcats history to one of the most loved. Especially considering how this season went until March, winning it all would be incredible for the Wildcats. “It makes me feel good, because last year we were considered one of the worst teams that ever came through Kentucky,” [sophomore Willie] Cauley-Stein said. “Having to be here through the worst and then coming out on top as the best would be crazy.”
  • The Harrison Twins got (and deserved) a ton of credit for Kentucky’s run to the National Title Game, but coach John Calipari is looking at another freshman to step up on Monday. The leading scorer on Saturday night with 17 points, James Young could be the X-factor for the Wildcats going forward. “James Young has had 25-point games, which I’ll predict he’ll have in this Monday night’s game,” Calipari said.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2014

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

Kentucky

  • With five freshman starters, Kentucky came into this season ranked #1 despite losing in the first round of the NIT last year. Though the Wildcats were, at one point, arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball, they have righted the ship. This weekend, the world will be able to see if Kentucky really deserved that preseason #1 ranking.
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari claims that a “tweak” before the SEC Tournament helped create the force that has been Kentucky basketball over the past month. He won’t say what it is, but insists that there was some change made. “What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, ‘You know what? I screwed this up. Make me look good,’” Calipari said. “And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so …”
  • Instead of “one-and-done,” Calipari is trying to change Kentucky’s mantra to “succeed and proceed.” He doesn’t support the former because he doesn’t see his program as a one-year pitstop before the NBA. As Calipari puts it, “Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that’s up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it’s not about family, it’s about business.’”
  • For most #8 seeds, a Final Four run is a Cinderella Story that will live on in that program’s history forever. For Kentucky, however, its run to the Final Four is simply “tough” rather than miraculous.
  • Texas natives, the Harrison Twins have been the key catalysts for Kentucky’s run back into their home state. Though the Twins seemed immature at times this season, Calipari believed in them in part because of their high character. “The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged.”
  • Julius Randle’s NBA draft stock slipped a bit partly because his team wasn’t successful for much of the season, but through Kentucky’s run to the Final Four, Randle is proving that he should be a slam dunk top five NBA Draft pick.

Wisconsin 

  • Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has one of the best systems in college basketball, and is known for his ability to develop players, particularly big men. “Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” [Wisconsin big man Frank]Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”
  • Wisconsin is often not intimidating and light-hearted, but the Badgers bring it when it’s time to play. “Sometimes, we kind of fail that eye test,” [Frank] Kaminsky said. “But it doesn’t matter when the game starts. It matters how we play. … People can say we look like this and we look like that — we look like a bunch of white guys — but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”
  • Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has a father who dominated the Big Ten in the late 80s/early 90s. However, the younger Jackson is creating his own legacy by achieving something that his father never did: a Final Four.
  • Even though Kentucky enters today’s game as the 8-seed, is Wisconsin the underdog? With a piping-hot Kentucky team, this may be the case.
  • Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky is big and “goofy“, but the seven-footer has been the key to the Badgers’ success. He was only a role player over the past two seasons, but this year he made huge strides. “I let a lot of things faze me and get frustrated all the time,” he said. “I really wasn’t doing the best that knew I could do. I knew I had to grow up — physically and mentally. It took me a couple of years.”
  • Though Wisconsin is often characterized as unathletic and slow, it believes that it has the athleticism to hang with Kentucky. Even though the Badgers don’t exactly jump out of the gym, they’re still athletic in their own eyes. “Athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, OK?” Ryan said. “Eye-hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say ‘athletic,’ this group we have is athletic in this sense: they have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team.”

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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Five Crucial Wisconsin Moments That Shaped Its Run to North Texas

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 4th, 2014

However things turn out in North Texas this weekend, Wisconsin has had a season to remember. The Badgers started the year at 16-0, rose to No. 3 in the polls, and generally dispelled any previously-held stereotypes about their brand of basketball under head coach Bo Ryan. This was a different kind of unit, filled with dead-eye shooters, tremendous ball movement, and a fun team to watch. Four players averaged double figures and no one particularly cared who got the credit for the team’s prodigious success. As a sort of tribute from a writer covering this program for the first time, here are my top five moments from Wisconsin’s Final Four campaign, presented in no particular order.

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota, the college basketball world took notice.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota, the college basketball world took notice. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  1. Frank Kaminsky scores 43 points against North Dakota: If you have a second or two to kill, check out the thing of beauty that is Kaminsky’s shot chart from this game. He put on an absolute offensive clinic, going 16-of-19 from the field, hitting all six of the three-pointers that he attempted, and making the whole college basketball world take notice of “Frank the Tank.”
  2. Traveon Jackson hits a game-winner against Michigan State: Coming into this February 9 match-up, Wisconsin had been in the midst of a 2-5 slide where it had started to undo the credibility it had built up during the non-conference schedule. They had just lost to Northwestern and Ohio State at home, and simply couldn’t afford to drop another one in Madison at this point in the season. After falling behind in the first half, Jackson effectively ended a close game with a deadly pull-up jumper from 17 feet. The Badgers went on to win six more games in a row after this one, and in many respects, saving the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 4th, 2014

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

Kentucky

  • Kentucky’s presence at the final weekend of the season may seem like a routine occurrence, but coach John Calipari continues to make the Wildcats’ presence interesting. In particular, Calipari seems to get frustrated when asked about fielding a team of mostly NBA-bound freshmen. “We don’t talk about the NBA,” said Calipari. “We’re worried about winning college games and being a great college team — losing yourself in the team, doing less, which ends up being more, losing yourself in the game. So, I don’t think that kids are thinking those things.”
  • He’s never boring, and John Calipari has seemingly outdone himself again. Yesterday the most effective user of the “one-and-done” strategy stated that he thought the phenomenon should end. In an excerpt from his book, Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out, Calipari says, “I’ve made it work for the teams I coach—and for the players—as best I can. But I don’t like it one bit. Some people say I’m renting players or I’m working the system. Let me make this very clear: I want to coach players for four years. Very few of the young players are truly ready for the rigors of the NBA. All but a handful would benefit from more time playing college basketball, more class time and more time on a college campus.”
  • John Calipari is often disrespected as in-game coach because he’s so good on the recruiting trail, but Dick Vitale credits Calipari for turning a “disappointing” regular season to a Final Four berth, and possibly more.
  • Effective (and sometimes dominant) guard play is a necessity for success in college hoops, and recently, the Harrison twins have given Kentucky just that. Their talent has never in question, but Calipari believes that their struggles came down to him. “We had to define the roles better, and I did a poor job of that until late in the year, by the end of the year,” Calipari said. “I can’t believe it. I was angry when I realized what I had done. I coached all different kinds of point guards. We had to get Derrick Rose to shoot more. We had to get Tyreke [Evans] and Brandon Knight to shoot less.”
  • Coming in as a McDonald’s All-American, Kentucky sophomore forward Alex Poythress didn’t live up to expectations last year. This year, however, his move to the bench has seemingly sparked his game, as he is now averaging nine points and 11 rebounds in only 23 minutes per game. “Alex is playing out of his mind,” coach Calipari said. “Alex went from the starter to the sixth man, from way too many minutes to probably a few minutes less than he needs, less shots, and all of a sudden … he’s skyrocketing. That stuff doesn’t matter. The shots and points, that’s all ego. It’s how are you playing?”
  • Kentucky as a #8 seed may look like a conspiracy, but in reality, it just happened to be bad luck for Wichita State and Louisville. Expressing his discontent with seeding after his team beat Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen, Calipari said that “The winner of this [game between Kentucky and Wichita State] should have gone to the Final Four, that’s what this was.”

Wisconsin 

  • The families of Wisconsin players have become a team of their own through supporting their Badgers. “Everyone just enjoys each other’s company,” said Jonathan Brust [and father of Wisconsin senior, Ben], whose mother, Barb, is cited as the ringleader of much of the group’s social activities. “We’re all enjoying the experience together.”
  • Wisconsin senior Zach Bohannon doesn’t play much, but he’s made a huge impact in the classroom during his time in Madison. Bohannon already has a bachelor’s degree and a masters degree, and is in the process of adding an MBA to the list.
  • A longtime coach in the state of Wisconsin, Badgers coach Bo Ryan was ecstatic when he received an offer to be Wisconsin’s head coach in 2001. Before he took the job, athletic director Pat Richter asked Ryan one simple question: “Are you ready?” I think we all would agree that Ryan’s resounding “yes” was the correct response.
  • Bo Ryan hasn’t found any new validation in his coaching career by reaching the Final Four, and his peers feel the same way. In the words of his coaching adversary on Saturday, John Calipari: “So I don’t think we evaluate any coach based on Final Fours or who made it, national titles. We just know who can coach, who is a good guy, who gets their teams better, who cares about those kids. We know those guys. If they made it to the Final Four, great. If they didn’t, that didn’t change my opinion of them.”
  • Over the years, Bo Ryan has developed a close connection with his players. As a result, he is enjoying his first Final Four with them and hopes that a National Title will be icing on the cake. “It would be so exciting if we were to be the last team standing,” Ryan said. “I would just stand back and look at those guys and just smile inside and outside.”
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari has seen success in Lexington through his one-and-dones, but Bo Ryan is proving that you can still reach Final Fours the old fashioned way: “Four-and-Dones.” Ryan, however, was lighthearted when asked about Coach Cal’s methods of winning. “Here’s all I’ve got to say to Cal,” Ryan said. “When somebody asks me about one-and-done, all I remember is when Mom would give me a pork chop or piece of meatloaf and I would ask for another piece and she would say, ‘No, one and done.’ “

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Debut of Turner’s “Teamcasts” Offers New Twist on Final Four Saturday

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2014

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Despite the participation of familiar programs Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut and Wisconsin, Final Four Saturday will look a little different this weekend. For one, games will be televised on a network other than CBS for the first time since 1982 (TBS), but the CBS/Turner partnership didn’t stop there in its overhaul of National Semifinals programming. We took inventory of the newfangled approach when it was announced back in November, but the introduction of “Teamcasts” – two additional, school-specific telecasts to air on TNT and truTV simultaneous to TBS’ national broadcast – will become a reality on Saturday evening. If successful, the idea could lead to even more specialization in coverage down the road (merits of a journey down this path could be debated), but for now, Teamcasts should provide all viewers – both bipartisan and neutral – a healthy, optional alternative to the national coverage they are used to consuming during the Final Four.

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don't Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The "Teamcasts" On TNT And TruTV

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don’t Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The “Teamcasts” On TNT And TruTV

The TBS telecast should still pull in the majority of Final Four viewers, but it will be interesting to see just how significant a segment shift their television sets to the team-specific broadcasts elsewhere. A smattering of fans without a team in the Final Four will undoubtedly use their remotes for the occasional change-of-pace offered by the Teamcasts, but I question how many Kentucky, UConn, Florida or Wisconsin fans will even make the switch. Hearing Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony discuss your team can pleasantly solidify the magnitude of the moment your team finds itself competing in — whether you enjoy listening to that trio or not. Following along with a more familiar, school-specific crew may offer thoughtful, precise insights, but it might also make the Final Four experience feel a bit more ordinary than it would with the national crew.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 3rd, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky and UConn have already released. Today: Wisconsin.

In the days between Selection Sunday and the actual start of the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin flew under the radar. In a West Region lacking the punch of, say, the loaded Midwest Region, the #2 seed was picked by just 20 percent of ESPN.com‘s bracket entrants to advance to the Final Four, while nearly half of those brackets instead favoring Arizona. But after riding the a little home-cooking through the Milwaukee pod in the first weekend then taking care of business in Anaheim against two of the hottest teams in the nation (Baylor and Arizona), it is the Badgers that are left standing, delivering the first Division I Final Four in Bo Ryan‘s successful career.

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Coming into the season, expectations were somewhat measured for the Badgers. With last year’s frontcourt stalwarts Ryan Evans, Jarred Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz all having used up their collegiate eligibility, Ryan was going to have to rely more on his veteran backcourt of sophomore Sam Dekker and some additional to-be-determined frontcourt players. Very early in the season, we got a big hint as to which of those candidates had the most potential, as junior seven-footer Frank Kaminsky, after scoring only 10 points in his first two games, dropped 43 points on just 19 field goal attempts in the Badgers’ fourth game of the season. From that point forward, Kaminsky regularly scored in double-figures for Wisconsin, and he did so in a highly-efficient manner. Meanwhile, in fewer minutes, freshman big man Nigel Hayes was also establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, turning a preseason question mark into a serious strength for Ryan’s club.  With the backcourt of Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser locked into their roles and Dekker taking the obvious next step in his development, Wisconsin got off to a great start, winning its first 16 games of the season and jumping into the national top five. Playing with more pace and offensive punch than they had in previous years under Ryan, the Badgers were recognized roundly as maybe the coach’s best bet at a Final Four.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 3rd, 2014

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

Wisconsin 

  • In a family full of athletes, it’s about time Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky has started to dominate. After his sister was named Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year in volleyball, Frank Kaminsky Sr. noted, proudly: “I knew it was just a matter of time before he caught up.”
  • Frank Kaminsky was nothing more than a role player during his first two years in Madison, but this season he has emerged as Wisconsin’s best player. To many, Kaminsky always had the skills to succeed, but needed to realize how good he was. “He became much more confident over the course of that playoff run,” Benet [Kaminsky's high school] coach Gene Heidkamp said. “That’s the big thing with Frank. He had the skill set, the size and the ability, but he was hard on himself and he wasn’t always confident. Once he started feeling good about himself after that 39-point game, he just kind of took off from there.”
  • Though Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has been up north for the entirety of his college coaching career, his Philly roots are what has driven much of his coaching style. Ryan is “very tough-minded. And I think that whole thing in terms of street toughness, the understanding that there’s an appreciation for what you have. The willingness to never quit, never give up,” [Wisconsin associate head coach Greg] Gard said. “He came from a family that had limited resources financially, so you have an appreciation for what it takes; what hard work really is.”
  • A Sheboygan, Wisconsin, native, sophomore Sam Dekker is especially proud to be leading his hometown team to the Final Four. “Sheboygan is a big, big Wisconsin Badger-rooting city, and I was always a big Badger fan growing up,” Dekker said Monday. “So to be in this situation, have the jersey, is really special to me and is special to a lot of people back home.”
  • Frank Kaminsky may be Wisconsin’s star, but point guard Traevon Jackson has been the Badgers’ “unsung hero,” in the words of TBS analyst Steve Kerr. Kerr would go on to say that “He [Jackson] has hit a ton of big shots in his career. He was huge against Arizona. Not only offensively, but his toughness and his leadership.”
  • Kentucky may be the blueblood in Saturday’s Final Four match-up, but Wisconsin struck first, winning its first National Championship in 1941, seven years before the Wildcats won its first of eight titles.

Kentucky

  • Sometimes it’s the Harrison Twins; sometimes it’s Julius Randle; heck, last week it even was Marcus Lee. For Kentucky, it will be interesting to see who its X-factor will be on Saturday.
  • Kentucky head coach John Calipari is one of the best in the business, but for some of his freshmen, what has made him great this season isn’t what he has does but rather what he hasn’t done. Calipari has been giving his guys more and more freedom, and even let freshman Julius Randle call a play last weekend. In the words of Randle’s high school coach, Chris Mayberry, “That’s how he [Randle] plays his best basketball, is to have the freedom to do some things. He’s going to make some mistakes, but he can do so many good things.”
  • John Calipari doesn’t attribute his team’s postseason turnaround to the media scrutiny it faced, but rather to maturing as a team. Calipari noted, “But that really takes time when you’re playing seven freshmen in your top eight, and each of them scored 25 points a game in high school, that you must do less, and that would mean more for you. So it’s a process. What anybody said or wrote had no bearing on us.”
  • A probable top five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Kentucky freshman Julius Randle is most likely a one-and-done player. However, he’s hoping that doesn’t happen. Instead, Randle hopes to be a “One Championship and Done.”
  • Kentucky is seemingly where it belongs, but this season, it didn’t reach the Final Four in traditional Kentucky fashion. The Wildcats are hoping that this unconventional path will make them a tougher out this weekend. In the words of Calipari, “But they [the Wildcats] withstood it. They were under immense fire. They never wavered. They believed in the leadership… So that is a great story of ‘How in the world did you guys overcome that?’ Well, it made us stronger. It made us tougher.”
  • Much of Kentucky’s emergence over the last month can be attributed to its improved three-point shooting. Freshman James Young, one of UK’s top snipers at 35 percent from beyond the arc, credits point guard Andrew Harrison rather than the shooters themselves for the improvement. “It’s making it a lot more fun for us because he’s penetrating more and the defense is all collapsing. So we got a lot more wide-open shots and just us staying focused is really helping us,” said Young. “We’re shooting with a lot more confidence than we have been and we’re getting a lot of extra shots up, coming in each day shooting at least 30 minutes worth. And really just staying confident with all our shots.”

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The RTC Podcast: Final Four Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2014

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This was a really fun RTC Podcast. In this, our Final Four Preview Edition, the guys spend the first half of the show revisiting many of our takes from the preseason and throughout the season on each of the Final Four teams: Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky. It’s compelling stuff, both in how spot on we could be about these teams at certain points of the season, and how off we could also be at others. We then broke down the two upcoming games Saturday and revisited the #cheerfortheears meme, the reward of which will be collected on Friday night in the great city of Dallas. The full rundown is below. Join us!

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Four Teams Remain

Be sure to add the RTC Podcast to your lineup on iTunes so that you’ll get all of our ongoing coverage throughout the NCAA Tournament.

  • 0:00-8:48 - Trip Down Memory Lane: Florida
  • 8:48-17:45 – Trip Down Memory Lane: UConn
  • 17:45-24:36 – Trip Down Memory Lane: Wisconsin
  • 24:36-36:13 – Trip Down Memory Lane: Kentucky
  • 36:13-39:00 – Reflecting on the Archive Carnage
  • 39:00-44:57 – UConn vs. Florida Preview
  • 44:57-50:30 – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky Preview
  • 50:30-52:26 – #CheerForTheEars
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Big Ten M5: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 3rd, 2014

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  1. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t always a star at Wisconsin, so it’s easy to forget that he rarely saw heavy minutes behind a loaded Badgers’ frontcourt in his first two seasons. This year the junior burst on to the scene when he set the school’s single game record with 43 points against North Dakota. His progression into a star didn’t surprise his athletic family that knew it was just a matter of time before he got there. He has now certainly reached their expectations, as he won the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player award last weekend. Kaminsky’s on-court success lies in his ability to play both inside and outside the paint, causing nightmares for opposing teams and representing a big key to Wisconsin’s potential of winning a national championship this weekend.
  2. One of the Big Ten teams facing the most turnover this offseason is Michigan State. Sparty is for sure losing two starting seniors in Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, and is likely to also lose Gary Harris to the NBA. Add in the potential of Branden Dawson also going league and the Spartans could be looking at four new starters next season. This makes starting lineup projections interesting, with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and probably Javon Bess or a three-guard lineup if Dawson leaves. Michigan State will be a very interesting team next season, having lost a great amount of talent and on paper appearing to be a middle of the pack conference team. Then again, while all the injuries hurt Tom Izzo’s team this season, it gave these reserves minutes that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
  3. Another team facing plenty of questions right now is the other major school sharing the state. Michigan has three potential guys who could bolt to the NBA this spring, which creates quite a distinguishable best and worst case scenario for next season for the Wolverines. If Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all return, John Beilein’s team won’t just be a favorite to win the Big Ten, but also a national title favorite. If all three leave school, Michigan will still be solid and likely to battle for a top four spot in the conference standings, but its national contender status would certainly be very different barring huge jumps from the remaining players.
  4. The Big Ten had three players in the McDonald’s All-American Game last night. With this in mind the Big Ten Network‘s Shawn Merriman evaluated the top former Big Ten players who participated in the game. Players were rated solely based on their collegiate careers and the winner is none too surprising. Not only is Michigan State’s Magic Johnson the best former Big Ten McDonald’s All-American to play in the game, but he could easily be argued as the best Big Ten player of all-time. Others on the list include plenty of big names like Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Indiana’s Isiah Thomas and then some college stars like Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves and Illinois’ Dee Brown. Will any of this year’s three participants have careers similar to what these guys accomplished? Probably not, but you never know until they show up on campus.
  5. Northwestern may have not gotten to play in the postseason again this year, but senior Drew Crawford still has another game to go. Crawford will play for the West in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game in Dallas this week. He is one of two Big Ten players invited to the game along with Indiana‘s Will Sheehey, who will play for the East. It is a solid career-ending honor for two seniors who were major contributors for their teams this season. Neither may have made the NCAA or NIT this season, but getting one more game will be good for them to showcase their skills.
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