Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 68, #6 Xavier 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Despite Early Struggles, Senior Point Guard T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Despite His Early Struggles, T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

  1. Wake-up Time. About 30 minutes into tonight’s game, Xavier led by four points and looked very much like the better team. The Musketeers were quicker to most loose balls. They were controlling the paint. They were running their offense through Matt Stainbrook with impunity. Dee Davis was beating his man (T.J. McConnell) off the bounce just about whenever he wanted, and McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader, looked nothing like the gutsy, scrappy veteran that we’ve gotten accustomed to. Arizona looked lost on offense and disinterested on defense. The large number of Arizona fans in Staples Center was quiet. And then, against Xavier’s tough 1-3-1 zone, T.J. McConnell found himself with a good-looking 15-foot baseline jumper. He missed it, but the Musketeers couldn’t corral the defensive rebound. The senior recovered it and banked in a hoop, prompting Chris Mack to call a timeout. A couple possessions later, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed an offensive board and put it back in. On the other end of the court, he helped trap a Musketeer ball-handlers near midcourt, forcing a timeout. Following that timeout, McConnell swiped a steal from Myles Davis and, in the blink of an eye, the momentum of this game had shifted, Arizona fans were back into it, and the rest is history. A 21-9 game-closing run for the Wildcats following that McConnell second-chance bucket sealed the game.
  2. Zone Defense. The bad news is that Arizona again struggled mightily against a zone defense for large stretches of a game against a team from Ohio. Nobody but Gabe York could knock in the occasional long-range jumper. McConnell looked confused and frustrated. And whoever the Wildcats tried to turn into a play-maker in the middle of the zone had trouble finding open teammates. So, again, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: It is very likely that the Wildcats have seen their last zone defense for the year. Wisconsin isn’t going to zone them. There’s not a chance Kentucky would zone them. And we’d have to see the matchup in the final but it’s probably unlikely. Xavier stayed in the game tonight by throwing as many as four or five different defensive looks at Arizona. It uglied things up for the ‘Cats, but, hey, survive and advance.
  3. Kaleb Tarczewski. Of all the players in college basketball, there are very few that take the kind of abuse from average college basketball fans (even including Arizona fans) that Tarczewski does. But as Sean Miller puts it, “he just does his job.” Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook seemed to be getting the best of him early, using a number of pretty post moves against his single coverage on the way to a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards. But Miller views Tarczewski’s ability to guard frontcourt bigs like Stainbrook one-on-one as a key to the Wildcats’ defensive success. “Stainbrook had his moments, but he had one offensive rebound. And one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates. Because they do a great job of throwing it into him and he’s such a terrific passer that all of a sudden, the floodgates open from three or they get the ball moving and the reason it starts to move is because you had to help on Stainbrook. And then it’s both: He’s not only scoring inside, but their perimeter attack is thriving because of him. The reason we won, in my opinion, is Kaleb’s double-double and his very good defense. He did what we asked him to do.” To summarize: Tarczewski limited Stainbrook on the offensive glass, grabbed his own offensive boards on the other end, and because he was able to battle the Xavier big man to an individual draw, stifle Xavier’s half-court offense.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: Midwest and West Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 26th, 2015

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As we move into the first half of the Sweet Sixteen tonight in Cleveland and Los Angeles, let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the Midwest and West Regions.

Midwest Storylines

1. Is West Virginia actually a difficult matchup for Kentucky? The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups. You’ve probably heard that refrain too many times already and you’ll hear it even more over the next 10 days. Some analysts have gone so far as to apply it to the Kentucky-West Virginia game that awaits us tonight. The thought is that the Mountaineers, which speed up opponents and force turnovers better than anybody else in the nation, will disrupt the Wildcats’ attack. But it’s almost as if that notion is more based on hope than supported by facts. The Wildcats take care of the ball – their opponents’ steal percentage ranks 19th nationally (that’s good), and the Wildcats have significantly cut down on silly turnovers as the season has progressed. Of course, they haven’t yet faced a team like West Virginia that is so relentless with its pressure either. But the Mountaineers also have their own flaws,particularly on the offensive end, and the idea that they present an especially difficult matchup for Kentucky because of its uniqueness is probably a fallacy.

Truth be told, Kentucky's contest against WVU might be a little easier than most expect. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

Truth be told, Kentucky’s contest against WVU might be a little easier than most expect. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

2. The history behind Calipari vs. Huggins. John Calipari and Bob Huggins first met as head coaches on January 7, 1993, when Huggins’ Cincinnati team beat Calipari’s UMass squad. They went on to do battle annually in Conference USA beginning in 2001, with Huggins still at Cincinnati and Calipari back from the NBA at Memphis. Huggins won the first five meetings between the two before Calipari broke through with is first win in 2003. To date, Huggins holds an 8-2 all-time record against the Kentucky coach, the best such record of any coach with a minimum three games against him. The most notable showdown between the two was exactly four years and 364 days ago, when Huggins’ Mountaineers upset Calipari’s group of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe in the 2010 East Regional Finals. Is there a takeaway from that night that pertains to this year? No, probably not. But the relationship between the two is a fun storyline heading into tonight. The two are reportedly close friends, and if that’s not enough, Huggins might not even be alive today if it wasn’t for Calipari’s cousin.

3. Which team in the Midwest Regional is the biggest threat to Kentucky? Despite all the West Virginia talk, it’s clear that Huggins’ team is the fourth best of the quartet remaining in the Midwest. Although Notre Dame barely survived Butler and Northeastern, both the Fighting Irish and Wichita State are hot. The Shockers took Indiana’s best shot and then thoroughly beat Kansas in Omaha to get to Cleveland. Which of the two would give Kentucky more problems? Probably Notre Dame, solely based on the possibility that the Fighting Irish could catch fire from the perimeter, just as they did in the ACC Tournament championship game against North Carolina. Plus, among players who receive meaningful minutes, Kentucky has five forwards taller than any Wichita State contributor.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

  • Though he’s struggled thus far in the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari’s message to Devin Booker is simple. “We told him after the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep shooting,’ because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win,” Calipari said. “You can miss all these. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up and we may need you to make some shots.”
  • Bob Huggins has had John Calipari’s number historically, but Kentucky certainly has the advantage by the numbers this time. Here’s what Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue has to say about Thursday’s battle.
  • West Virginia is fast and physical, but Huggins is concerned about Kentucky’s defense, particularly inside the three-point line. “Probably the closest one was Kentucky in 2010. We led by one [actually two, 28-26] at halftime and did not have a two-point field goal (eight three-pointers and four foul shots). I think every time we took it inside the three [point line] we got our shots blocked. I can’t remember anybody who would be as close to this team other than that team,” he said.
  • The odds are against him, but Bob Huggins has a chance to improve on his 8-2 record against his buddy John Calipari on Thursday.
  • The public seems to be praising Wichita State after its upset over Kansas, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame just yet.
  • Pat Connaughton has been huge for Notre Dame on the court, but his leadership away from it is what sets him apart.
  • Alabama is reportedly looking to make a run at Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Here‘s why Matt Bonesteel thinks Marshall should stick around in Wichita.
  • Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team left in the Midwest Region, but the Shockers have several qualities that previous Final Four teams have possessed.

West Region

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet 16. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the teacher still show who's boss? (Getty)

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet Sixteen. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the Teacher still show him who’s boss? (Getty)

  • It’s no accident that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams rarely foul. Averaging around 12 fouls per game, the Badgers rank among the lowest in the country in that metric. Much of this is due to the emphasis put on it by the head coach. “There are a few pillars of the program or things that have been consistent through the years and helped us be successful,” associate head coach Greg Gard says. “And that’s one of them. They understand if they want to get on the floor and play, they’re going to have to be able to play without fouling.”
  • Despite having a reputation as a very well-respected academic institution, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly wowed people with its recent graduation rates.
  • Though he was reportedly doubtful to play earlier this week, Kennedy Meeks worked out briefly on Tuesday and he is still a possibility to play on Thursday night.
  • For Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen game on Thursday will be a bit of a family affair. His sister, Morgan, played at Wisconsin, and now plays professionally in Europe.
  • Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds is being investigated by the school for a recent incident outside of a Xavier dorm. However, Reynolds is still scheduled to play for the time being.
  • Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen battle will be special for Xavier coach Chris Mack. Mack served as Arizona coach Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before he left Xavier for the desert. “The fact is that it’s hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him,” Mack said.
  • Both Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and others surrounding the program seem open about Johnson only being in Tucson for one year, but that isn’t stopping both parties from making the best of the situation.
  • For Sean Miller, coaching against his former team, Xavier, will be tough. “It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re watching the selection show, you’re kind of watching and cheering for them [Xavier coach Chris Mack and former Xavier coach Thad Matta] to go off your board,” [Arizona Director of Basketball Operations Ryan] Reynolds said. Reynolds came with Miller from Xavier to Arizona six years ago.

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The Big East Fell Flat, or Did It?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2015

A curtain of despair has suddenly fallen over the Big East’s 10 members. After starting off with an unblemished 4-0 record in the first day of the NCAA Tournament, five of the league’s six invited teams peeled off over the remaining three days, save Xavier (which played Cinderella story, Georgia State). What was considered the second-best conference from top to bottom now stands at just 5-5 with the Musketeers facing a significant battle against Arizona on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Even the conference’s biggest proponents can’t mask their disappointment with how things have played out. A whopping 60 percent of the league’s teams qualified — five of which were granted a #6 seed or better — and yet here we are, with only one school advancing past the first weekend. So what happened? Is this a problem with the conference as a whole or simply those individual teams? Or is it a problem at all?

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

To preface this examination, I had set the over/under at 2.5 for the number of Big East teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. This was under the presumption that Villanova was a near-lock and that two of the remaining schools would receive favorable enough draws to break through. The results were not ideal but the league’s overall performance cannot be blamed on the quality of the conference itself. Anyone who thinks that the Big East didn’t have talented players or deserve its six bids hasn’t watched the league this season. Sure, it wasn’t as top-heavy as the ACC but nearly every game was competitive and served to battle-test each team. Still, a team’s ability to achieve postseason success does not necessarily correlate with regular season scheduling. Teams likes Wichita State, Butler, Davidson, Northern Iowa and Gonzaga have had successful postseasons in years past despite playing softer conference schedules.

The Big East’s under-performance this March lies in individual games where opponents exploited weaknesses and exposed mismatches. No specific team other than Villanova lost a game it truly had no business losing. The results alone start to appear bad when we examine the conference as a whole. Let’s dig into each team’s situation:

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcwestregion for reporting from Los Angeles this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 33-3. We’re still going with the Wildcats by a hair over Wisconsin and we’re not just throwing darts; we have our reasons. First, they’re still slightly above Wisconsin in terms of KenPom rankings, especially on the defensive end of the court. Second, they’re going to have a significant home court advantage this week in Los Angeles. Third, instead of facing a #3 seed in the Sweet Sixteen, they “Cats got a slightly easier path with Xavier up next. And fourth, straight up: revenge. However, it will take a lot of work for any of these four teams to come out of this region.

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona's chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona’s chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Horse of Darkness: Xavier, #6, 23-13. The only team that has outperformed its seed to advance to this point, the Musketeers aren’t going to just be happy to have made it this far and call it a day. They’ve got enough size along the front line to hang with Arizona, and with senior point guard Dee Davis playing the best ball of his career, crafty scorer Myles Davis and athletic freshman Trevon Bluiett, they’ve got the firepower to spring an upset… Or two.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): Georgia State. After 30 minutes of giving #3 seed Baylor all it wanted last Thursday, it looked like the Panthers had run out of gas. Over the course of six possessions starting at the under-12 media timeout, the Bears grabbed five offensive boards, cleaned the glass on the defensive end after forcing four straight missed field goal attempts and put together a 10-0 run to build a 10-point lead. Coming out of the under-four media timeout, Rico Gathers hit a pair of free throws and Baylor’s lead was then at 12. The Bears wouldn’t score again. Coach’s son R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s 13 points down the stretch, including a deep three with three seconds left that sent his dad, torn Achilles and all, sprawling onto the Veterans Memorial Arena floor. It’s the iconic moment of this year’s NCAA Tournament and a play we’ll see for many Marches to come. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Xavier 75, #14 Georgia State 67

Posted by Matt Patton on March 21st, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Jalen Reynolds was too much for Georgia State to handle. (Bob Stevens / Musketeer Madness)

Jalen Reynolds was too much for Georgia State to handle. (Bob Stevens / Musketeer Madness)

  1. Rebounding (and guarding Xavier’s bigs) killed Georgia State. Xavier was just too big inside. After 17 minutes of play, the Panthers had a total of two rebounds. It’s almost impossible to win a basketball game playing like that. They actually finished with 12 boards while almost matching Xavier on the offensive glass. That’s better, but also points to the fact that Xavier didn’t miss many shots in the second half. Seriously, the Musketeers went 13-of-16 from the field in the latter 20 minutes — it’s impossible to win a game giving up 80 percent in a half.
  2. Myles Davis may have gotten his confidence back. This might be the biggest story for Xavier going forward. Over the course of the year, Davis has been one of the Musketeers’ single most important players. But starting in Madison Square Garden last week at the Big East Tournament, he has really struggled — over his last three games, he has only averaged five points per outing. Xavier needs him on his A-game going forward, so his performance may turn out to be crucial for the game against Arizona.
  3. Georgia State looked tentative on offense. RJ Hunter was the only player looking for his shot tonight. Ryan Harrow was aggressive in the first half but was clearly still a long way from 100 percent. Ryann Green, who played great on Thursday in the big upset win, only took four shots. Kevin Ware only took four shots (even though he hit three of those). That lack of overall aggressiveness really hurt the Panthers down the stretch.

Star of the Game: Jalen Reynolds was a load down low. He was too strong and athletic for anything Georgia State could throw at him. He also did a good job recognizing when to kick the ball back out if he got it too far from the basket. He finished 8-of-9 from the field for 21 points with six boards. That’s a game.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Xavier 76, #11 Ole Miss 57

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Matt Stainbrook came to play against Mississippi. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Matt Stainbrook came to play against Mississippi. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Xavier should have been up more at the half. But it didn’t matter. It felt like Chris Mack’s team was up 20 points heading into the half, but in reality it was only 12. The reason it didn’t matter is because Xavier came out and shot 56 percent from the field in the second half. Some of that might have had to do with tired Ole Miss legs from their back-and-forth game two nights ago against BYU. But the Musketeers did a great job executing regardless of that. They didn’t get rattled when the Rebels hit a three or rocked the rim. They played with a confidence that comes from knowing you’re the better team. MJ Rhett picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, causing Andy Kennedy to bench him for the next eight minutes which is where Xavier built its lead.
  2. Matt Stainbrook is unstoppable. Don’t let his skinny shirt, cylindrical shape, goggles, or knee braces fool you. Matt Stainbrook can flat-out play. He’s the Uber-driving assassin. Dee Davis is why Xavier went up big in the first place, but Stainbrook quietly dominated the game. He was unstoppable on offense (passing and shooting) and cleaned up on the boards. When it looked like Andy Kennedy’s team might make a run, Stainbrook answered the bell. He finished 8-of-10 from the field with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also got a technical for taunting. What I’m trying to say is Matt Stainbrook might be Batman.
  3. Ole Miss is better than the score indicates. This team was always destined for bizarre final scores because the Rebels were just too reliant on jump shots all season. When those shots were falling, they could hang with Kentucky. When they weren’t, they could lose to anyone. It didn’t look like tired legs were too much of a problem, but you never know if that played a role in the unkind rims today. Their pressure defense gave Xavier a little bit of a problem at times during the first half (something to watch out for against Georgia State tomorrow), but the Musketeers just had too many answers.

Star of the Game: Dee Davis battling RJ Hunter is going to be a show Saturday. Davis did whatever he wanted (even if his stat line doesn’t show it). He knocked down big shots, finishing with 17 points and three assists. He ceded his role to Stainbrook in the second half when he sat with four fouls, but the reason Xavier got off to such a good start and stayed out front was Davis’ ability to carve up Andy Kennedy’s defense.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

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And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s afternoon games. Enjoy the Madness.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #14 Northeastern – Midwest Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame enters NCAA Tournament play fresh off a thrilling run to the ACC Tournament title. Waiting for the Irish in Pittsburgh is Northeastern. The Huskies enter the tournament after winning three games in three days to take home the CAA Tournament crown and earn its first tournament bid since 1991. Bill Coen’s squad is led into action by senior forward Scott Eatherton, who leads the team in both points per game (14.6) and rebounds per game (6.4). Northeastern also has some talent at the guard position with junior point guard David Walker, who scores 13.4 points and dishes out 3.5 assists per contest. While the Huskies do have talent, they do not have enough to stop the Notre Dame offensive attack. Seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton lead the way for the Irish, who are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51 percent. Grant and Connaughton have gotten it done for Mike Brey’s squad all season, but the Irish appear to be even more lethal now due to the emergence of sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Notre Dame has had its fair share of bad luck in the NCAA Tournament, but that should not be case Thursday afternoon. Expect the Irish to  ride their explosive offense to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

#3 Iowa State vs. #14 UAB – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV.

Iowa State and UAB commence South region action Thursday afternoon. Fred Hoiberg’s team underwent their annual roster overhaul last summer, but the end result – a team whose fast-paced, hyper-efficient offense leads to wins – saw no change. Iowa State’s national offensive efficiency rankings the last three seasons, including their current mark: 6th, 6th, and 7th. UAB’s primary task has to be slowing down the tempo and effectiveness of that Cyclone attack, a pursuit in which the Blazers are unlikely to be effective. There is little in the statistical profile that suggests they have the extra gear needed to keep pace with Iowa State, whose 15-6 Big 12 mark was about as it good as it got in the Big 12 this season. UAB was not the Conference USA regular season champion (Louisiana Tech was), but the Blazers gloomy Tournament outlook is a subtle reminder of how far their league has fallen. Sending one team to the Tournament, and on the #14 seed line, would have been unthinkable three years ago. It’s the unfortunate reality of 2015, however, and it should get only more uncomfortable after Thursday, when Iowa State will likely to dispatch an overmatched UAB team from the Tournament field.

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Teams

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 15th, 2015

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the six Big East teams that were going to make the Dance. The biggest outstanding question was how the draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, the first weekend matchups mean everything for their postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process played out for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #1 seed, East region. No surprise here. After winning the Big East Tournament and ending its season on a 15-game winning streak, Villanova was all but locked in for a #1 seed. After Duke and Virginia both suffered early defeats in ACC Tournament, Villanova moved up and claimed regional preference, providing the Wildcats with the opportunity to play in Syracuse should they advance. After presumably moving past Lafayette in the first round, Villanova will take on either LSU or NC State next. LSU is incredibly turnover prone, which would feed right into the Wildcats’ push for transition baskets. NC State could potentially be more problematic, having beaten Duke, North Carolina and Louisville this season, but they are an extremely inefficient team in scoring around the basket and at the line. It’s unclear why CBS’ Clark Kellogg predicted an LSU upset over Villanova; let’s not get carried away here.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Georgetown, #4 seed, South region. While quite surprising to see the Hoyas move up to a #4 seed following their recent struggles, the bigger issue here is their draw. Eastern Washington is third in the country in PPG (80.8) and is led by sophomore guard Tyler Harvey, who also leads the nation in points per game (22.9). Additionally, the Eagles take good care of the ball, potentially cutting out a source of points for Georgetown’s sometimes-sputtering offense. The biggest upside is that Eastern Washington is a very small team that doesn’t rebound the ball very well, so look for the Hoyas and Josh Smith to dominate the glass inside. To keep up with what will likely be a fast-paced game, the Hoyas will need to put some points on the board in this one.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 69, Xavier 52

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Villanova won its first Big East Tournament title since 1995 and all but locked up a No. 1 seed at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova made a statement tonight. The Wildcats were in control of this game from the start, encouraged by a highly partisan Madison Square Garden crowd. It was a microcosm of Villanova’s season in which it dominated a very good Big East conference with a 16-2 regular season record. Xavier was able to get in a few licks, but tonight was all about the Wildcats. While Jay Wright’s team may be a bit too over-reliant on the three-pointer, it has clearly shown that it can beat anyone in the country. This was also a good tournament for Villanova from an experience perspective. The Wildcats destroyed an inferior Marquette club on Thursday only to be pushed to the brink by Providence the next night. Tonight, Villanova made very quick work of a strong and surging Xavier team.
  2. Jay Wright challenged his team and it responded. After Thursday’s opening win over Marquette, Wright said this was not one of his better defensive teams even after holding the Golden Eagles to just 49 points. Last night the Wildcats limited Providence to 35 percent shooting. Against Xavier, the Musketeers were held to 52 points on 37.9 percent shooting. Whether it was coachspeak or something else, Villanova answered the bell. In watching this team all year, it makes up for a lack of size with an aggressive three-quarter court zone press that falls back into a stifling man-to-man with intense ball pressure. On some night when the threes don’t fall in the NCAA Tournament, it is going to be up to Villanova’s defense to carry it through. And it is capable.
  3. Xavier’s inconsistency was on display again. While Villanova is an incredibly tough opponent to deal with, the gritty play the Musketeers displayed against Butler and Georgetown earlier this week wasn’t there tonight. This loss in particular is not a concern going into the NCAA Tournament, but for a team that has lost 13 times (some against weak competition), it’s worth tracking. Chris Mack’s team is more than capable of reaching the Sweet Sixteen but it is going to have to play more consistently in order to get there. It was a good experience this week in New York for Xavier, but it must get down to business with outstanding focus after the selection show tomorrow night.

Player of the Game:  Josh Hart, Villanova. The Wildcats’ sixth man, of whom Wright said he would not take that role next season, continued to impress. Only a sophomore, Hart totaled an efficient 15 points, making seven of his nine shots in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. His play speaks to the balance and great chemistry of this team. He fits seamlessly in the lineup and his growth is a testament to the incredible player development under Wright’s leadership.

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