For Real or Fraudulent: Sean Kilpatrick’s Hot Start?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 13th, 2013

Although his stated reason for passing on the NBA Draft and returning to Cincinnati for his senior season was that he wanted to be the first player in his family to graduate and get his degree, it’s not hard to imagine that Sean Kilpatrick also wanted to make up for a disappointing junior campaign on the court as well. Charged with becoming the new face of the program following the graduation of hulking forward Yancy Gates and leading a younger Bearcats’ team coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance, Kilpatrick faltered slightly.

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through 8 Games, But Red Flags Remain

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through Eight Games, But Red Flags Remain

Kilpatrick raised his scoring average to 17 points per game, but a five percent increase in usage rate combined with an unexpected inability to shoot the three-pointer (37% in 2012 to 30% last season) led to an effective field goal percentage of less than 50 percent and didn’t exactly paint Kilpatrick as the picture of efficiency. He was still able to create his own shot and was plenty capable of filling it up (as Marquette found out when he went for 36 in a win in January) but the onus was on him to carry the offensive load every night and his shot-selection and decision-making suffered because of it. He was still an above-average rebounding guard and plus defender but the breakout that so many had expected never really happened and the Bearcats were as a result bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Creighton.

A fringe NBA prospect, Kilpatrick decided to return to school for his senior season and coach Mick Cronin must be glad he did. After the 2012 season much was made about how the departure of Gates would affect the team, but the Bearcats actually lost far more production from last season than they did from the season before. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker graduated and took nearly 24 points per game and more than 600 shot attempts with them, which meant that opposing defenses this season were going to be even more focused on Kilpatrick.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Season In Review: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season, hopes were high for this season’s version of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Unfortunately, after a hot start in the non-conference portion of their schedule, some of their weaknesses were exposed in conference play and a clear inability to score consistently held the team back as it finished 22-12 and 9-9 in the Big East before losing in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton. It was a relatively disappointing season after coach Mick Cronin had raised the bar in the 2011-12, but let’s dig a little deeper and see just how disappointing it really was.

Preseason Expectations

Both the conference coaches and the esteemed group at this microsite saw the Bearcats’ finish last season and promptly pegged Cincinnati to finish fourth in the conference this season. Mick Cronin’s career was starting to take off following an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen, and heading into this season, he boasted one of the league’s most experienced and talented backcourts in senior Cashmere Wright and junior Sean Kilpatrick, and an influx of junior college talent and improving underclassmen were supposed to prove serviceable in the frontcourt following the departure of do-everything big man Yancy Gates.

Mick Cronin's Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

Mick Cronin’s Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

The Good

Although it didn’t look particularly exciting at the beginning of the season, whoever put together the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule this season might have legitimately influenced the program’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The team finished the non-conference slate 12-1 with good wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama, and their only loss was a one-point defeat versus New Mexico. The Bearcats ended the season on the bubble and you better believe that two wins and a close road loss to good NCAA Tournament teams helped make a difference.  There is something to be said for how consistently good Mick Cronin-coached teams are defensively.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 11th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. So, Mike Brey might be a bit prescient. Before Notre Dame’s epic five-overtime win over Louisville this weekend, the Irish coach showed his team film from great boxing matches as motivation, and made comments comparing the upcoming game to a 15-round bout. Brey may have intended his analogy to allude to Louisville’s frantic, fast-paced style of play that often wears out opponents, but as fate would have it, the game played out in a much more literal fashion. I expect that Brey will discuss first-round knockouts before this Wednesday’s game against DePaul.
  2. Steve Lavin missed St. John’s Sunday loss to Syracuse due to the passing of his father Albert “Cap” Lavin. Lavin and his father were reportedly very close, and Cap had played a part in this St. John’s season earlier this year, when the Red Storm traveled west to take on his alma mater, San Francisco. According to St. John’s assistant Rico Hines, who stepped in for Lavin during his absence in Syracuse, the players took the loss hard, as they had been able to spend time with the elder Lavin this season: “They were sad. They were really sad… Cap was one of those guys that watched every game or listened to it on the radio, and those guys knew that. … They all said they’d say a prayer for him, and we’ll try to play as hard as we can.”
  3. Syracuse’s long national nightmare is (probably) over. Shortly before tip-off against St. John’s Sunday, word leaked out that James Southerland had won his Friday appeal to a university academic panel, and that he’d be ready to play in the game. The re-introduction of Southerland to the team gives the Syracuse offense more potency from three-point range and vastly improves the Orange’s spacing on the floor, allowing guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche more room to operate.  Southerland played 26 minutes off the bench against the Red Storm, scoring 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field.
  4. The adjustment to Division I basketball for Pitt’s Steven Adams has been a tough one, and it has apparently had a negative impact on the seven-footer’s NBA Draft stock. Adams’ play has been improving of late, and with his newfound ability, Pitt has been playing inspired basketball. The Panthers have won four of their last five contests, and during that stretch the freshman has averaged a very solid nine points, nine rebounds, and two blocks per game.
  5. Cincinnati hasn’t been a pretty offensive team at all this year – without a significant low post threat like former Bearcat Yancy Gates manning the middle, it is almost entirely up to guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright to score in bunches from the outside.  Unfortunately for UC, that two-guard punch has been significantly hampered by a sprain to Wright’s right knee, which he sustained in a January 15 game against DePaul. Since returning from the injury, Wright has only scored in double-figures once, and as a team Cincinnati has averaged under 60 points per game during that stretch.  For a squad without many reliable offensive options, Wright needs to return to form as soon as possible or the Bearcats risk falling further down the Big East standings.
Share this story

Big East M5: 01.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 4th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Following Providence’s loss to Louisville this week, Ed Cooley called the Cards the best team in the country. While it’s not rare for a coach to stump for one of his conference-mates in a discussion like this, Cooley may very well be right. Louisville has tremendous depth, a legitimate All-America candidate in Russ Smith, and their only loss was to current #1 Duke by five points without defensive enforcer Gorgui Dieng in the lineup. Cooley went on to praise Louisville’s style of play, and probably thanked a higher power that he wouldn’t need to play them annually in a few years time.
  2. Increased off-the-ball movement has led to more scoring opportunities for Notre Dame, and the Irish offense seems to be rolling as Big East play opens. In Tom Noie’s piece, Jerian Grant discusses how the offense switched from an emphasis on ball screens to one on cuts and constant motion, leading to more scoring opportunities for the Irish — who are averaging just under 80 points per game since the last week in November. Mike Brey has also allowed his star guards to open things up a bit more this season, according to Eric Atkins: “Coach has given Jerian and I the green light to get it and go and really push it whenever we see fit. That’s helped us get out in transition.  All that combined has really gotten the points up higher than we normally have had.”
  3. Credit Shabazz Napier for taking a strong leadership role in what was destined to be a tough year for the UConn program. He has taken over as the Huskies’ leading scorer, as expected, but he is doing so with increased efficiency as well. Last season, Napier scored 1.17 points per shot, but this year he’s at a vastly improved 1.46 points per shot.  He’s also attacking the boards with a team-leading 4.2 rebounds per game and 23 rebounds in his last three contests. Napier may not be able to make a Kemba Walker-type run in the NCAA tournament as a junior, but he has done his best Walker impression as a do-it-all star for UConn so far this year.
  4. The great Jim Boeheim legacy debate continues to rage on, and yesterday the Los Angeles Times’ Diane Pucin had a little round table discussion with Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune and Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant about whether Boeheim is the second best coach in NCAA history. Pucin is the person most open to the notion that Boeheim ranks up there with Coach K, Bob Knight, and John Wooden, while the other two writers have more reservations about ranking him that high do to his sole national championship. Amore probably sums the whole exercise best to close the piece: “Boeheim should be respected and admired as one of the greatest coaches, a significant figure in the history of his sport. No. 2? Top 10? … Top 10 sounds about right, but ranking him is as complicated as it is unnecessary.”
  5. With the loss of Yancy Gates after last season, Cincinnati had a pretty sizable hole to fill down low, but they are getting some decent production from junior David Nyarsuk. Nyarsuk, a native of the Republic of South Sudan who spent his first collegiate year at NAIA Mountain State University, has come on a bit of late, and is now averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game. Nyarsuk may not be in line for any all-conference honors, but if he can continue to learn the game and increase his effectiveness, he will play an important role for the Bearcats this year. He is Cincinnati’s tallest player at 7’1″, and is really the team’s only other option at center besides 6’10” Chiekh Mbodj.
Share this story

Big East M5: 12.18.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 18th, 2012

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1.  Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim won his 900th game narrowly over Detroit last night and while the rest of the Internet is off celebrating his worthy and incredible milestone, the good folks over at Casual Hoya decided to celebrate the occasion in a much different way — by putting together an exhaustive list of all the issues and arrests involving the Syracuse basketball program since Boeheim has been in charge.  Of course every coach who has that many years under his belt is sure to have overseen his fair share of less-than-savory characters and many programs have similar legal issues, but it is still quite an impressive list of mischief, borderline criminal behavior, and outright criminal behavior displayed by the fine men who have worn the orange. I am sure plenty of folks from the righteous corners of the Internet will condemn a post of this nature in the wake of Boeheim’s big day, but in my opinion, the money he earns and his own candor in interviews make the head coach fair game for some excellent tongue-in-cheek ribbing like this. In fact, I wish we could see a list like this for every coach who has stayed with one program for more than two decades.
  2. Poor Kevin Ollie. The first-year Connecticut coach has almost no job security, a limited roster from a talent standpoint, and now he has to deal with the fallout of the crumbling of the Big East. This guy just can’t catch a break. When asked for his feelings on the sudden departures of the Catholic 7, Ollie basically said he didn’t have any, which is good, because worrying about conference realignment is not his job and he clearly has enough on his plate already. The Huskies are the clear losers in conference realignment, left for dead in the shell of the Big East with an unknown future, and as that situation grows murkier, the more you will hear calls for UConn athletic director Warde Manuel to give Ollie the job. Manuel seems set on waiting for a larger sample size of games before extending his rookie head coach, which is fine, but he just better hope that if Ollie isn’t the guy that he has someone else in mind, because selling a UConn job with stormy weather still ahead won’t be easy.
  3. This is a cool financial look at what’s ahead for members of the Catholic 7, involving a lot of rough math on whether these new schools will be able to stay afloat without the financial support of a football conference. Marquette, Villanova, and Providence were the only members of the seven to turn a profit from their basketball programs and concerns about NCAA Tournament units and TV deal revenues mean that the schools will need to find creative ways to make a buck or two from their hoops squads, which, as you might expect, spend a lot of money. There is a lot of good, in-depth information in this piece that the average fan might not be aware of, so be sure to read through the entire thing, even if it is quite lengthy.
  4. Tomorrow will be the first Crosstown Classic between intracity rivals Xavier and Cincinnati since last season’s infamous brawl, but while everyone in the media pretty much insists on using the brawl as their story peg, most of the players and coaches involved have moved on and are hoping that everyone else can do the same. Bearcats’ point guard Cashmere Wright‘s point about all the players actually involved in the brawl now gone is a fair one. Yancy Gates, Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway, and Octavius Ellis have all moved on and it seems unlikely that any of the current players will bring back any bad blood. These programs play tough, physical, hard-nosed basketball, and it would be a shame if that brand of basketball didn’t show up on Wednesday night for fear of inciting yet another fracas. The hope for everyone, fans included, is that the game can remain competitive and gritty without getting violent. If that happens, we will likely be treated to an excellent game and the first true test of the season for Mick Cronin’s undefeated Bearcats.
  5. Who is ready for a good ole fashioned family affair on Wednesday night when Rick Pitino and Louisville square off with son Richard Pitino and Florida International? You better believe that Pitino’s ever-quotable wife Joanne would have something to say on the matter (as a side note, Joanne Pitino is rapidly shattering records for most spousal mentions on a college basketball blog), and it sounds like everyone is predicting a Cardinals’ blowout. The younger Pitino inherited a depleted squad at FIU and is just beginning the rebuilding effort, with help from his overbearing father, who just can’t seem to stop coaching basketball even when his own team isn’t involved. This story doesn’t involve any earth-shattering information, but it is a chance for the entertaining Pitino family to get another chance to introduce themselves to the public and frankly, they don’t disappoint. I, for one, hope the elder Pitino never retires. College basketball just won’t be the same without him.
Share this story

Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #4 Cincinnati

Posted by mlemaire on November 8th, 2012

Few teams had as interesting a season as the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2011-12. High expectations looked overblown when the Bearcats stumbled to losses against Presbyterian and Marshall in the early part of the schedule. Talk of failing to live up to expectations was quickly drowned out however amidst the noise that followed the Bearcats’ nasty brawl late in a losing effort against crosstown rival Xavier. Mick Cronin’s team could have faded from the national conversation right then, but instead they responded by winning 12 conference games and reaching the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Ohio State. It was the Bearcats’ second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and it was proof that Cronin has the program headed in the right direction. Now, the expectations are back, as are 10 players who averaged at least five minutes per game last season. If last season was proof that Cronin is capable, then this season could be a statement that the Bearcats are ready to once again take their place among the conference elite.

2011-12 Record: 26-11, 12-6

2011-12 Postseason: Sweet Sixteen, lost to Ohio State 81-69.

Mick Cronin Has Cincinnati Poised For Its Best Season Since Kenyon Martin. (Photo credit: AP).

Schedule

Last season the Bearcats thought they had scheduled few non-conference challenges, and it almost cost them a spot in the Big Dance. This season Cronin’s team will play a slightly more difficult slate, although they will rarely stray far from home. The rematch with a depleted but talented Xavier team looms in December but before that they will also have to get by at least Iowa State in the Global Sports Invitational and then a talented Alabama team in the SEC/Big East Challenge. A visit from a dangerous New Mexico squad will cap off non-conference play and 2012 for the Bearcats. The conference schedule holds few surprises or interesting information worth gleaning. The one bit worth a mention is that the Bearcats will only play Syracuse, Louisville, and Georgetown once, which could help them rise to the top of the conference heap.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East M5: 11.05.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 5th, 2012

  1. The impending departures of Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh has caused a ripple effect across college basketball for programs and conferences alike, and one of the supposed benefactors is the Atlantic 10, who now fancies itself as a national player on the college basketball scene thanks to recent NCAA Tournament success and tremendous program depth. The league boldly proclaimed its aspirations this weekend, announcing a deal with the Barclays Center to host its conference tournament during the same week the Big East is holding its tournament across the bridge. Dick Weiss is right, “basketball gluttons” are the real winners here as there will be a lot of excellent basketball games being played in close proximity to each other that week. As for whether the Big East should be worried, it is far too early to tell. I don’t think the Atlantic 10 is going to overtake it on brand recognition with this move alone, but they are letting their new neighbors know that they are ready to make some noise.
  2. Overcoming adversity? Check. Rave reviews about a player’s work ethic and perseverance? Check. Stories about how said player is in the best shape of his life and ready to lead his team to greatness? Check. This story about Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick by Yahoo!’s Jeff Eisenberg has everything you want and expect from a preseason story — a good read and helps explain Kilpatrick’s rise (read: reformed shooting stroke). I am just trying to help manage people’s expectations. Kilpatrick will be the story for the Bearcats now that Yancy Gates has graduated and last season’s leading scorer will likely be one of the conference’s best players this season. The story may seem like something you have read 100 times before, but that’s because people like reading about hard-working players who overcome adversity, and that is exactly what Kilpatrick represents.
  3. This weekend played host to another slew of exhibition games across the league so why not round up some of the completely inconsequential action since no one of note seems to have been injured. UConn came back strong yesterday after struggling in its first exhibition game, cruising past UMass-Lowell and offering a glimpse of just how lethal its backcourt can be, albeit against a very weak opponent. Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse club rolled past Bloomsburg yesterday as well, behind an excellent all-around effort from senior guard Brandon Triche. Villanova clung to a victory over Carleton, 65-59, leaving coach Jay Wright to say some faux-positive things he can’t possibly believe about his team at this point.  And St. John’s beat Sonoma State easily, although the far more interesting storyline is that there are four players in the program who are still waiting to see what their role on the team will be this season.
  4. Awesome read from the sports staff at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who ran down their top 10 favorite basketball memories from Pittsburgh‘s time in the Big East. They don’t skimp on their recollections and the stories are fun to read. I don’t want to spoil too much of the goodness so I will let them take most of it away. If you are a Pitt fan, I will just say that these stories and memories should give you goosebumps. Of course, it could also make you start to miss the conference that they are about to leave too.
  5. The good college basketball bloggers over at CBSSports.com did the thankless job of putting together the most comprehensive injury report of 325 of the 345 college basketball teams in the country. There are no surprises in the Big East section and the most noteworthy insight from the whole list from a Big East perspective is that the conference as a whole is relatively healthy compared to some of the other big conferences. There have already been a few season-ending injuries, but for the most part, the conference programs are in pretty good shape as we prep for the start of the season.
Share this story

Big East M5: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 24th, 2012

  1. DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti‘s contract with the school has been extended through 2017, according to Sports Illustrated. SI’s article focuses on the impact on the men’s basketball program, which is currently looking for a new home arena. Without necessary space on the DePaul campus, Lenti is looking at possibilities in downtown Chicago: “My preference would be if we can’t be on campus, I’d like to be somewhere downtown. I think we have over 120,000 alumni that are in the major metropolitan area so you’d like to have something that people could come to from work and have the same kind of excitement and energy that so many of our other Chicago teams have generated.”
  2. Multiple sources have reported that 2014 blue chip prospect Chris McCullough currently lists Syracuse as his top choice. The 6’10”, 220-pound forward is rated with five stars by ESPN, Scout, and Rivals, who has him listed as the #10 recruit in his class. In the past McCullough has discussed going to school with guard Isaiah Whitehead as a package deal, and Syracuse would seem to fit the bill in that situation, as the Orange have made offers to both players. The two also share offers from Rutgers, St. John’s, Arizona, Iowa State, UCLA, and others.  While McCullough has yet to commit anywhere, that may not last long based on a Facebook post of his which he made shortly after making it known that Syracuse was his leader:
  3. Georgetown has released images of its new basketball uniforms for the 2012-13 season.  The new jerseys, designed by the Jordan brand, are very similar to the current uniforms but add a number of team-specific designs and watermarks, not unlike the Nike Hyper Elite jerseys that conference rivals Syracuse and Connecticut unveiled in 2010. Georgetown’s jersey features the year ‘1984’, representing Georgetown’s national championship season, Hall of Fame coach John Thompson, and images from the Georgetown campus. It is currently unclear when the new jerseys will be unveiled, or when they will be put on sale for the public.
  4. Grantland‘s Shane Ryan began his college basketball season preview of the “20 (or so) Most Interesting Teams” with profiles of what he calls the four “Dangerous Outsiders” – Florida State, Saint Louis, San Diego State, and Cincinnati. In true Grantlandian fashion, the article was complete with numerous references to Akria Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and quotes from Les Misérables. Ryan refers to the Bearcats as “The Giant Killers,” citing their upset of Florida State (“The Grinders”, if you were wondering) in the NCAA Tournament which busted his bracket. Ryan describes Cincy’s long range shooting and aggressive defense as strengths, while weak defensive rebounding, which may be compounded with the loss of Yancy Gates, as the major weakness. He goes on to project a third place finish in the Big East and a run to the Elite Eight this season for Mick Cronin‘s team.  I think most Bearcats fans would take that.
  5. SBNation‘s excellent USF blog Voodoo Five published the first part of its season preview yesterday, focusing on USF’s excellent 2011-12 season as well as the program’s attendance issues. Blogger (and RTC emeritus) Collin Sherwin goes into detail about the “religious experience”-like quality of the Bulls’ first March Madness berth in decades, but expresses disappointment in USF’s fan contingency in Ohio for the games. With USF football struggling mightily this season, basketball may be the school’s banner varsity program in the 2012-13 academic year, so time will tell whether or not the fans embrace Stan Heath‘s surprising club. With the Big East soon losing a number of strong teams, it is nice to see one of the conference’s newer members pulling itself up by its bootstraps like USF seems to be doing.
Share this story

Big East Summer Capsules: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on August 14th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Cincinnati.

1. Can the Bearcats make the leap?

Mick Cronin Has Cincinnati Headed In The Right Direction, But Can He Keep It That Way?

The program is about to enter its seventh season with coach Mick Cronin at the helm, and there is no doubt that the Cincinnati native has the program turned around and is now headed in the right direction. From losing records to a winning record to the NIT to the Round of 32 to finally the Sweet Sixteen last season, Cronin’s teams have improved their finish almost every season to the point where Bearcats’ fans are beginning to believe like they used to believe when Bob Huggins ran the ship. Now the question is whether Cronin can continue to build on the momentum and success and establish the Bearcats as a long-term contender for the conference crown. Despite the loss of two of their best scorers in Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, the Bearcats still return a veteran — albeit not very deep — team that should be well-prepared for the rigors of conference play. But can they make it back to the Sweet Sixteen? The team’s run last season was unexpected, but given the talent that returns, it’s not unrealistic to imagine the Bearcats making it back to the NCAA’s second weekend of action. The Bearcats’ fans haven’t been exposed to this level of expectations since Kenyon Martin was still patrolling the paint, but whether they can live up to those lofty goals will be the true barometer of whether Cronin can establish this program among the Big East elite.

2. You can’t teach size and you can never have enough of it.

Already set to boast a frontcourt that features 6-foot-10 Cheikh Mbodj, 6-foot-10 Kelvin Gaines, and 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson, Cronin went out this month and added more size and depth up front anyway in the form of 7-foot-1 center David Nyarsuk. The Sudan native originally signed with West Virginia but never qualified and enrolled at NAIA Mountain State University instead. Nyarsuk averaged 9.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.91 blocks per game against inferior competition last season, but don’t expect him to be quite such a dominant force in the Big East. He will likely make his presence felt immediately on the defensive end of the floor, though, and if he can stay out of foul trouble and hold his own on the blocks, he should receive plenty of playing time because of his shot-altering prowess. He made 55 percent from the field last season but I would guess his offensive game is still a work in progress. He may be good for a few putbacks and an easy dunk or two, but don’t expect the Bearcats to run their offense through him next year. Bearcats’ fans should certainly temper their expectations, but they should also be pleased that their team’s frontcourt now features one more live, athletic body for Cronin and his staff to work with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2012

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

#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin – East Region Semifinals (at Boston, MA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Bo Ryan Is Looking For His Second Trip to the Elite Eight at Wisconsin

Perhaps the most fascinating matchup to date in the entire NCAA Tournament will take place in tonight’s first game from Boston. Wisconsin, the most patient and deliberate team in the country, takes on a Syracuse team that has won 33 games due in large part to a lethal transition attack. While Syracuse ranks #202 in tempo, the Orange thrive on the fast break. You hear a lot about Jim Boeheim’s team struggling on the defensive glass and some of that is due to the fact that his guards already start out on the break when a shot goes up, taking them completely out of position to rebound. Without Fab Melo around to man the middle, Syracuse’s rebounding issues could be a major problem against the physical and deliberate Badgers. It’s always easier to slow a game down than to speed it up and that’s what Wisconsin is going to do. Syracuse will be forced to score in the half court against one of the strongest defenses in the entire nation. The big question will be whether Syracuse, already not one of the better half court teams, can get the ball inside and avoid settling for jump shots. At times this season the Orange have been frustrated and forced into shooting contested jumpers. Syracuse needs to utilize strong ball screening action in order to free up shooters. Wisconsin’s players will fight through screens and stick with you so using the pick-and-roll also wouldn’t be a bad idea. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers match up very well on the defensive end. The question for them will be whether they can score enough to win. Syracuse obviously has more offensive weapons but Bo Ryan has Jordan Taylor to take control of the game for his team. Taylor is the only player on Wisconsin capable of creating his own shot and that will be critical against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Wisconsin shoots a bunch of three-pointers and it will have to make quite a few in order to knock off the top-seeded Orange. Syracuse’s zone encourages opposing teams to shoot over it but Wisconsin can actually make them, a major difference from Kansas State last week. If Boeheim chooses to extend his zone out on Wisconsin’s shooters, that will free up the Melo-less middle for Jared Berggren to go to work off screen and rolls in addition to opening up driving lanes for Taylor. Expect Jim Boeheim to adjust how his defense attacks Wisconsin as the game goes along, something he certainly has experience with. This will be a clean game between two teams with great defenses and terrific ball protection. Should it come down to free throws, Wisconsin has the edge. Syracuse is the better team and has many more offensive threats but the Tournament is all about matchups. We think the Badgers will make just enough shots to pull off the upset.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin

#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville – West Regional Semifinal (at Phoenix, AZ) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

One of the things we college basketball fans tend to really like about this time of year are the surprises. Not just the obvious ones like Butler running to the national title game or Villanova playing the perfect game against Georgetown, but more subtle ones like teams unveiling a new wrinkle to their offense or players making plays that you hadn’t known they were able to make. As for this game, however, don’t expect many surprises; we all more or less know how this is going to go down. We’ve seen Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino enough over the years to know what they want to do, and we’ve seen the 2012 vintages of both of these clubs to know what they are capable of. Michigan State is going to defend like crazy in the halfcourt, pound the glass on both ends of the court and try to knock Louisville around enough so that the Cards will be forced into submission late in the game. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going to turn up the pressure defensively, try to force turnovers, rely on Gorgui Dieng to block shots in the middle and watch Peyton Siva get penetration and create offense off the bounce. It is likely going to be a low-scoring game that is still in doubt late into the second half and it will come down to which of these teams is capable of making the most plays down the stretch. While Siva’s numbers on the season are not great, he has been a different player since the Big East Tournament started, getting into the lane seemingly at will, creating opportunities for himself and for others and pitching in everywhere on the floor on his way to 13 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game over the six-game stretch. He does a lot of damage in the pick-and-roll game, so not only will Spartan guard Keith Appling have to be on his game defensively, but whichever big man gets involved in the screen needs to do a good job of keeping Siva out of the lane. Draymond Green is clearly the big factor for Michigan State, and he too has been on fire of late, averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and shooting it at a 64.3% eFG in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Chane Benahan appears to be the most obvious individual matchup for Green, but it is going to have to be a full team effort for the Cards to slow the All-American down. Louisville will need to pressure the Spartan guards, keeping them from getting into their halfcourt offense easily and, perhaps more importantly, dedicate themselves to keeping Spartans like Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix off the offensive glass. However, given their relative lack of size (only Dieng is taller than 6’8”) and struggles with defensive rebounding, this could be the eventual downfall of the Cards. While they’ll certainly get their share of stops and turnovers, allowing Green and company second opportunities is a recipe for disaster.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #6 Cincinnati 65 #11 Texas 59

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Stifling First Half Bearcat Defense.  Cincinnati gained control of this game in the first half by pressuring Texas on the perimeter and not giving the Longhorns good looks.  Texas went 4-25 in the first half and trailed by 14 at the break. Certainly, they missed some easy looks, but the Bearcats’ intensity should be credited for the atrocious shooting.  The Longhorns battled all the way back to tie the game, but Cincinnati’s lead was too much for Texas to overcome.
  2. Dominating the Glass. Cincinnati is not known as a great rebounding team, as its size limits its ability in that area, but the Bearcats dominated the boards in the first half (26-18), and limited the Longhorns’ second-chance points. Considering the number of opportunities Texas had for offensive boards, this was a key to Cincinnati’s success.  The eventual rebounding advantage for the Bearcats was +6, and given that the Longhorns outrebounded their opponents on the season, this stat had to please Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin.
  3. What can (J’Covan) Brown do for you?  On this day, if you’re Texas, simply not enough.  While the Big 12’s leading scorer ended up close to his 20-point per game average, he was largely ineffective in the first half, when the Longhorns dug themselves too deep a hole from which to recover.

Star of the GameYancy Gates.  The senior from Cincinnati scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.  More importantly, after Texas tied the game at 52, Gates made a nice post move to give the Bearcats the lead, and a 17-foot fadeaway to help seal it.

Quotable.  “I’m not gonna answer that question.  I’ll talk to coach and we’ll figure that out later.” – Brown, on whether he would return for his senior season.

Sights and Sounds.  A dull environment in the first half because of Texas’s awful play, the Bridgestone Arena came alive in the second half as the Longhorns improbably erased what had become a 19-point deficit early.  After a day of forgettable games Thursday, it was good to see a more electric environment for a first-round game.

What’s Next?  Cincinnati awaits the winner of Florida State-St. Bonaventure.  If the third-seeded Seminoles can handle their business against the Bonnies, it appears that we’ll see a tough defensive battle on Sunday.

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest

West
  • LIU Brooklyn coach Jim Ferry isn’t backing down from the mighty Michigan State Spartans. While it’s nice to see a mid-major steer away from the “happy to be here” angle, it’ll be interesting to see how long the Blackbirds can stick with Draymond Green and company.
  • In many of its losses, Michigan has shown an inability to bounce back from early deficits. A hot start would do wonders for the Wolverines’ confidence as they get ready for Ohio tomorrow night. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story