2014-15 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 3rd, 2015

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 names on that list would be able to live up to the hype: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The only two players who were projected to be a first team All-American and finished there were Kaminsky and Okafor. The 10 players who we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team: North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Michigan’s Caris LeVert (spent much of conference play injured), Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway. They all had very productive seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2014-15 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

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  • Frank Kaminsky, Senior, Wisconsin (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9% FG, 41.5% 3FG). Kaminsky wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. The RTC National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year has been the best player on a Wisconsin team that won the outright regular season Big Ten title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the NCAA Tournament West Region. As the Badgers prepare for their final matchup with Kentucky on Saturday, it should be noted that Kaminsky has been excellent throughout March, recording 31 points in a March 1 win over fellow Final Four participant Michigan State, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the regional final.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (17.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 66.8% FG). The ACC’s first-ever freshman to win league Player of the Year has been a sensation from the day he stepped foot on Duke’s campus. The top recruit from the Class of 2014 did not disappoint in what will almost absolutely be his only season in Durham. Okafor was a dominant offensive post presence during the Blue Devils’ 28-3 regular season, as he scored in double figures in 30 of the team’s 31 games. Duke enters the Final Four with national title aspirations — and with a player like Okafor at its disposal, it is easy to see how those dreams could come true.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Freshman, Ohio State (19.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 41.1% 3FG). Russell burst on to the scene in incredible fashion in what will likely be his only season in Columbus. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year topped 25 points five times during conference play, and along with his prolific scoring, he showcased some exceptional distribution skills. Ohio State was inconsistent as a team this season, but it always could rely on Russell to fill the stat sheet and act as a terrific playmaker.
  • Jerian Grant, Senior, Notre Dame (16.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 47.8% FG). Grant’s return from an academic suspension that cost him the second semester of his junior season to lead the Irish to the Elite Eight was one of the stories of the year in college basketball. The senior guard lifted Notre Dame to a new level with his knack for hitting big shotsincredible passing, and overall leadership skills. Grant saved his best for the biggest games, which was evident by his 23-point, 12-assist performance in a January 28 victory over Duke and a 24-point, 10-assist effort in the ACC Tournament championship game victory over North Carolina.
  • Delon Wright, Senior, Utah (14.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 50.9% FG). Utah advanced to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2005 this season, and the biggest reason for that was Wright’s play. The Utes epitomized team basketball with their style, but it was Wright who was routinely called on to make the big play late in the big game. While Wright has exhausted his eligibility, his consistency and leadership will be etched into Larry Krystkowiak’s program for many years to come.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

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

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 64, #8 Cincinnati 51

Posted by Walker Carey 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.

The Game May Have Ended on This Play (USA Today Images)

The Game May Have Ended on This Play (USA Today Images)

  1. Kentucky had to battle for this one. The final score may not indicate it but Cincinnati gave Kentucky quite the fight for most of the afternoon. Cincinnati has a reputation for being a tough, gritty team that will use its physicality all game long and that was absolutely the case on Saturday afternoon, as this game was a street fight from the opening tip. In defeat, the Bearcats had the advantage on the rebounding glass at 45-38 and had an amazing 21-12 edge on the offensive boards. This was not an easy game for Kentucky by any stretch. The Wildcats struggled offensively throughout, as they ended up shooting just 37 percent from the field and just 26.7 percent from behind the three-point line. It was not a vintage Kentucky performance, but the ‘Cats found a way to get the job done. That is what great teams do.
  2. Hanging with Kentucky and having a chance to beat Kentucky are two entirely different animals. Saturday was another example of how hanging in there with Kentucky and having a chance to beat Kentucky are two very different things. Cincinnati played really hard all afternoon and had the right plan but it ultimately just did not have enough offense to deal with Kentucky’s ferocious defensive attack. The Bearcats managed to shoot just 31.7 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from the three-point line. Starting guards Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb were a combined 5-of-24 from the field. They were also forced into committing 14 turnovers, which led to 16 Kentucky points on the other end. It is going to take an elite effort on both ends of the court to beat Kentucky this season. While Cincinnati has a lot to be proud of about its performance, it ultimately fell well short of what it needed to be to get a win.
  3. Kentucky is now 36-0 – which is the best start to a season in D-1 men’s college basketball history. Saturday’s win ensured that Kentucky – at 36-0 – is off to the greatest start in Division I men’s basketball history. When you think about all the great teams and players that have come and gone through the game in the years, this accomplishment is hard to put into words. John Calipari deserves so much credit for his ability to manage all his talent and get his guys to produce a winning effort night in and night out. It is understood that this accomplishment will likely be overlooked if the Wildcats are unable to finish as undefeated national champions, so it is important to note right now just how impressive this feat is.

Player(s) of the Game. Aaron Harrison and Trey Lyles, Kentucky. Harrison and Lyles drove the Kentucky offensive attack, finishing with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Harrison’s knack for hitting big shots was once again on display, as it seemed like every time that Kentucky needed a big bucket, it was Harrison that came through. Lyles matched Cincinnati’s physical play all afternoon, mixing it up on both ends of the court. His 11 points were accompanied by a game-high 11 rebounds.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 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

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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Rushed Reactions: #11 UCLA 92, #14 UAB 75

Posted by Walker Carey 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.

Who Had UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen Two Months Ago? (USA Today Images)

Who Had UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen Two Months Ago? (USA Today Images)

  1. UCLA was extremely efficient offensively. The Bruins were maddeningly inconsistent throughout much of the regular season, but their offense was never really part of the problem. Yes, their 44.1 percent field goal percentage (135th in the country) is just slightly above average nationally, but their 72 points per game and the fact that all five of their starters average double figures suggests that offense is certainly one of the team’s strengths. The Bruins’ offense led the way to their victory here as it was incredibly efficient and effective all afternoon. UCLA came out of the gates blazing, shooting 61.3 percent from the field and 60 percent from the three-point line in the first half on its way to 46 first half points. While the shooting cooled down a little bit in the second half, the Bruins still finished the game with a 60.3 percent mark from the field and a 55.6 percent mark from deep. If UCLA can carry this type of performance over to the tournament’s second weekend, its NCAA Tournament run might live on past the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney, and Tony Parker emerged with strong performances. In UCLA’s 60-59 win over SMU on Friday, guards Bryce Alford and Norman Powell combined for 46 of the team’s 60 points. While the Bruins were able to grab that victory, just two strong performances from your players in March is normally a recipe for an early trip home. The Round of 32 was a different story for the Bruins, though, as today’s victory was a total team effort. Alford and Powell once again had solid games, finishing with 22 and 15 points, respectively. Guard Isaac Hamilton and forwards Tony Parker and Kevon Looney emerged to ensure that Alford and Powell were not alone. Hamilton finished with 13 points and seven assists. Looney posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds (six offensive boards). Parker had a career-best performance with 28 points and 12 rebounds. UAB’s inability to guard Parker was a tremendous issue the entire afternoon and was a major reason for its demise.
  3. While UAB came up short, it still leaves with memories of an incredible March run. UAB was just 16-15 when it began play in the Conference USA Tournament two weeks ago. No one was giving the Blazers a shot of winning the tournament and earning the automatic bid — needless to say, it was quite the surprise when they ended up cutting down the nets after topping Middle Tennessee in the C-USA Tournament final. When the bracket was released on Sunday, the Blazers were given what was viewed as an unfavorable draw with a #14 seed facing the Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State. Undeterred, Jerod Haase and his team shocked the world on Thursday afternoon with a stunning 60-59 upset of the 14-point favorite Cyclones. Saturday did not turn out the way UAB wanted, but you are incorrect if you do not think the Blazers had an amazing March run.

Player of the Game. Tony Parker, UCLA. The junior big man was the most productive player on the floor throughout the game, finishing with a career-high 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Parker was a match-up nightmare for UAB, as nothing it did could stop him from making plays.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 79, #16 Hampton 56

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 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.

It Was All Smiles on the Kentucky Bench Again Tonight (USA Today Images)

It Was All Smiles on the Kentucky Bench Again Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute stud. The SEC Freshman of the Year exhibited why he is considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball. Towns finished the night with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. His performance was even more impressive because of how efficient it was. He played just 25 minutes and finished 8-of-12 from the field along with a 5-of-6 showing from the free throw line. Kentucky is loaded with premier performers but none showed out better on Thursday night than Towns. His length, athleticism and ability to impact the game on both ends of the court personifies why he is such a special talent.
  2. This was a home game for Kentucky and Saturday will be too. The KFC Yum! Center is located just 76.8 miles away from Kentucky’s campus. Couple that with the fact that Big Blue Nation travels as well as any fan base in the country and has a large fan base in and around Louisville and you easily understand why Thursday night was essentially a Wildcats’ home game. The second the Cincinnati/Purdue game ended, it was Kentucky time. Fans cheered loudly throughout the night. Nevermind that it was a #1 vs. #16 matchup — they pulled for their Wildcats with the same passion they would if it had been a regional final. With Kentucky advancing to the Round of 32 on Saturday in the same building, expect the atmosphere in the arena to be more of the same as the pursuit of perfection continues.
  3. Hampton deserves a lot of credit for fighting until the end. Prior to Hampton’s victory over Manhattan at the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday, the Pirates were 16-17. They needed an unexpected run through the MEAC title to even earn the chance to go to Dayton. The difference in talent level between Kentucky and Hampton is as big as the Grand Canyon, though. This, however, did not stop Edward Joyner Jr.’s squad from fighting all game long. It forced some bad Kentucky shots in the first half and only trailed 18-14 at the 8:27 mark, and it finished the game on a 28-16 run after falling behind by 35 with 12:43 to play. Pirates guard Quinton Chievous was a warrior all night. Playing on an ankle he injured in the win over Manhattan, Chievous finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Hampton is certainly not pleased with the loss, but it definitely deserves some credit for the way it went out.

Player of the Game. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky. The freshman turned in a performance that made you realize why he has received so many accolades and so much attention this season. In just 25 minutes of play, Towns tallied 21 points and collected 11 rebounds. Among all of Kentucky’s talented charges, Towns was the best in the win over Hampton.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Cincinnati 66, #9 Purdue 65 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2015

rushedreactions

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.

The Thrill and Agony of March Madness (USA Today Images)

The Thrill and Agony of March Madness (USA Today Images)

  1. Purdue gagged this game away at the end of regulation. It looked like the Boilermakers were on their way to the Round of 32. They led by a score of 56-49 with 48 seconds to play. What happened next can only be considered a choke job of epic proportions. Cincinnati went on a 10-3 run to end the regulation. During that time, the Boilermakers committed a crucial turnover and missed two key free throws. Cincinnati deserves considerable credit for playing hard until the very end, but Purdue absolutely handed the Bearcats the opportunity to send the game to overtime. After Cincinnati emerged from the overtime period with the victory, it was quite noticeable that the Bearcats seemed a bit surprised that they were able to pull this one out.
  2. Coreontae DeBerry was a revelation for Cincinnati. Bearcats leading scorer Octavius Ellis was ejected for a flagrant-two after throwing a vicious elbow to the neck of Purdue’s A.J. Hammons at the 16:22 mark of the second half. Replacing him in the Cincinnati line-up was DeBerry, and he was fantastic throughout the game. The big-bodied junior entered the game averaging just 3.8 points in 9.9 minutes per game. He surpassed both those figures with ease against the Boilermakers, as he finished with season-highs of 13 points in 26 minutes.
  3. Larry Davis deserves more credit for the job he has done this season filling in for Mick Cronin. When Mick Cronin stepped away for health reasons in late December, it was not known if Cincinnati could even reach the NCAA Tournament. Davis, Cronin’s associate head coach, was an unknown commodity and you always question how college kids are going to respond to such a sudden change. As it turns out, Davis has admirably filled in for Cronin. The Bearcats have sustained the same hard-nosed reputation they were known for under Cronin. They play hard every night and do not give up under adversity. That was on display against Purdue, and it was a major reason why the Bearcats lived to fight another day even if it’s likely just for one more day.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 UCLA 60, #6 SMU 59

Posted by Walker Carey 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.

  1. UCLA won the game on a questionable goaltending call. Down 59-57 with 22 seconds to play, UCLA came out of a timeout and ran a play for guard Bryce Alford to take a three. The shot appeared to be an airball, as it was grabbed out of the air by SMU center Yanick Moreira. Very soon after Moreira grabbed the ball, however, the officials called a goaltend on him. The call gave UCLA a 60-59 lead with 13 seconds to play. Going for the win, SMU missed two three-point shot attempts, the buzzer sounded and the Bruins stormed the court to celebrate the victory. Expect this call to be talked about ad nauseam in the coming days, as it really was an important factor in the game’s final outcome.
  2. Bryce Alford and Norman Powell were quite the duo. Both Alford and Powell were terrific throughout the game. Alford finished the game with 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting from three. Each time UCLA needed a basket, it was Alford that stepped up and hit one. While his last three-pointer was controversial, he deserves plenty of credit for putting the ball close enough to the rim for the violation to be called. Powell, Alford’s running mate, showcased his dazzling athleticism on drives to the rim throughout the game. The senior finished with 19 points and six rebounds. It should also be noted that both players demonstrated their endurance by finishing the game with 39 minutes played.
  3. Neither team received much production from their supporting casts. Alford and Powell combined to score 46 of UCLA’s 60 points. No other Bruins player scored more than six points. Guard Nic Moore (24 points) and forward Markus Kennedy (16 points) combined to score 40 of SMU’s 59 points. Like UCLA, no other Mustangs player finished with more than six points. Having your stars play well is important, but not getting much production from the role players is usually a huge negative in the postseason. While UCLA was able to escape with a victory, it will probably need someone other than Alford and Powell to step up to move forward in the bracket.

Player of the Game. Bryce Alford, UCLA. The sophomore guard was the best player on the winning team from the opening tip to the final buzzer. He finished with 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting from deep. On a day where his teammates combined to shoot just 1-of-9 from the perimeter, his hot shooting was instrumental to the victory. Alford has been much critiqued throughout the first two years of his career, but you cannot find anyone who would say he was anything but terrific against SMU.

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Rushed Reactions: #14 UAB 60, #3 Iowa State 59

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2015

rushedreactions

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.

It wasn't a good day for the Cyclones. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a good day for the Cyclones. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  1. This was an enormous upset. Iowa State entered Thursday’s game as a 14-point favorite. This large of a point spread made sense as the Cyclones were fresh off taking home the Big 12 Tournament title and were widely seen as a team that could possibly get to the Final Four. UAB only earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament by making a surprising run to the Conference USA Tournament title. No one really gave the Blazers much of a chance in this game. Only 6.9% of the brackets entered on CBSSports.com picked UAB to advance. There was really nothing in the statistics or the schedules that even suggested that this game would be close. This was March Madness at its very best. Just like that… Iowa State is going home and UAB is advancing to the Round of 32.
  2. UAB controlled the glass all afternoon. The biggest factor that went into UAB pulling off the upset was its utter dominance on the glass. The Blazers ended the game with a 52-37 rebounding advantage today. In that rebounding advantage was a striking 19-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Tyler Madison, a reserve swingman, collected nine offensive rebounds alone in just 14 minutes of playing time. This vast rebounding advantage allowed UAB to take Iowa State out of its offensive rhythm and really slow down the game.
  3. Georges Niang turned in a nightmare game in the loss. Thursday afternoon will be a day to forget for Niang. Less than a week after taking home the Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, the junior had a game to forget as his team was sent to an early exit. Saddled by early foul trouble, Niang was never able to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. While 11 points and seven rebounds is not a terrible line to finish with, Niang went just 4-of-15 from the floor and committed three of Iowa State’s 11 turnovers. Sometimes good players just have off games. That was certainly the case with Niang in Iowa State’s stunning defeat.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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Why Pat Connaughton Could Lead Notre Dame to the Second Weekend

Posted by Walker Carey on March 8th, 2015

Notre Dame has been one of the best stories of the year in college basketball. The Fighting Irish began the season unranked because they were coming off a disastrous season when Mike Brey‘s squad finished with a career-worst 15-17 record. The return of senior guard Jerian Grant from an academic suspension has been discussed ad nauseam but with good reason — the senior has performed at an All-America level all season long. While Grant has been spectacular, another major reason why Notre Dame has been able to improve to an impressive 26-5 mark has been the play and leadership of the team’s senior captain, swingman Pat Connaughton.

Pat Connaughton & Jerian Grant (USA Today Images)

Pat Connaughton & Jerian Grant Have Finished Strong (USA Today Images)

Connaughton arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 2011 and it was not long before the Arlington, Massachusetts, product made an impact. In a season that figured to be lost following standout Tim Abromaitis’ season-ending knee injury in November, Connaughton was a key cog in the Irish’s plan to reinvent themselves. He started the final 18 games of the season as the team battled to a 22-12 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. His demonstrated toughness and durability took center stage during a sophomore season where he started every game and played the third-most minutes on a team that featured veterans Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins. The high point of that season for him came in Notre Dame’s epic five-overtime victory over eventual national champion Louisville in February. Connaughton logged a career-high 56 minutes while contributing 16 points and 14 rebounds to the winning effort. While last season was clearly a disappointment for everyone associated with the program, Connaughton took the opportunity to emerge as both a standout scorer (13.8 PPG) and rebounder (7.1 RPG).

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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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