NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 27th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion and @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Memphis and Anaheim throughout the weekend.

Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the South Region in Memphis, TN, and the West Region in Anaheim, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Memphis, TN) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Nobody expected the Flyers or Cardinal to be in this spot, but one of the two teams will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday night. This battle between party crashers doesn’t figure to be the most entertaining Sweet Sixteen matchup when it comes to talent and overall quality of basketball, but after Stanford knocked off New Mexico and Kansas by a combined eight points, and Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse by a mere three total points, we should at least be able to count on this game being a tight one. KenPom doesn’t disagree, as his predictor foresees a one-point final margin. Stanford is the team on the right side of that predicted final score, and despite displaying maddening amounts of game-to-game inconsistency all season long, I can’t find a way to disagree that it will be the Cardinal advancing to the regional final.

Sweet 16 Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Sweet  Sixteen Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Both these teams are double-digit seeds that the FedEx Forum could have never seen coming, but the narrative surrounding the two teams this week has pegged Dayton as the truer “Cinderella.” Vegas oddsmakers have also pegged the Flyers as a three-point underdog, and there’s also that three-decade Sweet Sixteen drought that lends itself to the role of plucky little David. But before recognizing that Stanford is hardly akin to Goliath, let’s also take a second to note that this Dayton team is more accomplished than many surprise second-weekend visitors of NCAA Tournaments past. They were the best team in the Atlantic 10 from February on (a league that sent six teams to this Tournament), have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games, and were one point and a late collapse away from beating Baylor in the Maui Invitational (they wound up beating Cal by 18 in the third place game). Their inclusion in this NCAA Tournament hung in the balance all season, but they’ve proven they belonged – both before and after admission was granted.

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The Pac-12 Season: It’s Been A Wild Ride So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Well, at long last, after an up-and-down season, we can probably pretty safely say: The Pac is Back! Fully buying into the fact that NCAA Tournament performance alone does not equate to the quality of a conference, it is still fun to have three teams dancing in the second week of the tourney. The last time our fair conference had as many teams in the Sweet Sixteen was back in 2008, when it was still just the Pac-10 and also the last time a conference team made the Final Four (UCLA). Between 2009 and 2012, a total of just three teams made the Sweet Sixteen over that four-year span. Things finally ticked up last year with Oregon and Arizona representing us well, and now, we’re back to the promised land. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a quick look back and see.

Pac-12First, I want to admit that I’ve jumped on and off this bandwagon several times this season. Back in the preseason I made the call of seven Pac-12 teams getting invited to the NCAA Tournament and Stanford advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The former prediction just missed, but the latter actually came true. Still, no use in me taking credit (or blame, for that matter) for either, because god knows I’ve tried to walk both of those back time and again. In early February, I was sitting through a UCLA blowout of Colorado in Pauley Pavilion and began a post (that I never got around to finishing) writing off the concept of seven Pac-12 NCAA Tournament teams entirely, and making the argument that the conference was closer to winding up with just three teams in the field. So there’s that.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 25th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. The South Regional Reset published earlier today and the East and Midwest Resets will release tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 32-4. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Wildcats looked a little shaky in what turned into just a nine-point win in their round of 64 game against Weber State, but they really did little this weekend to change the popular notion that the Wildcats are not only the strong favorite in this region, but a legitimate contender for the national championship.

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness:  Wisconsin, #2, 28-7. The Badgers took a 12-point deficit into the half against Oregon in the round of 32, getting lit up to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.48 points per possession by a great offensive team for 20 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, they made a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and getting back and challenging jump shooters on the defensive end. The adjustment turned into less than a point per possession in the second half for the Ducks, while the high-scoring Badgers were the one that turned in 1.5 points per possession. The Badgers have proven their ability to score in bunches this season, but if they can play defense like they did in the second half against Oregon, they’re going to be a real tough out.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Creighton Getting Demolished. The simple fact that Baylor advanced over Creighton isn’t all that shocking. But the manner in which it happened was stunning. Creighton shoots five-of-24 from three against the Baylor zone? A sketchy Baylor defense hold the nation’s best offensive team below a point per possession? Doug McDermott’s college career ends with just a 15-point performance? Stunning.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Mostly Chalk. Three of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and the one upset based on seed-line probably isn’t that much of an upset at all, as Baylor crushed Creighton to earn its 12th win in the last 14 games.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Arizona 84, #8 Gonzaga 61

Posted by AMurawa on March 24th, 2014

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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. Points Off Turnovers. The first 11 turnovers in the game belonged to Gonzaga; Arizona scored 19 points off of those miscues on the way to building a 21-point first-half lead. There it is. For all practical purposes, that was the game. Turn the ball over and give the Wildcats six dunks (Aaron Gordon had four first-half dunks himself) and four layups before halftime and you should have no expectation that you’re going to be in the game. Clearly, Mark Few made limiting turnovers a high priority in the halftime locker room, but coming out of the break, they turned it over on the first two possessions. For the night, they turned it over 21times, leading to 31 points for the Wildcats. That’s the ballgame, right there.

    Aaron Gordon And The Wildcats Ran Gonzaga Off The Court Early And Often

    Aaron Gordon And The Wildcats Ran Gonzaga Off The Court Early And Often

  2. Arizona Halfcourt Offense = Questionable . To pick a nit, as good as the Wildcats were in forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, their halfcourt offense was so-so. They made just eight of 25 field goal attempts in the first half in the half-court and scored just 27 points on their 27 first half possessions that were not scores off turnovers. In the second half, they were much better, shooting 11-of-26 from the field, but again not really scoring in the halfcourt, averaging a shade under a point per possession in the second half. So, clearly, the key to stopping the Wildcats is forcing them into a half-court game and not allowing them to get points in transition, something that is far easier said than done.
  3. Highlight Reels Plays. Nick Johnson running down David Stockton and rejecting his breakaway layup. Gordon throwing down his now-patented reverse layup on the alley-oop. Gordon dunking over two Gonzaga big frontcourt players on an offensive rebound follow-up. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson providing a ridiculous in-your-face dunk in the halfcourt game. There are probably another half-dozen plays I’m forgetting that deserve mention as well, but the fact of the matter is, the Wildcats didn’t just beat the Zags by 23 points, they embarrassed them continuously throughout the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Arizona 68, #16 Weber State 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage 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. Arizona Size and Athleticism. Straight mismatch in this department. Weber State came out confident and hardworking, and none of it really mattered, as Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson rejected shots (they wound up with 12 blocks, many of them of the older-brother-toying-with-kid-brother-in-the-driveway variety), threw down effortless jams, and generally harassed the underdog into a frustrating 40 minutes. While the athleticism gap will tighten for Arizona the further they go in this Tournament, there aren’t going to be many teams that are among the same elite class of athletes as Sean Miller’s club.

    Arizona's Size And Athleticism Advantage Over Weber State Was Regularly Apparent

    Arizona’s Size And Athleticism Advantage Over Weber State Was Regularly Apparent

  2. Davion Berry vs. Nick Johnson. You may not have heard of him much, but Davion Berry can ball. Despite being harassed by Nick Johnson into a poor shooting day from the field (he missed eight of his first nine attempts from the field before winding up 5-of-20, with four of those connections coming from deep), Berry found ways to manufacture points, getting to the line to earn 10 of his 24 points from the charity stripe. And as he saw his shot drop through from the free throw line, his confidence grew. He knocked in 19 points in the second half and was instrumental in leading the Weber State charge. As for Johnson, his harassing defense visibly frustrated Berry early. Johnson hassled Berry when he had the bounce, chased him through screens, and challenged every attempt he put up. And what’s more, Johnson does his work with a smile, seemingly enjoying the pain he’s inflicting on his prey; he’ll talk here and there, but his smile probably does more to gall his opponent than any words he could say.
  3. Second-Half Fouls. Arizona is not a team known to commit a lot of fouls (on the year its defensive free throw rate, comparing the number of free throws attempts to the number of field goal attempts the team allows, ranks in the upper sixth of the nation), but after a dominating first-half defensive performance, the ‘Cats were whistled for 13 second-half personals, allowing Weber State to score 14 points from the line after the break, in large part fueling the underdog’s run to a mere nine-point final margin.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

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Half the day is in the books, and eight teams are headed home. We may not know what the Thursday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Last season, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions advanced to the Sweet 16. Mercer will try to repeat that accomplishment this season, but winning Friday’s game against Duke will be a very tall task. Duke forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood lead a very talented Blue Devils squad that is an elite scoring team. There are no teams with close to Duke’s talent in the Atlantic Sun so Mercer has no basis for comparison leading into Friday afternoon’s action. Another thing that is working against Mercer is its lack of NCAA Tournament experience. The Bears have not been to the tournament since 1985. On the other hand, Duke has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995. If Mercer is able to keep it close Friday, it will be because of its strong offense going up against an iffy Duke defense. Mercer averages an impressive 79.5 points per game and is shooting 47.5% from the field. Bears senior guard Langston Hall has been an impressive player throughout his collegiate career and his ability to make plays will be paramount to the team’s fortunes Friday. Mercer is a scrappy bunch that can keep it close in the first half, but expect Duke’s talent to take over in the second half and lead the Blue Devils to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

#6 Baylor vs #11 Nebraska – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 17th, 2014

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

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

West Region

Favorite: Arizona, #1, 30-4. The Wildcats are the nation’s best defensive team – this is beyond debate. In 34 games to this date, they’ve allowed teams to score better than a point per possession just six times all year (and seven times they’ve held their opponent to less than 0.8 points per possession). They’ve got freshman Aaron Gordon, who is on the short list of most versatile defenders in the nation, capable of guarding players from power forward to point guard. Likewise, guys like Nick Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are terrific athletic defenders, while sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski is a rugged rim protector. Point is that it is going to be very hard for any opponent to score consistently on this team. Throw in the fact that the Wildcats are a quality offensive team as well (only six times all season have they scored less than a point per possession in a game) and that they’re playing arguably their best ball of the season at the right time for rising star Sean Miller, and the West is theirs to win.

Arizona Earned A #1 Seed In The West Region And Fortunate Geographic Placement

Arizona Earned A #1 Seed In The West Region And Fortunate Geographic Placement. (AP)

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #2, 26-7. Aside from a head-scratching downturn in the middle of the season when the Badgers lost five out of six games, Bo Ryan’s squad has been excellent. Only once in the last 12 seasons has Wisconsin had a more efficient offense (2011, and even then, it is a razor-thin margin), but what is different about this team is an increased tempo, a sparkling shooting percentage, and a complete avoidance of turnovers. However, all of this offensive wonderment does not come without a price, as this is also the worst Badgers team on the defensive end in those same dozen years, with the team – especially in that bad stretch in January – failing to contain dribble penetration and regularly getting scorched. This happened again this past weekend against Michigan State, so the Badgers are not here without concerns. But in a region where there are few teams without some blemishes, the Badgers are the safest bet – beyond Arizona – to wind up in Dallas.

Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #10, 23-11. Let’s just refer back to 2012 in the West region and read what I wrote then. Sure, some of the details have now changed, but the gist of this is the same: Why is BYU in the field again? They’ve got a solid win over Gonzaga, they beat Stanford and Texas in the non-conference. Sure. But all of those good spots are balanced out by atrocious losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. There aren’t a ton of other great options to go into BYU’s spot, for sure, and rewarding them for playing a tough non-conference slate is fine. But if anything, the Cougars should have to win their way into the field of 64 by getting through the First Four in Dayton.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 17th, 2014

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  1. Junior guard Joseph Young leads his Oregon team with 18.6 PPG, but his style of play in no way represents a dominating ball hog. The Houston transfer’s efficiency isn’t based on over-dribbling, but rather a quick-release jumper and the ability to come off screens as well as anyone else in the conference. He can also force his way into the lane and convert at the rim with ease, which keeps his averages up when he’s cold from outside. Young could very well declare for this June’s NBA draft, as he’s got all the necessary tools to go late in the first round or early in the second. That may ultimately depend on if he can improve his stock even more with an NCAA Tournament run over the next couple weeks. He’s come up clutch in big games throughout his first season in Eugene, scoring 25 points in an overtime win against BYU, and 26 in double overtime to hold off UCLA in Westwood. Tournament run or not, this has been a terrific and rare season for Young, and head coach Dana Altman‘s biggest recruiting job this spring could be trying to convince Young to return for a senior campaign.
  2. After a somewhat boring opening three rounds at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, guard Jordan Adams shot UCLA to the league’s automatic bid in a thrilling 75-71 victory against top-seeded Arizona. Adams had 19 points on Saturday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, including a three-pointer with 45 seconds left to break a 68-68 tie. While ugly at times in the final few minutes, the game was fast-paced and heart-pounding, and everything about it screamed March. The Bruins finished the regular season at 26-8 with the upset, while the Wildcats dropped to 30-4.
  3. Calling to replace Oregon State coach Craig Robinson? Great, you must not be the guy in charge of doing it. At least that’s what John Canzano says, citing the fact that the Beavers can’t afford to fire their coach, and even if they could, no one worth replacing Robinson would want the job. The fact of the matter is, in some ways, you can’t afford not to let him go. Recruiting is down, and will continue to decline as prospects see a quarter-filled Gill Coliseum night in and night out. That translates into even less wins, and more empty seats. It’s a vicious cycle.
  4. Washington may not have a game scheduled yet for next season, but the 2015-16 campaign does have one. The Huskies and Texas will meet on November 14, 2015 in Shanghai, a day after the regular season begins back home in the United States. The game is part of the conference’s Globalization Initiative, which began in 2011, and will actually be the project’s first regular season basketball game.
  5. Yesterday, of course, was Selection Sunday, and six teams from the Pac-12 were chosen for the NCAA Tournament. Arizona led the conference as a #1 seed, and Pac-12 Tourney champion UCLA was placed on the four line. Oregon and Colorado followed as #7 and #8 seeds, respectively, and the conference’s representation was rounded out by Arizona State and Stanford on the #10 line.
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Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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Eight Predictions For The Pac-12 On Selection Sunday

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 16th, 2014

  • Arizona will get a #1 seed in the West region. This one’s almost too easy. Without a team west of Wichita vying for a seed above the four line, the Wildcats have no competition for this spot. They have been locked into a one seed ever since their dominating performance at Colorado on February 22, and losses to Oregon and UCLA in the final two weeks of the season doesn’t change that. Expect Sean Miller‘s team to also be sent to San Diego for its opening games in the tournament.
  • UCLA is underseeded, and its opponents will pay for it. Without a signature non-conference win and losses like the 18-point one suffered at Washington State dotting its schedule, I think the committee slots UCLA as a #6 seed, instead of the four or five the Bruins probably deserve. This will hurt their second and third round opponents more than anything, as we’ve seen in recent years.

    UCLA Guard Jordan Adams Is Averaging 17.2 PPG And Has Come Up Clutch In Big Games (Stephen Dunn)

    UCLA Guard Jordan Adams Is Averaging 17.2 PPG And Has Come Up Clutch In Big Games (Stephen Dunn)

  • Oregon avoids the 8/9 game, is gifted a #7 seed. The committee loves rewarding teams that finish the season strong, and Oregon closed the year on an 8-1 tear. I think the Ducks avoid the 8/9 game (and therefore a matchup with a top seed in their second game), and will play a #10 seed in their opener.
  • Colorado and Stanford do play the 8/9 game. Both the Buffaloes and Cardinal had a chance to pull an Oregon and avoid the eight or nine line, but some spectacular flameouts in Las Vegas make that impossible. Both will play in an 8/9 game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Rare Talent. If you watched the game, you saw it all over the place. You saw it in UCLA’s 6’9” sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, who had 15 defensive rebounds to go with 21 points, five assists and just one turnover. You saw it in Arizona’s freshman power forward Aaron Gordon, who spent time trying to check the opposition’s point guard as well creating plays of his own, dishing out a whopping eight assists (many of them of the spectacular variety, such as an epic alley-oop to junior Nick Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, this is a 6’3” guy who looks like your average ordinary Joe, right up until the point that his feet leave the ground and then just keep going up and up and up. Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, and the Wear twins. There was no shortage of talent on the MGM Grand Arena court this afternoon and with many of them turning in elite performances, it was a fantastic game to watch.

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

  2. Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Tourney Underwhelms on the Way to a Much-Anticipated Arizona/UCLA Final

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2014

Let’s be blunt: through ten of the 11 games in the Pac-12 Tournament, this has not been a particularly thrilling tourney. Just three games have been decided by single figures; the other seven games have had final margins of an average of more than 20 points. Neither Arizona nor UCLA, the two teams that will appear in today’s championship game, have been tested at all, with the Wildcats winning their two games by an average of 26 points and the Bruins relatively sneaking by with an average margin of victory of just 23 points. But none of that matters now. In a season where Arizona and UCLA were scheduled to play just once (at Pauley Pavilion, way back on January 9), the basketball gods have seen fit to correct such an egregious oversight by the conference schedule-makers and arranged for the conference’s two elite programs to get another crack at it. As Adam Butler so eloquently put it, it is the title game we need and deserve.

Arizona and UCLA Will Meet In The Pac-12 Title Game For Just The Second Time Ever (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo)

Arizona and UCLA Will Meet In The Pac-12 Title Game For Just The Second Time Ever (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo)

We need it, because not only has it become clear that these are, in fact, the two best teams in the conference, but also because missing out on a return game of the conference’s best rivalry in the name of progress is certainly an example of progress not being made. And, we deserve it because, after the past handful of years (hitting rock bottom in 2011-12 when the regular season conference champion was shipped to the NIT), Pac-12 basketball diehards have earned a little good karma. Arizona/UCLA in a conference championship game will occur for only the second time in history (the last time was 1990 – the final conference tournament for more than 10 seasons), and it will give us a chance to relive and come to terms with last year’s controversial semifinal game.

Arizona will head into the title game on an absolute roll, playing arguably their best ball of the season at precisely the right time, as somewhere in the neighborhood of a seven-point favorite. In their two Pac-12 Tournament games so far, the ‘Cats have allowed just 0.72 points per possession. Aaron Gordon seems to be on a crusade to highlight the lunacy of his absence from the Pac-12 All-Defensive team, with five blocks and five steals punctuating his versatile and harassing defense. He’s capable of dominating a Wear twin if Sean Miller decides to go that way, or he could make things very uncomfortable for Kyle Anderson if the ‘Cats decide to check the UCLA point guard/power forward with their most versatile defender. Meanwhile, Nick Johnson (who did make the Pac-12 All-Defensive team) has already this season showed his ability to completely lock up Jordan Adams. In fact, in that first match-up, the Wildcats’ held Anderson and Adams to a combined 10-of-30 from the field along with five turnovers. Furthermore, the Wear twins were largely invisible, combining for 10 points and four boards in 40 minutes of action. These are the types of things this Arizona defense is capable of doing, namely shutting off the water for a handful of key cogs on the opposition.

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