Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 73, #10 Ohio State 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 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.

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

  1. TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
  2. Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
  3. The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.

Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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

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

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

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

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

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

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

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

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

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

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

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 93, #15 Texas Southern 72

Posted by rtmsf 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. 

Arizona Cruised to an Easy Opening Round Victory Today (USA Today Images)

Arizona Cruised to an Easy Opening Round Victory Today (USA Today Images)

  1. No Upsets on the Agenda Here. For those who believe that Arizona is on par with the #1 seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats certainly played like it in their #2/#15 matchup today. Jumping all over Texas Southern from the opening tip, Sean Miller’s bunch wasn’t about to let the underdog stay in contact and build momentum as some of the other victims during the first half of Thursday’s games had experienced. A 15-2 start in the first six minutes set the tone; it slowly developed to a 54-33 halftime lead and Arizona spent the second half coasting to its ninth NCAA Tournament victory under Miller. Arizona may be a #2 seed in the West Region this year, but the Wildcats have the look and feel of a #1.
  2. Too Big. Too Fast. Too Strong. To that point, the size and athleticism that Arizona threw at Texas Southern — a team that had won at Michigan State and Kansas State this year — was very difficult for the Tigers to deal with. The Wildcats hit a blistering 20 of their 29 first half shots (69.0%) and often looked easy doing it. The Wildcats’ strength on the wings was a particular problem for Texas Southern, as Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. The superhero duo combined for 15-of-20 shooting in tallying 45 points and 15 rebounds. It was clear that Mike Davis’ team had no chance to stop either one of them, and Miller’s offensive schemes took full advantage of those mismatches.
  3. A Minor Concern? Its always difficult to keep focus and intensity for the full 40 minutes in a game where the superior team is so clearly superior. But the Wildcats gave up 12-of-22 (54.5%) shooting and 39 points after the half, and for a squad that prides itself on a commitment to defense, that might be somewhat concerning for Miller. Texas Southern entered today’s game in the bottom half of Division I basketball in offensive efficiency, but either of the next opponent options will be quite a bit better than the Tigers in that regard (VCU: 59th; Ohio State: 30th). Worth keeping an eye on.

Player of the Game. Stanley Johnson, Arizona. Johnson was every bit the NBA lottery pick prospect that you would expect in a game like this. The super freshman tallied 22 points and five rebounds, including a sterling 4-of-5 effort from behind the three-point line (36.6% on the year). What’s more is that he was everywhere in the opening minutes, grabbing steals, dishing dimes, as well as offering his standard contributions of scoring, rebounding and overall defense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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

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

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

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

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

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

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

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

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Burning Questions: About Those Tourney Teams?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 18th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Four Pac-12 teams are going dancing. And we’ve got four Burning Questions. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But, below, you’ll get takes from Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa about what to expect from the teams around the Conference of Champions this week and beyond.

Q: So, UCLA’s in the Tournament. On a scale of 1 to Holy Crap Really! how surprised are you. And can they do anything with their good fortune?

Adam Butler: I don’t know why but when the Bruins’ name was called on Sunday I wasn’t all that shocked. It makes no sense because they haven’t impressed by the numbers or the eyeball tests. But at the same time I like so many things about this team in a tournament setting. They’re the only Pac-12 team to keep things close on two occasions with Arizona and – while I don’t love moral victories – that’s something. Of course the committee doesn’t pay attention to any of the storylines so it’s not like Larry Brown ever coached UCLA or anything. I remain concerned about the Bruins’ cohesiveness but if all I need is to win one game, it’s hard not to at least be somewhat impressed with Kevon Looney and Norman Powell.

Yep, we had the same reaction, Bryce. (AP)

Yep, we had the same reaction, Bryce. (AP)

Andrew Murawa: I’m definitely all the way over on the Holy Crap Really! side of things. I just don’t get how the Bruins have done anything to deserve playing in this Tournament. They have home wins over Oregon and Utah which are, yeah, whatever, fine. Beyond that, the biggest smiley-face on their report card is only losing by an average of eight points in their two games against Arizona. Is that all you need to do these days? Play in a big conference and lose to good teams? All that said, when the Bruins have things clicking, they’re pretty fearsome. Tony Parker is coming along in the post, Kevon Looney makes “Wow!” plays on a regular basis, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have proven themselves capable of big games. And Norman Powell is just playing lights out right now. This is a team that could beat SMU by 20. Or go 10 minutes without a bucket in the second half and fade into obscurity.

Q: Oregon gets an #8 seed and has to play Oklahoma State in Omaha. Did the Ducks get screwed?

AM: Given the lack of any truly notable wins on their non-conference slate, the Ducks’ relatively strong finish to the season in a weak Pac-12 shouldn’t really hold much sway. And it didn’t. But the fact that they’ve got to go to Big 12 country to play a Cowboys team that really didn’t do a whole lot to earn much good favor can’t sit well either.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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, 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).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 16th, 2015

Three Pac-12 teams turned on the Selection Show Sunday knowing they’d hear their names called. A fourth turned it on probably expecting to be disappointed. Below we’ll break down those four conference teams, from highest seed to lowest.

Arizona's Path To The Elite Eight Makes Them The NCAA's Unofficial Fifth #1 Seed (USA Today)

Arizona’s Path To The Elite Eight Makes the Wildcats the NCAA’s Unofficial Fifth #1 Seed (USA Today)

Arizona (#2 seed, West Region). The Wildcats certainly have the type of resume that would have landed them squarely on the #1 seed line in most seasons. But in a year with many qualified contenders for the top line, Arizona has no reason to be disappointed. The Wildcats got a #2 seed out West where they’ll play first weekend games in Portland before advancing to the regional in Los Angeles. Fan support in both places will be high, so it’s realistic to view Arizona as this year’s fifth #1 seed. Now that certainly doesn’t mean we can pencil them into the Final Four because, you see, that #1 seed in their region is none other than Wisconsin, a high-caliber team in their own right. Over the weekend in Las Vegas, Sean Miller‘s program exorcised the demon of not having won a Pac-12 Tournament since 2002. For Miller to kill off that other big demon – the tag of being the best head coach to have never made a Final Four – the Wildcats may get a chance to avenge last year’s overtime regional final loss to Wisconsin, again in the Elite Eight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2015

It’s quarterfinal day in Las Vegas, with the Pac’s four top teams facing the upstarts who survived yesterday’s mayhem. Below, by way of previewing today’s games, we’ll look at one of the key matchups in each game that will help determine the eventual winner.

Arizona/California

Stanley Johnson vs. Jabari Bird. Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the matchup that the Golden Bears go with on Johnson, but I know that there is not really an obvious solution for them. They’re going to have to put some size on the floor in order to match up with the Arizona bigs, so somebody out of Jordan Mathews, Tyrone Wallace or Bird is going to have to try to check Johnson. And Bird is the Bear with the physical tools that give him the best chance to check the Wildcat’s physical specimen. Johnson’s ability to bully Bird in the post or off the bounce give him a big advantage, but Bird’s got some impressive ability of his own, even if it only has come in fits and starts so far. But the sophomore has started to emerge recently, averaging 13.9 points in the Bears’ last seven games. If he can keep Johnson busy when the Bears have the ball, it will serve a dual good. Because really, for a undermanned Cal team against the elite Wildcats, just about everything is going to have to go right.

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

Norman Powell vs. Elijah Stewart. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first three months of the season, Stewart has reached the mark in each of the last three games, including a career-high 27 in USC’s come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But it will be a whole different challenge should the Bruins sic their best individual defender in Powell on him. Powell may instead be charged with slowing the penetration of Trojan point guard Julian Jacobs, but regardless, if Powell can limit the effectiveness of either of those key offensive players for SC, the Trojans’ already difficult task will be enhanced. And on the defensive end, while Stewart does have 35 blocks on the season, he hasn’t yet shown the defensive consistency that will be required to slow Powell’s slashing style. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tourney Best & Worst Cases for Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2015

Believe it or not, another Pac-12 regular season is behind us. The final standings are in, the conference tournament bracket is set, and as I type this, we’re less than a week away from finding out which teams get sent where on Selection Sunday. We’ll have much more on this front throughout the week, but below we’ll review the Pac-12’s most likely NCAA Tournament suspects and figure out where they stand with only conference tournament play remaining before the field is set.

Arizona

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either A One or A Two-Seed Will Do

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either a #1 or #2 Seed Will Do. (Getty)

  • Outlook: The Wildcats were the class of the conference this season, running through the Pac-12 with a 16-2 record a full three games better than runners-up Utah and Oregon. What’s more, their 28-3 overall record and #7 RPI rating puts the Wildcats squarely in the conversation for a #1 seed. Kentucky’s got one of those four spots locked up. It’s hard to foresee Virginia and Duke failing to get two others, leaving Arizona in a battle with Villanova, Wisconsin and even Kansas for the final top seed. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter if the ‘Cats get a #1 or a #2 seed so long as they stay out west and away from Kentucky for as long as possible, preferably in the Los Angeles regional. Right now it appears that Wisconsin and Villanova are slightly ahead of Arizona in overall resume, so even if the Wildcats win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas this week, Arizona may be locked into a #2 regardless. All of which paints the specter of a possible Arizona/Wisconsin regional final as an intriguing possibility.
  • Best case: #1 seed in the West.
  • Worst case: #2 seed anywhere but the West.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Senior Days: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 6th, 2015

On November 9, 2011, the #16 Arizona Wildcats committed 21 turnovers. They would go on to win that basketball game by eight despite their starting backcourt combining for a mere two assists and eight turnovers. Including guard efforts off the bench, the backcourt numbers ballooned to five assists and 11 miscues. That was the last game that that TJ McConnell would lose in the McKale Center. At the time, he was a sophomore guard for Duquesne and six months later he would transfer to the University of Arizona.

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

Let’s begin by contextualizing McConnell within the annals of Arizona basketball and the state of current hoop. Saturday is his final game on his undefeated hardwood and while context may not be requisite to celebrate what McConnell has accomplished in Tucson, it serves as a great complement (and compliment) to what he has and will. The brevity of a college career, particularly one we’ve only known for two seasons, cannot be lost in the deep history of everything around it. Because since becoming a Wildcat, McConnell hasn’t lost much of anything. With games still to play, the senior has the highest winning percentage over a two-year stretch of any Arizona point guard in its illustrious history. Ever. As refresher, Arizona basketball history includes guards like Kerr*, Stoudamire, Bibby*, Terry*, and Gardner (* indicates retired jersey). Already he’s won more games than any of them (I understand the changing landscape of scheduling and preseason events, but winning remains the coolest statistic one can compile). With a sweep of the Bay schools, he will tie Steve Kerr for the best two-year conference mark by an Arizona point guard (in 1988 and 1989 there were two different point guards, Kerr followed by Kenny Lofton, each of whom would go 17-1). Winning speaks volumes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story