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

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

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Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

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

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

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

West Region

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

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

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

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Matt Patton on March 21st, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 69, Xavier 52

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: Xavier 65, Georgetown 63

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 14th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

  1. Xavier is putting everything together at the right time. With a championship game against Villanova coming up and the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, Xavier has played as well as any team in the conference. The Musketeers’ post defense still continues to struggle with interior positioning but shifting to a zone has helped Chris Mack’s team better contest jump shots and get into the passing lanes. This tweak in defensive approach has kept Xavier competitive in their games against top-tier defensive clubs like Butler and Georgetown. Both Matt Stainbrook and sophomore big man Jalen Reynolds have been playing their best basketball of the season, forcing opposing defenses to collapse on the duo and leaving the shooters open.
  2. Xavier is a matchup nightmare for Georgetown. Xavier had an inconsistent Big East season, going 9-9 in conference play and sweeping just two of the nine teams it faced. And while the Musketeers lost games to DePaul, Creighton and Seton Hall, one of those two season sweeps was over Georgetown, which they defeated by an average of 15 points per game. In tonight’s third matchup of the year, the result was more of the same until a late Georgetown run closed the gap in the last eight minutes of play. Stainbrook and Reynolds in particular were a handful for Georgetown’s big men and the team’s rapid ball movement around the perimeter left the Hoyas out of position on numerous plays. For whatever reason, Georgetown failed to successfully attack Xavier’s zone for the first 30 minutes of the game and a 21-point deficit ultimately proved insurmountable.
  3. Georgetown’s Big East Tournament performance left something to be desired. The recent stretch for Georgetown hasn’t been pretty. After struggling to knock off Seton Hall last weekend, the Hoyas pieced together a scrappy win over Creighton in the final minute yesterday before falling way behind against Xavier. Yes, the Hoyas put on a late run when it found a number of good shots, but the overall trend isn’t encouraging. It’s a bad time to be faltering and there are numerous concerns about Georgetown on the offensive end of the floor. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has had too many cold stretches; Joshua Smith picks up too many fouls; and the rising freshmen have a tendency to disappear. Is Georgetown facing another embarrassing opening round NCAA Tournament defeat next week?

Player of the Game. Matt Stainbrook, Xavier. The 6’10” senior had 14 points at halftime, including a buzzer-beatin tip-in, and finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds. Few opposing big men have successfully conquered Georgetown in the post, but Stainbrook used his crafty hook shot to successfully score over Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith. Post presence has been a major contributor to Xavier’s success at MSG this week, routinely providing balance to the outside shooting of the Dee Davis, Remy Abell and JP Macura. After tallying a highly efficient 13 points and 10 rebounds against Butler, Stainbrook showed no sign of backing down against the bigger Hoyas and entered into all-out takeover mode for several key stretches of tonight’s game. There is no question that he will be a significant x-factor in the championship game against Villanova.

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Xavier: The Forgotten Big East Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2015

Heading into yesterday’s Big East clash with Butler, Xavier sported a pedestrian 19-12 record with a handful of bad losses. In a league with a number of Tournament-bound teams, the Musketeers had been shockingly average. Chris Mack‘s group can look fantastic on one end, utilizing a highly efficient offense, but horrific on the other, often undone by a woeful defense. While other Big East schools this season were busy receiving recognition for their strong play, defensive prowess or prodigious talent, Mack’s team just kept humming along. There was no string of eight consecutive victories, no NBA-ready players, no Top 25 ranking.

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight?

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight? (AP)

So when Xavier drew a matchup against regional rival Butler, one of the best defensive teams in the country, the natural conclusion was that defense would triumph. For a while, yesterday’s game felt like it was heading that way. Butler played with the lead for the majority of the game, but Xavier’s offense found its groove down the stretch, throwing a wrench in a highly-anticipated Butler-Georgetown semifinal. “I’ve told these guys that everybody’s been talking about the Butler-Georgetown matchup in the semifinals, and that was a little disrespectful because [Butler] had to play us first. Then you can deal with the semifinal matchup,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is This Finally the Year for Villanova?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2015

Save for one or two uncharacteristically poor seasons, Villanova has been on the college basketball map nearly every year in the last decade. And being on the map doesn’t mean an above average team that wiggles its way into the NCAA Tournament every year; rather, the Wildcats have finished with 20 or more wins in 10 of their last 11 seasons. Still, for reasons unknown to most everyone around the program, Jay Wright‘s team has fallen short of expectations in every season since its magical 2009 Final Four run. One year the issue was a lack of team chemistry in the backcourt; the next year it was supposedly a lack of size. For one reason or another, Villanova has simply been unable to progress past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright and Villanova? (Getty)

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright’s Villanova Squad? (Getty)

Many initially questioned whether Villanova would be adequately challenged in the new Big East. While the league has had a great season and is likely to place six teams in the NCAA Tournament, the concerns remain. Just how good is Villanova? As of Tuesday morning, Jay Wright’s team is 27-2 and just three wins away from tying the school record for single-season wins. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50, 6-1 against the RPI top 25, and have just two road losses to top 100 teams. According to KenPom, Villanova ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and is one of five teams to rank among the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (17th). With Wisconsin and Gonzaga’s losses over the weekend, the team ranks 4th in the AP poll and is firmly on the cusp of landing a No. 1 seed for the first time since the 2005-06 season. And yet, many have failed to take notice. Is public dismissal of the team based on its general lack of NBA-caliber players? Or the falsely-held notion that the Big East is not as good as it once was? Read the rest of this entry »

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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Morning Five: 05.20.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 20th, 2014

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  1. National Championships have their benefits, especially for second-year head coaches whose name has been recently bandied about NBA circles with the word “Lakers” involved. Reports surfaced on Monday that Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie, a man who was fighting for a long-term contract from the university as recently as 18 short months ago, is set to sign a new five-year deal that will reportedly pay him more than twice his current salary (nearly $3 million per year). It goes without saying that a coach in his early 40s who already has a title under his belt is a hot commodity, and Ollie will join many of his elite peers in take-home pay in very short order, as this deal will put UConn’s leading Husky among college basketball’s top 10 coaching salaries, according to USA Today.
  2. From one end of the coaching spectrum to the other, as Oregon State announced on Monday its hiring of Montana’s Wayne Tinkle as its new head basketball coach. Tinkle heads to Corvallis with a solid resume, having led the Grizzlies to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight seasons and never finishing below .500 while there. He will inherit a program that has proven to be one of the absolute toughest at which to win in Division I basketball. The Beavers last made the NCAA Tournament in 1990 (!!!), and have not achieved a .500 Pac-10/12 record in over two decades (1993). Further compounding the difficulty that Tinkle will face is that all five of last season’s starters from an 8-10 squad have moved on. Perhaps Tinkle is the guy to finally lead Oregon State out of the basketball wilderness, but it will be no easy task.
  3. One of the starters who left Oregon State this offseason was shooting guard Hallice Cooke, a rising sophomore who logged the second-most percentage of available minutes for the Beavers last season and nailed a team-high 45.6 percent of his threes. Cooke announced on Monday via Twitter that he will transfer to play for The Mayor at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate career. Fred Hoiberg’s 12th transfer in his fourth season in Ames exhibits again just how well the popular coach has used the free agency transfer market to fill the holes on his roster (UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will hold down Iowa State’s shooting guard spot during the intervening year). Although Cooke will not become eligible to play for the Cyclones until the 2015-16 season, his three-point prowess figures to eventually fit very well into Hoiberg’s spread-the-floor offense.
  4. Kevin Ollie wasn’t the only head coach to receive an extension this week, as Xavier’s Chris Mack — a coach who was reportedly considered as a top candidate for several other jobs this spring — signed an extension that will keep him at the school through the 2019-20 season. In Mack’s five years at the school, he’s compiled an impressive 111-57 overall record that includes four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Sweet Sixteen (2010 and 2012). Although Xavier has had a multitude of excellent coaches over the years from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta — it was in no small part due to Mack’s recent success that Xavier was invited to become a member of the new basketball-centric Big East. It will certainly be tough for Xavier to keep a talent like Mack on campus all the way through the term of his new contract, but the commitment is worthwhile for a coach who has proven he has the chops to win at a high level.
  5. Even on a busy Monday of college basketball-related news, the most interesting nugget of the lot may have come from a decision by the State Employees of North Carolina public workers union to allow student-athletes at the state’s 17 public universities to join its collective bargaining organization. Players at schools like North Carolina, NC State, Charlotte and others would be affected, but the bigger picture question is whether this move represents another arrow directed at the disintegrating notion of athletes as amateurs. This of course comes on the heels of the NLRB’s recent decision to classify a group of Northwestern football players as employees with the right to organize its own union, and although any holding in that case would only apply to private schools like NU and others, the sea change is coming whether the NCAA likes it or not.
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