Final Four Fact Sheet: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

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Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State and Wisconsin (later this afternoon).

How Sparty Got Here

East Region Champions. Michigan State beat #10 seed Georgia in its NCAA Tournament opener before using superb defense and key coaching adjustments to stun #2 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. From there, it was off to Syracuse where the Spartans edged #3 seed Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen and overcame an eight-point halftime deficit by beating Louisville in overtime to punch a surprising but well-earned ticket to Indianapolis.

For the second-straight season, a #7-seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

For the second straight season, a #7 seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Coach

Tom Izzo. Izzo’s remarkable run of March success has been well-documented. He’s now tied with Rick Pitino and Roy Williams for fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances – three of which came as a #5 seed or worse. His .742 NCAA Tournament winning percentage and 46 total victories rank fifth among active coaches. By defeating Louisville last Sunday, Izzo notched his 13th win over a higher seed in the Big Dance – the most such victories all-time – while improving to 20-4 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend, also one of the finest marks ever. Simply put, Michigan State’s 20th-year leader is masterful in the third month of the year.

Style

At 17.8 seconds per possession, Michigan State is among the more uptempo offensive teams in the country and ranks second behind only Kentucky among Final Four units. The Spartans are more than willing to get out in transition, finish near the rim or locate open shooters – like transfer Bryn Forbes (43.5% 3FG) – on the wing. In the half-court, Izzo’s club moves the ball very well (seventh-highest assist rate in college basketball), takes a healthy number of perimeter jumpers and likes to run ball-screen and pick-and-roll action as the shot clock wanes. Defensively, Michigan State applies some man-to-man ball pressure and tries to limit both easy looks in the paint and second-chance opportunities (72.9% DReb). Only three teams in college basketball forced its opponents into longer offensive possessions this season (20.1 seconds per trip).

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 76, #4 Louisville 70 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

  1. Overtime giveth, overtime taketh away. Michigan State went 2-5 in overtime games prior to today, including a six-point home loss to Richard Pitino-coached Minnesota in February and an 11-point defeat against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Louisville had only played one overtime contest before this afternoon – a 10-point victory over North Carolina. Yet, despite that recent history – with the stakes higher than ever – the basketball gods looked favorably upon the Spartans during the extra period. Bryn Forbes (14 points) knocked down a three-pointer to tip things off. The Cardinals, on the other hand, missed two early shots, including a layup. Branden Dawson found himself in perfect position for a late, game-clinching offensive rebound and putback that essentially sealed the win. “Sometimes it can be a cruel game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward, referring to the fickle nature of bonus basketball. In another tight game with razor-thin margin for error, good fortune finally went the way of Michigan State.
  2. Michigan State clamped down in second half. Louisville shredded Michigan State’s interior defense in the first half, shooting 13-of-27 from two-point land and scoring 31 of its 40 points from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Cardinal forward Montrezl Harrell – who scored 24 points against North Carolina State on Friday – scored 12 in the game’s opening 11 minutes, helping his team grab an eight-point lead at the break. Then the Spartans clamped down. Over the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, Louisville shot just 6-of-32 from the field and mustered only an additional 30 points. Michigan State shut down the lane – limiting the Cardinals’ dribble penetration and collapsing on Harrell (who only scored four points the rest of the way) – and did a better job extending on shooters. That defensive stinginess enabled Izzo’s club to climb back in the game and ultimately wind up on top.
  3. Another Elite Eight thriller. As if last night’s Notre Dame-Kentucky game wasn’t enough, the Elite Eight delivered yet another thrilling finish in Syracuse today. The back-and-forth second half was filled with momentum swings and fraught with drama, including Mangok Mathiang’s game-tying free throw at the end of regulation that seemingly hung in the air for minutes before falling through the net. All told, the lead changed 11 different times and was tied on nine different occasions before Michigan State grabbed the final edge in overtime. If regional weekend is a sign of things to come, then next week’s Final Four should be nothing short of excellent.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Sunday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

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The Elite Eight is here. Two more games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Elite Right (at Syracuse, NY) – at 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo are no strangers to this stage, or each other. The Hall of Fame Louisville coach ranks fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances, including two since 2012. The 20th-year Michigan State head man trails just behind with six, along with four Elite Eight trips since 2009. And for the third time in seven years, their teams will meet in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This is familiar territory. What’s not familiar, though, is the route each team took to reach this point. Unlike in 2009 and 2012 – when both teams were either #1 or #2-seeds – the Cardinals and Spartans enter this afternoon’s contest having endured rocky seasons with somewhat limited expectations. Izzo’s club lost 11 games this year, including a baffling home loss to Texas Southern in mid-December. Pitino’s unit dismissed point guard and top three-point shooter Chris Jones in late February, further exacerbating its offensive woes. Yet here they both are, playing for the right to move on to Indianapolis.

So what should we expect from these resilient teams? For Louisville, this much we know: its defense – ranked fifth nationally in adjusted efficiency – will be stout. As per usual for Pitino-coached squads, it will apply heavy ball pressure and limit good looks from behind the arc (30% 3PT defense). What’s been surprising about its three-game run, however, is the offensive production. Against Northern Iowa and North Carolina State, the Cardinals scored 1.2 and 1.17 points per possession, respectively, and received high-efficiency, high-production performances from both Terry Rozier (25 points; 146 ORtg against the Panthers) and Montrezl Harrell (24 points; 150 ORtg against the Wolfpack). The newfound offensive consistency – especially in the half-court – has turned them into a substantially more well-rounded unit, one that looks much closer to the team that began the year 11-0.

The specific areas of Michigan State’s recent improvement are slightly harder to pin-point but no less impactful. Power forward Branden Dawson has been playing his best basketball of the season – on both ends of the court – since the start of the Big Ten tournament onward. The Spartans have done a better job taking care of the ball, suffering just five miscues against Oklahoma on Friday night. And Travis Trice (20.6 PPG in NCAA Tournament) has emerged as the teams’ consistent, go-to scorer – something it lacked earlier in the year. All of the little things seem to be coming together for Izzo’s group at the right time.

This afternoon’s matchup might ultimately come down to a few key factors: Louisville’s ability to score around the rim against Michigan State’s interior defense (43.6% 2PT), and whether the Spartans can keep their offensive cool against the Cardinals’ various matchup zone and man-to-man defensive looks. Oddly, North Carolina State kept itself alive on Friday by knocking down shots from behind the arc (9-for-20 3FG) against Louisville, but struggled to score in the paint. Izzo’s club will need a little bit of both today, and certainly needs to take care of the ball. Likewise, Dawson, Matt Costello, and the rest of Michigan State’s big men cannot allow Harrell and Louisville’s penetrating guards nearly as many good looks near the basket as they found on Friday. In the end, I like Michigan State’s ability to crash the offensive glass (33.9% OReb) against the Cardinals’ sub-par defensive rebounding (30.9% DReb) to be the difference – not to mention the fact that doubting Izzo on the back-end of an NCAA Tournament weekend seems foolish. Expect a thrilling, hotly-contested and well-coached contest either way.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 62, #3 Oklahoma 58

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

  1. Michigan State did the little things down stretch – which isn’t always the case. Michigan State entered tonight’s contest ranked 339th nationally in free throw percentage (63%). Against Minnesota on February 26, the Spartans missed several key shots from the stripe, committed a number of silly fouls and blew a five-point lead with less than 20 seconds remaining. They nearly did the same thing at Indiana two weeks later. Late-game execution hasn’t exactly been their forte. But tonight was different. Branden Dawson and Matt Costello ripped down several huge offensive rebounds when Tom Izzo’s club needed them most. No one committed bone-headed fouls or careless turnovers. And despite going just 9-of-16 from the stripe as a team, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine hit six free throws in a row in the game’s final two minutes to seal Michigan State’s four-point victory.
  2. Travis Trice carried the load (again); Denzel Valentine stepped up. After scoring 15 points against #10 Georgia and 23 points against #2 Virginia – including a late, dagger triple – senior guard Travis Trice once again carried the offensive load for Michigan State, pouring in 24 points on 50 percent shooting and knocking down several huge free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, forward Denzel Valentine – who mustered just four points against the Cavaliers – finally woke up in the second half, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes and keeping the Spartans on top late.
  3. Oklahoma went cold. Izzo said of Oklahoma, “They gave it to us in every way it could be gotten” early on. And he’s right. For the first eight-plus minutes of the game, the Sooners blasted Michigan State on both ends of the court, using a flurry of layups and dunks to jump out by a score of 18-8 before the Spartans even knew what hit them. Then, the offensive melee came to a halt. Dawson, Costello and the rest of Izzo’s frontcourt shored up the interior, and Oklahoma shot just 4-of-17 from behind the arc (including Buddy Hield’s 3-of-10 3FG). The Spartans weren’t exactly scorching the nets, either, but their offensive surge to start and end the second half proved enough to win.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Louisville 75, #8 North Carolina State 65

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Louisville game up big with the big plays down the stretch. (Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

Louisville came up big with big plays down the stretch to beat the Wolfpack. (Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. In game defined by runs, Louisville went on final spurt. North Carolina State took an early 10-6 lead, which was followed by a 10-2 Louisville run. Shortly thereafter, the Wolfpack went on a 14-5 spurt, at which point the Cardinals responded with 14 of the next 16 points and…you get the point. After back-and-forth momentum swings and scoring bursts throughout the first 30-plus minutes of game time, Louisville’s late 12-3 run made the difference. Over the course of four minutes – shortly after the under-8 media timeout – Anton Gill, Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier broke North Carolina State’s zone and generated enough stops to grab the final advantage.
  2. Louisville dominated the paint. If North Carolina State’s 9-of-20 three-point shooting kept the game close, then Louisville’s 24-of-42 mark from inside the arc (57% 2FG) decided it. For most of the night, the Wolfpack had no answer for Montrezl Harrell on the block (24 points) and could not stop the Cardinals’ guards from penetrating; Rozier, Quentin Snider and Wayne Blackshear scored 35 of Louisville’s 75 points near the basket or at the free throw line. Even Mark Gottfried’s decision to play zone late in the contest could not stop Pitino’s unit from finding looks inside. Louisville’s defense also did a good job down low; North Carolina State shot just 35 percent from two-point land.
  3. Out of nowhere, Anton Gill became a hero. Entering tonight, Louisville’s Anton Gill was averaging just over two points per game and had not graced the scoring column since February 28. And it didn’t look like he was going to score against North Carolina State, either, until the sophomore guard – which the Wolfpack once tried to recruit – reeled off seven quick points late in the contest to put the Cardinals up for good. Afterwards, Gottfried basically said that Gill’s unexpected offensive outburst decided the outcome: “He made a couple tough shots there, and I thought that little cushion was the difference in the game.”

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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 @rtceastregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #3 Oklahoma. There was mayhem at the top, and now Oklahoma – the highest seeded team remaining – becomes the team to beat in Syracuse. The Sooners were in control from start to finish against #14 seed Albany on Friday, then flexed their defensive muscle in a comeback victory over #11 seed Dayton on Sunday, holding the close-to-home Flyers scoreless for a nine-minute stretch late in the game. Make no mistake – Lon Kruger’s group was never dominant – but it also didn’t rely on any one, dominant offensive performance in order to win. The contributions were across-the-board (Frank Booker even dropped 12 points off the bench on Sunday) and big men TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler provided key physicality down low. Michigan State, Oklahoma’s upcoming foe, also made a good case for ‘favorite’ status after beating #10 seed Georgia and #2 seed Virginia, but it’s about time we give the Sooners their due.

Oklahoma is the new favorite in the East. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Oklahoma is the new favorite in the East. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #8 North Carolina State. Dayton looked well on its way to becoming the Horse of Darkness (yet again) before Oklahoma laid down the defensive hammer in the second half in Columbus. So now we turn to North Carolina State, whose last-second, comeback victory over LSU on Thursday seemed to light a fire under a team that’s often struggled to play up to its potential. The Wolfpack didn’t merely ‘upset’ top-seeded Villanova on Saturday; it controlled the game. It played with confidence. Its modest frontcourt played as well as it has all year. It looked like the better team. Mark Gottfried’s group held the Wildcats – among the most explosive and efficient offenses in college hoops – to just 1.06 points per possession on 31.1 percent shooting (9-of-28 3FG), outmanning the Big East champs on the perimeter and outmuscling them in the paint. The effort was so rock-solid that it makes you wonder just how high this team’s ceiling is. With wins over Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and now Villanova under its belt, perhaps a trip to Indianapolis isn’t out of the question for Mark Gottfried’s Pack.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #8 North Carolina State. Look, we knew North Carolina State had talent – you don’t beat Duke and North Carolina without it – but I’m still not sure anyone saw this coming. The Wolfpack entered the Dance fresh off a 24-point beatdown against the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament, just two weeks after losing by 16 points to Boston College. To call the team ‘mercurial’ would have been giving it too much credit; Gottfried’s bunch looked downright mediocre. And it looked something less than mediocre for the first 30 minutes against LSU, struggling to contain the Tigers’ loaded frontcourt and digging itself a big hole. Then Kyle Washington exploded with a flurry of points off the bench. And Abdul-Malik Abu went to work down low (13 points). And BeeJay Anya happened. Despite its heavily relied-upon guard trio of Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner combining on a 4-of-21 three-point shooting night, Noth Carolina State survived and advanced. Two nights later, it came out more confident than ever, jumped on #1 seed Villanova early and never conceded control, upending the Wildcats 71-68. And now the once-middling Wolfpack are just two wins away from reaching the Final Four. Where did that come from? Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oklahoma 72, #11 Dayton 66

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 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.

Oklahoma dominated Dayton in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Oklahoma dominated Dayton in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  1. Oklahoma cranked up the defense. From about the midway point of the first half to the midway point of the second, Oklahoma’s defense simply wasn’t very good. Dayton found open perimeter look after open perimeter look and slashed to the rim at will, assembling two huge runs – 15-0 and 12-0 – that energized the crowd and put it ahead comfortably. Then the Sooners cranked up the heat. For over nine straight minutes of game time – virtually the entire last quarter – the Flyers did not muster a single point, enabling Lon Kruger’s bunch to overcome its deficit and come out on top. The prolonged stand – punctuated by Buddy Hield’s transition block at the 1:02 mark – showed why Oklahoma ranks among the 10-most efficient defenses in college basketball. The Sooners can lock down.
  2. Kendall Pollard’s airballed free-throw may have been a sign. With just under one minute to play and his team down five, Dayton forward Kendall Pollard stepped to the line for a 1-and-1… and promptly missed everything. Net, rim – everything. Maybe it was a sign that the Flyers had finally run out of gas. After playing with great energy against Providence on Friday and for the first 30 minutes tonight, it looked as if Miller’s short-handed group – taking the court for the sixth time in 10 days – just didn’t have the legs to finish. Make no mistake – Oklahoma won this game – but it’s hard to argue that that Dayton’s extremely short turnaround and utter lack of depth (342nd in bench minutes) didn’t play some kind of factor.
  3. Lon Kruger deserves some dap. With the victory, Kruger became the first head coach in the expanded NCAA Tournament era to take four different programs to the Sweet Sixteen. That feat is especially impressive when you consider how dire things looked at times tonight; not only did Oklahoma trail by multiple possessions in front of a hostile environment, but several Sooners’ players seemed heated and rattled during a few second half timeouts. Credit the veteran head man for rallying his guys and gutting out the historic win.

Star Player: Buddy Hield (15 points, five assists). Hield was not very efficient tonight (4-of-13 FG) nor did he ever go on a scoring tear, but the 6’4” junior came up with several big defensive plays – including the clutch block – that illustrated why he’s among the best players in the Big 12.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 66, #6 Providence 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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.

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

  1. Dayton had home-court advantage, and it clearly mattered. After beating Boise State on Wednesday in Dayton, the Flyers barely had to trek one hour east for tonight’s game in Columbus. Same went for their fans, who showed up in full force to Nationwide Arena. When the shots starting falling and the lead began to build, so did the volume, helping Archie Miller’s undermanned and undersized club maintain its level of energy and confidence against the bigger, deeper Friars. And the story should be much the same against Oklahoma on Sunday, which begs the question: Has a #11-seeded, First Four participant ever been in a better situation?
  2. The Flyers are impervious to fatigue. This was Dayton’s fifth game in eight days, which might not be so bad were it not for the fact that it ranks 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Unlike last year, when Miller played 11 guys a night, only six or seven Flyers see significant time on the court this season. Moreover, none of those players stand taller than 6’6”, meaning their effort and activity on the defensive end – especially against a frontcourt as massive as Providence’s – must to be at a maximum on every possession in order to compete. And yet they never seem to tire, routinely overcoming mismatches and attacking opposing defenses like it’s the middle of November instead of the third week of March. Conventional logic and scouting reports don’t seem to apply to this group, which is why it could wind up in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
  3. Providence’s Ed Cooley should not have received a technical foul. Cooley is a smart, level-headed coach who was clearly trying to motivate his team when he tipped over a chair during the under-4 timeout in the second half. But he received a technical for it, which John Adams, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials, said was supported by Officiating Manual Rule 10, Section 3, Article 2 – “Bench personnel committing an unsportsmanlike act.” – and further supported by another section pertaining to “a negative response to a call/no-call.” I understand that rules are rules, but considering the situation – 3:42 left in an eight-point game – it seemed completely unwarranted.

Star Player: Kyle Davis (six points, nine rebounds, five steals). Dyshawn Pierre led the team statistically with 20 points and nine rebounds, but Davis – the quick-handed sophomore guard – was a force on the defensive end, beating Providence’s Kris Dunn at his own game (swiping the basketball) and using his speed for a few timely buckets.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oklahoma 69, #14 Albany 60

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

It wasn't a blowout, but Oklahoma did enough to win. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a blowout, but Oklahoma did enough to win. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

  1. Albany had its chances but couldn’t capitalize. Although the #3 seed Oklahoma never trailed, this game was far from lopsided. Albany limited Oklahoma’s transition opportunities (for the most part), and the Sooners shot just 7-of-24 from behind the arc against the Great Danes’ zone. At various points throughout the contest, Will Brown’s team pulled within striking distance, just two or three possessions away from tying things up. But it was never able to capitalize. A missed shot here, an ill-advised miscue there – the America East champs cut the deficit to six points five different times in second half, but never got over the hump. “I wish we would have shot the ball a little bit better,” Brown said, knowing full-well his group left opportunities on the court.
  2. TaShawn Thomas needs to keep playing big. Despite those missed perimeter jumpers, Oklahoma stayed comfortably ahead thanks in part to the stellar play of forward TaShawn Thomas. The Houston transfer led all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, dominating Albany’s undersized big men at various points in the game and forcing Brown to commit extra attention on the block – which in turn freed up opportunities for teammates. The Sooners are now 7-0 when the senior scores at least 15 points, and his presence down low will become even more crucial as Oklahoma advances in this tournament. Especially with Providence and its massive front line possibly looming on Sunday.
  3. Lon Kruger exorcises his recent NCAA Tournament demons. The veteran head coach entered tonight 0-4 in his last four NCAA Tournament appearances, including the last two with Oklahoma. So while he didn’t make a big deal of it in the postgame presser, you can bet that Kruger – bounced by non-power conference schools in both 2013 and 2014 – was relieved after tonight’s victory. Sooners faithful might not put the pressure on like Duke or North Carolina fans do, but it’s always nice to put questions about your postseason coaching chops to rest.

Star Player: TaShawn Thomas (18 points, five rebounds). Again, Thomas came up big on a night when the perimeter shooters weren’t exactly scorching the nets. He needs to continue dominating – or at least reliably producing – for Oklahoma to go deep into this NCAA Tournament. The seventh-tallest team in America, Providence, might be up next.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 North Carolina State 66, #9 LSU 65

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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.

What a Comeback by the Wolfpack (USA Today Images)

What a Comeback by the Wolfpack (USA Today Images)

  1. LSU melted. Much like it did against Auburn in the SEC Tournament, LSU completely fell apart in the game’s final stanza. After surrendering just one offensive rebound in the first half, the Tigers gave North Carolina State 10 second-chance opportunities in the second half. Their man-to-man defense – rock-solid for the majority of the night – gave way to a 10-0 Wolfpack run just when they look poised to put the game on ice. Jordan Mickey missed four straight free throws in the final two minutes, and no one boxed out BeeJay Anya on the crucial (but less notable) second-to-last possession. This loss – these types of losses – will haunt Johnny Jones and his young team this offseason.
  2. North Carolina State’s guards brought it here, but the frontcourt carried it to victory. The three-headed backcourt monster that is Anthony Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner carried North Carolina State offensively this season, accounting for more than 50 percent of the team’s scoring and coming up with big late-game shots. But that didn’t happen tonight. Instead, it was the Wolfpack’s frontcourt that made the winning plays. Sophomore Kyle Washington scored nine points off the bench, including a tip-slam that Gottfried said “helped our team in an emotional way.” Athletic freshman Abdul-Malik Abu scored 13 points and energized the crowd with a massive block and an emphatic dunk. And while BeeJay Anya – all 300 pounds of him – scored only four points, they happened to be the last four points of the game. On a night when North Carolina State’s guards shot just 4-of-21 form behind the arc, the big play of the big men was crucial.
  3. The Tigers will be back. Sophomore guard Tim Quarterman finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists tonight – an eye-popping line – while several other young players also showed serious promise. Even if sophomore forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey opt to go pro (they are both projected as late first/early second-round NBA picks), Jones will have an excellent young nucleus to complement incoming super-recruits Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney. Better days are ahead in Baton Rouge.

Star of the Game: BeeJay Anya (four points; game-winning basket). North Carolina State was subpar for the vast majority of the night, so it’s only fitting that the sophomore – who scored all four of his points in the last 44 seconds – was the star of the game. He’s a very large man who used that frame to his advantage when the Wolfpack needed it most.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #4 Michigan State 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

  1. Vintage Connecticut. Kevin Ollie only took over the Connecticut job last season but he has wasted no time in carrying on Jim Calhoun’s legacy of hard-nosed defense. The Huskies limited Michigan State to 39.1 percent shooting and, more importantly, kept them out of the paint and off the free throw line. It was a game of runs with Connecticut jumping out to an early lead, Michigan State firing back and the Huskies eventually closing the door. The Huskies did a great job limiting any dribble penetration by the Spartans and swarmed Adreian Payne any time he touched the ball deep in the post. In the end, it was consistent defense and a great game plan by Kevin Ollie and his players that carried them to the win.
  2. Michigan State couldn’t get anything inside.  For the game, Michigan State was limited to six points in the paint. With Gary Harris (who had a great game) content to shoot jumpers and Keith Appling still bothered by a nagging injury, the Spartans got very little, if any, dribble penetration. When they looked for Payne in the post, he was double or even tripled teamed at times. After a great game against Virginia on Friday night, Branden Dawson (five points) was a non-factor against the physical Huskies. With Michigan State content on shooting jumpers (29 of its 46 shots were three pointers), it also had great difficulty getting to the free throw line. The inability to score inside and get to the line was Michigan State’s downfall in this game.
  3. The free throw line made the difference. Coming into the game, more focus was on the great perimeter shooting both teams featured. That proved not to be the deciding factor in any way as Michigan State was 15 percentage points better than Connecticut from deep. However, it was the free throw line that won this one for the Huskies. Connecticut made 21-of-22 free throws (95.5 percent) while Michigan State only made eight trips to the charity stripe. The Spartans, who entered today’s action ranked an abysmal No. 316 in free throw rate, simply shot too many jumpers and never adjusted to what the Huskies were doing defensively in the paint. With Appling’s injury still being a factor, Michigan State just could not get any dribble penetration and their half court offense looked rather stagnant. Give the Huskies credit for not fouling, too. They recorded only 12 fouls for the game.

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