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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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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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 »

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Georgia State 57, #3 Baylor 56

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.

  1. Baylor’s length was too much for RJ Hunter. Until it wasn’t. The Bears played their trademark 1-3-1 zone and it really bothered Hunter on the wing. He finished the first half with just two points, having taken way too many shots from 30 feet. Hunter and Ryan Harrow were Georgia State’s best players this year and the Panthers really needed him to have a good game with Harrow on the shelf. Then with under three minutes left and the team down 12 points, Hunter magically found his mojo. He scored 12 of the team’s last 13 points and Baylor didn’t score once over the same stretch.
  2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Panthers looked really good when they attacked Baylor in transition and off the dribble. They did a really good job of using aggressive defense to take momentum at both the beginning and the very end of the second half. Baylor finished with 21 turnovers on the afternoon. At least four or five of those were right under Georgia State’s basket. Many were stupid, errant passes, but some were forced by a very effective Panthers’ press. And some just looked like a team that started feeling the heat of a team coming on strong in the last two minutes. People will blame Kenny Chery for the missed free throw at the end of the game, but Baylor went 11-of-13 from the charity stripe for the game. Afterward, Ron Hunter talked about how good Georgia State’s press has been down the stretch this season.
  3. Taurean Prince was the player of 35 minutes of the game. He looked unstoppable. He finished with 18 points and 15 boards on only nine shots (including a desperation heave at the buzzer). Georgia State just didn’t have an answer for him but he didn’t get the ball enough the last five minutes of the game. Part of that was Baylor didn’t have many clean possessions down the stretch, but part of it was a lack of strategy to do so as well.

Star of the Game: RJ Hunter was perfect in the last three minutes. Down 12 with 2:40 left and Hunter going to the line, Georgia State looked beyond dead. To that point he had logged only one field goal (a layup in the first half) and looked totally outmatched against Baylor’s size and length. Then he drew a foul (a late whistle from Jamie Luckie) and got his swagger back. When Hunter got a steal and layup with 1:22 left, it suddenly felt like a game. Ryann Green also deserves a lot credit for keeping Georgia State within reach for the first three quarters of the game. While Hunter was ice cold, Green went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. In the end, though, it was Hunter who put the team on his back and led his team straight into One Shining Moment.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

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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.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa 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, 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.

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Bracket Prep: New Mexico State, UC Irvine & Georgia State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2015

Let’s finish off the Bracket Prep series with our reviews of each of the weekend mid-major automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. Here’s a primer on each of the most recent bid winners. The entire series can be found here.

New Mexico State

New Mexico State is going dancing for the fourth-straight year. (Photo by Tim Barnett-Queen)

New Mexico State is going dancing for the fourth-straight year. (Photo by Tim Barnett-Queen)

  • WAC Champion (23-10, 13-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #103/#88/#106
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +6.5
  • NCAA Seed: #15

Strength: The Aggies are not your average low-seeded mid-major. They have great size – 32nd nationally in effective height – and good athleticism that should allow them to match up with Kansas, at least physically. With four regular contributors standing between 6’8” and 6’10” and an athletic point guard to boot, New Mexico State likes to attack the paint and pound the offensive glass (ninth-best offensive rebounding rate in college hoops). The vast majority of its points come near the basket or at the free throw line, while big men Pascal Siakam (7.7 RPG) and Tshilidzi Nephawe (7.6 RPG) rank among the top 75 offensive rebounders in the country. Defensively, they often apply pressure – both in the full-court and half-court – and do an excellent job of limiting three-point looks; opponents shoot just 29.5 percent from behind the arc, the seventh-best mark in America.

Weakness: New Mexico State was the most-turnover prone team in the WAC and among the worst in the entire country, ranking 326th in offensive turnover rate. Lowly Chicago State (8-24) – whose one strong-suit is causing turnovers – forced the Aggies to cough it up 43 times over the course of two near-upsets during conference play.

Key player: Daniel Mullings (12.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG). The Canadian guard missed 12 games in the middle of the season, and since he’s returned New Mexico State has not lost – 13 straight wins to end the season. Mullings’ athleticism enables him to get into the lane and draw fouls (6.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes), and there are few perimeter defenders as quick-handed as the senior; his steal rate ranks 11th-best in the country.

Outlook: The #13-seeded Aggies took San Diego State to overtime in the round of 64 last season, and despite getting a #15 seed this time around, they could cause trouble for the Jayhawks. If they can take care of the ball, the WAC champs’ size and length should allow them to match up physically and hang around with their higher-seeded foe.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Sun Belt

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Sun Belt Tournament

Dates: March 12-15

Site: Lakefront Arena (New Orleans, LA)

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What to expect: Georgia State was thought to be a Cinderella-in-the-making before an uneven and somewhat disappointing campaign quieted that talk. The Panthers still won the Sun Belt title, though, and few other teams boast a pair of guards as offensively gifted as R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son, and Ryan Harrow, the former Kentucky and NC State transfer. Possible challengers include Georgia Southern and Louisiana Monroe – two of the league’s best defensive units – along with Louisiana-Lafayette, which broke Georgia State’s heart in the title game last season. The top seed has not won this tournament since 2009, a trend Ron Hunter’s group hopes to buck this weekend. A double-bye to the semifinals helps.

Favorite: Georgia State. Georgia State was the most efficient offensive and defensive team in conference play this season, led by that stellar backcourt and Ron Hunter’s 2-3 zone – which limited eight of its last 10 opponents to under a point per possession. The Panthers’ defense has improved so much from a year ago, in fact, that it’s helped the team overcome slightly worse offensive numbers overall. That well-roundedness – along with a double-bye to the semifinals – puts them in great position this weekend.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Boise State, Mikh McKinney, Jay Spoonhour & Appalachian State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 21st, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Boise State. When senior leader and preseason all-conference guard Anthony Drmic was ruled out for the season in late December, it looked as if the wheels might come off at Boise State. The Broncos, which were picked fourth in the preseason in the Mountain West, lost four straight games to begin the New Year – including its first three conference contests – and only once managed to score over a point per possession without their 6’6’’ wing. “The margin for error is really slim without Anthony,” head coach Leon Rice said before his team welcomed UNLV to town on Tuesday. With the talented Runnin’ Rebels on deck before a tricky road trip to The Pit on Saturday, it looked as if things might get worse for Rice’s club before they get better. Luckily, Derrick Marks and James Webb III had other plans.

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports)

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness/USA TODAY Sports)

In a game broadcast remotely by ESPN, Marks gave Boise State offensive life against UNLV, scoring 28 points (on a whopping 26 attempts) and responding to any would-be Rebels’ runs with big shots of his own. After the visitors grabbed a late two-point lead, the senior calmly attacked the lane, stopped on a dime and hit a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos – which had dropped their last three contests that were decided by six points or less – came up with enough winning plays, including a flurry of steals at around the two-minute mark, to eke out an 82-73 victory. “That monkey has been flipped off our backs and thrown to the ground, no question,” Rice said of his teams relieving victory. Webb, an athletic forward whose minutes have picked up dramatically in Drmic’s absence, added 12 points and 15 rebounds in the win, including a high-flying breakaway dunk in overtime. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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Georgia State Still a Work in Progress Despite High Expectations

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 27th, 2014

Georgia State entered 2014-15 with unusually high expectations and national attention, especially for a Sun Belt program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. Guards R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow landed on several Top 100 lists, Louisville transfer Kevin Ware was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, and numerous publications tabbed the Panthers as an eventual Cinderella threat. After being blown out by Iowa State in the Tip-Off Marathon and losing to Colorado State, though, those expectations – or at least that attention – may have cooled a bit, replaced instead by slight concerns about what might be missing. While the team’s 83-78 victory over Oakland on Wednesday probably won’t allay those concerns, it did make one thing clear heading into December: the Panthers can win games on talent alone against mid-major competition, but they are still far from a finished product.

Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)

Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)

There seemed to be a tacit assumption entering the season that Georgia State’s backcourt would automatically improve with Ware entering the fold, despite the loss of senior point guard Devonta White. The problem with that assumption – though understandable, considering his name recognition and high-major cachet – is that Ware is not a point guard, nor is he ready to be a consistent, impact player. In the loss to Iowa State, the junior scored just four points in 32 minutes and never really asserted himself in any noticeable way on either end of the floor. Wednesday was a much different story, as he poured in a season-high 15 points (13 in the second half) and made several big plays late, but he still had several very quiet, very tentative stretches. White, on the other hand, was a relied-upon playmaker who finished his career ranked third in school history in points, assists and steals; he facilitated, scored and was a major reason Ron Hunter’s club was 23rd most efficient offense in basketball last season. Although Harrow (21.4 PPG, 5.2 APG) has been very successful playing on the ball in White’s stead, the departing guard’s sure-handed production has been missed, and will continue to be missed, until Ware finds his place.

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