Season in Review: By the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.  When he’s not traveling all night to get to Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson or Anaheim to cover games in the southwestern quadrant of the country, he’s acting as the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and writing about whatever strikes his basketball fancy.

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even ten or 15 if I add a second or third team – although, I’ll probably do that too). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls and the foulers) and pick one player for each jersey number.  Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will most remember from this season. And, in the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. So without further ado, here is my list of Players of the Year by uniform number.

A Famous Man Once Said We're All Rooting For Laundry, Ultimately

0 – Jacob Pullen, Sr, Kansas State – As I said before, tie goes to the senior, and in this case, the freshman Jared Sullinger gets beat out by a guy who left his heart on the court in his final game as a Wildcat, scoring 38 amazing points in a loss to Wisconsin in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Pullen goes down in history as the all-time leading scorer in Kansas State history, and his exploits in March will be talked about there for years to come.

00 – Rick Jackson, Sr, Syracuse – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, there is no difference between 0 and 00, but I see two big zeroes on Jackson’s back, and opponents saw a double-double machine for the majority of the season. He posted 17 double-dips on the season and, despite fading a bit down the stretch, was one of the most improved seniors in the country this year.

1 – Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke – Irving’s college career is complete as he declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.  You won’t find his name on any all-timer lists in Durham, as he played just 11 games in his time as a Blue Devil due to a toe injury. When he was on the court, however, he was among the handful of the best players in the nation, with quickness, awareness and maturity rarely seen among freshmen.

2 – Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke – His college career ended with one of the worst games of his career, but for huge swaths of this season, Smith was in the conversation for National Player of the Year. He took over the point guard role when Irving went down with his injury and did a fantastic job of balancing his team’s need for a creator with its need for Smith to score.

3 – Jeremy Lamb, Fr, Connecticut – Jim Calhoun’s precocious freshman earned this honor almost entirely in March. Sure, he had a streak of eight-straight double-digit scoring games in January and early February, but in March, Lamb took his game to a new level and became a consistent second option to Kemba Walker. From the start of the Big East Tournament straight through to the National Championship game, Lamb never failed to score in double figures and averaged 15.3 points per game over that stretch.

4 – Jackson Emery, Sr, BYU – Aaron Craft almost got the nod here, but once again we’ll give the upperclassman the benefit of the doubt. And make no mistake, Emery is very deserving on his own merits, regardless of class, averaging 12.5 points and 2.7 steals per game as Jimmer Fredette’s sidekick in the Cougars’ playmaking backcourt. Emery goes down in history as the career steals leader at BYU.

5 – Kendall Marshall, Fr, North Carolina – I’m not sure Marshall is the best player in the country wearing a single five on his back, but he was likely the most important one – and the biggest story at that. He took over the starting point guard position in Chapel Hill in mid-January and led the Tar Heels to a 17-3 record from there, averaging 7.7 often spectacular assists per game and kick-starting much-heralded freshman wing Harrison Barnes along the way.

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Final Four Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Saturday, April 2 – Houston, Texas

  • For my money, of which I will have very little after this trip to Houston, the moments prior to the start of the first game at Semifinal Saturday are the absolute best of the entire season.  The anticipation, buzz, nervous vibe, whatever you want to call it… is off the charts, as all four schools dare to dream the impossible.  Bands are playing, fans are screaming, media are flittering, and the whole place contains an electricity that is only captured in my opinion at the collegiate level of sports.  There’s something peculiar about schools and fandom that makes this so, and it’s different than what you see with fans in the various professional sports leagues around the country and world.  At any rate, if I could bottle that energy in the air in those fifteen minutes prior to the first tipoff, I’d strap a nipple to that thing and drink it down as a part of my daily regimen.  No question.

VCU Fans Were More Amped Than Anybody Here Tonight

  • That said, my seating arrangement in the pressbox of Reliant Stadium (remember, this is a football stadium by design) left a little to be desired.  The worst part actually wasn’t the view — I could see the players and the ball going through the hoop fine, and so forth — rather, it was the giant windows that kept the noise of the stadium below from reaching all of us within the box.  It muffled everything to the point where I felt I wasn’t actually watching the game live inasmuch as viewing it as a tourist observes the sharks as the local aquarium.  It was more like watching the game on television rather than being there, even though I didn’t have a high definition screen in front of me and the PA announcer was clear as day (piped into the room).

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The Other 26: Examining Butler & VCU’s Runs to the Final Four

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  Throughout the season, he has authored a column, The Other 26, which examines the teams from the non-power conferences and their impact on the game at a national level.  Today he attempts to tackle the questions of how Butler and VCU have crashed the party down in Houston.

First it was George Mason, and now it is their brethren Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic and distant cousin Butler in the Horizon League. Not too far off in the distance are those pesky Davidson Wildcats who burst onto the national scene in 2006, nearly knocked off Maryland in 2007 with freshman sensation Stephen Curry, and just missed crashing the Final Four party with this lusty crew by just a game back in 2008.

 

Mason Set the Template in 2006

By my count, that is four different teams—one more not too far away either—from true Mid-Major conferences to reach the tasteful waters of the Final Four since 2006. Prior to 2006, one would have to search all the way back to 1998 to find a non-power league team—the Utah Utes—that reached this stage. The overriding question that not only myself, but many others in the college basketball world have is: How are these guys doing it? We can all elect to listen to the self-proclaimed “experts” on the subject who know all when it comes to college hoops, but then again didn’t one of them state in so many words that VCU “doesn’t pass the laugh test?” Now, I will not pretend to stand atop the highest of horses and preach what I believe several of the reasons are why Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have had a great deal of success in the 2011 edition of the world’s greatest postseason tournament, but I will rather merely provide a slew of reasons why Butler and Virginia Commonwealth will be squaring off against one another on Saturday evening instead of Kansas and Pittsburgh, or any of the other marquee names out there for that matter.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 30th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Jim Calhoun warns that the shine will eventually wear off of prodigious coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. One element both coaches will have to consider in potential moves to higher-profile schools down the line is whether they want to take on the balance of increased scrutiny and higher expectations.
  • The Huskies returned to campus for a couple days to recharge their batteries, but passers-by on campus are still as excited as they were on Saturday. The team arrives in Houston Wednesday night, and its rock star status can’t go to the players’ heads if they want to succeed.
  • Patrick Sellers, a former UConn assistant, left the staff in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation of the program last May. Now coaching in China, Sellers remains pumped for his former employer, and, cleared by the NCAA, can seek work at the Division-I level if he wishes.
  • Calhoun believes there are no great teams in college basketball this season, with which we agree, but gives a reason with which we disagree. Calhoun insists that the transience of college basketball’s top players hurts the game, but without those players, even if they only stay one season, the game would be far less interesting.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: VCU Rams

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are his Butler and Connecticut previews. The third breakdown focuses on the most unlikely Final Four team of our lifetime: VCU.

VCU coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams from the CBI to the Final Four

Crucial Tourney Moments: The craziest part of VCU’s improbable run to the Final Four is not just that they’ve beaten five teams from BCS conferences, but that they’ve throttled their supposed superior opposition by a healthy 12 PPG. This isn’t a so-called Cinderella barely avoiding midnight time and time again, this is a sustained demolition of power programs: USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and, the most shocking of them all, Kansas. Because two of those wins were lopsided and only the Sweet 16 matchup with FSU truly in doubt as the seconds ticked down, let’s recap the sheer improbability of this run instead, summed up by these three facts: VCU has scored 1.17 points per possession during the tournament and four of their opponents ranked in the top 26 in defensive efficiency, their #185 effective FG% defense held the #1 effective FG% offense to their lowest FG% of the season, VCU’s season-high of 11 threes was eclipsed in three different games during the NCAA Tournament. I could go on.

Advantage Area: Unlike defense, VCU has been a capable offensive squad for the majority of the regular season. While their pinpoint 44% mark from deep during the NCAA Tournament is clearly higher than their season average, the Rams boast capable shooters across the board with three regular rotation players connecting on over 40% of their attempts. VCU is extremely aggressive with their dribble-drive offense that forces teams to help on penetration and risk surrendering open looks from three to the likes of Bradford Burgess, Brandon Rozzell and even versatile big man Jamie Skeen. Unlike UConn (freshman most of the time), Kentucky (freshman) and Butler (junior), the Rams boast a senior floor general in Joey Rodriguez that’s accumulated over 4,300 minutes as the orchestrator of this up-tempo attack. Even though Rodriguez likes the push the pace, he’s compiled 38 assists to just nine turnovers during the NCAA Tournament.

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NCAA Regional Diary From San Antonio

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is Always a Hit.

  • This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other).  Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris.  It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath.  The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively.  In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
  • I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal.  He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old.  With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
Shaka Can!
  • Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back.  Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game.  Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them.  It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
  • I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter.  Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand.  It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble.  He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
  • Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season?  Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought.  It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence.  Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing.  The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.29.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Head coach Brad Stevens believes that as long as he remains successful, he will keep being mentioned as a candidate for other jobs across the country. Stevens has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every major opening across the country, but the 34-year-old head coach is intensely focused on bringing the Bulldogs a title.
  • Junior guard Ronald Nored lost his starting spot and has been mired in a long shooting slump this season. However, without the defensive tenacity that Nored supplies off the bench, Butler might not be in the Final Four.
  • Last season, Butler was led by the trio of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. With Hayward gone to the NBA, Butler has forged on being led by Mack and Howard.
  • Every successful team needs to be led by a point guard. For the Final Four Butler Bulldogs, that role has been filled admirably by Mack.
  • A fun read about how the Chicago Cubs will invite Brad Stevens and VCU head coach Shaka Smart to conduct the seventh inning stretch at a game at Wrigley Field this season.

Connecticut

  • UConn has followed a similar path of peaks and valleys to its opponent on Saturday, Kentucky. Both teams have evolved considerably since squaring off at the Maui Invitational in November. The Huskies’ freshmen have matured at an incredible rate, and Kentucky is feeding off of Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson more than Terrance Jones, who had the ball most of the time in the early going.
  • Kemba Walker was named a first team AP All-American on Monday, joining Jimmer Fredette, JaJuan Johnson, Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger. A Wooden Award and Final Four MOP award are still in Walker’s sights.
  • VCU gets plenty of attention for its improbable run (and should), but how about UConn winning nine postseason games in 19 days to reach the Final Four? This March run from Jim Calhoun‘s squad didn’t look to be in the cards when the season started.
  • The UConn women’s team is one win away from matching their male counterparts. The UConn double-dip has been accomplished twice, in 2004 and 2009, and comparing the runs is inevitable for Huskies fans, writes The Hartford Courant‘s Jeff Jacobs.
  • At the time of his recruitment, Kemba Walker was considered a backup plan to Brandon Jennings, who spurned UConn and Arizona to spend a season overseas before entering the NBA draft. Jennings is doing well, but second-best has worked out pretty nicely for the Huskies.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • No one team had a more impressive day yesterday than the Ohio State Buckeyes. Their tremendous play may be due the emergence of freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who dished a career-best 15 assists. Craft, who comes off the bench, plays starter’s minutes for Thad Matta’s squad.
  • Once thought to be an afterthought on John Calipari’s Kentucky team, big man Josh Harrelson has made a huge contribution in leading the Wildcats to the Sweet 16. If Kentucky wants to continue its run, Harrelson needs to keep putting up solid numbers.
  • After their second-round upset over Syracuse, former bubble team Marquette is headed to the Sweet 16. Head coach Buzz Williams, a man known for his wide variety of emotions, could not be happier with his squad.
  • While Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes mostly lit up the stat sheet, Dexter Strickland served as a defensive menace in North Carolina’s win over Washington. Strickland was key in the Tar Heels’ comeback, as he was handed the assignment of guarding Washington’s Isaiah Thomas.
  • Following Washington’s loss to North Carolina to end its season, many are beginning to wonder if junior guard Thomas will return to school or enter the NBA Draft. Last week, coach Lorenzo Romar acknowledged that he would encourage Thomas to at least test the waters. The Huskies have turned Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson to the league in recent years, so in that regard, another early departure would hardly be surprising.

Southeast

  • Who would have thought at the midpoint of the season that Butler would be headed to another Sweet 16? Right now, their upset win over #1 seed Pittsburgh is gaining great acclaim across the country.
  • While Florida is happy with its Sweet 16 berth, its ultimate goal is beyond the Sweet 16. This should not be surprising, as the program knows how it feels to win college basketball’s ultimate prize.
  • After their healthy win over Gonzaga, BYU finds themselves in the Sweet 16. One Salt Lake Tribune columnist argues that the Cougars have a chance at the Final Four.
  • Wisconsin has recently held the reputation of being a quality team that gets quality contributions from a variety of guys. This tournament, it seems as if their role players are stepping into a more important position.
  • Florida’s advancing to the Sweet 16 was hugely influenced by the hot shooting of guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. The two guards, who have struggled with inconsistency in their careers, look to be on a hot streak for Billy Donovan’s Gators.

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NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks. These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television. As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents. Here’s Wednesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Wednesday – by John Stevens

Throughout the whole first half of the Alabama State vs. Texas-San Antonio game, the lament was frequently heard: “What on EARTH are we going to write about from this game?” UTSA came out and just socked the Hornets right in the collective jaw with easy drives into the paint and a defense that induced several unforced errors out of ASU. The halftime lead for UTSA was 27. And I know it sounds cliche’ to say it, but it’s true in this case — it wasn’t even THAT close. Melvin Johnson had 25 at the half — his CAREER HIGH, and ASU only had 21! — mostly on drives to the hole, silky fade-aways, and free throws. Everyone in the place shook their heads, wondering how they were going to endure watching another half of a spanking of this magnitude. Then, ASU coach Lewis Jackson began switching his defenses, Jeffery Middlebrooks started draining threes, and Chris Duncan started crashing the glass in force. The Roadrunner lead had shrunk to nine points late, but the Hornets could get no closer. Johnson only took four shots in the second half, and added just four points to end with 29. Despite the comeback by ASU, the matter was decided early. Johnson was just too good in that first half, and the Hornets simply took too long to shake off their jitters. That may have included the coaches — at one point in the first half, ASU received a technical foul for having six players on the floor. UTSA deserved the win, but I like the way ASU represented itself in the Dance by not just caving in. When they took the floor for that second half, there wasn’t one kid in an Alabama State uniform who thought that game was over.

My first tweet from UD Arena tonight complimented the Alabama State band. By far, the BEST I’ve ever seen and heard. Not only are the song choices original, but that wall of brass that comes from their section just makes you want to cry, and the young fellow on the drum kit will definitely put your subwoofer to the test. From the moment they played their first note, they had the whole arena in their pocket. I was simply one of a legion of listeners in the place who felt that way tonight.

People were tweeting, texting, and talking during the USC vs. VCU game about how they thought it was hard to watch, it was reminiscent of Wisconsin/Penn State from the Big Ten Tournament last week (I was at that game, and it was worse), and they couldn’t stand it. I would agree…but only for the first half. In the second, we saw guys try to take control and lift their squads, and I can always appreciate that. Jio Fontan (14/2 asst) got more aggressive in attacking the hole. Jamie Skeen (16/9) put his team on his back for several stretches, hitting mid-range jumpers and threes in succession, and Nikola Vucevic (11/13), frustrated on offense on this night, concentrated his efforts on defense and the glass. The chess match between coaches also got interesting, as Shaka Smart switched to a zone defense (on which more in a moment) and just flummoxed the Trojans, helping the Rams to distance themselves from USC late in the second half. It was almost as if the Trojans didn’t know what had hit them until it was too late.

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NCAA First Four Game Analysis – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2011

Last night went from 68 to 66 at the First Four in Dayton (we’re 2-0!), and here’s our analysis for tonight’s two games.

#16 UT-San Antonio vs. #16 Alabama State – East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 pm ET on truTV.

Gibson Represents UTSA's Best Hope to Advance

The UT-San Antonio Roadrunners finished just 9-7 in the Southland, but enter the NCAA Tournament winning six of their last seven games after pulling off an upset of favorite McNeese State in the final. UTSA boasts one of the best guards in the conference in Devin Gibson, a 17 PPG scorer who also ranks 30th in the nation in assist rate and lives at the free throw line. He’s clearly the centerpiece of the Roadrunner attack and will be vital to contain if Alabama State hopes to pull off the upset. The SWAC champion ranks in the 300s in both points per game and offensive efficiency, but they do enter the tournament just as hot as their opponent, having won 11 of 12. The Hornets employ an incredible rotation of 13 players averaging double-digit minutes, the most effective weapon being senior forward Tramayne Moyer, a 12.5 PPG scorer who shoots 50% from the floor but only plays 21 minutes per contest. Alabama State does grab an astounding 37% of their misses. If UTSA just limits that strength, they should be in the clear to advance and take on Ohio State in Cleveland on Friday. UTSA shoots fairly well from both the three point and free throw line at 36% and 72%, respectively, while Alabama State is incredibly porous at defending both. Despite their hockey-line style substitution patterns, the Hornets simply don’t have the firepower to down the Roadrunners.

The RTC Certified Pick: UT-San Antonio.

#11 USC vs. #11 VCU – Southwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 9 pm ET on truTV.

Jamie Skeen Will Have His Hands Full With Vucevic Inside

These two teams were undoubtedly surprised to not only see their names on the bracket released Sunday, but also as #11 seeds.  USC and VCU — the battle of the acronyms — come into tonight’s game on decidedly different paths.  The Pac-10 Trojans came on strong in the second half of the season, winning seven on their last ten games including nice victories over conference leaders Arizona and Washington.  They doing so through the play of the best power conference big man you’ve never heard of, Nikola Vucevic (17/10), and the steady guardplay of mid-season transfer Jio Fontan (4 APG, 1.6:1 ATO ratio).  Head coach Kevin O’Neill has his team playing its typically sturdy defense, and they’ll need it to counter the offensive talents of the Shaka Smart’s quartet of double-figure scorers, Jamie Skeen (15 PPG), Bradford Burgess (14 PPG), Brandon Rozzell (11 PPG) and Joey Rodriguez (11 PPG).  The matchup between Fontan and Rodriguez is particularly interesting because both players are the centerpieces of their respective offense, and while not big individual scorers, they make their systems run smoothly.  The question is whether the VCU team that ran through the CAA Tournament to the finals before bowing out to Old Dominion will show up, or will it be the Ram team that lost four of five to close the regular season?  It says here that with VCU’s inability to defend the post or the perimeter very well, USC will advance on the back of Vucevic’s talents inside and just enough support from his guards. 

The RTC Certified Pick: USC. 

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Set Your Tivo: 03.07.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Four automatic bids will be handed out this evening in places stretching from Connecticut to Las Vegas. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Colonial Championship (at Richmond, VA): VCU vs. Old Dominion — 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Old Dominion looks like a safe bet even if they lose but VCU more than likely has to win this game to make the NCAA Tournament. The Rams and Monarchs split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. This game will be all about pace and one team’s strong defense against the other’s potent offense. If Old Dominion can keep this game in the half court, they can let their stellar two point defense and rebounding take over. The Monarch’s are the best offensive rebounding team in the country while VCU ranks #303 in defensive rebounding percentage. Old Dominion also ranks highly in defensive rebounding, placing them among the best overall rebounding teams in the nation, led by Frank Hassell, averaging just under 15/10 on the season. Over his last eight games, Hassell has been even better, averaging 19/10 down the stretch. Not coincidentally, the Monarchs have won all eight of those games and 12 of their past 13. ODU is #9 in two point defense but allows 36.9% three point shooting, #298 in America. That has been the bugaboo for Blaine Taylor’s group and the Rams are one team that can really take advantage of that. Four out of ten VCU field goals attempted are threes and they shoot it at a pretty good clip, 35.6% this season. However, that percentage drops to 33.7% when you look at CAA games only. The Rams must create offense through their defense by forcing turnovers. That will offset part of the rebounding edge ODU is almost sure to have. An energetic and aggressive defense can help push the pace and take Old Dominion out of its rhythm. The Monarchs struggle to shoot and score, relying on their defense and rebounding to win games most of the time. Shaka Smart should use some zone from time to time in order to force Old Dominion to make jump shots, something they don’t do well. Rebounding out of a zone is always difficult (especially against the #1 offensive rebounding squad) but we feel it’s worth the risk. VCU shouldn’t spend all game in a zone but mixing it up defensively will greatly help their cause. Old Dominion gets 57.5% of its points from two point range but they have a few threats from deep, most notably Kent Bazemore. He’s arguably their best three point shooter and also a terrific defender, ranked eighth nationally in steal percentage.  The Rams shouldn’t have that much trouble answering Old Dominion from the arc considering they have a number of quality shooters, including Bradford Burgess (16/13 vs. George Mason yesterday), but they need to get some looks inside for Jamie Skeen. The Wake Forest transfer has had a terrific year in Richmond and is averaging 21.7 PPG over his last three. It’ll be tough to score against Old Dominion’s interior defense but Skeen should look to get to the free throw line where he’s a 73.7% shooter. VCU is a good free throw shooting team overall and they’ve made it to the line on 41.5% of their possessions in conference play. Foul trouble for Old Dominion would open up the interior a bit and allow the Rams to spread the floor easier. VCU had lost four of their last five games heading into the conference tournament but seems to have found new life just down the road from campus in Richmond. They’ll be slight underdogs tonight but this is anybody’s game. Old Dominion will likely win the rebounding battle but whoever controls the turnover margin and the tempo will likely win this game and clinch the automatic berth.

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CAA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2011

Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. With the CAA Tournament tipping on Friday, get up to speed on the conference and gain a leg up on your Big Dance Cinderella candidate research.

A Look Ahead… Postseason Style

  • First-Round Game to Watch: No. 8 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 9 Georgia State. It’s not the sexiest matchup out there, but then again, what first-round game is? The teams split the season series and always seem to play one another close. This one should be pretty interesting, too, in that whichever team wins will have to turn around and face the team with the longest winning streak in the nation: George Mason.
  • First-Round Player To Watch: Northeastern’s Chaisson Allen. One of the more underrated guards in the conference, Allen has a strong build doesn’t seem to break under pressure. There will be no greater pressure than this weekend, so look for Allen to have a decent showing.
  • Team Most Likely to Pull an Upset: William & Mary. If only because they beat their first-round opponent, James Madison, during the regular season. That and junior Quinn McDowell is a threat from anywhere on the floor.
  • Team Most Likely to be Upset: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams are really struggling coming into the CAA Tournament and unlike years past, they don’t seem to have the right demeanor about them to turn it around and make a run. Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about.
  • Team Most Likely to Win it All: George Mason. The Patriots have thoroughly dominated the league in the second half of the season and are playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time. Look for this to be a two-bid conference, with both George Mason and Old Dominion capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.

A Look Back

It has been a banner year for the CAA on many levels, and still (barring some upsets in the conference tournament) it looks as though the league will be sending only two teams to the NCAA tournament. That said, the CAA can boast that it’s one of two leagues, along with the Big East, to have six 20-game winners. It also finished with one team ranked in the Top 25 (George Mason), has the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (Charles Jenkins). There’s a lot to get to in the check-in/postseason preview, so follow along as we recap the regular season that was and look ahead to the postseason that will be.

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