Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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After Lackluster Season, ACC Must Improve Depth to Have the “Best Ever” Conversation Again

Posted by Lathan Wells on April 4th, 2014

Prior to the beginning of the college basketball season, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski infamously proclaimed that the ACC had the potential to be the greatest college basketball conference of all-time. That was a bold proclamation at the time, as we covered here, and with the 2013-14 season now drawing to a close, it’s become painfully apparent that the conference this year did nothing to stake such a claim. So the question then becomes, what does the ACC need to do in coming years to proudly proclaim itself the best basketball conference ever assembled? Here’s a road map for the league’s coaches and administrators.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference. (USA Today Sports)

The conference’s elite have to dominate the non-conference slate and enjoy copious postseason success. While there were a handful of marquee wins spread around prior to ACC play (North Carolina’s defeats of Michigan State, Kentucky, and Louisville; Duke’s defeat of Michigan; Syracuse handling Villanova), the league’s postseason results were anything but stellar. The conference managed to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but the upper tier didn’t produce much success when they got there. Duke lost in the opening round; North Carolina and Syracuse fell in the round of 32. Virginia, the regular-season and ACC Tournament champion, may have drawn a rough match-up in the Sweet Sixteen with Michigan State, but it could not advance (and UConn was able to handle the Spartans in the nexts round). The embarrassing result was that there was no ACC teams in the Elite Eight. These teams have to produce in postseason play in addition to their non-conference victories to help the perception of the conference return to an elite level.

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UConn and the ACC: The One That Got Away

Posted by Chris Kehoe on April 4th, 2014

When the most recent jumble of conference realignment was underway, the ACC squarely targeted the Big East for its newest conquests. Commissioner John Swofford wanted to add programs that were strong in the revenue sports of football and basketball, holding distinctive geographic locations that would open up the conference to new fans and marketing possibilities. The ACC won out in a big way, snagging prominent athletic programs at Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh from the old Big East. While these programs are have had varying degrees of success in the sport that drives realignment, Notre Dame is the only football name brand (and the Irish retained their football independence). So while the current athletic landscape is shaped by the financial juggernaut that is college football, the ACC locked up some of the country’s most elite basketball programs.

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

So while the ACC may have sought greater football legitimacy as its primary goal, the league also landed two massively successful basketball programs in Syracuse and Louisville. As a result, the ACC may very well have positioned itself as the basketball conference of the future, made up of most if not all of the best programs up and down the East Coast. That is, with one notable exception. As the league plundered the Big East, it may have made a drastic mistake from a basketball perspective. The ACC left behind a basketball powerhouse in its own right, Connecticut, a school that all but pleaded for entry into the ACC and a Final Four participant in a season when no conference team made it past the Sweet Sixteen. Recall the silly preseason talk about how the ACC was supposed to be ‘the best ever’, and it leaves you wondering if the exclusion of a program like UConn was the right move. The basketball program based in Storrs has had continued and sustained excellence in the sport over a long period of time, winning the national title three times since 1999 (as well as 2004 and 2011), and putting 13 players into the NBA as lottery picks since 1994. Few programs can match that record.

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Sizing Up the Future: A Glance at Next Year’s ACC Recruiting Classes

Posted by Chris Kehoe on April 3rd, 2014

While the ACC took a beating in its reputation over the course of the season, the league ended up with four very good teams (regardless of their early exits in the NCAA Tournament) that all spent some time in the Top 25. The league was top-heavy with a clear upper quadrant this year, but that didn’t stop the bottom from occasionally feeding on the weaknesses of some of the top teams, as Wake Forest beat Duke, Boston College and Georgia Tech beat Syracuse, and UNC lost to Wake and Miami. The ACC has traditionally run through Tobacco Road, but with the inclusion of powerhouses Syracuse and Louisville, the league will have a much more diverse, East Coast feel to it. The new rivalries that will develop among those schools are practically bred for prime time, with some of the sport’s most magnetic and well-known coaching personalities clashing on the sidelines, Hall of Famers with thousands of combined wins at this level. Their players aren’t halfway bad, either.

Louisville's Rick Pitino has to be pleased (contrary to his facial expressions above) with his well-rounded 6 man recruiting class(Getty Images).

Louisville’s Rick Pitino has to be pleased (contrary to his facial expressions above) with his well-rounded  six-man recruiting class(Getty Images).

Most other basketball conferences will be hard pressed to match the star power and coaching prowess that programs like Syracuse, Duke, UNC, and Louisville will bring to an already tradition-rich ACC. Much of the the league’s success can be laid on the shoulders of the incoming recruits that will provide these future made-for-TV moments. The 2014 recruiting class among the league’s programs seems to be fertile and deep, full of stars and instant impact performers who will enhance the collegiate landscape during their time on campus. The McDonald’s All-American game, played on Wednesday night in Chciago, featured seven future ACC players, all headed to Tobacco Road. While Duke’s top-ranked class has received much of the early accolades, North Carolina also is bringing in a potent blend of athleticism and shooting ability.

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AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

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  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #4 Louisville 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #8 Kentucky’s 74-69 win over #4 Louisville. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. The atmosphere was unbelievable and the game lived up to the hype. The build up for the Sweet 16 edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass rightfully garnered a ton of national attention leading up to the tip. And boy, was it worth it. Lucas Oil Stadium was overtaken by Louisville and Kentucky fans. Red and blue were all over the place and both factions were loud and involved throughout the night. The game, itself, was a nail-biter to the very end. Both sides were living and dying with every possession and that made for an amazing atmosphere. When Kentucky emerged victorious, the Kentucky section acted as if a weight had been lifted from its shoulders. On the other hand, the Louisville fans were heartbroken over the close lose to their bitter rivals.
  2. Free throw shooting and rebounding did Louisville in. In a close game like Friday night, you can often pinpoint factors that played a big role in deciding the game. Those two factors in Louisville’s loss were its poor free throw shooting and inability to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. The Cardinals were just 13-of-23 (including 6-of-15 in the first half) from the free throw line. Included in that statistic was that senior standout guard Russ Smith went just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Louisville also struggled keeping Kentucky’s bigs off the rebounding glass. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and gathered 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. A huge Kentucky offensive rebound came at the 2:11 mark when sophomore forward Alex Poythress grabbed a putback and converted a three-point play to turn a 66-63 deficit into a 66-66 tie – and that helped set the stage for the Wildcats to ultimately grab the lead and get the victory.

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Battle of the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by C.D. Bradley & Brian Joyce on March 28th, 2014

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The most intense rivalry in college basketball renews Friday night in Indianapolis when Louisville and Kentucky square off in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. C.D. Bradley, who writes about the American for RTC, and Brian Joyce, who covers the SEC, preview the showdown and what it means to the basketball-mad bluegrass state.

C.D. Bradley: A lot of people will tell you that Duke and North Carolina is the top rivalry in college basketball, but it’s impossible to convey the ever-present antipathy between red and blue. A big part of it is the usual once-a-year nature of the rivalry, but this will be the sixth time Louisville and Kentucky have met in the NCAA Tournament. For Louisville, which had snatched the advantage over the past year, winning a national title and ending this season in the top five of the national rankings while the Wildcats struggled, the possibility of having their potential repeat title run ended by their neighbors to the east is a doubly unpleasant notion. What does this game mean for UK fans?

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Brian Joyce: One might assume that Kentucky fans would be relieved to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance after losing to South Carolina and Arkansas a month ago, but a person with that theory must not know Kentucky fans very well. A win over Wichita State has the Big Blue Nation in a frenzy over the potential of their Wildcats if things come together like they did on Sunday afternoon in Saint Louis. It may even be possible that Kentucky fans are slightly overlooking Louisville. Julius Randle played all of four minutes in the second half of the Wildcats’ victory in December after dominating with 17 points during the first 20 minutes. The Cards struggled with Randle and Kentucky’s length, and while Louisville is a much different team at this point in the season the challenge of stopping the Cats’ imposing front line remains. Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington he has beaten his rival in five of the last six meetings, and Kentucky fans expect that trend to continue.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 26th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, which begins Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with Tennessee vs. Michigan followed by Louisville vs. Kentucky. The South Regional Reset and the West Regional Reset published yesterday, and the East Regional Reset will release later today. Make sure to also follow @RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.

New Favorite: #4 Louisville. The new favorite is the old favorite, but after the first four days of Tournament action, determining a favorite was not an easy task. Louisville was pushed to the brink by #13 seed Manhattan in its first game before needing a late flurry Saturday to race by #5 Saint Louis. The Cardinals still appear to be the best team in this region, but they are going to need to be sharper in Indianapolis than they were in Orlando if they want to advance to their third consecutive Final Four. To be sharper, Rick Pitino’s squad is going to need guard Russ Smith to elevate his play. The senior has struggled thus far, shooting just 6-of-19 from the field and committing 13 turnovers over the first two games.

The intensity in Indy Friday evening should be at an all-time high.

The intensity in Indy Friday evening should be at an all-time high.

Horse of Darkness: #11 Tennessee. For the third time in the four years of the First Four, a team has won three games to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee will arrive in Indianapolis after a win over Iowa in Dayton and wins over #6 Massachusetts and #14 Mercer in Raleigh. The Volunteers showed during those three wins that they are a very tenacious defensive team and possess a bruising tandem in the post with forwards Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. The most amazing part of Tennessee’s run to the second weekend might be that Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin had been viewed as someone on the hot seat late in the regular season. There was even a faction of the Volunteers fan base that banded together to try to get the school to fire Martin and hire former coach Bruce Pearl. You have to wonder what those fans are thinking now, as the team is headed to the Sweet Sixteen, now with Martin at the controls.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Louisville 66, #5 Saint Louis 51

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2014

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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.

Luke Hancock Seems to Always Save the Day

Luke Hancock Seems to Always Save the Day

  1. Ugly Wins Are Still Wins. Wins are wins, and NCAA Tournament wins are NCAA Tournament wins, but for the second consecutive game, Louisville got into a rockfight with a team that wanted to play uglyball. And uglyball they played, which is yet another reason why these Cardinals are so dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. Rick Pitino’s team would prefer to get up and down the floor and score in transition, but when called upon, they can also get into these defensive slugfests and still come through victorious. How does 12-of-33 shooting from a starting backcourt sound? How about 16-of-24 from the line? What about 19 turnovers? It wasn’t a pretty weekend for Rick Pitino’s team here in Orlando, but they’ve survived and advanced, and that’s all that matters.
  2. At Some Point Luke Hancock Won’t Come Through, Right? On Thursday night it was Hancock’s steal, bucket and back-to-back treys that finally gave his team the breathing room it needed to put away a scrappy Albany team. Today it was his back-to-back threes to break Saint Louis’ momentum coming out of the half that allowed the Cards to regain their footing with a workable margin (8-10 points in this game was like 15-18 points in most). His 21 points on 6-0f-15 shooting wasn’t highly efficient, but it more than picked up for this teammates Russ Smith and Chris Jones, who combined for 6-of-18 shooting and spent much of the game mired in a funk. But as already mentioned, Hancock’s greatest value over the weekend was more the timeliness of his shooting and play-making than his overall numbers.
  3. Saint Louis Got the Game It Wanted. It just couldn’t take complete advantage. An 0h-fer from the three-point line (0-of-16) did not help, especially considering that the Billikens came in shooting a solid 36.6 percent from distance and gathering 31.1 percent of its total points from there. But defensively Saint Louis did what it wanted, and it showed in the Louisville players’ frustration for much of the game. The problem was on the offensive end — stop us if you’re heard this before. Saint Louis experienced too many long scoring droughts for the Billikens to make a sustained run — seven minutes in the first half; five minutes in the second — and Louisville, despite its awful foul shooting rate — wasn’t about to fall into the late-game trap that NC State blindly wandered into two days ago.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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

South Region

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Louisville 71, #13 Manhattan 64

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

Luke Hancock Showed His Poise in Saving Louisville Tonight (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Hancock Showed His Poise in Saving Louisville Tonight (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Luke Hancock, For the Win. Experience might be somewhat overrated, but winning experience probably isn’t. Having been in tight spots before and come through them successfully gives players the resolve to repeat those achievements, and that’s what we saw from Luke Hancock tonight. With Louisville having trouble scoring and Manhattan firmly believing that it could actually beat the defending champs, Hancock used his ice-cool moxie to pick off a crosscourt pass that led to a foul and two free throws followed by a couple of huge momentum-swing threes. Those eight points from the 1:53 mark on finally gave the Cardinals enough breathing room to survive and advance, but what was remarkable about it was just how unremarkable it was. Hancock has proven to be an assassin, and he’s done nothing to change that reputation.
  2. Eye of the Cardinal. Many people are picking Louisville to make another deep run in this year’s NCAA Tournament from the #4 seed, but it’s clear that this team has some deficiencies that last year’s group did not have. What I was hoping to see, though, was some of their patented aggressiveness — the we-shall-bend-you will that the 2013 Cardinals carried in spades — and I only really saw it in the final few minutes of the game. Much of this no doubt had to do with an off shooting night and the difficulties that Manhattan’s pressure caused the Cardinals, but given that this year’s team has much less margin for error, they’d probably be best served bringing a complete effort from the opening tip next time around.
  3. All Credit to Steve Masiello. The Manhattan head coach probably earned himself a lot of money tonight — either from his own school or a possible suitor. His players competed with fantastic intensity throughout the game, and they never relented until the final buzzer. Much will be made about how Manhattan nearly out-Louisvilled Louisville, but the fact of the matter is that Masiello was quite the apt pupil working for Pitino all those many years (from ballboy to assistant coach and everything in-between). The way he stalked around the sidelines, cajoled and encouraged his players, even the way he speaks about the game of basketball — some might say that they were looking at another young Pitino.

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