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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Triangle Basketball Apocalypse: A Retrospective

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2014

NC State, Duke and North Carolina all lost over the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament in excruciating fashion: NC State led essentially the whole game before slowly relinquishing a 99 percent safe (according to kenpom.com) lead in the final four minutes to Saint Louis; Duke’s stars failed to produce en route to also blowing a 90 percent safe lead in the final five minutes to a double-digit underdog; North Carolina made the round of 32, but never got a last shot (presumably to win the game) because of a hesitant clock operator. Let’s take a deeper look at all three.

Roy Williams was understandably deflated after bizarre finish. (credit: Christine Nguyen / Durham Herald Sun)

Roy Williams was understandably deflated after a bizarre finish in San Antonio. (credit: Christine Nguyen / Durham Herald Sun)

There’s no sugarcoating the NC State loss. It was brutal to follow. Drawn out and essentially feeding on itself (each missed free throw made the following ones even more difficult), it was just the toughest collapse to watch. Truthfully it was the worst collapse in a very long time. No one finished watching that game thinking that the better team (at least at this moment) had won. The Wolfpack dominated the first 37 minutes before Saint Louis got desperate and reached into the well-worn halls of NC State history for Jimmy V’s relentless fouling strategy. It worked. The Wolfpack made eight of 18 free throws in the final 2:44 of the game, while the dormant Billikens offense jumped to life, scoring 16 points over the same span (19 points if you count Jordair Jett‘s and-one with three minutes left that started the comeback). That was just shy of a third of Saint Louis’ offensive production over the first 37 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Jim Crews’ team went on to win in overtime after Tyler Lewis rattled out the would-be game winner at the buzzer from (gulp) the free throw line. Good luck finding a more drawn-out collapse.

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What’s Trending: NCAA Tournament First Weekend

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 24th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Welcome to the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Only this meme can succinctly capture it all…

Capture

h/T @WorldOfIssac

Aaron Craft

I am not a mean person (I’m also not a Photoshop wiz). But this was very mean, despite being funny. It also felt necessary due to all the positive publicity the great Aaron Craft has received during his four years in Columbus.

Mark Gottfried

NC State had it locked up. TJ Warren was more or less rolling and the Billikens couldn’t keep up. But some horrific free throw shooting and what appeared to be apathetic coaching doomed the Wolfpack to the cruelest of NCAA Tournament losses.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 83, #14 Mercer 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 23rd, 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.

Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Led by Josh Richardson Saturday night, Tennessee rolled on to the Sweet 16. Cuonzo Martin’s squad was dominant in two Raleigh wins. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  1. Tennessee dominated in the paint. The Volunteers have two wide-bodies in the post and they made good use of them tonight. In the first half, Tennessee hammered the Bears on the glass, holding an incredible +20 edge in total rebounds in route to a 42-27 halftime lead. With eight minutes to go in the game, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes had 16 rebounds and the entire Mercer team had nine. In Friday’s big upset over #3 seed Duke, the Bears found success attacking the weak Blue Devil interior to the tune of +16 in points-in-the-paint. But against the rugged Volunteers, that edge went to Tennessee by a convincingly margin (+12). Stokes has become one of the most impressive performers in this year’s Tournament, sporting averages of 20.3 points and 15.0 rebounds in the three Tennessee wins.
  2. Mercer needed this to be a close game going down the stretch. Coming into the game, the Bears had a decided edge in close game performance, but they just couldn’t get the score tight enough in the second half for that to matter. Part of the reason that Tennessee is rated so highly by possession-based computers — despite a less than gaudy 23-12 record coming into the game — is that the Volunteers have won a lot of blowouts, but have lost all five games decided by five points or less on the season. By contrast, Mercer went 8-2 in close games, which includes winning five of its six overtime contests during the year. Down by 19 early in the second half tonight, the Bears got the lead down to 11 with just over two minutes left, but were never close enough to put any real game pressure on Tennessee. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #14 Mercer 78, #3 Duke 71

Posted by Brad Jenkins 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.

Mercer guard Langston Hall (21) and other Mercer players celebrate after the second half of an NCAA college basketball second-round game against Duke, Friday, March 21, 2014, in Raleigh, N.C. Mercer won 78-71. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Mercer guard Langston Hall (21) and other Mercer players celebrate after the Bears shocked Duke Friday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. It’s better to have great young talent than good experienced talent, but not always. Mercer had a huge experience edge coming in with five senior starters in its lineup. Their poise and execution were at a high level almost the entire game, and in the end that was just enough to overcome the disparity in talent. The talent gap was most apparent on the offensive boards where Duke dominated with a +13 advantage. But the Bears were better in all of the fundamental stats, winning the turnover battle (+4) and shooting much better from the field (by nearly 20 percent). For most of the contest Mercer got the shots they wanted and were the more fundamentally sound team. The Bears were also the calmer-looking group down the stretch, perhaps aided by the confidence gained in winning five overtime games this year.
  2. Duke’s defense was historically bad this year. For most of the game Mercer was able to execute its half-court offense and get good shots, especially at the rim. And as was the case for much of the season, Duke couldn’t defend without fouling. We all knew that interior defense would be a weakness for them this year, but most thought that the Blue Devils would make up for that with great perimeter pressure. That did not turn out to be the case. Some think Duke had a harder time than most adjusting to the enforcement of rules protecting offensive players from defensive hand-checking, as well as making it harder to draw charges. That may be part of it, but it its more likely that this group just doesn’t have the mindset to dig in and stop people. Read the rest of this entry »
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How Duke Advances in the Bracket of Death

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 21st, 2014

Upon first glance, Duke had to be happy about not landing out West in Arizona’s bracket, where Duke has traditionally struggled to win. But after that initial glance, Duke found themselves in what pundits have dubbed the ‘Bracket of Death’ along with underseeded Louisville, undefeated Wichita State, and Big Ten champions Michigan. Duke will have their work cut out for them in this bracket, with three teams who were in last year’s Final Four in the same region. But Duke shouldn’t look past their first round opponent, the Mercer Bears, champions of the Atlantic Sun, who knocked off last year’s darling Florida Gulf Coast in their conference championship. Mercer is an extremely capable offensive force this year, not on the level that Duke is, but still extremely capable in their own right. While only ranked 111th in tempo-free offense, Mercer has great rankings in traditional statistics compared to the rest of the nation. The Bears are 25th in team PPG, 38th in RPG, 10th in APG, and 29th in FG% in the entire nation.

Jabari Parker is ready for his NCAA Tournament debut vs. Mercer (credit: Stephan Savoia / AP)

Jabari Parker is ready for his NCAA Tournament debut vs. Mercer (credit: Stephan Savoia / AP)

This promises to be an exciting offensive shootout in Raleigh, where Duke has an obvious home court advantage of playing in their state and in an area they know quite well. Both Duke and Mercer struggle defensively, so points will likely be at a premium in their matchup. Both are extremely capable three point shooting teams, and they take advantage of that strength by letting it fly early and often. While the star power on Duke is known to almost everyone, Mercer has a stud of their own in senior guard Langston Hall.  He is one half of a terrific backcourt with Anthony White, but what separates Mercer from traditional small schools is their size. Most successful small schools have elite guard play as  there is a large pool of smaller and talented players with guard skills to recruit from nationwide. What often separates the big-time schools from these mid-major schools is the presence of star big men, or at least serviceable size upwards of 6’9” on their rosters. And Mercer has some big bodies on its roster, which may prove difficult for Duke to counter, as size and defense tends to be their Achilles heel.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

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Half the day is in the books, and eight teams are headed home. We may not know what the Thursday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Last season, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions advanced to the Sweet 16. Mercer will try to repeat that accomplishment this season, but winning Friday’s game against Duke will be a very tall task. Duke forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood lead a very talented Blue Devils squad that is an elite scoring team. There are no teams with close to Duke’s talent in the Atlantic Sun so Mercer has no basis for comparison leading into Friday afternoon’s action. Another thing that is working against Mercer is its lack of NCAA Tournament experience. The Bears have not been to the tournament since 1985. On the other hand, Duke has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995. If Mercer is able to keep it close Friday, it will be because of its strong offense going up against an iffy Duke defense. Mercer averages an impressive 79.5 points per game and is shooting 47.5% from the field. Bears senior guard Langston Hall has been an impressive player throughout his collegiate career and his ability to make plays will be paramount to the team’s fortunes Friday. Mercer is a scrappy bunch that can keep it close in the first half, but expect Duke’s talent to take over in the second half and lead the Blue Devils to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

#6 Baylor vs #11 Nebraska – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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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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Bracket Prep: Coastal Carolina, Wichita State, Mercer

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 10th, 2014

bracketprep2(2)

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Three more teams — one well known, the other two less so — punched their tickets on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.

Coastal Carolina

Cliff Ellis And Coastal Carolina Are Your Big South Champions -- Finally. Welcome To The Big Dance Chanticleers!

Cliff Ellis And Coastal Carolina Are Your Big South Champions — Finally. Welcome To The Big Dance Chanticleers!

  • Big South Champion (21-12, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #228/#226/#239
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -1.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Seven Big South teams won 10 conference games this season, but in the end, it was Coastal Carolina who emerged from the pack to win the Big South Tournament. Former Auburn and Clemson head man Cliff Ellis is now in his seventh season at Coastal, and his first Tournament appearance with the Chanticleers has to feel long overdue. This was the fifth consecutive season that CCU had won more games than they lost in conference play, and the program posted 28 wins in both 2010 and 2011 only to be upset in the conference tournament final in each season. No Championship Week heartbreak for Ellis’ team this season, however, as the Chanticleers are dancing for the first time in over two decades.
  2. The Chanticleers will be one of the better defensive teams on the lower seed lines. Ellis’ bunch was the best defensive team in the Big South all season long, and they put the clamps on Winthrop Sunday, forcing the nation’s 14th-best three-point shooting outfit into an 8-of-26 effort from behind the arc. They also compete on the boards – an effort spearheaded by 6’10” senior El Hadji Ndieguene (10.1% OR, 18.5% DR). Defense and rebounding are often major weaknesses for Cinderella hopefuls, but that will not be the case with Coastal Carolina. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 10th, 2014

morning5

  1. It has been March for a while now, but it didn’t really feel like until Friday night when teams started receiving NCAA Tournament automatic bids. The first team to do so was Harvard by virtue of winning the Ivy League regular season title. They were soon joined by MercerCoastal CarolinaWichita State, and Eastern Kentucky. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was Milwaukee beating Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals, but we wouldn’t necessarily call them a bid thief because we doubt that Green Bay will be able to get an at-large bid.
  2. The opposite side of the end of the regular season are the coaches being shown the door. Todd Howard appears to be the first one fired after he was let go by IUPUI. Howard went 26-70 at the school including 6-26 this year (1-13 in the Summit League). On the other end of the spectrum is Oliver Purnell, who will return next season at DePaul despite the Blue Demons going 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. We understand that Purnell just finished year four of a seven-year deal, but with the city’s plans for possibly building an arena for the school to play in you would expect that they would want to provide a better on-court product to get some votes behind the project.
  3. It seems strange, but in some ways Florida–the #1 team in the country–is largely being ignored. Now some of that may have to do with Wichita State and its undefeated season. It certainly is not because these Gators–particularly the seniors–have not been in the national spotlight before. They will never be the back-to-back championship Gator teams, but they have been to three straight Elite Eights. As Andy Staples points out the growth of this group has been substantial and if they are to get over that Elite Eight hurdle that experience may be the key.
  4. We have seen a lot of strange transfer cases over the years, but the one involving Bubu Palo has to be one of the more unique ones. Palo, who has been mentioned in this space many times, missed much of this season after being suspended following a sexual assault charge that was later dropped. In January, a judge ruled that Palo should be allowed back on the team and he was, but he has not played for team since rejoining the team. Now it appears that Palo, a senior, will attempt to transfer and seek a hardship waiver. Honestly, with how strange this case has been and how easily the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers we would not be surprised to see Palo wind up at another school next year.
  5. If you are looking for an under-the-radar team to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, you could do worse than George Washington. The Colonials are currently 22-7 overall and 10-5 in the Atlantic-10 (4th in the conference), but will be getting Kethan Savage, their second-leading scorer, back in time for the conference tournament. Savage has been out since January 18 after missing the last 11 games with a broken foot. Before his injury, the Colonials were 15-3. Since the injury, they are 7-4. Obviously some of that has to do with playing a tougher conference, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes Savage and the team to get used to playing together because if they adapt quickly the could be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
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Conference Tournament Primer: Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 4th, 2014

Championship Fortnight is under way, and what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments as they get started. Today, the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun tip things off.

Dates: March 4, 6, 9
Sites: Campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)

ASun 2014 tourney bracket

What to expect: Can Dunk City recapture the magic from last season? Florida Gulf Coast won the Atlantic Sun Tournament as the No. 2 seed last year — beating top-seeded Mercer — before becoming the first No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The scenario’s a little different this time around, as the Eagles hold the top seed for the conference tournament. Sherwood Brown, FGCU’s star from 2013, is no longer around, but Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the high-flying crew are ready for Round Two. Langston Hall and Mercer pose the biggest threat.

Favorite: Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles nearly broke through in 2012 during their first season of NCAA Tournament eligibility, falling in the A-Sun title game to Belmont. Dunk City certainly did the trick last season.

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O26 Storylines: BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Louis…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 21st, 2014

There’s a lot going on in the O26 conferences right now. Green Bay just became the first team to clinch a regular-season title after defeating Valparaiso on Thursday night. The league races in the Big Sky, Big South, Conference USA and several other conferences became more interesting. The battle on the bubble continues to heat up. Let’s take a look at this week’s O26 storylines.

BYU is inching closer to an NCAA Tournament bid.

BYU is inching closer to an NCAA Tournament bid.

What does BYU’s win against Gonzaga mean?

I believe BYU’s 73-65 victory Thursday night against Gonzaga has a two-pronged effect. First, the Cougar’s win puts them back on the right side of the bubble. Sure, the 19-10 overall record and 11-5 mark in WCC play doesn’t look that great. But BYU boasts the 43rd-best schedule in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. BYU now has wins at Stanford, against Texas, vs. Saint Mary’s (twice) and against Gonzaga. That’s not too shabby. And yes, there are some really bad losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. But with the weak state of the bubble, BYU’s resume currently projects as tournament-worthy. Should the Cougars be able to avoid a loss to either Portland or San Diego in the final two games of the regular season, as well as make a run to at least the WCC Tournament semifinals, BYU should be headed to the NCAA Tournament. The effect part of Thursday’s result deals with Gonzaga. Is its NCAA Tournament bid safe? I don’t think so. It’s hard to believe that a Gonzaga team with a 23-5 record isn’t a lock for the Big Dance. But if you take a closer look at the Bulldog’s resume, it’s easy to become skeptical. Their best win? West Virginia? BYU?  Then add in a bad loss at Portland. That’s not exactly a stone-cold lock. Gonzaga finishes with three road games — San Diego, Pacific, Saint Mary’s. If the Zags lose on of those three and fail to win the WCC’s automatic bid, I’m not so sure Gonzaga is a tournament team. KenPom projects Gonzaga to win its last three regular-season contests. That should be enough. But Gonzaga is far from a lock at this point.

Should we be skeptical of SLU in the NCAA Tournament?

There’s one reason I pose this question. There’s just been so many close calls for Saint Louis this season. The Billikens have won six games by four or fewer points this season, including the last three games against George Mason in overtime, VCU and La Salle. SLU has been able to pull out these games seemingly all season long, except for a couple against Wichita State and Wisconsin. There’s something to be said about starting five seniors who keep calm and find a way to win no matter what. SLU’s defense is great, rated second in the country according to Ken Pomeroy by allowing 88.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s stout. But the offense is just 144th with 106.1 points per 100 possessions. Last year we saw SLU, as a #4 seed, fall in the second round to #12 seed Oregon. I worry we could see the same scenario play out this season: The Billikens get matched up with an uber-athletic team in the second round, have trouble scoring and can’t hold the team in the 50s. SLU is just such a puzzle to me. I could see them in the FInal Four, but I could also see them out in the second round.

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