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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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Circle of March: Vol. XXII

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2015

One half of the Elite Eight was established last night, and we’ll get to the other half in merely hours. Twelve teams remain on the Circle of March. Onward and upward.

2015_CircleofMarch_V22 (1)

Eliminations (03.26.15)

  • North Carolina
  • Xavier
  • West Virginia
  • Wichita State

 

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 78, #5 West Virginia 39

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Kentucky Flexed Its Muscles Tonight (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Flexed Its Muscles Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Don’t poke the bear. To be honest it wouldn’t have mattered. And maybe it didn’t matter. Kentucky was going to win this game anyway and perhaps the Wildcats playing about as well as they can (except for Karl-Anthony Towns) was just a coincidence, but we got to see what the Wildcats can do when they are firing on all cylinders. It is both beautiful and scary. If the Wildcats play like this, there isn’t a team in the country that is going to give them a legitimate challenge the rest of the way. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to any of the remaining teams; it is just the truth. For much of the season, Kentucky’s offense lagged well behind its defense, but now that it has caught up teams are basically left to hope the Wildcats have an off night. Tonight was not one of those nights.
  2. This was complete meltdown by West Virginia. Kentucky played great, but West Virginia embarrassed itself with its performance tonight. Outside of a few mini-runs that the Mountaineers put together thanks to some sloppiness from Kentucky (like Marcus Lee trying to break the press), Bob Huggins’ team couldn’t put anything else together. It was a rough end to an outstanding career in Morgantown for Juwan Staten, who deserved a better ending than this. West Virginia rarely has elite level talent coming to Morgantown, but we have learned over the years that Bob Huggins doesn’t need that to succeed. This may have been the lowest low of a storied career for the longtime head coach.
  3. Competition or coronation? It might seem premature to already hand the national title over to Kentucky, but it has been a long time since we have seen a team this dominant. Actually, the last team was 1991 UNLV… and we all know how that worked out. The fact is that there is no 1991 Duke waiting around the corner this year (people forget that one year later that lovable underdog became one of the great teams of all-time). Barring a collapse by Kentucky, which is much less likely given their ridiculous depth, we cannot see anybody beating them. So you might as well crown them now.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.24.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 24th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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.

Midwest Region

Can Huggins Use His Press to Get WVU Back to the Final Four? (USA Today Images)

Can Huggins Use His Press to Get WVU Back to the Final Four? (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky may not be 1991 UNLV, but they’re looking pretty darn tough at 36-0.
  • Kentucky has been tested a couple times this season, but West Virginia may provide the Wildcats’ most physical battle yet. The “relentless” Mountaineers are not only strong, but they will also keep up the pressure all game long.
  • For West Virginia, the formula to beating Kentucky will have to involve the press. The Mountaineers have forced 40 turnovers over their past two games, and will need to force a bunch on Thursday to have a chance against the undefeated Wildcats.
  • West Virginia had a huge win over Maryland in the second round of the tournament, but much was made after the game about the way in which coach Bob Hugginsdaughters behaved during and after the game. The daughters were particularly harsh towards Maryland senior Dez Wells, taunting him with references to rape allegations he faced at Xavier. Wells’ case was never taken to court and he received a settlement from Xavier for a wrongful expulsion in 2013.
  • Notre Dame may have one of the best offenses in the country but the Irish wouldn’t have reached the Sweet Sixteen without its defense. Down late against Butler, the Irish came up with a couple huge stops to send the game into overtime. “Everybody talks about our offense,” said senior captain Pat Connaughton. “But to be able to get that stop on the defensive end to send us into overtime and send us to the Sweet Sixteen is something I’m very proud of these guys for.”
  • Steve Vasturia may only be Notre Dame’s fifth leading scorer, but he’s played a huge role in the Irish’s run so far. With much of the defense’s focus on Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, and Zach Auguste, Vasturia exploded for 20 points against Butler.
  • Kansas may be the blue blood, but Wichita State earned the title of Kings of Kansas for 2015. Making a Sweet Sixteen is always great, but doing so against Kansas made it even sweeter for the Shockers.
  • Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was given resounding boos when showed on the jumbotron at the Kansas/Wichita State game on Sunday. Whether it was the fact that he had both teams on his shirt or his new policy on education funding, Jayhawks and Shockers’ fans came together for that one moment this past weekend.

West Region

  • Check out Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes having some fun with an NCAA stenographer during a media session. Yes, like a court stenographer.
  • Wisconsin is looking forward to Thursday’s matchup against North Carolina. With UNC’s size and athleticism, the Badgers are expecting a fun game.
  • It’s looking more and more like North Carolina big man Kennedy Meeks will be out against Wisconsin. Given Wisconsin’s outstanding front line, this could prove especially problematic for the Tar Heels.
  • Even though coach Roy Williams has a resumé that includes two National Championships, seven Final Fours, and 16 Sweet Sixteens, he’s not taking this most recent trip for granted. However, it can be tough to do so, considering the degree to which excellence is demanded at UNC. “Let’s not have a misconception. These kids have had a pretty doggone good run for the last three years,” Williams said. “We’ve won 25, 24, and 26 [games], and … a lot of teams would like that.”
  • Xavier big man Matt Stainbrook is known for his play on the court, but he’s not actually on scholarship. To make a little cash on the side, Stainbrook drives part-time for the popular mobile application Uber.
  • Though the Musketeers have seemingly flown under the radar, this is Xavier‘s fifth Sweet Sixteen in the past eight years. The only other teams to achieve that level of sustained success are Michigan State, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Arizona. That’s not bad company.
  • Other than Kentucky, Arizona may just be the hottest team in college basketball. The Wildcats haven’t lost since February 7 and have cruised into the Sweet Sixteen. If the Wildcats can keep it up, things may come full circle with a potential Elite Eight matchup against Wisconsin, the team that knocked them out in the same round just a year ago.
  • Arizona sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has played extremely well for the Wildcats thus far. In addition to his ability to lock down just about anyone, Hollis-Jefferson has the athleticism and skill to be a force on the offensive end.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 24th, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtceastregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

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

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

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

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

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

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Circle of March: Vol. XXI

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2015

How Sweet it is! From 333 eligibles 21 short days ago to a mere 16 remaining. It was a fun weekend with numerous ups and downs, but the diversity of strength and talent in this year’s Sweet Sixteen looks fantastic. Can’t wait until Thursday night!

2015_CircleofMarch_V21

Eliminations (03.22.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #5 West Virginia 69, #4 Maryland 59

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 23rd, 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.

West Virginia's pressure was too much for Maryland tonight. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia’s pressure was too much for Maryland tonight. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. West Virginia’s pressure finally wore Maryland down. Maryland was going to turn the ball over – everyone does against West Virginia – but in the first half, it didn’t let those miscues (nine of them) deter it from scoring. The Terrapins shot 54.5 percent from the field and knocked down six threes, breaking the press with enough regularity to stay in the game. Over the final 20 minutes, however, the Mountaineers’ bruising style of play started to wear down Mark Turgeon’s club. Errant passes, five-second calls, rushed possessions – even injury [see below]. Maryland coughed it up 14 times in the second half and only made two shots from behind the arc, clearly suffering from mental and physical fatigue. “They kept throwing a lot of bodies at us,” Terrapins senior Dez Wells said afterwards.
  2. Melo Trimble took a beating, and his absence spelled the end for Maryland. Already struggling with injury after falling victim to a hard screen earlier in the game, Maryland’s star freshman was knocked out for good around the seven-minute mark of the second half; a teammate accidentally kneed him in the back of the head as he was falling down in transition. That probably finished off the Terrapins. Trimble is the team’s best offensive playmaker and most accurate three-point shooter, the one guy who could have realistically helped Maryland regain momentum at that point in the contest (still only down by seven). But the team doctors decided he didn’t pass enough concussion tests, and that just about sealed the deal – a brutal end to an otherwise excellent season.
  3. West Virginia probably won’t beat Kentucky, but it could give the Wildcats hell. West Virginia’s entire M.O. amounts to this: force turnovers, offensive rebound and out-shoot the opponent. Tonight, the Mountaineers accomplished all of that, forcing 23 turnovers, securing 14 offensive rebounds and attempting 16 more shots than Maryland. It’s an extremely aggressive, extremely simple formula that’s predicated on toughness, energy and the ability to send bodies in waves. But can it work against Kentucky? Maybe so, at least to some degree. One of the Wildcats’ most glaring ‘weaknesses’ (if they have any) is on the defensive glass, where the SEC champs rank 196th nationally in defensive rebounding rate. If Huggins’ group can force more turnovers than Arkansas (which also likes to press) was able to against Kentucky, its ability to crash the glass – in conjunction with that unmatched relentlessness – might be enough to keep it in the game.

Star Player: Devin Williams (16 points, 10 rebounds). For the second straight game, West Virginia’s goggle-wearing forward was a beast on both ends of the court. He hammered the offensive and defensive glass, played great defense around the rim, and led the team in scoring. Williams must keep that going on Thursday night if West Virginia has any designs on a trip to the Elite Eight.

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reaction: #7 Wichita State 78, #2 Kansas 65

Posted by Eric Clark on March 22nd, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

USATSI_8470978_168381137_lowres

The Shockers Are Living It Up Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Wichita State wanted it more. If you tuned in to the game at any point during the action today in Omaha, this was plainly obvious. Kansas, loaded with NBA-bound talent, simply acted like it didn’t feel like playing very hard today. A lot of that should fall on head coach Bill Self, who was unable to coerce any sort of fire or emotion from his guys. For a week now, the nation had anticipated this Sunflower State battle that the Selection Committee so generously mapped out for us, and still the Jayhawks had trouble amping up. But do NOT get caught up in thinking that an “underdog” Wichita State team somehow toppled a Goliath in Kansas today — it didn’t. Wichita State is incredibly talented and well-coached, which makes Kansas’ lack of total effort that much more disappointing. Fred VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the country. Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton are vastly underrated sidekicks, and the Shockers’ bench is more than formidable. Good luck getting on Kansas’ schedule now, Shockers, because this only furthers the notion that the Jayhawks have nothing to gain from playing their intrastate rivals from the MVC.
  2. If you know where Wayne Selden or Kelly Oubre are, give Bill Self a call. Kansas’ team is loaded with excellent players but it shouldn’t be a stretch to ask Selden and Oubre to perform like the future NBA players that they are. They were nearly nonexistent today. Selden was 0-of-5 from the field and committed two turnovers, with his only positive contributions coming in the form of one offensive rebound and one steal. Oubre found some life late in the game, as he finished with nine points and three makes from the free throw line. Still, he went 3-of-9 from the field and was hassled constantly by Wichita State’s wings, never finding a clean look at the rim. When Frank Mason fouled out of the game late in the second half, Self put in Svi Mykhailiuki over his future pro, Selden. Mason, Ellis and Devonte’ Graham carried the load for the Jayhawks, and we’ll never know just how different the game may have gone if Selden or Oubre had done anything.
  3. Excuse me if you’ve heard this one before: Fred VanVleet is a killer. There’s no question who the best point guard in Kansas is. VanVleet again gave way to a strong first half to his counterpart Frank Mason, giving up nine points and allowing Mason to routinely drive into the lane. But VanVleet shut him down in the second half, playing a heavy role in forcing him into five turnovers. VanVleet was only 4-of-12 from the field, but he consistently found his way to the rim, drawing fouls and defenders away from their primary assignments. Wichita State went 10-of-20 from three-point range, and while VanVleet only made a couple of those, he undoubtedly was the primary reason that the Shockers found so many good looks from three. It’s common knowledge that the Rockford, Illinois, product is the Shockers’ emotional leader – but it’s naive to think that the Shockers’ needed any more motivation than their false moniker of “little brother.”

Star of the game. Evan Wessel. The Shockers’ “garbage man” had to deal with former high school teammate Perry Ellis in the post all game long, conceding 17 points to the Jayhawks’ big man. Keep in mind that Ellis has more than four inches on him, though, and that Wessel still grabbed nine rebounds to Ellis’ total of eight. Wessel only scored 12 points, all of them coming from the three-point line, but each shot was a mini-dagger to the Jayhawks’ hopes of mounting any sort of comeback.

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Circle of March: Vol. XX

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2015

This is our 20th Circle of March, which means we’re getting there. After eight more eliminations in the first half of the Round of 32, we’re down to 24 total teams vying for the 2015 National Championship. Here’s today’s CoM.

2015_CircleofMarch_V20

Eliminations (03.21.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 67, #6 Butler 64 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions

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:

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

  1. Mike Brey’s mother passed away this morning. How did he coach through that? Directly following one of the better games of the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey announced that his 84 year-old mother died of a heart attack on Saturday morning. The news came as a true shock to everyone in the room, a heartbreaking announcement in the midst of an otherwise joyful moment for the Irish. He cited her competitiveness, the fact that she tried to turn Brey and his siblings into swimmers growing up – she was an Olympic swimmer in 1956 – and reflectively noted “she had a great run.” You have to wonder how the heavy-hearted coach managed to muster enough positive energy to lead his team to victory.
  2. The seniors put Notre Dame over the hump. Sophomore Steve Vasturia led the way with 20 points. Junior Zach Auguste secured a team-high 13 rebounds. Second-year point guard Demetrius Jackson made a serious of big plays to re-establish momentum in the second half. But it was the senior guards – Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – who finally got Notre Dame over its postseason hump. Connaughton swatted Kellen Dunham’s game-winning three-point attempt to send the game into overtime, then drilled a big triple in the extra period to break a 59-59 tie. A few minutes later, his team up three, Grant made a slashing layup with 21 seconds left to season the Irish victory. Entering the night, Brey hadn’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2003 – the victim of six first-weekend exits over the past 11 years. His seniors weren’t going to let it happen again.
  3. The Irish were hellbent on shutting down Kellen Dunham, and it worked. Even if it meant surrendering buckets to Roosevelt Jones (who scored 23 points), Notre Dame was not going to let Butler sharpshooter Kellen Dunham beat it from behind the arc – especially not after his 20-point performance against Texas on Thursday. Irish defenders were draped all over the junior from opening tip to final buzzer, holding him to just 2-of-13 shooting and eight total points, well below his season average (16.7 PPG). The Bulldogs were never able to extend their second-half lead far enough to take firm control, and their leading-scorer’s lack of scoring may have been the reason why.

Star of the Game: Pat Connaughton (seven points, nine rebounds and a huge block). Forget about the statistics; Connaughton was the star tonight. His toughness and confidence and massive swat to end regulation carried Notre Dame to victory.

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