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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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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Tonight the Sweet Sixteen moves to Syracuse and Houston, so let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the East and South Regions.

South Storylines

1. Is this finally Gonzaga’s year? Mention Gonzaga to a casual college basketball fan, and more often than not, the word ‘overrated’ pops into his head. The Bulldogs have had some really impressive regular seasons under Mark Few, making the NCAA Tournament every year since he took over in 1999. But time after time, the Zags have come up short in March. Few has never taken Gonzaga past the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach, but this could be the year that the drought ends. This year’s team is more complete and well-rounded than most previous editions, and the final hurdle on the path to the Elite Eight is a #11 seed — albeit a strong one — in UCLA. A program-first Final Four might also be within reach, but let’s not put the cart before the horse just yet — for many reasons, the Zags need to win tonight.

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Duke’s recent Tourney hiccups. Since winning the 2010 National Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s postseason record has actually been pretty lackluster. He came into this year 5-4 in the NCAA Tournaments from 2011-14 and he has been on the wrong end of some stunning upsets — losses to #15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and #14 seed Mercer a year ago. Even the 2011 Sweet Sixteen loss to #5 seed Arizona was unexpected. It’s exactly that kind of loss that Duke will be hoping to avoid this time around against a dangerous Utah squad.

3. Back aboard the Utah bandwagon? The Utes faded from the spotlight late in the season. They lost three of their last five games and exited the Pac-12 Tournament by losing to Oregon for the second time in less than a month. But they were businesslike last weekend in handling Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, and come into tonight’s contest as only a five-point underdog against Duke. Utah has been a top 10 KenPom team since early January, and after a methodical but strong second half dispatching of the Hoyas, it seems like everybody has fallen back in love with the Utes as a Final Four sleeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.27.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 27th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • West Virginia’s Daxter Miles talked the talk but it was Kentucky that walked the walk. After Miles declared that Kentucky would be “36-1″ after playing the Mountaineers, the Wildcats proceeded to beat his team into submission by 39 points. The Kentucky players had some responses to share with the world via Twitter.
  • Last night, Kentucky showed what it could do when you make the Wildcats angry. After a historic Sweet Sixteen  beatdown of West Virginia, Ben Cohen asks the question we’ve been asking all year long: Can anyone beat Kentucky?
  • Not only did Daxter Miles‘ team lose the game despite guaranteeing victory, but he finished with no points and just one rebound. Tough day.
  • Notre Dame gained control early and took every punch Wichita State threw at it en route to an 11-point victory last night.
  • Notre Dame could have the offensive firepower to keep up with Kentucky if the Irish are able to hit their threes. But will it be enough to give the Wildcats’ their only loss of the season?
  • Could Gregg Marshall have just coached his last game at Wichita State? Having done wonders for the Shockers’ program over the last several years, will Marshall leave for a bigger job this off-season?

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

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The Sweet Sixteen continues with four more compelling games tonight in Houston and Syracuse. Here are this evening’s previews.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Houston, TX) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday's matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday’s matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Nobody forgets the tears. Nine years and three days ago, UCLA induced a very public display of emotion from Adam Morrison. The circumstances that led to the devastation were far from ordinary – the Bruins erased a 17-point second half deficit and scored the final 11 points to down the Zags and advance to the Elite Eight – but it’s the singular image of Morrison, keeled over on the floor with blue Gonzaga jersey pulled over his face, that has persisted longest in the memory banks of March. Now, almost a decade later, the two teams renew March pleasantries for the first time since Morrison’s college career came to that tearful end. The differences between this matchup and the last are too numerous to list, but there is one key similarity: Gonzaga again has a team widely perceived to be capable of winning a national title.

Mark Few’s team has made just one Sweet Sixteen since 2006, and that team (in 2009) needed only to beat a #12 and a #13 to get there. Needless to say, Gonzaga Final Four prospects haven’t been this bright since Morrison was in uniform. This Bulldog team is nearly as explosive as the ’06 bunch (emphasis on nearly: that team was #1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), but points now originate from a wider variety of sources. Six Zags average at least eight points a game, and every Gonzaga regular owns an offensive rating in excess of 110. In the first two rounds, Gonzaga averaged 86.5 points per game and posted points per possession marks of 1.23 and 1.30 against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively. Unlike in past years, the Zags we see this March look remarkably similar to the ones we watched all season. Good news for Mark Few; bad news for UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

  • Though he’s struggled thus far in the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari’s message to Devin Booker is simple. “We told him after the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep shooting,’ because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win,” Calipari said. “You can miss all these. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up and we may need you to make some shots.”
  • Bob Huggins has had John Calipari’s number historically, but Kentucky certainly has the advantage by the numbers this time. Here’s what Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue has to say about Thursday’s battle.
  • West Virginia is fast and physical, but Huggins is concerned about Kentucky’s defense, particularly inside the three-point line. “Probably the closest one was Kentucky in 2010. We led by one [actually two, 28-26] at halftime and did not have a two-point field goal (eight three-pointers and four foul shots). I think every time we took it inside the three [point line] we got our shots blocked. I can’t remember anybody who would be as close to this team other than that team,” he said.
  • The odds are against him, but Bob Huggins has a chance to improve on his 8-2 record against his buddy John Calipari on Thursday.
  • The public seems to be praising Wichita State after its upset over Kansas, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame just yet.
  • Pat Connaughton has been huge for Notre Dame on the court, but his leadership away from it is what sets him apart.
  • Alabama is reportedly looking to make a run at Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Here‘s why Matt Bonesteel thinks Marshall should stick around in Wichita.
  • Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team left in the Midwest Region, but the Shockers have several qualities that previous Final Four teams have possessed.

West Region

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet 16. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the teacher still show who's boss? (Getty)

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet Sixteen. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the Teacher still show him who’s boss? (Getty)

  • It’s no accident that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams rarely foul. Averaging around 12 fouls per game, the Badgers rank among the lowest in the country in that metric. Much of this is due to the emphasis put on it by the head coach. “There are a few pillars of the program or things that have been consistent through the years and helped us be successful,” associate head coach Greg Gard says. “And that’s one of them. They understand if they want to get on the floor and play, they’re going to have to be able to play without fouling.”
  • Despite having a reputation as a very well-respected academic institution, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly wowed people with its recent graduation rates.
  • Though he was reportedly doubtful to play earlier this week, Kennedy Meeks worked out briefly on Tuesday and he is still a possibility to play on Thursday night.
  • For Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen game on Thursday will be a bit of a family affair. His sister, Morgan, played at Wisconsin, and now plays professionally in Europe.
  • Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds is being investigated by the school for a recent incident outside of a Xavier dorm. However, Reynolds is still scheduled to play for the time being.
  • Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen battle will be special for Xavier coach Chris Mack. Mack served as Arizona coach Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before he left Xavier for the desert. “The fact is that it’s hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him,” Mack said.
  • Both Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and others surrounding the program seem open about Johnson only being in Tucson for one year, but that isn’t stopping both parties from making the best of the situation.
  • For Sean Miller, coaching against his former team, Xavier, will be tough. “It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re watching the selection show, you’re kind of watching and cheering for them [Xavier coach Chris Mack and former Xavier coach Thad Matta] to go off your board,” [Arizona Director of Basketball Operations Ryan] Reynolds said. Reynolds came with Miller from Xavier to Arizona six years ago.

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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.

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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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 22nd, 2015

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For the majority of programs around the country, making the Sweet 16 is the start of what would be considered a “successful” season. While many of the programs set to participate in today’s Third Round have aspirations that extend well beyond the final 16, making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament has always been a mark of accomplishment. After today, eight teams will punch their ticket to next week. Here are eight preview’s of Sunday’s games.

#2 Virginia vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:10 PM ET on CBS

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for Virginia is that Justin Anderson – still recovering from a broken finger – looked more like his old self against Belmont on Friday, scoring 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting and earning several trips to the free throw line. The bad news is that its vaunted defense allowed the #15-seeded Bruins to shoot 59 percent from two-point range and hang around for most of the afternoon. Michigan State, meanwhile, made relatively easy work of Georgia. Which makes one wonder: Is an upset a-brewin’ in Charlotte? Belmont found success by using its three-point barrage to spread out the Cavaliers’ Pack-Line defense, then exploiting the resultant lanes. The Spartans – while not quite as deep-ball oriented – attempt over one-third of their shots from behind the arc and hit nearly 39 percent of the time. On top of that, Tom Izzo’s club is very effective on both the offensive and defensive glass, led by rejuvenated forward Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9 RPG). If Michigan State can stretch the defense, penetrate those openings and create second-chance opportunities, it might be able to find success against America’s second-most-efficient defense. Unfortunately, if Anderson takes another step forward, that might not be enough. With the 6’6” wing knocking down perimeter jumpers and attacking the lane on Friday, Virginia scored 1.22 points per possession – its most since February 28th – and looked much closer to the patient-but-efficient offense that dominated opponents in December and January. No matter how well the Spartans spread the floor, they are never going to score at will against Tony Bennett’s defense – no one does – so their ability to get stops will become crucial. But if Anderson is earning trips to free throw line and scorching from behind the arc, I’m not sure Izzo’s bunch can get enough stops to win this game. Expect Michigan State to stay within striking distance for 35-plus minutes, but count on Anderson to make the difference in the end.

The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia

#1 Duke vs. #8 San Diego State — South Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 2:40 pm ET on CBS

Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Steve Fisher vs. Coach K? Sign me up! (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Duke and San Diego State will play for the first ever in what highlights as an extremely intriguing matchup. The Aztecs were clinical in discarding St. John’s Friday night, even showing an unusual accuracy from three-point range (9-of-22 on threes). When Steve Fisher’s team can find ways to score the basketball – from three-point range or elsewhere – they become a difficult team to beat. There is little inconsistency to the Aztecs’ efforts on the defensive end, where they regularly cause intense trauma to opponents. That defensive activity is what should have Coach K’s attention right about now. Duke guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones stand 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively; no Aztec guard is shorter than 6’3”, and wings like Winston Shepard (6’8”) and Dwayne Polee (6’7”) will also take turns harassing Duke’s pair of star guards. The Blue Devils did manage well against Virginia and their bigger group of guards, but San Diego State presents a longer, more athletic challenge than even the Cavaliers. Of course, the question on the flip side is one that has long plagued the Aztecs: How will SDSU score points? Duke’s defense has taken nights off this year, sure, but there should be some trust that Coach K can devise a game plan capable of removing easy-bucket opportunities. The Aztecs’ best bet may be a continuation of the long-range prowess they displayed Friday night. There are guys on the roster who can knock down those deep shots – Quinn, Shrigley and Polee prime among them. Can they hit enough to complement the terrifying SDSU defense?

San Diego State would be a more appealing pick to pull the stunner if this game were not being played in Charlotte. As is, they are faced with defeating a #1 seed in a virtual road game, a proposition that even the strongest of stylistic matchups can fail to enact. Duke should be scared – the Aztecs are a truly scary matchup in this spot – but expect San Diego State to fall a shot or two short of swinging the upset. Duke will leave the home cooking behind in advancing to Houston.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oklahoma 69, #14 Albany 60

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 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.

It wasn't a blowout, but Oklahoma did enough to win. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a blowout, but Oklahoma did enough to win. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

  1. Albany had its chances but couldn’t capitalize. Although the #3 seed Oklahoma never trailed, this game was far from lopsided. Albany limited Oklahoma’s transition opportunities (for the most part), and the Sooners shot just 7-of-24 from behind the arc against the Great Danes’ zone. At various points throughout the contest, Will Brown’s team pulled within striking distance, just two or three possessions away from tying things up. But it was never able to capitalize. A missed shot here, an ill-advised miscue there – the America East champs cut the deficit to six points five different times in second half, but never got over the hump. “I wish we would have shot the ball a little bit better,” Brown said, knowing full-well his group left opportunities on the court.
  2. TaShawn Thomas needs to keep playing big. Despite those missed perimeter jumpers, Oklahoma stayed comfortably ahead thanks in part to the stellar play of forward TaShawn Thomas. The Houston transfer led all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, dominating Albany’s undersized big men at various points in the game and forcing Brown to commit extra attention on the block – which in turn freed up opportunities for teammates. The Sooners are now 7-0 when the senior scores at least 15 points, and his presence down low will become even more crucial as Oklahoma advances in this tournament. Especially with Providence and its massive front line possibly looming on Sunday.
  3. Lon Kruger exorcises his recent NCAA Tournament demons. The veteran head coach entered tonight 0-4 in his last four NCAA Tournament appearances, including the last two with Oklahoma. So while he didn’t make a big deal of it in the postgame presser, you can bet that Kruger – bounced by non-power conference schools in both 2013 and 2014 – was relieved after tonight’s victory. Sooners faithful might not put the pressure on like Duke or North Carolina fans do, but it’s always nice to put questions about your postseason coaching chops to rest.

Star Player: TaShawn Thomas (18 points, five rebounds). Again, Thomas came up big on a night when the perimeter shooters weren’t exactly scorching the nets. He needs to continue dominating – or at least reliably producing – for Oklahoma to go deep into this NCAA Tournament. The seventh-tallest team in America, Providence, might be up next.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015

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Well, that could’ve gone better.

 

In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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How the Big 12 Can Change the Conversation

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2015

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While the Big 12 went wire to wire this season as the top conference in America, according to KenPom and the RPI, its postseason results over the last decade continue to cast a shadow over the league’s legitimacy. Since 2005, the Big 12 is tied for fourth in NCAA Tournament wins, tied for fifth in Sweet Sixteen appearances and tied for fourth in Final Four berths. In the last 10 years, 17 Big 12 teams have underperformed relative to their seeds compared with just 12 teams that have overperformed. Although the season-long metrics are more reliable from an analytical perspective than chaotic NCAA Tournament results, the postseason is valued more heavily when it comes to both bar room debates and television contracts. Fortunately for the conference this season, it propelled seven teams into the Big Dance, so there are plenty of opportunities to quiet the skeptics. Here’s how each of those teams can help the conference flip the script.

Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have a chance to save the Big 12 from more postseason criticism. (Eric Gay/AP).

The Mayor can rescue the Big 12 from years of tournament disappointment with a run to Indianapolis. (Eric Gay/AP)

  • Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg has turned the Iowa State program around and then some in his five years running the team, but the time is ripe for him to raise the status even higher by adding a trip to the Final Four — which would be Iowa State’s first since 1944 — to his already-impressive resume. The Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country but they’ll need to keep up their hot shooting and not rely on their proven ability to mount comebacks in order to capitalize on the good favor they’ve curried.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks limp into the Big Dance with Perry EllisLanden Lucas and Frank Mason at less than 100 percent. If that weren’t bad enough, they’re planning to be without Cliff Alexander and have notched just three wins in their last eight games away from Allen Fieldhouse (and one of those road wins was in Lubbock). Oh, and they received by far the worst Tournament draw of any #2 seed, facing a potential Elite Eight game against juggernaut Kentucky. As terrific a coach as Bill Self is, the odds of him extracting a 2012 type of run to the championship game from this team are long. A ride to the regional final would be impressive, though, especially if the Jayhawks can knock off local rival Wichita State in the process.
  • Oklahoma: The Sooners have been snake-bitten in the Lon Kruger years, assuming the role of first round upset victim in their last two NCAA Tournament appearances. While Oklahoma needs to get over that hump, this team is Kruger’s best one yet so the expectations don’t stop at simply winning one game. A pilgrimage to the Sweet Sixteen would give Kruger the distinction of taking four different programs that deep, but Oklahoma’s excellent defense and Buddy Hield‘s scoring ability make the Sooners a threat to play even deeper, possibly slaying two monsters in Virginia and Villanova on the way there.

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