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 Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. 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: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa 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 @rtcwestregion for reporting from Los Angeles this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 33-3. We’re still going with the Wildcats by a hair over Wisconsin and we’re not just throwing darts; we have our reasons. First, they’re still slightly above Wisconsin in terms of KenPom rankings, especially on the defensive end of the court. Second, they’re going to have a significant home court advantage this week in Los Angeles. Third, instead of facing a #3 seed in the Sweet Sixteen, they “Cats got a slightly easier path with Xavier up next. And fourth, straight up: revenge. However, it will take a lot of work for any of these four teams to come out of this region.

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona's chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona’s chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Horse of Darkness: Xavier, #6, 23-13. The only team that has outperformed its seed to advance to this point, the Musketeers aren’t going to just be happy to have made it this far and call it a day. They’ve got enough size along the front line to hang with Arizona, and with senior point guard Dee Davis playing the best ball of his career, crafty scorer Myles Davis and athletic freshman Trevon Bluiett, they’ve got the firepower to spring an upset… Or two.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): Georgia State. After 30 minutes of giving #3 seed Baylor all it wanted last Thursday, it looked like the Panthers had run out of gas. Over the course of six possessions starting at the under-12 media timeout, the Bears grabbed five offensive boards, cleaned the glass on the defensive end after forcing four straight missed field goal attempts and put together a 10-0 run to build a 10-point lead. Coming out of the under-four media timeout, Rico Gathers hit a pair of free throws and Baylor’s lead was then at 12. The Bears wouldn’t score again. Coach’s son R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s 13 points down the stretch, including a deep three with three seconds left that sent his dad, torn Achilles and all, sprawling onto the Veterans Memorial Arena floor. It’s the iconic moment of this year’s NCAA Tournament and a play we’ll see for many Marches to come. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 73, #10 Ohio State 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 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.

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

  1. TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
  2. Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
  3. The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.

Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Great Was That Pac-12 Tournament?

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Adam Butler on March 16th, 2015

Another March to Vegas has concluded and now the Pac-12 conference takes its talents to a national stage. But, before we dig deeper into what’s coming in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa discuss what went down at the MGM over the weekend with a series of important questions.

Q: Brandon Ashley was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He shot 19-of-26 across three games and clearly deserved the award. After the junior, however, there were some other great performances. Who was your non-Ashley Most Outstanding Player?

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball. (Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Butler: I would like the record to show that I said Brandon Ashley was fantastic. After him, the guy I’d most like to call out is UCLA’s Norman Powell. He scored 35 points on 47 percent shooting. Solid numbers, yes, but I’d most like to highlight his effort against Arizona. As the nation questions UCLA’s qualifications as an NCAA-worthy team, the committee alluded to the Bruins passing the eyeball test. If you had eyeballs on the UCLA-Arizona game, specifically. For large portions of that game he got his and his effort was similar throughout the last month of the year.

Andrew Murawa: The funny thing is that, as well as Brandon Ashley played, I could easily make a case for at least three of his teammates. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a defensive dynamo and T.J. McConnell is above reproach. But Stanley Johnson remains an absolute freak (16.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG). And in the one game over the weekend where the ‘Cats actually had a chance to lose, it was Johnson who stepped into a three-pointer and effectively sealed the game. Sure, at times he gets caught somewhere between over-exuberance and offensive-foul-induced passivity. But when Johnson is making jumpers like he did at the MGM, the Wildcats are darn near impossible to beat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

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Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2015

It’s quarterfinal day in Las Vegas, with the Pac’s four top teams facing the upstarts who survived yesterday’s mayhem. Below, by way of previewing today’s games, we’ll look at one of the key matchups in each game that will help determine the eventual winner.

Arizona/California

Stanley Johnson vs. Jabari Bird. Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the matchup that the Golden Bears go with on Johnson, but I know that there is not really an obvious solution for them. They’re going to have to put some size on the floor in order to match up with the Arizona bigs, so somebody out of Jordan Mathews, Tyrone Wallace or Bird is going to have to try to check Johnson. And Bird is the Bear with the physical tools that give him the best chance to check the Wildcat’s physical specimen. Johnson’s ability to bully Bird in the post or off the bounce give him a big advantage, but Bird’s got some impressive ability of his own, even if it only has come in fits and starts so far. But the sophomore has started to emerge recently, averaging 13.9 points in the Bears’ last seven games. If he can keep Johnson busy when the Bears have the ball, it will serve a dual good. Because really, for a undermanned Cal team against the elite Wildcats, just about everything is going to have to go right.

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

Norman Powell vs. Elijah Stewart. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first three months of the season, Stewart has reached the mark in each of the last three games, including a career-high 27 in USC’s come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But it will be a whole different challenge should the Bruins sic their best individual defender in Powell on him. Powell may instead be charged with slowing the penetration of Trojan point guard Julian Jacobs, but regardless, if Powell can limit the effectiveness of either of those key offensive players for SC, the Trojans’ already difficult task will be enhanced. And on the defensive end, while Stewart does have 35 blocks on the season, he hasn’t yet shown the defensive consistency that will be required to slow Powell’s slashing style. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has ended and Pac-12 fans are looking forward to the postseason. Before we all descend on Las Vegas for a fun four days of action, let’s run down our Pac-12 superlatives for the 2014-15 campaign.

Player of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah – It came down to a three-man race for POY between Wright, Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and Oregon’s Joseph Young (who won the official Pac-12 award). McConnell was the senior leader on the conference’s best team and the glue that brought the Wildcats together, but he mustered only two second-place votes in our four-man vote. Young, the conference’s best scoring guard and an underrated playmaker, also earned two second-place votes. In the end, though, it was Wright who earned the first-place vote on all four of our ballots. As the Utes’ primary playmaker and the only player capable of creating his own offense, Wright was the best player on the floor in most of the games he played this season. Whether looking at traditional or advanced stats, Wright’s numbers across the stat sheet are very impressive.

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah (14.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.7 RPG. 2.1 SPG) – The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon (19.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG) – The conference’s best shooter and scorer does so much more than put the ball in the hoop.
  • TJ McConnell, Sr, Arizona (9.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – The consummate point guard and senior leader, McConnell’s impact cannot be summed up in numbers.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona (11.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) – The conference’s best defender made strides on the offensive end during his second year.
  • Stanley Johnson, Fr, Arizona (13.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG) – The Wildcats’ leading scorer is the third member of the squad on our first team.

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Previewing the Pac-12 Game of the Year: Arizona at Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

It’s the game of the year in the Pac-12, a battle between the top two teams — Arizona and Utah — with only a game separating them in the standings and a week to play. It’s also on the short list of the biggest games ever played in the Huntsman Center, quite a statement for a building with its long and illustrious history. Both teams have legitimate Final Four aspirations. Both teams have every expectation of being top three seeds when the brackets are announced on Selection Sunday. As many as four players in this game could hear their name called in the first round of the NBA Draft in June, each of those players with lottery potential. In short, on the final day of February, we’ll be treated to full-on March basketball. Let’s break it down, with three keys to tonight’s game.

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight's Collision in Salt Lake City

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight’s Collision in Salt Lake City

  • Home court advantage. Playing at just under 5,000 feet in Salt Lake City, the Utes enjoy quite a home court advantage at the Huntsman Center. They’ve won all 17 of their games there this season by an average of 24 points per outing. They’re outscoring teams there by an average of 0.40 points per possession. Only one team (Wichita State) has managed to keep within 14 of the Utes. And the MUSS will be rabid tonight. Despite all those considerations, the Wildcats are no slouches on the road. All three of their losses this season have come  in games where maybe they overlooked their opponents. Understand that there is no chance that the ‘Cats will overlook the Utes today. Still, the Utes will come out riding a wave of momentum following Senior Day ceremonies for Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski. Their home fans will be load and raucous. Whenever Utah needs a shot of adrenaline in the middle of the game, the Huntsman Center will have its back. And perhaps most importantly against an Arizona team that really only wants to play six players, maybe that elevation could be a deciding factor down the stretch. We’ve certainly seen short-benched Arizona teams struggle against the Rocky Mountain schools in the past.

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