Pac-12 Halfway Home Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 4th, 2015

The calendar has been flipped to February. The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror. And all Pac-12 teams have nine conference games in the books. It’s a nice, tidy point to recap what we’ve seen so far and take a brief look ahead as the college basketball regular season takes the main stage (really, who actually watches regular season NBA games?) and we begin the downhill run to March Madness. We’ll be reconvening in Vegas before we know it.

Player of the Midyear

He May Not Be The "Best" Player In The Conference, But He's Arguably The Most Important (Arizona Athletics)

He May Not Be the “Best” Player in the Conference, But He’s Arguably the Most Important One (Arizona Athletics)

A couple weeks back, my friend and colleague Adam Butler drew a line in the sand and argued that Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Utah’s Delon Wright were the only two options for Pac-12 Player of the Year. I read that post. I enjoyed that post. I disagreed – and continue to disagree – with that post. Don’t get me wrong. Both of those guys are very much in the conversation for the award. Both of those guys are awesome. Both of those guys are part of the reason why I love college hoops so much. And both of those guys currently take a back seat to Arizona’s T.J. McConnell in my POY calculus. Look, I get it: McConnell is not actually the best player in the Pac-12. He’s not even the best player on his team (I’d give that honor to either Rondae Hollis-Johnson or Stanley Johnson – or maybe Rondley Jeffer-Hollisson). In considering a national All-American team, I’d certainly consider Wright and Randle, while leaving McConnell’s name on the cutting room floor. But “Player of the Year”? That title is so open to interpretation. Here’s what I know: Arizona is the best team in the conference. Take away one of Jefferson, or Johnson, or Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski, and that sentiment still stands. Take away McConnell and the whole darn thing is bound to fall apart. He is the catalyst for everything that Arizona does well. He gets the ball in the hands of the right players. He sets the defensive tone. And when the rest of the team is sleep-walking through a first half against the biggest contender to Arizona’s throne, there’s McConnell putting his team on his back and serving as a human alarm clock. He’s not the best player in his conference. He’s not the best player on his team. But at this midway point, he’s my Player of the Year front-runner.

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Nine

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 19th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

It was the Pac-12 game of the year to this point: surging challenger to the throne, Utah, against reeling returning champion, Arizona. Both teams took care of business in their undercard games on Thursday, but by the time the main event rolled around on Saturday evening, the McKale Center was a hornet’s nest. The challenger came out of its corner full of vim and vigor, seeking the knockout. But the veteran champion weathered the storm and turned on the power in the final three-quarters of the bout, displaying the whole package of explosive athleticism, wily game knowledge, superior conditioning and, well, a boost of energy from the home crowd. In the end, the Wildcats turned in a smothering performance, displaying their high-end defensive ability with their great offensive potential. If there were any questions about Arizona after last week’s head-scratcher against Oregon State – and trust me, there were – the Wildcats answered most of them on Saturday night in affirming their status as one of the nation’s elite.

Player of the Week: T.J. McConnell, Senior, Arizona

Five minutes into that heavyweight bout on Saturday night, the Utes were clearly acting as the aggressor. They were out to a 10-2 lead; their superstar Delon Wright was doing everything; and Arizona looked flat. Out of the under-16 media timeout, McConnell immediately made a statement play. He headed right up the court and took the undersized Brandon Taylor down to the left block where he put a jumper right on his head. Next time up and again on Taylor, he did the exact same thing on the other side of the court. Next time on the defensive end, he stripped Wright and dove on the floor to get a tie-up. All of a sudden, Arizona had some energy and belief. Through the rest of the first half, McConnell hit three more jumpers, added a layup, notched a couple assists and grabbed a steal. The most important of those plays may have been the two assists, one a driving handoff to Kaleb Tarczewski for a lay-in, and another a baseline kickout to Brandon Ashley for a jumper. Both of those plays ensured that McConnell was not only involved but was busy keeping his talented teammates involved. On the night, McConnell wound up with 16 points (12 before halftime), six assists, three boards and a steal on 8-of-10 shooting, numbers that only hint at his true impact.

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A Player’s Program in Name Only: Sean Miller Runs This Show

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 14th, 2014

Whatever you think you know about Pac-12 runaway favorite Arizona in advance of tonight’s season opener, head coach Sean Miller can always provide the media with another line of thinking. He is no different with his own players, but what they know is that Miller will not sugarcoat the truth to spare their feelings. That brings us to the Wildcats’ exhibition contest against Cal Poly Pomona last Sunday. Typically there’s little to take away from anything on the court in such a mismatch. Preseason observations can be flawed, misleading and not meaningful. But there sat JuCo transfer Kadeem Allen, who never got off the Arizona bench for the entire 40 minutes of action. Afterward, Miller said the combo guard has welcomed the idea of a voluntary redshirt. The only surprise of any sort was that Miller revealed that much publicly. He is the same coach who last season went back and forth over what Elliott Pitts’ role as a freshman would be. Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury changed everything, of course, but digging a bit deeper, it’s tough to recall a time when Miller ever wasted words on nonsense. Everything he says, and especially the things he doesn’t say with a sly read-between-the-lines smirk on his face, has a purpose.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller can smile when he has the option of stashing away talent to make managing minutes a bit easier. (Getty)

That brings us to the top prize in Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class, freshman Stanley Johnson. The forward, a unanimous preseason choice for Pac-12 freshman of the year on this site and the same pick for just about anyone else with a clue, came off the bench to produce 12 points in 24 minutes in that game. It was junior Gabe York who earned the start, and those around the program got the feeling that strategy will trickle into the start of the regular season before Johnson inevitably takes over. Miller hinted at as much with that playful smile in his postgame media session, adding, “It doesn’t matter if he’s happy; it really only matters if I’m happy.” Miller also said the starting five on opening night isn’t in cement for the entire season. That’s his way of making sure the players aren’t too comfortable with their status when it comes to competing in practice.

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 All-Defense & Specialty Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2014

Yesterday we unveiled our RTC Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams. Tomorrow, we’ll release our All-Conference teams. And on Friday, just before the first games tip off, we’ll have the results of our preseason conference poll. Today, we will have a little fun though and unveil our specialty teams, ranging from our Gary Payton All-Defensive team, to our Jorge Gutierrez All-Glue team to our Russell Westbrook All-Dunktastic Team. Enjoy. And feel free to let us know where we screwed up.

The Gary Payton Pac-12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. McConnell, Arizona

He won’t wow you with his athleticism or make opponents look silly with soul-crushing blocks or quick-handed steals, but McConnell is the consummate veteran who is always in the right place at the right time, funneling opponents toward long-armed and intimidating opponents. Sure, McConnell probably gets this award because he plays on a team with so many other terrific defenders (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson can destroy opponents with their athleticism, while Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are capable rim-protectors), but he’s a fundamentally-minded defender who always makes things difficult on opponents.

T.J. McConnell's Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell’s Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player. (Arizona Athletics)

Joining McConnell on the All-Defensive Team are:

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona
  • Shaquielle McKissic, Sr, Arizona State
  • Norman Powell, Sr, UCLA

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Arizona’s Most Important Player: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

There’s no argument that Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, and there are probably at least four players with NBA futures on this squad. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is already projected as a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft and could step right in as the leading scorer for a national championship contender this season. In all likelihood, if it isn’t Johnson who leads the Wildcats in scoring, it will be sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom DraftExpress also sees as a first round pick after the season. Beyond those two stud wings, perhaps the biggest strength that Arizona has is in its power and size up front, as junior center Kaleb Tarczewski and power forward Brandon Ashley also seem to have the NBA in their sights sooner rather than later (both are projected as second round picks). And yet, while cases could easily be made for any of those four guys as Arizona’s most important player, the pick here is a senior whose chances to earn an NBA paycheck are considerably less clear.

"Senior Point Guard;" How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)

“Senior Point Guard;” How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)

The fact is that there are few phrases more magical in college basketball than “senior point guard.” It’s even better when you can modify that with other phrases, like “four-year starter” or “experienced veteran” or “rock-solid decision-maker.” On this embarrassment of riches that Sean Miller calls a basketball team, rock-solid decision-maker T.J. McConnell is in his fourth year starting at point at a major Division I college (his first two years of eligibility were spent at Duquesne). On last year’s Elite Eight squad, McConnell played the role of level-headed distributor, finding ways to get the ball to explosive talents like Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and some of the returnees mentioned in the first paragraph above. On an elite defensive team, McConnell didn’t always have the onus of checking the other team’s best backcourt player, but he still held his own among more naturally athletic talents.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 14th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with Arizona. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths: For a team that lost the Pac-12’s Player of the Year (Nick Johnson) and top freshman (Aaron Gordon), head coach Sean Miller sure has a lot of depth around him. The reigning regular season champions will return three of its five starters from last season — including junior forward Brandon Ashley, who missed the final 16 games of the year with a foot injury. The Wildcats potentially have the ability to go two-deep at each position thanks to another top-five recruiting class, headlined by freshman forward Stanley Johnson. A defensive-minded team, Arizona is equipped with loads of size and versatility once again.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Head coach Sean Miller has reloaded the defending Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion Arizona Wildcats. reloaded (AP Photo)

Weaknesses: Expect last year’s questions regarding the team’s outside shooting to be at the forefront again. Nobody on the Wildcats cracked the 40 percent mark from the three-point line last season, and like the previous year, the top two shooters — Elliott Pitts (39.3 percent) and Gabe York (38.5 percent) — are competing for similar minutes off the bench at the same position. But this is where Ashley’s return may help keep defenses honest, as he connected on 11 of 29 long-range attempts with a more refined jump shot as a sophomore. The next-closest criticism of this team may be at the free throw line, where no returnee shot better than 75 percent and most of the roster failed to crack the 70s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Arizona.

What Went Right

With freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stepping into roles as big-time contributors right away, with Nick Johnson taking his game to a higher – and more consistent – level, with sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York making huge strides in their second seasons, and with T.J. McConnell tying everything together as the team’s consummate floor general, this vintage of the Wildcats came together about as well as Sean Miller could have hoped. Sure, there was plenty of talent on this team. But what made this group a great unit is their ability to function together seamlessly. Defensively, they always had one another’s backs, combining to form the year’s most fearsome defensive squad. And on the offensive end, everybody bought into their roles and found ways to complement each other. Indeed, this 2013-14 group of Wildcats exemplified the word “team” as well as any college basketball squad in the country.

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

A whole lot went right in Tucson this season, but if we wanted to pinpoint one thing that went wrong, we’d jump straight to February 1st in Haas Pavilion, where in the opening minutes of a clash with California, Ashley landed awkwardly following a shot and wound up with a broken foot that ended his season. While Miller was able to rejigger his lineup on the fly and keep the Wildcats among the best teams in the nation, there will forever be questions about what could have been without that simple twist of fate in Berkeley.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 27th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion and @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Memphis and Anaheim throughout the weekend.

Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the South Region in Memphis, TN, and the West Region in Anaheim, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Memphis, TN) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Nobody expected the Flyers or Cardinal to be in this spot, but one of the two teams will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday night. This battle between party crashers doesn’t figure to be the most entertaining Sweet Sixteen matchup when it comes to talent and overall quality of basketball, but after Stanford knocked off New Mexico and Kansas by a combined eight points, and Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse by a mere three total points, we should at least be able to count on this game being a tight one. KenPom doesn’t disagree, as his predictor foresees a one-point final margin. Stanford is the team on the right side of that predicted final score, and despite displaying maddening amounts of game-to-game inconsistency all season long, I can’t find a way to disagree that it will be the Cardinal advancing to the regional final.

Sweet 16 Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Sweet  Sixteen Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Both these teams are double-digit seeds that the FedEx Forum could have never seen coming, but the narrative surrounding the two teams this week has pegged Dayton as the truer “Cinderella.” Vegas oddsmakers have also pegged the Flyers as a three-point underdog, and there’s also that three-decade Sweet Sixteen drought that lends itself to the role of plucky little David. But before recognizing that Stanford is hardly akin to Goliath, let’s also take a second to note that this Dayton team is more accomplished than many surprise second-weekend visitors of NCAA Tournaments past. They were the best team in the Atlantic 10 from February on (a league that sent six teams to this Tournament), have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games, and were one point and a late collapse away from beating Baylor in the Maui Invitational (they wound up beating Cal by 18 in the third place game). Their inclusion in this NCAA Tournament hung in the balance all season, but they’ve proven they belonged – both before and after admission was granted.

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