2013-14’s All-Underappreciated Team

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 17th, 2014

We’ve seen All-American list after All-American list over the past few weeks, and the familiar names are all deserving: McDermott, Parker, Smith, Wilbekin, and so on and so forth. But what about the players who are nowhere to be found on any of these honor rolls, yet still deserve mention for their valuable contributions this season? Below is a team of five players – none of them All-Americans, or really anything especially close – who all played important but overlooked roles for their successful teams.

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

  • PG: Quinn Cook, Duke – If you are a McDonald’s All-American and seek a successful but unheralded college career, Duke would seem like as good a destination as any. Somehow, Cook has avoided plaudits from most observers during his time in Durham, and at times has even been seen as the weak link for the Blue Devils. His play isn’t always as consistent as Coach K would like, but after a season in which he posted a 120.2 Offensive Rating (better than more heralded teammates Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) and an assist rate of 27.7 percent, it’s time to appreciate Cook for what he was this year — one of the best point guards in the country.
  • SG/SF: Tekele Cotton, Wichita State – We heard plenty about Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker this season, but what about the Shockers’ unsung hero, Cotton? The 6’3” junior was the best defensive player on the 12th most efficient defensive team in the country, and shot 37 percent from three-point range en route to a gaudy Offensive Rating of 118.2. Not everyone missed Cotton’s value to WSU; he was one of four Shockers to receive a first-place vote for MVC POY, and was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Read the rest of this entry »
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2013-14 All-Americans by the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2014

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even 10 or 15 if you add a second or third team). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only the digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls), and pick one player for each number. Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will remember most from this season. In the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. Here is my list of Players of the Year by jersey numbers.

0 – Ryan Watkins, Sr, Boise – His team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but Watkins’ senior season was one to remember. The nation’s best offensive rebounder for the second year in a row, Watkins’ efficient offense and tough defense was a constant for a Broncos team that underachieved elsewhere.

00 – Royce O’Neale, Jr, Baylor – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, a single zero and a double zero are the same number, but what fun is that? The transfer from Denver was anything but a big zero for the Bears this season, playing a big role for Scott Drew as an inside-outside threat and another big body in the Baylor zone.

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year (Photo: Ethan Hyman)

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year
(Photo: Ethan Hyman)

1 – Jabari Parker, Fr, Duke – After a quick nod to George Washington’s guard Maurice Creek, who bounced back from a career severely hampered by numerous injuries to turn in an inspiring senior season, we’ll acknowledge the fact that when we look back on 2013-14, Parker will be the guy who wore a #1 that we’ll remember most vividly. In what will likely be his lone season in Durham, he put his vast array of skills on display, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and sheer number of spectacular plays.

2 – Russ Smith, Sr, Louisville – A deep number with candidates ranging from big guys Sim Bhullar and Khem Birch to guards like Xavier Thames and Briante Weber, the nod here is a no-brainer. Smith’s career under Rick Pitino has been a whirlwind. After barely playing his freshman year, he earned big minutes as a sophomore only to show himself as a inveterate gunner who never saw a shot he didn’t like. But in his junior and senior seasons, he actually turned into a – gasp! – highly efficient offensive player. His three-point shooting improved every year and his game off the bounce was always explosive. And defensively? For the past two years, he’s been the best perimeter defender in America. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2014

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

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Walker breaking down the Midwest Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

Midwest Region

Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Favorite: #4 Louisville (29-5, 15-3 AAC). Not to take anything away from the fantastic seasons completed by #1 seed Wichita State, #2 seed Michigan and #3 seed Duke, but Louisville is one of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals were likely dropped to a #4 seed due to their weak non-conference schedule and the fact that some of their wins in AAC play were over vastly inferior competition. However, when you have the talent and winning experience that Louisville possesses, seeding does not really matter all that much. Guard Russ Smith is one the nation’s elite scorers and he has shown throughout his collegiate career that he can go off for a monster night in any game against any team. Forward Montrezl Harrell has taken a huge step forward during his sophomore season and his 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game give the Cards an outstanding post presence. Toss in the fact that Louisville’s defense only allows 61 points per game and averages 10.1 steals per game and it should be clear why Rick Pitino’s squad is the favorite to return to the Final Four to defend its national title.

Should They Falter: #1 Wichita State (34-0, 18-0 MVC). If favorite Louisville is to stumble before reaching the Final Four, the undefeated Shockers are the team that is most equipped to do the job. While Wichita State has caught a ton of unnecessary criticism for its “easy” schedule, it is impossible to discount the fact that the team completed the nearly impossible task of finishing the regular season and conference tournament with an unscathed record. Throughout all the monotonous discussion about Wichita State’s merit as a top seed, it was often forgotten that Gregg Marshall’s squad has a solid nucleus that was on the team that advanced to the Final Four last April. Guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton, along with forward Cleanthony Early, played big minutes for the team last season and all four have experienced even more success in greater roles this season. Not only is Wichita State talented enough to return to the Final Four, it is also talented enough to cut down the nets at Cowboys Stadium on the first Monday in April.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Massachusetts (24-8, 10-6 A-10). Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen had a fine season, but their résumé does not suggest that they were worthy of a #6 seed. After winning 16 of its first 17 games, Massachusetts went 8-7 over its final 15. Those seven losses included setbacks to non-Tournament teams Richmond, Saint Bonaventure and George Mason. The Minutemen were a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team as a result, and that was evident by the fact that they were the #6 seed in their conference tournament. What really makes the placement here a headscratcher is that George Washington and Saint Joseph’s finished ahead of them in the conference and they were given a #8 and a #10 seed, respectively.

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Bracket Prep: Coastal Carolina, Wichita State, Mercer

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 10th, 2014

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

Coastal Carolina

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

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

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

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 9th, 2014

Twenty-three years ago. That’s the last time a college basketball team entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated. Until now. The Wichita State Shockers completed their inexorable march toward regular season perfection with an 83-69 victory against Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game Sunday afternoon at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Thirty-four times opponents attempted to end Wichita State’s bid for perfection, and 34 times they failed. The 1990-91 UNLV team that entered the NCAA Tournament at 30-0 will no longer be the answer to a modern-day trivia question. That honor now belongs to Wichita State. “I wouldn’t say it was a celebration or a relief, but we understand what we accomplished is something special,” Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early said. “At the same time we still have business to take care of.” Added Wichita State guard Fred Van Vleet: “We’re not going to hide from it. We’re going to embrace it and appreciate it. This stuff doesn’t happen.”

Wichita Has Surprised Everyone On Its Way to Unbeaten Heading Into Selection Sunday (credit: TSN/Ryan Fagan)

Wichita Has Surprised Everyone On Its Way to Unbeaten Heading Into Selection Sunday (credit: TSN/Ryan Fagan)

Let’s forget the omnipresent strength-of-schedule argument surrounding the Shockers. Let’s forget the detractors who won’t be satisfied until Wichita State proves itself in the Big Dance. Let’s celebrate the accomplishment for what it is. Wichita State is just the second team in history to begin the season with 34 straight wins. The other? That UNLV squad that reached the Final Four at 34-0 before falling to Duke. This is one of the biggest stories in the history of college basketball. The Shockers pulled off a feat that’s only been done once before. And should they — with their inevitable #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — be able to avoid the first #16 over #1 upset in Big Dance history, Wichita State would stand alone as the only team to start a college basketball season with 35 consecutive victories. “It’s got to be [one of the greatest stories in college basketball history],” Van Vleet said. “You’re talking about 34 up, 34 down. I don’t care who you’re playing or where you’re at or where you’re from, 34-0 is 34-0.”

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Wichita State’s Bid For Perfection Runs Into a Valley Scoring Star

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 15th, 2014

There’s been only one story to (consistently) grab national headlines out of the Missouri Valley this season, and it’s been a big one. You may have heard that Wichita State (currently 26-0) is trying to wrap up the first undefeated regular season since St. Joseph’s ran the table back in 2003-04. So it’s understandable that any other Valley storylines haven’t had a chance to reach national consciousness, short of Barry Hinson wanting his wife to play power forward for his team. But the Shockers’ bid for perfection runs into a Valley storyline on Saturday that needs an additional spotlight: Evansville guard D.J. Balentine, one of the best scorers you’ve probably never heard of.

D.J. Balentine is likely the best scorer Wichita State's elite defense will face all season (rantsports.com).

D.J. Balentine is likely the best scorer Wichita State’s elite defense will face all season (rantsports.com).

There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you haven’t. The Purple Aces (11-14, 4-9 MVC) are near the bottom of the Valley and nowhere near any kind of postseason bid. You may, however, be hearing Balentine’s name more often over the next few years. Someone will need to assume Billy Baron’s role as the chic, mid-major scoring star, and it could very well be the Evansville sophomore. Balentine is sixth in the country in points per game (23.6) and is coming off a 38-point performance against Illinois State on Wednesday night. He dropped 43 on Northern Iowa earlier this season, and hasn’t wilted against the upper echelon of the Valley, scoring 23 against Indiana State and 26 in his first game against the Shockers. There’s no question the sophomore gets a more-than-healthy heaping of shots (15 per game), but his offensive game is dangerous because of its balance. Balentine gets to the line over eight times per game and is shooting 86 percent once he gets there. He’s also beaten teams from deep, taking 35.3 percent of his shots from three and knocking down over 40 percent of those. He’s also got the seventh best assist rate in the Valley, despite being the definition of a high-volume shooter.

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Wichita State Might Have the Necessary Tools to Reach Perfection

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 17th, 2014

“Play angry” became Wichita State’s motto on its fantastic run to last year’s Final Four. The motto has stuck this year and been a part of the longest winning streak and best start in school history. But last Saturday night the Shockers’ motto was more “play with fire” than anything else, as they survived an 18-point halftime deficit and raucous road atmosphere against Missouri State to stay unbeaten. Playing with fire is exactly what Wichita State will continue to do as the team attempts to post the first undefeated regular season since St. Joseph’s turned the trick in 2003-04. Wichita State passed its next test with a dominant home win over Bradley on Tuesday night, but not every game will be in the friendly confines of Koch Arena and against a team that came in having lost nine of 10. It’s not that the Shockers aren’t good enough to pull off a perfect regular season, but two axioms of the often wacky and unpredictable world of college basketball are: a) that it’s hard as hell to play on the road, and b) it sure isn’t easy to win them all. Last Saturday’s win in Springfield illustrated why a perfect season, even in a down conference, is so hard to achieve; but it also showed that Gregg Marshall’s Shockers could just have what it takes to make it happen.

Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker bottled up Missouri State in the second half of their overtime win (Wichita Eagle, www.kansas.com).

Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker bottled up Missouri State in the second half of their overtime win. (Wichita Eagle, www.kansas.com).

The recipe for the upset was in full swing against Wichita State last Saturday: a home team red-hot from the three-point line in front of a rabid crowd. The undefeated season talk had already slowly begun to gain steam, but this was the type of game that many predicted would prevent it from happening. Wichita State will, after all, be the the Super Bowl game for every Missouri Valley team this season. Yet the perfect record was still alive when the Shockers tipped off against Bradley, and in battling back against Missouri State, they showed that even if they run into a similar situation against Indiana State in Terre Haute or Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls (or anywhere else, for that matter), they have shown the ability to keep sneaking out road wins.

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Wichita State Making Another Run at the Final Four Not Seem So Surprising

Posted by Adam Stillman on December 4th, 2013

Wichita State shocked the nation last March, as Gregg Marshall and the ninth-seeded Shockers stormed their way to the Final Four out of the West Region before finally capitulating to eventual national champion Louisville. Well, Wichita State isn’t flying under anybody’s radar this season. The Shockers entered the 2013-14 campaign ranked #16 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. They now sit at #11 and #10 respectively in those rankings after an 8-0 start that includes a CBE Hall of Fame Classic title and a strong road win at Saint Louis. As of Tuesday night, Wichita State boasts a #9 ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, thanks to a 22nd-ranked offense (113.8 points per 100 possessions) and a 16th-ranked defense (allowing just 93 points per 100 possessions).

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Wichita State, who won the CBE Classic last week, continues to roll on.

Wichita State is undoubtedly the favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, and let’s be honest, it won’t need to worry about sitting on the at-large bubble come Selection Sunday. But without a plethora of additional marquee non-conference match-ups on the docket, it’s best for the Shockers to take care of business with an eye on a higher seed this March. The darlings from the MVC have acquitted themselves well so far, as Marshall’s group has a pair of nice victories it will be able to hang its hat on regardless of what happens in conference play.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 4th, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • A report broke Thursday morning that Wolverines guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft when their season comes to an end.
  • A great profile by Rod Beard of the Detroit News on the decisive leadership of Trey Burke. Burke’s leadership on and off the court has helped lead Michigan to its first Final Four in 20 years.
  • Michigan forward Mitch McGary has lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season and the now lighter freshman has been a key component of the team that is set to make its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
  • On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beilein refused to discuss the report that his guards Burke and Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft.
  • Michigan freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines gambled and gave him a late scholarship offer. That gamble has paid off majorly for the Wolverines, as Albrecht has developed into a very capable back-up to star guard Trey Burke.

Syracuse

  • Bud Polquin of Syracuse.com writes that it is coach Jim Boeheim‘s fourth Final Four appearance and it is probably not his last.
  • A lot has been made about rumors that this could possibly be Jim Boeheim‘s final season at Syracuse, but the veteran coach made known that “he fully intends to coach Syracuse in the ACC.” 
  • The path Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams has taken in his Orange career to the Final Four is quite similar to the path former Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims took to the 1996 Final Four.
  • Syracuse has decided that its motto for the week is to become legendary.
  • It is possible that Syracuse forward C.J. Fair will declare for the NBA Draft following the end of the season, but the junior is just focused on playing in the Final Four right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #9 Wichita State 70, #2 Ohio State 66

Posted by AMurawa on March 30th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is reporting from the West Regional in Los Angeles, CA this weekend.

  1. Tekele Cotton Ain’t Scared. To set the scene, a 20-point lead with 11 minutes left had turned into a three-point lead with under three minutes remaining. The Shockers had committed five turnovers on their previous six possessions and hadn’t made a field goal in nearly five minutes. Wichita State players were arguing with each other, looking over at the bench at every loose ball for some sort of help and checking the clock, which was moving far too slow for their liking, at every chance they got. A game that had once been a snoozer looked very much like one that was going to turn into a surprising Ohio State comeback. But after breaking through Buckeye pressure and getting the ball in the halfcourt, the ball found its way to Tekele Cotton with less than ten seconds on the shot clock. Primarily known as a defender and dirty work type of player, Cotton, however, stepped into the three as calm and as cool as you would want, as if the world around him weren’t going to hell. And it was pure. Nothing but net. In that moment, one player putting aside the enormity of the situation and handling his business as if he were all alone in the gym, much of that confusion and disorder disappeared. And he wasn’t done yet. On the next offensive possession, after Fred Van Vleet missed and end-of-shot-clock three on a possession where the Shockers never got the ball inside the three-point line , Cotton tracked down the offensive rebound and turned a wasted 35-second possession into a 1:10 possession that ended in a Van Vleet jumper. Suffice it to say that likely without Cotton, the Shockers may have gotten shocked themselves.

    Demetric Williams Spending Some Quality Time With The West Regional Trophy. Williams, Despite Seeing His Minutes Slashed, Hit A Big Three In The First Half

    Demetric Williams Spending Some Quality Time With The West Regional Trophy. Williams, Despite Seeing His Minutes Slashed, Hit A Big Three In The First Half

  2. Athletically Even. You look at the names of the front of the jerseys and the conferences in which these teams play and you expect, sight unseen, the Buckeyes to be the physically dominant team. That was very much not the case today: Wichita State was every bit the athletic equal of the Buckeyes, with all the height, strength, quickness and bounciness of the more familiar Buckeyes. And you got the feeling right from the start that the Shockers new that. But the Buckeyes are used to playing against their athletic equals on a regular basis, while this was all new for the Shockers. After dominating for 30-some minutes, when the Buckeyes turned up the energy, the Shockers got flustered for a bit, but their athleticism allowed them to recover and fend off a late charge.
  3. Aaron Craft Exposed. The game plan for the Shockers on Craft was pretty clear: go under ball screens, give him looks at jumpers over a chance at penetration and go at him with the ball. And their game plan paid off. Craft did his a couple of his seven three-point attempts, but he missed all five of his two-point attempts and was at times a liability offensively, allowing the Shockers to sag off and clog up the lane. And defensively, on more than a couple occasions, Armstead blew by him on the way to the hole. Even more shockingly, when the Buckeyes finally started to show some pop, it was when Craft was on the pine for a brief two minute stretch. He came back on to help harass the Shockers into turnovers late, but this certainly wasn’t a great performance from the Buckeye point.

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West Regional Final Game Analysis: #2 Ohio State vs #9 Wichita State

Posted by AMurawa on March 30th, 2013

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#2 Ohio State vs. #9 Wichita State – West Regional Regional Final (Los Angeles, CA) – 7:05PM ET on CBS

With Florida Gulf Coast’s magical run over, Wichita State is now left to carry the banner for Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament. Having already knocked off Gonzaga, the team that finished the season as the number one team in the polls, the Shockers have experience playing that role, but today they face a team in Ohio State that is as hot as any team in the country, having reeled off 11 straight victories with nine of those coming against NCAA Tournament teams. In other words, the Shockers are about to face a big step up in the level of competition. But, you know what? Wichita State belongs on the same floor as the Buckeyes. They’re not going to be over-matched athletically like so many underdogs are, if anything they have a slight height advantage and these Shockers are pretty darn hot themselves right now. They have a quintet of talented guards that as a group can attack the hoop, score from deep and play tremendous defense. And then up front they have a pair of 6’8” bulldogs, with Carl Hall more than willing to mix it up in the paint while Cleanthony Early can be a match-up problem with his inside/outside game.

Gregg Marshall Is One Win Away From Taking The Shockers To The Final Four

But, as well as Wichita State matches up with the Buckeyes, Ohio State matches up with them. While Early is a strong offensive threat and a tough rebounder, he’s not a real good match-up for Ohio State’s leading scorer DeShaun Thomas – not that very many people are. Thomas has faced far more fearsome defenders than Early, and Gregg Marshall probably knows that he’ll have to run additional defenders at Thomas to get the ball out of his hands. And if the ball is coming out of Thomas’ hands, if these last two games are any indication, that might mean it is going to wind up in LaQuinton Ross’ hands. Ross is Ohio State’s breakout star (he had 14 of the Buckeyes’ last 17 points in their Sweet 16 win over Arizona, including the game winner) and he has shown a versatile offensive game that very few teams in the nation have a great match-up for, and Wichita State is no exception. But, as good as Ross has been these last two games, two fine performances does not make a consistent offensive performer.

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Rushed Reactions: Wichita State 66, Illinois State 51

Posted by dnspewak on March 9th, 2013

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Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He’s covering the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis through Sunday.

Three Key Takeaways.

Carl Hall Will Get Yet Another Shot at Creighton (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Carl Hall Will Get Yet Another Shot at Creighton (Photo credit: AP Photo).

  1. That Wichita State Defense: It is quite possible the Shockers played the best 12-minute defensive stretch of any team in college basketball this season. Illinois State did not make a field goal until Tyler Brown’s wide-open layup in transition with fewer than eight minutes to play in the first half. Wichita State led 17-1 out of the gate and punished the Redbirds on the defensive end. They didn’t get a single open look in the opening minutes of the game, and when they managed to actually find a shot, it either air-balled or barely hit the rim. Wichita State’s guards are just so fast and so athletic on the perimeter. When they’re really guarding and playing with energy and momentum, Demetric Williams, Tekele Cotton and Malcolm Armstead are like a pack of hyenas. There might not be anybody better in the country. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Ehimen Orukpe and Carl Hall were like The Incredible Hulks in the paint, too, especially at the onset of the game. 
  2. A Microcosm of Illinois State’s Season: Things could not have started more poorly for the Redbirds, but they overcame the horrific offensive start and actually put a scare into the Shockers. Once they settled down offensively, got stronger with the basketball and played a little more patiently, the shots started to fall and Jackie Carmichael went to work. In the blink of an eye, a 15-0 ISU run helped tie the game, and the Shockers led by just two points at halftime. Of course, the game got away from Illinois State in the second half as the offense began to stall again. Wichita State’s physicality proved too much, and it was a frustrating way for the Redbirds to exit Arch Madness after advancing to the title game a year ago. Even after losing coach Tim Jankovic to SMU – and remember, he took point guard Nic Moore along with him – the Redbirds looked like a team with championship aspirations. Carmichael has NBA potential, and the rest of the crew was back from a young roster that seemed to really grow up during the 2012 MVC Tournament. But first-year head coach Dan Muller’s squad sputtered, starting Valley play 0-6 and never quite recovering. There were flashes of that championship talent, mainly during a victory at Creighton in early February. It’s why many believed the Redbirds had an outside shot to win this thing as a six seed, and it’s why that 15-0 run in the middle of the first half had the thousands of Shockers fans in the building wiping their foreheads a little bit. Illinois State’s magic run never materialized, though, and now Muller is left wondering how he’ll recover in Year Two.
  3. Wichita State’s Depth Is Starting to Form: Marshall’s team is finally healthy. And it’s completely healthy— meaning absolutely every key contributor is back. That’s been evident during the first two games of this tournament, as Marshall has flooded subs in and out of the game at every possible turn. He’s basically playing two lines of players, and all of them get after it on the defensive end and rebound the heck out of the ball. Much was made of Carl Hall’s return during the middle of MVC play, but look no further than a guy like Ron Baker as an example of the kind of depth Marshall has at his disposal. Marshall has hailed his return from injury as an important factor in the Shockers’ development, and after making a bunch of key plays in the quarterfinals, he scored seven points in the semis on Saturday. Marshall played 10 players against the Redbirds. Is it a coincidence that Illinois State wore down in the second half?

Star of the Game: We’re giving the game ball to the entire Wichita State defense. Yeah, that’s probably a cop out, but it’s absolutely necessary in this instance. The Shockers manhandled Illinois State on every level, especially at the beginning of the game. “I mean, they couldn’t score,” Marshall said. “They were having a hard time putting the ball in the basket, and this is a prolific scoring team.” Tyler Brown, who lit up Northern Iowa on Friday and made four threes in the first five minutes of that quarterfinal game, was shut down by Tekele Cotton on Saturday. That’s the kind of effort everybody gave, and it’s why the Redbirds’ offense fizzled in the second half.

Sights and Sounds: Gregg Marshall has a lot of pull with the officials, apparently. After the officials called a charge on one of his players and took away a basket, Marshall exploded on the sidelines. Bright red face and everything. A few seconds later, they changed the call. “I’m even helping the referees,” Marshall said to the radio producer at the scorer’s table.

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