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Final Four Saturday

#8 Kentucky defeated #2 Wisconsin

This tournament is decided by the slimmest of margins. I honestly don’t mean this as a slam against Kentucky, as I think it is better as a compliment. When Kentucky trailed Wichita St. 40-31, Ken Pomeroy’s in-game probabilities said they had only a 12% chance of winning. When they trailed Louisville 64-57 with 5 minutes left, they had only a 5% chance of winning. When they trailed Michigan 32-22, they had just a 22% chance of winning. Saturday against Wisconsin was no different. To overcome those odds is something that you can never take away from this incredible group of freshmen.

Someday they will make one of those ESPN 30 for 30 movies about this team. They will talk about the recruiting, the expectations, the disappointment.

And they will talk about redemption. Alex Poythress scored only eight points on Saturday, but I don’t think I have ever seen a player make as many momentum swinging buckets in one game.

They will talk about surprises. Kentucky supposedly couldn’t win if the Harrison twins were on the bench, but less heralded freshman Dominique Hawkins played 11 critical minutes, including several at the end of the first half as Kentucky cut the lead. (And don’t forget about Marcus Lee’s dunk over Frank Kaminsky’s head.)

They will talk about players stepping up. When Wisconsin went up seven to start the second half and John Calipari called time-out, James Young almost single-handedly saved the game. He helped force a shot-clock violation on defense. Then he drove and was fouled. Then he hit a jumper. Then he had a steal from behind. Then he had a floater that was put in by Poythress. He personally sparked a run that for a period of time, made Kentucky look invincible.

They will talk about a heroic recovery from injury. When Julius Randle sprained his ankle in the first half, it looked like Kentucky’s dream might be over. But there was Randle late in the game driving for a key basket and foul to keep his team in the game.

They will talk about family. After Andrew Harrison fouled Traevon Jackson and sent him to the line for three free throws, his brother Aaron Harrison hit a miraculous three (again) to save his brother, and his team.

And whether Kentucky wins or loses Monday’s championship game, this season will go down as one of the most amazing stories of all time.

But Kentucky fans will have to forgive me if I save a lot of this space for Wisconsin. I wrote a long game review about the Connecticut and Florida team simulcasts. (Scroll down for the recap.) But it wasn’t until I watched Wisconsin lose that I realized how powerful the team simulcasts can be.

For probably 20 years, I’ve heard Wayne Larrivee’s voice calling various sporting events in the Midwest. And just the sound of his melodious wordsmithing brings back feelings of being a teenager and hearing a regional broadcast of a Big Ten game at 11am CT. And though I watched the game on TBS with Jim Nance, Steve Kerr, and Greg Anthony, when the game was over, I switched to the Wisconsin simulcast. And I rewound and listened again as Larrivee called the final minutes of action. The beauty of the simulcasts is sometimes as simple as this. The local legends and heroes who have called games for decades finally get to call the most important games of a school’s existence. Is there anything more perfect than that?

And then on the Wisconsin channel, while John Calipari could faintly be heard giving his interview with Tracy Wolfson in the background, they simply showed the Wisconsin fans one at a time. They showed sadness. They showed distress. They showed shock. They showed pride.

Florida’s loss on Saturday will be painful for a long-time. To lose as a heavy-favorite is never easy to overcome. But to lose at the last second like Wisconsin lost, when the opportunity for a championship was at hand, is devastating.

In the post-game interview, Charles Barkley basically said two things. First, he said it was a great game. Then he said, losing is extremely painful. When you look at those two thoughts on paper, they are truly inane. But that is why Charles Barkley is absolutely the best in the business at what he does. He can take those simple statements and make them mean something.

And you cannot get over how painful this loss is for Wisconsin. Having watched the Badgers for 20 years, and having seen the team make the Final Four before, I can easily say that this is the best Wisconsin team I have ever seen play. Frank Kaminsky was a dynamic post player, driver, and three point shooter. Sam Dekker, while later posterized by Alex Poythress, opened the second half by blocking a Julius Randle dunk attempt inside. He showed spectacular athleticism. The Badgers had the perfect collection of shooters. And with Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and a suddenly emerging Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin also had a group of perimeter players who could beat their man off the dribble. For this team to end its run short of the pinnacle is truly heart-breaking.

The temptation is to look ahead to next year. Of all the rotation players, only Ben Brust graduates. If Frank Kaminsky does not declare for the draft, expectations should be through the roof. I’ve already run my Way-To-Early-Simulation for next year and I can tell you that if everyone comes back, I project Wisconsin fourth nationally.

But you cannot look to the future and assume everything will work out as planned. Ask Michigan St. how quickly a dream lineup can go astray. Ask Marcus Smart what happens when you come back to get your team deeper into the tournament. In a one-game setting, almost anything can happen. This may be as good as it ever gets.

I remember when Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and the Illini went 37-2 and returned home after losing the Championship Game in 2005. Bruce Weber had a somewhat pessimistic comment when he came back to town. People kept telling him, “We will win it next year coach.” And Weber’s response was not, “Of course.” His response was, “Enjoy the moment. Remember this season. 37-2 will not happen nearly often enough.”

And that’s what I have to say to Wisconsin fans. You don’t have to worry about falling off the map, because Bo Ryan is a winner. But also realize that the joy of this season will rarely, if ever, be duplicated. The amazing comeback against Oregon, the shocking beat-down of Baylor, and the thrilling game against Arizona, are memories that Wisconsin fans should hold dear for the rest of their life. Go buy that Final Four shirt and wear it with pride.

#7 Connecticut defeated #1 Florida

I watched quite a bit of the team simulcasts during the Connecticut vs Florida game. If you were hoping for some comedic hometown announcers that gleefully explain how their team never commits a foul, you were probably disappointed.  There were the occasional hidden jabs.  For example, the Florida announcers made sure to emphasize that when Florida lost to Connecticut early in the season that Kasey Hill did not play. And even though Florida trailed at the half, the Gators production team pulled out a stat from Bloomberg that said that the Gators were still favored to win 54% of the time. But, overall the jabs were pretty subtle.

To really understand the differences, I watched the exact same moments of game time. I watched both simulcasts in their entirety through the first ten minutes of game action, and for the final five minutes of regulation:

-Starting with the opener, the UConn channel showed highlights of UConn from this season. Meanwhile, the Florida channel showed highlights of Florida from this season. Both packages were well done. This was a good idea.

-The UConn channel showed a graphic that said that UConn has the sixth most NCAA titles in history. Meanwhile, the Florida announcers noted that the Gators were the #1 overall team in the entire NCAA tournament.

-The UConn channel showed a tweet from Rip Hamilton telling his team to #standup. Meanwhile, the Florida channel had a graphic that said that there were 110,000 Twitter mentions of the Gators over the weekend, and 75,000 fewer mentions of UConn.

-Opening minute: The UConn announcers bemoaned the fact that Florida’s Michael Frazier hit a three to open the game. “That’s a very bad sign.” Ironically, it was Florida's only three of the game. Meanwhile, the Florida announcers didn’t just praise the play, they fully diagnosed the play. “That was a designed set by the Gators. It is called the elevator play.” The Gator crew then showed a complete replay of what led to Frazier getting open. Frazier essentially slid between two Gator forwards who stepped together and cut off Shabazz Napier. Meanwhile, the UConn announce team moved on and did not emphasize what led to the open shot. This showed an important distinction between the two telecasts. This was not just the same set of pictures with different announcers. These were completely different productions.

-When the Gators took a 7-0 lead, again we saw a key difference between the two production crews. The UConn channel just cut to a commercial, but the Florida channel first showed a shot of the Florida student section cheering. Overall, the team channels only showed the fans of the team in the spotlight.

-At 12:18 left in the first half Patric Young blocked Ryan Boatright’s shot out-of-bounds leading to a shot-clock violation. On the Florida channel, they emphasized the incredible defense that Florida displayed for 35 seconds. But on the UConn channel they talked about what a great job Boatright did getting into the lane. They noted that Boatright just held the ball a second too long which allowed Young to recover and get the block.

-After the under 12 minute timeout, we saw the next biggest difference in the two production crews. They had different interviews with formers players. While former UConn player Swin Cash was interviewing Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb, over on the Florida channel the sideline reporter’s microphone wasn’t working.  (Later the Florida channel would interview Chandler Parsons and Matt Bonner.)

In my opinion, this was a huge and important difference in having multiple channels broadcast the game. One of the most painful things that can happen when watching your team play in a sporting event is for the announcers to interview someone related to the opposing team. First, the interview almost always makes it impossible to follow the game action. And second, if it isn’t your team, you don’t care what the interviewee has to say. In this case, if you hated the interviews, you could always switch back to the primary TBS telecast. (And quite frankly, you should have made this choice. In the Matt Bonner interview we learned that he now only wears corduroy pants and he has given up jeans. This is some information I never wanted to know.)

Jumping ahead to the last five minutes of the game:

-At 4:25 left, the Florida announcers reminded us that there was “still plenty of time left.” Meanwhile, the Connecticut announcers noted that it was too early to hold the ball and run clock.

-At 3:53 on the Florida channel we got the Infiniti Spotlight. They showed a 3D view of Florida’s great court spacing which allowed Patric Young to go one-on-one and get an easy basket inside. Meanwhile, the Connecticut channel showed the Capital One Cup Impact Performance which featured a series of highlights of DeAndre Daniels.

-With 2:04 left and Shabazz Napier heading to the line, the UConn channel focused on Napier’s mom. Meanwhile, the Florida channel showed the sad Gator players sitting on the bench.

-With 1:21 left, UConn turned the ball over. On the UConn channel, “This game is not over!” But on the Florida channel, they had gone into full concession mode and were talking about the “core four” Florida Gator seniors, whose career was now over.

This, by the way, is a key feature of human nature. When you are up 10 with 1:21 left, you are still nervous and fear the loss. But when you are down 10 with 1:21 left, you usually view the lead as insurmountable.

-With 47.5 seconds left in the game, Patric Young made a miraculous play diving for a loose ball. The Florida channel praised his effort while talking about all of Florida’s great wins this season, including winning at Tennessee and Kentucky in the same week. On the Connecticut channel, they started showing shots of the UConn players on the bench jumping up and down and needing to be restrained by Kevin Ollie from stepping on the floor. They also panned to the UConn fans cheering.

-Postgame: Florida’s announcers noted that after the way the season started with all the injuries and off-court issues, no one gave the Gators a shot of making it this far. Meanwhile UConn’s announcers noted that no one gave Kevin Ollie’s squad a shot of making it to the national title game.

As for the game, I thought Steve Kerr nailed it. While Florida won the points in the paint 32-14 in the first match-up, they did not dominate in this area in this game. That was a little shocking given that Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan were in significant foul trouble and UConn had to go small on a number of occasions. Patric Young carried Florida for quite a stretch in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.

I thought former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun (interviewed on the UConn channel), also had the perfect take on the game. He said that people assume that when a team goes small, the defense will be terrible. But Connecticut’s players were able to stay closer to the ground, and that made it very hard for Florida to get by them. Florida was a team that penetrated and shared the ball for easy baskets. But Florida had just three assists in the whole game. And Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright got some huge steals again in this game. And somehow, a Connecticut team that lost to Louisville 81-48 just a few weeks ago, is playing for a national title.

Balance Remains Key To Winning In March

While the underdogs are the story of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the favorites take the stage in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. The cutdown from 64 to 16 isn’t nearly as brutal as the one from 16 to 4. A team might sneak through the first weekend due to a favorable draw, but the quality of play ratchets up quickly the further you go. The talent gap shrinks as the field narrows and any weakness a team has will eventually be exposed.

That was the story on Thursday night, which featured two of the best games of the Tourney - Florida 79, UCLA 68 and Arizona 70, San Diego State 64.

After playing the America East champs in the first round and a middling ACC team in the second, Florida faced the second best team in the Pac-12 in the third.

Arizona, after rolling through the champions of two mid-major conferences in the first two rounds, faced a steep challenge from the Mountain West champs in the third.

The games between the 1 and 4 seeds in the South and West brackets were heavyweight matchups. Florida was the No. 1 overall seed and had won 28 straight games; UCLA had as much talent as any team in the country and was coming off winning the Pac-12 conference tournament. Arizona had a 31-4 record and was ranked in the Top 5 for most of the season; San Diego State had a 31-5 record and had not slipped out of the Top 15. All four teams had multiple NBA prospects.

The Florida game came down to rebounds - the Gators had a +10 margin on the glass, including 10 offensive rebounds. UCLA went into a zone early, hoping to exploit Florida’s inconsistent perimeter shooting. However, one of the problems with zones is that it’s harder to rebound out of them, since none of the defenders have a box-out assignment. So while Billy Donovan’s team missed plenty of shots, going 8-21 from three, they rebounded enough misses to make up for it.

The Bruins had a ton of perimeter talent, but they didn’t have the size and athleticism upfront to match-up with Patric Young (6’9 260), Will Yeguete (6’8 230), Dorian Finney-Smith (6’8 215) and Chris Walker (6’11 220). UCLA started two jump-shooting big men in the Wear Twins, who combined for only 8 rebounds. Tony Parker, their biggest player at 6’9 255, was still a year away - he picked up three personal fouls in only 10 minutes of action on Thursday.

Their weakness on the glass meant the Bruins were playing uphill for most of the night. The 1-on-1 talent of Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine fueled runs throughout the game, but they could never close the gap and get a lead. Florida always had an answer, either on the first shot or the second shot or the third. UCLA couldn’t turn them over consistently either, so they were never able to make up the possessions they lost on the defensive glass.

The Bruins were an offensive-minded team that played just enough defense to survive. Against lower-seeded teams like Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin, their overwhelming edge in talent made up for their inability to impose their will on defense. However, against an elite team, it doesn’t matter how many points you can score if you can’t protect your defensive glass. Florida exposed UCLA’s weaknesses in a way their opponents in the first two rounds couldn’t.

San Diego State was the polar opposite of UCLA - an elite defensive team that played just enough offense to survive. When the Aztecs were at their best, they were using their athletic advantage to turn teams over and get out in transition, getting points going from defense to offense. In the half-court, their lack of post play and perimeter shooting made them limited offensively, especially against teams with the size and athleticism to protect their defensive glass.

Arizona, like SDSU, played elite defense and could play an NBA-caliber athlete at every position on the floor. The difference was they had better shooters and more skilled players in the frontcourt, allowing them to run much better half-court offense. They turned the tables on Steve Fisher’s team - turning them over and scoring points in transition, before the Aztecs could set their defense. San Diego State had four assists on 10 turnovers; Arizona had 14 assists on 7 turnovers.

As long as Sean Miller’s team took care of the ball, they could force San Diego State to stay in the halfcourt and beat them from the perimeter. And with their season on the line, the Aztecs couldn’t make enough shots when it counted - shooting 39 percent from the field and 29 percent from three. All those misses allowed them to grab 18 offensive rebounds and keep the game close, but the Wildcats pulled away late, forcing a few huge turnovers and getting easy points on run-outs.

While UCLA could only beat you with offense and San Diego State could only beat you with defense, Arizona and Florida could beat you with both. An elite team can beat you in multiple ways. Some nights the shots aren’t falling, so you have to be able to dig in on defense. Some nights the other team can’t miss, so you have to be able to keep up. Just as important, a balanced team can exploit any weakness in the other team’s roster. They don’t leave points on the board.

In a one-and-done tournament, you never know who you are going to play or what type of team you will have to face. Match-ups can be a tricky thing - the Midwest was supposed to be the region of death, but the No. 3 seed lost to the 14 in the first round and the first seed lost to the eight in the second. A favorable draw will only take you so far; eventually you are going to run into a team with the pieces to expose any hole on your roster. That’s why the best teams have the fewest holes.

One of the age-old debates in basketball is whether offense or defense wins championships. The answer is neither - you need both. A team that plays good offense and good defense is going to have the edge over a team that plays great defense and average offense or great offense and average defense. That’s why balance is the key to winning in March. Arizona and Florida were more balanced than San Diego State and UCLA and that’s why they are moving on.

Every Player In The Sweet Sixteen

Today I want to talk about all 154 players that have made some noise for the teams in the Sweet Sixteen this year. While I am ignoring a handful of players who stayed glued to the bench all year, today I will discuss everyone else, from the role players to the superstars.

Injured or kicked off the team (8): Iowa St.’s Georges Niang, Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, Michigan’s Mitch McGary, Stanford’s Aaron Bright, Tennessee’s Robert Hubbs, Florida’s Eli Carter, Louisville’s Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware.

Niang is the most recent player to get injured, but he certainly isn’t the first. Perhaps the most interesting story belongs to Kevin Ware. A year ago, he broke his leg. In the fall, he was back playing in an exhibition. But some combination of off-court issues and injuries have caused him to no longer travel with Louisville this season.

New to lineup thanks to those injuries (3): Iowa St.’s Daniel Edozie, Arizona’s Elliott Pitts and Jordin Mayes.

With Niang and Ashley going down, these players have seen their minutes tick up lately. But we still don’t know very much about how good these players can be. As much as injuries hurt, sometimes the best news is that the opposition doesn’t have a detailed scouting report on these players yet.

Cut from the rotation late in the year (15): Baylor’s Ish Wainwright, Connecticut’s Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander, Dayton’s Devon Scott and Kyle Davis, Florida’s Devon Walker and Jacob Kurtz, Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins, Louisville’s Tim Henderson, Michigan St.’s Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd, San Diego St.’s Dakarai Allen, Stanford’s Grant Verhoeven, Tennessee’s AJ Davis, Virginia’s Darion Atkins.

These players may play a few minutes this weekend. And one or two might even play a larger role if there is some unexpected foul trouble. But all these players have seen their minutes cut at the end of the year. The reasons are fairly straightforward. Everyone on this list either has a low ORtg or never shoots. And you can’t afford to put non-scorers on the floor in the NCAA tournament.

Never plays but you should care (1): Florida’s Chris Walker.

Walker was an elite recruit but eligibility issues prevented him from practicing with Florida for most of the year. If Florida can get a commanding lead and get to garbage time, look for him to get a monster dunk.

They started as walk-ons (2): Kentucky’s Jarrod Polson and Stanford’s Robbie Lemons.

Because both teams lack guard depth these two players will sometimes play meaningful minutes. They are mainly in to help with ball-handling.

One game wonders? (2): Virginia’s Evan Nolte and Connecticut’s Terrence Samuel

Nolte was starting to fall out of the rotation but he hit two huge threes against Coastal Carolina when the game was still in doubt. Samuel scored a career high 11 points in the NCAA tournament game against Villanova.

He’s a big body (4): Wisconsin’s Duje Dukan, Michigan St.’s Gavin Schilling, Tennesee’s Derek Reese, Arizona’s Matt Korcheck.

The rotation patterns suggest these team’s head coaches are not in love with these players. They play because big men get in foul trouble and need rest. But these players are only on the court for short stretches. Schilling is one of only two Spartans to play in every game this season.

Defensive subs (8):

Player

Team

Steal Rate

Block Rate

Justin Anderson

Virginia

1.1

4.1

Dwayne Polee

San Diego St.

3.7

3.3

Lasan Kromah

Connecticut

3.1

1.8

Aqeel Quinn

San Diego St.

2.8

0.4

Alvin Ellis III

Michigan St.

2.7

1.2

Armani Moore

Tennessee

2.3

5

Kendall Pollard

Dayton

2.3

4.2

Marcus Allen

Stanford

2.3

0.7

Defensive subs is sometimes a code word for “this guy can’t shoot.” That isn’t quite fair to everyone on this list. Dwayne Polee is actually a pretty solid spot-up shooter. But it is fair to say that none of these guys are scoring stars. They get their hands on steals, or in Justin Anderson’s case, they block a lot of shots from the wing position. And that still earns them some rotation time.

Get the opening tip, then come sit on the bench (2): Connecticut’s Philip Nolan and Dayton’s Matt Kavanaugh.

Despite starting a ton of games for these two teams, these two play shockingly few minutes.

Defensive rebounding specialists (6):

Player

Team

DR%

Jon Horford

Michigan

25.6

Josh Davis

San Diego St.

24.9

Akil Mitchell

Virginia

23.7

Dustin Hogue

Iowa St.

20.5

Cory Jefferson

Baylor

20.8

Will Yeguete

Florida

18.6

There are elite defensive rebounders in the groups that will follow (Kenny Kaminsky, Rico Gathers, Branden Dawson, Kyle Anderson, Jarnell Stokes, Adreian Payne, Julius Randle), but for these six, it is their defining quality.

Two point scorers (7):

Player

Team

eFG%

Royce O’Neale

Baylor

61.6

Anthony Gill

Virginia

59.7

Kaleb Tarczewski

Arizona

57.6

Stefan Nastic

Stanford

57.4

Norman Powell

UCLA

57.3

Travis Wear

UCLA

56.1

David Wear

UCLA

55.7

These are all players with a high eFG% without taking a lot of threes. I am cheating a bit with this category, as these players do not have all that much in common. But I honestly did not know what to do with these guys. They aren’t great rebounders, they are not really their team’s primary ball-handlers, and they aren’t three point gunners. But they can all score when you get them the ball inside the arc.

O’Neale is probably the most versatile player on the list. He has solid assist numbers, makes wide open threes, and is decent on the boards. But he makes 56% of his twos and that is probably his biggest contribution at this point.

Rim Protectors (7):

Player

Team

DR%

Block%

Amida Brimah

Connecticut

11.3

15.4

Willie Cauley-Stein

Kentucky

16.0

12.2

Isaiah Austin

Baylor

13.5

11.9

Skylar Spencer

San Diego St.

11.8

11.5

Mangok Mathiang

Louisville

13.2

9.9

Matt Costello

Michigan St.

14.8

9.8

Mike Tobey

Virginia

12.3

7

I might be stretching a bit with Tobey, but these are the best shot-blockers left in the field.

No one left in this tournament is both an elite shot-blocker and defensive rebounder. These guys are all tall and explosive enough to have defensive rebounding rates above 20%, but none of them come close. Because these guys go for blocks, they tend to be out of position when fighting for defensive boards.

When you get the offensive rebound, it is easier to score (16):

Player

Team

OR%

Rico Gathers

Baylor

18.2

Dakari Johnson

Kentucky

17.5

Jeronne Maymon

Tennessee

13.9

Stephan Van Treese

Louisville

13.9

Branden Dawson

Michigan St.

13.3

Jordan Morgan

Michigan

12.8

Patric Young

Florida

12.8

Tony Parker

UCLA

12.5

Dorian Finney-Smith

Florida

12.1

Alex Poythress

Kentucky

11.6

Dyshawn Pierre

Dayton

10.6

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Arizona

10.5

Jalen Robinson

Dayton

10.5

Taurean Prince

Baylor

8.7

J.J. O`Brien

San Diego St.

8.3

Winston Shepard

San Diego St.

7.2

Most of these guys are not skilled offensive players, but by getting offensive rebounds, they tend to get high quality put-backs. Shepard is a surprisingly good passer for a rebounder of his size.

Finney-Smith is a little hard to classify, but given his shooting woes this year, his put-backs are probably his greatest contribution.

The Shooters (26):

Do not leave these players open:

Player

Team

3P%

3PM

3PA

Michael Frazier II

Florida

44%

110

248

Brady Heslip

Baylor

46%

109

235

Ben Brust

Wisconsin

39%

89

229

Jordan Sibert

Dayton

43%

79

184

Joe Harris

Virginia

40%

70

173

Luke Hancock

Louisville

34%

65

192

Naz Long

Iowa St.

41%

63

154

Zak Irvin

Michigan

41%

58

142

Caris LeVert

Michigan

41%

57

139

Gabe York

Arizona

39%

56

144

Niels Giffey

Connecticut

52%

55

106

Anthony Brown

Stanford

45%

52

115

Zach LaVine

UCLA

38%

48

125

Josh Gasser

Wisconsin

46%

47

103

DeAndre Daniels

Connecticut

45%

46

103

Khari Price

Dayton

41%

46

113

Wayne Blackshear

Louisville

40%

45

112

Matt Thomas

Iowa St.

34%

44

130

Sam Dekker

Wisconsin

32%

39

121

Devin Oliver

Dayton

39%

37

95

Kenny Kaminski

Michigan St.

49%

37

75

Matt Shrigley

San Diego St.

35%

35

100

Josh Richardson

Tennessee

34%

33

96

John Gage

Stanford

36%

26

73

Josh Huestis

Stanford

34%

25

74

Bronson Koenig

Wisconsin

32%

19

60

A lot of these guys don't fit in just one category. Luke Hancock and Anthony Brown are very good at driving and getting fouled. Wayne Blackshear is a versatile defender. Devin Oliver and Josh Huestis are great rebounders. Sam Dekker is a very good driver for a big man. Regardless, you don't want to leave any of these guys open.

Pass-First PGs (13):

Player

Team

ORtg

A%

A/TO

T.J. McConnell

Arizona

112.5

31.1

3.1

Kasey Hill

Florida

99.0

25.5

2.0

Darius Thompson

Tennessee

104.3

25.2

2.7

Spike Albrecht

Michigan

127.0

24.8

4.6

London Perrantes

Virginia

118.3

24.3

3.6

Scoochie Smith

Dayton

88.7

20.7

1.8

Monte Morris

Iowa St.

125.2

20.5

5.0

Derrick Walton Jr.

Michigan

112.3

20.3

1.9

Gary Franklin

Baylor

105.1

19.9

1.7

Bryce Alford

UCLA

110.3

19.2

2.1

Travis Trice

Michigan St.

118.2

18.9

2.3

Terry Rozier

Louisville

116.9

17.0

3.0

Antonio Barton

Tennessee

111.1

15.8

2.2

Hill, Thompson, Smith, and Franklin are the only guys without a solid jump shot, and that hurts their ORtg overall. But Hill makes up for it by getting to the free throw line at an elite rate. Barton has not been an effective creator this year and thus the ball-handling duties have fallen more on Tennessee's Jordan McRae.

Scoring and Passing (7):

Player

Team

PPG

PctPoss

ORtg

A%

A/TO

Kenny Chery

Baylor

11.5

23.1

115.6

34

2.3

Keith Appling

Michigan St.

11.7

21.5

110.1

26.3

2.2

Traevon Jackson

Wisconsin

10.8

22.5

107

25

1.8

Andrew Harrison

Kentucky

11

21.7

104

23.1

1.4

Ryan Boatright

Connecticut

11.9

22.5

104.7

22

1.8

Chris Jones

Louisville

10.4

21.7

110.2

20.6

2.1

Vee Sanford

Dayton

9.9

25

103.4

17.5

1.2

Appling, Jackson, and Harrison live at the FT line. Appling is obviously still not 100%, and the biggest question left in this tournament is whether Appling's injury will hurt Michigan St. when they play a close game against a quality opponent.

The stats don’t tell the story (3): Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson, and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.

Aaron Gordon should be a lottery pick in the draft, but when you look at his stats, he doesn’t dominate in any statistical category. But I strongly believe the stats are missing something here. Sean Miller has taken a team to the NCAA tournament 7 times, but he’s never had a Top 10 defense in his career until this season. And I believe Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson are largely responsible for the peak defensive success. Gordon has an incredible ability to both help in the lane and close out on three point shooters. Gordon has a superstar level impact even if that isn’t reflected in the stats.

Glenn Robinson has seen his draft stock slip substantially this season, and his numbers aren’t great. But he is still an impressive player in the open floor and he has the athleticism to frustrate opposing players.

Finally, Nigel Hayes is statistically a liability for the Badgers. He is one of the least efficient players on the team. But what makes him so important is that Hayes is the Badgers only true inside big man. Hayes has a free throw rate of 94, meaning he gets 94 FTs for every 100 shots he takes. For a perimeter oriented Badger team, he provides some key balance.

They Do Everything! (5):

Player

Team

PPG

DR%

A%

Steal%

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut

17.8

15.2

30.9

3.0

Kyle Anderson

UCLA

14.7

25.4

34.3

3.0

Dwight Powell

Stanford

13.9

17.3

20.5

2.3

Malcolm Brogdon

Virginia

12.6

17.3

19.4

2.4

Denzel Valentine

Michigan St.

8.1

18.3

23.0

1.9

Napier is one of the best rebounding guards you will ever see. Brogdon is a super-versatile wing player. And Anderson and Powell are talented playmakers with the size of forwards. Valentine doesn't have the scoring of the others, but he's still a dynamic point forward. Other than Powell, all are quality three point shooters too.

The Pure Scorers (19):

These players all score a lot, but let’s break down the contributing factors. Jarnell Stokes is scoring a lot despite Tennessee’s slow tempo. Adreian Payne is scoring a lot, despite playing limited minutes.  Meanwhile Russ Smith is the highest volume scorer left in the field, and Nik Stauskas is the most efficient.

Player

Team

PPG

Tempo

PctMin

PctPoss

ORtg

Nik Stauskas

Michigan

17.4

62.7

85.4

23.7

124.5

Frank Kaminsky

Wisconsin

13.6

63.7

66.3

24.9

123.0

Jordan Adams

UCLA

17.4

70.1

72.6

25.6

121.7

Xavier Thames

San Diego St.

17.3

63.4

77.3

27.6

120.6

Montrezl Harrell

Louisville

14.0

69.1

72.9

22.1

117.6

Jarnell Stokes

Tennessee

15.2

62.8

80.3

26.0

117.4

Aaron Harrison

Kentucky

14.1

66.5

79.7

20.7

116.6

Jordan McRae

Tennessee

18.6

62.8

79.4

28.6

115.8

Casey Prather

Florida

14.1

62.8

66.8

25.2

115.4

Russ Smith

Louisville

18.1

69.1

72.9

30.8

114.5

Nick Johnson

Arizona

16.3

64.6

80.7

24.8

114.4

Gary Harris

Michigan St.

16.9

66.4

73.2

25.5

114.1

Adreian Payne

Michigan St.

16.6

66.4

55.1

27.2

114.0

Melvin Ejim

Iowa St.

18.1

71.9

74.3

25.8

113.0

Chasson Randle

Stanford

18.7

67.0

87.0

25.5

112.9

Scottie Wilbekin

Florida

13.1

62.8

72.4

21.5

112.9

Julius Randle

Kentucky

15.1

66.5

75.9

26.3

111.2

DeAndre Kane

Iowa St.

17.1

71.9

84.2

26.7

110.9

James Young

Kentucky

14.3

66.5

80.1

22.0

110.4

Harrell, Stokes, and Julius Randle are all monster offensive rebounders. Other than those three and Casey Prather, all these players are dangerous from three point range. Surprisingly, Jordan Adams has the best steal rate, though Russ Smith isn't far behind. Kane and Smith are also dynamic passers and creators for their teammates.

Andrew Wiggins To Kansas And A Top 25 Update

Andrew Wiggins decision to attend Kansas isn't the only news to shake up the Way Too Early Top 25 over the last few weeks.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12ís slump over? Is the Big Tenís boom about to come to an end?

Sweet Sixteen Day 1

On a night that saw three Big Ten/Big East match-ups, Dan Hanner explains one flaw in the Big Ten's current league configuration.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Twelve of the 16 teams in the Sweet Sixteen were in the preseason AP Top 25, and Michigan St. was among the first teams in the ďothers receiving votesĒ category. But Indiana, Ohio, and NC State have all exceeded expectations this season by making it this far.

2012 SEC Power Rankings

Kentucky was as dominant statistically in SEC play as they were when watching five minutes of any of their 16 wins.

Who Is Hot, Who Is Not

When it comes to February in college basketball, some teams get better, the rest get left in the rear view mirror. Here are the teams that are surging and falling over their past 10 games.

The SECís Most Prolific Offensive Players

When you evaluate breakout players, donít just look at the per-game totals. Look at why the players improved. And when they are more efficient and more aggressive, give them the extra praise they deserve.

Rivalry Week Musings And More Conference Shuffling

Breaking down Duke/North Carolina, Syracuse/Georgetown, Kansas/Baylor and Florida/Kentucky, along with which conferences are improving with the new round of shuffling.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 12

Syracuse has yet to leave New York and have played a relatively soft schedule, with their only impressive wins coming against Florida and Stanford, but they are 10-0 and now No. 1 in RealGMís weekly poll.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 5

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State were ready to trounce on the No. 1 slot in RealGM's rankings if not for an Anthony Davis block.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Nov. 28th

Kentucky at No. 1, North Carolina drops to No. 4, while Saint Louis, Harvard, San Diego State and Creighton enter RealGM's rankings.

SEC Prospect Watch List

The SEC has three of the top-four freshmen in the country in Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Bradley Beal to go with sophomores Patric Young and Terrence Jones.

Power Rankings For The Alumni Games

It is hard to imagine a more exciting barnstorming series than a tournament featuring NBA players suiting up again for their college.

RealGM Interview: Patric Young Of Florida

Patric Young was one of the bright spots for Team USA in the U19 World Championship and gives Billy Donovan reason for optimism.

Reviewing Nike Hoop Summit 2011

Unlike the McDonald's All-American Game which includes some good but not great high school players, the Nike Hoops summit showcases only the absolute top recruits.

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