Tag:Final Four
Posted on: April 1, 2011 6:09 pm

Rams feed off Smart's energy

Posted by Jeff Borzello

HOUSTON – On the surface, it’s not a weird sight: Shaka Smart jumping around, full of energy, getting his players motivated.

It’s normal to see it during a game, while Smart is on the sideline. But in practice?

Smart and the other VCU coaches were involved in a drill at the end of the Rams’ practice on Friday, running around the court and throwing the ball, while having the players chase the ball or draw charges. It finished with Smart saving the ball from going out of bounds and then the players huddling around him.

“We’ve been talking about how important some of the defensive things are to the game tomorrow night,” Smart said. “Our coaches figured we would step in and put our bodies where our mouth is.”

Apparently the only people were surprised were the onlookers – this is a regular occurrence at VCU practices.

“Usually when our other point guard, Darius [Theus], messes up or something, he’ll try to hop in in practice, tell him to get out of the way, run the offense. When he’s done, he’s like, ‘Yeah, just like that.’ He does that a lot actually,” senior Joey Rodriguez said.

“If anything, it’s that, just hopping in and trying to prove to people that he can do what you’re supposed to do in practice.”

Smart is one of the younger coaches in college basketball, only 33 years old. Still, the majority of 33-year olds that can move around like that on a basketball court are professional basketball players.

At least we now know where the Rams’ players get their energy during games.

“Coach Smart is an energy bunny,” senior Ed Nixon said. “It makes us feed off him. If he can do it, we can definitely do it.”

VCU has been feeding off Smart’s energy and enthusiasm all tournament, with the Rams’ up-tempo style and extreme ball pressure defensively carrying them to Houston. They look like they’re enjoying playing with each other and just seem happy to be playing in the NCAA tournament and under this sort of spotlight.

Smart and his players all talk about the looseness they need to play with, both on the sidelines and on the court.

It’s not often you see Smart ripping one of his players in front of the crowd, or see him yelling at a referee incessantly. In fact, the technical he drew against Kansas was only the second he has received in two seasons. According to Smart, it was not because of anything he said – he simply went on the court too quickly.

“I’ve got to control my pace as I move toward the officials,” Smart joked after last week’s win over Kansas.

He certainly doesn’t control his pace during practice, as evidenced by the “Iron Man” drill everyone saw on Friday.

“That gets us very excited, just to see coach running around,” guard Darius Theus said. “Sometimes you think, ‘I wonder if they can do that.’ They’re putting effort into it.”

“It just makes you want to play that much harder,” freshman Rob Brandenberg added. “If they can do it, we’ve got to have 10, 15 times more energy.”

Heading into Saturday’s national semifinal tilt against Butler, VCU does not need any added motivation. If the Rams win, they continue their improbable Cinderella run towards a national championship. They’re already advanced further than any VCU team in the program’s history, and will be the first No. 11 seed to reach the national title game.

However, while it’s unlikely they didn’t know before, the players now know Smart and the other coaches are just as eager to win a championship.

Said forward Juvonte Reddic: “It makes us know they want it as bad as we do.”

Photo: US Presswire

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 1, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 6:10 pm

Nored well on his way to being next Brad Stevens

Posted by Matt Norlander

HOUSTON — One of the hottest young coaching prospects in college basketball still plays college basketball.

It’s no secret junior Butler guard Ronald Nored wants to be a coach one day. It’s no secret he’ll be coveted as an assistant, oh, about 10 seconds after he walks off the podium in 2012, when he’ll graduate from Butler.

You think Brad Stevens is a young coach? Stevens was hired at Butler when he was 30. Nored could have him beat by two or three years, if his reputation continues to ascend, which it undoubtedly will. Can Nored become the youngest coach at the Division I level in college basketball history? Ask people in the business — both coaching and media — and they aren’t dismissing that possibility. Nored already coaches an under-16 AAU team in his spare time. He’s led “Team Truth” since late 2009.

“We got back last weekend from New Orleans, Sunday around noon, and he went straight to AAU practice with his team,” Shelvin Mack said. “It shows you his heart and desire of wanting to be a coach. That right there.”

Nored says he does it as much for fun and helping young kids as the experience it gives him. That teaching mindset he’s adapting to now that will put him on the track to getting  a coaching job as soon as possible. It is undeniably his goal to be on a coaching staff within months upon earning his degree.

Earlier this week, Nored popped in to the coaches’ viewing session, unannounced, and watched a little bit of VCU’s tape. He wants to think how his coach is thinking. He wants to start making the transition now, even with a year to go on the court.

“I try my best to be the coach (on the floor),” he said. “If you don’t have that mindset, and you’re just watching basketball, you just watch as a fan. A fan will watch where the basketball’s going, or just watch a shot. A coach isn’t watching that. A coach is seeing what everyone without the basketball is doing, what the coach on the other sideline is doing, things like that. I’m trying to train and refocus my mind to where I watch basketball and watch sets, how people guard ball screens.”

He’s a great kid, one who’s always smiling, which stands in contrast to his identity as the defensive stud of this Butler team. Nored’s always been that way, too. Whatever points the Bulldogs can get from No. 5, great. But his value lies in lockdown defense and vocal leadership on the floor. This year’s Final Four run, for Nored, has been as much about upping his team’s defensive intensity as he possibly can.

“I love our defensive mentality, and I’ve definitely taken that and said defense will win the games for us,” Nored said. “No matter what your team buildup is, athletic-wise or lack thereof, if you can slow people down that’s how you can win games.”

Twelve years ago, Connecticut won its first national championship thanks in good part to the tremendous defensive play of Ricky Moore. Nored isn't physically as intimidating as Moore was, but he needs to play a role nearly as vital to ensure Butler does the suddenly thinkable and believable: win a national title.

And there are questions. Questions, questions, questions. He is always asking them before the games so he doesn’t have to use any during them. Here’s how it happens: Butler’s players get the scouting report tacked to the bulletin board. From there, the curiosity bubbles up.

“He’s able to see things now, as a player, from a coach’s point of view,” Mack said. “He’s able to talk with the coaches in a certain way.”

There is never an “OK, got it” moment for Nored after reading a rundown. He wants to watch the extra film, then he badgers — in a good way — Stevens and the other coaches for additional information, the fat that was cut from the scouting report.

“I want to know what this guy does, what to this guy do? What does that guy do?” Nored said. “I always ask coach who does what best. I learn it. Then I go to the stat sheet. … “It just normal. It just come naturally. I kind of find it exciting — I guess I’m kind of a nerd with that stuff.”

He’ll go on the Internet at night and peruse opponents’ statistical tendencies. Most players are playing video games.

“In film, everyone focuses, of course, but I really focus and try to memorize everything I can,” Nored said. “As we go through watching the sets on film, I ask, ‘What’s the name of this set? Are there variations to the sets?’ if they don’t show us. By the time we walk on the floor. Like, tomorrow, I’ll know every call VCU has an be able to scream it and yell it out.”

With that quote, Nored gives us something to watch for tomorrow night: how well will he will prepare for his play on the court. It's as much a mental game as a physical one for Nored. He's already well-equipped upstairs. How appropriate that this young man very well could be the next Brad Stevens.

Photo: AP

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 1, 2011 3:48 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 4:03 pm

Video: Butler Blue II arrives at Final Four

Posted by Eric Angevine

What's a major American sporting event without a little controversy? Except, in this case, it's the end of a perceived injustice that's getting all the attention.

Butler Blue II, the live Bulldog mascot of the surprise Final Four entrants from Indianapolis, was denied his accustomed access to his human friends as Brad Stevens and his troops advanced through the Washington, D.C. pod and then the New Orleans regional. In Houston, all has been set right. BB2 broke the news himself, on his twitter feed.

@butlerblue2: I am pleased to announce that the NCAA has officially declared me FREE to attend the Final Four in Houston. #freeButlerBlue2 is retired!

The Twitter-based outcry from Butler fans was a formidable force. It has turned BB2 into something of a cause celebre this weekend. The Bulldog has already visited NASA, a trip that nearly made him late for Butler's scheduled open practice time. Fortunately, he and owner Michael Kaltenmark arrived just in time, and I was able to get first impressions from human and canine in the moment.

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Posted on: April 1, 2011 10:39 am
Edited on: April 1, 2011 2:44 pm

Smith: "Play hard, play smart, play together"

Kenny Smith was an NCAA All-American as a Tar Heel

Posted by Eric Angevine

HOUSTON -- Kenny Smith was up and on the go well before breakfast this morning. The former NCAA first-team All America honoree has plenty to do now that he's part of the broadcast team that will cover the Final Four. He'll be preparing for a Final Four that is loaded with storylines and possibilities.

"I have seen a Final Four like this before in terms of good teams," Smith said this morning. "But there are some really good teams from the non-power conferences. Those teams have really shown well throughout the tournament with the inclusion of Butler and VCU. Probably better than they've ever shown before."

Smith has also been impressed with the winning streaks put together by the participants in this year's Final Four. UConn had to win through the entire Big East tournament to get here, and Virginia Commonwealth advanced out of the inaugural First Four, playing an extra game on the way to the Final Four.

"There's three things: you play hard, you play smart, and you play together," Smith said. "You put those three things together and you're going to have a pretty good run. But you also have to have talent, and you have to have some good fortune. Put three seconds on or take three seconds off a lot of games, and we'd have a different Final Four."

Smith has been heavily involved in making this year's event enjoyable for all of the hoops fans that make it to Houston, including those who might not snag tickets to the main event (or are looking for something else to do after a heart-breaking loss). He's working with the Coke Zero Bracket Town event, which is basically a fancy name for the fan fest at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center. The on-site activities will include basketball competitions, clinics, performances, autograph sessions and photo ops with legends of the game.  For those who can't make it to Houston, there's the Coke Zero Social Arena, an interactive clearing house for live tweets and social media updates from CBS, TNT and NCAA personalities, including video updates from the March Madness On Demand crew.

The social aspect of the Final Four is growing every year. Houston is crawling with head coaches and current and former players over this long weekend. With the addition of social media, Smith says anyone can feel more connected to the goings on in Houston.

"You can talk to your friends through Twitter and Facebook and still have the experience of watching the game and tweeting about it at the same time with a big social network."

So, to paraphrase The Jet: "Watch hard, watch smart and watch together."

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 31, 2011 6:16 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2011 6:17 pm

From Houston: Hello, and let's do this thing

Posted by Matt Norlander

HOUSTON -- Greetings from Reliant Stadium, where the wireless is spotty and the media room is larger than the Palestra. Seriously, it took me 15 minutes to get that photo to load. And seriously, don't know if I could throw a football the entire length of this media room. 'Uge.

Oh, and Houston's the size of the moon. It was an angst-filled hour-long ride from the George Bush International Airport to the Crowne Plaza in Reliant Park. But, finally: here. And thrilled. My whining is all in jest, as the fact I'm covering a Final Four for the first time in my life isn't lost on me. Will never be lost on me. There's so much to do, and we're all eager to buckle down and deliver it all to you.

I'm on the Butler beat for the duration of the Bulldogs' stay. The team didn't much care about when I landed in Houston; I got to the arena after its media-mandated portion of the day was done. So I don't have a Butler story to share with you today. Instead, here I am with this simple blog post. I hope it'll suffice.

So, here's the deal: Over the next five days, us bloggers will have equal parts responsibility to file "formal" stories at other parts of the site, as well as blogging here. For example, I give you Borzello's breakdown of Virginia Commonwealth. When we're not doing that, we'll be chiming in here. It'll be equal parts man-on-the-ground reporting, as well as keeping up with everything viral and worth filling you in on. We want to help you see Houston through our eyes, whether it's reporting behind the reporting, videos, pictures, stories of our nights out/run-ins with anyone notable. Hopefully all of that will factor in.

Now, today, all the teams had hour-long media sessions in the bowels of Reliant Stadium. Players did TV interviews, posed for CBS' pre-game production/video packages, then took questions from the men who write the words about them. It was OK, but not entirely thrilling. Basically, you don't get any one-on-one time with coaches or players, so you hope you get a decent angle, then write off that. Parrish got a fantastic one today (seriously, no one else even thought of writing what he will), and it'll be up shortly. Keep an eye out for it.

Tomorrow we really hunker down. Pretty much anyone and everyone covering this event will be at Reliant, as teams will have their open practices, followed by more press conferences. (This is overkill, but I may save that essay for next year.)

Otherwise, it seems we're all settling in. Houston is expansive, and it appears most of the events are happening downtown ... which is a good ways from Reliant Stadium/the media hotel. Time to put on the nice shoes, shake some hands and finish out this dance, shall we?

Photo via my Droid

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Category: NCAAB
Tags: Final Four
Posted on: March 30, 2011 10:17 am
Edited on: March 31, 2011 10:40 am

Final Four teams by the numbers

Math in basketball?

Posted by Eric Angevine

There are so many ways to look at the four teams that emerged from the regional sites to make it to Houston this week. Some of us are emotionally involved with an alma mater that has won through. Some simply enjoy the spectacle of ANY four teams getting to the semifinals. Others (who may need to be investigated for paranormal cranial activity) still have a decent-looking bracket alive. Others simply want to know the line so they can wager appropriately.

In basketball, more and more, there are the stat-heads. Even those of us (like me) who view the game with the starry eyes of the hopelessly hoops-addicted are coming around to tempo-free statistics as a useful tool for evaluating and even predicting team play. Today, I thought we'd look at some of those numbers side-by-side for the four regional champions.

We'll be using Kenpom.com's latest rankings, broken down into Adjusted Offense (AdjO), Adjusted Defense (AdjD), Effective Field Goal percentage (eFG) and a few interesting stats that might allow us to glean a slight edge one way or the other like point distribution as a percentage of total points scored (two pointers, three pointers and free throws), experience and effective height.  

Butler vs. VCU

Team Seed KP rank AdjO AdjD eFG 2Pdist 3Pdist FTdist Exp Height
Butler Bulldogs No. 8 38 112.7 95.5 50.9 47.0% 31.5% 21.4% 2.02 yrs  +0.4
VCU Rams No. 11 49 113.3 97.7 51.2 43.8% 35.4% 20.7% 2.17 yrs +0.4

On paper, this gives the Rams the offensive edge and the Bulldogs the defensive edge. The rams are shooting better while taking more of their shots from outside. The two-point distribution and the free throw distribution correlate pretty well for both teams. VCU has slightly more experience, but both teams start quality seniors, as we know from watching them. This is too close to call by the numbers, as it probably should be by this point in the season.

UConn vs. Kentucky

Team Seed KP rank AdjO AdjD eFG 2Pdist 3Pdist FTdist Exp Height
UConn Huskies No. 3 11 117.2 92.2 48.5 54.5% 24.4% 21.1% 0.95 yrs  +3.4
Kentucky Wildcats No. 4 4 119.1 91.0 52.7 50.8% 29.2% 19.9% 1.16 yrs +1.6

Lots of interesting numbers here. According to these numbers, UConn is the more efficient team on offense and defense. Despite Kemba Walker's famous step-back jumper, the Huskies rely on the inside game far more than do the Wildcats. Probably because they're so much bigger (there's the loss of Enes Kanter coming back to bite UK again). And as much as we hear about Kentucky's freshmen, UConn is far more youth-driven than the Wildcats in reality. On the even bigger stage of the Final Four, don't be surprised if heady play by UK's upperclassmen turns the tide. They've already beat the nation's most complete team, Ohio State, just to get here.

In truth, none of this tells us who will win. Even tempo-free stats didn't predict a VCU-Butler semifinal. All we can do is use these numbers to decipher some tendencies. As we watch the games on Saturday, we'll be more prepared to assess where each team's relative strengths and weaknesses lie, and that can only enhance our enjoyment of the real-life, real-time contests we'll be watching.

**Note: as a couple of readers noticed, I left VCU's numbers in a couple of spots when copying and pasting the code for the table. The numbers should now be correct.**

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 27, 2011 3:44 pm
Edited on: March 27, 2011 7:10 pm

West region wrapup: UConn wins again

Jim Calhoun loves to cut down nets in the West

Posted by Eric Angevine

The Connecticut Huskies are the champions of the West region. If that phrase sounds familiar, it should. The same was true in 1999, 2004 and 2009. Two of those seasons ended in national championships. Apparently, Jim Calhoun thrives on cross-country travel. Who knew?

UConn can make this the third time they ride Pacific waves to the national title if Kemba Walker keeps playing the way he has. The super junior has averaged 26.7 points and 6.5 assists per game in the NCAA tournament, showing that he can lead his team to victory as a dominant scorer or a deft distributor. He has the Huskies on a nine game win streak at just the right time of the year. By now, it would seem crazy to bet against his ability to will the team to wins number 10 and 11.

He doesn't do it alone, no matter what you've heard. Without Alex Oriakhi in the middle, the Huskies would be dead in the water. The sophomore is tops at establishing defensive position and starting the break going the other way off of an opponent's miss. He's instilled some of that toughness in freshman Roscoe Smith as well. Looking at freshmen, however, it's the two first-year guards who impress the most. Shabazz Napier has shown himself to be a ball-hawking defensive player with an ability to drill the open jumper, and Jeremy Lamb has been a breakout star, using his long arms to disrupt on defense and throw down spectacular dunks on offense.

Ordinarily, a team with so many freshmen would not be a Final Four favorite. But factor in the decades of experience from Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and it all seems to average out. Plenty of excitement still to come from these Huskies.

Regional MVP: Kemba Walker, without a doubt. He has weathered strong challenges from Nolan Smith and Derrick Williams and come out the other side even stronger. Walker keeps defenders cross-footed with his ability to drive to the hoop or step back for a trademark lethal three-point dagger. Most impressive is his indomitable will to win. He never seems to get tired.

All-regional team

Kemba Walker, UConn
Jeremy Lamb, UConn
Derrick Williams, Arizona
Kyle Singler, Duke
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State

Game to remember: Arizona's three close games -- two wins and a loss -- were each memorable in their own way, but it was the one blowout that made the biggest impression. Sean Miller announced that the Wildcats were back ahead of schedule with a 93-77 demolition of the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils. Derrick Williams' 5-6 from deep provided the first-half highlights, then a series of monster dunks from he and his teammates completed the shocking result.

Game to forget: UConn's 69-58 win over Cincinnati was a necessary step along the way to the Final Four, but nothing about it will stand out in the memories of fans (unless it's Kemba's NBA-ready five-steps-without-dribbling drive to the hoop) in retrospect. Even Walker's 33 points were sort of been-there-done-that for the national Player of the Year favorite.

Biggest disappointment: Duke. When Kyrie Irving returned just in time for the Big Dance, it almost seemed unfair. This team was built to win a repeat national championship, with senior leadership, bulk inside, hot shooting outside, and a legendary coach. With every reason in the world to win out, the Blue Devils fell flat against an overlooked Arizona team, leaving Coach K to wait until next year to claim the D-I coaching wins record. It's probably going to be a little anticlimactic for it to come against Furman (or whoever) in December rather than in a national title game.

Best individual performance in a losing effort: Tempting to give Derrick Williams the nod for overcoming foul trouble against UConn to score 20, but his shooting touch was off, to the tune of 5-13 from the field and just one three-pointer out of six going in. So, we'll reach way back to the second round and Talor Battle's 23 in a narrow loss to Temple. If his last-second heave hadn't hit the scoreboard, it very well might have gone in. The kid was on fire like that.

Most memorable moments

Derrick Williams blocks Wesley Witherspoon to preserve a 77-75 Arizona win over Memphis in the second round.

Temple's Juan Fernandez nails a leaner at the buzzer to beat Penn State 66-64; second round.

Darius Morris of Michigan barely misses a runner in the lane, Coach K wins his 900th; third round.

Derrick Williams gets the old-fashioned three-point play inside and Arizona beats Texas 70-69; third round.

Jamelle Horne's second-half dunk puts Arizona up 77-63 on Duke, Sweet 16.

Jeremy Lamb skies for a steal and runout dunk to punctuate UConn's 74-67 win over San Diego State, Sweet 16.

Williams and Horne miss back-to-back three point attempts as Arizona falls to UConn 65-63 in the Elite Eight.

Kemba Walker hits a step-back jump shot with a defender in his face, 115-ish and counting.

Team to watch out for next year: If Williams comes back (yeah, right), it's Arizona. It might be anyway. Michigan really impressed with its poised group of young players in a near-upset of Duke, as well.

See you in Houston, Kemba and company.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: February 3, 2011 6:21 pm

Houston giddy, prepared for April's big stage

Posted by Matt Norlander

Super Bowl Week has been something of a catastrophe in the greater Dallas area, what with all the bad weather, horrible road conditions, lack of proper aura to accompany the litany of glitzy parties. Plus, didn't I hear The Situation was taking over radio row today?

The real tragedy, the one you've heard plenty about, is how those poor, poor sports reporters and their expectations of sunny days and star-gazing that pairs with their, you know, job to cover the damn week, have been gloomy since Monday morning. This surely calls for a violin or fifty. I'm sure those journalists getting beaten and held against their will, those being hunted by gangs in Cairo, are draped in empathy right now.

(K, can I get a ladder to help me down from up here?)

With that said, Houston's not letting Dallas' woes prevent it from getting geeked about its moment on the national stage that, hello, is right around the corner. When the Space City hosts the Final Four two months from now, the weather will certainly be much warmer, and chances are much better all around.

The game will be played at Reliant Stadium (above), the first time the home of the Houston Texas will play host to college basketball's grandest stage. The Houston Chronicle ran a piece yesterday in which Zain Shauk checked in with string-pullers for the event.


Already, organizers are preparing to absorb the influx of visitors for Final Four weekend. Around 70,000 visitors are expected to join local ticket holders during a week that will overlap with the Shell Houston Open golf tournament, which draws its own share of annual fans. And the Final Four is expected to pump at least $60 million into the Houston economy.

The changes visible throughout Houston will be broad, from decorations and graphics placed on buildings and inside the Galleria and other sites, to countdown billboards and a projection of the NCAA tournament bracket on the side of George R. Brown Convention Center .

Even hotel key cards throughout the city will be switched out with cards featuring the NCAA Final Four logo during the week of the Houston events.


The city's going to be huge on branding the town around the Final Four, obviously in hopes of getting the last set of the bracket back to southeast Texas as frequently as possible. Houston, which is an expansive city, is making a concerted effort to get people to and from events, restaurants, activities, etc. as easily and frequently as possible, according to the article. Reliant is already locked up for the 2016 Final Four, while Arlington's Cowboys Stadium, a direct competitor, of course, is only booked for 2014 as of now.

My favorite detail is this cosmetic complement to the Convention Center: "Among the changes meant to inform Houstonians and visitors will be a projection of the tournament bracket on the side of the convention center. The bracket, which will be visible after Selection Sunday, will display the entire tournament field on a 40-foot by 20-foot projection that will be visible from U.S. 59. The bracket will update daily to show which teams have won and are moving on toward the championship game."

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Final Four
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