NCAA Tournament Observations: Cauley-Stein a big piece for UK
Jon Rothstein makes his observations heading into the NCAA Tournament's regional weekend, which begins Thursday.
1. Kentucky needs more out of Willie Cauley-Stein to beat Louisville.
The 7-footer Cauley-Stein has taken the Wildcats to a different level this season in games where he's had a major impact, but he's yet to have a vintage performance in the NCAA Tournament. Cauley-Stein only had four points, two rebounds, and a block against Wichita State and will need to be more of a force in the middle against the Cardinals. The big man brought his 'A' game against Florida in the SEC tournament title game, with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks against the Gators in 34 minutes worth of work. Kentucky will need a similar effort on Friday against the defending national champions if it's to advance to the Elite Eight.
2. Lasan Kromah is going to a pivotal piece for UConn against Iowa State.
The fifth-year transfer has quietly been a strong defensive piece for the Huskies this season on the perimeter and will likely see a great deal of time guarding Cyclones star DeAndre Kane. Kromah was more of a scorer last season at George Washington (10.1 points), but he's embraced his role this year under Kevin Ollie as a strong, physical defender who brings terrific intangibles. Against Villanova last weekend, the 6-6 Kromah had one of his best all-around games of the season, logging 26 minutes and scoring 12 points to along with an impressive four steals. To beat Iowa State and advance to the Elite Eight, UConn will need Kromah to be razor-sharp defensively against Kane and the Cyclones.
3. Royce O'Neale has been a terrific role player for Baylor.
At 6-6 and active, O'Neale has been the unsung presence of the Bears' lethal frontcourt. Armed with great length, the Denver transfer is terrific at getting into passing lanes on defense and has been a welcome addition to Scott Drew's extremely effective zone defense. Most people immediately bring up Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin when they think of Baylor's front line (and for good reason), but O'Neale has a major place in the Bears' baseline as well. In two NCAA Tournament games, O'Neale is averaging 6.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.5 steals.
4. In 24 hours, Steve Masiello went from a professional high to a professional low.
Think about this for a second. On Tuesday, Masiello was leaving Manhattan and heading to South Florida with a six million dollar contract in his hand. He had finally gotten his big break and was ready to trade hay makers with the big boys. Then Wednesday, word got out that the Bulls had rescinded their offer because Masiello didn't have a degree from the University of Kentucky like it said on his resume. Talk about a whirlwind. Manhattan College issued a statement on Wednesday saying that Masiello was on a leave pending a review of his undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky. In what other profession can you go from the apex of your career to the bottom of your career in 24 hours? This is a tough business folks. A really tough business.
5. Shaka Smart is quietly making VCU a breeding ground for future head coaches.
Smart just completed his fifth season as a Division I head coach, but he's already had four of his assistants move on to run their own programs. Mike Jones left after the Rams' Final Four run in 2011 to take over at Radford while Jamion Christian exited Richmond a year later to take the reigns at his alma mater, Mount St. Mary's. In 2013, it was Will Wade's turn as he moved on to Chattanooga and just a few days ago, longtime assistant Mike Rhoades accepted the head coaching position at Rice. That's a pretty impressive coaching tree, considering Smart has only been on the job at VCU for only a half a decade.
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