ATB: Who Ya Got for NPOY?Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2010
Weekend Wrap. We just looked at the calendar again to make sure it was late February, and sure enough it is. We’re currently just three weeks away from Selection Sunday, and yet this weekend didn’t have the feel of one so close to the end of the year. Part of the reason is that we’ve come to expect more insanity at this point, as teams who are safely heading to March Madness let their guard down a little to the benefit of those who are not feeling as secure. Put in short, where are the upsets? In the top 25 alone this weekend, there was, what, one? #25 Wake Forest went to Raleigh and lost to the Wolfpack, who are quickly going nowhere. Who else? #3 Villanova losing at #21 Pitt – arguable, at best. If you remove the OSU-MSU game from consideration, in sixteen other games involving ranked teams only Baylor’s road loss at Oklahoma State is even up for discussion. And it’s really not. That said, even though there weren’t a bunch of upsets this weekend, there were a lot of good games. Still, with twenty-one days leading up to the Soiree, we’re ready to start seeing a little more mayhem.
Shades of Redick vs. Morrison. We’re loving us some NPOY discussion this late into the season, reminding us of the season four years ago when Duke’s JJ Redick and Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison played ‘top this‘ from opposite ends of the country throughout the year. This season the two primary contenders only reside about 200 miles apart, but each is incredibly important to his team’s fortunes and as of now, the college hoops world is falling squarely into rival camps — you’re either a John Wall or an Evan Turner guy. Arguments pro and con are filling up the airwaves and bandwidth and we expect that with each passing game the intensity of partisanship will get stronger. This weekend didn’t solve anything, and in fact, may have exacerbated the dissension — depending on whom you ask, both Turner and Wall helped their case this weekend in big road wins for their teams.
- #2 Kentucky 58, #19 Vanderbilt 56. For about 38 minutes of yesterday’s game in Memorial Gymnasium, John Wall was the invisible all-american. He had eight points on 2-10 shooting, and had effectively been shut down by the tough, physical Vanderbilt defense. But when it came winning time, he once again made just enough plays to give his team the win — first, by driving to the hole and somehow securing the ball after it got stripped so that he could still find his head to lay it in to put UK up three, and second, by blocking a last-second three attempt (a terrible decision, btw) by John Jenkins that could have tied the game with four seconds remaining. He was also 3-4 from the line in the final minute to give the Cats just enough cushion to survive yet another close finish. By our count, that was no fewer than the fifth time this season that Wall has saved his team in the clutch. Whether it’s luck or skill that he keeps making plays in these pressure-packed situations, or some combination thereof, we are absolutely certain that he embraces them. And all the great ones do. Vandy will be kicking themselves over this loss for some time, as they had multiple chances to make open shots and really put Kentucky in a tough spot, but the shots wouldnt fall (2-20 from three), and UK effectively wrapped up the SEC regular season title with this one.
- #12 Ohio State 74, #11 Michigan State 67. Evan Turner used the Breslin Center to do his best Michael Jordan vs. the Jazz impression, fighting off flu-like symptoms to the point where he was unable to eat anything prior to the game on Sunday morning. After a listless first half where he only scored four points and missed seven of his first eight shots, he was able to come through when his team needed him most in the second half, scoring twelve points in the final nine minutes to hold off MSU. Like Wall, Turner (20/10/6 assts) was picked up by his teammates prior to his strong finish, with William Buford offering 18/10 and David Lighty 13/9 themselves. The scary part for OSU fans is that Thad Matta only used six players today, and four of those played the entire game. As for the Spartans, defending conference POY Kalin Lucas had a rough night, shooting 3-13 for only nine points today. The Buckeye win ties OSU with Michigan State one-half game behind Purdue with three games left to play in the Big Ten race. While the rest of America is entranced with the talents of Mr. Turner, the question we have is: does anyone in Columbus care?
ACC. Maryland’s wild win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, where Greivis Vasquez seemingly won the game on a half-court toss negated by his coach’s timeout, followed by Cliff Tucker’s buzzer three to actually win the game for a second time, was phenomenal (see below). Easily one of the most bizarre and amazing finishes to a game this year, and a finish that may propel the Terps to an ACC regular season title if they can continue to finish strong. Their primary competitor, Duke, struggled with Virginia Tech tonight, but behind a late run spurred by Kyle Singler (25/10) the Devils were able to stay on top of the league at 11-2. Most of Duke’s scoring continues to come from the three S’s (63 of their 67 tonight), but Brian Zoubek’s 16 boards (eight offensive) was a big reason for the win. He’s averaging 13 RPG in his last three games. In the second tier of the conference, Clemson easily handled fading Virginia, and Wake of course lost its second game of the week at NC State. At the bottom, UNC dropped its ninth game in the last eleven at BC — Roy Williams is without question having his worst season ever. The team among this group that really needs to be careful is Georgia Tech, who has now dropped four of six with wins over only NC State and UNC to sit at 6-7 in the league. The Jackets really need to make sure they get to 8-8 to feel secure.
Big East. The big game this weekend in the Big East was of course the Pitt-Villanova battle in the Steel City this afternoon. If Jamie Dixon isn’t the national coach of the year now that his Panthers have beaten three top five teams this year, then we don’t know who is. In the first game since the Elite Eight classic last March that sent Nova to the F4, Pitt exacted a modicum of revenge for the players who are no longer there (Sam Young, Levance Fields, DeJuan Blair, Tyrell Biggs) with this win today. Ashton Gibbs had 21 points and Gilbert Brown came off the bench for 16/4, including a late baseline dunk that RTC would have awarded him ten points for given its ferocity and timing (see end of the clip below). With the loss, Villanova has now lost twice in a row and three of five games, but we don’t especially believe that they’re much worse than when they started the Big East at 11-1; they’re just playing better teams now. If Syracuse (dnp this weekend) can merely take care of business the rest of the way and beat Villanova at home, they’re the Big East regular season champs. West Virginia, UConn, Louisville and Marquette also had wins over the weekend, each of them shoring up their respective NCAA resumes. WVU at 10-4 is in position to catch Villanova (11-3) in the last two weeks, but all that really matters in this conference is finishing in the top four to receive the double-bye in the Big East Tournament — and it appears that Cuse, Villanova, Pitt and WVU are going to be those four teams. Louisville has the best mathematical shot at catching one of them, but we’re not a believer in the Cards given their remaining schedule. Beyond that, South Florida was the biggest egg-layer of the weekend, dropping a sixteen-point decision at home to St. John’s. Everyone made a big deal of the return of Gus Gilchrist to the USF lineup, but he’s only brought 6/4 to the table in his three games back (2/2 on Saturday). There are now five teams (including the Bulls) jammed at 6-8 in the conference — UConn, Notre Dame, Seton Hall and Cincy are the others — and from our viewpoint, it’s the Huskies and Pirates with the two best schedules left to get to 9-9 in the conference (and a shot at the single-bye).
Big Ten. With Ohio State’s win at Michigan State today (discussed above), it appears to be a three-horse race down the stretch along with Purdue for the Big Ten regular season title. Purdue took care of Illinois at home on Saturday, winning despite the JaJuan Johnson rule being in effect (Johnson was 1-10 from the field for 5/6). It was Robbie Hummel (22/12) and E’Twaun Moore (18/5/4 assts) who picked up the slack, though, for their big man, and closed a tight game out with a 14-5 run to stay a half-game ahead of the others in the standings. Wisconsin still has an outside shot at the title with its win today over Northwestern, but even if the Badgers win out, it’s unlikely that the three teams ahead of them will drop enough games to allow them to win it. Minnesota helped itself with a win over Indiana to move back to 7-7, but the Gophers will undoubtedly need to avoid any further letdowns in the last two weeks to feel safe on March 13. Speaking of Northwestern, the Cats are now at 6-9, but they have games against the three beatable teams coming up (IU, Iowa and Penn State). It’s highly unlikely they could do it, but 9-9 would make for an interesting situation if they could then also win a game or two in Indianapolis. At any rate, it appears that the league is looking at a possibility of six, but no more, NCAA teams this year short of a miraculous run by someone.
Big 12. With four games left, #1 Kansas is riding out the string. Their easy win over Colorado makes another Big 12 regular season title a virtual certainty, so the real interest lies in who will step up to get second and third and therefore avoiding the Jayhawks until the Big 12 Tournament finals. There are still six teams with a shot at it, and only Baylor (who lost to Oklahoma State on the road) hurt their standing over the weekend. K-State, at 9-3, used a big game from Denis Clemente (27/6 assts) to pull away from the disappointing Sooners in Norman, while both Missouri (at Nebraska) and Texas A&M (at Iowa State) earned hard-fought road wins to go to 8-4 in league play. Of course, the real wildcard in this conference is the talented Texas Longhorns, who won at Texas Tech on Saturday to move to 7-5 in the conference. Rick Barnes played twelve players to varying levels of success, with Gary Johnson coming off the bench for the best individual game with 22/8. We’ve been saying for some time that Barnes needs to find a rotation of eight reliable players with clearly defined roles, but in the Horns’ last four close games, he’s used an average of eleven players per contest. It’s great to have that kind of talent at your disposal, but only if you have buy-in from everyone on the team. It doesn’t appear to us that Barnes has that necessary component.
Pac-10. Despite the fact that ESPN made the unwatchable Washington-UCLA game its Saturday Night Showcase game this week (UW won by about 1,400 points), there were really only two games worth discussing this weekend. Cal managed to escape the state of Oregon with a split — the fourth such road trip for the Bears this year — as they defeated Oregon on Saturday to remain at the top of the league, a half-game ahead of surging Arizona State. Speaking of which, ASU exacted payback in Tucson for their earlier loss to rival Arizona, and it’s become apparent that Herb Sendek’s team has designs on joining Cal in the NCAA discussion for two teams out of this conference. Ty Abbott dropped 28/3 for the Sun Devils, and if his team continues along at this pace, winning three of their final four games, it would be difficult to at least leave ASU out of the conversation with 22 wins. Regardless of that, ASU and Cal will meet next Saturday in Berkeley quite possibly for conference superiority.
SEC. The SEC’s premier event of the weekend is discussed above, with UK essentially cementing its place atop the conference and division with its rugged victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday. But two teams vying for March credentials pulled off tough wins as well on that day. First, Florida went on the road and outlasted fading Ole Miss behind a career-high 22 points from forward Vernon Macklin, who has been up and down all season long. Honestly, it wouldn’t shock us if the Gators lost all four of their remaining games because we don’t think they’re very good, but if they can just go 2-2, then they’re probably safe at 10-6 in the SEC. The other game was Mississippi State’s thrilling victory over winless-in-conference LSU, also on Saturday. After the Tigers’ Tasmin Mitchell hit a three with fifteen seconds to go, making it seem as if LSU might get its first conference win of the year, MSU’s Phil Turner answered with a three of his own with six seconds left to save the Bulldogs’ tourney chances. The Dogs are 7-5 in the SEC West with all four remaining games winnable, but they’ve been so inconsistent this year that there’s no telling what they’ll do down the stretch. In the only other interesting game of the weekend in the SEC, Tennessee got a key road win at South Carolina as the Gamecocks continue to struggle after the big Kentucky win a few weeks ago (lost four of six). Other than Kentucky and LSU, pretty much anybody can beat anybody on a given night in this league.
Others. In the A10, Temple, Xavier, St. Louis and Richmond all got key wins to keep the top of this conference loaded. St. Louis hosts XU, and UR will visit Xavier next weekend so hopefully the coming week will provide some clarity for a league that arguably will get five or more teams dancing this year. In CUSA, UTEP stayed on top at 11-1 with a huge win at Tulsa, but Memphis (10-2) and UAB (9-3) kept pace. The Blazers will play both UTEP and Memphis in the final week of the regular season to settle that mess. In the Mountain West, BYU and New Mexico keep winning, and UNLV and SDSU are staying close behind with wins as well. This is looking like a strong three-team league this year. In the WCC, Gonzaga bounced back in a big way from its loss at LMU by ripping Pepperdine easily.
Bracketbusters. The Missouri Valley, led by Northern Iowa’s win over Old Dominion had a great weekend, going 7-3 in the Bracketbusters contests. It probably won’t mean anything much in terms of the NCAA Tournament because the Valley’s second-best team, Wichita State, lost at Utah State (see below), but perhaps it will help with NIT/CBI bids for that conference. The conference that has the most to gain and instead lost everything was the Colonial. All four of the league leaders lost their BB game, and both George Mason and Northeastern lost at home (to Charleston and Louisiana Tech, respectively). Any ideas that the league had about sending two teams to the NCAAs probably died on the vine sometime Saturday afternoon.
RTC Live. We were at six important games this weekend; here are the recaps for all but the Harvard vs. Cornell game, which can be found separately here.
- Maryland 76, Georgia Tech 74. What a finish out in College Park on Saturday afternoon. After a sluggish start, especially on the defensive glass, Maryland seemingly took control against Tech towards the end of the first half and early in the second half. But as Greivis Vasquez struggled with his shot, the Yellow Jackets made a run, outscoring Maryland 12-2 over a four minutes stretch as the Terps simply couldn’t get a stop to go up 65-60 with 4:59 left.The Terps wouldn’t go away, as Eric Hayes would score five straight points to give them a 71-68 lead with 1:24 on the clock. Derrick Favors would answer with a tip-in 30 seconds later, setting up a furious final minute. After Dino Gregory missed a lay-up, Georgia Tech called a time out, isolating DeAndre Bell, who drove to the rim and scored. But at the other end, Vasquez drove down the middle and hit a floater to take the lead back at 73-72. The rest, well, you saw it already above…
Vasquez struggled a bit in this one, finished with 18 points, 8 assists, and 5 boards, but hitting just 5-16 from the floor. Derrick Favors made NBA scouts drool as he went for 21 points and 18 boards, nine offensive. Maryland is now in second place in the ACC, but they have a fatal flaw – a lack of an interior presence. A week after Brian Zoubek torched them inside, Favors overmatched Jordan Williams and Gregory (who, to their credit, put up an admirable fight).
- #13 Butler 70, Siena 53. Shelvin Mack and the Butler Bulldogs don’t like losing at home. They haven’t lost in Hinkle Fieldhouse since getting upset by Cleveland State in last year’s Horizon league Tournament final, so when they were down 31-28 at halftime against visiting Siena they naturally weren’t happy. Things were much different in the second half as the host Bulldogs ran the Saints off the floor in a 70-53 win on senior day for Willie Veasley, Avery Jukes, and Nick Rodgers. Rodgers, Jukes, and Veasley set a school record with 110 wins over their four year careers, and they are looking for more as Butler prepares for the Horizon League Tournament. “That’s a heck of a basketball team. I wanted to tell all you Siena people that made the trip here,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens about Siena. “We’ve seen some great teams come in here over the past few years and this team is right up there.” It was a sophomore, Mack, that hit big shot after big shot for Butler. With starting center Matt Howard saddled with foul trouble again, Mack had 23 points, 16 of which came in the second half as Butler took full control. Gordon Hayward, another promising sophomore for Butler finished with 15. Siena, meanwhile was stymied early when Butler came out hitting the 3-pointer. Clarence Jackson finished with 24 as Siena used a late first half run to pull ahead, but they could not maintain that momentum after the break. “In the second half we obviously struggled. We had some clean looks and it kind of snowballed for us. We had taken the crowd of the game a bit but when we couldn’t score it was very difficult for us from there,” said Siena coach Fran McCaffery. Siena had a dismal second half shooting the basketball, hitting just 7 of 30 shots after halftime. The Saints also missed all eight three point attempts in the second half. After this loss, Siena will in all likelihood need to win the MAAC Tournament to ensure its third straight NCAA bid this season.
- Utah State 68, Wichita State 58. Utah State made the most of their national television spotlight, dispatching a very good Wichita State team 66-56. The Aggies got a balanced scoring effort, with seven players scoring at least seven points; meanwhile Wichita State’s offensive woes continued, shooting just 30% in the first half and putting the Shockers in a hole they wouldn’t be able to climb out of. The big story was the inside play of the Aggies. Tai Wesley dominated early and often and all three USU post players who got into the game for the Aggies scored in double figures. All in all the Aggies scored 32 points in the paint, and often just looked like they were pushing around the Shockers down low. The loss likely eliminates the Shockers at large chances, and now makes their road to the NCAA tournament run exclusively through St. Louis and Arch Madness. The Aggies got a another quality victory to add to their NCAA resume which is looking better with every game during their 12-game winning streak.
- #16 Wisconsin 70, Northwestern 63. At the start of the game, Wisconsin couldn’t seem to miss, making their first six shots en route to a 43-point first half, well above their season average. Northwestern never let the game get away, though, and capitalized on a very uncharacteristic second half by the Badgers. UW had 14 turnovers, the majority of which came late, and went over four minutes without a point in a crucial stretch in the second half. Overall, the Badgers shot well from the free throw line, but Jon Leuer missed three free throws in the closing minutes to give Northwestern a chance. They closed the gap to one point but were never able to steal the lead. The Wildcats had a chance to send the game into overtime, as they were down by three points with ten seconds left, but a huge block by Leuer sealed the game for the Badgers as they won 70-63.
- UTEP 78, Tulsa 70. What was supposed to be the big game of the week in Conference USA between the preseason champion Tulsa Golden Hurricanes and the current first place team, the UTEP Miners, ended up being a UTEP party, 78-70. The final was an eight-point difference, but the Miners never gave up the lead after taking it over with 16:23 left in the first half. Derrick Caracter was the big difference for UTEP, scoring 16 points and rendering Tulsa’s 7-foot superstar Jerome Jordan useless. The Miners really proved they can be a dangerous team in the Big Dance. If they keep playing this well, expect the selection committee to reward them with a #7 or #8 seed. On the other side, Tulsa has witnessed their chances at an at-large bid melt away over the past five games, going 1-4. They dropped to fifth in C-USA and need to worry about just getting a win somehow. UTEP guard Randy Culpepper should get some props for his performance as of late, he has been outside his mind and really has nothing holding him back. He made the Tulsa guards look foolish on Saturday. His is now averaging 22 points a game for the month of February.