ATB: Regular Season Coda

Posted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2010

The End of the Regular Season.  Since there was so much going on this weekend, we’re going to separate today’s ATB into two separate posts.  This post exclusively covers the major conference teams, none of whom have gotten to the postseason portion of their schedules yet.  We’ll also have another ATB tonight that solely focuses on the mid-major conference tournaments — that post is here.

It’s Kyle Kuric’s World, We’re Just Living In ItLouisville 78, #1 Syracuse 68.  Rick Pitino loves these games, as it takes him back to the early days of his coaching career as the underdog at Providence or his early probation-era Kentucky teams.  With a possible NCAA bid on the line and the air filled with the pomp and circumstance of the closing of Freedom Hall, the Cards found the unlikeliest of heroes in the second half after guard Jerry Smith hurt his thumb and had to leave the game.  A little-used sophomore by the name of Kyle Kuric who had logged eight scoreless games this season found a groove from seemingly everywhere on the court.  Dunks, threes, rebounds, assists, you name it — Kuric did it.  He scored all 22 of his points in the second half, including a stretch of four treys in five minutes that gave Louisville some breathing room as Syracuse kept going inside to their big men.  It was an unbelievable performance that you have to figure will never be duplicated in that young man’s career.  With the win, Louisville moved into the #6 seed in the Big East Tournament and will await the winner of Cincinnati and Rutgers on Wednesday.  As for Syracuse, we’re not going to read much into this loss on the road where UL was playing for everything and Jim Boeheim’s team was playing for nothing, but it should be noted that the Cardinals defeated the Orange twice this year, and the Cuse only lost three times.  The way that the Cardinal players attacked the SU zone in the two wins should be Cliff Notes material for every team that the Orange faces the rest of the way.  You have to have athletes who understand good offensive spacing, and it doesn’t hurt to have a Kyle Kuric draining everything he throws up, but it can certainly be done.

Think Louisville's Next Opponent Might Scout Him? (C-J/S. Upshaw)

KU HangoverIowa State 85, Kansas State 82 (OT).  This is why we’re not sold on K-State as a Final Four contender this year.  Mere days after getting run out of the gym against rival Kansas in the Phog, we would expect a top five team to rebound at home on Senior Day to obliterate a vastly inferior team like Iowa State.  Instead what we got was an uninspired performance by Frank Martin’s team that included poor shooting (34% FG and 3-23 from three) and even worse decision-making.  Often the K-State players decided on a forced shot when there were better opportunities available, and it showed as Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen combined for 11-38 from the field (3-21 from three).  ISU led for most of the game, but when Kansas State finally tied it up in the last minute, you figured that the better team would eventually pull it out.  Didn’t happen.  There’s an element of undisciplined and scattered play that we’ve repeatedly noticed in the KSU attack this year, and while the Wildcats are definitely a dangerous team, Martin agrees that his team is not yet at a championship level of play.  It will be interesting to see how a team that doesn’t have a lot of postseason success to hang its hat on will handle going into the Big 12 Tournament next week as the #2 seed.

Quincy Acy, Dunking Machine.  We had to mention this because we’re not sure we’ve ever heard of such a thing.  In Baylor’s win against Texas on Saturday, forward Quincy Acy had 24 points on 12-15 shooting, an amazing ten of which were on dunks.  Acy is a very nice swing player, but it’s not like he’s Shaq or Dwight Howard standing in the paint all night.  How a single player can throw down that many dunks, many of which were earth-shaking in force, is as indicative as anything that Texas’ defense has checked out for the season.

Acy is a Raging Dunkaholic (AP/M. Bancale)

Conference Recaps.  As of tonight, there’s only one regular season game left (Penn-Princeton), and it’s meaningless to the national picture, although certainly important to fans of that rivalry.  Let’s recap how the final weekend of the regular season shaped up in the major conferences.

  • ACC.  Duke and Maryland came into the weekend still battling for the top overall seed in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, and both teams took care of business in securing wins to finish 13-3.  By virtue of the tiebreaker, Duke took the #1 seed and Maryland took the #2, but the Terps had a much tougher time in getting there.  Duke coasted by obliterating rival UNC in a display symptomatic of the wheels coming off of Roy Williams’ program this year, while the Terps had to survive a late flurry at Virginia where Tony Bennett’s technical foul (first of his career!) essentially gave Maryland the extra push they needed to win the game.  The other two bye seeds — #3 and #4 — were still up for grabs between Florida State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, and the Seminoles (at Miami) and Hokies (at Georgia Tech) were able to get really nice road wins on Saturday to wrap up those positions.  Speaking of Georgia Tech, they’ve been nothing but disappointing for the second half of this season.  Limping down the stretch having won only three of nine, those three victories were against UNC, NC State and BC.  In a bubble-busting type of game at home on Saturday against VT, you cannot let Malcolm Delaney light you up for 32/9 assts if you have any interest in making the Dance.  In the only other relevant battle this afternoon at Wake Forest, the Deacs avoided a crippling five-game slide to finish the season at 9-7 in the league (same as Clemson).  But Wake will take higher seed on the Duke side of the bracket, which almost makes you wonder if winning that game was the better result.  You have to figure that the top six seeds in the ACC are Tourney locks, but Georgia Tech is the wildcard, especially if they cannot win their first round game against UNC on Thursday.  RTC will have a reporter on the ground at the ACC Tournament throughout the weekend at the event.
  • Big East.  We already discussed the Kyle Kuric game above between #1 Syracuse and Louisville, but there was another very important game in the Big East on Saturday when West Virginia visited Villanova.  Our recap of that one is below in the RTC Live section, but the result meant that those two schools plus Pitt all finished at 13-5 in league play.  Which one of these three is not like the other?  With Pittsburgh’s blowout win over Rutgers on Saturday, the Panthers actually slid in front of the top ten teams to nail down the #2 seed in the Big East Tourney next week, a phenomenal accomplishment for Jamie Dixon’s team considering their personnel losses from last year.  The above four teams earned double-byes in the event, which means that they will be off until Thursday.  As for the next four seeds, Marquette’s loss to Notre Dame on Saturday dropped the Golden Eagles into a tie with Louisville, but they held onto the #5 seed by virtue of the tiebreaker, while UL gets #6.  Luke Harangody continues to prove the Ewing Theory as he was back in action for the Irish but only played eleven largely ineffective minutes (5/2) while his team won its fourth game in a row to earn a single-bye at the #7 seed position.  Tim Abromaitis’ three off a loose-ball rebound allowed ND to get the game into overtime where they outlasted the usually clutch Eagles.  The last bye goes to #8 Georgetown, who ripped apart Cincinnati by 27 points in one of those everything-clicks second halves that the Hoyas occasionally put together.  Austin Freeman came back to play in his first game after getting diagnosed with diabetes, dropping 24 points including four threes.  Cincinnati finished the conference season at 7-11, making the Bearcats one of the more disappointing teams in the league this year.  Bubble teams Seton Hall and South Florida both won games on Saturday to get to 9-9 in league play, but with RPIs in the 60s, they’ll each have to do considerably more this week to get serious consideration from the NCAA Selection Committee.  The team that USF defeated, Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut Huskies, is in big-time trouble.  The Huskies dropped their last three games to finish at 17-14 and 7-11 in the conference, and even though UConn has high-quality wins over Villanova and WVU in recent weeks, losses to Cincinnati (twice), Providence, Michigan and USF cannot be ignored.  From our view of the Big East world, the top eight teams are already dancing, the only question will be whether one of the Seton Hall/USF/UConn troika can make a run deep enough into the week to merit further consideration.  It will be interesting as always, and we’ll be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week onsite at Madison Square Garden.
  • Big Ten.  With both Michigan State and Purdue winning this weekend, the Spartans, Boilermakers and Buckeyes all finished in a three-way tie at the top of the standings this year.  OSU takes the #1 seed, Purdue the #2, and MSU #3 in next week’s Big Ten Tourney in Indianapolis.  Since Robbie Hummel’s injury against Minnesota two weeks ago, the Boilermakers have gone 2-1, but two of those wins were against the bottom of the league.  It will be interesting to see how they do against potentially Northwestern in the quarters and Michigan State (again) in the semis.  The two bubble teams in this conference had opposite results this weekend.  Illinois (18-13, 10-8, #73 RPI) lost again at home to Wisconsin today, the Illini’s fifth loss in the last six games.  Their reward is to play the Badgers again on Friday in the #4/#5 game.  Minnesota is such a weird team — after losing by 28 at Michigan on Tuesday, the Gophers turned around and destroyed Iowa by 35 today.  The Gopher profile (18-12, 9-9, #70 RPI) doesn’t appear much better than Illinois’, but they will get a chance to pick up an extra win over Penn State on Thursday before playing Michigan State for the third time on Friday.  As it stands right now, the Big Ten appears to be a four-bid league unless one of those two makes a strong run in Indy, which is a distant cry from the possibility of seven or eight we were all discussing at the start of the season.
  • Big 12.  Despite the big upset loss to Iowa State on Saturday, #5 Kansas State held onto its #2 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, but we’ve already discussed that game above.   Baylor and Texas A&M were playing for a first round bye over the weekend and both teams came through in a big way with the Bears defeating Texas for the second time this season to secure the #3 seed.  A&M went onto the road to knock off Oklahoma, wrapping up the #4 seed, and if you had both of those teams getting first round byes over Texas (#6) and Oklahoma (#10), then we salute you.  Much has already been written about Texas’ monumental nosedive this season, so there’s no need to rehash that here, but the Horns will have new life in the Big 12 Tournament starting against Iowa State on Wednesday night.  Oklahoma State also took care of Nebraska to get to 9-7 in the conference, and Kansas continued to show that they are the dominant team in all of the land by bouncing back with another blowout win on the road at rival Missouri — KU is now one win away from its 2,000th victories.  The Big 12 Tournament should be rivaled by only the Big East in terms of star power and talent across the spectrum of teams.  RTC will have a reporter there all week long describing the sights and sounds of the event.
  • Pac-10.  In a weekend where the #1 seed (Cal) was already locked in, the only interesting news was that the two other teams trying to work themselves back into the bubble picture didn’t hurt themselves.  Cal was already in with a strong RPI and SOS, but the Bears finished up at 13-5 with a win over Stanford on Saturday.  The aforementioned bubble teams, Arizona State and Washington, both won over the weekend, positioning themselves for possible inclusion with a strong showing in the Pac-10 Tournament this weekend.  ASU won its sixth of seven games in defeating visiting UCLA behind Eric Boateng’s 16/14/4 blks, and the Sun Devils will face #7 seed Stanford on Thursday night to continue to improve their resume (22-9, 12-6 Pac-10, #54 RPI).  The other team hoping for notice from the NCAA powers-that-be, Washington (21-9, 11-7 Pac-10, #55 RPI), handled Oregon State on the road to win their ninth in the last eleven games.  The Huskies earned the third seed in the tournament and will face OSU again on Thursday.  If both ASU and UW win their quarterfinal matchups, it will set up a possible knockout game on Friday night with the winner advancing not only to the Pac-10 finals but also the NCAA Tournament.  In a weakened bubble year, this is entirely possible.  In the one other game of interest in this conference on Saturday, Arizona’s Nic Wise sent himself out on Senior Day in style by hitting a layup with 1.5 seconds remaining to beat USC in double-overtime.  USC will not be attending any postseason tournament this year, including the Pac-10 Tourney, so their season is formally over.  Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and company are likely calling right now to thank OJ Mayo and Tim Floyd for that.  RTC will have a reporter there this coming weekend as well.
  • SEC.  #3 Kentucky essentially locked up its claim on a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in next week’s SEC Tourney by defeating Florida in Lexington this afternoon.  The Cats ran out to a big lead, but like numerous other games this year, had to fend off  a surging Gators team in the second half.  It’ll be interesting to see if that tendency catches up with Calipari’s team at some point in the postseason, although it hasn’t yet.  In the two UK losses this year, the Cats never had a substantial lead.  As for Florida, the Gators are once again limping into the postseason in the post-B2B era.  With three straight Ls to finish the year and their best wins coming way back in November, UF needs a run in the SEC Tournament to ensure an NCAA bid.  We continue to have trouble understanding what has happened to Billy Donovan’s program, as the SEC has been the worst or second-worst BCS conference in each of the past three years yet Florida has remained an NIT stalwart.  The other interesting games involved Vanderbilt, who dropped a tough one at home against South Carolina, and the two Mississippi schools.  Ole Miss helped its bubble chances with a come-from-behind win over Arkansas where Chris Warren went off for 31 points, while MSU was unable to protect its home court as Tennessee easily went into Starkville and dominated the Bulldogs.  These two SEC West teams have nearly identical profiles — Ole Miss is 21-9, 9-7 SEC, #55 RPI, while MSU is 21-10, 9-7 SEC, #56 RPI — so in order to feel safe, both of these teams will have work to do this week.  Given first round byes for finishing 1/2 in the SEC West, it’ll be even tougher for them to get wins because they will have less opportunities to play games.  The SEC is looking more and more like a four or egads, three-team league if those two schools falter.
  • Others.  Most of these leagues are already in conference tournament land, but a few were still finishing up the regular season over the weekend.  In the Atlantic 10, the top three seeds Temple, Xavier and Richmond all won their games.  Those three are all safely dancing, but the #4 seed St Louis will need to do some serious work with such a poor RPI (#87).  The other teams hoping for consideration — Dayton, Rhode Island and Charlotte — all lost games this weekend.  They’d better get motivated for Atlantic City to have a chance.  In Conference USA, UTEP continued its record season with another win to move to 15-1 in the conference and lock up the #1 seed.  Memphis, UAB and Marshall are the other top four seed, and they’re all on the bubble in various states.  It should make for a very interesting weekend in Tulsa, and we haven’t even mentioned the home team, whom Memphis throttled on Saturday night.  Over in the Mountain West, BYU recovered nicely from its loss against New Mexico last week with a 30-point win at TCU, but the two bubble teams of UNLV and San Diego State helped themselves as well.  The Runnin’ Rebs (23-7, 11-5 MWC, #43 RPI) will have the advantage of playing in home environs to try to shore up their bid, but SDSU (22-8, 11-5 MWC, #39 RPI) could really stand to win a couple more games there.  RTC will have a correspondent at all three of these league tourneys this coming week.

RTC Live.  We had several correspondents at the conference tourneys this weekend, but that will be covered elsewhere.  But we still had one of the best games of the weekend in Philadelphia.

  • #8 West Virginia 68, #9 Villanova 66 (OT).  An obviously tired, but strangely detached Bob Huggins stared back at the room full of reporters. West Virginia’s SID had announced him to the room and with the words that “he is ready to answer your questions,” kicked off the second half of the press conference.  “We couldn’t play any worse,” Coach Huggins started his postgame press conference with. No truer words, coach, no truer words. Villanova had shut down the West Virginia offense in the first half, keeping the Mountaineers off the scoreboard completely until Denis Kilicli hit a 6-foot jump hook at the 13:17 mark. The Mountaineers rallied from a staggering 15-2 deficit, but limped into the locker room at the half on the short end of a 29-16 score. Villanova’s defense had held West Virginia to a surreal 0.492 points per possession, quite possibly Villanova’s best half of defense this season, made all the more remarkable because it had come against the #8 team in the country. Coach Huggins seemed very subdued (exhausted perhaps?) or numbed by the closing sequence of the game that included a three-point advantage in the last minute vanishing on a Corey Fisher 21-foot jumper that put a game both teams were certain, at one point or another, each had “won.” Or perhaps the Scottie Reynolds 21-foot jumper from the left side with 0.3 on the clock that hit the side of the rim and bounced three feet straight up before it fell off into the lane. Game over.  68-66 West Virginia in overtime.  Coach Huggins talked a bit more about how Devin Ebanks covered Scottie Reynolds, limiting him to 3-10 from the field and 0-6 from beyond the arc in the second half and overtime. He talked about Da’Sean (“Day”) Butler’s game winner (a driving bank shot in the lane): “I put Johnnie [West] in because they [Villanova] overhelped on Johnnie’s side and I thought he could jump up and put it in, but Scottie stayed with him the whole time. He [Butler] wanted to throw it in [to West], but he was covered… so he just sort of threw it up at the rim, and it went in.”  West Virginia’s Big East Player of the Year candidate led his team with 21 points, 13 of which came from the free throw line, and after a dreadful first half, led his team as they outscored the Wildcats 52-37 in the second half and overtime. When a reporter referred back to West Virginia’s comeback, the coach paused and thought just a bit, “The team…they are like geese.  You can shoot a goose and they will fly away and he comes right back to the same spot the next day because they forget, or so I am told. They forget what happened the day before… [the team] has that trait. They forget what happened the day before, the first half.”  The WVU win gives the Mountaineers the #3 seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament, with Villanova taking the #4 seed as a result of the loss.
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