ATB: Jordan Taylor Goes Jordanesque Against IndianaPosted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2011
The Lede. There are only a handful of days left in the regular season. After 10,000 games, we’ve already eliminated a number of teams from national title contention and we’ll spend the weekend talking about positioning. Most teams are who we know them to be at this late point in the season — like last call in a college bar, it becomes about finding the best light to present yourself to the evaluators, in this case, the NCAA Selection Committee. The numbers ultimately will rule the day, but perception and the ‘sniff test’ are things not easily erased from one’s mind. Let’s see who helped and hurt their positions tonight…
Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor Dominates Indiana. The ascent of Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor from solid role player to unknown good player to rising superstar has been remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that the Cousy Award folks had originally left him off its list of the ten best point guards in America despite the fact that he is clearly more valuable than half the finalists on the list (Brandon Knight — is this a joke?). In watching Taylor blow up Michigan State, Ohio State and now Indiana tonight with a career-high 39 points on 11-19 FG (7-8 from deep), we’re regularly astonished with how well he gets his shots off while defended and they still manage to find the bottom of the net. Many players can shoot the ball when they’re standing open beyond the arc; Taylor, however, is the best player in college basketball shooting the ball with someone right in his face — he regularly takes jumpers where your initial reaction is “wow — tough shot,” only to be surprised when the ball swishes through. Wisconsin has gone from an unranked team in the preseason to a top ten mainstay in the latter part of the year, and as good as Jon Leuer has also been, the primary reason is Taylor. He gives Bo Ryan’s team an offensive option that Madison hasn’t seen since Alando Tucker was residing in Madison; and with the defense that his teams always bring to the table, this makes the Badgers just that much more dangerous this March. If you’re looking for a Final Four darkhorse, you might want to consider this team — they’re every bit as good as all but a few teams in America this year.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Emergence of Scotty Hopson. In the last three weeks, UT’s star wing has been playing as well as he has at any point in his Tennessee career. In his last six games including tonight’s win at South Carolina, he’s averaging 23.7 PPG on 52% shooting from the field. While UT’s record hasn’t necessarily improved as a result of his stellar offensive play — UT has gone 3-3 in those games with two one-point losses — the Vols absolutely must have Hopson play like the star he was supposed to be in order for Bruce Pearl’s team maximize its potential this March. If his recent play is any indication, the athletic guard may have finally figured out his role as alpha dog on this team, high fade and all.
- A Fourth Pac-10 Team? Washington probably re-secured its Dance ticket with a nice win over UCLA tonight, so we can reasonably expect that those two, along with Arizona, will hear their names called on Selection Sunday. Is there a chance that a fourth Pac-10 team, notably Washington State, could sneak into the NCAA’s crosshairs in the next week or so? After tonight’s home win over USC, if the Cougars can also defeat UCLA over the weekend, Ken Bone’s team would sit at 20-10 (10-8 Pac-10) with a reasonable profile head-to-head against other bubble teams Baylor and Gonzaga (both of whom Wazzu beat earlier this year). Don’t get us wrong — Washington State would still need to make a run in the Pac-10 Tournament to merit serious consideration, but with the right matchups, the Cougars could find themselves in the finals and pushing the Selection Committee to make a difficult decision.
- CJ Wilcox Explodes. The Washington freshman guard went into halftime of tonight’s key battle against UCLA with zero points in a handful of minutes of action. His team was struggling to score, having only put up 24 points in the first half. He came out firing in the second stanza, dropping a season-high 24, all of which came in the second twenty minutes. His explosion helped pull UW out of its slumber, ultimately hitting several key shots down the stretch to put the visiting Bruins away. With Wilcox and wing tandem Terrence Ross in the fold as promising rookies in Seattle, Lorenzo Romar has ensured that his program will not fade after upperclassmen stalwarts such as Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning have moved on.
- NYC Press Clippings. Everybody knows that New York loves a winner, and with the media attention that Steve Lavin’s Johnnies are getting these days, it was probably just a matter of time for St. John’s to throw up a stinker like they did in Newark this evening. Despite a shot to clinch a double-bye in next week’s Big East Tournament played in their home building, the Red Storm allowed Seton Hall to scorch the nets for 64% shooting and forced the Johnnies to recognize that maybe their heads had gotten a little too big after six straight wins. Seton Hall has won a couple of head-scratchers this year, but Lavin cannot be happy that his team didn’t defend with the reckless abandon to which we’ve become accustomed.
- Jeff Bzdelik. You hate to call a hire a bad decision a mere one year into his tenure, but Wake’s choice of Jeff Bzdelik as its new head coach after firing Dino Gaudio last season appears to have epic failure written all over it. Despite having some decent yet young ACC-caliber talent at his disposal, the Deacs have been an unmitigated disaster on their way to becoming the worst conference team of the last twenty years. Georgia Tech, a team with only four ACC wins this season, crushed Bzdelik’s team in Winston-Salem tonight, a result that speaks volumes about just how bad this Demon Deacons program has become.
Conf Tourneys. Six conference tournaments were in action tonight, as we head into a loaded weekend where we’ll soon start to hand out bids.
- America East. In the lone game of the America East tournament tonight, Binghamton blew out UMBC behind a combined 61 points by Greer Wright and Moussa Camara. The Bearcats experienced hard times throughout the year but they had no problem disposing UMBC by 26 points, and will move on to face top seed Vermont on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
- Atlantic Sun. The second half of the quarterfinal round resulted in two minor upsets tonight, at least according to seed. #6 North Florida knocked out #3 Jacksonville, and home team #5 Mercer beat #4 Lipscomb, likely ending the career of the great Adnan Hodzic. Hodzic, the 2010 A-Sun POY, scored nearly 2,000 points in his illustrious career. Mercer made it to the finals of this tournament last season while playing at home — perhaps the Bears have another run in them this year.
- Big South. It will be #1 Coastal Carolina vs. #3 UNC-Asheville on Saturday for the first automatic bid of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Chanticleers split the season series with UNCA, but the Bulldogs won the last one at CCU on a much-publicized steal and three by Matt Dickey at the buzzer. Without two key players in the lineup, UNCA was able to beat the Chants in their building — do they have another one in their arsenal?
- Missouri Valley. In a game that had a potential to be an upset after #10 Bradley’s victory over #7 Drake to conclude the regular season, the Braves capitalized on this chance by defeating Drake by 15 points in the opening round of the MVC Tournament. In the other opening round game, Justin Bocot hit a key three-pointer down the stretch for #8 Southern Illinois as the Salukis defeated #9 Illinois State. There will be four quarterfinal games tomorrow, with the most interesting probably the 3:30 PM game between #4 Northern Iowa and #5 Creighton.
- NEC. With four opening round games to begin the NEC Tournament there was ample opportunity for an upset, but all the top seeds evaded the upset minded lower seeds to move onto the semifinals. Top seeds LIU and Quinnipiac easily handled their opponents, while Robert Morris and CCSU barely escaped theirs. In the semifinal matchups, #1 LIU swept #4 CCSU in two meetings this year, while #2 Quinnipiac defeated #3 RMU in their only meeting this season.
- Ohio Valley. In tonight’s quarterfinal round, #3 Austin Peay and #4 Tennessee Tech easily handled #7 SE Missouri and #8 UT-Martin, respectively. The two higher seeds advance to play heavy favorites #1 Murray State and #2 Morehead State in the semifinals on Friday. Murray swept Tennessee Tech during the regular season, while Morehead split with Austin Peay, including a one-point overtime loss. This could be particularly interesting given that the Eagles will essentially be playing a road game here (Clarksville is less than an hour from Nashville).
Tweet of the Night. Leave it to Luke Winn to put things in perspective on a huge night for Wisconsin’s star guard.
RTC Live. An unexpected result in north Jersey tonight, as the hottest team in the Big East laid an egg.
Seton Hall 84, St. John’s 70. Tempers flared as Seton Hall upset #14 St. John’s 84-70 in Newark tonight. The loss snapped the Red Storm’s six game winning streak and will likely prevent them from earning a double-bye in next week’s Big East Tournament on their home floor at Madison Square Garden. Seton Hall, ranked #340 out of 345 D-1 teams in three point shooting coming into the game, shot 12-18 (67%) from deep en route to the win. The Pirates were able to overcome 18 turnovers by shooting a scalding hot 64.3% from the field for the game. St. John’s (19-10, 11-6 Big East) held a plus-two edge on the boards but could not buy a stop and was run out of the building, literally, in the latter stages of the game. Head coach Steve Lavin was ejected after receiving a double technical and senior forward Justin Burrell was tossed in a separate incident, called for a flagrant foul in the final seconds. Seton Hall senior guard Jeremy Hazell led all scorers with 31 points on 9-14 FG while freshman Fuquan Edwin added 19 in his best game of the year to date, including 5-6 FG from three. As Lavin said after the game, Seton Hall “really waxed us.” Big East Player of the Year candidate Dwight Hardy paced the Red Storm with 23 points but needed 21 shots against Seton Hall’s stingy zone defense, used by Kevin Willard for the majority of the game. The Pirates did a great job mitigating the strengths of St. John’s, their points in transition and in the paint. Seton Hall (12-17, 6-11 Big East) had a three-point edge in fast break points and held their own in the paint by scoring 26 points to the Johnnies’ 30, not enough for the Red Storm to really take advantage. Justin Brownlee, the team’s second leading scorer and best low post threat, made only 2-10 FG and turned the ball over four times. After the game, Lavin was apologetic but refused to discuss the officiating, citing Big East conference rules. “I was probably too animated in my on-court demeanor,” Lavin said. “I’m not proud of my conduct.” As for Coach Willard, he was proud of his team’s resiliency down the stretch. The Pirates have blown many leads against good teams this year but managed to hang on and extend their lead this time around. Willard even acknowledged this after the game saying, “Everybody was waiting for the debacle to happen.” It didn’t happen and Seton Hall came away victorious for their second win against a ranked team this season. The Hall will return to the Rock on Saturday against Marquette, a team searching for one more win to clinch a bid to the NCAA Tournament. St. John’s will return to action on Saturday as well, playing at home against South Florida. The Johnnies need to win that game and hope DePaul can somehow win at Syracuse in order to earn a double-bye in next week’s conference tournament.