The Week That Was: Mar. 1-7Posted by jstevrtc on March 8th, 2011
David Ely is an RTC Contributor.
Congrats are in order for the following teams that locked up automatic NCAA berths this week: St. Peter’s (MAAC), Old Dominion (CAA), Wofford (SoCon), Gonzaga (WCC), Indiana State (MVC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun) and UNC-Asheville (Big South). It’s always fun watching these teams celebrate their conference championships because the excitement just feels more honest than, say, when an Ohio State or a Pittsburgh wins its conference tournament. Championship Week is great for television purposes because there are so many great games to watch, but there usually is less urgency among the teams from the major conferences. For them, conference tournaments are about posturing for seeds and surviving the weekend injury-free. Roy Williams once called the ACC Tournament a big cocktail party, and it’s not surprising that his two title teams both bowed out in the semifinals.
What We Learned
If you’re a big time recruit and have BYU in your top five, you might want to reconsider your stance on the Cougars. Seriously, why would a player with options want to go to BYU now that its draconian honor code system is in the national spotlight. By now, everyone knows Brandon Davies (BYU’s third leading scorer and leading rebounder) was suspended from the BYU basketball team for allegedly having premarital sex with his girlfriend. Davies’ suspension is a crushing blow for the Cougars, who have gone from a sexy popular national title pick to a team some think won’t make it out of the first weekend.
There are two camps in the Davies debate: one that applauds BYU for enforcing its rules, and one that thinks the school is being ridiculous. TWTW falls into the latter party. We understand that Davies knowingly agreed to BYU’s policies when he arrived on campus, and it’s commendable that BYU is sticking to its principles, but we just don’t feel the punishment fits the crime. Not only are you severely hurting your basketball team’s chances at making history, but you’re airing this kid’s dirty laundry out for everyone to see. Is it really necessary to let Davies wear a scarlet letter for wayward students at BYU? While some people might have thought it was great to see Davies at the end of the bench for the Cougars’ win over Wyoming to clinch the MWC regular season title — Davies even got to cut down the nets with his teammates — we thought it was an uncomfortable TV moment that reminded us of Davies’ unfair treatment.
Usually when the #2-ranked team in the country scores a win over a squad ranked #22, it’s not a notable event. That wasn’t the case Saturday when Kansas won at Missouri to claim its seventh straight Big 12 title. With their victory, the Jayhawks snapped Missouri’s 17-game home winning streak and reaffirmed they have the toughness to win in a hostile environment (remember, they lost 84-68 at Kansas State on Feb. 14). KU jumped out to two separate big leads in the first half only to see the Tigers claw their way back and eventually take a one-point lead a minute into the second half, but the Jayhawks refused to crumble. Behind Marcus Morris’ sixth double-double of the season, they took control and held on for a four point win. Kansas and Ohio State (who kicked Wisconsin to the curb in brutal fashion Sunday) are the only sure-fire #1 seeds as we head toward Selection Sunday.
Each time Kendall Marshall blew past his Duke defender; each time Harrison Barnes knocked down an opener jumper; and each time Tyler Zeller and John Henson asserted themselves in the paint, every national title contender had to have the same thought run through its mind: please don’t put the Tar Heels in our region. UNC’s path from an over-hyped preseason squad that began the year 4-3, to a team on the fringe of the top 25, to the hottest team in the nation has been one of the most unexpected storylines of the season. This was a team that lost by 20 at Georgia Tech in January, and now you’ve got Barnes doing his best Robert Horry impression, Dexter Strickland jamming it in Miles Plumlee’s mug and Tar Heel fans RTCing in celebration of an ACC regular season title. Only Kansas can match UNC’s size down low, and now it seems the Tar Heels are finding their offensive mojo after largely relying on their defense earlier in the year. North Carolina scored 51 points in the first half against Duke (the #2 team in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency), and shot 52.4% for the game. Thanks to Marshall’s floor vision and ability to push the tempo, UNC’s vaunted fast break has returned to prominence — and so have the Tar Heels.
The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.
The Big East Tournament schedule was finalized over the weekend, and the bracket looks every bit as tantalizing as we imagined, now that everything is set. Five days of games, 11 teams that could book a ticket to the Dance. If the Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of all the bowl games, than the Big East Tournament is the granddaddy of all the college basketball conference tournaments. But while people will undoubtedly fawn over the action at Madison Square Garden, we wonder if there is any intrinsic value to winning the tournament, or if we should just consider it compelling television. Take Connecticut for example: to win the title, the Huskies would have to win five games in five days. In all honesty, why would Jim Calhoun want his team to log all those minutes a week before the real tournament starts? The same thing goes for any of the teams that would have to win four games in four days. Sure, a Big East title seems important, but consider this: the last team to win a Big East Tournament title and a NCAA championship was UConn in 2004. The team before that to win both tournaments was the 1999 UConn squad. Since 1990, only four Big East Tournament champions went on to make the Final Four (West Virginia in 2010, Georgetown in 2007 and the two aforementioned Huskies squads). And last year’s Mountaineers’ squad only had to win three games to take the title; same for the ’07 Hoyas.
Washington State star (and leading Pac-10 scorer at 21.4 PPG) Klay Thompson was arrested and charged with marijuana possession Thursday night in Pullman. Thompson sat out the Cougars’ 58-54 overtime loss to UCLA on Saturday, and it’s not clear whether Thompson will be a go for this week’s Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles. Thompson’s suspension came at the worst possible time for Wazzu. With wins over Washington and USC in the two games prior to Thompson’s arrest, the Cougars were making a late push for an NCAA bid. Now, a trip to the dance doesn’t look as likely. There are two things that should serve as encouragement for Thompson, however: 1) WSU guard Reggie Moore was only suspended one game for a marijuana possession arrest earlier this season, and 2) Thompson doesn’t have to worry about a BYU-esque honor code at Washington State.
Bobby Knight the coach and Bobby Knight the television analyst collided Saturday morning during ESPN’s GameDay with one perfectly placed expletive. During a made-for-TV segment for the pregame show, Knight dropped the “chicken@!&$” bomb. Knight’s remark prompted laughter from his colleagues and the crowd at Baylor, but Rece Davis later apologized for the language. TWTW, though, love it. That 10-second segment was probably the most honest glimpse into Knight’s personality in his tenure at ESPN — players at Indiana and Texas Tech can certainly vouch for that. Another great result from “chicken@!&$-gate” was this tweet from @JayBilas: “We don’t have an eight second delay on GameDay. I’m guessing the BYU job is out of the question for Coach Knight.” Though we have to say we were relieved Knight wasn’t on-air when he found out his son lost his job at Texas Tech.
Pour This Man A Drink
My how things can change in seven days. Just last week, we used space in this column to heap praise on Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech for their huge win over Duke that we assumed would carry the Hokies off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. But caught up in the excitement of the upset, we forgot one important thing: never, EVER trust the Hokies under any circumstance. Virginia Tech proceeded to get torched by Boston College, 76-61, last Tuesday and then lost at Clemson on Saturday. Those two Ls created a three-team logjam for fourth place in the ACC between the Hokies, Eagles and Tigers — two teams that VT is a combined 0-3 against. The ACC isn’t strong enough this year to warrant six bids, so what to do with Tech? The Hokies have the worst RPI (#64 as of Monday night) of the three and are 2-6 versus teams currently in the top 50. If we had to guess, Virginia Tech is less deserving of a bid than, say, Clemson (#57 RPI) or Boston College (#45). Look for the Hokies to be one of the more heavily scrutinized teams in the nation this week during the ACC Tournament.
KenPom vs. the AP
Here we address one team whose rankings in the KenPom and AP Top 25 polls* just don’t match up. Then we try to determine which ranking more accurately reflects where the squad in question should be placed in the nation’s hoops hierarchy. (*Disclaimer: The rankings are based off the AP Top 25’s Week 18 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through March 6).
This week’s team is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish currently are #4 in the AP and in contention for a #1 seed, but they’re #15 according to KenPom. What gives? Let’s find out.
Why Notre Dame should be #4: The Irish finished 14-4 in the nation’s toughest conference and finished second to Pittsburgh in the regular season standings. All of ND’s losses came either on the road or at a neutral venue against teams most believe will be in the NCAAs. Notre Dame went 6-2 against ranked teams this year, including a win at then-#2 Pitt, and a win at UConn this past Saturday. The win at UConn is especially impressive because the Irish were without Ben Hansbrough for the final 8:24 after he picked up his fifth foul. The Irish were able to weather the Kemba Walker storm and hold on for another statement win.
Why Notre Dame should be #18: For some reason KenPom has not been a fan of Notre Dame for most of the season, and it’s mainly because the Irish’s defense doesn’t translate well to KenPom’s stats. ND ranks 64th in defensive efficiency and only forces turnovers on 16% of possessions (337th in the nation). ND also doesn’t defend the three particularly well — opponents are hitting treys at a 35.7% clip, 239th in the nation.
Our verdict: We like the Irish to land one of the two #1 seeds up for grabs if they take care of business during the Big East Tournament. Their defense might not look great statistically, but that hasn’t stopped them from dropping only four games in conference. Also, in Hansbrough the Irish have one of the most potent scorers in the nation. The likely Big East Player of the Year is capable of going on a Jimmer Fredette-like scoring binge and has eclipsed 30 points in two of his last four games.
Your Seven Day All-Americans
Kendall Marshall, guard, UNC — Marshall posted the first double-double of his career with 15 points and 11 assists in Saturday’s win over Duke. North Carolina is 8-1 since Marshall became a full-time starter, and UNC is an ACC Tournament title from being a possible #1 seed. Also it was announced on Monday that Marshall earned third-team All-ACC honors — an amazing feat, considering Marshall has played at least 25 minutes in only nine games this year.
Jon Diebler, guard, Ohio State —Diebler had a week for the ages beyond the arc, hitting an OSU record 10 threes in a win over Penn State, and then knocking down seven more Sunday against Wisconsin. “Threebler” ranks fourth in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (51.1%).
Tristan Thompson, guard, North Texas — Yup, there’s two Tristan Thompsons — and they both play in Texas, and they both might be in the NCAA Tournament next week. This particular Thompson scored 28 points on 9-15 shooting Monday to lead the Mean Green to the Sun Belt title game against Arkansas-Little Rock that just ended moments ago in heartbreaking fashion for NT, as UALR’s Solomon Bozeman drilled a three with 1.5 seconds left to win it. Thompson had 15 in the loss, and dropped 36 in the second game of the tournament against Florida Atlantic.
Kenneth Faried, forward, Morehead State — Faried carried the Eagles into the NCAA Tournament with 24 points and 15 rebounds to beat Tennessee Tech in the OVC Tournament championship game. The dub-dub was Faried’s 84th of his career, tying him with Ralph Sampson for second-most all-time. Faried averaged 18 PPG and 18 RPG in two games this week.
Frank Hassell, forward, Old Dominion — Hassell scored at least 20 points for three days in a row as the Monarchs won the CAA Tournament on Monday night. In Monday’s final against a VCU squad in desperate need for that automatic berth, Hassell posted 22 points and nine rebounds to lead ODU to a five point win and claim the tournament’s most outstanding player honors.
Josh Selby, guard, Kansas — Hidden in the Jayhawks’ five-game winning streak are Selby’s struggles since he missed three games with an injured right foot. Selby is averaging 4.3 PPG and is 2-15 from three in his last six games, and he had his first goose-egg of the season in only seven minutes of action Saturday at Missouri.