They’ve been beaten down on the road by an average of 12 points per game. They lost inexplicably to Nebraska, who stands at 4-12 in conference play. Twice they haven’t even reached 60 points. Sounds like the perfect team to beat the #1, #2, and #5 teams in the country, right?
It's been fun for Indiana at home this season, but tough living on the road for the Hoosiers and the rest of the Big Ten (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Indiana is the perfect Jekyll-and-Hyde illustration of life at home versus the road in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers soar at Assembly Hall, where they’ve been able to knock off the likes of Kentucky, Ohio State, and most recently Michigan State. They came into conference play on fire, 12-0 and looking to make a statement in head coach Tom Crean’s fourth year in charge of the program. They are the first IU team in history to knock of the then-#1 and #2 ranked teams in the same season. They’ve also lost to two league opponents with a combined conference record of 11-21.
Duke handily blew out Wake Forest last night, though the score reflects Wake Forest’s desperate and ultimately futile rally rather than the early domination inflicted at the hands of the Blue Devils. Despite the high stakes of this time of the year, this game didn’t change anyone’s fortunes. Tonight, however, there is one game with serious bubble implications as well as a few other prizes on the line.
Duke Held On to Win At Wake Forest Last Night (Herald-Sun)
The Battle of the Bubble
Miami at North Carolina State at 9:00 PM on FSN
Before the Wolfpack’s current four-game losing streak, it looked like NC State had a fairly good chance at getting into the NCAA Tournament. Now, the team stands on the outside looking in with increasingly few chances to get big wins. Miami, on the other hand, looks like they may well be on their way to the Big Dance after handily beating the Seminoles on Sunday. The Wolfpack beat the Hurricanes earlier in the season and if they want to have even an outside chance at Tournament play, they have to win this game. Miami probably has to win this game too, but the mood is definitely a little more tense in Raleigh. With the reinstatement of Reggie Johnson, who sat out against Florida State, the eager Hurricanes will be ready to cope with the athletic talent of NC State. Both teams will have work to do after this game regardless of the outcome, but tonight is a good place to start.
It’s the third day of “March” and already we’ve eliminated 10 teams from our Circle in just the first two nights. On Tuesday, the Horizon League opening round tipped off with all four home teams winning their games, leaving Wright State, Loyola (Chicago), Illinois-Chicago and Green Bay on the outside looking in this year. Furthermore, the Big Sky Conference finished off its regular season last night, so the three teams not invited to next weekend’s tournament were also eliminated — Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, and Sacramento State. Better luck next year, fellas.
Tonight is the first big night of Championship Fortnight. The Atlantic Sun, OVC, Patriot League, and WCC all tip off with opening round games, and the Big South returns for its quarterfinal round. The Horizon League won’t be back in action until Friday for its quarterfinal round, hosted by top-seed Valparaiso.
We got off to a late start today so let’s make it a good one. Score this one in the “You have got to be kidding me!” category, but Connecticut‘s loss to Providence last night was a debacle that perfectly sums up its season. The Huskies shot 46% from the field, led by as many as 14 in the second half, and still let the lowly Friars climb back into the game and eventually win. Most are now saying that this team doesn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament and they really don’t. You can’t lose nine of your last 13 games in the regular season and still expect the Tournament Committee to look favorably upon you, and you can’t play a must-win game against the worst team in your conference and blow a late lead to lose. Blaming this on interim coach George Blaney is a cop-out, though. Blaney may be too passive and he may not lead the team with the iron fist of Jim Calhoun, but Blaney is not responsible for letting one of the conference’s least efficient offensive teams go on a 26-5 run in the middle of the second half. UConn fans can scapegoat whomever they want, but this failure is on the players, plain and simple.
The difference between UConn and West Virginia — who routed its inferior opponent, DePaul, in a must-win game at home — is leadership. UConn is a team full of talented underclassmen. West Virginia is a team that will only go as far as their two excellent seniors, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, who combined for 50 points last night in what was their final home game as Mountaineers, take them. Bob Huggins‘ team has also been in a bit of a tailspin down the stretch, but if they can beat South Florida in Tampa this weekend, they may still be able to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
Looking ahead to tonight, the team with the best chance to impress the Tournament Committee is Cincinnati. The Bearcats play their final home game against No. 8 Marquette, a team that has been winning but hasn’t been dominating. The Golden Eagles are not the same team on the road as they are at home, and for Mick Cronin’s bunch, a win over a Top 10 team would likely cement their place in the NCAA Tournament heading into the Big East Tournament next week. The obvious matchup to watch will be the red-hot Jae Crowder squaring off with Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates who will be playing in his final home game.
Allow me to take a minute to step away from bubble implications and talk about one player who is out of the spotlight thanks to his team’s unexpected struggles, and that is Pittsburgh do-it-all senior Nasir Robinson. Reading this article about Robinson’s season, it shouldn’t take long for you to love this guy. A 6’5″ power forward, Robinson doesn’t have a future in the NBA and his senior season has been a disappointment, but still he says he won’t make any excuses and all he does is talk about how he wants to help his teammates. The Panthers have had plenty of gritty players exactly like Robinson who make the most out of their limited potential (Brad Wanamaker immediately comes to mind) and that is a testament to coach Jamie Dixon‘s talent evaluation and coaching. This is why Robinson deserves some stand-alone recognition. He will be forgotten soon enough, but for now, let’s give the guy some love for an excellent career and leadership values he should be proud of.
There will be a lot of mixed emotions in South Bend Friday night when Notre Dame seniors Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis put on their uniforms for what might be the last time. Both players have petitioned the NCAA for a rare sixth year of eligibility but it seems unlikely that either will have their request granted. Of course Abromaitis will be in uniform but won’t play as he recovers from his torn ACL. There should be plenty of cheers from the Fighting Irish faithful, especially for Abromaitis, but there will also be a lot of people looking at him in uniform and wondering what could have been.
David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s Florida-Vanderbilt game in Nashville.
As the college basketball regular season draws to a close, talk of bubbles being popped and which teams will secure #1 seeds dominates the conversation. What does not get discussed as much is the teams that are solidly in the field, but who no one expects to hear much from once the Big Dance arrives. One such team is the struggling Florida Gators. After dropping their second road contest in a row to Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, the Gators are staring at the likelihood of ending the regular season with three consecutive losses.
For Better Or Worse, Billy Donovan's Crew Lives By The Three-Point Shot (AP)
Mighty Kentucky comes to the O’Connell Center on Sunday in the regular season finale seeking a perfect SEC record (assuming a home win over Georgia Thursday night). From what the Gators have shown us in their last two outings – and from what Kentucky has shown us over the past two months – there is little reason to think the Wildcats won’t achieve conference perfection. A look at Florida’s resume shows very few wins over quality teams. The Gators have handled most of the teams they should have beaten – Tennessee (twice) and Georgia notwithstanding – but home victories over Florida State and Vanderbilt and a road win against an Alabama team playing without its two best players are the only wins the Gators have over NCAA Tournament-bound teams.
Here’s a look at the power rankings that Drew and I have compiled after the 16th week of Pac-12 games:
1. California, 23-7 (13-4): The Golden Bears may have suffered a disappointing 13-point loss to Colorado on Sunday, but I still have Cal on top for a couple of reasons. First, while Cal’s loss was bad, Washington fell by 18 at Colorado earlier this season. Secondly, even though the Huskies are ahead of the Golden Bears by half a game in the Pac-12 standings, California still has three more wins than the Dawgs. Group in the fact that the Golden Bears don’t have any glaring bad losses on their slate, I still think they are the better team right now. Up Next: 3/4 @ Stanford
2. Washington, 20-8 (13-3): Washington all but guaranteed itself an NCAA bid with their 59-55 win in Pullman last Saturday. The Huskies should make it official by splitting their trip to Los Angeles, but even if they found a way to lose to USC, I think they would still be good. The big question is whether or not the Huskies will avoid one of the “First Four” games. Right now I would say they are safe, but they need a good couple of weeks in LA to be assured of that as well. Up Next: 3/1 @ USC
3. Oregon, 20-8 (11-5): The Ducks sure looked like an NCAA Tournament team on Sunday, but they still remain just outside the field of 68 in most projections. Whether it was Garrett Sim, Devoe Joseph, or Olu Ashaolu, the Ducks were making everything they threw up, which they will need to do if they want to advance in whatever postseason tournament they play in. The Ducks led by ten points against feisty rival Oregon State with just 5:50 remaining, but the Beavers stormed back to within a point with one second left on a Jared Cunningham slam dunk that followed Challe Barton’s three that went off the right rim to try and tie the game. The next Oregon inbound pass wasn’t fully covered however, and Oregon ran down the clock and ran out of Gill Coliseum with a 74-73 win. With the win, the Ducks have posted back-to-back 20-win seasons. Up Next: 3/1 vs. Colorado
Senior guard Garrett Sim, who grew up a Beaver fan, was booed every time he touched the ball after elbowing Jared Cunningham early in Sunday's Civil War. Sim finished with 25 points. (credit: Brent Wojahn)
4. Arizona, 21-9 (12-5): It wasn’t easy at times for the Cats, but at the end of the weekend they found themselves with a pair of wins over the LA schools in Tucson. On Thursday it was a solid 70-54 win over the visiting Trojans, solid because they struggled at times with the tough SC defense back in January at the Galen Center. Two days later it was a nail biter all the way through, with Arizona finally prevailing for a 65-63 win. Up Next: 3/4 @ Arizona State Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday about this time, when news broke that George Dohrmann would be publishing a “highly negative” piece about the UCLA basketball program, there were plenty of people who immediately expected the worst. I, for one, figured that today I’d be writing about potential NCAA violations and speculating on who may be the next basketball coach for the Bruins. While the Sports Illustrated piece is certainly not something that is going to be framed and hung on the wall in Ben Howland’s office, compared to those previous expectations, Bruin fans can take a deep breath and relax. Sure, there are loads and loads of very unflattering portraits of former and current players, and mostly of Howland, but still the most damning fact against Howland is a 14-18 record in 2010 and a 16-13 record right now; this Dohrmann piece just explains how the program got to that point. And while there are plenty of salacious details and anecdotes, none of them really change what we already knew about the UCLA program before yesterday.
Ben Howland Was Painted In An Unflattering Light, But There Were No Great Revelations (Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire)
At the bottom of this piece, the finger points squarely at problems with a couple of recruiting classes — the groups of 2008 and 2009. The 2008 class featured guys like Jerime Anderson, Drew Gordon and J’Mison Morgan, while the 2009 class ominously included Reeves Nelson, but also Anthony Stover, among others. There are allegations of drug use among these players (and other players on recent UCLA teams), but the bottom line problem was Howland’s inability to sufficiently discipline these players for their numerous missteps. The poster child here is, of course, Nelson. There are stories seemingly by the barrelful about how bad of a teammate he was. After 2010 recruit Matt Carlino sustained a concussion early in his freshman year causing him to miss time, Nelson repeatedly railed on him for being soft, called him “concussion boy” and went out of his way to instigate contact with Carlino during practices, eventually helping to drive Carlino out of the program. Nelson also had repeated altercations in practice with another eventual UCLA transfer, Mike Moser. There are reports of Nelson abusing people all over the Bruin program, from student managers all the way up to assistant coaches. And all that is just scratching the surface of what is in the article, knowing full well that there are plenty of incidents that didn’t make the piece and never even reached Dohrmann’s ears. And, until this season, Howland did nothing about it.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
Showdown in Las Vegas
So, it’s decided but it’s really not. Saint Mary’s closed out the WCC regular season with a tough 67-60 victory over San Francisco on the road, earning an undisputed conference championship for the first time since the 1989 squad coached by Lynn Nance. The Gaels tied Gonzaga for the regular-season title last year – the Zags’ 11th straight WCC championship – and needed a win over San Francisco to avoid another tie this year. They got it, but not without a dogged fight from the Dons, who closed out the season with home games against the conference’s top three teams – BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. They made them all pay, losing narrowly to BYU (85-84), edging Gonzaga, 66-65, and giving Saint Mary’s all they could handle before a frantic home crowd.
The WCC Tournament beginning Wednesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will have a lot to say about how many conference members advance to the NCAA Tournament, and, almost as important, where they will play and how high they are seeded. The tournament champion receives the automatic NCAA bid, but almost all commentators agree that both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will receive bids no matter what happens in Las Vegas. The same cannot be said for BYU, however, so the Cougars’ need to make a strong showing in Las Vegas – perhaps even win the championship – in one of the compelling stories that will play out over the weekend.
Can Saint Mary's Earn The Automatic Bid Into The Big Dance? Conference POY Matthew Dellavedova Will Have A Huge Say In That (AP)
Others revolve around the conference’s mystery team, Loyola Marymount, and whether San Francisco can maintain the fierce defensive intensity it displayed down the stretch at home with days off between games. The Dons’ road to a high tournament finish requires victories on Thursday against the winner of a play-in game between Portland and Santa Clara, a Friday win against a Loyola team that beat them twice in the regular season, then a semifinal contest on Saturday against the Gaels, who also beat them twice in conference. Not an easy path.
Loyola is in a better position to wreak havoc than San Francisco. Earning a first-round tournament bye with its fourth-place conference finish, the Lions play first on Friday against the winner of the San Francisco/play-in winner game. If it’s a rematch with the Dons, tournament fans will see San Francisco take a third shot at a win that eluded them in two excruciatingly close conference games – a 77-76 overtime loss at home that saw LMU erase a 17-point second-half deficit, and a 90-88 loss in Los Angeles in which LMU had to come from 16 points down. The Dons desperately want another shot at the Lions, and feel they finished stronger than LMU because of their tough battles with the league leaders and LMU’s less-than-overwhelming finish: an inexplicable 60-57 loss to San Diego and a 68-65 nail-biter win against Santa Clara, which was winless in conference play.
Figuring out the psyche of Max Good’s squad would challenge a team of Freuds, however, as the Lions bounced back and forth between helpless – a 76-63 home loss to North Texas – and sublime – a 75-60 upset of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, the Gaels’ only home loss all season. One of the Lions’ quirks is they play better on the road than at home, so maybe a trip to Las Vegas is just what Dr. Freud would order. If they do, indeed, meet and beat San Francisco in the quarterfinals, they will move on to another encounter with Saint Mary’s in Saturday’s first semifinal game (6:00 PM PT, ESPN2). That the Gaels would like another shot at LMU goes without saying, as that loss cost them both a lofty national ranking and injuries to guard StephenHolt, whose return from a torn meniscus is still undecided, center Brad Waldow, who re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit out much of the action, and even indestructible guard MatthewDellavedova, who turned an ankle and left the game for several minutes in the second half.
Who Us? Rex Walters and USF Are Playing Great Basketball (Comcast Sports Net)
BYU’s path to a possible tournament championship takes them through a quarterfinal match with the winner of a San Diego-Pepperdine contest and a semifinal rematch with Gonzaga, with whom they split regular-season games. BYU was without outstanding forward Noah Hartsock (knee injury) for all but the first seven minutes of the second Gonzaga game on Feb. 23, a 74-63 loss. Hartsock also sat out BYU’s final conference game, a 76-66 win over Portland, and his status for Las Vegas has not been announced. With Hartsock in the lineup, a BYU-Gonzaga rematch in Saturday’s second semifinal match (ESPN2, 8:oo PM PT) could be a classic, but we’ll have to wait to see whether Hartsock can go.
As for the championship game on Monday night (6:00 PM PT, ESPN), it has featured Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the last three years (Gonzaga won two of the three), and a similar match-up would surprise no one. It would be a rubber game, as the teams split in conference play, and could determine whether either team receives a favorable or dicey NCAA seeding.
Here’s how the 2011-12 WCC season ended up:
Saint Mary’s (25-5, 14-2).
Gonzaga (23-5, 13-3).
BYU (24-7, 12-4)
Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5)
San Francisco (18-12, 8-8)
San Diego (12-1, 7-9)
Pepperdine (10-18, 4-12)
Portland (6-23, 3-13)
Santa Clara (8-21, 0-16)
For the second year in a row a Saint Mary’s guard is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. This time it is Matthew Dellavedova, the 6’4″ junior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, who led the conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was third in scoring (16.4 PPG). The Gaels’ Mickey McConnell rated the POY nod last year, and not many observers of the conference would bet against Dellavedova repeating in 2013. In addition to his conference honors, Dellavedova is a finalist in the Bob Cousy Award competition for the nation’s best point guard. Last week, he was named a Capital One Academic All-American, the first Saint Mary’s player to be so honored.
While the choice of Dellavedova raised no eyebrows, selecting Max Good of Loyola Marymount as coach of the year might – even among Loyola fans and alumni. Good has been on the hot seat at LMU ever since last year’s team – picked to compete for conference honors – finished in last place at 2-12. While not ducking his share of blame for the team’s collapse, Good insisted that without crippling injuries his team would have been much better. The Lions weathered some early-season injuries – most notably to All-Conference Forward Drew Viney and his front court mate Ashley Hamilton – and, indeed, did do better this year, finishing fourth in the conference with an 11-5 mark. Along the way, LMU posted wins over UCLA, St. Louis and Valparaiso in non-conference play and over BYU and Saint Mary’s in conference. Good’s fellow coaches – who make the conference honors selections – evidently believe in redemption.
Other individual honors announced by the WCC on Tuesday were Defensive Player of the Year to Gonzaga’s 7’0” senior center Robert Sacre, whose 25 blocks led the league; and WCC Newcomer of the Year to Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos, whose deadly three-point shooting accounted for 12.8 PPG and 36 three-point field goals. The WCC All-conference team is composed of:
Angelo Caloiaro, San Francisco
Brandon Davies, BYU
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
Elias Harris, Gonzaga
Noah Hartsock, BYU
Anthony Ireland, Loyola
Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
Drew Viney, Loyola
The conference all-freshman team:
Gary Bell, Jr, Gonzaga
Matt Carlino, BYU
Johnny Dee, San Diego
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
Honorable mention was accorded to Perris Blackwell, center, San Francisco; Carlino and Dee; Rashad Green, guard, San Francisco; Stephen Holt, guard, Saint Mary’s; and Corbin Moore, center, Pepperdine.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
It’s another big Wednesday night in college hoops. Three bubble teams have home games against top 15 opponents, so we will see who really wants to earn their way into an at-large bid. Let’s jump into the breakdowns:
#8 Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)
Cincinnati Will be Fired Up at Home Against #8 Marquette (AP Photo/A. Behrman)
Buzz Williams’ team continues to impress. Even a suspension of four of its best players for at least one half couldn’t stop Marquette from winning at West Virginia last Friday. Now the Golden Eagles will look to add another quality road win to an already sparkling resume. Jae Crowder’s campaign for Big East Player of the Year is gaining steam as he ranks in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (17.6), rebounds per game (7.7), steals per game (2.9), field-goal percentage (52.4%), and offensive rating (123.9). He and Darius Johnson-Odom are the most potent and consistent one-two punch in the league, and they both have versatile games that should thrive against the Cincinnati zone defense. Marquette leads the conference in scoring but must adapt to the Bearcat attack that plays at a slow pace and limits turnovers.
The last time the Bearcats were on national television, they had another ranked Big East foe at home in what Rick Pitino called the best home court advantage his team had faced all season. Cincinnati will look to mimic that environment in this game, facing the high-flying Golden Eagles. To slow down Marquette, Cincinnati needs a big game from its veteran guards who can control pace and hit shots. As a team, the Bearcats commit just 9.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference, and they score 31.5% of their points from the three-point line. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Sean Kilpatrick will win or lose this game for Cincy. It will be up to Yancy Gates to keep the Marquette defense honest inside as well as trying to shut down Crowder in the paint.
This game is a pick’em in Vegas, which feels accurate. Cincinnati will be fired up on Senior Night and a win over a top 10 opponent will guarantee its entrance into the Big Dance, but Marquette has been simply fantastic in Big East play, winning 12 of its last 13 games in a variety of fashions. As a believer in this Bearcats team, I think they pull this one out and lock up a postseason bid.
Over the next week we will be taking a look at the ACC teams whose names should be called on Selection Sunday. The series started with Duke and North Carolina.
How do you judge Florida State? The Seminoles own two outstanding wins. Their 33-point win against North Carolina may be the most impressive win for anyone of the year. Beating Duke in Durham is nearly as impressive. Florida State’s other good wins are against Virginia and Miami. But Florida State also lost to Princeton. It also took a 20-point beating at Clemson to open ACC play and somehow lost at Boston College. The rest of the Seminoles’ losses came to likely NCAA Tournament teams (Harvard, Connecticut, Michigan State, Florida, Duke and Miami).
Michael Snaer Is Stepping Up His Senior Season.
Obviously, the Seminoles are dancing. They also still have a road game against Virginia and a rubber match against Clemson to improve their resume. As of right now I agree with the masses and think Florida State is in the #5 to #6 seed range. (That link is to the Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which takes 95 brackets into account before compiling the consensus S-curve.) There are legitimate arguments for seeding Leonard Hamilton’s team anywhere from #4 to #8 depending on how much you value non-conference play.
One important thing to remember is that Ian Miller didn’t play in the first semester. He’s one of the team’s better offensive players, averaging double figures per game. Combine Miller’s performance with Michael Snaer finally realizing his McDonald’s All-American hype in conference play, and there’s a reason the Seminoles look so different in 2012. Projecting Florida State’s success in March is more difficult than assessing the proper seed. This is a team that could go to the Sweet Sixteen (or beyond) if shots are falling. It’s also a team that could get upset in the first round if shots aren’t falling. We know the defense will be there (though the team’s struggles defending smaller line-ups during the last two games give some pause); but how far can Snaer and company carry the offense?