ATB: Orange Lose Second Straight and Negative Bubble Movement For Villanova and Iowa State…Posted by Chris Johnson on February 26th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Not Your Average Monday. By now you know the Monday drill. Two good games, played under the ESPN Big Monday umbrella, are typically the only contests worth watching. That was mostly true this Monday, but the two nationally televised games (Syracuse-Marquette, followed by Kansas-Iowa State) were plenty entertaining for a single night of hoops. In fact, it almost felt like… March! Speaking of which, Monday was the last such weekday of February, which means by this time next week, we’ll have entered – to borrow from a recent Oscar-winning sci-fi trilogy – the one month to rule them all. It’s coming fast, any day now, and if Monday night’s action got you excited, well, just wait for what’s in store once the calendar flips at the end of the week.
Your Watercooler Moment. Davante Gardner’s Not Messing Around.
It is not always wise or logical to criticize the basketball decisions of head coaches. Unless your hoops knowledge eclipses the man drawing up the plays and apportioning playing time on the sidelines – which, if that is the case, should land you a Division I job somewhere, at some school – my best advice is, to put it as succinctly as possible, just be quiet. Marquette coach Buzz Williams sent junior center Davante Gardner to the bench after just 11 minutes of playing time in Saturday’s game at Villanova. The Golden Eagles did not win that game, and Gardner may indeed have prevented the Golden Eagles’ fourth conference loss. MU fans had good cause for protest, surely. Not only is Gardner the Golden Eagles’ most efficient offensive player, he’s also the most highly-used, and the team’s best offensive rebounder to boot. All of those skills were evident in Monday night’s three-point upset against Syracuse, in which Gardner came off the bench to score 26 points and grab eight rebounds. Maybe Gardner’s benching had no impact whatsoever on the way he played against the Orange. Maybe he was primed for a breakout game anyway. Or maybe – and this is where I fall on the matter – Williams’ bad-cop routine worked, and Gardner responded with his best performance of the season, almost as if to say, “just try and bench me now, coach!”
Also Worth Chatting About. So Close, ISU.
The key to Tournament salvation was palpable Monday night at Hilton Coliseum. First-place Kansas was getting all it could handle from the Cyclones, and it was starting to feel very much like these teams’ first meeting – when ISU pushed KU into overtime at Allen Fieldhouse and elicited Ben McLemore’s best game of the season to preserve a Jayhawks win. Fred Hoiberg’s team had KU on the ropes again Monday night, and again the game went into overtime, and again, Kansas held on for a win — Bill Self’s 500th, in fact. Senior Elijah Johnson was the star this time around, finishing with 39 points, but rather than focusing on Kansas’ quiet post-TCU loss resurgence, I cant help but feel for Iowa State in what’s become a season of “almosts.” Sealing just one of those KU wins would have given the Cyclones the requisite resume pop to appease the selection committee. Now their fate for the NCAAs will most likely come down to the final three games of the regular season (and the Big 12 Tournament). This team has shown enough thus far to make me think they can win one of two upcoming games at Oklahoma and against Oklahoma State. Getting both would make the Cyclones a virtual lock; just one may be enough. Anyway, if the Cyclones do end up missing out, they can look back on these potentially seismic Kansas near-wins and pinpoint the exact source of discontent. When college basketball gives you opportunities to knock off top-10 teams in overtime, you take them. Iowa State hasn’t, not just once, but twice.
Tonight’s Quick Hit…
- Twelve League Wins and Counting for Kansas State. It was fairly easy to see from the start that Kansas State’s hiring of Bruce Weber, which followed the abrupt and to-this-day antagonistic departure of Frank Martin, was the right move. Weber was getting all of Martin’s physical, hard-nosed, defense-first players, but more than that he was getting a team that would take well to his similar philosophy. The optics of his Illinois canning shined a negative light on Weber’s coaching career – that he was unable to reach his players in critical moments, that he never took advantage of the massive Chicago talent pool at his doorstep, that his early success is easily ascribed to Bill Self’s recruiting. But if there was one thing Weber drilled home without fail during his time with the Illini, it was defense. In his nine years in Champaign, Illinois never finished outside the top-50 in defensive efficiency. Weber’s Wildcats aren’t guarding teams quite as well this season (they’re allowing more than a point per trip in Big 12 play), but K-State’s 23rd-ranked offense makes up the difference. The Wildcats rolled Texas Tech Monday night, and that’s all well and good. I just felt, given the way Weber’s team has mostly cruised through the Big 12 this season (12-3, tied for first place with Kansas, tie-breaker not withstanding), Monday night was as good a time as any to reflect on the coach’s first year in Little Manhattan, and just how far he’s come, image-wise, since that sour exit at Illinois.
- Villanov-UGH. Bubble-softness permitting, beating Seton Hall Monday night combined with a first round win in the Big East Tournament would probably have landed Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats instead lost, removing some of the sheen off of Saturday’s win over Marquette, and adding another RPI-murderous loss (Seton Hall entered Monday ranked #118) to that early-season Columbia blowout. Villanova has more good wins – Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Marquette – than most of the at-large bubble-dwellers it’s competing with. But those two losses could create serious doubts among committee members, so it would behoove the Wildcats to grab one of two remaining games at Pittsburgh and home against Georgetown. A win in either of those two games would practically nix this Monday night bummer as far as at-large purposes go, and likely send the Wildcats fully into the Dance. Bad losses like this, when taken alongside the aforementioned Columbia bugaboo, are too glaring to ignore. The selection committee will want to see more. There is work to be done here.
Dunkdafied. I don’t know if this qualifies as an actual dunk. Michael Carter-Williams soars past a couple of defenders, cocks the ball back behind his head in typical tomahawk fashion, then guides it rimward without actually making contact with the rim. It’s an athletic and intricate finish even if it’s not a dunk, so it counts in my book. What’s impressive about this play, for me at least, is the time at which it happened. Check the clock: On the Orange’s first possession, MCW took it hard to the tin. He set the tone for a 7-1 Orange run.
Monday Night’s All Americans.
- Elijah Johnson, Kansas (NPOY) – During Kansas’ three-game losing streak, many pointed to Johnson’s offense as one of the biggest problems. Problem solved: 39 points, seven assists and five rebounds in a big comeback win at Iowa State.
- Davante Gardner, Marquette – A big night (26 points, eight rebounds) in Marquette’s bounceback victory over Syracuse after a loss at Villanova over the weekend.
- Thomas Gipson, Kansas State – One of the steadiest teams in the country won again Monday night, and Gipson’s season-high 20 points were a major highlight.
- Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall – Dampening your league rival’s NCAA Tournament chances always makes for good sport. Edwin helped down the Wildcats with 18 points and seven rebounds.
- Dyami Starks, Bryant – After a tough loss at Quinnipiac Saturday, Starks denied Sacred Heart’s bid to hand the Bulldogs another loss by scoring 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Tweet of the Night. The next game after a big upset win is always dangerous, particularly when it comes against a decidedly inferior team. Like Seton Hall: Villanova did not shoot it particularly well from beyond the arc (4-of-18) tonight, Seton Hall played up to its competition and when things got tight, Villanova folded on the road. It happens. But man, if this ends up keeping the Wildcats out of the field, let’s just say a fan base none too thrilled with its team’s performance in recent seasons will not feel any happier.
What happened tonight is Villanova assured that nobody will feel sorry for them if they get left out.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 26, 2013