It seems that Maryland athletics has had more than its share of controversy regarding how to recognize some of its legends. We discussed the case of Lefty Driesell last week and this week the media focus is on former Terrapin great Len Bias. In this case, the controversy is not around the University of Maryland’s decision on whether or not to recognize him, but instead his old high school where a state senator (also a graduate of the school) wanted to spend $50,000 to erect a status honoring Bias. Despite Bias’ on-court accomplishments the idea has been withdrawn to a combination of controversy honoring a person who died of a cocaine overdose and spending $50,000 of public funds to do so.
We will likely never be able to read the full notice of allegations the NCAA sent to Miami, but some details are leaking out including the fact that the NCAA is accusing Nevin Shapiro of “only” providing $170,000 in impermissible benefits between 2002 and 2010. While nearly $20,000 per year is certainly a decent amount of money it falls well short of the “millions of dollars” that Shapiro claimed to have given Miami players over the years (of course, this is coming from someone who perpetrated a $930 million Ponzi scheme). Interestingly more than half of that was spent on trying to get two football players to sign with a sports agency that Shapiro was affiliated with so most of the reported violations involved relatively small sums of money on an individual basis.
With Indiana falling at Minnesota on Monday there is a new #1 in Luke Winn’s Power Rankings. As usual Luke has a smörgåsbord of interesting facts and trends, but the two that stuck out the most to us are (1) how much more efficient Victor Oladipo is this year from the perimeter and (2) why Michigan State might be better off getting the ball more to their star freshman guard. However, the most interesting part of the column might actually be the link to TeamRankings’ simulated Bracketology that simulates/predicts the NCAA Tournament seedings based on what it predicts will happen the rest of the season. We are not sure how well this simulator has done in the past, but it might be something worth checking up on over the next weeks if for no other reason to kill some time during the middle of the day.
Over the past few years posters of celebrities and the occasional random person have become fairly common at college basketball games, but we were not aware of the origins of the trend before George Dohrmann’s article on the birth of the “big heads”. We never quite understood the use of celebrities to distract shooters unless they are unusual such as the original big head of Michael Jackson. The use of coaches, players, and even the occasional poster of yourself all seem like they would be much more effective. Of course, this is probably some college kid that is trying to figure out which faces have the biggest effect on free throw shooting.
We have seen a lot of interesting uniform designs in college sports recently most notably in college football, but it looks like adidas, the company that brought you the atrocious alternate uniforms from Louisville, Cincinnati, and others is planning on bring short-sleeve jerseys to the NCAA Tournament. We still don’t know which schools will wear whatever monstrosity adidas can dream up, but to their credit both Michigan and North Carolina State have come out and said they will not wear the short-sleeve jerseys.
Tonight’s Lede. Because Big Ten Upsets Come In Pairs. Right when the Big Ten churns out one massive upset, number one Indiana’s four-point loss at Minnesota Tuesday night, the league got bored, went back to the drawing board, and said – in the most demonic voice possible – hey, Michigan, your time has come. The Wolverines went down on the road, at the house of a traditional basketball doormat, and on most nights, that story in itself would block out the rest of the night’s schedule. Not so – the Michigan loss was merely an icebreaker for a long and thorough evening of big-time matchups. Your humble nightly ATB writer compiled a sampling of the biggest headlines. Alas:
Your Watercooler Moment. A Very Happy Valley.
The conciliatory retort to any mildly surprising loss in the Big Ten season has gone a little something like this: it’s ok to lose on the road in the Big Ten, because you know how hard those Big Ten road games are, right? Wednesday night’s shocking result in Happy Valley, where Penn State won its first conference game in 18 tries after a blistering 15-point second-half comeback, was a huge exception. Most road games are difficult to win in this league, no question; from Mackey Arena to the Crisler Center to the Barn, the Big Ten lays claim to some of the nation’s most raucous campus environments. Teams lose, like Indiana at Minnesota, and it’s tough to get too caught up in the result. Any team in this uber-deep league can rip off a big upset win on any given night, it is widely and frequently said. We would have been rolling out the same logic had Michigan lost at, say, Illinois or Minnesota. Instead, the Wolverines elected – willfully or not – to suffer their worst loss of the season against the worst team in their league. And the weird part is, the final score really isn’t that crazy at all. To the passive onlooker, yes, Michigan had no business losing this game. But for anyone who paid mind to Penn State’s eight-point loss (ahem, moral victory) at the Crisler Center just 10 days ago, seeing Michigan bite the dust at State College was insane, but it wasn’t some Kansas-TCU-level revolution. The point in all of this is not to disparage Penn State by way of condemning the unlikelihood of Michigan’s loss. The Wolverines have some real issues to sort out in the final weeks, particularly on the defensive end. With two of their final three games coming against Michigan State and Indiana, Michigan needs to shake this off, address whatever issues ailed them at PSU and rally for an important concluding schedule in advance of what’s shaping up to be an utterly chaotic Big Ten Tournament.
Also worth Chatting About.Pac-12 Competitiveness.
A league bereft of depth and quality last season is on the improving (AP).
Unlike the 2012 version, this year’s Pac 12 is sort of ok. In fact, it’s more more than that. The league could, believe it or not, birth as many as six NCAA Tournament squads this season. Four of those Tournament hopefuls took the court Wednesday night, and the most significant result (Arizona’s loss at USC) is probably something we should have suspected all along. USC has won five of its past seven without fired coach Kevin O’Neill and are quietly playing their best basketball of the season; meanwhile, Arizona’s last three road games, including tonight’s loss, read as follows: a blowout loss at Colorado, a four-point win at Utah and a loss at USC. In other words, the Wildcats’ squeaky road ways were a dangerous way to life live in the Pac 12. In the other two marquee P12 games of the night, UCLA held serve against Arizona State and Colorado hung tough and gutted out a road win at Stanford. Most of these teams, with a few exceptions at the bottom, are competitively intriguing, and Wednesday night was the latest example. Not even the possibly one-seed bound Wildcats are safe against the likes of a middling if inspired USC. The league may not be great at the top — much like every power league this season, there truly is no “dominant team” — but the considerable growth in the middle regions has added substantial girth to a conference that sent just one at-large team to the NCAA Tournament last season and saw its regular season crownholder, Washington, miss the field altogether. Change is undeniable. The preeminent western conference is back on its feet, and the on-court product it doles out keeps getting better and better as the season closes in on the most crucial stretch.
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The chaotic final weeks before the NCAA Tournament have everyone clamoring for clarity, and as simple and as fun as it would be to announce that yes, you did hear a giant “POP” coming from Atlanta this evening, the reality is that Maryland’s at-large hopes haven’t completely vanished. Yet. With games growing few and their ACC record worsening, a 78-68 loss to Georgia Tech tonight has slid the Terps one step closer to the bubble chopping block. Three regular season games remain for Mark Turgeon’s bunch, with two road dates involved (at Wake Forest and Virginia) and a home finale against North Carolina. If Maryland wants to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, they would be well served to snag all three — no easy feat, but when you consider that accomplishing it would triple Maryland’s ACC road win total, a hard road starts to feel nearly impossible.
Mark Turgeon Was At A Loss For Words After Another Maryland Road Loss
February 7, Blacksburg, Virginia – Maryland won a game on a basketball court not inside the Comcast Center, an accomplishment that had not occurred since November, and has not happened since. A difficult fact to process considering the Terps were likely on the right side of the bubble after the seismic Duke victory on February 16, but it’s hard to make a case for your NCAA Tournament inclusion when you can’t win more than a single road game.
Give Georgia Tech credit tonight, as the Jackets made a lot of plays they don’t normally make. Brian Gregory said it was the best 40 minutes his team has played all season, and Turgeon was effusive with praise for the home team. “Tech was good tonight, they were really good” he admitted, but he couldn’t quite seem to put his finger on what ailed his team — both tonight and on the road all season. Sure, there were criticisms – poor point guard play, a lack of toughness in the paint, too much 1-on-1 offensively – but you could tell that even Turgeon felt at a loss for answers. “I did think we tried hard,” he concluded, but with a resignation in his voice that suggested a full awareness that effort alone will not get his team to the Dance.
Georges Niang drew a charge. Iowa State should have had possession of the basketball with a two-point lead late in regulation on Monday, and it should have had the chance to inbound the ball and ice the victory over sixth-ranked Kansasat the free throw line. The Cyclones should have all but sealed their NCAA Tournament at-large bid with the win, but then a funny thing happened. The officials made a human error. The Twitterverse blew up, ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla directed his outrage at the NCAA on the air, and the college basketball community essentially came to a consensus that Iowa State got jobbed.
Tough Loss Aside, Iowa State Has a Lot To Play For (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
The Cyclones indeed had a victory stolen from them. Even Kansas fans would probably agree with that statement, but it doesn’t change the facts. The Jayhawks won because Elijah Johnson put on a display for the ages, draining threes from every corner of the state of Iowa. The officials weren’t guarding him. The Cyclones were — they were trying to, at least. Nobody could guard Johnson on this particular night, and blown call or not, Iowa State had a five-point lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation and could not hold on for a victory. Cry foul all you want and blame the zebras if it makes you feel better, but there’s nothing Fred Hoiberg and his crew can do about it now. They lost.
Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Memphis and Xavier in Cincinnati.
Xavier outlasted Memphis, 64-62, in a game that exposed systemic weaknesses in Josh Pastner’s team fewer than three weeks from Selection Sunday. The Tigers entered the Cintas Center tied for the nation’s longest winning streak and boasting top-20 rankings in both the national polls and RPI. Their visit to Cincinnati represented the first of three consecutive road trips against potential RPI top-100 opponents, opportunities to combat the perennial whispers of “paper tiger” that pepper discussion of their Conference USA record. It also represented an audience with Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee and strong proponent of the “eye test,” as Mike DeCourcy tells us.
Xavier exposed Memphis’ vulnerability on the defensive glass (Credit FOX Sports Ohio)
They faced a Xavier team hung over from a crushing VCU comeback that all but eliminated its hopes of an at-large bid, and a student section reduced by the diaspora of spring break. Moreover with starting point guard Dee Davis injured, the Musketeers would field one primary ball-handler against the Tigers’ athletic press. It was against that backdrop that Memphis showed up and did all it could to reinforce the criticisms of its detractors. The Musketeers set the tone early with ferocious intensity under the basket and on 50/50 balls. They made Memphis look like the team with nothing to play for in the first half as they ran out to a 30-21 lead. The languid effort struck a chord with Josh Pastner: “Our energy level stunk that first half, and I believe in energy… We were minus-five in 50/50 balls at halftime –– first time in a long time that’s happened.” The Musketeers outrebounded Pastner’s team by 11 in the first half, and an six-rebound advantage on the offensive boards helped establish a 12-0 disparity in second-chance points. Memphis went to the locker room with zero points off five Xavier turnovers and only two fast break points.
Jimmy Kelley is an ACC correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow him on Twitter @DevilsInDurham
At some point in the 118-year history of basketball it was decided that each player on the court had to have a set position with a skill set that lent something to the way the game was played. These positions — point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center — held up for the most part through the years with players falling into one of the positions based on their height, athleticism or abilities with the ball in their hands. Recently, however, these positions have become somewhat amorphous with the advent of the “stretch four” and “combo guard” creating their own archetypes on which young players can model themselves. One such player who defies all classification is NC State’s 6’8″, 233-pound TJ Warren — a man without a position.
TJ Warren can take it to the post or off the bounce. But what position should we say he is? (Photo: Rob Kinnan, USA TODAY Sports)
Warren was a McDonald’s All-American in high school who could score in every way imaginable and even some ways that players hadn’t thought of yet. Physically he would fit into the old mold of a power forward but athletically he would fit more naturally into the small forward role. He isn’t a natural jump shooter which means his effectiveness on the wing would depend purely on his ability to get into the lane and score around the rim, much like a younger LeBron James before he developed his outside game. Warren has played both the small and power forward at times for the Wolfpack but giving him a position other than “forward” would pigeonhole his game too much, so we will just stick with the general term.
We’ve had plenty of good students this week, but we’ve got four squads that need to put in some extra work. Professor Pac breaks them down, here.
Arizona State – D+
The Sun Devils have unquestionably been a great story all year long. This is a team that won 22 games over the last two seasons combined that is now sitting at 20 wins already this season. If #1 seeds were handed out based on improvement, ASU would be very much in the mix. As it is, however, the Sun Devils’ last three losses – on Saturday at home to Washington, two weeks ago at Utah, and just prior to that at home to Stanford – have combined to leave them likely on the outside looking in when it comes to bubble talk. At present they’re near the bottom of the barrel in terms of free throw percentage in the nation, making just 62% from the charity stripe.
Focus on: Carrick Felix. The senior has done a lot of amazing things this season, from his elite defensive performance to his improvement on the glass to his career-best 58.1% eFG and 37% three-point shooting. But, somewhat inexplicably, Felix is shooting a career-worst 62.9% from the free-throw line. Somehow, someway, as his shooting while people attempt to guard him has been consistently rocketing upwards, his shooting while no one can guard him plummets.
Looking ahead: For all the talk about how the Sun Devils have taken themselves out of contention for an at-large bid, I can’t help but think if they win at UCLA tonight, win at USC on Saturday and handle Arizona next Saturday, they’ll be in pretty good position. Yeah, so, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s three road wins over teams who are a combined 12-5 in the past month.
Carrick Felix’s Numbers Are Up Almost Across The Boards – Except From The Free Throw Line (US Presswire)
Oregon State – D+
If you wanted to get a feel for how the 2012-13 Beavers season has gone, you could probably just watch Saturday’s game against Cal. Before the clock operator even had a chance to start the clock, OSU found itself down a point after freshman Olaf Schaftenaar picked up a technical for dunking in pregame warm-ups. Then, over the course of the next 20 minutes of action, they built themselves a nine-point deficit, a jumped up to 13 early in the second half. But behind Joe Burton, celebrating his senior day in style, the Beavers fought most of the way back against the hottest team in the conference, getting to within one point with 43 seconds remaining. But an ugly final possession that resulted in a wild Ahmad Starks three as time expired ensured that the lead remained in Cal’s possession. And yup, that’s right, the final margin was that one point that OSU sacrificed before the game even began.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
For weeks and weeks the constant talk around the conference was of confusion; who is the best team, where is the separation? Now, all of a sudden we look up with still a full two weeks remaining in conference play and, barring a collapse, New Mexico is going to take home at least a piece of the conference title (and a #1 seed in the conference tournament) and is a strong favorite to earn the regular season title outright. Along the way, Steve Alford has probably sealed up the MW Coach of the Year award, while teams like Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State look locked into NCAA Tournament bids. In other words, what was once a confusing mess (and I mean that word in a good way) of a conference is now pretty much crystal clear. Yeah, we still have to settle who exactly gets what seeds, both in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament bracket, but New Mexico has clearly separated itself from the pack.
Team of the Week
New Mexico – While it is not yet sealed, the Lobos went a long way towards earning themselves a Mountain West regular season title this week when they went into Fort Collins, interrupted Colorado State’s 27-game home winning streak and came away with an impressive road win. We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about what the Lobos can’t do and where their weaknesses may lie, but this far along this much is apparent: These Lobos are tough and they know how to win ballgames.
Kendall Williams’ Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win
Player of the Week
Kendall Williams, Junior, New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, there is no serious debate about the winner here as Williams went for 46 points, knocking down 10 increasingly improbable three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything for the Lobos in one of the greatest individual performances anywhere in the nation this season. For a guy who hadn’t scored more than 20 since December 22, it was also one of the most unlikely performances, but it is a glimpse into the type of ceiling this ridiculously talented junior has.
Newcomer of the Week
Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State – While the Rams came up on the short end of the stick in both of their games this week, it wasn’t due to lack of production from their senior transfer. Iverson was his typical efficient self, averaging 20 points, 12.5 boards and 34.5 minutes per game of action this week.
Despite Colton Iverson’s Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)
Game of the Week
UNLV 61, Colorado State 59 – Both Colorado State games this week were wildly entertaining. But while the outcome of the New Mexico game was hardly in doubt in the final minute, this battle in Vegas went down to the wire. After getting outscored by 11 in the first half, the Rams came out of the halftime locker room on fire, scoring 19 of the first 27 points in the second half to get back to even with still more than 13 minutes to play. When Dorian Green knocked down a pair of free throws with just under two minutes in the game, the Rams were up two and looked to be in good position to earn a big road win. But the Rams would never score again, while allowing a Bryce Dejean-Jones offensive rebound and putback to tie the game. And then an Anthony Marshall jumper with a waning shot and game clock sealed the deal and sent the home crowd home happy.
Minnesota has been at a karaoke bar for almost two months now, just belting out the chorus to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin” on repeat, with Tubby Smith singing the lead vocals. But a team that is as frustrating as it is talented finally got its act together at just the right time on Tuesday night, upsetting #1 Indiana, 77-73, at The Barn. Perhaps it was the sports psychologist that Smith brought in this week. Perhaps it was the crowd and the team recognizing the opportunity of having a vulnerable #1 come to town in conference play. Or perhaps it was just this group of talented, athletic players finally figuring out how to play together. Whatever the case was, Minnesota needed this win, and badly. Fortunately for the Gophers, they’ve likely played their way safely into the NCAA Tournament field and only have games against Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue remaining before the Big Ten Tournament. Can they hold on? We’ll see. But here’s a few more thoughts on Tuesday night’s upset:
Minnesota needed the Big Ten Player of the Year-esque Trevor Mbakwe to show up on Tuesday, and that’s what they got. (USA Today)
The Gophers were clicking — There may not be a more athletic team in the country than the Gophers, which is exactly what made their recent struggles so puzzling. They didn’t seem to have any leadership, couldn’t find any chemistry on the floor, didn’t seem to be taking much direction from their coach and just weren’t appearing to be having all that much fun playing together. Funny what the No. 1 team coming to your house can do. What stood out most to me was that the Gophers did a great job of taking what the game and the Hoosiers gave them. If Indiana was going to get stuck with a smaller player on the red-hot Elliott Eliason, the Gophers kept feeding the post. If Minnesota needed a big basket, it would go to the stronger Trevor Mbakwe inside. And when Indiana refused to move away from its zone defense, the Gophers kept taking three-pointers. They weren’t always going in the basket early, but they were clean looks, and kudos to Minnesota for taking them. They eventually started to fall and were what allowed the Gophers to get over the hump midway in the second half. The Gophers have more than a handful of athletic, talented players who can beat you on any given night and that depth is hard to match in the conference. When they’re all on the same page, we saw what they’re capable of.
Before the season started, North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie was picked as the probable conference Player of the Year while leading his team to a predicted first place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wolfpack currently sits at fifth in the conference standings and Leslie seems like he is now well outside of the all-ACC First Team, much less anywhere near the Player of the Year Award. He’s likely not even a serious contender for the best player on his team, let alone the conference. What happened to the Wolfpack star and how did he manage to fall so short of expectations this season?
Has C.J. Leslie underachieved this season? Or is he just a product of inflated expectations? (USA Today)
The answer, like the question, is two part. First, nothing happened to Leslie: He is fairly close to the same player he has always been. This season, the ultra-athletic forward is averaging 15.4 PPG and 7.6 RPG, marginal improvements over last year’s marks of 14.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG. In terms of tempo-free measures, Leslie has been a bit better at shooting, slightly worse at offensive rebounding, and a good bit worse in terms of turnovers while using about the same number of possessions as last year. The net result? An offensive efficiency of 100.1 this year as opposed to a mark of 102.1 last year. Outside of a little variation, Leslie has been what he was last year — a nearly average offensive player using the eighth largest proportion of possessions in the conference. Why then, was Leslie picked as potentially the best player in the conference?