O26 Storylines: Assessing Indiana State, Massachusetts, Davidson & More…

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 31st, 2014

It’s been yet another exciting week in O26 basketball. Let’s check out this week’s most compelling storylines.

Are Indiana State’s NCAA Tournament hopes over?

Jake Odum and Indiana State are in big trouble.

Jake Odum and Indiana State are in big trouble.

The discussion surrounding the Sycamores’ at-large chances largely pointed toward one game. Could Indiana State take down undefeated Wichita State at home on February 5? A win and suddenly the Sycamores are in the bubble discussion. A loss and almost all hope is lost. That was the date everybody had circled on the calendar. And then Indiana State (16-5, 7-2 Missouri Valley Conference) went and lost to Southern Illinois on Wednesday, effectively ending any at-large hopes. Its RPI sits at #45 as of Friday and is sure to plummet now. The Sycamores’ case was precarious at best before the loss, with what looked like a resume-building win over Notre Dame in mid-November no longer carrying any cache. The Fighting Irish’s freefall has erased any shot at that as a quality win. The only other win against a potential NCAA Tournament team came in late December against Belmont, an Ohio Valley Conference squad that will need an automatic bid to make the Big Dance. It’s not even clear that a home win against Wichita State will be enough. It appears to be the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid or bust for Indiana State now.

What the heck is going on with Massachusetts?

The Minutemen were America’s first half darlings, sitting at 16-1 with wins over New Mexico, BYU, LSU and Providence. Now Massachusetts has lost two of its last three games, falling on the road to Richmond and Saint Bonaventure. UMass had been skating on thin ice before this recent stretch, beating Miami (Ohio), Saint Joseph’s, Saint Bonaventure and George Mason by only single digits. The latter required a miracle final minute to pull out a victory. Now it’s finally caught up with them. UMass is still a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament with a strong RPI at #8, although that will surely drop when the next rankings are released Monday. After being tabbed the Atlantic 10 favorite entering conference play, the Minutemen now have to be considered third in the league’s pecking order behind Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth. The struggles start with Chaz Willams, a frontrunner for A-10 Player of the Year. In those two recent losses, the senior guard is just 5-of-21 from the field with 19 points. He averages 15.7 points per game. Big man Cady Lalanne, who averages 13.5 PPG himself, has just 21 points in those two defeats. The Minutemen need their two stars to return to form in order for Massachusetts to make any noise in the NCAA Tournament.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 31st, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Teams on the Rise… Teams on the Slide

Just over 38 percent of the conference schedule is in the books and two teams — Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth — have emerged as the teams to catch. Three other teams – George Mason, Duquesne and Dayton (!) — are falling out of contact with the rest of the conference.

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Shaka Smart and company are once again right in the mix for the A10 crown. (AP)

Rising – Teams that are finding their groove

  • Saint Louis — Skeptics who groused that the Billikens’ early conference success came compliments of an easy draw have to pause for reflection after this week. Wins over Dayton, a rallying St. Bonaventure, and most recently Richmond (by 20 points) confirm that the Billikens are unlikely to slip against the conference’s middling teams and will continue to set the pace in the conference race for at least the next two weeks. A good deal of ink has extolled and analyzed Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC, but Jim Crews’ smothering defense — ranked #1 nationally by Ken Pomeroy (and a runaway #1 in conference play, over eight points per 100 possessions better than #2 VCU) — that provides the winning edge for the Bills. A combination of consistent two- and three-point field goal defense and strong defensive rebounding has powered Saint Louis’ defense in sharp contrast to VCU’s gambling, steal-oriented, press-and-trap approach that tolerates fouls as a byproduct. Saint Louis by contrast does not foul. Jordair Jett, the Bills’ thick but quick point guard, combines with undersized forward Dwayne Evans to provide the Billikens with an adequate, but hardly prolific, offense. The defense — for now — is enough. Their February 15 date with Virginia Commonwealth, the first of two games they will play with the Rams in the final three weeks of the regular season, is the opening shot in what may well become a three-game set that will be decided in the conference championship game at the Barclays Center. Read the rest of this entry »
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Marching to Vegas: On Utah, Colorado and a Forced Rivalry

Posted by Adam Butler on January 31st, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

I want to talk about Saturday morning’s Utah-Colorado game. At first glance it’s a less than appealing game. Or I suppose that’s just on name recognition as Utah hasn’t necessarily been a program of note for some time now and Colorado is no semblance of a basketball school. To say that the newest “rivalry” game in the Pac brings something to the table is to say that The Hangover 2 is your favorite movie (apologies if it is and I’m also completely judging you). And then there’s also the fact that the two have collectively dropped nine of 16 conference games. Individually, Colorado has lost four of five while the Utes haven’t won a single road game this season. Did I mention Utah will be on the road for this one? The point here is that this game is missing the shine some other rivalry games might hold.

How Do We Make This Matchup A Rivalry? Games Like This Are A Start

How Do We Make This Matchup A Rivalry? Games Like This Are A Start

I really don’t think that’s the case. You’re a top Pac-12 fan so you likely agree with me; but let’s dive deeper. First, the Utes. This is like that little team that could who plowed through a bunch of teams that couldn’t (170th in SOS rankings) en route to a tidy 11-1 non-conference record. As mentioned, you’re a top fan so you’re familiar with all that. Then they jumped into the Conference of Champions and acquired a bunch of losses. But they were close losses. Defeats by a cumulative 20 points. Conversely, their three wins have come by an average margin of 11.3 points and include a signature win over then #25 UCLA. “Who are the Utes?” I often find myself wondering as well as “What is a Ute?” and many other existential questions. Are they a team incapable of winning outside of the Huntsman Center, destined to be homebodies and an also-ran while filling the isn’t-that-nice narrative but not the wins column? Because that’s who they’ve been to date. And what does it mean for these Utes? What does it mean for Saturday’s game?

To answer the former, it means we see a capable group that’s not producing. It’s a weird mix of encouraging and frustrating, a combination that ranks Utah as KenPom’s third-most unlucky team in the nation. I’ll synopsize this statistic as an examination of a team’s performance against expectations. Anecdotally, we can all agree that the Utes have outperformed expectations. Subsequently, their luck rating is such that they’re damn unlucky because they just keep losing. In the long run, this statistic suggests that the Utes have better days to come. Their actual performance will more closely align with their expected performance (according to KenPom’s stuff). In Utah’s case, this is particularly interesting because they are such a young team. A team that plays well but that has unfortunately (key word) found itself on the wrong side of the score. Utah’s record may not indicate it (at least in Pac-12 play where it’s lost all those close ones) but they have brighter days ahead (it just might be 2014-15).

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The Annotated Bill Walton: UCLA at Oregon Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on January 31st, 2014

So much fun was had creating this column last night, and so enticing was Bill Walton’s introduction for last night’s UCLA/Oregon game, that we’re back again, trying to help you decipher the Big Red Head’s comments throughout two hours of fun.

Bill Walton Back In Oregon? Settle In For A Weird Night (John Papanek, SI)

Bill Walton Back In Oregon? Settle In For A Weird Night (John Papanek, SI)

For last night’s musical accompaniment, we point you to January 22, 1978, at MacArthur Court, the night following a 14-point Oregon home loss to Oregon State, when the Grateful Dead played their second of just three concerts ever in the Eugene landmark. Arguably the best Dead show of 1978, the highlight of the night comes in a second set jam beginning with Terrapin Station that clocks in at more than hour. The whole thing should be required listening for any sentient being, but if you’re pressed for time, jump ahead to The Other One, so long as you promise to finish up the rest of your homework later.

Without furthur ado, Bill Walton:

Intro – “Dave, once upon a time there was a great notion that basketball players, we were born to run. So now as we converge here on track town USA in honor of the late great Steve Prefontaine, we are ready to roll tonight.

Comment: The splashy reference is to Prefontaine, the famed and ill-fated long-distance runner of Oregon fame, but Walton slyly dips in a reference to his friend Ken Kesey, alluding to his best work, Sometimes A Great Notion, not only one of the great American novels but certainly the great Oregon novel. While One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is Kesey’s best-known work, Notion is his masterpiece. There’s also a little nod to Bruce Springsteen and Born to Run here.

First Half

18:56 – Following a play where a Kyle Anderson pass gets deflected by Dominic Artis straight to Travis Wear for a layup: “Perfect execution.”

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Award Tour: Doug McDermott Blowing Away the NPOY Competition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 31st, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

Michigan State was so close to landing a player in this week’s Award Tour rankings, but Gary Harris struggled in a loss to Michigan. His day will come… eventually. Providence’s Bryce Cotton and Ed Cooley are also very close to making their debuts on the watch lists as well. Cotton is an ironman who has carried the Friars after taking over as the point guard, while Cooley has kept the team moving forward after a rough start to conference play. Andrew Wiggins is quickly turning into the player everyone expected before the season — he was never bad or mediocre, just not a stud – until now. After 27 points against TCU and 29 more against Iowa State, Maple Jordan is rounding into form as Kansas’ second Big 12 Player of the Year candidate. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson struggled against Duke, but he’ll have several more chances in the coming weeks to prove he’s an ACC Player of the Year candidate.

Player of the Year

Thanks to some outstanding play of late, Justin Jackson (left), Xavier Thames, and Nick Stauskas are all in the POY discussion.

Thanks to some outstanding play of late, Justin Jackson (left), Xavier Thames, and Nick Stauskas are all in the POY discussion.

10. Justin Jackson – Cincinnati. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 11.1 PPG, 7 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 107.5 oRTG

Justin Jackson isn’t going to wow anyone offensively. He can score a few buckets here and there, be a playmaker occasionally, and draw a lot of fouls. So why did he make the Player of the Year rankings? He’s a dominant defender and rebounder. Jackson is arguably the best player on a Cincinnati team that is now 20-2 with wins at Louisville, at Memphis, Pittsburgh and SMU. He’s the only player in the top 50 in the country in block AND steal rate according to KenPom, and his late steal against Louisville helped seal an impressive victory in the KFCYum! Center against the Cardinals.

9. Xavier Thames – San Diego State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.5 PPG, 2.7 APG, 121.6 oRTG

Xavier Thames has emerged as San Diego State’s top player after spending three years toiling in mediocrity thanks to poor shooting and turnovers. But as a senior, Thames has become a much more efficient scorer and distributor. He’s the main reason why the Aztecs could overcome huge personnel losses and improve from last year’s NCAA round of 32 squad.

8. Joel Embiid – Kansas. Last Week: 9
2013-14 stats: 11.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 113.6 oRTG

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Who Won The Week? Sean Kilpatrick and the Bearcats, Andrew Wiggins, and the Likely NPOY

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 31st, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Cincinnati

Sean Kilpatrick has been on a tear lately. (USA TODAY Sports)

Sean Kilpatrick has been on a tear lately. (USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe this should be “WINNER: Sean Kilpatrick.” But I don’t know if that’s fair to his teammates. Sure, offensively, the Bearcats were the Sean Kilpatrick Show this week, as they have been all season; the senior guard has led them in scoring in 19 of 22 games. But by more than just Kilpatrick’s accomplishments, Cincinnati has gotten to 20-2 this season, including back-to-back road wins against Temple and Louisville to go to 9-0 in the AAC. In Sunday’s 80-76 win against the Owls, Bearcats guard Troy Caupain had eight points and nine assists, and forward Shaquille Thomas had 15 points to complement Kilpatrick’s season-high 29 points and team-high eight rebounds. And in Thursday’s 69-66 win over the Cardinals, Thomas and fellow forward Justin Jackson both scored 11 points to complement Kilpatrick’s 28, which came with five rebounds. But what makes Cincinnati more than Kilpatrick and more than their secondary performances on offense, is its stingy defense. The Bearcats are in the top 10 nationally in steal rate, block rate and two-point field goal rate, and five players force steals on more than 2.5 percent of their possessions. The best ball thief is Jackson, who ranks in the top 50 nationally in steal rate, while also ranking in the top 50 in offensive rebounding rate and in the top 10 in block rate. Cincinnati’s only losses this season came on the road at New Mexico and to crosstown rival Xavier, and they’ve won 12 in a row, five of those on the road. Perhaps its time to treat them as a top-tier team nationally.

(Related winners: Kilpatrick; the American Athletic Conference, which has a surprisingly good number of teams that includes Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Larry Brown’s SMU; Related losers: Louisville, which lost despite forcing 20 turnovers in a 65-possession game; Temple, which blew a 33-point performance from senior guard Dalton Pepper.)

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What’s Trending: Missed Memphis Dunks, #BBN in Trouble, Flutie Plays the Drums

Posted by Nick Fasulo on January 31st, 2014

Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host. 

Who should be more embarrassed: Memphis’ Joe Jackson or California’s Justin Cobbs?

Jackson tried a windmill dunk in the middle of a close game, only to get an earful from head coach Josh Pastner. Cobbs wedged the ball between the rim and glass on a a breakaway layup.

or

Our pick? Got to go with Jackson. Up five on the road against a pesky UCF club, you take any points you can get. Cobbs’ blunder actually ended up benefiting the Golden Bears, as officials called the play a jump ball, Cal retained possession and converted a three pointer a few seconds later.

Regardless, expect the Mothership to have both these plays ranked high on their weekly #SCNotTop10 countdown this evening.

Doug McDermott plays hero with a questionable no-call?

GIFs never lie, man. Click the screen grab below to see  what “Creighton Otter” of White &Blue Review is calling a “super screen” by the Bluejays’ Isaiah Zierden to free up the NPOY candidate for his game-winning shot against St. John’s.

There really is no place like home when the game is tied in the final 10 seconds.

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Kennedy Meeks Needs the Majority Of Minutes for UNC Down Low

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Even with all the uncertainty swirling around the North Carolina roster through the first half of the season, the consensus among most was that interior depth would not be a problem. And sure enough, Williams has shown that he will play his surplus of big bodies in nearly every game. Each Tar Heel post player has a unique skill set that lends itself to different moments and match-ups, but the center position has been an area that UNC has not been able to count on for consistent production. Recent ACC wins against Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech have indicated, perhaps, that this may be a concern of the past.

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (USA TODAY Sports)

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

One reason for the up-and-down production over the course of the year can be tied to the fact that the individual manning the post at the opening tip-off has not gotten starter’s minutes. Sophomore Joel James started the first 10 games of the year before getting injured versus Texas, and he’s started two games since, averaging just shy of 11 minutes per game. James started all three games against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, and yet played fewer minutes than Kennedy Meeks versus the Cardinals (11 minutes to 24) and Spartans (16 to 18), and fewer than both Brice Johnson and Meeks in the victory over Kentucky (13 minutes compared to Johnson’s 24 and Meeks’ 19). Surely Williams saw something in James to name him the starter for those contests, but if he was going to play so sparingly, why not let someone else man the post to get in an early rhythm?

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London Perrantes Has the Virginia Offense Humming

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Virginia’s resurgence is well-known by now, with everyone from this site to Joe Lunardi taking notice — standing firm right behind Syracuse in the ACC standings will do that. But while Virginia’s defense is still as potent as ever (only allowing opponents to shoot 38.0 percent from the field on the year), it’s the Cavaliers’ suddenly white-hot offense that has them racing off to such a commanding ACC start. It would be a challenge to find anyone who projected Virginia would be fourth in the ACC in scoring (70.5 PPG) through eight games, but there’s one obvious catalyst for Tony Bennett’s best offensive team during his tenure at Virginia: freshman point man London Perrantes.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame

London Perrantes has Virginia’s offense rolling and the team sitting near the top of the ACC (credit: usatodaysports)

While Tyler Ennis has garnered most of the freshman point guard accolades in the ACC this season, Perrantes can make an argument he’s just as vital to his team’s success as his Syracuse counterpart. He is averaging 4.8 assists per game in conference contests, but more impressively his assist-to-turnover ratio is an astounding 4.2 to 1. Like Ennis, Perrantes is lauded for his calm demeanor under fire and an innate ability to set and maintain his team’s preferred tempo regardless of opponent. Part of the reason the team is scoring at its current clip is because Perrantes is doing a tremendous job protecting the ball as well as knowing when to get the team out in transition (traditionally a rarity for Bennett’s squads). Virginia struggled while the young point guard was getting acclimated to the college game, but with him now firmly entrenched as the starter at the position, this team runs at a much more efficient pace.

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The RTC Podblast: Time and Score Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 31st, 2014

Welcome back to the RTC Podblast. In this week’s edition, the guys take a look back at a week filled with some strange upsets, including what might be the only time in the history of podcasts that the Northwestern fight song was used, a discussion of time and score (also known as a 13.5 second interlude), and a look ahead to a ridiculously strong Saturday of college basketball. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts.

Make sure to subscribe to the podcast/podblast on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-5:56 – Wild, Wild Midwest
  • 5:56-9:28 – Iowa Comes Up Short… Again
  • 9:28-13:02 – Kentucky Falls At LSU
  • 13:02-18:44 – Louisville Fails to Validate Randy’s Belief
  • 18:44-24:30 – Busy Weekend Preview
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Pac-12 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 31st, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon fought back late against UCLA on Thursday night to force a tight game, but wound up losing at home. Still, the Dana Altman transfer society is not going to end anytime soon in Eugene, as the Ducks are getting their first glimpse of Providence transfer Brandon Austin in practices and like what they see. Austin was a highly-regarded recruit at Providence, but he never played a minute there after earning a suspension for a violation of the school’s Code of Conduct. He’s been in Eugene since the start of the semester and has shown his teammates and coaches that he will be a force in the future, but he will first have to wait until the end of the fall semester next season in order to gain eligibility for the Ducks.
  2. Arizona remained undefeated on Wednesday night, pulling off a hard-fought road win at Stanford. And with 21 wins in their pocket and no strikes against them, the inevitable contrarian columns begin: Is it actually good to be undefeated? Let’s put these types of things to bed right now. Is it good to be undefeated? Um, yeah. Sure, why not? You play these games to win, right? Now, just because, yes, it is good to be king, it does not necessarily follow that taking a loss is terrible either. It’s a long year. Road games are tough. Odds are good that Arizona (and Syracuse and even Wichita State) will slip up somewhere before March. But if they don’t, that doesn’t really put any more pressure on any of those teams. They’ll continue to get everybody’s best shot regardless of whether they have zero losses or one loss. And once it gets to the NCAA Tournament? It’s not like having a loss – or not – in their past is really going to have any effect on their play down the stretch in a tight tourney game. One of the reasons the Wildcats got out of Palo Alto on Wednesday night with a win was their defense against Stanford guard Chasson Randle, who was harassed by T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson into a 3-of-15 night from the field. For his career at Stanford, he is now 10-of-42 from the field in three games against the Wildcats. Suffice it to say, that’s not good.
  3. Meanwhile, across the bay in Berkeley on Wednesday night, California fought back from an early deficit to force overtime against Arizona State. But after getting outscored by 11 in the extra period, the once-streaking Golden Bears have now dropped their third straight game. In a game where Justin Cobbs missed a layup in “unusual” fashion, Cal was close, but so far away. For a team that fewer than two weeks ago looked like perhaps the biggest challenger to Arizona’s conference throne, the Golden Bears are now faced with an almost must-win match-up against the nation’s #1 team on Saturday night. And, really, the Bears probably don’t match up very well with the Wildcats.
  4. Lastly, Washington State, perhaps more than any other team in the conference, is in desperate need of good news. And expectations are that they will get it on Saturday, when junior guard DaVonte Lacy is expected to make a return from his rib injury against Washington. Lacy practiced this week and will be a game time decision, but All Coug’d Up asks, if Lacy isn’t back to 100 percent yet, why force him back early if he’s not clearly ready to go. Stay tuned.
  5. We close with the second week of our basketball pick’em contest. Boasted by a Stanford overtime win at USC and UCLA surviving a late comeback attempt by California, Connor swept last week’s selections. Our game of the week to close out the month (worth either two wins or two losses) will feature top-ranked Arizona traveling to a hostile Haas Pavilion to face the Golden Bears. Each member on our three-man panel agrees the Wildcats will take that one.
    Game Connor (7-0) Drew (4-3) Adam (5-2)
    Utah at Colorado Colorado Colorado Utah
    Arizona State at Stanford Stanford Arizona State Arizona State
    Washington at Wash. State Washington Washington Washington
    USC at Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
    Arizona at California Arizona Arizona Arizona
    UCLA at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State UCLA
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Despite (More) Suspensions, Delaware Still in Great Position to Win CAA

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 31st, 2014

Just when it looked like the Blue Hens were going to run away with the CAA, Delaware announced Wednesday that starting point guard Jarvis Threatt and forward Marvin King-Davis had been suspended one month for an unspecified violation of team rules. If the nebulous infraction sounds familiar, that’s because it is — star shooting guard Devon Saddler was also suspended for an unspecified violation back in November, missing seven games as a result. Now without its leading distributor and a key frontcourt piece, Monte Ross’ team must once again adjust to playing short-handed for an extended period. And although that might spell trouble for an already-thin bunch, the good news is this: The Hens still have a big enough lead in league play and plenty of remaining offensive talent to weather the storm and claim the conference crown.

Delaware showed Wednesday that they can still win big short-handed. (AP)

Devon Saddler and Delaware showed Wednesday that they can still win big short-handed. (AP)

If you were to examine Wednesday night’s effort at William & Mary in a vacuum, you might even think Delaware could thrive in the absence of Threatt and King-Davis. The Hens dispatched the second-place Tribe, 89-72, behind Davon Usher’s 28 points and Carl Baptiste’s career-high 23, along with team-wide 10-of-22 shooting from behind the arc. It was an impressive outcome, prompting Ross to label it “one of the most unbelievable performances” he’s been associated with as head coach. The bigger story, though, might have been Saddler — who recorded seven first-half assists in his interim point guard role — and Cazmon Hayes, whose 24 minutes were by far his most since early December. If Saddler can adapt to being both a scorer and distributor, and Hayes and forward Devonne Pinkard can be dependable contributors, Ross’ club is capable of winning more games like it did on Wednesday.

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