Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. 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.
We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.
Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.
Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)
LOSER: Saint Louis
The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?
(Related winners: Duquesne, which got its best win since knocking off Sean Miller’s 2009 Xavier squad; A-10 foes VCU and Massachusetts, both of which still host Saint Louis. Related losers: Wichita State, whose win over the Billikens in Saint Louis was its best this season; George Washington, which Saint Louis beat 66-59 on Saturday.)
WINNER: Marcus Smart
Last we saw Oklahoma State’s star sophomore guard, he was getting into an altercation with a Texas Tech fan in the stands, earning himself a three-game suspension in the process. His Cowboys lost all three games that he missed, including against fellow bubble-dweller Baylor, stretching their winless streak to seven. But when Smart returned this week – with little fanfare, I might add – his team picked up the pieces by picking up a pair of blowout victories over Texas Tech and TCU. Smart was an integral part in both games. Against the Red Raiders on Saturday, Smart had 16 points, 10 assists, six steals and two blocks in an 84-62 win; versus the Horned Frogs on Monday, he had 17 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals in a 76-54 victory. Oklahoma State might have the best NCAA Tournament resume that a team with a seven-game losing streak has ever compiled – an RPI of #47 with wins over Memphis, full-strength Colorado and Texas, and three losses mitigated by Smart’s absence – and they have three shots left at quality wins, with the Kansas schools visiting Stillwater followed by a trip to Iowa State to end the regular season. The Cowboys still have ample chance to play themselves back into the NCAA Tournament.
(Related winners: Oklahoma State; Baylor, who has two of its five RPI top-50 wins over the Cowboys. Related losers: Texas Tech; TCU, which has a 71.4 percent chance of going winless in Big 12 play with three games remaining, according to KenPom.com.)
LOSER: West Virginia
The Big 12 bubble gods giveth, the Big 12 bubble gods taketh away. The Mountaineers fancied themselves in the market for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, but missed a huge opportunity at home against mercurial Baylor, falling 88-75 in a 62-possession game Saturday, then losing 83-66 on the road at Iowa State on Wednesday. Sophomore guard Eron Harris’ 32 points against Baylor was overshadowed by the Bears’ offensive performance, the fifth-best road conference per-possession performance by any team. In a game with a tempo as slow as what the 10th-slowest team in the country plays (that’s ACC leader Virginia, for what it’s worth), Baylor hung up more points than Virginia and Wisconsin combined in a December game that ended 48-38 (in just five fewer possessions). Five players finished in double figures. Junior forward Royce O’Neale scored 22 points as he went 8-of-8 from the field, including four three-pointers, while grabbing six rebounds and dishing six assists. Sophomore center Isaiah Austin went 8-of-14 from the field for 19 points while blocking seven shots. That kind of performance probably isn’t the best thing to be on the receiving end of when you have hopes of playing into mid-March. It’s safe to say West Virginia’s bubble is pretty much popped, given its RPI is in the 80s on the last day of February.
(Related winners: O’Neale, for having the game of his life; Baylor, though it did lose Wednesday at Texas. Related losers: Gonzaga, whose best non-conference win was in Morgantown in December, and who lost Saturday at San Diego, too.)
The Wolverines solidified their hold on the Big Ten lead Sunday, finishing its sweep over second-place Michigan State with a 79-70 win in Ann Arbor, then followed that with a buzzer-beating 77-76 overtime win at Purdue courtesy of this Glenn Robinson III layup Wednesday.
Robinson wasn’t the big dog for Michigan in its rivalry game Sunday, scoring 15 points; instead Nik Stauskas had 25 points and Caris LeVert 23. That trio combined to shoot 22-of-40 from the floor against the Spartans, and Stauskas had his team’s only two turnovers in the game. (That’s one way to win comfortably despite giving up an effective shooting rate of 56 percent.) The same three led the Wolverines in scoring against the Boilermakers, with Robinson’s final bucket giving him 17 points, Stauskas finishing with 15 and LeVert 14.
(Related winners: Robinson, for hitting a layup to defeat the school where his dad is a legend. Related losers: Injured Michigan forward Mitch McGary, which the Wolverines were 4-4 with and are 16-3 without; Purdue, which is tied for last in the Big Ten despite having won five games in conference; Michigan State, which only played one game this week; Spartans guard Keith Appling, who scored as many points in the four games he played in February as he did in his last game in January: 16.)
The Hawkeyes did their best to play themselves onto the bubble this week, losing three games in a row, each of which they probably should have won. Saturday’s 79-74 loss at home to Wisconsin included a squandered 21-point, 10-assist performance from point guard Roy Devyn Marble and 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting from guard Josh Oglesby, but a teamwide 4-of-14 performance from three-point range was what sealed their fate. Marble again led Iowa in scoring on Tuesday against Minnesota, this time with 24 points, but the Golden Gophers shot the lights out with an effective field goal rate of 72.4 percent (second highest in Big Ten play this season), including an 11-of-19 showing from three-point range. In Thursday’s makeup game for the one postponed by falling pieces of Assembly Hall’s roof, Marble had 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes again, but senior Indiana forward Will Sheehey finished with 30 points as the Hoosiers finished their minor upset, 93-86. All of a sudden, the Hawkeyes’ RPI is in the high 40s and they are only 5-8 against the RPI top 50. I wonder where coach Fran McCaffery is on the Franconmeter right now. Probably Francon five or so.
(Related winners: Wisconsin, winners of six straight after beating Indiana 69-58 on Tuesday; Minnesota, whose RPI is actually better than Iowa’s. Related losers: Marble, whose three straight strong performances all came in losses.)
WINNER: The Citadel
The Bulldogs started out Southern Conference play 0-14, but picked off Sanford 81-71 on Monday to get their first win of conference play. The Bulldogs (of Charleston, South Carolina) led the Bulldogs (of Birmingham, Alabama) for nearly the whole game, of which guard Matt Van Scyoc played every second and finished with 19 points; The Citadel was led by guard Ashton Moore’s 24. The Citadel returns all of its rotation players next year, so maybe things are looking up for them in the future, and maybe Chuck Driesell (son of Hall of Famer Lefty) returns as coach.
(Related winners: None, but all of us, because it’s no fun when teams get trounced regularly. Related losers: Samford, which could have gotten its most wins since 2011 – 12 – with a win; TCU and Southern Utah, the nation’s only remaining teams winless in conference; especially Southern Utah, which missed a three-pointer to beat Montana State last night in Bozeman, then lost in overtime.)
The Jaguars, which took No. 1 seed Gonzaga to the wire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year and have a three-game lead in the SWAC over second-place Alabama State, have had all of their athletic programs ruled academically ineligible for postseason play because of record-keeping discrepancies. This tournament-tested team played one of the country’s toughest non-conference schedules, including trips to Florida and Arizona, and were likely the SWAC’s best shot at an upset win in the NCAA Tournament since Southern knocked off Georgia Tech in 1993. (That’s actually the conference’s only non-play-in-game win since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams.) I feel for the players who were having a great season and had their goal ripped away from them for something entirely outside their control.
(Related winners: I mean, I guess whoever else from the SWAC fills the void and gets the NCAA Tournament auto-bid. Related losers: SWAC schools, which could use any NCAA Tournament win shares they could get their hands on, as they’re the most cash-strapped in Division I.)
SUPER-DUPER UBER LOSER: New Mexico State
In a special installment of Who Really, Really, Really Lost The Week, the Aggies handled their loss to Utah Valley with less than aplomb, with guard K.C. Ross-Miller throwing the ball at an opponent on the Wolverines as the buzzer expired in the 66-61 loss last night, starting a fight between the teams as fans stormed the court to celebrate the biggest win in Utah Valley history.
As you can see there, plenty of punches were thrown and shoves were exchanged, completely unnecessarily. Ross-Miller earned a suspension from the school for his actions, and the WAC may add more players and games to the discipline list for the team that’s now second in the conference.
(Related winners: Nobody wins from the fight; from the game, Utah Valley, which just needs to win one of its remaining games against Cal State Bakersfield and Texas-Pan American to earn a bid to the NIT and the top seed in the WAC Tourney. Related losers: The fans who got into the fight, providing an example of how to not Rush the Court.)