SEC Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 21st, 2019

The SEC enjoyed another successful season, with the league earning seven bids and potential for a few of those teams to get to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. Just a few hours before the first tip, let’s take a look at the biggest questions facing the league as the Big Dance begins.

P.J. Washington’s breakout season gives Kentucky a chance at a deep March run. (Courtesy: CBSSports.com)
  • Which SEC team has the best chance to go deep? Tennessee and Kentucky have been the league’s best two teams all year, despite LSU claiming the regular season title and Auburn winning the SEC Tournament. Both the Volunteers and Wildcats are capable of making a run to Minneapolis, but it says here that John Calipari‘s team has the best shot. With Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans leading the way in the backcourt, along with budding superstar P.J. Washington and graduate transfer godsend Reid Travis, the Wildcats are the league’s best bet to reach the Final Four and cut down the nets once they are there. This team is a far cry from the shaky group that got destroyed by Duke on opening night, and Big Blue Nation would salivate about getting another shot at the Blue Devils on an April Monday night.
  • Which SEC player will break out and make a national name for himself? Tennessee’s Jordan Bone did not earn first-team all-SEC honors this year, even though a case can be made that he is the Volunteers’ most valuable player. Many across the country already know that Bone is an excellent cog in Rick Barnes’ attack, but his importance to this team cannot be overstated. In Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship game, Bone was not himself, dishing out only two assists while committing three turnovers — he averages six assists and two turnovers a game — and the rest of his team followed suit. Tennessee will only go as far as Bone can take them, and he has the chance to elevate his reputation from being a really good player to becoming a great one this March.
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Big East Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 20th, 2019

If a down year for the conference means four bids, then the conference certainly has nothing to complain about. All four Big East clubs were slotted roughly in line with expectations heading into Sunday and each has a winnable First Round game (or a play-in game for St. John‘s). Below are the burning questions facing each team as it prepares for the NCAA tournament:

Marquette: Will Markus Howard get back on track?

Marquette Will Go as Far As Markus Howard Can Take Them (USA Today Images)

As good of shooters as the Hauser brothers and Sacar Anim are, there’s no question the Marquette offense runs through Markus Howard. His red-hot shooting (40.8% 3FG) and ability to draw fouls (seventh-highest fouls drawn per 40 minutes) keep the Golden Eagles humming and give much needed spacing to his teammates. Tertiary scorers such as Joey Hauser and Anim are less efficient when Howard is not on the floor and the Marquette offense as a whole scores 10 fewer points per 100 possessions without him. That drops Marquette from an elite offense (23rd nationally) to a strikingly average one. In the team’s recent six-game stumble, Howard’s effective field goal percentage plummeted to 42.2 percent, compared with 53.5 percent in the games preceding it. So it’s no surprise then that some of the team’s worst performances correlate directly with an off night from their 5’11” star. Coupling these recent struggles with news of Howard’s hand injury is definitely cause for concern.

Villanova: How will the Wildcats perform on an off shooting night?

By this point, everyone knows that Villanova relies heavily on the three-pointer, having ranked among the top 40 nationally in three-point attempt rate for each of the last six seasons. This season, Jay Wright has taken that ambition to an extreme, with three-pointers accounting for 53.5 percent of Villanova’s shot attempts, good for third nationally. When they connect, defenses are forced to adjust, which opens up driving lanes and creates better spacing. But Villanova is decidedly average in its long-range accuracy this season, making the slumps feel that much longer when the shots continue to be fired. In the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats did a good job generating points at the line and around the basket during those inevitable cold spells, but it wasn’t always pretty and felt somewhat unsustainable. Wins are wins, but in the NCAA Tournament, the question will be whether Wright’s club can find offense when their shooting dries up. The rim-attacking abilities of Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels will be critical.

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What’s Trending: Conference Tournament Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 18th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The second week of conference tournaments began with many questions, the biggest of which focused on a certain 6’7″, 285-pound freshman in Durham, North Carolina. For the past few weeks, questions about Zion Williamson and whether he would — or should — return to play for Duke have been thrown around by nearly everyone. It took the superstar forward all of two minutes of game time to show everyone that he is indeed back…

The storylines involving Zion continued in Duke’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse. In the past, it was Duke — paging Grayson Allen — as the centerpiece of any tripping story. This time, however, it was Syracuse’s Frank Howard taking his turn to extend his leg a little further than necessary…

“I love playing with Duke, I love my teammates.”

The Zion experience carried into the ACC Tournament semifinal match-up against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had dominated the first two Zion-less games, but after scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds through the first 39 minutes, it was Zion’s final two points and rebound that made the biggest difference…

Scoring, rebounds, steals… oh, Zion can pass the ball pretty well too…

In the non-Zion Williamson category of the ACC Tournament, the basketball world was gifted a dancing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

…a frantic possession and game-winning basket by Florida State’s Terance Mann…

…and everyone’s favorite, allegations of NCAA violations…

On the topic of NCAA violations, the SEC Tournament included LSU’s Will Wade releasing a statement where he made a plea to get back on the sideline. LSU General Counsel Tom Skinner fired back with, “as a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did not do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”

On the court, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield began the Volunteers’ SEC Tournament action with a poster over Mississippi State…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1106755627366391809

LSU’s Skylar Mays came up with a dunk that had LSU fans jumping for joy…

…but it was ultimately Florida’s Andrew Nembhard who allowed Florida to move on and send LSU home.

Florida’s run through the SEC Tournament came to an end on Saturday, literally at the hands of Auburn….

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1106998122658582533

In the other semifinal, the SEC Tournament delivered a gem between Tennessee and Kentucky…

During Wednesday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles had the spotlight on him after his Huskers toppled Rutgers…

…after beating Maryland on Thursday, Miles got his shot at redemption…

After the second win in as many days, Big Ten Twitter was quick to point out this fact that fans in Bloomington, Indiana, were not happy to read…

The Big East Tournament will be remembered for this sequence in Seton Hall’s semifinal win over Marquette

https://twitter.com/CBBonFOX/status/1106760477718138881

Meanwhile, at the end of the tournament it was once again Villanova that walked away as the champion… AGAIN.

Tournament week in Las Vegas began with the West Coast Conference Tournament where St. Mary’s earned an automatic bid by getting the best of Gonzaga.

…and it continued with the Pac-12 Tournament where all eyes were on Bill Walton doing Bill Walton things…

…and it ended with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Tournament to steal a bid from a team on the bubble.

As players play for an opportunity to keep their season going, these tournaments bring up stories that need to be shared. The emotion in the face of Old Dominion headcoach Jeff Jones makes the Monarchs an easy team to root for…

While there is so much to love and appreciate with college basketball, there was one thing that continues to outshine the product on the floor. Officiating throughout tournaments leaves fans wondering…

And as painful as questionable calls can be, the monitor review process will almost assuredly come up time and time again next week. Getting the correct call is important, but too often these reviews kill any flow to a game. Add in the fact that they act as de facto timeouts for teams that often do not have any to call and you have a situation that creates more problems than it solves.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 17th, 2019

The days of the SEC getting only three or four teams into the NCAA Tournament appear to be over. After getting a record eight bids last season, the league will send seven teams to the Big Dance this year, including a pair of #2 seeds, a #3 seed, and a couple of #5 seeds. The league hopes for a bit more success this year, however, when none of those eight squads advanced past the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. Here are our instant impressions on each team’s draw:

Grant Williams and Tennessee have a potentially dangerous second-round matchup ahead with Cincinnati in the Bearcats’ back yard (USA Today Sports/Randy Sartin)

Tennessee

  • Seed: # 2, South
  • Quick First Round Preview: Colgate is a relatively dangerous #15 seed that shoots 39 percent from deep. Tennessee struggles to defend the perimeter at times and will need to recover from Sunday’s debacle against Auburn to do a better job guarding the three.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: Virginia in the regional final. Tennessee would seem to match up better against the Cavaliers than the other #1 seeds based on athleticism alone. A game between the region’s top two teams would be a tremendous display of offensive efficiency.
  • Final Word: Assuming the Volunteers beat Colgate, a Second Round battle against an under-seeded Cincinnati team in the Bearcats’ backyard (Columbus, Ohio) would be a tall order. Another early exit is a real possibility for a team that has spent the entire season ranked among the nation’s top 10.

Kentucky

  • Seed: #2, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: A battle of Wildcats will take place, with Kentucky facing Abilene Christian. On talent alone, Kentucky should coast to a victory here.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: North Carolina in the regional final. The Wildcats handled the Tar Heels in Chicago just before Christmas, holding North Carolina to just 0.87 points per possession, one of its worst offensive outputs of the year. The Tar Heels have improved immensely since that game, however, although Kentucky could probably make the same case. This is a late March game that everyone who loves college basketball should want to see.
  • Final Word: Kentucky is good enough to win it all, and we will be mildly surprised if the Wildcats do not make it to Minneapolis with a somewhat favorable draw ahead in the Midwest region.

LSU

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 65, Michigan 60

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2019

Much like 2019’s third installments of the Duke/North Carolina and Kentucky/Tennessee trilogies, this season’s third chapter of the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry was an epic that went down to the wire. The Spartans fought back from an 13-point second half deficit and used a ridiculous Cassius Winston drive and lay-in with 29 seconds remaining to ensure they finished the season 3-0 against their biggest rival. The following are three key takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament championship game.

Michigan State Beat Michigan for the Third Straight Time This Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Cassius Winston willed Michigan State to victory. Some special points guards have come through the Michigan State program during Tom Izzo‘s 24 seasons in East Lansing, and it is becoming increasingly cleare that this season’s Big Ten Player of the Year should be considered among that group. Winston was incredible throughout the second half of today’s championship game, as he led the Spartans back from a 13-point deficit by tallying 11 points and seven assists in the game’s second stanza. Michigan State could have packed it in and preserved its energy for the NCAA Tournament when it faced the significant uphill climb, but a player like Winston does not have “pack it in” in his DNA. Michigan State has not advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend since 2015, but with Winston at the controls and his teammates fully receptive to his leadership, it will be truly surprising if the Spartans do not advance to this year’s Sweet Sixteen and perhaps beyond.
  2. This season has been one of Tom Izzo’s best coaching jobs. It is not unusual for the Spartans to enter the NCAA Tournament as both the Big Ten regular season and tournament champion, as Michigan State is one of the country’s strongest programs year in and year out. That said, Michigan State had every reason to take a step back this season. For starters, the Spartans lost two lottery picks from last year’s team, so their roster was simply not as talented as it was a season ago. Then once the season commenced, the injury bug hit the team with an unrelenting fury. Scoring guard Joshua Langford was lost for the season in late December with an ankle injury. Forward Nick Ward suffered a hand injury in February. Winston himself battled through knee and toe ailments throughout the final portion of conference play. Role player Kyle Ahrens was hampered by a bad back during Big Ten play before suffering what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the win over Michigan. Despite the locker room sometimes resembling a MASH unit, Izzo adjusted with what he had available and led his team, once again, to the top of the Big Ten.
  3. Michigan’s inability to close out Michigan State this season will keep John Beilein awake at night. Michigan is headed to the NCAA Tournament with a 28-6 overall record, which, by every measure represents an excellent resume in one of the country’s toughest conferences. Even with that sterling mark, the Wolverines must be driving themselves crazy over the fact they blew three leads against Michigan State this season that led to three losses. On February 24 in Ann Arbor, Michigan led 51-45 with 15:57 to play and ended up losing 77-70. On March 9 in East Lansing, Michigan State pulled out a 75-63 victory after it trailed by 12 in the first half. In Sunday’s title game, the Wolverines led by 13 with 17:12 to play before the Spartans rallied to once again earn a victory. One has to believe that John Beilien and his group making deep run in the NCAA Tournament will be the only thing that will eliminate the bad taste left in their mouths by those defeats.

Player of the Game. Matt McQuaid, Michigan State. The senior sharpshooter saved his best Big Ten Tournament performance for his final Big Ten Tournament game. McQuaid finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting (7-of-13 from behind the three-point line) and it seemed like each time Michigan State needed a big basket during its comeback, the senior from Texas stepped up and buried one from the perimeter. McQuaid’s defense on Michigan guard Jordan Poole was also noteworthy, as Poole was limited to just 3-of-11 shooting and had to work hard for every one of his attempts. Role players stepping up in March is crucial to a team’s success and McQuaid certainly filled that role in the victory today.

What’s Next. Michigan State earned the #2 seed in the East Region and will be playing #15 Bradley in Des Moines on Thursday. Michigan also earned a #2 seed in the Des Moines pod, where the Wolverines will do battle with #15 Montana.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 17th, 2019

The ACC received seven bids to the NCAA Tournament today, down from the nine invitations that the conference garnered in 2017 and 2018. Those seven selections completely mirrored the overall season for the ACC. It was impressive at the top, with three teams earning #1 seeds for the first time since the Big East performed the trick a decade ago, but it was a disappointment at the bottom, with both NC State and Clemson missing out on trips to the tournament. The Wolfpack have very little to be upset about, frankly, having played the worst non-conference schedule in college basketball this season — but even if you aren’t a fan of that metric, their best win over Auburn while also finding ways to lose to both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Here is a quick look at the best and worst case scenarios for the seven ACC teams that did qualify for the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

The Zion Williamson Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament as the Overall #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Duke (#1 East)

Best Case: The Blue Devils win the National Championship. However, the truest best cast would be four straight blowouts (including a payback win over Virginia Tech and a showdown with Michigan State along the way) as they waltz to Minneapolis as the prohibitive favorite.

Worst Case: Virginia Tech has beaten the Blue Devils before, and with Justin Robinson now back in action, the Hokies get hot from long range and take down Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia (#1 South)

Best Case: Tony Bennett leads his best offensive team to his first Final Four and silences a whole lot of doubters, including plenty of loud voices who thought last year’s loss to UMBC proved that his program and his style of playe was “fraudulent.”

Worst Case: I mean… lightning can’t strike the same place twice, right? Right?

North Carolina (#1 Midwest)

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With SEC Tournament Title, Bruce Pearl Has Auburn All The Way Back

Posted by David Changas on March 17th, 2019

Sometimes things really do come full circle in sports, and Auburn’s thrashing of Tennessee in Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship game is evidence of that. In Bruce Pearl’s fifth season at Auburn, he has brought the Tigers program — the absolute dregs of the SEC when he took over five years ago — all the way back. Today’s win gave Auburn its first SEC Tournament title since 1985, and only its second in history. And in getting the program to this point, he has also completed the rehabilitation of a career that appeared dead on more than one occasion. There is certainly poetic justice in that he reached the pinnacle of his accomplishment at the Loveliest Village on the Plains against the school that was forced to fire him eight years ago.

Bruce Pearl was all smiles after beating his old team to claim the SEC Tournament Championship on Sunday (David Changas/Rush the Court)

In winning the SEC Tournament, Pearl was able to accomplish something he never did at Tennessee. Although he guided the Volunteers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his six seasons in Knoxville — including the university’s only Elite Eight appearance in 2010 — he was never able to secure the SEC Tournament trophy, losing his only chance in 2009 when the Volunteers lost to Mississippi State. But now, Pearl can bask in the glow of an unexpected four-games-in-four-days title that came from the middle of the pack. And whatever happens in the NCAA Tournament – the consensus is that 26-9 Auburn will be a #4 seed – nothing will take this accomplishment away. “The championship means so much because it might have been the best the SEC has been in so many years. We feel very blessed to be where we are,” Pearl said after the game.

Pearl resurrected a moribund Tennessee program when he arrived in Knoxville in 2005. The transformation of Thompson-Boling Arena into one of the nation’s nicest arenas is largely a result of his doing, and the six consecutive NCAA appearances remains the longest streak in school history. But the challenge he faced at Auburn was an entirely different animal. In the Tigers’ four seasons under Tony Barbee prior to Pearl’s arrival, they won just 49 games. Worse, he inherited a fan base that was beyond apathetic — even for SEC standards. And after losing 20 games in each of Pearl’s first two seasons, it was clear that this turnaround was not like what he encountered at Tennessee. But three years later, he has a program for which “also ran” status would have been a generous descriptor at the top of the SEC mountain. Only a year and a half ago, an FBI investigation swirled around his program – and just this week, former assistant Chuck Person pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to the scandal – and it was not clear whether Pearl would survive. He weathered that storm last season and led his club to a share of the SEC regular season championship, but a first-round SEC Tournament loss and a blowout at the hands of Clemson in the NCAA Tournament put a damper on that accomplishment. Now, after doing something that has not been done at the school in 34 years, he has proved that he has more than survived.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 73, Florida State 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson celebrate after winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship of the Mike Krzyzewski era. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  1. Duke’s defense was the difference. With all the attention generated by Zion Williamson’s spectacular scoring plays, it is easy to forget what he means to Duke on the other end of the floor. With his return to the lineup this week in Charlotte, the Blue Devils seem to have regained their defensive mojo. In tonight’s title game, Florida State led for most of the first half and was tied with Duke at the break. But after intermission, the Blue Devils tightened up their defense, holding the Seminoles to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor. And this was a Florida State team that had just shot 56 percent against the mighty Virginia defense in Friday’s semifinals. The Duke running game got going as a result of getting those stops, leading to transition dunks for Williamson and RJ Barrett that gave the Blue Devils a working margin that they would never relinquish.
  2. Florida State is going to be a tough out in the Big Dance. The Seminoles may have surprised the college basketball world by beating top-seeded Virginia in this ACC Tournament, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club closed regular season play by winning 12 of their last 13 games and have already set a school record with 27 wins. They’re athletic, experienced and deep. Their best player is probably Mfiondu Kabengele, who may be the best sixth man in the nation. Kabengele kept the Seminoles within striking distance tonight. finishing with 14 points and making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Florida State’s size and length will make the Seminoles one of the most unique defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament — one that nobody should look forward to facing in the coming weeks.
  3. Duke may have locked up the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s little doubt that Duke will be on the top line when the brackets are presented Sunday evening, but conference tournament losses by Virginia and Gonzaga have opened up the overall top spot for the Blue Devils. The Selection Committee is expected to judge Duke with Zion Williamson in the lineup, and that Duke team went 23-2 with a 4-1 record against the other six programs in contention for the #1 seed line. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is not without flaws — once again tonight they triumphed despite a cold shooting night from distance (2-14 3FG) — but they can overwhelm opponents in several other ways. Against the tall and imposing frontline of Florida State, the Blue Devils managed to post a decisive 42-18 edge in points in the paint, and had a solid advantage (+7) in fast break points. Point guard Tre Jones’ assertiveness (18 points) also gave the Blue Devils a boost tonight, and was reminiscent of the play of his older brother Tyus in leading Duke to the national title in 2015.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The college game’s brightest star completed a successful return from injury by scoring 81 points in three days and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award. Tonight he scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, grabbed five boards, and helped Duke’s defense hold Florida State to 31.7 percent shooting.

Quotable.

  • “He’s a world class athlete. He changes things.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on going against Zion Williamson.
  • “To start 1-and-4 in the league and end up in fourth place… it’s outstanding.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praising the coaching job of Leonard Hamilton this season.
  • “When he’s able to score, it definitely opens it up for the rest of it.” – Duke’s RJ Barrett on the aggressive play tonight from Tre Jones.

Sights and Sounds. It was not nearly the same atmosphere in the Spectrum Center tonight as it was for the Duke-North Carolina semifinal clash, but it was a pretty full house tonight even if the energy level was merely good, not great.

What’s Next. Duke and Florida State have each improved their NCAA Tournament resumes this week in Charlotte and they will hear their paths to Minneapolis revealed on Sunday night.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Seton Hall 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Villanova Survived Seton Hall to Win Another Big East Championship (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Big East Tournament continues to be the best postseason conference event in the country. It is undoubtedly a down year for the Big East conference, but the last 24 hours featured three of the most entertaining games of the entire season. Between a Villanova comeback victory against Xavier, a technical foul and ejection-fest for Seton Hall and Marquette, and a two-point championship game, the event did not disappoint.
  2. Villanova’s balanced offense was on full display tonight. At its worst, the Wildcats over-relied on its senior duo of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to generate offense. But tonight, Saddiq Bey tallied 16 points and Jermaine Samuels had 12 of his own, punishing the Pirates when they committed too many of their defensive resources to the Villanova stars. This balanced attack led to 18 points in the paint and 19 from the foul line, offsetting yet another sub-par three-point shooting performance. Having role players contributing offensively is the difference between Villanova losing in the First Round next week and making a run to the second weekend of the Tournament.
  3. Seton Hall’s tremendous run snaps back to reality, but the attention has now shifted to a bigger stage. One of the hottest teams in the country put on a show these last few weeks, but their accumulation of wins served a bigger purpose than just a point of pride — it put the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. Now, all eyes will be on whether they can carry some momentum into next week and earn a win or two. Willard has yet to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in his coaching career and doing so would mean turning a major corner for the program.

Star of the Game. Saddiq Bey didn’t win the Big East Tournament’s MVP award, but he was the biggest difference maker of all tonight. The freshman forward chipped in 16 points in numerous ways while leading his team in rebounds (10) while recording two blocks and two steals. On the biggest stage he has experienced to date, Bey put up the best two-way performance of his young career.

Quotable.

  • Jay Wright, on the difference his newcomers made tonight: “I think this really helped us. Swider coming back from six weeks off… Cremo gave us good minutes. Saddiq Bey, his first two or three shots were air balls and then he gave us great games.”
  • Wright on the importance of his seniors and their impact on the team: “In our program, the older you get, the more responsibility is put on you. And it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder… Josh Hart was here and he took great pride in these two [Phil and Eric] because he was the one teaching them.”
  • Kevin Willard on his expectations for his team this postseason:
    “I’ve learned a lot from last year… I have so much confidence in this group.”
  • Eric Paschall on he and Phil Booth being the first players to win three consecutive Big East championships: “Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool…”

Sights & Sounds. It’s getting hard to put into words just how electric MSG is during the Big East Tournament, particularly when local teams are competing. Part of what makes the venue such an ideal location is its proximity to most of the conference’s participants. So when Villanova and Seton Hall square off in the championship, there’s no doubt it will be a sell-out with back-and-forth chants throughout the contest.

What’s Next? Both Villanova and Seton Hall will say goodbye to New York, the former with a trophy and the latter with feelings of bitterness and disappointment. But both teams also have a big day ahead of them as they will learn of their respective NCAA Tournament seedings and locations for the coming week.

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Rushed Reactions: Iowa State 78, Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2019

Coming into Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, this had not been a tournament to remember for a small but important number of reasons. Most notably, this year’s edition didn’t include a team pushing for a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and the conference’s two biggest NBA Draft prospects (Texas Tech‘s Jarrett Culver and TexasJaxson Hayes) were bounced in the quarterfinals. West Virginia‘s upset over Texas Tech was important at the moment, but it also birthed a laugher of a semifinal game against Kansas. In Friday’s other semifinal match-up, Kansas State couldn’t overcome the loss of Dean Wade, leaving fans with a title tilt between two very talented teams weighed with inconsistencies (and in Kansas’ case, roster limitations) that make them unlikely bets for deep NCAA Tournament runs.

Talen Horton-Tucker and Iowa State kept their lead over the Jayhawks at arm’s length, capturing the Big 12 Tournament crown and transforming Sprint Center into Hilton Coliseum South in the process. (Getty)

Still, the Kansas-Iowa State series has consistently generated juice throughout the decade and the last edition of the 2010s was no different. And if you can’t hold a conference tournament on campus, the next-best place is Kansas City, where both Kansas and Iowa State fanbases are more than happy to pack the joint and get loud. And the teams held up their end of the bargain too, delivering a fun, high-level championship game resulting in Steve Prohm‘s club coming out on top for its fourth Big 12 tournament crown in six seasons. Here are a few thoughts on tonight’s game.

  • Iowa State takes advantage of extra reps. I mentioned in this week’s preview that Iowa State had plenty for which to play this weekend. The Cyclones ended the regular season on a disastrous 1-5 skid and the intensity with which they played had started to get the best of them, embodied by confrontations among players and then between players and their head coach. This team is still very tough to predict, but its worst days appear to be behind them. The Cyclones were stellar offensively this week at the Sprint Center, but they were outstanding on defense, allowing 0.95 points per possession for the tournament (compared with 1.05 points per possession in Big 12 play). The most impressive part of their weekend came in Saturday’s final as the Cyclones’ bigs stymied Kansas’ Dedric Lawson into an inefficient 8-of-21 shooting night, even drawing a technical on the typically cool-headed big man. Better Iowa State teams have fallen early in the NCAA Tournament, so caution should be exercised before pegging the Cyclones for a deep run, but there’s no denying that they took complete advantage of the opportunity presented to them in Kansas City this week.
  • Kansas needs better production from its X-factors in order to reach its ceiling. The Jayhawks beat West Virginia on Friday evening thanks in large part to a terrific stretch from Quentin Grimes, but he couldn’t follow it up, finishing with only 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting on Saturday. Marcus Garrett pulled down some big rebounds, but otherwise experienced a horrible night on the offensive end, and Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack didn’t play the way they’re capable of playing. It’s not reasonable to expect those two freshman to produce on a consistent basis, but unexpected contributions from complementary players are what is necessary for a team like Kansas to make a run in next week’s bracket. You see it all the time. Lawson and Devin Dotson will get their numbers and impact the game more often than not, but who steps up to fill in the gaps is the question Kansas will have to answer if it’s going to end the season on high note.
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