Within every 40 minutes of college basketball, there is a moment or two that sets a tone, shifts momentum, or otherwise dictates the game’s final result. If we think bigger picture, we’ll notice that the five-month college basketball season is also shaped by a number of similarly formative moments. We may not always know their full significance at the time, but these moments conspire to transform the course of a season. In 2013-14, these were those 10 moments – some occurring inside the lines, others far away from the hardwood – that proved most pivotal to the season’s final snapshot.
UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many Napier Clutch Shots
10. Tyler Ennis Downs Pitt at the Horn (February 12). The Syracuse freshman’s memorable game-winner extended the Orange’s inspiring perfect start, but might it have ended up wounding both teams? Pitt would never really find its way over the hump, while Syracuse’s continued chase of perfection may have shielded a few critical flaws that would later cause its sharp downfall.
9.Scottie Wilbekin Returns From Five-Game Suspension (November 25). A solid performance (12 points, seven assists, three steals) in a rout of Atlantic Sun also-ran Jacksonville was just the beginning of a redemptive season for Wilbekin, who overcame offseason turmoil to become the unquestioned leader and MVP of a team that, for the better part of 2014, played at a far loftier level than any other squad in the country.
8. Wichita State Comes Back Against Missouri State (January 11). Shockermania hadn’t yet grown into the hysteria it would become, but Wichita State overcame a 19-point second half road deficit in the most improbable of their season-opening 35 victories. Read the rest of this entry »
As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.
November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.
Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)
March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
It just so happened that two of the biggest stories from the first night of this college basketball season happened to be the two most prominent narratives on the season’s final evening. Back on November 8, Shabazz Napier’s 18-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort propelled UConn to a one-point victory over Maryland, while some 700 miles away, the most decorated and anticipated freshman class in college hoops history debuted at Rupp Arena, blasting UNC-Asheville, 89-57. Almost exactly five months to that night, Napier was again dazzling and the microscope remained firmly fixed on those gifted Kentucky freshmen, except this time they shared the same court at AT&T Stadium – the season’s final stage. Both national title combatants will survive as integral pieces in the memory of this 2013-14 season, but in between opening night and Championship Monday, countless other teams, players, and storylines seized our attention. Below are the five stories (beyond the Wildcats and Huskies) that I will remember most from a college basketball season that was never, ever boring.
The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Ending Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of 2013-14
5. Pac-12 Revival. We missed you, Pac-12. It’d been a minute since the league summoned up a national title contender, much less a deep and balanced assemblage of teams to chase that front-runner, but the Pac-12 was able to do just that in 2013-14. Even with Brandon Ashley’s mid-January season-ending ACL tear muddying Arizona’s March forecast, the Wildcats put together a regular season worthy of a #1 seed, and entered the NCAA Tournament on the short list of favorites before falling a point short of the Final Four in an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. Five other teams from the conference made the field of 68, with both Stanford and a revived UCLA squad (that Steve Alford hiring doesn’t look so bad now) making the Sweet Sixteen. College hoops is officially back on the West Coast.
4. Marcus Smart. He began the season as a presumptive top-five pick and popular leader of a top-10 team, but found his national image devolve into that of a controversial hothead with a soft spot for flopping. On his way out, Smart claimed he still believes he made the right decision in returning to Stillwater for his sophomore season, but Oklahoma State’s disastrous campaign (despite a late-season surge to make the NCAA Tournament and save a tiny bit of face) and his plummeting draft stock should raise suspicions that, perhaps for old time’s sake, Smart staged this final act as a Poke in some place far from reality. It would only make sense, because in 2014, Marcus Smart was nothing if not drama.
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014
Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.
McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)
Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
If preseason Top 25s are an exercise in futility, polls the day after the national championship game are an exercise in imagination. We readily admit that we don’t know exactly what rosters are going to look like next season with early entry announcements, transfers (both in and out), late signees, and the inevitable summer run-ins with trouble still pending. So we will try to project, using the partial information that we have, which are the 25 teams most likely to win a national title next season. After the NBA Draft deadline has passed, we’ll do a more educated Top 25, but until then, this is what we came up with. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this way-too-early poll is after the jump.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonight the top high school players in the country gather to participate in the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American game held at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Twenty-four of the top ranked high school seniors will provide the college basketball world with a glimpse of what can be expected from the next touted class of youngsters on ESPN at 9:30 PM ET. The high school class of 2014 might not have the star power similar to last year in a game that featured the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon, but there are still several good storylines and match-ups to keep an eye on during tonight’s contest.
1. Chicago Natives At Home
There are three McDonald’s All-Americans from Chicago this year, including two of the top five players in the country. Five-star center Jahlil Okafor and five-star power forward Cliff Alexander will suit up for the East and West squads, respectively. The two played together on the AAU circuit this past summer and faced off in high school action several times over the last three years. Okafor is considered the No. 1 player in the country and is headed to Duke next year, while Alexander is ranked No. 5 and has committed to Kansas. Alexander put together a monster senior campaign, but it was Okafor who won the Illinois state title. Okafor and Alexander excel with different styles although they are both low post scorers. The 6’11” Okafor has the more refined post game and is almost impossible to stop in a one-on-one situation while Alexander is a DeAndre Jordan clone who looks to dunk and block everything in sight. While these two might not match up in tonight’s game, you can be certain that they will both have the hometown crowd on their feet. To go along with the Windy City twin towers, there is also diminutive 5’9” point guard Tyler Ulis (#29). The four-star prospect is headed to Kentucky and will be the quickest player on the court. The floor general is great at beating his man off the dribble and creating easy shots for his teammates. Ulis will suit up on the East squad along with Okafor, while Alexander will play for the West.
It doesn't matter who comes back for Kentucky, I don't know how they could keep Tyler Ulis off the floor. He's a leader w/ terrific vision.
There is only one prospect in the game that remains uncommitted and he is 7’0” center Myles Turner, who is also the No. 2 ranked recruit in the country. This time last year the Texas native wasn’t even considered a top 100 player, but after a meteoric rise last summer he is now the hottest commodity in high school. Turner just recently took an official visit to Texas after previously visiting Ohio State, Duke, Oklahoma State and Kansas. He has also taken unofficial visits to SMU and Texas A&M, and is also reportedly considering Arizona and Kentucky. It’s been a whirlwind journey for Turner, who plans to sit down with his advisers and family after the Jordan Brand Classic to discuss his choice of suitors.
Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 31st, 2014
What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.
Lots, LOTS of incredible moments from the last four days of the NCAA Tournament. Maybe the best collection of regional semifinal and final games in years, and below may be the greatest snapshot of the bunch.
Following the Cardiac Cats’ improbable win over Michigan (following equally improbable wins against Wichita State and Louisville… seriously, what a run from these young Wildcats), Coach Cal spoke to the team. He also gave Marcus Lee a hug. Coach Cal loves Marcus Lee.
“Riots” in Tucson
I’ll never understand why fans riot in defeat. This one, after Arizona missed two shots to win with seconds remaining, makes the scene in Tucson from Saturday night even more baffling. Also, this #riotselfie captures the current sad state of our country right now.
Six NCAA Tournament teams, three Sweet Sixteen seasons, one Elite Eight appearance and yet when the final quartet of teams still standing show up at the Final Four next weekend in North Texas, there will not be a Pac-12 team among them. This will now mark the sixth consecutive season (dating back to the last of UCLA’s three straight last decade) where college basketball’s premier weekend will dance away without a Pac-12 partner. So, yeah, Pac-12 fans, in a year where the hope was that the Pac was back, you’re right to feel some disappointment.
Worse yet, along with outgoing seniors like Roberto Nelson and Justin Cobbs and Mike Moser and C.J. Wilcox, the conference has also seen the last of guys like Kyle Anderson and Aaron Gordon and Jahii Carson and Zach LaVine with guys like Nick Johnson, Jordan Adams, Joseph Young, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still weighing their options. But you know what? These are good things. It hurts to see guys like these go, but such is the nature of the beast. And in the long run, a program like Arizona providing an appealing and welcoming temporary landing spot for a player the caliber of Gordon will make it more likely that future Aaron Gordons will wind up playing for Sean Miller as well. And, in the great circle of life that is college athletics, out goes Gordon, in comes Stanley Johnson; rinse and repeat.
While Aaron Gordon’s Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program
Below, three quick thoughts on the status of the three Pac-12 schools whose seasons ended this past weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
The Final Four field is set and now all we have to do is wait five days for the national semifinals. The first semifinal will feature Florida against Connecticut, which is a rematch of the game in Storrs on December 2 that the Huskies won on a last-second Shabazz Napier jumper. This time Florida will be completely healthy and it will be at a neutral site, but it will be interesting to see if the Gators can beat the last team to beat them this season. The other semifinal features Wisconsin and Kentucky. Despite the fact that Wisconsin is a #2 seed and Kentucky is a #8 seed the Wildcats opened as two-points favorites in this one.
Four teams were sent home earlier than they would have liked over the weekend and three of the fan bases acted in an appropriate manner. Arizona was the exceptions where students rioted leading to stand-offs with police and subsequently arrests. Fortunately no injuries were reported, but it was a bad way for the Wildcats to go out particularly when the coaches and players conducted themselves so well after a frustrating loss. While we understand the idiot of protests and riots in terms of political and civil issues, we don’t understand doing it in front of people (Arizona staff and Tucscon natives) who presumably agree with you.
Now that the season is over for all, but four teams we are starting to transition into the part of the college basketball season where NBA Draft decisions are being made. Two of the biggest ones will come from Aaron Gordon and Andrew Wiggins both of whom are almost certainly expected to turn pro. They are expected to officially announce as early as today. On the other hand, Juwan Staten tweeted out on Saturday night that he would be returning for his senior year at West Virginia. Unlike the other two Staten is most likely a borderline draft pick so it makes sense for him to return. The other two are probably top-five picks so it makes sense for them to go after the guaranteed contract.
Some players are headed to the NBA while others are just leaving school. The biggest news was out of Louisville where news broke that Kevin Ware was transferring. It was just a year ago that Ware became a symbol of the Cardinals on their march to the championship following his compound fracture in the Elite 8. Neither Ware nor his family have given any indication of where he will be transferring, but some sources suggest that he could be headed to Auburn to play for Bruce Pearl since Ware committed to play for Pearl at Tennessee before the barbecue/cookout fiasco. The other major transfer announcement was Tyler Lewis who will be leaving North Carolina State. Whereas Ware had issues coming back from injury, Lewis had no such issue and was starting making his transfer even more confusing. Like Ware, Lewis has not listed any potential destinations.
March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.
Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report from Anaheim after #2 Wisconsin’s 64-63 overtime win over #1 Arizona. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight and Final Four. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.
Celebrate Bo Ryan – you are finally going to the Final Four. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Three Key Takeaways.
Late-Game Controversy. The officiating was a topic of conversation throughout the game, but it all boiled to a head in the final seconds of overtime. With under five seconds left and Arizona down a bucket, Nick Johnson drove to the hoop, looking to get a shot up. Contact was made between Johnson and Josh Gasser, the official blew the whistle and … charge. Reasonable minds can – and have – differed on whether it was the right call, whether a call should have been made at all, but without a doubt, there was going to be controversy of some sort on that play, regardless of what the official did. The officiating was put on focus again on the next play, as the Wisconsin in-bound pass was challenged by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and knocked out of bounds. The officials went to the monitor for minutes on end, and despite what appeared to be inconclusive evidence, the refs gave the ball back to Arizona, setting up Johnson for redemption. But after inbounding the ball with 2.3 seconds remaining, Johnson took three dribbles and the buzzer went off and the clock expired before launching the shot.
Wisconsin’s Pace. The game was definitely played at the pace the Badgers were comfortable. Arizona went without a single fast-break point throughout, the Badgers fought the Wildcats to a draw on the glass and Wisconsin was plenty happy to slow the game down when they had the ball, using an average of 24 seconds on their possessions.
Toughness. The Badgers, for all the things they do well, are not a stunningly athletic team. While Arizona’s got guys like Aaron Gordon and Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson who can leave your jaw on the floor with athletic above-the-rim plays, Wisconsin is not blessed with those types of players. So, in turn, they had to impose their will on this game. That included slowing the game down, limiting fast-break opportunities, and finding ways to manufacture points on the offensive glass. Sean Miller made a point on Thursday night to acknowledge that the perception that the Wildcats are a great rebounding team may not be true anymore since the Brandon Ashley injury. It became apparent that the Badgers sensed a little blood in the water, as Wisconsin does not normally dedicate a lot of resources to offensive rebounding (they were 280th in the nation in offensive rebounding this season), but tonight, they made additional effort to hit the offensive glass, grabbing 42.1% of offensive rebound opportunities in the first half and 33.3% over the course of the game. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 28th, 2014
Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Arizona’s 70-64 win over #4 San Diego State. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.
Three Key Takeaways.
Fighting Through A Tough Game.Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a rock for the Wildcats, started the game missing his first ten field goal attempts and, even more confusing, getting scored on at the other end of the court by guys like Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee. This was a bad sign, as one thing previous Arizona losses had in common were cold shooting nights by Johnson. But at no time was he ever visibly down on himself or giving anything less than 100% effort. And after a T.J. McConnell steal turned into an easy hoop for Johnson on the break with just under three minutes left in the game, that broke the seal. He hit a dagger three on the next Arizona possession to put the Wildcats up six and then made ten straight clutch free throws down the stretch to ensure that the Wildcats’ lead would be safe. It probably wasn’t the type of game Johnson envisioned prior to the game, but his ability to keep his head in the game and stick with it through his struggles bear the hallmark of a champion. And, in the end, he still wound up tied with Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the Wildcats’ leading scorer, with 15. After the game, Sean Miller’s main theme was his pride in his team’s resiliency, and Johnson was a perfect example.
Nick Johnson Did Not Have A Great Game, But He Stuck With It To Help His Team Win (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)
San Diego State Rebounding. In their first matchup, Arizona dominated the glass. They grabbed 40.6% of offensive rebound opportunities and controlled 74.3% of defensive rebound chances. For the first San Diego State possession of the night, you could tell that those types of stats were drilled into the Aztecs’ heads. On the first possession, Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis were each credit with a single offensive rebound before Davis put the ball back in for a hoop. And the Aztecs may have been under-credited there. On the third possession, the Aztecs were credited with three more offensive boards before Davis again wound up putting the ball back in. A tone was set early and it continued throughout the first half and throughout the game. But, you can bet that Miller mentioned the rebounding disparity to his team at the half, because down the stretch Gordon grabbed a couple of huge offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions under the six-minute mark that turned into big buckets for the Wildcats. Arizona made the final rebounding margin a bit more respectable, but the Aztecs’ work on the glass helped keep them in this game.
Rebounding, Redux. Arizona has now been outrebounded in every game they’ve played in this tournament, quite a change for a team that was in the top 25 in the nation on both ends of the court coming into this game. Miller noted after the game that this may just be who the Wildcats are these days – a good rebounding team, but no longer a great once since the loss of power forward Brandon Ashley. “People say that we’re a big team. Since Brandon left us, our size is good, but not great… Our room for error rebounding the ball is lost. We don’t beat you up any more… We’ve need all five guys on every shot to box out, we have to work hard to get second shots.” The Aztecs certainly opened up a lot of eyes to that fact and now, with a Wisconsin team that does a terrific job cleaning the defensive glass, second chance opportunities on Saturday will be hard to come by. Read the rest of this entry »