A Column of Enchantment: On Charter Planes, Losers & Bill Self Crazy Like a Walrus

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 22nd, 2015

This past week was a good one in the world of college basketball. We had things ranging from last second shot attempts to schools imposing some “stiff” penalties on their own beings to finding out that the NCAA is incapable of properly booking flights. All in all, really, just some good ole fun courtesy of some unpaid labor doing terrific things and people who keep the unpaid labor from being paid being about as smart as a bag of rocks. Good times.

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Those types of things are not trends, however. Rather, they are themes that seem to keep happening and happening. If this were the world of pro wrestling, it would be like fans who are all upset because John Cena has never left the title picture despite the odds always being stacked against him. Weird analogy, I know, but it truly seems like any person with any sort of resemblance to power in college basketball is doing the same thing over and over, none of them being that swell or beneficial to anyone but people in other power positions, yet there is nothing we can do about it because, well, the Sam Cassell Jr. if I know.

Arm-drag.

———

Holy charter planes, Batman! Reports have come out that teams may have to pack for an extra day when the NCAA Tournament begins. While it would be a lot funnier if this was because Mark Emmert didn’t know how to properly use Expedia, it is essentially as simple as there being more men’s and women’s teams traveling too near the same time as there will be a proper number of charter planes. So, yeah, some kids will have to stay a full extra day after they are eliminated from the Big Dance.

Never mind the fact, though, that these kids should have never been rushed to go back to school, home or wherever it is they go back to, to begin with. I was never comfortable with the NCAA using them for a single night, only to shuffle them away as quickly as possible. Like college football bowls, first dates and encounters with aliens from outer space, the NCAA Tournament should feel like an experience for these kids — not just a business trip. You know, because it isn’t a business, right Mark Emmert?

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2015

With approximately three weeks of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the ACC season. This is the first edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, focusing on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 20th.

Current Standings

Jan21ACCPPP

It’s no revelation that Tony Bennett’s Virginia team has been the best team in the league to date, holding a larger points per possession (PPP) margin over second place North Carolina than the Tar Heels have over the sixth-best team, Louisville. And the Cavaliers are doing it at both ends of the floor, leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s hard to understand why many of the experts only seem to talk about Virginia’s defense — which is great by the way — seemingly blinded by the fact the this is an equally outstanding offensive team as well. Not just “also pretty good,” but… “Outstanding!” Syracuse fans should probably be hesitant based on the discrepancy between the Orange’s gaudy 5-1 ACC record and their possession-based performance. Note that they have benefited from playing the least challenging conference schedule thus far, facing six teams that populate the bottom of the standings. Eventually the ACC heavyweights will show up on the docket, and that record is likely to backslide. Georgia Tech’s situation — dead last in the standings, but eighth in PPP — is what happens when the Jackets lose games by margins of one, three, five, seven and seven points. Pittsburgh may be in a similar spot as its former Big East rival from upstate New York, sporting a fortunate .500 record given their easy schedule.

Advanced Stat of the Week: North Carolina’s Rebounding (Both)

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Boise State, Mikh McKinney, Jay Spoonhour & Appalachian State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 21st, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Boise State. When senior leader and preseason all-conference guard Anthony Drmic was ruled out for the season in late December, it looked as if the wheels might come off at Boise State. The Broncos, which were picked fourth in the preseason in the Mountain West, lost four straight games to begin the New Year – including its first three conference contests – and only once managed to score over a point per possession without their 6’6’’ wing. “The margin for error is really slim without Anthony,” head coach Leon Rice said before his team welcomed UNLV to town on Tuesday. With the talented Runnin’ Rebels on deck before a tricky road trip to The Pit on Saturday, it looked as if things might get worse for Rice’s club before they get better. Luckily, Derrick Marks and James Webb III had other plans.

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports)

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness/USA TODAY Sports)

In a game broadcast remotely by ESPN, Marks gave Boise State offensive life against UNLV, scoring 28 points (on a whopping 26 attempts) and responding to any would-be Rebels’ runs with big shots of his own. After the visitors grabbed a late two-point lead, the senior calmly attacked the lane, stopped on a dime and hit a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos – which had dropped their last three contests that were decided by six points or less – came up with enough winning plays, including a flurry of steals at around the two-minute mark, to eke out an 82-73 victory. “That monkey has been flipped off our backs and thrown to the ground, no question,” Rice said of his teams relieving victory. Webb, an athletic forward whose minutes have picked up dramatically in Drmic’s absence, added 12 points and 15 rebounds in the win, including a high-flying breakaway dunk in overtime. Read the rest of this entry »

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State of the Conference: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2015

Tonight, the leader of the free world will address Congress in his annual State of the Union. The President will describe the condition of the United States and his agenda for the year to the bicameral legislative body and millions of Americans watching at home. This got me thinking. What would the equivalent from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sound like? Would he be happy with this season’s performance from the Big Ten? Is there any more conference expansion on the horizon? I decided to put on my speechwriter hat and give it a whirl. For the first time ever, a fictional Delany is ready to address millions of Big Ten fans across the country in his inaugural State of the Conference. Enjoy.

What Does Jim Delany's Latest Move Mean For The Big 12? (US Presswire)

Jim Delany has turned the Big Ten into a dominant conference in basketball for the long term. (US Presswire)

The transcript of Jim Delany’s fictional State of the Conference is below:

My fellow Big Ten fans, the state of the Big Ten is good. While good may be satisfactory for some, it falls short of the level of excellence this conference has come to expect. But I remain confident that, come Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten will surprise many, and I would remind everyone that we have a team in Wisconsin that is still considered a top tier team capable of bringing home the Big Ten’s first national championship since 2000. Likewise, we also have a player who is on the short list for National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky. On the matter of Wisconsin, there’s been much talk about inequality in our conference. That there is one team above all, and the rest of the league is mediocre. But a little over a week ago, I saw this same squad lose to a team most expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. Rutgers’ defeat of Wisconsin shows us that no game is a gimme. And as a result, we are getting high drama each and every week, which is generating some of the most exciting basketball in the country.

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RTC Weekly Primer: SEC Squishy Middle, Love for Big 12, Coach 1K, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 20th, 2015

Okay, okay, we get it… the Big 12 is awesome. I’ve made that pretty clear in past columns, and you probably don’t need me to tell you something so obvious. Monday night offered up yet another prominent example, when a “Kansas is back to its dominant self” narrative in the first half against Oklahoma turned into one of the best games of conference play this season. But rather than raving about it, let’s think big picture: What do we make of the Big 12 race? A few teams will definitely be involved. One is Kansas, of course, which hasn’t missed out on at least a share of the regular season crown since Bill Self’s first year in Lawrence. Two more are Texas, which seems to have found its footing, and Iowa State, which finally cleared the Kansas hurdle over the weekend. Oklahoma should be in the running too, despite losing three of its last four. What other teams could have a say in the matter? How about Kansas State, which is tied for the conference lead at 4-1? What about West Virginia, currently 15-3 and a top-15 KenPom team? Or Baylor? Or Oklahoma State?

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

It’s probably safe to rule out those last two teams even though both are ranked among KenPom’s top 25, but neither is likely to beat the teams above them on a consistent basis. It’s also fair to exclude Kansas State from the discussion. The Wildcats are clearly much better than their non-conference performance suggested, but recent wins over Baylor and at Oklahoma don’t tell the full story either. They have some flaws. However, it’s probably a tad premature to rule out West Virginia. The Mountaineers play such a distinctly effective style this season, forcing turnovers on over 30 percent of opponents’ possessions, that will remain a problem to solve for all nine conference foes. They’re a possession away from a 4-1 Big 12 record and the upcoming schedule suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised if Bob Huggins has his team sitting at 6-2 when this column runs two weeks from now. It appears to be a five-team race. But whether you think the Big 12 has four, five, or even six or seven teams capable of winning the league crown, the takeaway here is that the race is wide open. And with Kansas’ astounding decade-long run in jeopardy, the next two months in Middle America are must-watch sports television.

Three for the Money

  • Iowa at Wisconsin | Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. Around this time last year, Iowa sat at 13-3 on the season and waltzed into Value City Arena to take on 15-1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes at the time were KenPom’s second-ranked team and their only loss had come earlier in the week at Michigan State. They also hadn’t given up more than 70 points in a game. The Hawkeyes delivered one of the more impressive Big Ten performances last season, winning by 10 points and vaulting themselves from seemingly out of nowhere into KenPom’s top five. They are presented with a similar opportunity tonight against Wisconsin. With the memory of last year’s collapse still fresh, many people remain unsure of what to make of Fran McCaffery’s team – the Hawkeyes have defeated a questionable Ohio State team twice and won at North Carolina, but the rest of their résumé is dubious. A win in Madison would force the nation to take notice. For Wisconsin, this is its first real test since the loss of senior point guard Traevon Jackson. It could provide a platform for replacement Bronson Koenig to step up his game, but it also could reveal a major midterm problem for Bo Ryan. Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about which it will be.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VIII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

Big East parity continues, as Villanova’s attempts to separate itself from the field have failed while teams like Providence, Georgetown, Butler and Seton Hall are all pushing the Wildcats. With eight of 10 league teams now carrying two or three conference losses, the next six weeks of action should be a bloodbath for those positions in the standings. Below are three key takeaways from the weekend’s (including Monday!) Big East action.

It Was That Kind of Night at Georgetown Monday (USA Today Images)

It Was an RTC Kind of Monday Night at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

  1. Marquette and Creighton remain shockingly competitive in “rebuilding seasons.” Marquette struggled defensively in the early part of the season, but the Golden Eagles seem to have figured things out since transfer Luke Fischer entered the lineup in mid-December. Steve Wojciechowski as a result has his team playing lockdown defense, mixing zone with man-to-man looks in a fashion that has confused Big East opponents. The offense, overly reliant on Matt Carlino, has still sputtered at times, but Duane Wilson and Fischer have made good progress and will serve as core contributors next season. While Marquette currently stands at 2-3 in the conference standings, their average margin of defeat in those three games has been just 4.3 points per game. At Creighton, even though the Bluejays sit at the bottom of the standings with an 0-6 record, they continue to sell out the CenturyLink center and have been competitive in every one of its league home games. They also suffered a one-point loss at Xavier, lost by two to Seton Hall and recently pushed Providence to the very end before falling. While Greg McDermott will lose a number of key seniors again after this season, the play of his youngsters such as Isaiah Zierden, Zach Hansen, James Milliken and Toby Hegner has been promising. Creighton fans are hoping that redshirt freshman sniper Ronnie Harrell, along with incoming center Justin Patton, will turn things around next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Freeze Frame: Florida’s Pick-and-Roll Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 20th, 2015

This edition of Freeze Frame could have easily gone several different ways. We could have looked at Florida’s season-high 19 turnovers against Georgia on Saturday; dissected Michael Frazier’s inability to create his own shot off the dribble; analyzed Billy Donovan’s lack of a go-to guy; or even criticized his Gators’ struggles to get to the free throw line. Those takeaways, while all relevant, did not represent Florida’s most glaring issue in the 12-point loss. Florida senior Jacob Kurtz said it best afterward: “Our pick-and-roll coverage wasn’t very good.” We went back and analyzed the Gators’ defense on Georgia’s screens, and Kurtz was right. It’s just that simple.

Billy Donovan will need to shore up the pick and roll defense before the Gators meet up with LSU on Tuesday.

Billy Donovan will need to shore up the pick and roll defense before the Gators meet up with LSU on Tuesday.

Georgia found a number of ways to exploit that defense, shooting 8-of-15 from beyond the arc, getting to the free throw line 29 times, and making Florida’s defenders appear completely lost for most of the game. But as you will see below, their best strategy was the complete variety in their screens. This Freeze Frame will slow down Mark Fox’s offense to determine exactly what they did to confuse the Gators.

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The Evolution of Sterling Gibbs From Shooter to Leader

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2015

Rick Barnes made a mistake. When a certain 6’1″, 180-pound guard from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, arrived on his Texas campus in 2011, so too did a plethora of other highly-rated recruits, all vying for valuable playing time. Sterling Gibbs joined four other ESPN100 recruits in Austin, two of whom – Myck Kabongo and Julien Lewis – were in direct competition with Gibbs for playing time at the point guard position. While those two logged 30 and 25 minutes per game, respectively, and returning leading scorer J’Covan Brown started in the Longhorns’ backcourt, Gibbs was relegated as the odd man out on the bench. The New Jersey all-stater was used sparingly by Barnes that year, playing just 7.5 minutes and averaging 2.6 points per game. A lack of playing time should come as no surprise with the backcourt depth at Texas that season, but with his classmates playing well and the program bringing in yet another point guard (Javan Felix) in the following year’s recruiting class, the writing was on the wall for Gibbs.

Sterling Gibbs (USA Today Images)

Sterling Gibbs’ Leadership is a Big Reason Why Seton Hall is Competitive in the Big East This Season (USA Today Images) 

His natural destination was home, as he said at the time: “If my decision had to do with basketball only, I would not be leaving Texas. But my decision is family-related and involves more than basketball.” After a transfer year, Gibbs’ first season at Seton Hall allowed him to play 30 minutes per game, gave him a starting role, and revealed an opportunity for leadership upon the impending graduation of Fuquan Edwin. The redshirt sophomore flourished, scoring 13.2 points per game while dishing out 4.2 assists per game and boasting an impressive 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. While inconsistent in his scoring, Gibbs showed he was not afraid to shoot the ball, finishing the season second on the team in field goal attempts, first in free throw attempts, and demonstrating an uncanny desire to take clutch shots in the moment. Against Villanova in the 2014 Big East Tournament, it was Gibbs who took and made the game-winner off a step-back jumper, despite shooting just 3-of-9 from the field up to that point. “In the end, it was supposed to get in my hands,” Gibbs said of his clutch buzzer-beater. “I was supposed to create a shot for my teammates or create a shot for myself, and I just stepped back and hit the jumper.”

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Nine

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 19th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

It was the Pac-12 game of the year to this point: surging challenger to the throne, Utah, against reeling returning champion, Arizona. Both teams took care of business in their undercard games on Thursday, but by the time the main event rolled around on Saturday evening, the McKale Center was a hornet’s nest. The challenger came out of its corner full of vim and vigor, seeking the knockout. But the veteran champion weathered the storm and turned on the power in the final three-quarters of the bout, displaying the whole package of explosive athleticism, wily game knowledge, superior conditioning and, well, a boost of energy from the home crowd. In the end, the Wildcats turned in a smothering performance, displaying their high-end defensive ability with their great offensive potential. If there were any questions about Arizona after last week’s head-scratcher against Oregon State – and trust me, there were – the Wildcats answered most of them on Saturday night in affirming their status as one of the nation’s elite.

Player of the Week: T.J. McConnell, Senior, Arizona

Five minutes into that heavyweight bout on Saturday night, the Utes were clearly acting as the aggressor. They were out to a 10-2 lead; their superstar Delon Wright was doing everything; and Arizona looked flat. Out of the under-16 media timeout, McConnell immediately made a statement play. He headed right up the court and took the undersized Brandon Taylor down to the left block where he put a jumper right on his head. Next time up and again on Taylor, he did the exact same thing on the other side of the court. Next time on the defensive end, he stripped Wright and dove on the floor to get a tie-up. All of a sudden, Arizona had some energy and belief. Through the rest of the first half, McConnell hit three more jumpers, added a layup, notched a couple assists and grabbed a steal. The most important of those plays may have been the two assists, one a driving handoff to Kaleb Tarczewski for a lay-in, and another a baseline kickout to Brandon Ashley for a jumper. Both of those plays ensured that McConnell was not only involved but was busy keeping his talented teammates involved. On the night, McConnell wound up with 16 points (12 before halftime), six assists, three boards and a steal on 8-of-10 shooting, numbers that only hint at his true impact.

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