We have no idea what is going through P.J. Hairston‘s head these days, but whatever it is it is not good. The beleaguered (we can use that word at this point, right?) North Carolina guard was suspended indefinitely on Sunday night after receiving a citation for speeding and reckless driving on Saturday afternoon. Hairston was reportedly pulled over in a 2008 Acura TL driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Hariston, who has been under public scrutiny since a June arrest for possession of marijuana with a gun assigned to nobody that the legal system in North Carolina is apparently comfortable sweeping under the rug, has been under “investigation” for his dealings with Haydn “Fats” Thomas, but has managed to escape any punishment until last night. Our definition of punishment may differ from what Roy Williams has in mind as Hairston still has until October for Midnight Madness and November when regular season games start. We keep on saying this, but at some point it would appear that Roy needs to cut ties with Hairston or risk incurring punishment for the program down the road. If he decides to keep Hairston it will be interesting to see how long he sits Hairston given their early-season schedule.
TCU got a big boost on Friday when the NCAA cleared incoming freshman Karviar Shepherd to play this season. Shepherd had been waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding his eligibility because of questions regarding his academics at Prime Prep Academy, but apparently whatever paperwork was submitted was good enough for the NCAA to sign off on him. Shepherd may not be one of the nation’s elite incoming recruits (77th in ESPN’s rankings), but the addition of a 6’10″ center should be a welcome addition for a Horned Frog program that finished last in the Big 12 last season.
Late July might seem like a strange time to rework a college basketball coach’s contract, but that is what Loyola (IL) did as it extended Porter Moser through the 2017-18 season. We typically are a little bit leery of extending young coaches who just finished their second season (particularly if we are not aware of them being hot names for coaching vacancies), but Moser has done a nice job helping turn around the Ramblers who went 15-16 last season after going 7-23 in his first season. Of course some of this could be due to the increased maturity of his squad, which still ranks among the youngest in Division I. However, with 10 players returning this season and a new contract extension the pressure will be on Moser to perform soon.
When we heard that Indiana State was building an on-campus statue for Larry Bird our first reaction was to wonder what took so long. Bird, who led the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA Championship Game, will reportedly be in attendance as he will be honored with a 15-foot statute before the team’s first game of the season against Ball State on November 9. While there are certainly more iconic college basketball players we doubt that there is anybody who is intimately associated with a school as Bird is with Indiana State. With the relative resurgence the Sycamore program has seen in recent years it should be a nice added boost for the team to have the greatest player in the program’s history return to kick off their home opener.
It has been 10 years since Lefty Driesell officially coached, but he made a return to the sidelines on Saturday to coach a team of former Maryland players in what is essentially a legends basketball league. Over the years supporters of Driesell have expressed their displeasure with how the school has treated his legacy in comparison to that of Gary Williams so it was nice to hear that Driesell is still associating himself with the school even if some of his supporters are still angry. We are rapidly approaching 30 years since Driesell last coached at Maryland so we are not sure that he will ever get his due there, but those who have actually followed the game and do not have an agenda are well aware of his contributions to the game and the school.
Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He’ll cover the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis through Sunday.
Three Key Takeaways.
Revenge Win For Creighton: A month ago, the Bluejays got spanked in Terre Haute. Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said after Friday’s quarterfinal win that the 76-57 margin was probably an anomaly, but it was by far Creighton’s worst loss of the season. On Saturday, Doug McDermott single-handedly decided to avenge that defeat in the first half of the MVC Tournament quarterfinals. McDermott finished with 25 points, scoring 15 in the first 11 minutes of the game to open up an enormous lead and essentially end the game before it even began. He drilled his first five three-pointers en route to a 5-of-6 mark from beyond the arc — incidentally, the only trey he missed was a wide open look from the corner, probably the best shot he got all day. Didn’t matter. McDermott paced the Bluejays during that dominant first half, and a superb defensive effort by the Bluejays forced the Sycamores to shoot 26.5 percent from the floor.
Defense, Defense, Defense: Indiana State settled for contested jumpers early and often. They weren’t falling. The Sycamores shot 1-of-13 from three-point range, and star point guard Jake Odum was ineffective after a modest quarterfinal performance against Evansville and all-world defender Troy Taylor. His match-up wasn’t as difficult today, but he attempted only three shots (1-of-3 for five points) and dished out only three assists against four turnovers. Simply put, he didn’t control the game like he usually did, and the Sycamores couldn’t drain a shot to save their lives. Credit Creighton for committing to the defensive end, the one area they’re endlessly criticized for by every national media outlet.
Sealing the Bid: There was little to no doubt Creighton would make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large before Saturday’s semifinal. You can eliminate even the word “little” now. If they weren’t a lock already, the Bluejays avoided a somewhat questionable loss and will now be playing for pride in the MVC title game on Sunday. Not that pride’s a bad thing or won’t mean anything, of course. Expect Creighton to come out rolling again in its attempt to capture a second straight Arch Madness championship.
Doug McDermott Will Go for an MVC Title Sunday (ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
Star of the Game: Doug McDermott cooled off a bit after a scorching start in the first half, but it didn’t matter. By the time he’d scored 15 points, the game was already over. He did his damage from beyond the arc today and killed Indiana State with his vintage pick-and-pop. The Sycamores kept losing him on the screens, and coach Greg Lansing even decided in the huddle to switch all screens. Oddly enough, it seemed to work on the very next possession, denying McDermott another open look. But it wasn’t nearly enough to slow the All-American for the rest of the game, as he cruised to 25 points and nine rebounds. He missed only two shots all day, for pete’s sake.
Sights and Sounds: During Doug McDermott’s postgame interview with Fox Sports Net, the loud and proud Creighton faithful broke out in a simple, three-word chant: “One More Year! One More Year!” That’s not the first time the chant has occurred, nor will it be the last. They’ll chant that until the day Creighton’s eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, when McDermott must make a decision about his immediate future. Neither he nor his father will say anything about that decision-making process, but if he calls it a career after three years at Creighton, it was certainly a pleasure to watch him in the blue and white. By the way, on Friday, he became the Bluejays’ all-time leading scorer. Who knows how long he’ll add to his record?
Tonight’s Lede. Because Big Ten Upsets Come In Pairs. Right when the Big Ten churns out one massive upset, number one Indiana’s four-point loss at Minnesota Tuesday night, the league got bored, went back to the drawing board, and said – in the most demonic voice possible – hey, Michigan, your time has come. The Wolverines went down on the road, at the house of a traditional basketball doormat, and on most nights, that story in itself would block out the rest of the night’s schedule. Not so – the Michigan loss was merely an icebreaker for a long and thorough evening of big-time matchups. Your humble nightly ATB writer compiled a sampling of the biggest headlines. Alas:
Your Watercooler Moment. A Very Happy Valley.
The conciliatory retort to any mildly surprising loss in the Big Ten season has gone a little something like this: it’s ok to lose on the road in the Big Ten, because you know how hard those Big Ten road games are, right? Wednesday night’s shocking result in Happy Valley, where Penn State won its first conference game in 18 tries after a blistering 15-point second-half comeback, was a huge exception. Most road games are difficult to win in this league, no question; from Mackey Arena to the Crisler Center to the Barn, the Big Ten lays claim to some of the nation’s most raucous campus environments. Teams lose, like Indiana at Minnesota, and it’s tough to get too caught up in the result. Any team in this uber-deep league can rip off a big upset win on any given night, it is widely and frequently said. We would have been rolling out the same logic had Michigan lost at, say, Illinois or Minnesota. Instead, the Wolverines elected – willfully or not – to suffer their worst loss of the season against the worst team in their league. And the weird part is, the final score really isn’t that crazy at all. To the passive onlooker, yes, Michigan had no business losing this game. But for anyone who paid mind to Penn State’s eight-point loss (ahem, moral victory) at the Crisler Center just 10 days ago, seeing Michigan bite the dust at State College was insane, but it wasn’t some Kansas-TCU-level revolution. The point in all of this is not to disparage Penn State by way of condemning the unlikelihood of Michigan’s loss. The Wolverines have some real issues to sort out in the final weeks, particularly on the defensive end. With two of their final three games coming against Michigan State and Indiana, Michigan needs to shake this off, address whatever issues ailed them at PSU and rally for an important concluding schedule in advance of what’s shaping up to be an utterly chaotic Big Ten Tournament.
Also worth Chatting About.Pac-12 Competitiveness.
A league bereft of depth and quality last season is on the improving (AP).
Unlike the 2012 version, this year’s Pac 12 is sort of ok. In fact, it’s more more than that. The league could, believe it or not, birth as many as six NCAA Tournament squads this season. Four of those Tournament hopefuls took the court Wednesday night, and the most significant result (Arizona’s loss at USC) is probably something we should have suspected all along. USC has won five of its past seven without fired coach Kevin O’Neill and are quietly playing their best basketball of the season; meanwhile, Arizona’s last three road games, including tonight’s loss, read as follows: a blowout loss at Colorado, a four-point win at Utah and a loss at USC. In other words, the Wildcats’ squeaky road ways were a dangerous way to life live in the Pac 12. In the other two marquee P12 games of the night, UCLA held serve against Arizona State and Colorado hung tough and gutted out a road win at Stanford. Most of these teams, with a few exceptions at the bottom, are competitively intriguing, and Wednesday night was the latest example. Not even the possibly one-seed bound Wildcats are safe against the likes of a middling if inspired USC. The league may not be great at the top — much like every power league this season, there truly is no “dominant team” — but the considerable growth in the middle regions has added substantial girth to a conference that sent just one at-large team to the NCAA Tournament last season and saw its regular season crownholder, Washington, miss the field altogether. Change is undeniable. The preeminent western conference is back on its feet, and the on-court product it doles out keeps getting better and better as the season closes in on the most crucial stretch.
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Bracketbuster game between Iona and Indiana State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
Iona and Indiana State met in Terre Haute on Saturday to kick off the final day of the final Bracketbusters event. Both teams entered the contest struggling quite a bit. The Gaels had posted just a 1-4 record in February and in the process, had dropped into a fifth-place tie in the MAAC standings. Sitting at 15-12 overall and 9-7 in conference play, Iona does have star power in senior guard Momo Jones and junior guard Sean Armand. Despite its star power, the team has really struggled in close games – all of its last five losses have been by three or fewer points. Just two weeks ago, Indiana State was a legitimate candidate to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Sycamores have been in a tailspin ever since, dropping winnable road games to Missouri State and Bradley and losing at home to a Wichita State team that the Sycamores defeated on the road last month. With one team having to get back on the winning track, Indiana State defeated Iona 65-64 in what was a tight battle until the final buzzer. The following are three thoughts from Saturday’s action.
Indiana State is Slipping Off the Bubble, But Got the Win Today
Despite This Season’s Struggles, Tim Cluess Certainly Has Iona Going In The Right Direction. In his first three seasons as the leader of the Gaels, Cluess has posted a 65-33 record, which is quite impressive when you consider the program won just 12 games four seasons ago. In his inaugural campaign, Cluess led his team to 25 victories and all the way to the CIT Final. Last season, the Gaels also won 25 games, but this time earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament where the team was eliminated by BYU in a heartbreaker. New Rochelle, N.Y. is not exactly a location many recruits covet, but Cluess has been able to build on the success of his predecessor, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, and transform the program into one that will be consistently battling for the MAAC title and NCAA Tournament bids. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede. Fun, Fun Night Of Hoops.The night began with a top-five match-up of seismic proportions. Indiana-Michigan State didn’t just have conference bragging rights on the line, nor was it just another hard-fought Big Ten game. It was arguably the biggest regular season game in any league this season, and it fully met the wildly attendant expectations. That game, and its crazy finish, will dominate Tuesday night’s headlines, but the schedule was flush with intriguing fixtures. Were there a stat for nightly scheduling intrigue efficiency, Tuesday night – with its stable of appealing match-ups and only 30 total games – would set the bar awfully high.
Your Watercooler Moment. No. 1 Has Arrived, I Think.
Excluding last season’s Kentucky win, there’s an argument to be made that beating Michigan State on the road is the most important victory of Crean’s IU tenure to date (Photo credit: AP Photo).
Another grand referendum on the nation’s No. 1 team, one of many in a season defined by near-constant alpha-dog flux, took place in East Lansing on Tuesday night. In this year’s revolving door of number ones, over the past two weeks Indiana had looked as sure a thing on top of the polls as Duke, back when the Blue Devils were smiting elite non-conference foes with Ryan Kelly in the lineup and Mason Plumlee leading the NPOY chase. The Hoosiers were good, and no one was going to question that. Whether they could maintain their grip on the top spot through Tuesday night, where a physical, deep, hard-nosed, trademark Izzo MSU stood on the brink of a major national breakthrough, was the ultimate test of No. 1 worthiness. Winning at Ohio State earlier this month was probably Indiana’s best win at that point in time, but because it came three days after a two-point loss at Illinois, no one could be completely sure exactly how the Hoosiers would handle their next huge road challenge. Now we know. The details of the game – Victor Oladipo’s tireless two-way contributions, Jordan Hulls’ three-point shooting, Cody Zeller standing tall against MSU’s bruising bigs – are just as important as the implications, I’d wager, because not only is Indiana now the clear-cut favorite to win the conference title and claim a number-one seed. It also earned itself the inside track on a highly desired spot at the Lucas Oil Stadium NCAA Tournament regional hosting site in Indianapolis. And for as long and as unstable as that fuzzy No. 1 label has felt all season, for as many weeks and words we’ve spent debating the topic, Tuesday night brought some finality to the matter. I’m willing to go ahead and throw it out there (with the caveat that IU could lose their last game of the season at Michigan): Indiana is the best team in the country.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Move Over A-10 Newbies. For much of this confusing and utterly mystifying A-10 season, that would seem like a totally unreasonable claim to make. Butler and VCU had taken the league by storm, each with a unique stylistic strength. VCU had its smothering press and turnover-prying defense, whereas Butler had toughness and Rotnei Clarke and — let’s just be honest — a coach with the prime time chops to elicit the very best from his team against bigger, stronger and more talented opposition. Saint Louis has something else. It has the extra emotive urge to give everything and anything on any given night for fallen coach Rick Majerus. Aside from a two-game losing streak in mid-January, the Billikens are unbeaten since Majerus passed away. But Saint Louis has a lot more than an emotional drive to win in Majerus’ honor. The Billikens have held opponents to fewer points per trip (0.90 PPP) in conference play than any other A-10 squad, and scored more than all but one of them. They stomped VCU at home Tuesday night, nearly three weeks removed from delivering the same brutal treatment upon Butler. This team, who in beating the Rams jumped into first place in the conference standings, is just as good as any shiny new toy the A-10 inherited as part of this past summer’s realignment add-on. Read the rest of this entry »
The Weekend’s Lede. A Not So Special Weekend. Not every Saturday is a jam-packed day of must-see top-25 matchups and earth-shattering upsets. This season has deluded us otherwise with an immaculate set of weekend slates, so when you get a day like this Saturday, where – with a few exceptions; college basketball is never actually boring – big-time matchups are hard to come by, disappointment is inevitable. This weekend was not as fun as most in 2013, but at this point in the season, as teams labor for resume points and RPI upgrades, most every game is hugely important. A multitude of teams either buttressed or damaged their NCAA hopes, while others remained in neutral. If those general descriptions aren’t enough (and, really, they shouldn’t be) follow along to get the all the gritty details.
Your Watercooler Moment. Terps Talk The Talk.
Must-win is a fuzzy qualifier this time of year. Can any game honestly be termed a “must” when the conference Tournament always providing a final safety net? What if the bubble unexpectedly softens up, and your previously unqualified resume starts trending in the right direction by virtue of other teams’ misfortunes? Those are always possibilities, sure, but you never want to rely on other teams crafting your NCAA Tournament fate. So Maryland took control of its own by picking up its biggest win of the season over No. 2 Duke Saturday, a win it sorely needed (there, I said it) after an uninspiring 11-point home loss to Virginia last week seemed to suck dry the final remnants of its improbable at-large hopes. The Terrapins have been one of the biggest disappointments in the ACC this season. After loudly and persistently clamoring for national poll recognition throughout November and December based on a gaudy 13-1 record that lacked anything resembling a good win, the Terrapins dropped five of their first eight ACC games, including a three-point home defeat to Florida State. Mark Turgeon’s eminently talented team – Dez Wells and Alex Len are surefire pros, and the complementary pieces are credible assets – looked vastly underprepared (or overrated) for the rigors of ACC play, the Terrapins’ Tournament hopes were evaporating and that hot start UM fans eulogized throughout the nonconference season felt like nothing more than a schedule-crafted mirage. With the exception of a home win over NC State, Maryland had basically played its way out of national relevancy. Canning the Blue Devils will help; storming the court is always fun, right? And I’d love to pencil Maryland in for an at-large berth, or at least provide some assurance with a comforting percentage projection. I just can’t, and I won’t, because I don’t know what to expect from this team in its final six conference games. The next four (at Boston College, Clemson, at Georgia Tech, and at Wake Forest) have to be wins. Get through this stretch, and the Terrapins could (could, not will) be inching toward tourney inclusion.
Your Second Watercooler Moment. Big East Movement.
The Golden Eagles are on the rise in the Big East (Photo credit: AP Photo).
At the outset of Big East play, it was easy to look at Marquette and Georgetown and see two good but flawed teams. The Golden Eagles run one of the most efficient offenses in the Big East; even after losing Darius Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder, Buzz Williams’ team gets the most out of every possession by leveraging the superb interior precision of Davante Gardner and the intuitive creativity of Junior Cadougan. The only problem? Marquette isn’t nearly as good on the other end of the floor(The Golden Eagles ranked eighth in the Big East in defensive efficiency heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh). The Hoyas are the complete opposite of Marquette: they play top-five efficiency defense, but rank just inside the top-100 in offense. Offense-defense splits are not uncommon – most teams are demonstrably better at scoring or preventing points. Only the elite of the elite can master both. But as we enter the final five or six games of conference competition, the Golden Eagles and Hoyas (along with Syracuse) find themselves on top of one of the most competitive leagues in the country. How exactly did they get there? The most recent set of results shows Marquette handling Pittsburgh at home Saturday and Georgetown delivering another home loss to Cincinnati (its fifth of the season) Friday night, but both have been playing steady if not spectacular hoops for most of the league schedule. Marquette and Georgetown butted heads last week, with the Hoyas’ superior defense besting Marquette’s superior offense. Which team reaches a higher perch on the Big East pecking order by season’s end, I don’t know. Based on last week’s outcome and empirical results from over the weekend, I’ll cast my lot with Georgetown and that suffocating defense.
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Back in January, there was a time where we thought we actually knew what was going on in the Missouri Valley Conference. We were confident that Creighton was a top-10 team and that Wichita State was nearly as good as the Shockers of a year ago. Surely Illinois State had been exposed as a fraud, a once trendy sleeper pick to win the league before losing their first six conference games. And our early January convictions on Missouri State? Entering conference play without a D-I win, the Bears looked like one of the worst teams in the country, much less the Valley.
Jake Odum And Company Took A Loss Tuesday Night That They Really Could Not Afford
Well, at least Evansville and Northern Iowa have avoided confusing us too much over the past month. The constantly evolving complexion of the conference took on yet another look Tuesday night, as Indiana State suffered a costly 67-65 loss at the hands of Missouri State. The Sycamores had been one of the league’s positive stories of late, as a recent surge had them entering Springfield as MVC co-leaders. If you are looking for narratives from the other side of the ledger, look no further than those of ISU’s fellow top-of-the-Valley dwellers, Creighton and Wichita State. The Bluejays have toiled through multiple losing streaks in the past month, and in what should be a daunting task, will take the floor at the McLeod Center tomorrow night seeking to avoid stretching their current losing streak to three. Wichita State can tell the Jays all about three-game losing streaks, as a mind-numbing loss to Southern Illinois highlighted the Shockers’ recent skid. Wichita and Creighton are still far closer to being in the field of 68 than out, but if current trajectories hold, it won’t be long before these losses become as crippling as Indiana State’s was tonight.
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Creighton and Indiana State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
Entering Wednesday night’s game, Indiana State was a definitely a bubble team. The Sycamores entered the contest with #16 Creighton at 14-8 overall with a 7-4 record in Missouri Valley play. While Greg Lansing’s squad has some excellent wins – neutral site victories over Ole Miss and Miami and a road victory over Wichita State – it has also suffered some poor losses – most notably road setbacks to Morehead State and Southern Illinois. The same pundits who put the Sycamores on the bubble noted the team had a solid opportunity to find itself on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday due to the opportunity to boost its RPI with home contests against Creighton and Wichita State. The Blue Jays, a team that beat the Sycamores 79-66 in Omaha on January 5, came first and the Sycamores took advantage of a poor game from Creighton star Doug McDermott and their home court advantage to notch a dominating 76-56 victory. The following are three thoughts from Wednesday night’s game.
Creighton is Really Reaching For Answers Right Now
Indiana State Played Its Best Game of the Season. Whenever a team commits zero first half turnovers and limits a national player of the year candidate to just eight points, you know that team put forth a tremendous effort. The zero first half turnovers by the Sycamores allowed the team to build an 11-point halftime lead and remaining crisp and efficient on offense allowed the team to increase the lead by as much as 28 in the second half before earning the 19-point victory. The Sycamores’ offensive attack was led by junior guard Jake Odum, who finished with 22 points on a solid 7-of-10 performance from the field. Doug McDermott, who entered the game averaging 24 points per game, was stymied by the defensive efforts of Indiana State forwards R.J. Mahurin and Justin Gant all night and finished with just eight points (zero points in the second half) on a 3-of-10 effort from the field. The exceptionally strong defensive performance prevented the entire Blue Jays team from ever getting into any sort of offensive rhythm. Read the rest of this entry »
Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
With only a month to go in the regular season, the conference pictures are still not 100% clear. Let’s take a look at six match-ups this week that will continue to clear things up as we head towards March. Let’s get to the breakdowns!
#12 Ohio State at #3 Michigan - 9:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (****)
If you break games up into ten minute segments as KenPom does in his box scores, Michigan has only played two poor ten minute segments this season. The first ten minutes against Ohio State and the first ten minutes against Indiana. Both games were on the road in very hostile environments. In their last game in Columbus, Ohio State punched the Wolverines in the mouth in those first ten minutes with tenacious defense. Michigan recovered by limiting mistakes and forcing the Buckeyes to execute their half-court offense, which is virtually nonexistent Don’t expect Michigan to be rattled like they were in Columbus but they still need to be careful with the basketball. If Ohio State wants to win in Ann Arbor, Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are going to need to be even more disruptive on defense. Also, keep a close eye on Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III for the Wolverines. Stauskas had zero points against the Buckeyes and GRIII was virtually nonexistent in both of Michigan’s losses. If Michigan is going to win the Big Ten and make a deep run in the tournament, these two need to be at their best every night. The addition of those two as scoring threats is what makes Michigan so tough to beat. If the scoring sits squarely on the shoulders of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan becomes much easier to beat.
Round Two of OSU-Michigan Will Be Another War
#21 Minnesota at #6 Michigan State - 7:00 PM EST, Wednesday on BTN (****)
After four straight losses, the Gophers have steadied a bit with wins against Nebraska and Iowa. They have avoided an Illinois-like tailspin, which is keeping them in the hunt in the Big Ten. Michigan State is sitting one game back of Indiana and is looking to avenge their New Year’s Eve loss to Minnesota. The difference in that game was offensive rebounding, free throws, and 60% two-point shooting from the Gophers. The Spartans are still having a tough time defending the two, so keep a close eye on the interior defense they get from Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix, and Denzel Valentine. These three players need to lead the way for Michigan State, if they want to win this game. In the last meeting, Nix went 5-15, Payne had 4 points, and Valentine had 5 points. All three players need to be more productive for Michigan State to keep pace not only in this game but the rest of the Big Ten season. For Minnesota, they need to stop turning the ball over and play better defense without fouling. Keep a close eye on turnovers and free throws for the Gophers throughout the game. If they can limit both, they can beat Sparty again.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.
Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)
Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.
What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense. Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer. He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.
Tonight’s Lede. Bubble Unpredictability. The NCAA Tournament bubble is a nebulous thing to gauge. Predictions are laid out with RPI figures and relevant strength of schedule numbers over these early months, and all of that gets compiled into individual “resumes” – the digestible team units used by the NCAA selection committee to construct its preferred field of 68. The best way to improve your “resume” goes without saying. Win good games against good teams, and you’re helping your chances of inclusion. Sometimes, all it takes is one or two big wins to launch a team into the bubble conversation, or to provide that definitive RPI boost to send it over the cut line. In the end, all final decisions are reached in a secretive board room, and for as accurate as bracket models have become in recent years – and as ostensibly similar as the esteemed media mock selection event has become — we’re all fooling ourselves if we think we know exactly how the committee evaluates teams. One team won a monstrously important game tonight – the kind of thing that really shakes up that selection process. Care to find out who it was?
Your Watercooler Moment. You Needed That One, UK.
If Tuesday night is a sign of things to come, Kentucky could be a scary good team come March (Photo credit: AP Photo).
There are Kentucky fans, illogical or not, who will come down hard on 2012 national championship-winning coach John Calipari if he’s unable to lead Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament this season. Wildcats fans are some of the most relentless partisans in college sports. They expect the best, roster turnover and relative recruiting down year be damned. Whether or not UK ultimately gets there, I can’t say for sure. There’s a lot of season left to be played, and UK has plenty of work to do before locking up a bid. Here’s what I know: Kentucky is in much better shape, Tourney-wise, after Tuesday night’s win at Ole Miss. In almost any other year, that sounds more like some deranged Rebels fan’s perverse joke. This season, it’s not even a small stretch. Andy Kennedy’s team has evolved into a real SEC title contender, thanks mostly to the huge impact (physical and emotional) of Marshall Henderson, the SEC’s leading scorer, and a set of quality complementary frontcourt players. But for a few spots – a road loss at Middle Tennessee, a near-loss at Auburn – the Rebels have looked appreciably better than John Calipari’s team all season. With all that considered, there remained some suspicion about whether Ole Miss, long a doormat for the likes of UK and Florida in the SEC, could seize the opportunity against the worst team of Calipari’s UK tenure to cement its mantle as the league’s surefire No. 2 (Florida is absolutely napalming anyone it comes into contact with; the Gators are No. 1, and it’s not close). Henderson gives the Rebels an offensive spark unlike anything Kennedy has ever worked with in Oxford, and Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner are as solid as any non-Patric Young SEC bigs. This is Ole Miss basketball’s year to shine, and Tuesday night was its night to drill the young Wildcats. It had all the momentum and clear advantages it needed, but the Rebels couldn’t quite size up Calipari’s team. But let’s not let this be about some newly-discovered flaws in the Ole Miss formula. Kentucky deserves the credit for this win, because this Kentucky team was nothing like the incoherent mess we’ve seen for large stretches this season.
The “switch” everyone’s been waiting Kentucky to “flip” may or may not have, you know, flipped Tuesday night, but when you look at Kentucky’s 87-74 win, there are few times this season when the Wildcats have looked as good, or even half as good, as it did in Oxford. Not only did UK outwork and thoroughly outplay a vastly improved SEC contender, they went into a blaring environment, stuffed with a legion of vitriolic Rebels fans ready to coronate their home team’s triumph over a historic program, and exited with a resounding W. They did it with Kyle Wiltjer scoring and defending like he never has before, with Archie Goodwin snapping his conference play swoon, and a whole bunch of really encouraging developments that, if sustained, will erase any doubts UK fans ever had about the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament chances.
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
A Two-Team Race, Or Is It? Heading into last weekend, it looked to be a two team race between Creighton and Wichita State in the MVC. But don’t count Indiana State out of the mix. The Sycamores’ RPI is high right now and they have won three of their last four games. Also keep an eye out for Evansville, Bradley, and Northern Iowa to be a thorn in the contenders’ sides, hoping to score some upsets to keep things interesting. So far, the Bluejays and the Shockers have been able to mostly avoid those four teams, but Wichita State will play three of its next four games against Bradley, Indiana State and UNI. If you know anything about the Valley, anything can happen when two teams lace them up so this race is far from over yet.
Will Carl Hall’s Return Put Wichita State Over The Top? (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle)
McDermott Continues To Light It Up: Doug McDermott continues to impress the nation with some extraordinary numbers. Since the start of 1996-97 season, no player has averaged more than 20 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the three-point line for an entire season. The Creighton junior is currently averaging 24.1 points per game and shooting 52.5% from beyond the arc. In addition, he is averaging 28 points per game and shooting 59.5 percent from deep in five road games this season. His offensive efficiency has continued in the last three games by shooting 62% from the field, 72% from three and averaging a ridiculous 31.6 points per game. He has already scored 29 points or more in seven games this season. He is without question a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate.
Hall Returns With Fire: Wichita State’s Carl Hall had been out the last several weeks with a thumb injury. Of the injuries that the Shockers have suffered this season, losing Hall hurt the most. After missing the first six games of conference play, he returned this past week and he was ready to play. The senior only scored two points but grabbed 10 rebounds in a victory over Illinois State, but against Creighton, Hall added the scoring back to his game by going for 17 points and 13 rebounds (including six offensive) to lead the Shockers to a narrow victory. The only thing he needs to shake the rust from is his free throw shooting. Hall went 3-of-8 in the two games, including a 1-of-6 disaster against Creighton after starting the season 20-of-23. He may be the difference-maker that Wichita needs if the Shockers are to win an MVC championship.
Power Rankings (Overall, Conference, Last Week)
Wichita State (17-2) (6-1) (2)–The Shockers sit in first right now based on their win over Creighton this past weekend. Do I think they are the better team? I guess I do for now. I will be watching to see how both Creighton and Wichita fare in their next games and how they react to last weekend’s result. Wichita State got a boost from the return of Hall to help offset his 8-of-20 shooting from the three-point line against the Bluejays. Their rebounding has been outstanding, out-boarding their opponent in each conference game this season. They are grabbing almost nine more boards each game than their opponent. Wichita State is now #14 in the RPI and is 6-1 against the top 100 and 3-0 versus the top 50. Read the rest of this entry »