Who Won the Week? Wahoos, BYU, Lumberjacks, But Not Hoosiers or HoyasPosted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. That’s tough to do when the closest game in the week is two states away. There’s four schools, in four different conferences, within 90 minutes of his house. Figure it out, schedule-makers.
The Cavaliers picked off a pair of pesky road games, winning at a bubble-bound Clemson and pesky rival Virginia Tech, and – thanks to timely losses from Syracuse and Duke – have the inside track on their first outright ACC title since 1980-81, when Ralph Sampson was a sophomore. In Saturday’s 63-58 win against the Tigers, four Virginia players scored in double digits, led by senior guard Joe Harris’ 16. Tuesday’s 57-53 win over the Hokies was a little uglier, with sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon leading the team with 12 points, but he and Harris combined to shoot 5 for 21 from the field. The molasses-slow Hoos haven’t crested 70 possessions in a game this season, but their 10-game winning streak dates back to a 69-65 loss at Duke on Jan. 13, their only stumble in conference play. Their last four games are Notre Dame, Miami and Syracuse at home before a road trip to Maryland.
(Related winners: Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who coaches the best basketball you don’t ever want to watch. Related losers: Duke, which after losing to rival North Carolina cannot win the conference unless Syracuse and Virginia to both lose each game they play not against each other; Syracuse, no longer undefeated and now the only top-20 team with a loss to a team outside the top 150 of the RPI.)
It’s tough to tell which is falling apart faster: the Hoosiers’ season or Assembly Hall. Indiana got smoked by in-state rival Purdue 82-64 for its third straight loss and now sits at 14-11 and 4-8 in Big Ten play. Cold shooting did the Hoosiers in, with a 39 percent effective field goal rate against a team that usually gives up nearly 48 percent effective shooting. Oh, and Tuesday’s game against Iowa was postponed when a large piece of metal came unfastened from storied Assembly Hall’s roof, falling into the seats. Since then, more pieces of the ceiling have been found to be unsound, so who knows what’s going to happen in that regard. But as poorly as the Hoosiers are playing, maybe any distraction is welcome.
(Related winners: Purdue, for pulling one over on its rival during its own down season; whoever owned the tickets to the seats where the metal fell. Related losers: Yogi Ferrell, whose 27-point performance was squandered; Iowa, who probably didn’t want Indiana to have time to regroup before the teams play their rescheduled game.)
Few teams in the country are as mercurial as the Cougars, who can just as easily beat Stanford or Texas or lose at Pepperdine and Pacific. Their 14-1 home record got bolstered with a home win over perennial West Coast Conference favorite Gonzaga, but perhaps the more surprising game was Saturday’s win at Saint Mary’s, which boosted their road record to a meager 4-7. Tyler Haws’ 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting led the Cougars past the Gaels 62-57, who held them to their slowest tempo of the season. Haws had just 12 points in his team’s surprising 73-65 win Thursday over Gonzaga, with fellow junior guard Eric Winder picking up the slack with 17 points on perfect 10-for-10 free-throw shooting. BYU has two games left, at home against a Portland team that beat them in triple overtime in the Rose City, and a road trip to a San Diego team it sandblasted by 42 points in Provo. Like clockwork, the Cougars are again on the bubble, but picking up their likely last good shot at a top win until the conference tournament final (which is moot anyway at that point, because it’s win-and-you’re-in) was huge in separating themselves from fellow fringe NCAA Tournament teams.
(Related winners: Every other team in the WCC, which got a second taste of schadenfreude this season by watching Gonzaga lose. Related losers: Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, both of which have their weakest teams in the better part of a decade.)
The Hoyas had seemingly resurrected a moribund campaign (by their lofty standards) with a four-game winning streak, including a victory over vaunted Michigan State. Then they managed to give it back and then some with a pair of road losses in games they needed to win, getting blown out 82-60 by Saint John’s at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, then losing 82-67 at Seton Hall. They never led in either game. Over the two games, guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was the only Hoya to shoot better than 50 percent, making 14 of his 25 points, and leading his team in scoring in both games (with 15 and 20 points, respectively). On top of that, both opponents had 63 percent effective field goal rates. Speaking of effectiveness, playing terribly in late February is a great way to effectively eliminate you from NCAA Tournament consideration.
(Related winners: Saint John’s, whose D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan each had 24 points against Georgetown; Seton Hall. Related losers: Smith-Rivera, whose great performances were squandered almost as well as Georgetown squandered its run of success.)
WINNER: Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks are riding the nation’s second-longest winning streak. I bet you didn’t know that. They last lost Nov. 23 at Eastern Tennessee State, and their other loss was a 10-point tumble at Texas earlier that month. Since then, they’ve hung up 21 straight wins, the last of which may very well have been the toughest, knocking out rival Sam Houston State on the road in Huntsville, 67-60. In coach Brad Underwood’s first year taking over for 13-year coach Danny Kaspar, who left to rebuild Texas State, the Jacks are in the nation’s top five in forced turnover rate, and their hyperagressive defense leads to the fourth-shortest possession length in the nation, while the offense’s tempo is the 10th-slowest in the country. That unique style could be tough for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed to face in the NCAA Tournament, but the trick is getting there. Nothing less than winning out and losing in the Southland tournament final will merit the slightest consideration, and Stephen F. Austin would be best served to win the tournament and not risk its empty record being scrutinized. Last year, a 27-4 record with wins against Oklahoma and Tulsa and a loss in the conference tournament semifinals didn’t get the Jacks close to the field of 68.
(Related winners: Underwood, who apparently inherited one hell of a team. Related losers: Kaspar, who apparently left a year too early; Sam Houston State, just because I want to say Bearkats! Bearkats!)
LOSER: Ken Bone
Washington State’s coach is doomed. He couldn’t even get a dreaded vote of confidence from his athletic director, Bill Moos, and that came before his team lost 68-57 at Oregon State, bringing its Pac-12 record to a cool 2-12. The firing is imminent. When you have the conference’s most talented scorer in Da’Vonte Lacy, that’s unacceptable. This is the same coach who had three years of Klay Thompson, an even better player, and couldn’t get his team to the NCAA Tournament. Bone is a relatively talented coach – he took a Portland State program that hadn’t ever been to the NCAA Tournament and got it back-to-back bids before moving to Pullman – but from Day One he’s looked overmatched in a top-tier conference.
(Related winners: Whichever small school ends up landing Bone in a year or two after he’s fired. Related losers: Washington State, which has in succession seen the talents of Thompson, Brock Motum and Lacy squandered; Pac-12 coaches, who might have to game plan for both halves of a Washington road trip again.)