Next time your team is down by three points or less with 1 second remaining in the game and the length of the court to travel and you think all is lost, remember Brandon Peel.
The 6-foot-7 forward snatched a baseball pass out of the air near the 3-point line, spun and shot Saturday in game that was tied 50-50. The ball splashed through the nylon and Central Connecticut State snapped an 11-game losing streak with an improbable buzzer-beater 53-50 victory over Wagner.
It was CCSU's first victory since Dec. 10 and only its third win of the season. It was also the first time the Blue Devils walked off the court victorious in a Northeastern Conference game this season.
Peel, a junior from Forestville, Maryland, scored 17 points in the game with 13 rebounds. It was his fifth double-double of the season.
Here is another view of Peel's game-winner.
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To avoid relinquishing first place in the Big Ten for the first time this season, Wisconsin had to survive a far tougher game at Michigan than many surely expected.
Only a big overtime period from national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky enabled the Badgers to escape Ann Arbor with a 69-64 victory.
Kaminsky gave Wisconsin the lead for good on the opening possession of overtime by getting into the middle of Michigan's three-two zone, attacking the rim and drawing a foul for a three-point play. The skilled 7-foot senior added five more points later in overtime and finished with a game-high 22 as Wisconsin salvaged a win despite blowing an 11-point second-half lead.
Wisconsin's victory elevates the Badgers to 18-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, a half game in front of second-place Indiana entering the Hoosiers' visit to Ohio State on Sunday. The only two games Wisconsin has lost this season are a December showdown with a Duke and a stunner at Rugers in which the Badgers were without Kaminsky and lost starting point guard Traevon Jackson to injury.
That Michigan came so close to delivering a third loss is encouraging for a Wolverines team that lost its best scorer and facilitator Caris LeVert to a season-ending foot injury this week. Michigan hadn't even been all that formidable with LeVert, having endured a disappointing non-conference season that included shocking losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan.
The Wolverines compensate for LeVert's absence on Saturday thanks to some unexpected offensive boards from its collection of unheralded big men and some timely scoring from point guard Derrick Walton. It was Walton who helped Michigan force overtime at all, scoring the final seven points of regulation including a game-tying 3-pointer with less than two seconds remaining after Aubrey Dawkins drew a double team and fed him on the left wing.
Michigan also was effective defensively, switching between zone and man-to-man to keep the Wisconsin guards out of the paint and limit the Badgers to a pedestrian 47.1 percent shooting by their lofty offensive standards. Wisconsin was effective when it was able to feed Kaminsky or forward Sam Dekker, but the backcourt missed Jackson's ability to create for himself and others off the dribble.
Nonetheless, Wisconsin avoided what would have been an ill-timed loss with a road game at Iowa and a home game against second-place Indiana up next.
The Badgers are still in control of the Big Ten race. They just had to work a little harder than anticipated to remain in that position.
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The difference between a good season and a special one is sometimes as simple as winning a few games that probably ought to have been losses.
Eighteenth-ranked West Virginia got one of those Saturday against visiting TCU.
The Mountaineers won 86-85 despite blowing an eight-point lead in the final nine minutes of regulation, trailing for almost the entire overtime and surrendering an apparent game-winning shot in the game's final seconds. It was TCU's Trey Zeigler who sank that shot, burying a short jumper in the paint to give his team a one-point lead with only two seconds remaining.
What saved West Virginia was a brilliant length-of-the-floor inbound pass that led streaking freshman guard Jevon Carter toward the basket and enabled him to draw a foul on Kyan Anderson as he attempted a game-winning layup. Carter coolly sank both foul shots with only 0.9 seconds remaining, sealing a win that didn't seem likely to be so difficult when the game began.
West Virginia has established itself one of the Big 12's better teams this season thanks to its formula of a swarming defense that thrives on forcing turnovers and an offense that overcomes its poor outside shooting by attacking the offensive glass. TCU has only one league win as its 13-0 start in non-league play has proven to be a schedule-aided mirage.
The Horned Frogs played one of their better games of the season Saturday as they attacked the rim and drew fouls at will against the ultra-aggressive Mountaineers. Nonetheless, it wasn't enough thanks to the clutch last-second free throws from Carter.
As West Virginia celebrated the victory at mid-court after the final buzzer, TCU coach Trent Johnson made a beeline for the referees and had to be held back by his assistants.
Did he have a right to be incensed about the foul that resulted in Carter's foul shots? Eh, probably not. It was a tough break for the hard-luck Horned Frogs and a stroke of good fortune for a Mountaineers team that has returned to national relevance.
(Thanks for the video, SB Nation)
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Three of Kansas' first six Big 12 games this season were on the road against some of the top teams in the nation's deepest conference.
The Jayhawks finished that stretch atop the league anyway, which does not bode well for the rest of the Big 12's chances of preventing them from capturing an 11th straight conference title.
Kansas pulled away from 17th-ranked Texas for a 75-62 victory in Austin on Saturday afternoon to improve to 5-1 in Big 12 play. With Iowa State losing at Texas Tech, the 11th-ranked Jayhawks will enter next week alone in first place, a game up in the loss column on Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia.
Considering Kansas has lost only five home games in the past eight years and is already done with road games at Iowa State, Texas and Baylor this season, the Jayhawks have to feel good about their chances of hoisting another league title trophy in March. The toughest road games they have left in Big 12 play are at West Virginia on Feb. 16, at Kansas State on Feb. 23 and at Oklahoma on March 7.
The biggest reason Kansas has made a strong case that it's still the class of the Big 12 is because the position that has been its biggest weakness the past couple seasons has turned out to be one of its biggest strengths this year. Sophomore Frank Mason has seized the starting point guard job with his excellent dribble penetration, court vision and decision making and freshman Devonte Graham has proven to be a valuable reserve with his passing and outside shooting.
The skill of that point guard duo was on display Saturday in Austin as both were on the floor together when the Jayhawks unleashed a 13-4 late second-half run to finish off the Longhorns. Mason and Graham had seven of Kansas' 13 assists and were two big reasons the Jayhawks had zero second-half turnovers and only three for the game.
Mason and Graham needed guys to pass to, and they had lots of options. Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander combined for 29 points and outplayed the heralded Texas frontcourt, while Brannen Greene provided outside shooting off the bench with four 3-pointers.
Kansas also was effective defensively by defending the paint and forcing Texas to win from the perimeter. The big, burly Longhorns weren't very good playing that style as they missed all but three of the 18 attempts they had from behind the arc and shot just 40 percent overall from the field.
Texas guard Isaiah Taylor scored 23 points and appeared to have finally put his early-season wrist injury behind him, but none of the other Longhorns were very effective. As a result, Texas falls to 14-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big 12, far from embarrassing yet not befitting of a team that began the season with Big 12 title aspirations.
The final insult for the Longhorns came in the waning seconds when the pocket of Jayhawks fans in the arena serenaded them with chants of "Rock Chalk Jayhawk."
It was a fitting moment because these days even on the road, Kansas is feeling right at home.
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Ohio senior Maurice Ndour pulled off a last-second, buzzer-beating dunk Saturday to give the Bobcats a 63-61 victory over Buffalo.
Ndour, a product of Mdour, Senegal, who played his high school basketball in Japan, lingered near the free-throw line and received a long pass from a teammate. He spun and caught Buffalo forward Justin Moss out of position with a wide open lane in front of him. He attacked the rim and sent the winner through just in time.
His team is having a tough season at 7-10 overall and 2-4 in the Mid-Amercan Conference, but Ndour has been one of the league's best players. He came into Saturday's contest averaging better than 15 points and 8 rebounds per game. Ohio has won back-to-back games for the first time since winning the first two games of the season.
Here's another look.
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Momentum can come and go quickly in the middle of the college basketball season for any team, but it's especially true for those slogging their way through conference's as tough as the Big Ten.
In the span of a week, No. 25 Iowa has experienced both ends of the spectrum. The Hawkeyes celebrated their sweep of Ohio State just a week ago and followed it up the next day with smiles from a top-25 ranking.
But they were crushed on the road at No. 6 Wisconsin on Tuesday and lost leading scorer and rebounder Aaron White to a shoulder stinger early in the first half Saturday at Purdue. The Hawkeyes, led by guard Mike Gesell, gave themselves a chance to win late but faltered down the stretch to drop a second consecutive game 67-63 with a rematch against the Badgers looming and questions about White's status.
Gesell scored 12 consecutive points for Iowa late in the game, but the Hawkeyes couldn't come up with a bucket in their final three possessions. Iowa fell to 4-3 in the conference and now must be concerned about the extent to which White will be affected by the shoulder injury. The Hawkeyes just aren't the same team without his versatility and playmaking on both ends of the court.
White suffered the injury trying to steal a pass with Iowa leading 10-6. He collided with Purdue guard Kendall Stephens and tried to play through it but had to be taken out when he felt pain later trying to reach for a loose ball.
Aaron White is questionable for the second half after sustaining a stinger early in today's game. #Hawkeyes— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) January 24, 2015
It was a bad day for forward Jarrod Uthoff to struggle with his shot. Uthoff made only two of 14 attempts and missed all five of this 3-pointers. This one could have been even uglier for the Hawkeyes if Gesell didn't ramp it up in the second half.
Uthoff and Gesell and others on the Iowa roster are certainly capable of picking up some of the production White usually provides if he is forced to miss a game or more, but Iowa always has been expected to go as far as White could take it this season.
While the outcome left Iowa with questions, Purdue managed to win consecutive conference games for just the second time this season. Guard Rapheal Davis hit the game-winning 3-pointer and led the Boildermakers with 24 points. Davis had made three of five from behind the arc against Iowa, but came into the game with just four made 3-pointers in 21 attempts this season.
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Having won at Seton Hall on Thursday night to move into a first-place tie atop the Big East and snap a seven-year losing streak against ranked opponents, DePaul entered Saturday's road game at Xavier overflowing with confidence.
In fact, the resurgent Blue Demons are so brash these days they're passing up wide-open layups for 3-pointers.
It was guard Aaron Simpson who pulled that unlikely move late in the first half on Saturday, catching a pass all alone in transition, dribbling directly to the left wing and burying a 3-pointer before the Xavier defense could recover. That shot gave DePaul a 10-point lead and seemed to signal that the Blue Demons might be capable of pulling off a second surprising road win in three days.
In retrospect, perhaps that was a bit premature. Xavier rallied for an 89-76 victory when DePaul's 63 percent first-half shooting from the field and 11 of 19 first-half shooting from behind the arc did not carry over after the break.
The Blue Demons sank only two 3-pointers during a dismal 26-point second half and went just 7-for-28 from the field. They also had no answer for Xavier's Myles Davis (25 points) from the perimeter or Matt Stainbrook (17 points) in the paint.
Xavier earned a much-needed win to get back to .500 in league play. DePaul falls to 11-10 overall and 5-3 in the Big East, a far cry from NCAA tournament contention yet still a huge improvement over previous years.
(Thanks for the video, SBNation)
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Freshman Theo Pinson's broken foot wasn't the only news to come from North Carolina coach Roy Williams and his players meeting with the media Friday in advance of Saturday's game against Florida State.
Turns out, junior J.P. Tokoto has a stuffed bear friend he calls Gerry whom he brought along to his portion of the press conference.
Nothing like a few laughs to help a team reeling from injuries right now. Tokoto seems happy to provide them. The Tar Heels could be without four players when they host the Seminoles. In addition to Pinson, Joel Berry, Nate Britt and Stilman White could miss the game.
"Gerry is my friend, he's mine," Tokoto explained. "There is no real story behind it. He just popped up one day. We became friends. We hit it off instantly."
Tokoto said teammate Desmond Hubert, a senior forward, originally brought Gerry into the locker room but just stuffed him in his locker. Tokoto said he rescued the bear and named him 'the first name that popped into my head.'
"He's heartless," Tokoto said of Hubert.
Tokoto said he plans to bring Gerry on road trips in the future. It wouldn't be a shocker to see the giant stuffed bear around the bench Saturday afternoon.
http://t.co/Z0HsjKVINv THIS IS THE GREATEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN😂😂— Natalie Braun (@natbraun16) January 24, 2015
J.P. Tokoto brought a huge orange bear, Jerry, to the press conference today. Calls him the team's "homey," I think he said.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) January 23, 2015
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Marshall Plumlee intends to trade one iconic uniform for another when he's done at Duke.
The 7-foot center formally committed to join the U.S. Army after graduation by completing his contracting ceremony on Friday morning at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He will become an army officer after he finishes his ROTC requirements in spring 2016.
The Duke Chronicle reported Thursday that the inspiration for Plumlee's interest in joining the military was the Oct. 2012 trip to Fort Bragg that Mike Krzyzewski organized for the Blue Devils. The former West Point cadet, player and coach had his team go through a day of physical training before holding an open practice in front of a few hundred soldiers.
Duke players spent a night in the barracks before waking up at dawn, marching to physical training and tackling an obstacle course that left each of them caked in dirt and mud. Plumlee, ironically, could not participate since he was on crutches and wore a walking boot on his left foot, but the experience apparently rubbed off on him anyway.
The U.S. Army's maximum allowable height is 80 inches — four inches shy of Plumlee's listed height — but the Chronicle reported that he received a special waiver. His Duke teammates were on hand for Plumlee's ceremony and snapped pictures with him afterward.
Plumlee, the younger brother of former Duke standouts Miles and Mason Plumlee, has progressed more slowly than his brothers did in Durham from a basketball standpoint. The redshirt junior is averaging 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in eight minutes per game this season as a backup to national player of the year candidate Jahlil Okafor.
Although Marshall probably won't be joining his older brothers in the NBA once he's done at Duke, he'll be doing something even more meaningful. He'll be serving his country and wearing a uniform we should all be able to support.
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Three years into his tenure at Duke, the man now known as his era's most successful coach didn't appear to be on the road to shattering records or hoisting championship trophies.
In fact, a vocal segment of the Blue Devils fan base wanted Mike Krzyzewski out.
One of Duke's Tobacco Road rivals had just completed a stunning championship run under beloved coach Jim Valvano. The other was at the apex of its power under legendary coach Dean Smith. The Blue Devils on the other hand had just concluded back-to-back 17-loss seasons under Krzyzewski culminating with a 43-point shellacking in the 1983 ACC quarterfinals against Virginia.
"Durham was not a pleasant place to be in 1983," said former Duke forward Jay Bilas, a freshman on the 1982-83 team. "There was a lot of discontentment around the program, and it was vocal. Heck, there was a petition circling around calling for Mike to be fired. I saw it. One of the Iron Dukes showed it to me, which I thought was kind of a classless move. But there were a lot of people who were really unhappy."
Duke is very fortunate its athletic director had more patience and foresight than most of its deep-pocked alumni did at the time. Tom Butters' faith in Krzyzewski was so unwavering that he called the Duke coach into his office a few weeks into the 1983-84 season and awarded him a five-year contract extension to drive home the message that no change was imminent.
The same overzealous alumni who wrote Butters angry letters calling for Krzyzewski's firing later wrote fawning letters urging the athletic director to pay his basketball coach whatever it took to keep him from leaving. Krzyzewski gained the support of Duke fans by taking the Blue Devils to 11 Final Fours and capturing four national championships, winning so many games along the way that he could become the first Division I coach to claim his 1,000th college victory on Sunday against St. John's.
"Someone who never gets enough credit is Tom Butters," said Bobby Dwyer, an assistant coach under Krzyzewski his first three seasons at Duke. "When we struggled a little bit our second and third year in particular, he never wavered. He was rock solid. I look around nowadays and it seems like people aren't as patient with coaches as they used to be. Tom Butters deserves a lot of credit for the success Duke basketball has had the last 30 years."
If Butters warrants more praise for standing by Krzyzewski during his early struggles, he also should receive more recognition for making the unpopular decision to hire him in the first place.
When Duke coach Bill Foster resigned in 1980 to accept the same position at South Carolina, Butters began a search to find a replacement. Krzyzewski became a candidate despite going 9-17 at Army the previous season because Duke associate athletic director Steve Vacendak urged Butters to consider him.
"Tom turned to me and he said, 'How bad do you want my job?'" Vacendak said. "He said, 'Let me see if I've got this right. You want me to hire a coach whose name I can't pronounce, I can't spell and who has a losing record at Army to be the head coach at Duke?' I said, 'Yup, that's your man.'"
Vacendak's recommendation stemmed partially from the glowing praise of his high school coach, a good friend of Krzyzewski's. The Duke associate athletic director also had witnessed one of Krzyzewski's practices in advance of a game against Navy and emerged impressed with how the Army coach assessed the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent and prepared his team.
Open-minded yet unconvinced, Butters consulted with Bob Knight and then flew Krzyzewski to Durham for an interview. The Duke athletic director came away certain Krzyzewski had the potential to be an outstanding coach, yet he let the 33-year-old leave for the airport without a job offer because he was fearful of how the public would perceive such an off-the-radar hire.
Only minutes later, Butters reconsidered. He dispatched Vacendak to bring Krzyzewski back from the airport, so he could offer the job in person.
"I wasn't too surprised because if you know Tom Butters, you know that perception is never going to trump reality with him," Vacendak said. "He probably did anticipate this wasn't going to be what the public expected or even wanted but he was going to hire the best man for the job."
The hiring indeed inspired disbelief, especially after the Durham papers had reported that the new coach would be chosen from among Old Dominion's Paul Webb, Mississippi's Bob Weltlich and Duke assistant Bob Wenzel. Butters joked with reporters that they had gotten the first letter of Krzyzewski's surname correct before introducing him as ''Coach Who?''
Though Butters defiantly called Krzyzewski ''the most brilliant young basketball coach in the country," the Durham media was skeptical this unknown coach could hold his own in the cutthroat ACC. The Duke student newspaper summed it up best the morning after the hiring of Krzyzewski, running a headline that read "This is not a typo."
Enough talent remained from the previous season for Krzyzewski to lead Duke to 17 wins and an NIT bid his first year, but the threadbare roster he fielded in year two simply wasn't ACC-caliber. Foster had endured some lean recruiting years late in his tenure and Krzyzewski and his staff had struck out in their pursuit of Chris Mullin, Jim Miller, Bill Wennington and a handful of other premier prospects.
Duke went 10-17 that season under Krzyzewski, its worst record since the 1920s when the Blue Devils weren't even members of a conference. Fans clamored for Krzyzewski to abandon his trademark aggressive man-to-man defense for a zone that would better hide the team's lack of talent but the second-year coach wouldn't budge, instead opting to work even harder in recruiting to find players who better fit his system.
The string of near-misses in his first recruiting cycle taught Krzyzewski not to cast such a wide net the second time. He targeted only eight elite prospects even though he had six scholarships to fill, selling them on his vision for the program and what they could build together at Duke if they came.
Winning a recruiting battle against some prominent Midwest programs for Weldon Williams gave Krzyzewski credibility even if the career reserve never made the impact projected. Outdueling Syracuse and Arizona for Bilas was significant too. The key to the class, however, was landing coveted shooting guard Johnny Dawkins because fellow top prospects Mark Alarie and David Henderson both were eager to play with the high-scoring Washington D.C. native.
"I think everyone would agree the lynchpin was Johnny," Dwyer said. "Once we got those kids, they were the foundation. They weren't just great players. They were great people. They had all the intangibles you could want."
In today's era of college basketball, a star-studded No. 1 ranked recruiting class like that would probably win right away. In an era when college basketball's best players stayed in school for three or four years, it was much harder for a freshman-heavy team no matter how talented they were.
Duke endured another 17-loss season in Krzyzewski's third year and went 3-11 in ACC play. The embarrassment of a 24-point drubbing at home against rival North Carolina in the regular season finale was only trumped by the humiliation of a 109-66 mauling from Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals.
Hours after suffering what still stands as the most one-sided loss in Duke history against the Cavaliers, Krzyzewski and a handful of Duke staffers went out for a late-night meal at a nearby Denny's.
Johnny Moore, Duke's sports information director at the time, tried to lighten the mood by raising his glass of water and saying, "Here's to forgetting tonight." Krzyzewski then raised his own glass and famously answered, "Here's to never forgetting tonight."
Later in the meal, Dwyer suggested an uncommitted prospect that Duke could still pursue.
"Mike said, 'No, we're going with what we got,'" Dwyer recalled. "He said, 'We've got good kids. We've built a good foundation. If we can't win with what we've got, we deserve to get fired.'"
Of course, Krzyzewski did not get fired thanks to the Butters' faith in him. He got a contract extension, much to the relief of many of the talented young players who would eventually form the nucleus of the 1985-86 Duke team that won 37 games and lost in the national championship game to Louisville.
"He came into the locker room and we had a very short meeting before practice," Bilas said. "He said, 'Look, I just signed a new extension. If any of you were concerned in any way, there's nothing to be concerned about. Now let's go practice.' Everybody felt better after that. It was never a problem, but you just felt better."
The notion of Krzyzewski ever getting fired became more and more laughable as years went by and the Duke coach began his assault on the record books. By 1992, he had won his second championship. By 1994, he had been to seven Final Fours in nine seasons. By 2005, he had been appointed the savior of USA Basketball.
In an era of instant gratification when coaches seldom get more than a few years to prove themselves, Krzyzewski's success serves as reminder of the value of patience.
The no-name coach many Duke fans wanted gone three years into his tenure is now one of the legends of his sport 900-plus wins later.
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Bobby Portis found a perfect way to atone for an unfathomably bad decision at the end of regulation Thursday night against Alabama.
The Arkansas forward beat the Crimson Tide in overtime with a tip-in at the buzzer.
With the score tied at 91 and just a few seconds left in overtime, Arkansas guard Ky Madden dribbled through heavy traffic and hoisted a heavily contested runner that missed the rim by two feet. That would have forced a second overtime except Alabama's Shannon Hale got caught watching the ball and failed to block out Portis, enabling the 6-foot-11 sophomore to swoop in to give the Razorbacks a 93-91 victory.
Portis' game-winning shot ensured Arkansas would avoid a three-game losing streak and a second straight home loss. The Razorbacks (14-4, 3-2) were coming off back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Ole Miss, raising questions over whether they're consistent enough to lay claim to the title of the SEC's biggest challenger to top-ranked Kentucky.
Arkansas probably wouldn't have needed overtime had Portis not inexplicably left his feet and fouled Alabama's Michael Kessens in the paint with the Razorbacks up three in the final seconds of regulation. That enabled Kessens to score a layup and a free throw to force overtime and give the Crimson Tide (12-6, 2-3) a chance to get above .500 in league play.
It didn't happen because Michael Qualls scored eight of his game-high 30 points in overtime and Portis asserted himself at just the right time.
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DePaul was picked last in the Big East at the start of the season, but seven games into conference play the Blue Demons share first place with Georgetown and are off to their best start since dropping independent status in 1991.
Oh yeah, the Blue Demons also shed the weight of a 51-game losing streak against ranked opponents Thursday night by beating No. 24 Seton Hall 64-60. Coach Oliver Purnell's team managed to win despite making just 19 of 33 free throws and three of 17 3-point attempts.
It is the first win on the road over a top-25 team for DePaul since winning at Wake Forest in 2005. The Blue Demons improved to 11-9 overall but 5-2 in the Big East.
DePaul had plenty to overcome to beat the Pirates, but the fact they accomplished it speaks to how Purnell has finally changed the mindset of players in the program. The Blue Demons, now brimming with confidence, went more than 6 minutes in the second half without a field goal and watched leading scorer Billy Garrett Jr., head to the bench for the final 3 minutes after fouling out.
They only made one field goal attempt in the final two minutes but limited Seton Hall to a single field goal in the final 51/2 minutes and got to the free throw line down the stretch.
The victory earned approval from DePaul fans on the Internet while others around the country also took notice.
Depaul basketball beat a ranked team. The end of the world is nigh— Kyle Rogers (@Kyle_Rogers) January 23, 2015
@BrianHamiltonSI When DePaul is good at basketball, it's good for the NCAA. OK, a little hyperbole, but it is nice to see after 30 years...— Phil (@kujoatc75) January 23, 2015
Meanwhile DePaul basketball is still a thing. Who knew?— fried chicken Ryne (@RHancock19) January 23, 2015
DePaul basketball is for real! 5-2 in the Big East! Hop on the bandwagon before it is too late #ChoCho— aj fedoruk (@fastony12) January 23, 2015
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Any future NBA first-round pick can leave TV viewers slack-jawed with a dunk. Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell is making a habit of doing it with bounce passes.
The gifted 6-foot-5 freshman followed up the dazzling pass he threw Saturday against Iowa with another beauty Thursday against Northwestern. High-flying Sam Thompson curled around a screen and cut as though he was going to receive a lob pass at the rim, but Russell fed him by threading a bounce pass through traffic instead.
Whereas Thompson failed to finish the layup Russell created for him against Iowa, he did not make the same mistake twice. The senior forward easily threw down a two-handed dunk to help Ohio State hold on for a 69-67 road victory at Northwestern.
Ohio State (15-5, 4-3) wouldn't have escaped with a hard-fought victory if Russell hadn't delivered a near-flawless performance. The fabulous freshman scored a career-high 33 points, sank six 3-pointers and posted seven rebounds. He also had six assists — one being that 40-foot-right-through-the-middle-of-the-defense dime — and zero turnovers.
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President Barack Obama is a huge college basketball fan. So it only made sense for him to pay the Kansas Jayhawks and coach Bill Self a visit Thursday when he visited campus as part of his post-State of the Union tour.
Obama, who shares his NCAA tournament bracket publicly each year, joked during his visit that he had lost the state in his two presidential elections. He also praised Self and the Jayhawks for winning 10 straight Big 12 Conference titles and being tied atop the conference once again with Iowa State.
The Jayhawks presented Obama with a Kansas jersey bearing his name prior to his speech at Anschutz Sports Pavilion. Kansas players took to Twitter to share their excitement in getting to meet Obama.
Man it was awesome meeting Obama this morning !! Real cool guy! Hope to be chillin with him again this spring after a National Championship!— Landen A. Lucas (@LandenLucas33) January 22, 2015
Just finished coolin' with Obama. 😁— Brannen Greene (@b_greene14) January 22, 2015
One day before Obama's visit to campus, junior guard Evan Manning had some fun with his fellow students.
Walking around campus and randomly talking into my sleeve to pretend I'm in the Secret Service can be checked off my to do list— Evan Manning (@evan_manning5) January 21, 2015
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Everyone has an opinion about the 'DeflateGate' saga swirling around the New England Patriots this week in the wake of their blowout victory over the Indianapolis Colts to reach the Super Bowl.
Butler University's mascot, Blue III, let it be known through his Twitter account he can sympathize with the Patriots, who have been accused of cheating by purposely deflating balls in the AFC Championship game against the Colts. Blue apparently has a habit of deflating balls, too.
The Butler men's basketball team beat Creighton 64-61 on Wednesday to improve to 4-3 in the Big East. The Bulldogs host No. 24 Seton Hall on Sunday.
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Forgive Arizona State fans if they're not overly disappointed these days when their team commits a second-half foul during a home game.
Only then does the Sun Devils student section get to unleash college basketball's most creative method of free throw distraction.
When an opposing player shoots free throws toward the Arizona State student section, students seated closest to the floor will set up a pair of black curtains directly behind the basket. The Curtain of Distraction then parts to reveal an often hilarious, always weird mystery character, from a gyrating Elvis Presley, to a diaper-clad Cupid, to a pair of kissing unicorns, to Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball.
"Some of the things that come out of that curtain, you can hear the whole crowd laughing," Arizona State senior Nick Granillo said. "You know there's no way the free throw shooter could have blocked out what's coming out. He had to have taken at least a quick peek at what it is."
The Curtain of Distraction has evolved from an audacious idea hatched by a handful students into a phenomenon that has garnered national attention. Photos and video of the costume-clad characters behind the curtain have spread quickly via social media and been picked up by NBCSports.com, FoxSports.com and ESPN's Around the Horn.
There's no denying the Curtain of Distraction has been a success either, both as a means of generating fan enthusiasm and diverting the attention of opposing free throw shooters.
An Arizona State program that has traditionally enjoyed only modest fan support set a record for student attendance against Utah last week even though the Sun Devils (9-9) were mired in a three-game losing streak entering the game. Opposing teams have also shot 71.2 percent from the foul line at the Wells Fargo Center this season when they're facing away from the student section compared to 60 percent when they're trying not to be thrown off by the curtain's cast of off-beat characters.
"Everything they've done with the curtain has been awesome and has really helped us a lot," Arizona State junior center Eric Jacobsen said. "I'm happy to see they're finally getting some recognition because I know how much work they do to get all that stuff together. The players really do appreciate it. Whoever is coming up with the ideas, they're hilarious."
The Curtain of Distraction is the brainchild of some founding members of the 942 Crew, a three-year-old student group whose mission is to increase student attendance at Arizona State basketball games and improve the in-game experience for fans. The group's name stems from the number of seats in the student section at Wells Fargo Arena.
When group leaders gathered to discuss potential ways to distract free throw shooters before the 2013-14 season, some of their initial ideas didn't make the cut. Handing out cards to the first dozen rows of students to create a funny picture? Too tough to implement. Giving students cardboard bricks to wave? Too dull. Creating cardboard cutouts and a spinning optical illusion? Too overdone.
The inspiration for the Curtain of Distraction was a viral YouTube clip one of the 942 Crew members watched of a Duke fan best known as "Speedo Guy."
When North Carolina guard Jackie Manuel stepped to the free throw line during a 2003 game in Durham, graduate student Patrick King signaled for his peers to sit quietly, stripped down to a skimpy swimsuit and then unveiled the most over-the-top dance moves in his arsenal. King only gyrated harder when Manuel clanked the first free throw, resulting in a second miss.
"That's where a lot of the credit goes to," Arizona State senior Tim Schodt said. "The student section all focused on that guy and the guy did something so ridiculous and distracting that the shooter missed the free throw. We were like, 'That's what we need to do. We need to incorporate something like that into our student section."
The innovators behind the Curtain of Distraction were initially nervous about how their idea would be received when they unveiled it early last season, but their approach proved to be an instant success.
Opposing free throw shooters started missing more frequently. Alumni donated money to fund the project. Fellow students began lending costumes or volunteering to participate. And out-of-state friends and family members called or texted after spotting videos of the antics on TV or via social media.
The most rewarding moments for the members of the 942 Crew come when they see an opponent chuckling at their high jinks.
"Sometimes we''ll catch the shooter looking at us out of the corner of his eye," Arizona State junior Anji Kumar said. "Other times we'll catch the opposing players on the bench laughing. The greatest thing is when you're behind the curtain you actually really can't see the shooter or whether he made the shots or missed them. I'm either in a mask or a horse suit or I'm jumping around and I can't see anything."
With student turnout rising, opposing free throw percentages falling and Arizona State having won all but three home games since the start of the 2013-14 season, the 942 Crew is thrilled with the impact the Curtain of Distraction is having. Current members hope it remains a staple of Arizona State basketball games for many years to come.
"It's absolutely amazing that what started as something so simple has grown into something so great," Granillo said. "It's something that no other student section in the country has done."
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Skim through Wednesday night's college basketball scores, and you might have the same two questions I did a few minutes ago.
Who on earth are the Huston-Tillotson Rams and why would 21st-ranked Baylor schedule them three weeks into league play?
The answer is much wackier than the Bears merely seeking a confidence-building blowout in the midst of the rugged Big 12 slate. Baylor associate director for athletic communications David Kaye said Wednesday night that coach Scott Drew initially scheduled the Austin-based NAIA school in hopes the game would be featured in an upcoming movie.
Ken Carter, the coach whose life story inspired the 2005 film "Coach Carter," opened a basketball academy three years ago 30 miles south of Baylor's campus. He has since struck up a good enough relationship with the Baylor program that he visits practice on occasion.
"There was a plan for [Carter] to play for Huston-Tillotson this year at age 56," Kaye said via email. "There are plans for a second movie, and Baylor provided a big-time college opponent to feature Huston-Tillotson playing against in the movie."
Kaye said Baylor initially agreed to host the game as a favor to Carter and because coach Scott Drew thought it would be a fun experience for his players to appear in a movie. Baylor honored its contract to host the game even though Carter's plan to play for Huston-Tillotson fell through and no movie footage was filmed.
Why would a 56-year-old coach try to play college basketball? What kept him from suiting up for Huston-Tillotson? And what's the status of the second movie? None of that is clear at this point because Carter did not immediately return messages seeking comment. He did attend Wednesday night's game, however, even snapping photos with Baylor players after the Bears' 81-61 victory.
What initially made Carter's story worthy of a movie starring Samuel Jackson was his drive to improve the lives of his players.
In 1999, Carter locked the undefeated high school team he coached out of the gym and banned them from all basketball-related activities because they were not performing as well in the classroom as they promised in contracts they signed earlier in the semester. The Richmond, Calif., community initially vilified Carter for his decision but ultimately came to appreciate his tactics.
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It's safe to say ESPN analyst Dan Dakich and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery do not see eye to eye over the behavior of Hawkeyes center Adam Woodbury.
TV cameras caught Woodbury poke Wisconsin big men Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky in the eyes while guarding them during the Badgers' 82-50 throttling of the Hawkeyes on Tuesday night. Hayes rubbed his eyes and gave up the ball after the first incident, while Kaminsky raised his arms and gestured for a foul to be called after the second one.
Dakich tore into Woodbury on the ESPN broadcast, describing his actions as "cowardly" and "gutless' and calling for Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan to send the video to the Big Ten and request that the 7-foot-1 junior be suspended.
"That's complete garbage," Dakich said. "When you do that, you're doing it on purpose to a completely defenseless player. It's one thing if you and I go up for a rebound and I knock you or whatever, but when you've got the basketball, you are completely defenseless. And he's doing it on purpose. You can say he's not and everyone can get mad at me all you want, but he's doing it on purpose. It needs to stop and the Big Ten office needs to discipline the kid."
McCaffery defended his player and took issue with Dakich's stance when informed of it after the game.
“There’s absolutely no way Adam Woodbury did that on purpose,” McCaffery told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “Dan Dakich is completely out of line. He crossed the line. He is out of line. He’s not right, it was an accident. Adam Woodbury would never, ever, ever do that. EVER do that.”
It will be up to Big Ten officials to determine whether Woodbury will face punishment for the apparent eye gouging. Big Ten basketball communications director Brett McWethy said Wednesday morning that he would check to see whether the league planned to take a closer look at Woodbury's behavior or issue any sort of reprimand.
It might be difficult for the Big Ten to unequivocally determine Woodbury's intent, but there are certainly a couple things corroborating Dakich's view that the eye pokes may not have been accidental.
On the second one, Woodbury reached out with his right hand and rubbed the top of Kaminsky's head as though he were measuring a target. Only a couple of minutes later, he was assessed a frustration foul for an elbow to forward Duje Dukan's head as the two were scrapping for position near the basket.
The accusations from Dakich drew the ire of Iowa fans who felt the outspoken ESPN analyst went too far in calling out a college player. They blasted Dakich on social media, noting that Kaminsky himself laughed off the eye poke after the game and told reporters he'd had much worse happen previously.
Nonetheless, Dakich did not back down from his assessment.
Tweeted the ESPN analyst and former Indiana coach late Tuesday night, "The vine I just retweeted didn't show Woodbury measuring up Kaminsky by rubbing his head.. "Out of line".. Please."
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In the past decade, nine college basketball teams have missed the NCAA tournament the year after reaching the Final Four.
This year's Florida team is in danger of joining that surprisingly long list.
The Gators furthered their reputation as the nation's most disappointing team Tuesday night by following up a listless loss to Georgia with a second straight dismal performance. They fell 79-61 against LSU, snapping a 20-game home win streak against SEC opponents and further obliterating any positive momentum built during a 3-0 start to league play earlier this month.
The latest setback leaves Florida teetering on the verge of falling out of NCAA tournament contention before the calendar even turns to February. The closest the Gators (10-8, 3-2) have come to notching a marquee victory this season are wins against South Carolina, Wake Forest and Yale, none of whom are anywhere near the RPI top 50.
It's unclear how many SEC wins Florida needs to have hope of hearing its name called on Selection Sunday, but it's hard to imagine the Gators feeling comfortable without at least a 12-6 league record. That would put Florida at 19-12 entering the SEC tournament, hardly a shoo-in given the Gators' lack of quality non-league wins yet likely in at-large contention as a result of their strong strength of schedule and lack of unforgivable November or December losses.
Attaining a 12-6 SEC record will not be easy for Florida considering it still faces top-ranked Kentucky twice this season. Unless the Gators upset the Wildcats in one of their two meetings, they would need to win nine of their other 11 SEC games, a huge challenge considering the trip to Lexington is one of seven road games remaining on the schedule.
Florida has failed to live up to its preseason top 10 ranking because the Gators so far have been unable to replace the four seniors they graduated from last year's Final Four team. Returning players stepping into larger roles have failed to replace either the production or leadership of departing stars Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete.
Sophomores Chris Walker and Kasey Hill have been the biggest disappointments because neither has made the impact they were expected to when they were named McDonald's All-Americans in high school.
Walker, an ultra-athletic 6-foot-10 forward, has fallen out of Florida's starting lineup because he still lacks any semblance of a refined low-post game and still gives an uneven effort defensively. Hill, a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard, has a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio but isn't a threat from 3-point range and shoots barely 40 percent from the field.
The unexpectedly slow development of Walker and Hill is a glaring problem for the Gators because they lack scoring threats to pick up the slack.
Sharpshooter Michael Frazier was miscast in the role of go-to threat to start the season, causing his 3-point percentage to drop due to increased defensive attention and a desire to do too much. Dorian Finney-Smith is better suited to that go-to role, but the combo forward was slowed early in the season by a hairline fracture in his off hand.
With only Walker, ex-walk-on Jacob Kurtz and modestly talented Michigan transfer Jon Horford as true interior players, Florida has to rely on its perimeter players for most of its offense. The Gators shoot the least foul shots per game of any SEC team and attempt more threes than any other conference team despite hitting only the ninth highest percentage from behind the arc.
All those offensive flaws leave Florida with little margin for error on defense when it faces quality teams. That's why Tuesday's matchup with LSU quickly got out of hand since the Tigers got a combined 36 points from forwards Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey and shredded the Florida defense both off the bounce and behind the arc. The Tigers shot 51.9 percent from the field, buried 8 of 13 threes and sank all but one of their 18 attempts from the free throw line.
An elite offensive team would have trouble staying competitive against an opponent shooting those kind of percentages, so this Florida team had no chance.
Instead the Gators suffered a one-sided loss that dealt another blow to their hopes of salvaging anything from a so far disappointing season.
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Oklahoma has fired an unidentified person who worked as a mascot during last weekend's men's basketball home game against rival Oklahoma State for unsportsmanlike conduct.
In a report attributed to sources, NewOK.com reported the person playing one of the costumed horse mascots 'Boomer' or 'Sooner' taunted Oklahoma State fans, including, Heather Ford, the wife of Cowboys' coach Travis Ford. Oklahoma won the game 82-65.
Generally several students alternate playing the school's mascots each schoolyear. Oklahoma issued a statement on the dismissal to KFOR-TV in Oklahoma CIty and the Tulsa World.
“The individual involved has been dismissed from the mascot program for unsportsmanlike behavior. The University of Oklahoma apologizes for this occurrence, which in no way reflects the standards of hospitality and sportsmanship of the University of Oklahoma.”
The mascot reportedly blocked the view of Oklahoma State fans and spilled popcorn on a group that included Heather Ford, despite being told multiple times not to return to the section where the OKlahoma State fans were seated.
This isn't the first time in recent years that a representative of one of the schools not directly involved in the game was disciplined for their actions during a game. An Oklahoma State spirit squad member was publicly reprimanded by the Big 12 Conference in 2013 when he appeared to attempt to trip an OKlahoma player who scored a touchdown.
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In the weeks following Emmanuel Mudiay's decision to play overseas for a year rather than attempt to get eligible at SMU this season, the biggest question was whether future top recruits might follow in the elite point guard prospect's footsteps.
Rivals.com's top-ranked Class of 2015 prospect continues to insist it's not an option for him.
Eager to quiet chatter that he will begin his professional career abroad next year rather than enroll at LSU, Ben Simmons tweeted Tuesday, "There's 0% chance that I'm playing overseas. I will be going to LSU next season." The athletic 6-foot-8 forward previously told USA Today in September the same thing.
NBA rules prohibit basketball prospects from entering the NBA draft until a year after their high school class graduates. Most NBA hopefuls spend that year playing college basketball and beginning work on their degrees, but Mudiay, Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings and former NBA center Jeremy Tyler are among those who have chosen to prepare for the draft by playing overseas instead.
That Simmons apparently won't be pursuing that path certainly has to be reassuring for LSU. The Tigers have a chance to ascend next season thanks to a formidable recruiting class highlighted by Simmons and high-scoring guard Antonio Blakeney, Rivals.com's No. 13 prospect.
Having Simmons at LSU for at least a year is clearly good for college basketball but it also has the potential to be beneficial for Simmons himself.
While he may be costing himself a year of earning potential, he won't risk damaging his draft stock while adapting to living in a foreign country and playing against grown men. He also will have the benefit of a year in college to make himself instantly recognizable to U.S. basketball fans and companies with potential endorsement opportunities. Mudiay, on the other hand, will be largely unknown to casual basketball fans when he's selected in the NBA draft next June.
Ultimately, Simmons' reluctance to go overseas jives with the prediction I made when Mudiay decided to turn pro this past summer.
Those elite prospects with eligibility issues might opt for the overseas route rather than risk having to sit out an entire season of basketball. Those who have the option of playing in college for at least a year like Simmons appears to will typically take the option.
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When the afternoon hosts at Iowa sports radio station KXNO had the nerve to open their show on Monday by discussing Green Bay's historic NFC championship game collapse, they soon received a deluge of angry phone calls.
"People were upset we didn't start by talking about Iowa and Iowa State basketball and their big wins over the weekend," assistant program director Andrew Downs said. "It's the biggest thing in the state right now."
College basketball is king in Iowa these days because three in-state teams are ranked in this week's AP Top 25 for the first time in the 66-year history of the poll. No. 25 Iowa (13-5) joined No. 20 Northern Iowa (16-2) and No. 9 Iowa State (13-3), giving the Hawkeye State more teams in the poll than any other state in the nation.
Iowa's unprecedented statewide success this season is remarkable considering it's not an especially fertile recruiting ground, nor do its schools even typically land its best in-state prospects. The last two Iowa-born McDonald's All-Americans, Marcus Paige and Harrison Barnes, both went to North Carolina, while fellow Iowa products Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Raef LaFrenz all starred at Kansas in the late 90s and early 2000s.
What the Iowa schools have done to offset that is hire coaches innovative enough to win without a steady stream of elite in-state recruits.
Fred Hoiberg has transformed Iowa State into a perennial Big 12 contender by turning the Cyclones into a popular destination for talented transfers in need of a second chance. Fran McCaffery has reinvigorated Iowa by speeding up its tempo and finding four-year Midwestern prospects eager to play that style. And Ben Jacobson has returned Northern Iowa to national prominence by combing Iowa and neighboring states for under-the-radar talent that will thrive in his slow-paced, defensive-oriented system.
"Having some consistency across the board is the biggest thing I would point to for why all three teams are having success," Jacobson said. "Myself, Fred and Fran have been at our jobs for a little while now. That consistency has helped. We each do it a little bit differently, but we've each made it work for us. Usually once you establish yourself, you have an opportunity to go get some good young players. I think all three of us are in that place right now."
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The program in the midst of a golden era is Iowa State, which has won at least one NCAA tournament game each of the past three years and advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 2000 last March. The Cyclones owe their success to athletic director Jamie Pollard's risky decision to hire a man who had never coached at any level before.
When Hoiberg first approached Pollard about coaching his alma mater in 2006 after Wayne Morgan was fired, the Iowa State athletic director didn't even grant the former Cyclones star an interview. Hoiberg became a folk hero among Iowa State fans by leading Ames High School to a state title as a senior, taking the Cyclones to three NCAA tournaments as a player and lasting 10 years in the NBA, but Pollard was savvy enough to realize being a great player did not ensure coaching success.
"I didn't even see it as a realistic option at that time," Pollard said. "Every outstanding player believes they can coach, and quite honestly they're a dime a dozen in this industry."
Hoiberg remained in contact with Pollard and expressed interest again in 2010 when Greg McDermott left for Creighton following four dismal years at Iowa State. This time, Pollard was more receptive since he had grown to appreciate Hoiberg's basketball savvy and ability to relate to people and he believed the former Iowa State standout had gained seasoning from spending the previous four years working under Kevin McHale in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
A job interview confirmed Pollard's interest. Hoiberg impressed his future boss by acknowledging his lack of recruiting experience would be a weakness and then by advocating that Iowa State retain ace recruiter T.J. Otzelberger to help offset that. What Hoiberg also recognized was that the Cyclones had a much more realistic chance of upgrading their talent level if the coaches initially focused on attracting top transfers rather than signing elite high school prospects.
"He knew he'd have to target kids who had chosen to go somewhere else initially and needed a second chance," Pollard said. "We had a long talk about transfers, making sure you get the right ones and that you don't sacrifice academics. I was comfortable with it because we built in some checks and balances to make sure we're getting the right kids. We've got a process where we're able to sit down with these young men and find out if they're really prepared to come here so we don't make a mistake."
In Hoiberg’s four-plus years at Iowa State, he has made the Cyclones a destination for transfers while also gradually sprinkling in more impact four-year prospects. At least one key transfer has started every season for Iowa State, from Chris Allen, to Royce White, to Will Clyburn, to DeAndre Kane, to Bryce Dejean-Jones.
Thanks to that influx of talent, a staff that consistently develops players and a fan base that has embraced Hoiberg’s approach, Iowa State has enjoyed success beyond what Pollard envisioned. The Cyclones haven’t lost at home to anyone besides Kansas in three years, haven’t finished lower than fourth in the Big 12 since Hoiberg’s debut season and haven’t fallen out of the AP Top 25 since 2013.
“You don't make hires unless you believe they're going to be successful, but the level of success that we've had is a pleasant surprise,” Pollard said. “How people have responded to him nationally is spectacular. He has gotten us national recognition and national credibility beyond what we expected.”
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If Iowa State's rebuild went at warp speed, Iowa's has gone at a more conventional pace. A coach with a history of resuscitating woebegone programs has taken the Hawkeyes from rock bottom, to respectability, to potentially the cusp of Big Ten title contention depending on how these next few weeks go.
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta faced pressure to make a strong hire after the first basketball coach he'd brought in proved to be a bust. Todd Lickliter led Butler to three Horizon League titles and a pair of Sweet 16s in his six seasons at the mid-major power, but his approach did not translate well at Iowa. He endured a rash of defections by top players, recruited mid-major-caliber replacements and alienated fans with his rigid, slow-paced offense and thinly veiled regret at having left Butler.
Barta's challenge after firing Lickliter in 2010 was to find a coach who could both build a Big Ten title contender and energize a fan base that had become uncharacteristically apathetic. Iowa typically packed 15,500-seat Carver-Hawkeye arena throughout the Tom Davis era, but attendance and alumni donations had tapered off under Steve Alford and eroded further during Lickliter's three consecutive losing seasons.
Enter McCaffery, a proven winner who had taken Lehigh and UNC Greensboro to the NCAA tournament and had just won his third straight conference championship at Siena. McCaffery quickly proved to Barta that he was serious about the job when the Siena coach arrived at his first interview, shook the athletic director's hand and announced that he wanted to be Iowa's next basketball coach.
"I don't know how much more I had to sell from there, but I could tell within 15 minutes that our personalities and our values aligned really well. What really intrigued me was he had built three programs into success stories. Doing it once, you might be able to do it with lightning in a bottle by accident. But doing it three times, he had a way of doing things that was successful."
McCaffery proved to be an ideal antidote to Lickliter in every way, from his quick-strike offense, to his relationship with his players, to his fiery sideline demeanor.
An Iowa program that played at the slowest pace in the plodding Big Ten under Lickliter suddenly morphed into the league's fastest team in three of McCaffery's first four seasons. Recruiting also picked up as McCaffery landed top 100 prospects Adam Woodbury and Mike Gessell in 2012 and lured former Iowa Mr. Basketball Jarrod Uthoff via transfer from Wisconsin the following year. Those two developments surely contributed to a surge in attendance from an average of 9,550 in Lickliter's final year to an average of 14,976 last season.
All that has been missing for McCaffery prior to this season is consistency in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes surged into NCAA tournament contention late in the 2012-13 season before settling for an NIT bid and reaching the championship game. They then slipped into the NCAA tournament as a First Four team last March despite collapsing down the stretch with losses in seven of their last eight games. I
owa fans were not optimistic this would be a breakthrough season when their team endured second-half meltdowns against rival Iowa State and Northern Iowa in December, but the Hawkeyes have rebounded to start 4-1 in Big Ten play including a quality win over Nebraska and a pair of victories over Ohio State. If Iowa can survive a three-week stretch that includes three games against contenders Wisconsin and Maryland and road games at Purdue and Michigan, the Hawkeyes' schedule softens considerably during the final month of the season.
"Fran told me when he took the job, 'Let's go try to win a national championship,'" Barta said. "We have a long way to go to reach that, but he certainly has been building at a good pace with an exciting brand of basketball to watch and a great group of guys that you'd love to have in your home around your family. So far, so good."
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The last time Northern Iowa attained this sort of national prominence, the Panthers forced college hoops fans around the country to learn to pronounce "Farokhmanesh." Little-known Ali Farokhmanesh toppled No. 1 seed Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament with a game-clinching 3-pointer that remains an indelible March image even nearly five years later.
Northern Iowa won 20 or more games three times since 2010 and finished fourth or better in the Missouri Valley Conference each year, but the Panthers haven't challenged for a league title or an NCAA bid until this year. Last season was unusually mediocre as Northern Iowa abandoned its hardscrabble defensive identity and played at a faster tempo with disastrous results, finishing with its least wins in Jacobson's first eight years at the school.
"I made the mistake last year of getting away from what has been best for our program, that tough, rugged, defense-minded approach," Jacobson said. "Last year, I spent too much time with our offensive stuff and working on playing in transition. I felt like we had good depth and a lot of talented players, but we got away from spending the majority of our time on doing defensive drills and building the kind of toughness it takes for our program to have success. That falls squarely on my shoulders."
A renewed commitment to defense and the return of last season's six leading scorers raised hopes that Northern Iowa could ascend in the Valley pecking order this season and perhaps even challenge Wichita State for the league championship. The Panthers have met or even exceeded those expectations, starting 16-2 with quality wins over Iowa, Northwestern, Richmond and Stephen F. Austin and only a pair of narrow road losses to VCU and Evansville.
What's especially charming about Northern Iowa's success is that the Panthers are winning their own way. They play at the fourth slowest tempo of any team in the nation, they limit teams to 37.9 percent shooting and they win with almost exclusively under-the-radar recruits from Iowa and neighboring states.
Six-foot-8 forward Seth Tuttle, an Iowa native who chose the Panthers over South Dakota, Northern Colorado and Colorado State, averages a team-leading 14.9 points and 6.2 rebounds and shoots an impressive 62.6 percent from the floor. Perimeter standouts Deon Mitchell, Wes Washpun and Wyatt Lohaus were also regional recruits that Jacobson and his staff identified early and forged relationships with before other programs could get their foot in the door.
"What UNI has done is they're out looking at young talent in the state, trying to identify them as ninth and tenth graders," said Jamie Johnson, co-director of the Iowa Barnstormers grassroots program. "If they see what they like, they're not afraid to offer scholarships early. Some might say that's not wise, but it has proven to be successful. They know what they're looking for and they've been able to hang onto some good players even when other programs have come in afterward."
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The success of Iowa State, Iowa and Northern Iowa has grabbed the attention of a state starved for sporting success after a miserable college football season for the Cyclones and Hawkeyes.
The annual Big Four Classic pitting Iowa State against Drake and Iowa against Northern Iowa drew a sellout crowd to 16,100-seat Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines last month. Iowa State and Iowa have been filling their arenas, while Northern Iowa drew its biggest crowd of the season Sunday for a victory over Missouri State.
Fans have also packed sports bars across the state for big games this season.
The Front Row Bar, a Hawkeyes-themed sports bar in Clive, typically only drew huge crowds for football games in recent years but manager Brandon Corkrean said they've drawn as many as 90-100 fans for big Iowa basketball games this season. Iowa State basketball has been a similar draw at The Keg Stand in Des Moines, where a standing-room-only crowd roared with every Cyclones basket during Saturday night's win over Kansas.
"The last few games have been jam-packed, wall-to-wall," said Lindsey Brady, a manager at The Keg Stand. "It's Iowa, so we don't necessarily have a ton of things going on. When our teams do really well, even people that aren't basketball fans get excited and want to come out and support them."
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They stormed to a 20-point first-half lead in startlingly quick fashion by defending relentlessly and burying every 3-pointer they attempted.
They surrendered the entirety of that lead even faster than they built it to start the second half by playing careless offense and lackadaisical defense.
On a night when Kansas received a rude reminder of the focus and mental toughness needed to put away a quality opponent, its freshmen ensured that lesson came in a harder-than-necessary win rather than an agonizing loss. Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander both made critical plays down the stretch Monday night as the Jayhawks wrested control back from visiting Oklahoma and escaped with an 85-78 victory.
Kansas trailed by one with just over three minutes to play when Oubre tipped his own missed free throw to Alexander, earning another possession that ended seconds later with a go-ahead Brannen Greene 3-pointer. The two freshmen then helped the Jayhawks build a cushion, Alexander drawing a charge on Oklahoma center Tashawn Thomas on the Sooners' next possession and Oubre delivering six of Kansas' final eight points of the game.
Oubre, the McDonald's All-American who averaged only 8.3 minutes in Kansas' first eight games, showed how far he has come by delivering 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting while also grabbing nine rebounds and playing energetic defense. Alexander, the fellow elite recruit whose defensive lapses got him benched for most of Kansas' previous game, responded with one of his most complete performances of the season, tallying 13 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.
Big nights from both of Kansas' heralded freshmen were timely with the 11th-ranked Jayhawks aiming to bounce back from their first league loss two nights earlier at Iowa State. Kansas (15-3, 4-1) moved into a tie for first place in the Big 12 with in-state rival Kansas State and avoided taking a two-game losing streak into one of its most difficult road games of the season Saturday at 17th-ranked Texas.
If horrendous transition defense and frequent lapses in concentration were the biggest reasons Kansas lost at Iowa State, the Jayhawks did a fairly good job cleaning up those issues Monday night. Take away Oklahoma's 12-for-17 shooting during its 32-9 surge to open the second half, and the Sooners shot an anemic 14-for-48 the rest of the game.
Buddy Hield scored 26 points but needed 19 shots. Isaiah Cousins had 18 points on more efficient 7-for-15 shooting. Forward Ryan Spangler had some impressive stretches in the paint in posting a double-double, but he did not touch the ball often enough.
If Oklahoma will leave Allen Fieldhouse lamenting not playing a better first half, Bill Self will probably head home Monday night with mixed emotions.
Yes, his team blew a huge lead. Yes, his team didn't play with the proper intensity for all 40 minutes. But Kansas learned that lesson while picking up a critical win in its quest for an 11th straight Big 12 title.
And for that the Jayhawks can thank two freshmen who haven't been handed anything this season but are gradually starting to consistently make a bigger impact.
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One year ago on a Monday night in January, Creighton pelted No. 4 Villanova with 21 3-pointers in a surprising blowout victory on the Wildcats' home court. Villanova, ranked No. 4 again in the latest poll, was humbled again Monday night, this time on the road at Georgetown.
If there was any doubt about the Hoyas' chances to contend with the Wildcats for the Big East title going into the game, the doubts were erased in the 78-58 victory. It was just the second loss of the season for the Wildcats and Georgetown students stormed the court to celebrate.
“I think they watch too much TV,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III joked in his postgame television interview. “I’m excited for the students but I really wish they hadn’t done that,”
The young Hoyas seem to be finding themselves and figuring out their roles in the Princeton-style offense. They carried the momentum from a last-minute win over Butler on Saturday into the first half against the Wildcats with a defensive effort Thompson praised.
The veteran backcourt of Jabril Trawick and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led the way. They combined to make all four 3-point attempts in the Hoyas’ big first half and also set the tone on defense with five steals. Freshman forward Isaac Copeland, who hit the game-winner against Butler on Saturday, led the Hoyas with 17 points along with 17 from Smith-Rivera.
Villanova didn't play its best, shooting 33 percent and committing 17 turnovers, including 10 in the first half when the game got away. The Wildcats trailed at one point by 26 points.
Ryan Arcidiacono led a Villanova rally in the second half and the Wildcats were able to cut the lead to 12, but they lacked the energy and offense to come all the way back from such a large hole.
Last year Creighton seemed to have Villanova’s number. The Blue Jays earned a second big win over the Wildcats just a few weeks after the first victory. Villanova now knows the Hoyas are capable of playing the role of challenger this year. They meet again Feb. 7 in Philadelphia.
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If Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were iffy at best at full strength this season, then the Wolverines are even more of a long shot now that they're without their best player.
Sunday's news that Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury the previous day makes it difficult to envision Michigan winning enough Big Ten games to make up for its poor non-league performance.
Finishing in the upper echelon of the Big Ten became imperative for the Wolverines after they underachieved in November and December, dropping six non-league games including a pair of stunners at the hands of NJIT and Eastern Michigan. Solid wins against Oregon and Syracuse helped somewhat, but Michigan is still 102nd in the KenPom rankings and 89th in RPI even after improving to 11-7 overall with a 4-2 start in Big Ten play.
Taking LeVert out of the Michigan roster is a huge blow to the Wolverines' chances of making up ground over the final two months of the season.
LeVert leads Michigan in nearly every major statistical category, from scoring (14.9 ppg), to rebounding (4.9 rpg), to assists (3.7 apg), to steals (1.8 spg). Before injuring himself in the final seconds of Michigan's victory over Northwestern on Saturday night, LeVert accounted for 14 of the Wolverines' 20 field goals, scoring seven himself and assisting on seven others.
"Caris has been working so hard this season and for this to happen is very unfortunate," Michigan coach John Beilein said in a statement. "If we know anything about Caris, he will do everything it takes to not only get better, but to help his teammates during this time. He is a tremendous young man who I will really miss coaching the remainder of the season."
The absence of LeVert will increase the responsibilities for starting point guard Derrick Walton and lightly recruited freshman wing Aubrey Dawkins, among others. Walton will surely be asked to create more frequently in late-clock situations, while Dawkins figures to play much more and and must shoulder a bigger portion of the scoring load at wing.
Nonetheless, while Walton is a capable distributor at point guard and Dawkins has shown glimpses of potential as a scorer, neither will be able to duplicate the all-around brilliance of LeVert.
The silver lining for Michigan is LeVert might be more likely to return to school for his senior season rather than turn pro coming off an injury. The downside to that is his absence for the remainder of this season probably dooms this year's Wolverines to the NIT or worse.
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Utah State guard JoJo McGlaston paid dearly for the massive two-handed dunk he threw down Saturday during a victory over Air Force.
An opposing player accidentally undercut McGlaston as he released the rim, sending the Utah State guard tumbling back first to the court.
Thankfully McGlaston survived the fall unscathed. He played 22 minutes off the bench and tallied nine points, four rebounds and two assists to help the Aggies improve to 3-2 in league play with a 71-59 victory over the Falcons.
What McGlaston's scary fall should do is make referees reticent to penalize players for hanging on the rim after dunks.
Assessing a technical when the dunker is merely taunting the opposition is fine, but more leeway should be given when players stay on the rim until all the traffic clears beneath them. In this case, McGlaston would have been far safer had he swung from the rim another second or two and made sure there was nobody in his way.
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Even with his team clinging to a four-point lead and less than two minutes to play, Georges Niang showed no interest in bleeding the clock dry.
The Iowa State forward split a double team in the frontcourt, zoomed up court and fed point guard Monte Morris for a crucial transition layup.
Revved-up Iowa State ran even when common sense dictated otherwise Saturday night against Kansas, and the unconventional strategy proved effective. The 11th-ranked Cyclones escaped with a satisfying 86-81 victory largely because the ninth-ranked Jayhawks could not keep up with them.
Time after time, Iowa State players beat their Kansas counterparts down the court for uncontested layups, sometimes after missed shots but often after makes too. Bill Self burned through his timeouts chastising his team and played big men Cliff Alexander and Jamari Traylor far less than their usual minutes because they couldn't keep pace, yet nothing he did made much of a difference.
Six Iowa State players scored in double figures as the Cyclones shot 50.8 percent from the field. Jameel McKay had maybe the most memorable basket for Iowa State, a powerful two-handed alley-oop slam from Monte Morris that sparked a lightning-quick 16-4 run to break open a two-point game and give the Cyclones the breathing room they needed to hold off a late Kansas charge.
Iowa State's win improved its record to 13-3 overall and ensured the Big 12 race will remain competitive for weeks to come. Had Kansas won, the Jayhawks (14-3, 3-1) would have opened up a lead of two or more games on everyone in the conference except rival Kansas State. Instead the perennial league champs fall back to the pack and will have to work a little bit harder to win a share of the Big 12 crown for the 11th straight year.
While staying within striking distance of Kansas was important to Iowa State, the Cyclones were probably most excited to have avenged a pair of heartbreaking home losses to the Jayhawks the previous two years. Kansas is the only team besides Iowa State to have won at Hilton Coliseum since Jan. 2012, having beaten the Cyclones once in overtime and the other time by seven points.
The only reason Kansas still had a chance late in Saturday's game was its domination of the offensive glass and Iowa State's maddening inability to close things out at the foul line.
Kelly Oubre and Perry Ellis in particular out-muscled Iowa State in the paint as the Jayhawks gobbled up 15 offensive boards. Iowa State also missed 11 free throws, five in the game's final two minutes.
Nonetheless, Kansas never had the chance to deliver more heartbreak to Iowa State fans because it never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
The Cyclones made sure of that with their transition attack. They turned the game into a track meet and ran off with a crucial win.
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On a Saturday with one of the best lineups of games of the college basketball season, no one expected a contest featuring two losing teams in the Southland Conference to create a buzz.
But that is just what happened when Houston Baptist came out of the locker room dressed like the Harlem Globetrotters in throwback uniforms designed to pay homage to the best HBU teams of the 1960s and 1970s. The Huskies are celebrating their 50th season by honoring former players and naming All-decade teams this year.
The uniforms were mostly well received as pictures quickly circumlated around the Internet. Some were puzzled by the look and others disapproved.
Dressin' those poor kids up like rodeo clowns. Y'all should be ashamed, @HBUBasketball. What's the lesson here? These kids misbehave?— Archbishop Deshaies (@HouCounterplot) January 18, 2015
On a Saturday with plenty of good basketball, the game came down to the wire with Houston Baptist winning in the final minute 74-73 on free throws from sophomore center Cody Stetler.
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T.J. McConnell may need a new Twitter handle.
The point guard who goes by @iPass4Zona showed he's more multidimensional than that name suggests with a brilliant performance in Arizona's 69-51 thrashing of Utah on Saturday night.
With Arizona trailing by eight early and struggling to score, McConnell took it upon himself to become more aggressive and look for his own shot. Possession after possession, he attacked Utah's formidable defense off the dribble, finishing at the rim or burying a pull-up jumper when the Utes gave him space and dishing to open teammates if the defense collapsed on him.
Twelve of McConnell's 16 points came in the first half as Arizona stormed back from its deficit and took a five-point lead into the break. The senior scored his second-most points this season, sank an efficient 8 of 10 shots and also dished out six assists.
McConnell's performance helped 10th-ranked Arizona reassert itself as the Pac-12's best team and a potential Final Four contender.
Doubts emerged about the Wildcats as they endured scoring droughts in some of their early victories and then looked less dominant defensively than usual during unexpected losses against UNLV and Oregon State in recent weeks. That coincided with eighth-ranked Utah reeling off seven straight blowout victories and surging in the polls, raising the question of whether Saturday night's first-place showdown might serve as a changing of the guards.
It didn't, and McConnell was one of several reasons for that.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played exceptional defense on Utah guard Delon Wright, holding the All-American candidate to a put-back and a free throw in the final 36 minutes of the game after he scored the Utes' first seven points.
Stanley Johnson caught fire after a scoreless first half, scoring 18 second-half points on an array of put-backs and forays to the rim to help the Wildcats stagger the Utes and then deliver a quick knockout blow.
Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley also contributed to Arizona's dominance with their efforts on the glass as the Wildcats rebounded an astonishing 63 percent of their misses compared to a mere 20 percent for the Utes.
Nonetheless, the biggest takeaway from Saturday's game was the aggressiveness of McConnell, previously known as the consummate pass-first point guard. His ability to create for himself and others is a very positive sign for an Arizona team that has thus far missed Nick Johnson's ability to generate offense off the dribble in late-clock situations.
On Friday night, McConnell's younger brother scored a school-record 54 points in a Pennsylvania high school game to keep his team in first place in its section.
Somehow, it's still debatable which McConnell brother had the better weekend.
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No. 16 West Virginia has been winning all season on defense by forcing turnovers and capitalizing on the other end. No. 20 Texas turned the tables on the Mountaineers on Saturday with a zone defense that led to a bad shooting night for coach Bob Huggins’ team.
Texas’ size advantage on the offensive end allowed the Longhorns to force a half-court game and dominate in those situations with plenty of points in the paint. They also blocked shots and won on the boards as usual in a 77-50 victory.
It was just what coach Rick Barnes needed after two disappointing losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Longhorns proved they’re not about to shrink from contention in the Big 12 Conference this early in the race.
Texas’ only senior, Jonathan Holmes, bounced back from going a combined 2-for-18 in those losses to score 16 points with 11 rebounds. Holmes turned things around by getting to the free throw line where he made 11 of 12 attempts.
Junior Cameron Ridley was a force for the Longhorns scoring 19 points with six rebounds and four blocks. Ridley made eight of 10 shots, including several heavy-handed dunks.
West Virginia (15-3, 3-2) made just 24 percent of its field goal attempts and Texas (13-4, 2-2) blocked seven shots for the 13th time in 17 games. The Mountaineers' leading scorer, guard Juwan Staten, finished with just three points and made just one of seven field goals attempts.
In his fourth game back from a prolonged absence because of a wrist injury, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor helped the Longhorns handle the West Virginia pressure defense. He committed only one of the Longhorns’ 18 turnovers, a much better success rate than teammate Javan Felix experienced. Felix fell victim to the traps and pressure defense and committed eight turnovers.
Taylor scored only five points, but he was only needed to facilitate in this one getting the ball to the big guys and forward Myles Turner, who scored 16 points with seven rebounds off the bench.
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One of the primary questions entering Big Ten play a few weeks ago was which team would emerge as the biggest threat to heavily favored Wisconsin in the league title race.
So far surprising Maryland might be the runaway choice.
The 14th-ranked Terrapins bolstered their case on Saturday in College Park by completing a season sweep of Michigan State with a 75-59 rout. Maryland (17-2, 5-1) now owns four victories against KenPom Top 25 teams and leads the Big Ten by a half game over Iowa and Wisconsin.
That Maryland has already matched its win total from last year is remarkable considering the concerns about the Terps entering the season. Fourth-year coach Mark Turgeon was a fixture on most offseason "Hot Seat" lists because Maryland hadn't made the NCAA tournament during his tenure and endured a discouraging rash of transfers during the offseason.
Turns out those defections weren't as damaging as expected because chemistry has improved and other players have emerged to pick up the slack.
Point guard Melo Trimble has solidified Maryland's weakest position and emerged as one of the nation's elite freshman, averaging 15.7 points per game and getting to the foul line at will. Stretch forward Jake Layman has blossomed into an NBA prospect with a breakout junior season and do-it-all senior Dez Wells has done a little bit of everything, from outside shooting, to rebounding, to distributing.
That trio was the difference Saturday against a Michigan State team that took the Terps to double overtime in East Lansing. Trimble scored 24 points and buried six threes. Layman added 23 of his own and got to the free throw line 12 times. Wells had a quiet nine points but posted a game-high five assists. Maryland led by 14 points at halftime and was never seriously threatened.
There are certainly other teams who may yet emerge as threats to Wisconsin besides Maryland, but for right now the Terps have the strongest argument.
They're more trustworthy than inconsistent Iowa. They're more well-rounded than one-dimensional Indiana. And they're currently playing at a higher level than traditional powers Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.
Not bad for a coach who's job seemed to be in jeopardy entering the season or for a program making its Big Ten debut.
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Ego got the better of Florida's Devin Robinson on Saturday.
He attempted a dunk late in the Gators' 73-61 loss that he had little chance of finishing.
Florida trailed Georgia by 10 with just over three minutes remaining when Robinson shot-faked from behind the arc, blew by Bulldogs forward Marcus Thornton and attempted to leap over the two help defenders who had stepped in front of the rim. Alas, Robinson overestimated his leaping ability by a couple feet and only got close enough to the rim to chuck the ball off the glass.
Making matters worse for Robinson, his missed dunk resulted in a transition bucket by Thornton at the other end of the court. Florida coach Billy Donovan called timeout immediately after that and removed Robinson from the floor.
Robinson had a respectable 11-point, three-rebound overall performance, but his missed dunk exemplified the Gators' decision making and carelessness with the basketball. Florida committed 19 turnovers and surrendered 56 percent shooting en route to its first SEC loss.
Falling at Georgia is a setback to a Gators team that has little margin for error in SEC play after a highly disappointing non-conference performance. Florida (10-7, 3-1) lost to every half-decent opponent it faced in November and December, falling to Miami, Georgetown, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida State and UConn.
(Thanks for the video, SB Nation)
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Siena forward Willem Brandwijk scored only one point in a 34-point loss to Canisius at the Koessler Athletic Center in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday, but he'll probably remember the forgettable game the rest of his life.
Brandwijk, a freshman from Netherlands, threw down a tame-looking reverse dunk in pregame warmups that caused the basket to fold and the backboard to shatter delaying the start of the game by an hour. You have to wonder whether the basket was set up correctly because it seemed to come down rather easily.
Siena was not assessed a technical foul for dunking in pregame warmups because it happened before the officials came on to the floor. Siena coach Jimmy Patsos, whose team is now 6-10 overall and 3-4 in the MAAC, was able to find some humor in it after the game.
Siena's Jimmy Patsos: "The reason the backboard broke is like, everything in our program is broke this year."— Mark Singelais (@MarkSingelais) January 17, 2015
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Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell led the Buckeyes with 10 points in fhe first half at Iowa on Saturday. He had only one assist in the first 20 minutes but should have had another.
Russell put a little english on a wonderful pass through the lane to Sam Thompson, controlling the bounce and getting it to curve around a defender. Thompson couldn't finish when he corralled it and found himself with a layup opportunity.
Iowa led by nine at the break in a pivotal game for the Buckeyes who came in 3-2 in Big Ten play.
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For all the remarkable success Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has enjoyed in Durham, there is one aspect of his approach that sometimes frustrates even Blue Devils supporters.
He has stubbornly clung to his philosophy of aggressive extended man-to-man defense even in years when experimenting with other styles might have been beneficial.
Krzyzewski finally made a switch Saturday at Louisville, playing mostly two-three zone and protecting the paint by not extending his defense nearly as far when sprinkling in man-to-man. The result was a resounding 63-52 victory that snapped Duke's two-game losing streak, moved Krzyzewski within two wins of 1,000 for his career and served notice that the Blue Devils are still a threat to win the ACC.
A Louisville team that thrives on dribble penetration struggled to attack the rim against the zone and settled mostly for jump shots, shooting 29.5 percent from the field and 4 of 25 from behind the arc. Perimeter standouts Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear went a combined 9 of 36 as the Cardinals fell behind by 10 at halftime and never got any closer thereafter.
The timing of Duke's defensive change was ideal because of its opponent's outside shooting woes and its own recent issues containing dribble penetration.
Sixth-ranked Louisville's biggest weakness is that it shoots an anemic 30.4 percent from behind the arc as a team and doesn't have a single starter who makes more than a third of his threes. Duke also had allowed NC State and Miami to shoot more than 50 percent from the field in each of their last two games in part because the Blue Devils struggled defending ball screens and staying in front of opposing guards off the dribble.
What Duke's zone did was hide the defensive deficiencies of its guards and enable 7-foot center Jahlil Okafor to consistently remain in the paint to protect the rim.
Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones and several of Duke's other perimeter standouts repeatedly were beaten off the dribble against Miami and NC State because they began defending their man 25 feet from the rim and couldn't recover laterally quickly enough. The Hurricanes and Wolfpack also consistently pulled Okafor away from the basket by having his man set top of the key ball screens, creating open threes if he didn't defend all the way to the arc and leaving Duke vulnerable to drives if he did.
Credit Krzyzewski for diagnosing the problem and experimenting with zone, something he hasn't done often in his career. Duke occasionally sprinkled in zone to surprise opponents or defend inbound plays last year, however, longtime observers of the Blue Devils couldn't remember them ever playing as much zone as they did against Louisville.
The only drawback to the zone was it made Duke more vulnerable to offensive rebounds. Chinanu Onuaku and Montrezl Harrell helped Louisville rebound 18 of its 43 misses but it didn't matter because the Cardinals didn't convert enough of those extra possessions into second-chance points.
Duke's offense was also effective after a slow start as Okafor scored an efficient 18 points and frequent double teams created opportunities for other Blue Devils. Amile Jefferson punished Louisville for leaving him free too frequently with 19 points and Cook and Matt Jones both hit a pair of threes apiece.
Nonetheless, the most relevant aspect of Saturday's game was the way Duke defended.
While Krzyzewski is more comfortable teaching zone after working with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim while coaching the U.S. men's national team, it remains to be seen whether going zone was a temporary switch based on the opponent or a permanent one based on Duke's personnel.
The upside is that the zone definitely protects both Okafor and Duke's guards from being exposed off the dribble. The downside is teams that shoot better than Louisville will hit some of the open looks the Cardinals missed.
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When SMU took a boom-or-bust gamble coaxing Larry Brown back to college basketball three years ago, the splashy hire came with a few glaring risks.
The first was that he'd be successful recruiting despite not having coached in college for nearly a quarter century. The second was that he'd stay in Dallas long enough to bring respectability to a program that hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1993. And the third was that whatever success he enjoyed would not be tarnished by NCAA violations like the ones that followed his tenures at UCLA and Kansas.
Brown quickly validated SMU's decision by massively upgrading the roster and nudging the program toward national relevance, but this week brought bad news that will force the Mustangs to reassess tethering their fate to the 74-year-old hall of fame coach. ESPN.com reported Friday that SMU has received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA that includes accusations of academic improprieties within Brown's program.
Confirmation of an NCAA investigation into SMU basketball comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the Mustangs.
Xavier transfer Justin Martin announced last weekend he was leaving the program and turning pro, an oddly timed decision that suggested he had no choice but to leave. Assistant coach and chief recruiter Ulric Maligi abruptly took an indefinite leave of absence for undisclosed reasons days later. And on Friday came word that former McDonald's All-American Keith Frazier will be academically ineligible for the rest of the season unless the Mustangs win an against-the-odds last-ditch appeal.
The ESPN.com report provided clarity on several of those decisions. Martin reportedly was academically ineligible to play spring semester and NCAA investigators reportedly were looking into Maligi's involvement with Frazier before he arrived at SMU.
In Jan. 2014, Fort Worth-based TV station WFAA reported the Dallas Independent School district had investigated the validity of Frazier's transcript from his senior year at Kimball High School. The investigation revealed Frazier had at least one failing grade changed to a passing one in order to graduate and raised questions about the involvement of SMU coaches.
This week's issues aren't the only ones that have plagued SMU this season. Elite point guard prospect Emmanuel Mudiay turned pro amid eligibility concerns this past summer and top big man Markus Kennedy was ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester.
The spate of academic issues raises the question of whether Brown's success at SMU is worth the negative attention this will surely bring.
SMU advanced to the NIT title game last March after being one of the NCAA tournament selection committee's final at-large snubs. The Mustangs (13-4, 4-1) are on pace to contend for an NCAA bid again this March, though the loss of Frazier and Martin certainly cuts into their depth at wing.
Those accomplishments are significant considering the state of the SMU program prior to Brown's arrival. The Mustangs hadn't even reached an NIT since 2000 and finished .500 or below in Conference USA in each of previous coach Matt Doherty's six seasons.
SMU brought in Brown to coincide with its move to the higher-profile American Athletic Conference. The attention-grabbing hire has produced two predictable outcomes: Newfound relevance and newfound NCAA trouble.
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The Saturday before the NFC and AFC championship games typically provides a loaded college hoops slate, and this year doesn't disappoint. Three clashes between top 12 teams highlight what may be the most compelling college hoops day of the season so far:
1. Duke at Louisville (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): The high-profile showdown that once appeared likely to be Mike Krzyzewski's first chance to win his 1,000th game now carries different significance. Duke will lose its third game in a row for the first time in eight years if it can't defeat the Cardinals. For the Blue Devils to have any chance, they must defend better than they have in losses against Miami and NC State. The Hurricanes and Wolfpack both shot greater than 50 percent by shredding Duke off the dribble, exploiting poor transition defense and making the Blue Devils pay for going under screens with 3-pointers. Louisville isn't as deadly from behind the arc as Miami and NC State, but Cardinals guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will be a major challenge for Duke to handle off the dribble. Rozier delivers 17.4 points per game and Jones is averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 assists since his post-Kentucky benching.
2. Utah at Arizona (Saturday, 7 p.m. EST): The first meeting between the Pac-12's two premier teams will pit two outstanding defenses against one-another. League title favorite Arizona relies on its size and length to limit opponents to sub-40 percent shooting and compounds that by surrendering the fourth lowest percentage of offensive rebounds of any team in the nation. Top challenger Utah has so far been even more difficult to score against, holding opponents to 36.4 percent shooting and the country's third-lowest points per possession. The most intriguing matchup will be how Arizona attempts to defend national player of the year candidate Delon Wright, the engine of an efficient Utah offense. Look for long-armed, ultra-athletic wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to draw that assignment most frequently. The Utes have steamrolled opponents so far in Pac-12 play, but this will be their first chance to send a message to Arizona that they're a true threat to win the league.
3. Kansas at Iowa State (Saturday, 9 p.m. EST): Only one team besides Iowa State has won at Hilton Coliseum in the past three years. That's Kansas, which won an overtime classic in Feb. 2013 and edged the Cyclones against last season. For the Jayhawks to extend their win streak, they'll have to subdue a raucous crowd and an efficient Iowa State offense. Five Cyclones average double figures led by forward Georges Niang, shooting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and sharpshooters Naz Long and Dustin Hogue. Kansas has improved over the course of the season as Frank Mason has solidified the point guard position and elite freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander have evolved into impact players. Oubre is averaging 13.6 points in his last seven games after hardly playing in November and Alexander is a defensive anchor who also provides low-post scoring and rebounding. A Kansas win would be a big step toward its 11th straight Big 12 title. The Jayhawks (14-2, 3-0) would be two or more games up in the loss column on every team in the league if West Virginia falls at Texas and Kansas State loses at home to Baylor.
Other games to watch:
Miami at Notre Dame (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): This battle of elite backcourts will be even more guard-oriented if the Irish still don't have top big man Zach Auguste due to an academic-related issue. Notre Dame isn't a good rebounding team even with Auguste, but they're in real trouble without him.
Ohio State at Iowa (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): This is a toss-up game between two teams that can look like Big 10 title contenders one night and NIT teams the next. Iowa won 71-65 in Columbus to open Big Ten play behind 18 apiece from Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White.
Kentucky at Alabama (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): Alabama is ferocious defensively, improved offensively and unbeaten at home. Could this be the day top-ranked Kentucky loses for the first time this season? Nah.
Michigan State at Maryland (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): Some critical late-game gaffes ripped a win from the Spartans' grasp in their 68-66 double-overtime loss at Maryland last month. Michigan State will get a chance for revenge Saturday, but it will come on the road.
West Virginia at Texas (Saturday, 6:15 p.m. EST): Two ugly losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have raised questions about whether Texas can contend in the Big 12 this season. The Longhorns return home Saturday against a much-improved West Virginia team winning by forcing turnovers and dominating the glass.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 p.m. EST): The basketball version of Bedlam seems to favor Oklahoma — especially in Norman. The Sooners should be able to neutralize sweet-shooting Phil Forte to some extent by sticking Isaiah Cousins on him and they'll pose problems for LeBryan Nash because he'll have to defend either Ryan Spangler or Tayshawn Thomas in the paint.
UConn at Stanford (Saturday, 9 p.m. EST): The last time these two teams met last season, Stanford upset the future national champs in Storrs. The rematch pits two of the nation's better lead guards — Chasson Randle and Ryan Boatright.
BYU at Saint Mary's (Saturday 11 p.m. EST): This is a huge game for two potential bubble teams. BYU and Saint Mary's are probably the two biggest threats to Gonzaga in the WCC this season, but neither the Cougars nor the Gaels notched enough quality non-league wins to feel comfortable about their NCAA tournament chances yet.
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The way Kyle Collinsworth is filling up the box score lately, it's almost more surprising if he doesn't record a triple-double than if he does.
The do-it-all BYU star tied an NCAA record Thursday night when he posted his fourth triple-double of the season in his team's 93-80 victory at Pacific. Collinsworth finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, securing the triple-double with an otherwise innocuous defensive rebound with just over three minutes remaining.
The only other college basketball players to tally four triple-doubles in the same season are Michael Anderson (Drexel, 1986), Brian Shaw (UC Santa Barbara, 1988), Jason Kidd (Cal, 1994) and Stephane Lasme (UMass, 2007). Only six other players have triple-doubles this college basketball season, and none besides Collinsworth have more than one.
"You don't know, then all of a sudden people are freaking out saying 'One more, one more, keep going, keep going, keep going'" Collinsworth told reporters in Stockton on Thursday night. "I never know. I just try to play my game and when I'm on the floor just play hard. Credit to my teammates they hit shots and spread the floor and it's easy to find them."
That Collinsworth is enjoying this level of success is remarkable considering the knee injury he suffered less than a year ago. Collinsworth tore an ACL in the WCC title game against Gonzaga last March, a severe enough injury that BYU coach Dave Rose was unsure entering the season whether his standout guard would return to his previous form this season.
In many ways, Collinsworth has been better, aside from a dip in his outside shooting percentage.
Collinsworth, an athletic 6-foot-6 junior, plays point guard for BYU yet comfortably defends four positions. He averages 12.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.3 steals, impacting games by doing everything from attacking off the dribble, to getting to the foul line, to setting up his teammates, to gobbling up offensive boards, to scoring in transition.
It also doesn't hurt Collinsworth's stat line that BYU (15-5, 5-2) plays at the 11th fastest tempo of any team in the nation. More possessions per game means more chances to generate points, rebounds and assists needed for a triple-double.
Of course, one of the things that makes Collinsworth a great player is that he's far less interested in his own indiviual stats than in helping BYU win. The Cougars' margin for error to make the NCAA tournament is slim the rest of the way as they lost to many of the best teams they faced in non-conference play and have fallen at home against Gonzaga and Pepperdine since the WCC season began.
Whether BYU makes the NCAA tournament or not, Collinsworth's bid for the single-season triple-double record will make it a year to remember for the Cougars.
BYU has 10 games left before the WCC tournament. The way Collinsworth is racking up triple-doubles, he probably won't need that long.
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Oregon State's lone visit to Washington this season could be as close as Seattle fans get to experiencing the glory days of the SuperSonics again.
Seated courtside next to one another Thursday night were Sonics legends Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. The duo reconnected to watch their sons, Oregon State guard Gary Payton II and Washington forward Shawn Kemp Jr., face one-another in college for the first time.
Though Washington pulled away from Oregon State for a 56-43 victory, both the younger Kemp and Payton enjoyed moments of individual glory.
Payton stuffed the box score by delivering four points, eight rebounds, four blocks and one emphatic dunk over Washington's Andrew Andrews. Kemp posted six of his eight points in the first half including the Huskies' first two baskets of the game.
The presence of the elder Payton and Kemp in the crowd made it tough for Washington fans to focus on the game itself. Washington students serenaded Payton and Kemp with chants of "Save Our Sonics" midway through the first half and lined up for autographs and pictures afterward.
Such interest is no surprise since Kemp and Payton formed one of the great duos of the 1990s, the Reign Man throwing down powerful dunks and the Glove feeding his teammate lobs and playing stifling on-ball defense. Neither of their sons have shied away from comparisons to their fathers even if they're not quite the same caliber of player.
Kemp, a rugged power forward, has blossomed into a productive starter after choosing to attend college in the same city where his dad is a basketball icon. He endured taunts and jabs growing up because of his dad's proclivity for producing children out of wedlock, but he has forged a stronger relationship with the elder Kemp since joining the Huskies.
Payton, a do-it-all guard, has followed in his dad's footsteps by attending Oregon State and answering to the nickname "the Mitten." The junior college transfer leads Oregon State in three major categories in his first season with the Beavers, from scoring (12.3 ppg) to rebounding (8.9 rpg) to steals (2.9 spg).
Both Kemp's and Payton's teams were headed in different directions prior to Thursday's meeting.
Washington had lost four in a row after an 11-0 start, but snapped that streak against the Beavers behind 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks from center Robert Upshaw. Oregon State fell in its first game since it upset Arizona last Sunday and also lost top reserve Victor Robbins to a 10-game suspension.
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Three minutes remained in Memphis' convincing 63-50 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday night when Kedren Johnson knifed into the lane, spun past forward Gary Clark and scored a SportsCenter-worthy acrobatic layup.
It was the signature moment from a 13-point, five-assist performance from Johnson that gave Memphis three things it hasn't enjoyed all season.
A victory over a quality opponent. Competent point guard play. Hope of a midseason turnaround.
Having graduated its four top guards from last year's NCAA tournament team, Memphis (10-6) dropped its four most challenging non-league games and its opening two league games because its backcourt play was inadequate. Ice-cold outside shooting and a lack of wing scoring were certainly issues, but the most glaring problem was the absence of a capable point guard.
Johnson, Vanderbilt's leading scorer during the 2012-13 season, was expected to inherit the starting point guard job but he arrived rusty and out of shape after sitting out last year due to an academic issue. The 6-foot-4 junior played sparingly in November and December, never getting off the bench in five of Memphis' first 14 games and scoring only a total of five baskets in the other nine.
With Johnson not coming close to living up to expectations, point guard duties fell largely to sophomore Pookie Powell. The 6-foot-1 guard proved largely unprepared for that responsibility, posting nearly as many turnovers as assists while shooting 40 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from behind the arc.
Point guard appeared likely to be a season-long black hole for Memphis until Johnson finally began showing signs of his Vanderbilt days in the Tigers' last two games. He came off the bench to deliver 10 points and four assists in 17 minutes during a 62-44 rout of Houston on Sunday. Then he followed that up by torching a typically stifling Cincinnati defense with crisp passing and dribble penetration.
There's no guarantee Johnson will keep performing at this level the rest of the season, but if he does, Memphis is a vastly better team than it has shown to this point. Suddenly the Tigers have a dribble penetration threat capable of finishing at the rim, setting up frontcourt standouts Austin Nichols, Shaq Goodwin and Trashon Burrell or kicking to Avery Woodson for open threes.
If whether Johnson can build on his past two performances is the biggest question facing Memphis, the follow-up to that is whether it's too little, too late.
The Tigers (10-6) entered Thursday's game 113th in the NCAA's RPI thanks to a complete dearth of quality wins and losses to Wichita State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Stephen F. Austin, SMU and Tulane. Beating No. 34 Cincinnati will certainly help, but Memphis has a long, uphill climb ahead of it to emerge from the early-season hole it dug and get back into NCAA tournament contention.
Nonetheless, what Johnson's recent play does is make it seem plausible.
Memphis isn't necessarily an NCAA tournament team just because its most talented guard has finally played to his potential for two games, but the Tigers have no chance of reaching the postseason if Johnson doesn't keep it up.
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Astute North Carolina fans caught a mistake neither the Tar Heels players nor coaches seemed to notice late in their two-point victory at NC State on Wednesday night.
The game clock froze for about 15 seconds with 1:20 to go in the second half and North Carolina clinging to a three-point lead.
No time came off the clock as the Tar Heels fed Kennedy Meeks in the post, as the sophomore forward missed a shot or as point guard Marcus Paige dove for the offensive rebound and forced a held ball. Only after North Carolina inbounded the ball following a stoppage in play does the clock finally begin counting down from 1:20 again.
Hard as it may be to fathom that neither the ESPN broadcast crew nor the North Carolina bench noticed the gaffe, an ACC official confirmed Thursday that the the clock did indeed stop and that the league will look into how and why it happened. Barring the unlikely event that evidence emerges suggesting this was more than just an innocent mistake, the league probably won't take further action.
The timing error did not impact the outcome of the game but it certainly gave NC State a little better chance to complete its comeback. Ralston Turner missed two potential game-tying threes in the final two minutes and Cody Martin couldn't tie the game with a tip-in at the final buzzer, enabling the Tar Heels to escape with an 81-79 road win.
North Carolina spokesman Matt Bowers said Thursday that the ACC informed the Tar Heels of the "apparent error" and is "looking into it." Bowers declined further comment, referring all questions to the league.
(Thanks, College Basketball Talk)
As he toured Oregon State's recreation center with a potential recruit this past summer, newly hired Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle felt a tap on his shoulder.
A student Tinkle had never met before introduced himself and requested a tryout.
Other coaches might have rolled their eyes at an intramural player brazen enough to believe he could be an asset to a Division I team, but Tinkle was in no position to turn anyone away without a closer look given the daunting rebuilding job he had inherited. In the ensuing months, Tinkle scoured Oregon State's campus for potential walk-ons capable of bolstering a threadbare roster featuring only eight scholarship players and nobody who averaged more than four points per game the previous season.
He hung dozens of fliers offering a tryout to anyone with varsity experience. He stopped by the recreation center a few times a week to scout pick-up games. He even perused the rosters of Oregon State's football and baseball teams in search of ex-basketball players interested in picking up the sport again.
"We needed guys to help us get better every day in practice and we hoped to find some who maybe could see the floor," Tinkle said. "Twenty-two kids showed up to the tryout, some of all shapes and sizes. There were a few kids I thought I could compete with at my age, which was scary. But we did identify seven kids we thought could help us."
If filling holes with walk-ons isn't usually a harbinger of instant success, then Oregon State has been a rare exception so far this season. A Beavers team projected last in the Pac-12 stunned seventh-ranked Arizona on Sunday to improve to 11-4, the best record of any of the 47 Division I programs led by a first-year coach.
Oregon State's surprising start has added to the momentum Tinkle and his staff had already generated on the recruiting trail this fall. The Beavers signed the sons of Tinkle and assistant coach Stephen Thompson and two other Rivals 150 players, a potential trajectory-altering class for a program that has only produced two winning seasons in the past 25 years and hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1990.
Even though many viewed this season as a hopeless transition year sandwiched between the end of Craig Robinson's tenure and the arrival of that heralded recruiting class, Tinkle has refused to accept that. He has built a foundation for future success by emphasizing structured offense, relentless defense and good fundamentals, helping Oregon State shed its reputation for underachieving and emerge as one of college basketball's feel-good stories.
"Guys have bought in to what he is preaching, especially on defense," guard Langston Morris-Walker said. "We had so much talent in the past, so we took a lot of things for granted and relied on our talent rather than fundamentals. Now we look around and realize we don't have too many guys, so we know we have to play our tails off every game, every second, every practice."
It will come as no surprise to those close to Tinkle if he builds Oregon State into a winner because they've seen him do it before at a school even further off the national radar.
Tinkle was part of three NCAA tournament teams as a Montana assistant under Don Holst and Larry Krystkowiak before leading the Griz to three more NCAA tournaments in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Fueling those runs were underrated prospects Tinkle identified, recruited to Missoula and developed into quality players.
Two years before standout guard Anthony Johnson arrived at Montana, he had quit basketball and was washing dishes at a seafood restaurant in Tacoma, Wash., to save up to buy a car. All-Big Sky guard Will Cherry had zero scholarship offers when the California native visited Montana early in his senior year of high school. Big Sky player of the year Kareem Jamar also was under-recruited as the third and fourth option on loaded high school and AAU teams.
Tinkle's successful track record and regional familiarity is what drew the interest of Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis last May once Ben Howland had withdrawn his name from consideration. The job was appealing to Tinkle too even though Oregon State had cycled through six coaches since its last NCAA tournament bid.
Tinkle was 48 years old. There were no guarantees another major-conference program would ever seriously pursue him. And with the youngest of his three children entering his senior year of high school in the fall, the timing seemed right to take a risk.
"When we won that first championship at Montana, I was so happy to be part of it at my alma mater," Tinkle said. "I thought I was going to be there forever. Then as we won those back-to-back championships, it entered my thought process, 'How much more can we do here?' I still hoped to get to the point where we could win NCAA tournament games, but I also was ready for a new challenge."
To describe the Oregon State program as a mess when Tinkle arrived is a massive understatement.
Between Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Angus Brandt graduating, forward Eric Moreland leaving early to turn pro and promising guard Hallice Cooke transferring, Oregon State had already lost its five leading scorers from the previous season's 16-win team. Worse yet, Maryland transfer Nick Faust reneged on his initial decision to come to Corvallis without ever meeting Tinkle and a handful of Robinson's final recruits either weren't sure they still wanted to come or weren't on pace to qualify academically.
Tinkle's first priority was sitting down with junior college all-American Gary Payton II. and persuading the son of the Oregon State legend not to reopen his recruitment. The new coach also took the time to meet individually with each of his remaining returning players, many of whom had openly debated leaving Oregon State after Robinson's firing before deciding to face the challenge of rebuilding under a coach that didn't recruit them.
"I didn't know one thing about Coach Tinkle when he got hired, but it just felt right from the first moment on, forward Olaf Schaftenaar said. "He was just a really straight-up, honest guy who really cares about his players. When you work hard for him, you get rewarded."
Of course many Oregon State players experienced some culture shock transitioning from Robinson's laissez-faire leadership style to Tinkle's discipline-oriented, defensive-minded approach. The new coach grew so frustrated with how careless his players were with the basketball that he'd have them do grade school drills working on chest passes and jump stops and he'd stop practice to chastise them anytime someone violated his instructions.
Said Schaftenaar, "At first it was kind of weird working on how to pivot to a pass. That's something you do when you're like 12."
Said Morris-Walker, "It was definitely weird going all the way back to the basics, but he really wanted to knock out our bad habits. If guys weren't jump-stopping or making two-handed passes, it would be exposed. He would put it on blast during practice."
Over the past few months, Oregon State players have learned to trust Tinkle's methods
They understood why Tinkle demands sharp focus and nonstop effort after an exhibition loss to Division II Western Oregon revealed what can happen to an undermanned team if its attention drifts. They learned the importance of all those simple drills emphasizing fundamentals when they committed 51 turnovers during a three-game stretch in mid-November. And they've discovered a defense-first approach really can work as they've mixed two-three zone and man-to-man to limit opponents to 36.8 percent shooting.
It seems unlikely that this Oregon State team will be the one to break the program's quarter-century NCAA tournament drought since the Beavers lack the explosive scorers to survive an off night on defense or the depth to survive a key injury or two. Nonetheless, this season would be an overwhelming success if Oregon State merely continues to develop the right habits that could serve as the foundation for future 20-win seasons once an influx of talent arrives.
"The thing that is going to challenge us is to not think we've arrived after the Arizona win," Tinkle said. "We have made it very clear to the team what small margin for error we have. We can very quickly lose momentum and become the team that lost to Western Oregon in the exhibition game. We don't have nearly the level of depth or talent to have off nights and still win."
If the Beavers rotation players ever need inspiration to keep working hard, all they have to do is glance around the locker room to find one of the walk-ons who impressed Tinkle enough this fall to make the roster.
Bryan Boswell is a 6-foot-8 forward who thought his competitive basketball career was done after two underwhelming seasons in junior college. Matt Dahlen is a former second-team all-state guard who had opted to walk on to Oregon State's baseball team before Tinkle approached him. Tanner Sanders is a wide receiver on the football team thrilled to be playing two sports again, Dylan Livesay is a fundamentally sound guard and industrial engineering major and AJ Hedgecock is former walk-on football player whose career on the gridiron ended because of a shoulder injury.
Each of them never thought they would have the chance to play for Oregon State. Each of them have played a small part in the Beavers' unlikely success this season by setting an example in practices with their hard work and dedication.
"We had a team meeting a few weeks ago and when they talked about what it meant to them to be on this team, a couple of them broke out in tears," Tinkle said.
For Oregon State's long-struggling basketball program, it was one of many great moments in a feel-good season.
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Even though most of the teams in college basketball's title picture aren't a huge surprise, many of the guys who have emerged as national player of the year candidates are.
Absent from the newly released 25-man Midseason Wooden Award list are popular preseason All-American selections Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Fred VanVleet (Wichita State), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin) and Aaron Harrison (Kentucky). In their place are surprise standouts Justin Anderson (Virginia), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), Delon Wright (Utah) and Jerian Grant (Notre Dame).
That shift is warranted based on how the season has gone so far but there are a couple of players left off the Wooden Award list that should've made it. A look at the list to the right and some of the biggest snubs below:
1. Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse): While Syracuse is no shoo-in for the NCAA tournament with Christmas, it probably wouldn't even be in contention without him. The 6-foot-9 senior is the most improved player in the nation this season, transforming himself from a defensive anchor who contributed little besides offensive boards at the other end into one of the ACC's dominant interior players. Christmas averages 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks this season. He put up 35 points on Tuesday night in a victory over Wake Forest.
2. LaDontae Henton (Providence): How is a guy averaging 21.2 points per game for a Big East title contender not one of the nation's best 25 players? That's probably what Henton and Providence fans are wondering. Henton is sixth in the nation in scoring, and none of the five guys ranked ahead of him are doing it in power conferences. He is shooting a respectable 47.1 percent and has cracked double figures in all but two of Providence's games this season, leading the Friars to an impressive 13-4 record.
3. LeBryan Nash (Oklahoma State): The biggest reason Oklahoma State has unexpectedly cracked the AP Top 25 is Nash taking another step forward as a senior. The former elite recruit is playing to his potential this season, averaging 17.9 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting a solid 47 percent from the floor. Nash shot a bit higher percentage and didn't turn the ball over as frequently last season, but that's understandable given his increased role with Marcus Smart and Markel Brown both having moved on.
4. Keifer Sykes (Green Bay): The Wooden Award list is surprisingly devoid of mid-major players, which is a shame because Sykes is worthy of recognition. Green Bay's 6-foot catalyst is enjoying an even better year than what he delivered last season even though his scoring has dropped slightly. He's still averaging 19.2 points per game and he's shooting better from the field and behind the 3-point arc, a big reason why the Phoenix boast a 14-3 record despite losing 7-foot center Alec Brown to the NBA.
Others worthy of consideration: Treveon Graham (VCU), Kris Dunn (Providence), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Kevon Looney (UCLA)
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One year after Jerian Grant's academic issues derailed Notre Dame, another off-court problem is threatening an otherwise promising season for the Irish.
Zach Auguste, Notre Dame's starting center and most reliable big man, won't play Wednesday night at Georgia Tech, a Notre Dame spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. The 6-foot-10 junior's future with the team is uncertain as multiple reports say Auguste is sidelined because of an academic issue and a South Bend TV station reported late Tuesday night that he will be suspended for the rest of the season.
The Notre Dame spokeswoman did not confirm the reason Auguste did travel with the team to Atlanta and Auguste's mother, Lea Tzimoulis, did not immediately return an email from Yahoo Sports seeking comment on Wednesday morning. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expected to address the issue after Wednesday's game.
A prolonged absence to Auguste would be a huge blow to a Notre Dame team ranked 12th in the latest AP Top 25 and off to an impressive 15-2 start. He is the lone interior scoring threat for the guard-oriented Irish and is averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds, both second on the team.
Six-foot-9 backup Austin Burgett would likely replace Auguste in Notre Dame's starting lineup, but he is not the interior threat Auguste is. Unproven 6-foot-9 freshman Martinas Geben also could see increased playing time off the bench.
When Notre Dame lost Grant for the spring semester last year, the Irish never recovered and plunged to a 6-12 finish in their debut season in the ACC. This team is better than last year's and would probably handle the adversity better, but there's no denying Auguste would be a monumental loss.
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Minnesota coach Richard Pitino inserted three new starters in his lineup Tuesday night in hopes of sparking his team to its first Big Ten victory of the season against Iowa. It didn't have the desired effect.
In fact, it's fair to wonder why Pitino chose to shake up his starters at all considering his team's problem seems to be finishing close games.
Center Elliott Eliason, in for Mo Walker, and Charles Buggs, in for Carlos Morris, combined for zero points and three rebounds and the Gophers fell behind by 17 points. They fought their way back
Nate Mason was the one new starter who panned out for Pitino. He scored 17 points and combined with Morris, who had 20 points off the bench, to lead a rally. The Gophers took a lead in the final minutes but dropped to 0-5 in conference play when Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff hit a jumper with 3 seconds left to give the Hawkeyes a 77-75 victory.
It's not like the Gophers have been completely outclassed. Four of the five losses have come by five points or less and Ohio State beat them in overtime by two. It's that finishing thing we mentioned. Being one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the Big Ten isn't helping.
This is a nightmare for a Minnesota team that had hoped to build on winning the NIT to finish last season strong. The Gophers (11-7, 0-5) are lfirting with getting into a desperate situation. They might already be there. On the positive side, they have some winnable games coming up in the second half of this month and could easily get back on track if they don't let this losing streak overwhelm them.
With games against Rutgers, two against Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State upcoming, there is hope for a turnaround, if this team can figure out how to close out some of these games.
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ESPN was so sure Mike Krzyzewski would be one win away from his 1,000th victory after Tuesday night's game against Miami that it planned a special commemorative show to air immediately after the final buzzer.
Needless to say, the network's timing could have been better.
Krzyzewski remains stuck at 997 after Duke followed up Sunday's surprising road loss at NC State with an even more alarming home setback against the Hurricanes. Guard-oriented Miami exposed many of the same defensive issues the Wolfpack did, scorching the Blue Devils off the dribble and behind the arc en route to a 90-74 rout.
Duke's loss snapped its 41-game winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium and marked the first time the Blue Devils have lost consecutive regular season games since Feb. 2009. The back-to-back losses against unranked foes halted the momentum Duke built during a 14-0 start and inspired concern over whether the Blue Devils have improved as much defensively as it seemed in November and December.
Defense was a season-long issue for Duke last year because the Blue Devils lacked perimeter players who could stay in front of their man or a center capable of cleaning up mistakes and protecting the rim. The arrival of center Jahlil Okafor and perimeter stopper Justise Winslow appeared to alleviate some of those problems, but the Blue Devils have regressed in ACC play.
NC State shot a torrid 55 percent against Duke and scored on seven straight second-half possessions to break open a close game. Miami nearly matched that with 51.8 percent shooting against the Blue Devils two nights later, shooting 18-for-27 in the second half to build a lead as big as 20 points in a game it trailed by one at halftime.
Miami guards Angel Rodriguez (24 points), Manu Lecompte (23 points) and Sheldon McClellan (14 points) were the players who hurt Duke most frequently on Tuesday. They made the Blue Devils pay for playing their trademark aggressive, extended man-to-man defense by blowing by them off the dribble. They also punished Duke by burying threes whenever defenders went under ball screens or by attacking in transition whenever the Blue Devils committed sloppy turnovers or were slow running back.
Keeping pace with an opponent scoring as easily as Miami did is never easy, but it certainly didn't help Duke that the Hurricanes' defensive strategy was effective as well.
Miami mixed up its defense against Okafor, sometimes playing him man-to-man and sometimes sending a double team from various spots on the floor. Okafor scored 15 points and hurt the Hurricanes on the offensive glass, but Duke's guards couldn't exploit the open looks made possible by the double teams, sinking only 6 of 21 attempts from behind the arc.
It won't be easy for Duke to avoid a third straight loss either since the fourth-ranked Blue Devils (14-2, 2-2) visit sixth-ranked Louisville on Saturday.
That was the game that was supposed to be the high-profile forum for Krzyzewsk to take aim at win No. 1,000. Instead it will merely mark his attempt to help Duke avoid its first three-game losing streak in eight years.
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To end its seven-year NCAA tournament drought and establish itself as the biggest challenger to Kentucky in the SEC this season, 19th-ranked Arkansas must accomplish the one thing it has thus far been unable to do during Mike Anderson's tenure.
The Razorbacks must find a way to win on the road.
Arkansas took a step in the wrong direction Tuesday when it lost 74-69 at Tennessee, squandering a golden opportunity to improve to 3-0 in the SEC. The rebuilding Vols have exceeded modest expectations because they play so hard for first-year coach Donnie Tyndall, but they still don't have nearly as much talent as the Razorbacks, especially in the frontcourt.
Falling in Knoxville snapped Arkansas' seven-game win streak and dropped the Razorbacks to 13-3 this season with all three losses coming in true road games. Arkansas owns a sparkling 62-7 home mark in four seasons under Mike Anderson but it's now just 7-28 on the road after Tuesday's loss.
What cost Arkansas against Tennessee was shoddy defense and a seven-minute second-half scoring drought. Josh Richardson scored a game-high 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting as the Vols opened a 16-point second-half cushion and still led by 11 with just over four minutes to go.
Poor free throw shooting from Tennessee and a nearly catastrophic late miscue gave Arkansas new life.
The Vols missed 12 of 26 free throws, none bigger than two from Devon Baulkman that allowed Arkansas to cut the lead to one with a 3-pointer with 35 seconds to go. Tyndall then instructed his team to foul after Kevin Punter sank two foul shots to put the Vols up three, but referee Teddy Valentine ruled that Punter fouled Anton Beard in the act of shooting even though he was 30 feet from the rim.
Three free throws from Beard could have tied the score with 5.5 seconds to go. Instead he clanked all three — the last one intentionally — and Tennessee closed out the win at the foul line.
Even with the loss, the Razorbacks are in decent overall position halfway through the season. They're 2-1 in the SEC and they boast several solid non-league wins against Dayton, SMU and Wake Forest.
Nonetheless, because of Arkansas' history of road futility, there will always be doubts about the Razorbacks until they prove they can win away from Bud Walton Arena. Tuesday was a golden opportunity to show this year will be different. Alas, Arkansas wasted it.
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Oklahoma has started a key stretch of its season with a thud.
The 18th-ranked Sooners traveled to No. 16 West Virginia on Tuesday night fully aware they needed to handle the Mountaineers' pressure, limit turnovers and get a little boost somehow from the bench. None of it happened and West Virginia ran away with an 86-65 victory.
It's the second straight loss for the Sooners who have five of their next six games against ranked opponents, including both games in the rivalry with Oklahoma State and a rematch with the Mountaineers.
Oklahoma committed 22 turnovers that led to 27 West Virginia points. All five Sooners starters committed at least two miscues, despite going into the game focused on the pressure and trapping coach Bob Huggins has the Mountaineers executing so well.
West Virginia guard Javon Carter came off the bench to singlehandedly more than double the point production of the six Oklahoma reserves who played in the game. Carter scored 18 points. The Oklahoma bench scored eight.
The Mountaineers rolled the Sooners despite an off night from their best player, point guard Juwan Staten, who made just one of nine shots but dished eight assists.
While Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger has to figure out how to get more out of his core group because the bench seems to be so lacking, Huggins' team continues to surpass expectations considering it had to replace two guards who transferred in the offseason and was thought to be a second-teir team in the Big 12 at best. Nine Mountaineers combined for 16 steals against the Sooners.
West Virginia has two losses this season by a combined three points and boasts victories over UConn, a North Carolina State team that just beat Duke and now the Sooners. Things are shaping up nicely in Morgantown. Concerns loom in Norman.
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One of the big questions about Cliff Alexander as an NBA prospect is whether he'll be able to bully pro big men in the paint the same way he did in high school. That question is perfectly fair, but the physically imposing 6-foot-8 Kansas freshman proved Tuesday night he certainly still can push around college players from time to time. The above dunk has everything, from Alexander knocking Oklahoma State star LeBryan Nash backward with a shoulder, to a vicious one-handed jam fit for a poster over 7-foot help defender Anthony Allen, to a remorseless post-dunk flex that earned him a technical foul. It's exactly the type of play Kansas would like to see more of from Alexander, who has shown hints of his McDonald's All-American potential but has yet to perform with any degree of consistency. Alexander had seven points, three boards and two blocks in the first half against Oklahoma State to help Kansas to a four-point lead at the break.
(Thanks for the video, Ricky O'Donnell)
Previous Dunk of the Year nominees:
• Jerian Grant ruins a Yellowjacket's day
• LMU's Evan Payne soars
• Wyoming's Jason McManamin takes flight
• Buffalo's Justin Moss throws down ferocious slam
• Sam Thompson's inbound slam
• Lift off for Wyoming's Josh Adams
• Demetrius Jackson puts a 7-footer in a poster
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If Wisconsin is going to live up to its preseason billing as the lone elite team in an otherwise middling Big Ten, the Badgers will need some of their less heralded guards to rise to the occasion in the absence of starting point guard Traevon Jackson.
The school confirmed Monday evening that the foot injury Jackson suffered the previous day against Rutgers will require surgery on Thursday and will prevent the senior from beginning rehab for at least two to three weeks. ESPN reported earlier Monday that Jackson fractured his right foot and will miss six weeks.
The six-week timetable suggests Jackson would miss Wisconsin's next 10 games before returning for the final two weeks of the Big Ten season. That's certainly better than losing Jackson for the rest of the season, but it also means the Badgers will have to replace Jackson's 9.4 points per game, his steadying influence and his ability to create off the dribble for himself and his teammates in late-clock situations.
The player whose role will increase most while Jackson is sidelined is Bronson Koenig, one of the nation's better backup point guards and the obvious choice to replace Jackson in Wisconsin's starting lineup. The promising sophomore is averaging 4.9 points in 20.5 minutes per game off the bench and has a sparkling 4.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
In addition to Koenig's responsibilities changing, shooting guard Josh Gasser will probably have to handle the ball more often than he has so far this season and Zak Showalter will surely see more playing time off the bench. Showalter, a 6-foot-2 guard who redshirted last season, has played just over six minutes per game so far this season but has the athleticism and aggressiveness to provide a spark off the bench.
To ultimately return to a second straight Final Four and contend for a national championship, Wisconsin (15-2, 3-1) likely needs a healthy Jackson creating off the dribble.
Nonetheless, the Badgers have a promising backup in Koenig who is capable of keeping Wisconsin on track while he fills in and who will probably improve as a result of the experience in the long run.
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Whatever joy Syracuse took from a 3-0 start to ACC play vanished Monday when it learned it will not have a key player for ther rest of the season.
Tests revealed that the right knee injury freshman forward Chris McCullough suffered Sunday against Florida State indeed is a torn ACL. The 6-foot-10 New York native will undergo season-ending surgery once the swelling in his knee goes down.
The diagnosis is no surprise given the way McCullough's knee appeared to buckle when he planted trying to catch a pass from Michael Gbinije in transition on Sunday. McCullough did not return to the Syracuse bench in the second half and posted on Instagram on Monday morning acknowledging the pain he was in was the worst of his life.
Losing McCullough for the rest of the season is a huge blow to a Syracuse team that isn't as certain a bet to make the NCAA tournament as usual this season. The Orange (12-4) lost four non-league games and lack enough consistent scoring threats besides forward Rakeem Christmas and sharpshooter Trevor Cooney.
McCullough was the best candidate to emerge as a third scorer, but he has slumped offensively over the past few weeks. He scored at least 10 points in Syracuse's first eight games of the season but has not hit double figures since then, drawing the ire of Jim Boeheim for his shot selection and tentativeness.
"Chris started out great (this year)," Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard after a win over Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. "He played great. Great! Now we can't get him to play bad. We'd like to get him to play bad. That would be a step up from where we are."
In spite of his recent offensive woes, McCullough's length, athleticism and activity make him a disruptive defender in the two-three zone and a capable rebounder. Syracuse will replace him in its starting lineup by inserting forward Tyler Roberson alongside Rakeem Christmas in the frontcourt, but that leaves the Orange without promising options off the bench. DaJuan Coleman is redshirting with an injury and sophomore center Chinoso Obokoh has only played in six games this season.
The only upside for Syracuse is this seems to increase the chances McCullough returns to school for his sophomore season. He had been considered a potential first-round pick next June prior to the injury.
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The most memorable moment from Nebraska's victory over Illinois on Sunday night wasn't a SportsCenter-worthy dunk, a deep 3-pointer or a timely defensive stop.
It was a heartwarming exchange during the postgame news conference between Huskers forward Shavon Shields and the brave seven-year-old son of Nebraska assistant Chris Harriman.
Avery Harriman learned he is now in remission on Saturday after a third battle with leukemia. The Harrimans celebrated by bringing Avery to Sunday's game and encouraging him to participate in Nebraska's postgame locker room celebration and news conference.
He high-fived players and coaches. He reveled at the rare chance to be on TV. And he told reporters with a straight face that his favorite play of the game was "the players doing great."
Avery was initially diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 2 and relapsed in Oct. 2012. Since doctors were unsure chemotherapy would be enough to eliminate all the cancer cells in his body, Avery underwent a bone marrow transplant in Feb. 2013, a high-risk, high-reward procedure that provided him a new immune system to fight the residual leukemia.
The procedure proved effective for more than a year, but in July a biopsy revealed that Avery's cancer had returned and was no longer in remission. Avery underwent chemotherapy and a second bone marrow transplant before learning over the weekend that he is again in remission.
Since Chris Harriman is extremely well liked around college basketball, the former Saint Louis and current Nebraska assistant's son has received great support from coaches across the nation. A signed T-Shirt arrived from the Minnesota staff. Other coaches did the Ice Bucket Challenge in Avery's honor. The entire athletic department at Nebraska signed a giant poster that Avery kept in his hospital room.
Few sacrificed more for Avery than Shields did. The Nebraska forward shaved his head in September in Avery's honor.
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The busiest people in college basketball this weekend were the clean-up crews.
They were the ones who had to pick up all the debris left over from court stormings at the expense of the elite teams that suffered stunning losses.
NC State toppled unbeaten second-ranked Duke. Rutgers shocked shorthanded fourth-ranked Wisconsin. North Carolina edged fifth-ranked Louisville. Oregon State waylaid seventh-ranked Arizona. And Oklahoma State dumped 10th-ranked Texas. The carnage could have been even more widespread had Kentucky and Virginia not rallied for wins, but the top-ranked Wildcats survived at Texas A&M in double overtime on Saturday and the third-ranked Cavaliers outplayed host Notre Dame down the stretch.
Of the five top 10 teams who did lose this weekend, some have more to worry about than others. Here's a look at what the concern level should be for each of the upset victims:
DUKE (lost 87-75 at NC State): On the heels of a game in which Duke shot only 36.9 percent from the floor, the far bigger concern was its defense. The Blue Devils did a poor job stopping dribble penetration, closing out on shooters and defending the paint, enabling NC State to shoot a torrid 55.0 percent. Defense was a season-long issue for Duke last year because the Blue Devils lacked perimeter players who could stay in front of their man or a center capable of cleaning up mistakes and protecting the rim. The arrival of center Jahlil Okafor and perimeter stopper Justise Winslow has improved Duke's defense considerably, but the Blue Devils still rank a modest 48th in points per possession surrendered and still can be susceptible against quick guards off the dribble. An elite offense offsets that to some extent, but as Sunday's loss showed, Duke can still be vulnerable on nights when shots aren't falling. Threat level: Guarded.
WISCONSIN (lost 67-62 at Rutgers): Wisconsin is the clear favorite to win the Big Ten. Rutgers is the obvious choice to finish last in the league. Thus the Scarlet Knights' victory on Sunday was a stunner even if the Badgers were without All-American candidate Frank Kaminsky due to concussion symptoms and lost starting point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot. Many of Wisconsin's issues were at the defensive end as Rutgers shot 66.7 percent in the second half while storming back from a 12-point deficit. The Badgers couldn't stay in front of Myles Mack and Khadeem Jack off the dribble and they had no last line of defense with Kaminsky sidelined. Wisconsin might have overcome Rutgers' torrid second half at full strength, but they lacked their usual firepower without their elite big man and their point guard who's so adept at creating off the dribble in late shot clock situations. Kaminsky should be back soon but Jackson may not be. Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard told CBS Sports Radio in Madison, "I don't think it's good" when asked about Jackson's injury. Threat level: Elevated.
LOUISVILLE (lost 72-71 at North Carolina): Unlike the other elite teams that fell this weekend, Louisville's one-point setback in Chapel Hill on Saturday wasn't a bad loss. Eighteenth-ranked North Carolina came in motivated after a home loss to Notre Dame five days earlier and rallied to edge the Cardinals in the final seconds on a game-winning layup by Marcus Paige. The silver lining for Louisville was guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier both delivering excellent performances in the same game, but there also were some concerns. Montrezl Harrell was underwhelming at both ends. North Carolina dominated the offensive glass as it often does. And Louisville got zero points out of its bench as Shaqquan Aaron, Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang each failed to score and former sixth man Anton Gill didn't even play at all. It's too soon to worry about Harrell's erratic play of late and North Carolina makes a lot of teams look bad on the glass, but the bench scoring is something to watch. Louisville needs more sources of offense because each of its starters are streaky. Threat level: Low.
ARIZONA (lost 58-56 at Oregon State): Sunday's road loss at surprising Oregon State shined a spotlight on why Arizona seems to be operating a notch or two below the level it played at last season. The Wildcats are even more prone to scoring droughts now that go-to threat Nick Johnson has turned pro and they aren't quite as stifling on defense without do-it-all Aaron Gordon blocking shots, defending multiple positions and gobbling up rebounds. Arizona's 21-point first half against Oregon State's 2-3 zone highlighted the scoring issues created when a team doesn't have an outside shooter in its starting lineup. The Wildcats played zone buster Gabe York more in the second half but they uncharacteristically fell apart down the stretch on defense. Malcolm Duvivier beat Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off the dribble, drew a foul and made the layup to put Oregon State up four with less than two minutes to play. Then Langston Walker blew by Stanley Johnson for the game-winning layup a couple possessions later. Arizona still had one last chance but its lack of a go-to threat on offense contributed to a directionless final possession that ended with T.J. McConnell missing a runner at the buzzer. Threat level: Elevated.
TEXAS (lost at Oklahoma State 69-58): So much for the return of leading scorer Isaiah Taylor solving the scoring woes that cropped up for Texas from time to time during non-league play. The Longhorns were inept in a blowout home loss to Oklahoma and only slightly better on Saturday in shooting 34.4 percent from the floor in Stillwater. Typically consistent Jonathan Holmes followed up a 2-for-9 game against the Sooners by missing all 10 of his shots against the Cowboys. Taylor continued to shoot poorly from the field and is still working his way back to his previous form. And Texas' bevy of post players were not effective scoring in the paint as only Myles Turner had a decent game and much of his production was from the perimeter. Texas also wasn't great keeping Phil Forte and LeBryan Nash in check, but defense isn't the primary concern for this group. The reason the Longhorns have lost three of five and have not lived up to expectations for the past few weeks is that they're having too hard a time scoring. Threat level: Elevated.
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Any enthusiasm Syracuse generated by outclassing Florida State on Sunday night was overshadowed by concern over the potentially serious knee injury Chris McCullough suffered midway through the first half.
McCullough's right knee appeared to buckle as he planted it attempting to catch a pass from teammate Michael Gbinije in transition. The highly touted freshman forward did not return to the Syracuse bench in the second half and will undergo tests to determine the severity of the injury on Monday.
A prolonged absence for McCullough would be a huge blow to Syracuse even though the 6-foot-10 New York native has slumped offensively over the past few weeks.
McCullough's length, athleticism and activity makes him a disruptive defender in the two-three zone and a capable rebounder. He scored at least 10 points in Syracuse's first eight games of the season but has not hit double figures since then, a product of erratic shot selection, tentativeness and an inability to finish at the rim.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was hard on McCullough even when the freshman was playing well, telling reporters he had a better chance of winning the lottery than McCullough had of being selected in the lottery in next June's NBA draft. The criticism has only gotten more scathing as McCullough's production and playing time has tapered off.
"Chris started out great (this year)," Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard after a win over Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. "He played great. Great! Now we can't get him to play bad. We'd like to get him to play bad. That would be a step up from where we are."
The problem for Syracuse is that it needs McCullough in spite of his inconsistency because there aren't better options behind him. Tyler Roberson would be the obvious choice to enter the starting lineup alongside Rakeem Christmas in the frontcourt, but that leaves the Orange without promising options off the bench as DaJuan Coleman is redshirting with an injury and sophomore center Chinoso Obokoh has only played in six games this season.
Syracuse isn't as certain a bet for the NCAA tournament as usual this season as the Orange (12-4) lost four non-league games before exploiting a soft early ACC schedule to start 3-0 in league play.
A formidable defense has helped offset an erratic offense lacking threats besides Christmas and Trevor Cooney. McCullough had the potential to reemerge as Syracuse's third scorer, but now there's a chance the Orange will need to find someone else to fill that role.
Video of McCullough's injury:
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Yes, it was a road game in conference play. Yes, national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky sat out with a concussion. Yes, starting point guard Traevon Jackson missed most of the second half with a foot injury.
None of that is a sufficient excuse for fourth-ranked Wisconsin blowing a 12-point halftime lead en route to a stunning 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Sunday night.
The Scarlet Knights (10-7) had never beaten a top-five opponent in program history previously, and this season certainly didn't appear to be the year in which that streak would end. Among the seven games Rutgers has dropped already this season are home losses to Northwestern by four, St. Francis (Pa.) by five and St. Peter's by 18.
The difference between the Scarlet Knights team that suffered those losses and Sunday's edition was that Rutgers shot out of its mind against a Wisconsin defense ranked 14th in the nation in points per possession allowed. Guard Myles Mack torched the Badgers for 21 points including four second-half threes and forward Khadeem Jack exploited his quickness advantage in the paint to add 20 points of his own as the Scarlet Knights shot 54.3 percent for the game and 66.7 percent after halftime.
A healthy Wisconsin team probably overcomes Rutgers' torrid shooting, but the Badgers aren't as potent without their top scoring threat in Kaminsky and the guard who creates best off the dribble in late shot clock situations in Jackson. They settled for too many jumpers, missed too many free throws and went nearly six minutes without a point late in the second half, enabling Rutgers to reel off 10 straight points to take a 60-53 lead on a Jack layup with just over three minutes to go.
Late threes by Hayes and Koenig gave Wisconsin life but Mack and Jack made enough big plays down the stretch to prevent the Badgers from ever having a shot to tie or take the lead. And when Hayes missed a three that would have trimmed Wisconsin's deficit to one with 14 seconds left, the Rutgers bench began to celebrate and its students started preparing for a rare court storming.
The upset is what will dominate headlines until Monday morning, but this outcome will probably be remembered as a fluke a month or two from now rather than the start of a slide. After all, Wisconsin lost at home to Northwestern last January and still recovered to advance to Bo Ryan's first Final Four two months later.
Of greater long-term concern for the Badgers is the health of Jackson, a steadying influence at point guard and one of the team's few proven creators off the dribble. Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard told CBS Sports Radio in Madison, "I don't think it's good" when asked about Jackson's injury after the game.
Wisconsin's loss ends a weekend of upheaval for college basketball's elite teams. Fifth-ranked Louisville fell at North Carolina. Second-ranked Duke endured a stunning 12-point loss at NC State. Top-ranked Kentucky needed double overtime to survive at Texas A&M. Only Virginia looked the part in coming from behind to win at Notre Dame.
Even with a short-handed roster, Wisconsin's loss is the most stunning of all. The Badgers entered Big Ten play as the league favorite and Rutgers could be the worst team in the conference, but for one night at the RAC, none of that mattered.
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Even after being thrown from his wheelchair during the court storming that followed NC State's upset of Duke two years ago, Will Privette always insisted he'd do it again if he ever had the chance.
On Sunday, Privette proved it.
The infamous wheelchair court stormer again was at the center of the crush of NC State fans who flooded the PNC Arena floor after the Wolfpack's stunning 87-75 victory over second-ranked Duke. The only thing Privette appeared to do differently exercise a bit more caution rather than leading the rush of NC State students himself.
Privette's latest court storming comes about two years after he became a cult hero on the NC State campus when he was nearly trampled at mid-court before forward C.J. Leslie carried him to safety. He gained thousands of Twitter followers, inspired new T-shirt designs and fielded dozens of calls and texts from friends, family members and local and national media.
"My phone flew out of my hand. My glasses flew off my face," Privette told Yahoo Sports in Jan. 2013. "Of course, the first thing I worried about was getting my phone back instead of protecting myself. But that got lost in the sea of people, so then I started to worry about myself. And that's when C.J. came in and saved the day. He saw me, realized what was going on and he started screaming, 'Back up. Back up' and pushing everyone out of the way. He reached out and pulled me up. We just started jumping up and down. I swear he held me for about two minutes before he put me back in my chair."
Thankfully, Sunday's court storming was far less harrowing for Privette. He shot video of himself, snapped some photos and reveled in another monumental NC State upset.
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It shouldn't be a surprise that No. 2 Duke lost for the first time this season in the same building, albeit against a different team, where it's season ended unexpectedly last season in the NCAA tournament against 13th-seeded Mercer. PNC Arena in Raleigh has been a place where the Blue Devils' dreams go to die lately.
The latest nightmare performance by the Blue Devils left only two undefeated teams in Division I college basketball -- Kentucky and Virginia.
NC State guards Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner made sure of its Sunday in a 87-75 victory. Lacey was the star, outshining Duke's fabulous freshman Jahlil Okafor and helping the Wolfpack take over the game in the second half.
Lacey scored 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting and made five 3-pointers. Turner added four 3-pointers and finished the game with 16 points. The Wolfpack scored 50 points in the final 20 minutes allowing their fans to storm the court and celebrate another upset over their hated rival down the road in Durham.
North Carolina State upset Duke here two years ago when the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Blue Devils have lost four of their past five games in the building, including the upset by Mercer that ended last season.
After falling behind by 19 at one point, Duke made a run and cut the lead to eight. Okafor finished the game with 23 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks but he didn't get a lot of help from the Duke backcourt. Quinn Cook scored 18 points but Matt Jones and Tyus Jones combined to make just two of 14 field goals.
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Only one thing could make John Dick more excited about Monday's national title game pitting his beloved Oregon Ducks against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
He wishes his dad were alive to see it.
In 1939, Dick's father was Oregon's leading scorer when the Ducks defeated Ohio State in the first NCAA tournament title game. Dick believes his father would have enjoyed the coincidence of Oregon and Ohio State meeting again in the title game of the first college football playoff.
"I'm sad that my dad's not here to see it," Dick said. "We went to the title game where Oregon lost to Cam Newton and Auburn [in 2011]. He would have made it to this one somehow too if he were still alive. I think the Ohio State thing would have really tickled him. He would have really loved that."
The elder John Dick was the last surviving starter from Oregon's 1939 "Tall Firs" basketball team when he died at age 92 in Sept. 2011. Were he still alive today, he might indeed chuckle at the familiar matchup on Monday night ... and at how little else the two title games share in common.
The hastily planned inaugural NCAA tournament was such an unknown that media coverage was scant, ticket sales were slow and some teams even turned down invitations because they preferred to rest after a long season. The inaugural college football playoff has been such a rousing success that the two semifinals were the most-watched shows in U.S. cable TV history and Monday's title game might eclipse them both.
To further illustrate the dissimilarities between the two Oregon-Ohio State championship games, below is an infographic comparing and contrasting the two. Thanks to John Dick and Terry Frei, author of March 1939: Before the Madness, for chatting with me earlier this week and helping me corroborate some of the data.
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Leaving a pull-up jump shot three feet short somehow turned out to be a fortunate break for Texas guard Demarcus Holland on Saturday.
It enabled Holland to follow his own shot, pluck the ball out of the air and score an easy layup before any of Oklahoma State's flat-footed defenders had time to react.
Holland's unusual first-half basket had everyone from Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, to Cowboys fans, to ESPN's broadcast crew calling for a traveling violation to be called, but referees probably were correct to allow the basket. In all levels of basketball besides the NBA, a player can be the first to touch his own air ball as long as referees rule it a legitimate shot attempt.
The National Federation of High Schools rulebook addresses such situations specifically, explaining that a player who recovers his own air ball isn't committing a violation because his control of the ball ended after he released his initial shot. Only if the referees had determined Holland's intent was to pass to himself should he have been called for traveling.
If it seems far-fetched that Holland could miss a short pull-up jumper so badly, consider how out of rhythm Texas' offense has been lately. The 10th-ranked Longhorns followed up a horrendous 70-49 home loss to Oklahoma on Monday night by shooting 34.4 percent at Oklahoma State in a 69-58 defeat.
Holland's 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting was a bright spot for Texas, but it was his air ball-turned-layup that will be discussed most.
Call it an embarrassing shot and a good hustle play. Call it a crafty alley-oop pass to himself. Regardless of what Holland was trying to do, it resulted in Saturday's most bizarre basket.
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Kansas State sophomore guard Marcus Foster was back in the starting lineup Saturday on the road at Oklahoma and what he did at the end of the Wildcats' 66-63 victory more than validated that decision.
Foster made a floater at the end of regulation to force overtime against the16th-ranked Sooners and drained a pull-up 3-pointer to win the game with 4.1 seconds left in overtime. It was quite a turnaround for a player who was benched just two games ago when he was underperforming and seemed to be angry about his minutes at Oklahoma State
Foster finished the game with 14 points, hardly a groundbreaking scoring night, but he played through mistakes and foul trouble and kept his confidence. It paid off down the stretch when his team needed him most.
Getting Foster gliding in a more confident groove is a must for coach Bruce Weber and the Wildcats if they're going to have any hope of putting a rough start to the season behind them and find a way to push their way into the Big 12 Conference race and possible the NCAA Tournament. This is a team with seven losses already and not much room to absorb many more losses the rest of the way while playing in what might be the toughest conference in the nation this season.
It was only the third win in a true road game for Kansas State since the start of last season and it's the first victory on the road over a ranked team for coach Bruce Weber in his tenure with the Wildcats.
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