No great teams this season … isn’t that great?

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Ohio State would beg to differ, but there’s a growing sentiment among college hoops observers that it’s a down year for the sport.

I first heard Jay Bilas articulate that point on the radio, but it’s also the focus of Seth Davis’ latest Hoop Thoughts coluymn over at SI.com. Guessing it’s going to gain even more traction now.

Maybe he has a point. When 13 Top 25 teams and half of the Top 10 loses in a 48-hour window, there’s plenty of room for criticism. Duke lost. UConn lost. Same with ‘Nova, BYU and Syracuse. Ouch.

Then there’s the would-be contenders – Michigan State, Kansas State, Gonzaga, Illinois, Butler, Baylor, Memphis, Temple, Va Tech and Tennessee – who started the year in the Top 25 but aren’t even sniffing the rankings anymore.

And there’s more. From Davis’s column:

This season, we’re also witnessing an unusual circumstance in which three power conferences are in the throes of major down cycles. The Pac-10 sent two teams to the NCAA tournament last year, and the league is only marginally better now. The SEC West is so bad that not a single team is currently ranked in the top 80 of the RPI. And as I’ve said before, in two-plus decades of covering this sport I have never seen the ACC this lousy. North Carolina re-appeared in this week’s poll, but Florida State dropped out — so the conference still hasn’t had more than two teams ranked since the preseason poll. Most of the time Duke has been the only ranked team from the ACC. (Then again, maybe we should stop looking at the polls to figure out who’s good.)

As a result, the transitive property no longer applies. Texas can lose at USC and then win at Kansas. Tennessee, which should be this movie’s poster child, can win at Villanova and Pitt (at the Consol Energy Center) and lose to College of Charleston and Charlotte. Louisville loses at home to Drexel but beats UConn on the road. Providence loses to LaSalle but beats Louisville and Villanova. Auburn loses to Samford, Campbell and Presbyterian, but it beats Florida State, which later beats Duke. What, you didn’t know Presbyterian was better than Duke? And on Sunday, St. John’s (which lost to Fordham) blew out Duke.

Seth is right! This game’s terrible! Everyone sucks! Let’s burn this motha down!

There’s a flip side to this. Last season when everyone and their mother was picking Kansas to win it all (some tabbed Kentucky) and the Jayhawks lost in the second round, it was hailed – properly – as a great thing for the tournament because it opened everything up.

You know the rest: Cornell shot its way into the books, Murray State delighted, St. Mary’s was a media delight and Butler reached the title game, charming America along the way.

(And I should note at least one person said it was impossible for Duke to win.)

This is still possible. Yes, there’s some bad basketball going on. No arguing that. But there’s also a chance the Big Dance is a wonderfully wide-open event, filled with entertaining games, upsets, uplifting storylines and teams who can steal our hearts.

Or maybe Ohio State will just win it all.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

VIDEO: Shane Richards’ shot lifts shorthanded Manhattan

Shane Richards
Associated Press
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Thanks to injuries and the departure of Jermaine Lawrence, the beginning of the season has been difficult for Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers. Entering Wednesday’s game against George Mason, which was coming off of a surprising run to the Charleston Classic title game, with just six available players the Jaspers looked to pick up their first win of the season.

And Manhattan was successful, with a Shane Richards three-point play with 1.1 seconds remaining being the difference in their 69-67 win at Draddy Gymnasium. Below is video of the game-winning play, courtesy of Manhattan Athletics.

Richards (13 points) was one of three Jaspers to reach double figures, with Rich Williams leading the way with 26 points and nine rebounds and Thomas Capuano adding 14 points. What also helped the Jaspers was the fact that they forced 25 George Mason, converting those opportunities into 24 points.

Not sure if Manhattan and George Mason are due to play again next season, but the last two meetings have produced dramatic outcomes. The Patriots won last year’s game in Fairfax on a Jalen Jenkins’ 75-footer as time expired.

Video credit: Manhattan Athletics

UNLV hangs on for 72-69 win over No. 13 Indiana

Tom Crean
AP Photo
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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) UNLV answered every run by Indiana, and the Runnin’ Rebels were able to hang through the frantic final seconds for a 72-69 victory over the 13th-ranked Hoosiers on Wednesday.

The game had the intensity of a February conference matchup and just enough mistakes to make sure it was November.

“One of the reasons we came to Maui, other than it was exciting for our fans, was to play against the best,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “See how we match up. See where we’re good. See where our deficiencies are, and now we’ll have all next week to practice.”

Patrick McCaw had 20 points for the Runnin’ Rebels (5-1), who bounced back from their opening loss to UCLA with wins over Chaminade and the Hoosiers (4-2), who leave Hawaii with just one win in three games.

“This is a test,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “The eight teams walking out of here, no matter what, in three days are getting tested. All right? Even if the champion tonight blows through it, whoever the champion is, they’re still getting tested because you’re playing three games in three days against very high level competition.”

Indiana trailed by 15 points in the first half and turned on some solid defense to get back in the game. The Hoosiers closed to 55-53 with 8:20 to play. The Runnin’ Rebels then went on a 12-1 spurt, with McCaw scoring seven of the points, including a run-closing 3.

“Coming in, we knew since Indiana is a great offensive team, we really had to lock down and play defense,” Ike Nwamu said. “It was really paramount for us to execute defensively.”

The Hoosiers weren’t done. They got within three points twice in the final 30 seconds. The first time was on a dunk by Thomas Bryant off a tremendous pass from a flying Yogi Ferrell. UNLV’s Jerome Seagears made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 13 seconds left to make it 72-67.

Max Bielfeldt’s drive for Indiana with 7.5 seconds remaining provided the final margin, but the game was far from over.

Nwamu missed two free throws with 7.1 seconds left, and Indiana gave the ball back to UNLV on a 5-second count on the inbounds. UNLV then threw the ball away on an inbounds pass. Nick Zeisloft’s 3-point attempt was partially blocked by Ben Carter, and Nwamu was fouled on the rebound. He missed both free throws with .8 seconds left, but all Indiana could get off was a heave that was well short.

“I knew my man set the screen. I knew they were looking for a 3,” Carter said of the blocked shot. “I saw Pat was trailing his man a little bit, so I knew I had to help. Luckily I was able to get the tip on the ball and it was a pivotal play.”

Crean said he wouldn’t change the play.

“That was excellent. They made an athletic play. But he did a good job taking the shot,” Crean said.

Carter and Nwamu had 16 points apiece for UNLV, and Seagears added 12.

“These kind of games, it’s so much about momentum,” Rice said. “It’s about a big stop here, a big basket here. We always focus on what happens at the end of the game. And that’s obviously critically important. … It’s an entire game. That’s why we focus on it’s every play throughout the course of 40 minutes.”

Zeisloft led the Hoosiers, who lost to Wake Forest in the final seconds in their opener, with 17 points, and James Blackmon Jr. had 13. Indiana had 21 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Runnin’ Rebels.

“We got ourselves in a hole at the beginning with our turnovers, and you’re not going to beat any type of team, let alone one as talented as UNLV, when you’re giving them 22 points,” Crean said. “It’s unacceptable with the guys that have the ball in their hands for us to be giving the ball that way, and we’ve got to get that fixed. We really do, or we’ve got to fix the lineup.”