2/14 – College Hoops Week in Review: I hope you remembered Valentine’s Day

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Game of the Week: Wisconsin 71, Ohio State 67

Jordan Taylor provided us with the most exciting 13 minutes of basketball this season on Saturday. With Wisconsin down 47-32 after Ohio State went on a 21-6 run, the no-longer-underrated Taylor caught fire. He scored on a tough drive. Two possessions later, he knocked down a three to get the lead to ten. On Wisconsin’s next possession, he buried another three to cut Ohio State’s lead to seven. After two Mike Bruesewitz free throws and another jumper from Taylor, the Badger’s point guard found freshman John Gasser for a three that tied the game with 9:46 left.

All told, the nation’s slowest team had erased a 15 point deficit on the nation’s No. 1 team in 3:30. Aaron Craft did his best to keep Ohio State in the lead, scoring six of the Buckeye’s next eight points as they opened up a four point lead, but Taylor had the answer. He hit a three, found Mike Bruesewitz for a three, and found Keaton Nankivil for a jumper to put Wisconsin ahead, then he capped the run with a three pointer of his own with 5:34 left in the game as the Badgers went up 60-55.

Taylor finished with 27 points and seven assists, accounting for all but six points and three assists in the final 13 minutes of the game. The court was stormed, Ohio State suffered their first loss of the season, and Taylor was Rudy’d.

Florida 61, Tennessee 60: It seems like every game played in the SEC East is a close game with an exciting finish. Florida, however, has proven to be the best in the conference at winning those close games, which is why they are currently sitting at 9-2 in the league with a two game lead. In this one, the Gators overcame a 35-29 half time deficit, winning on a tough, driving layup by Erving Walker with 14 seconds left.

Duke 79, UNC 73: Like the Wisconsin-Ohio State game, Duke-UNC didn’t have a great finish, but it was quite entertaining nonetheless. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 43-27 lead in the first half, but Duke led an entertaining rally in the second half, as Seth Curry and Nolan Smith combined for 40 points after the break.

Wild finishes:

  • Colorado 58, Kansas State 56: Down by two with 1.1 seconds left, Rodney McGruder hit what appeared to be a game-winning three at the buzzer. But after the refs reviewed the shot, it was obvious it came after the buzzer:
  • Pitt 57, Villanova 54: Villanova had the same thing happen. The Wildcats managed to force a couple of turnovers to get back into the game, finally cutting the lead to just three on an Antonio Pena three. After another Pitt turnover, Dominic Cheek missed a three, but the rebound was kicked out to Maalik Wayns, who hit a three one second after the buzzer expired and about thirty seconds after McGruder’s three was waved off.
  • Rutgers 77, Villanova 76: That wasn’t the only tough loss that Villanova suffered this week. Against Rutgers, the Wildcats blew a 13 points lead with five minutes left and an eight point lead with 1:50 of the block. But thanks to some hot shooting by the Scarlet Knights, they were able to get back into it. Down three, Jonathon Mitchell hit a three and was fouled with 0.8 seconds left.
  • Rhode Island 71, Charlotte 70 OT: The Rams overcame a 40-23 second half deficit to force overtime, and in the extra frame Jamal Wilson, who had 11 points on the season coming in, scored on a put back at the buzzer to win the game.
  • Green Bay 63, Illinois-Chicago 61 OT: Robo Kreps hit a floater at the buzzer to win a Horizon League game back on Thursday, but wait for the 1:10 mark and listen to the announcer’s reaction. You’ll laugh.

Players of the Week: I don’t generally like giving out ties with the Weekly Awards, but four players this week gave such impressive performances, I really had no choice:

Norris Cole, Cleveland State: Cole had the line of the year so far this season, going for 41 points, 20 boards, nine assists, and three steal in a win over Youngstown State. The only other player in the last 15 years to have a 40-20 games was Blake Griffin, who had 40 points and 23 boards against Texas Tech. In a loss on Monday, Cole added 27 points, six assists, and seven boards.

John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Jenkins was terrific in Vandy’s two big wins over Alabama and Kentucky. On Tuesday against the Crimson Tide, he finished with 20 points on 5-11 shooting, but his better performance came on Saturday. With Jeff Taylor struggling, Jenkins picked up the slack, going for a career-high 32 points on 11-17 shooting while hitting six threes, many of them closely contested.

Nolan Smith, Duke: Smith has been a catalyst for the Blue Devils all season long, but never was that more evident than this week. He sparked Duke in the second half of their 81-71 road win over Miami on Sunday, finishing with 18 points and five assists despite sitting out a long stretch of the first half after being poked in the eye. On Wednesday, he scored 22 of his 34 points in the second half as Duke rallied from 16 down to knock off North Carolina.

Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin: We’ve already talked plenty about Taylor’s play against Ohio State, both in this post and from the write-ups on Saturday. Taylor averaged 21.5 ppg and 7.5 apg in two wins this week, including 21 points and four assists during Wisconsin’s comeback from 15 points down in the last 13 minutes against Ohio State.

The all-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: Hardy has been on fire of late, and it continued this week. The senior guard has scored at least 25 points in three of his last five games, including a 33 point outburst in the Johnnie’s win over UConn. He followed that up with 18 points in a win at Cincinnati. Hardy was 9-15 from three on the week.
  • G: Ramone Moore, Temple: Moore has become Temple’s start, averaging 15.0 ppg on the season. This week, he led the Owls to two wins, including a 12 point win at Dayton, by averaging 24.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 3.5 apg.
  • F: Draymond Green, Michigan State: Have the Spartans finally turned a corner this season? The optimists say yes, and Green is a big reason why, as he notched a 15 point, 14 rebound, 10 assist triple-double in an 18 point rout of Penn State.
  • F: Justin Harper, Richmond: In wins over GW and St. Louis this week, Harper averaged 21.0 ppg and 9.0 rpg, while shooting 14-21 from the floor and 6-10 from three.
  • C: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue: Johnson averaged 19.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg in two wins this week for the Boilermakers.
  • Bench: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota (20.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg in two games this week); Reggie Jackson, Boston College (29.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 22-36 FG, 8-16 3PT); Kyle Kuric, Louisville (25.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 18-29 FG, 9-14 3PT); Malcolm Lee, UCLA (22.0 ppg in a 2-0 week); Erving Walker, Florida (20.5 ppg, game-winner versus Tennessee)

Team of the Week: Xavier Musketeers

The Muskies did a lot this week. They took over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10. They put themselves into prime position for an at-large berth. And they did it by winning on the road despite not getting great performances out of Tu Holloway.

On Tuesday, X went into Athens and knocked off Georgia 65-57. Holloway led four players in double figures with 18 points, but he didn’t score until there were five minutes gone in the second half. Instead, it was the play of Mark Lyons and Dante Jackson that kept Xavier in it until Holloway was able to take the game over. On Sunday, Xavier got 20 from Holloway, 19 out of Dante Jackson, and 12 points and 12 boards from Kenny Frease as they went into Pittsburgh and knocked off Duquesne, who they were tied for first place in the conference with.

Xavier still has some work to do this season. A couple of ugly early losses on their resume hurt, and the Muskies have shown they are plenty capable of losing to a team like Charlotte in league play. But it seems as if Xavier is, once again, peaking at the right time. Give credit where credit is due — this coaching job by Chris Mack, overcoming the injuries and ineligibilities that he has had to deal with, is as good as any in the country.

Also impressive this week:

  • Wisconsin and Purdue: As we mentioned earlier, the Badgers handed Ohio State their first loss of the season. They also knocked off Iowa on the road earlier in the week. The Boilermakers had an impressive win of their own on Sunday, going into Champaign and beating Illinois. They also knocked off Indiana on Tuesday in a rivalry game. It sets up a battle for second place in the conference on Wednesday, as these two teams are tied for second place, two games behind Ohio State.
  • St. John’s: On Thursday, the Johnnies once again proved their home court dominance with a 17 point win over UConn, their fourth impressive home win in the last five week. Then on Sunday, they went into Cincinnati and knocked off the Bearcats, landing a huge bubble victory and proving themselves capable of winning on the road.
  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores went a long way towards asserting themselves as the second best team in the SEC East. Not only did they hand Alabama their first loss against the SEC East on Tuesday, they outlasted Kentucky 81-77 at home on Saturday afternoon.
  • Pitt: Playing without the injured Ashton Gibbs, the Panthers notched two very tough road wins, knocking off West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl and then beating in state rival Villanova. The Panthers are looking more and more like the best “team” in the country.
  • Georgetown: If you didn’t know yet, the Hoyas are the hottest team in the country and officially back from the slump they had to start Big East play. On Wednesday, they went into the Carrier Dome and beat hated-rival Syracuse before coming home to knock off a scrappy Marquette team. The Hoyas are doing it with defense, as they have now won eight in a row.
  • Duke: The Blue Devils are well on their way to erasing all memories of the humiliating defeat they suffered at the hands of St. John’s. Since that loss, Duke has won four straight, including road wins at Miami and Maryland and Wednesday’s rivalry matchup with North Carolina.
  • Kansas: There is not a team in the country playing better basketball on the offensive end then Kansas. On Monday, they beat Missouri by 17 despite the Tigers scoring 86 on points on 51.7% shooting, putting all five starters in double figures, and turning the ball over eight times. Then on Saturday, the Jayhawks beat Iowa State by 23 despite allowing the Cyclones to knock down 14 threes.
  • Old Dominion: The Monarchs won two road games this week to remain two games behind George Mason in the CAA standings, beating William & Mary and VCU, who was tied for first with the Patriots.
  • Murray State: The Racers claimed sole possession of first place in the OVC with wins over Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State this week.
  • Valpo: The Crusaders can now claim a one game lead in the loss column of the Horizon League thanks to wins over Wright State and Detroit and a loss by Cleveland State to Detroit.
  • Montana: After losing to Weber State and Northern Arizona last week on the road, the Grizzlies came home to knock off Sacramento State and then pull into a tie for first with Northern Colorado thanks to a win on Saturday.

Matchups of the Week:

  • 2/14 – 7:00 pm: West Virginia @ Syracuse
  • 2/14 – 9:00 pm: Kansas @ Kansas State
  • 2/15 – 7:00 pm: GMU @ VCU
  • 2/15 – 9:00 pm: Michigan State @ Ohio State
  • 2/16 – 6:30 pm: Wisconsin @ Purdue
  • 2/16 – 7:00 pm: Georgetown @ UConn
  • 2/17 – 7:00 pm: Richmond @ Temple
  • 2/18 – 9:00 pm: UConn @ Louisville
  • 2/19 – 12:00 pm: Pitt @ St. John’s
  • 2/19 – 1:00 pm: Notre Dame @ West Virginia
  • 2/19 – 6:00 pm: Washington @ Arizona
  • 2/19 – 9:00 pm: Utah State @ St. Mary’s
  • 2/20 – 1:00 pm: Ohio State @ Purdue
  • 2/18-2/20: Bracket Busters

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.