Tennessee’s late game execution is what has cost them wins, not just Melvin Goins

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On Saturday, Tennessee fell to 5-5 in the SEC with a 61-60 loss to Florida, putting them three games off of the Gator’s pace with just six left to play.

Bruce Pearl has his theories as to why the teams is struggling — point guard play:

“We have to have better point guard play, so there could be some changes,” Pearl said. “Right now, it’s Melvin Goins and Trae Golden. It could have to be Skylar McBee or Josh Bone. That could be in the cards against South Carolina.”

Agree or disagree, he has a point. Goins has handed out just two assists in the past three games.

But that may not be the Vols’ biggest problem this season. Tennessee has lost their last three games, but pinning fault on Goins, who was never a great playmaker to begin with, isn’t necessarily right. (Although, after a last second loss to Florida, Pearl said that Goins didn’t run the play he called on the final possession, which is a bigger issue.)

Looking at Tennessee’s schedule, they have not been blown out all that often. In fact, there have been eight games in which Tennessee had the ball on their final possession with either a chance to tie or a chance to win the game. They’ve only won two — against Belmont and at Georgia, on a bucket that looked like an obvious over-the-back on Brian Williams.

I went back and watched the tape of all eight of Tennessee’s game-deciding possessions:

  • 12/17 – Charlotte 49, Tennessee 48: Charlotte scores with 7.4 seconds left in the game to go up one. Tennessee inbounds the ball and pushes the other way, but Cameron Tatum gets stopped just across half court. Pearl uses a timeout with 3.3 seconds left. The play they run on the inbounds is Tatum hits Williams a good 30 feet from the basket. He then runs off Williams, who hands the ball to Tatum for a 35 footer at the buzzer and hits nothing but back board.
  • 12/21 – USC 65, Tennessee 64: Maurice Jones misses a tough runner with 12 seconds left on the clock. Pearl doesn’t want to use a timeout, so Melvin Goins pushes the other way. He gives it back to Cam Tatum who is trapped and forced to call a timeout just over half court with 3.5 seconds left. The play that is called is for Tobias Harris, who sets a flare screen and cuts to the top of the key. The defender doesn’t bite, which forces Harris to catch the ball 40 feet from the basket. He takes to hard, right-handed dribbles and misses a pull-up three from 25 feet on the right wing off the back iron.
  • 12/23 – Tennessee 66, Belmont 65: Scotty Hopson gets isolated on the right wing 25 feet from the rim. He catches and immediately drives right. He beats his man with two dribbles and gets all the way to the rim for a finger roll with 5.7 seconds left. Tennessee gets a stop and holds on for the win.
  • 1/8 – Arkansas 68, Tennessee 65: The Vols get the ball after a missed free throw with 19 seconds left. Tony Jones (Bruce Pearl is suspended at this point) has no timeouts left, so Melvin Goins brings the ball up. He dribbles the clock out, trying to penetrate, before hitting John Fields in the paint. Fields nearly loses the ball before kicking it back out to Goins. Goins is swarmed, and as the clock is running out he hits Tobias Harris in the corner, who is wide open. But there isn’t much time left as Harris rushes a three (its questionable whether he even got it off in time) and sends an airball long.
  • 1/13 – Florida 81, Tennessee 75 OT: At the end of regulation, Tennessee has the ball with timeouts available and six more seconds on the game clock than the shot clock. Goins dribbles out the clock before hitting Hopson on the left wing. Hopson immediately has two defenders run at him, so he dumps the ball down to Brian Williams on the left block. Williams fades and shoots a baby hook, but he leaves enough space for Alex Tyus to block the shot. Florida gains control, and calls a timeout for a chance to win. Obviously, the game ended up going to overtime.
  • 1/18 – Tennessee 59, Georgia 57: Tennessee has the ball on the final possession. Hopson is isolated on the left wing. He drives middle, draws a defender, and kicks the ball out to Goins. Goins then drives middle, but has no space. Harris manages to free himself in the corner. He airballs a three, but Williams grabs the offensive rebound and puts the ball back in. Williams looks like he goes over the Georgia defenders back, but no call is made. Tennessee wins at the buzzer.
  • 2/5 – Alabama 65, Tennessee 60 OT: At the end of regulation, after forcing a turnover, Tennessee calls a timeout just over half court. The ball they design is a isolation for Harris of the left block. Skylar McBee throws the entry pass. Harris is immediately double teamed. He kicks the ball out to McBee who swings it to Goins at the top of the key. Goins takes a 23 foot, contested three off the catch, but misses. Williams misses a tip-in, and the Vols lost in overtime.
  • 2/12 – Florida 61, Tennessee 60: After Erving Walker drives and finishes a tough, left-handed layup over the Vol defense with 17 seconds left, Bruce Pearl opts against using a timeout. Instead, he calls for a high screen and roll between Goins and Harris. Goins comes off the screen, but there is no space. So he steps back and takes a contested three. He misses as time expires, and the Vols once again lost a winnable game late.

You can blame Goins if you would like, but in eight situations where Tennessee had a chance to win a game or force overtime on their final possession, they managed to get one good shot — maybe two, if you think Harris shooting a three from the corner a good shot.

Granted, some of that has to fall onto Goins’ shoulders. He’s the point guard, he’s the playmaker, and he had the ball in his hands in a number of those late game situations. But some of it falls on Pearl’s and Jones’ shoulders as well. Part of the lack of late game execution is a lack of late game coaching and poor play design.

Regardless of what you believe or who you want to blame, Tennessee’s inability to execute late in games is what has cost them this season. They could easily be 8-2 or 9-1 in the SEC right now, with two wins over the Florida Gators.

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

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

Kansas went on an 11-0 run in the second half, forcing four Purdue turnovers during that stretch. Once the Boilermakers finally got back on the board, the Jayhawks led 69-56. That run broke open the game en route to the 32-point victory.

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan ended his season — and perhaps, his college career — with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.

Jordan Mathews three sends No. 1 seed Gonzaga past No. 4 West Virginia

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Jordan Mathews hit a three with less than a minute left and West Virginia missed a pair of threes on the final possession of the game as No. 1 seed Gonzaga won a dogfight, 61-58, over No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Mathews, who finished with 13 points on the night, spent 4:30 on the bench before checking into the game right before hitting the eventual game-winning three. It came on a possession fitting of this game, which was the embodiment of the mantra ‘a close game is not always a good game.’ Nigel Williams-Goss, who played arguably his worst game as a member of the Zags, turned the ball over immediately after gathering a defensive rebound. But West Virginia’s Nathan Adrian had a shot blocked at the rim and, after corralling the loose ball, Williams-Goss found Mathews open in the wing for a three that put the Zags up 60-58 with 37 seconds left.

What’s going to be talked about after this game is the final possession for West Virginia.

Jevon Carter, who finished with 21 points and who, prior to that final possession, continued to hit big jumper after big jumper for the Mountaineers, airballed a three and, after West Virginia gathered the rebound, threw up another tough three that bounced off the front rim. West Virginia again got the loose ball, and after Carter dribbled 15 seconds off the block, he gave the ball up to Daxter Miles, who didn’t have enough time to get the shot off:

That possession is going to haunt Carter for a long, long time, and West Virginia was rightfully criticized for the way that they “executed” on that possession — I wonder if Bob Huggins regrets not saving a timeout for the end of the game — but it’s impossible to criticize West Virginia without also mentioning that Gonzaga’s defense was as good as it gets.

Not just just on that possession, either.

The Zags made life difficult for West Virginia all night long, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to this Gonzaga team. West Virginia shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 5-for-23 from three, and if it wasn’t for the 20 offensive rebounds they grabbed — more than the 16 field goals they made on the night — Gonzaga would have walked out of the SAP Center with a comfortable win. They are, quite literally, the best defensive team in college basketball, according to KenPom, and they made the plays they needed to make down the stretch to get the win. That’s what championship-caliber teams do.

And if you still don’t believe that Gonzaga can win a national title this season, than I’m not sure what else you need to see.

West Virginia was a terrible matchup for Gonzaga. Their guards, as good as they’ve been all season long, are not cut out for playing against a back court that is that much tougher, that much quicker, that much more aggressive and that much more athletic than them. Williams-Goss, who was a second-team NBC Sports All-American, was exposed. He finished the evening 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just a single assist before finding Mathews for the game-winning three. As a team, Gonzaga turned the ball over 16 times. Josh Perkins didn’t even get a shot off. Silas Melson was 2-for-7 from the floor. Throw in Zach Collins, who had just a single point, and four of Gonzaga’s top seven players were flat out bad on Thursday night.

That was, unequivocally, a game played the way West Virginia wanted it to be played. The Mountaineers controlled the game.

And yet, Gonzaga is still headed to the Elite 8, one game — against the winner of No. 2 Arizona and No. 11 Xavier — away from the right to go to the Final Four.

The knock on this Gonzaga team was their toughness, both physical and mental. Would they be able to handle a team that plays the way that West Virginia plays? Would they be able to handle the game pressure of playing to the final possession in the Sweet 16?

The answer is yes.

That doesn’t mean Gonzaga is going to win the national title.

But they are certainly good enough to get it done.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling, 69-68, victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

In a game in which neither team could fully grasp control of the game, it came down to the wire. Michigan held a 3-point lead with two minutes to play. Jordan Bell, who was unquestionably the deciding factor in this contest, came up with the first of several critical hustle plays down the stretch. He knifed in on a missed free throw, for the second-chance bucket, cutting the deficit to one.

On the ensuing Michigan possession, Bell didn’t block it but affected Derrick Walton Jr.’s shot enough to force the miss. Tyler Dorsey, the other hero for the Ducks, continued his stellar play this month with a go-ahead layup after he spun through the Wolverine defense. Bell’s close out on D.J. Wilson sent his 3-point attempt way off the mark. Bell would corral another offensive rebound on the other end of the floor, and while Dylan Ennis left the door open for Michigan following another missed free throw, Bell, deservedly, rebounded Walton’s miss as time ran out.

“Do whatever you can to win,” Bell told reporters after the game. “Me, get every rebound, offense or defense, help my team out as much as possible.”

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points. Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

Dillon Brooks is without a doubt the star, but Bell and Dorsey round out a big three that could lead the Ducks to Phoenix.

Before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on March 11, Oregon announced that Chris Boucher would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. How would this effect Oregon’s defense days before it began its quest for a Final Four?

Bell has helped answer those questions on Thursday night. He’s a big reason why Oregon outscored Michigan, 34-16, in points in the paint. But his greatest impact was how he slowed down the two-headed monster of Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, two forwards whose increased production is a big reason why Michigan’s unlikely run extended into the second weekend of the tournament. The duo scored a combined 19 points off 7-of-20 shooting.

The other for Oregon was the continued offensive tear of Dorsey. In six postseason games, the sophomore two-guard is averaging 23.0 points per game. He went toe-to-toe with Walton, who was playing as good as any guard in the country, in the final minutes and got the better of the battle. Playing at this level, Oregon has another go-to scorer, one who has no issue taking a big shot late in the game. In either matchup in the next round, that should come in handy. Dillon Brooks, one of college’s toughest matchups, will either be busy with Purdue’s massive frontline or locked in an all-out war with Kansas’ Josh Jackson the perimeter.

“I’m really fortunate to have Jordan for three years and Tyler for two and Dillon Brooks,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish. They want to win. They’re competitive. We got down four there and guys could have gave into it. They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

“We know Purdue is really big and Kansas is Kansas,” Altman said.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.