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UConn’s length was difference maker vs. Butler

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HOUSTON – UConn’s 53-41 win over Butler on Monday night will go down as one of the ugliest national title games in the history of the sport. For the first time in 50 years, a team failed to break the 50 point barrier in the championship game.

It’s easy to figure out why.

Butler shot 12-64 from the floor. For the game. That’s 18.8 percent. They were 9-33 from beyond the arc, which was actually a marked improvement from the 3-31 that the Bulldogs shot from inside the arc. Throw in the 8-14 that the Bulldogs shot from the foul line, and its pretty evident that what cost the Bulldogs tonight was their inability to put the ball in the basket. We can use all the advance statistics and tempo-free analysis to break down what happened in a game, but at the end of the day the team that wins is the one that scores more points.

And if you ain’t scoring, you ain’t winning.

“Without question, you know, 41 points, 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship game,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game.

“I thought we got decent looks in the second half. We just missed quite a few. Credit UConn for defending the way they do because I thought they challenged shots better than any team we’ve played all year.”

That was the difference.

Butler actually did not execute terribly on the offensive end of the floor. They were getting shots in and around the rim. They were getting pretty good looks from the perimeter. They turned the ball over just six times. They managed to corral 20 of their misses.

So why were the Bulldogs missing?

Some of it was mental. It isn’t humanly possible for a college kid on a stage this big to miss a couple of shots and not have it the pressure creep into the back of his head. And its tough to fault them for that.

But much of the blame — or credit — falls on UConn. The Huskies were, simply, longer and more athletic than Butler. They blocked 10 shots and changed countless other. I’d be willing to bet that Butler missed more layups than the number of field goals they made (12). Matt Howard finished the game 1-13 from the floor, and that one was a three pointer. Andrew Smith was just 2-9 from the field. As a team, Butler managed just two points in the paint, and those came on a layup from Andrew Smith off of an offensive rebound with 6:43 left in the game.

“I definitely think our length bothered them a lot,” Alex Oriakhi told reporters after the game. “Roscoe [Smith], myself and Charles [Okwandu] are pretty good shot blockers. Anytime they was able to drive into the lane, we tried to alter a shot or block it. I definitely think we was able to do that. That affected them throughout the whole game.”

But it was more than just changing shots around the rim.

What made UConn’s defense so difficult to score against is how well they recovered on the perimeter.

It may have been difficult to see on television, but the Huskies were able to challenge seemingly every jumper that Butler had on the perimeter. Guys like Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, and Kemba were terrific closing out on shooters.

Lamb, in particular, deserves praise for the performance he had against Shelvin Mack. The lanky, 6’5″ freshman isn’t exactly known as defensive stopper. Yes, he uses his length, quickness, and anticipation to make plays in the passing lanes. But when you are talking about one-on-one, on the ball defense, Napier is generally the best on the UConn team, with Kemba falling close behind.

But it was Lamb that got the ball against Mack. And it was Lamb that delivered. Mack finished the game with just 13 points on 4-15 shooting. All four of those field goals came from beyond the arc. Two of those threes — the first field goal that Mack had with 4:00 left in the first half and the second field goal he hit, at the halftime buzzer — came when Donnell Beverly was guarding Mack because Lamb was on the bench in foul trouble.

That was the difference tonight.

Butler never got comfortable on the offensive end of the floor due to UConn’s length.

And it won UConn the national title.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.