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College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Five Thoughts

Last word on Kansas-Missouri: I still can’t get over this game. I wrote almost 1,200 words on it after it happened, and I still think I shorted it. The way Missouri played for the first 25 minutes should be lauded. Its not easy to build up a 19 point lead on the road; its near impossible to do so at Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a big game. The way that Kansas came back was even more impressive, as they fed Thomas Robinson over and over again what stymieing Missouri’s vaunted offense. There were too many clutch shots down the stretch to remember.

But more than anything, I think the fact that this was one of the best college basketball games you will ever see played in an environment unlike any other will do wonders for keeping this rivalry going. To be frank, the “rivalry” hasn’t been much of a rivalry over the last decade or two. Kansas is Kansas, and while Missouri fields some very good basketball team now and again, they aren’t on the same level as the Jayhawks. That said, during years like this — when Missouri is for real and Kansas is just as good — the games get taken to another level, just like they did on Saturday.

I think that will be enough to convince Kansas to play Missouri again, even if it helps Missouri more than it will ever help the Jayhawks. It won’t be next season. It may be five or ten years. Maybe more. But eventually, this game will come back. Until then, as Joe Posnanski said, we’ll miss it.

The Mountain West race will be fun this week: San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV are all tied for first place in the MWC at 8-4 with just two games left this week. Barring another upset — which is a ridiculous assumption to make given how often rank has been a factor in the conference this season — SDSU has the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the tournament. They already have a win over fourth place TCU, and they play at TCU. That said, TCU has beaten UNLV and UNM at home. Ugh.

UNLV looks like they will be headed for the No. 2 seed if they can win out this week. New Mexico has already lost to Colorado State, the fifth place team, but the Rebels won at home earlier this season and have to travel to Ft. Collins for the rematch. Oh, and Colorado State has beaten both New Mexico and SDSU this year. Double ugh.

So like I said, the end of the MWC race is going to be some fun this week. Buckle up.

Can the CAA get two bids?: It might be tough. Drexel and VCU are both going to have to make the title game of the league tournament. I’d also expect that Drexel has a better chance of getting in with an at-large bid, so we would probably need VCU to win the automatic bid. The Dragons will be an interesting case. They’ll have 27 wins if they make it to the title game. They’ll have won 25 of their last 27 games. Their 2-4 start? Two of those losses came when sharpshooter Chris Fouch was injured and the other two came when he was back on the court but not 100%. Think about it like this: Drexel, as of now, has lost once since Dec. 3rd and ran through an always tough and always balanced CAA, winning the league outright despite a couple of talented teams. That deserves heavy consideration.

Late whistles: There were a number of late calls that decided games this week. The most notable: the no-call on Phil Pressey’s drive and the foul called on Tyshawn Taylor’s drive in the KU-MU game; the charge called on Kyle Casey that erased what would have been the go-ahead bucket for Harvard in their loss to Penn; the no-call when Roscoe Smith drove in the final seconds against Syracuse. I’m sure I missed some.

My opinion is this: I think down the stretch, you have to allow a little bit to change in terms of how a game is called. You don’t call ticky-tack fouls that will decide the outcome. If a player is hit hard enough, yes, you should give him the whistle. The definition of a foul is termed as when “an advantage is gained”, and so long as the referees stick to that theory late, I think they’ll be fine. There was no advantage gained when Robinson hit Pressey at the end of regulation, but there was also no advantage gained when Taylor drove and drew a foul that gave Kansas their final lead. I like seeing players decide the outcome of a game, but if they draw a foul, it has to be given to them.

Also, I have an issue with how much folks talk about overworked referees. The best in the business get paid upwards of $3,000 per game. For two hours worth of work. If I got paid that much, I would be working 20 hours every day. And frankly, I don’t think refs get that tired flying around the country as much as they do. I certainly don’t blame bad calls on refs being travel-weary. I think the bigger issue is that some of these refs just aren’t that good.

Best game you won’t hear anything about this week: Weber State, who is led by future first-round pick, and Montana are tied for first place in the Big Sky. Weber State won the first matchup between the two by 16 at home, but they will be heading to Missoula, MT, for the rematch. Currently, the third place team in the conference is five games behind these two and the fourth place teams is seven games back; in other words, both Montana and Weber State are good. Which is why this matchup should be fun to watch.

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

St. John’s to lose center to transfer

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats has his shot blocked by Yankuba Sima #35 of the St. John's Red Storm at the Wells Fargo Center on February 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova won 73-63. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Yankuba Sima will transfer out of the St. John’s program, the school announced on Friday.

“I want to thank the coaching staff and the administration for all of their support since I arrived at St. John’s,” said Sima. “I enjoyed my experience at St. John’s, but right now I feel it is best for me to explore options that will be a better fit for me as I work toward my goals.”

“We wish Yankuba the best of luck,” said head coach Chris Mullin. “I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him, but we respect and understand it. He’s a good basketball player and a good person with a bright future ahead.”

Sima started 26 of the 34 games he played with the Johnnies, including eight starts this season. He was averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 boards this year.

Kansas forward arrested on suspicion of battery

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Carlton Bragg Jr. #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after scoring in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, according to a report from the Kansas City Star.

Bragg, who was still in custody as of Friday morning, is being held without bond. No charges have yet been filed.

“We are still trying to gather information,” head coach Bill Self told The Star. “But it is a charge which we take very seriously.”

Bragg is a 6-foot-8 sophomore that lost his spot in the starting lineup earlier this year. He is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 boards in 16 minutes. No. 3 Kansas hosts Nebraska on Saturday.

Frank Martin comments on Sindarius Thornwell suspension

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina head coach Frank Martin commented on Sindarius Thornwell’s suspension during his call-in show on Thursday.

Thornwell, who was the leading scorer for the 8-0 No. 19 Gamecocks, was suspended indefinitely last Sunday. Martin has yet to provide a reason for the suspension.

“He’s been with us at practice, he’ll travel with us, he’s excited about our team, his role on the team,” he said, according to South Carolina’s 247 site. “Sindarius is one of my favorite guys I’ve ever come across. He messed up and it is what it is. He’s like a son to me. He messed up and he’s owned up to his mess up.”

“Outside of that, I’m not going to get into anything else. He has my full support. Our job is to prepare our team to play, we don’t prepare individual players to play. It’s no different to someone rolling an ankle. We’re down because of a bad decision. We’ll be fine.”

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.0 boards and 4.1 assists. The Gamecocks play Seton Hall in New York City on Monday night.

UCF star point guard out indefinitely with thumb injury

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 22: B.J. Taylor #1 of the Central Florida Knights carries the ball up the court in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on January 22, 2015 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor is out indefinitely after suffering a hand injury, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed at a press conference earlier today.

According to a report from 247 Sports’ UCF site, the injury is a broken thumb, which was suffered in Saturday’s win over UMass.

Taylor is not expected to miss the rest of the season but will be out for an extended amount of time. He missed all of 2015-16 season dealing with a foot injury.

On the season, Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was having an all-AAC caliber season, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards.

Weekend Preview: Villanova tested by Notre Dame, bounce-backs for Xavier, Butler

Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32), Bonzie Colson (35) and V.J. Beachem (3) talk during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 23 Notre Dame, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a fascinating matchup for a couple of reasons. For starters, this is the first real test that undefeated Notre Dame is going to be getting this season. We honestly have no idea how good the Irish actually are, and you wouldn’t be alone in needing to see a team starting Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson prove it before buying in.

But we also haven’t see Villanova tested in a while, either. They won at Purdue earlier this season and, since then, have more-or-less coasted to their undefeated mark. This will not only be a nice gauge game for Villanova, but it will also be a chance for them to pad an NCAA tournament résumé that will need to be strong for them to get a No. 1 seed this year.

The other part of this that’s fascinating? Both of these teams play small ball. There are going to be times on Saturday where 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson is playing center and being guarded by 6-foot-5 Kris Jenkins, who will be at center for the Wildcats.

No. 22 Cincinnati at No. 16 Butler, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Butler could really use this win. Coming off of a road loss to Indiana State during the week, the Bulldogs will be playing back in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday. But here’s the thing: Cincinnati could really use this win as well, and that Bearcat program already owns a road win over Iowa State.

The matchup here will be intriguing as well. Butler plays a more open, run-and-gun style than they did under Brad Stevens. Tyler Lewis is a show-man in transition, as is Kamar Baldwin, and getting Kelan Martin spotting up or attacking a close out is always a good coaching maneuver. Cincinnati is tough and big and physical. They try to wear you down. They pound the glass. They really, really defend. How does Butler handle it?

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: In one of the more under-appreciated rivalries in college basketball, Marquette will be looking to land a marquee win to bolster the non-conference portion of their NCAA tournament résumé. Will
    Nigel Hayes continue to play like an all-american?
  • Utah at No. 13 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Musketeers have lost back-to-back games and are really struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Utah has struggled this season as they have a young roster waiting on a pair of transfers to get eligible.
  • Michigan at No. 2 UCLA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: UCLA is now a week removed from their win over then-No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. This will be the first time they see the floor since then. Michigan had the look of a tournament team earlier in the season, but they’ve lost a pair of winnable games in recent weeks.
  • Hofstra vs. No. 6 Kentucky, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Wildcats will square off with Hofstra on Sunday, a game that is only really notable because it will be played in the Barclays Center.
  • No. 21 Florida at Florida State, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: The Gators looked the part of an NCAA tournament team when they lost to Duke in New York City on Tuesday. Florida State is more talented, however, but it’s difficult to trust them. This will be a big win for whoever gets it.

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is officially a concern: The Wildcats are currently shooting 32.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is 254th nationally. The only real threat they have from three in their starting lineup is Malik Monk, and he’s streaky. They can play Derek Willis at the four, but Willis is such a step-down on the defensive end of the floor from Wenyen Gabriel that it may not end up being a net-positive to play him, not when the Wildcats rely so heavily on their defense to create offense in transition.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not even sure there is an answer. This is just what Coach Cal has to work with this season. Can they improve? Probably. The great thing about being a bad shooting team is that shooting is the easiest thing to develop. Teams without size can’t get bigger. Teams without athleticism can’t get more athletic. The only problem? There are just four months left of the season. How much better can Kentucky really get?

One thing worth noting here: The 2010 Kentucky team, the one with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the one that lost in the Elite 8 because of their shooting issues, finished the season making 33.1 percent of their threes.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Let’s see if Notre Dame is for real: The Fighting Irish are one of nine undefeated teams left in college basketball, but as good as they have been this season, Mike Brey’s club still hasn’t really beaten anyone. The Colorado win looks better after the Buffaloes beat Xavier. Beating Fort Wayne, the team that upset Indiana, is good. Northwestern and Iowa are Big Ten teams.

But none of those four wins – none of Notre Dame’s nine wins – have come against a team we know will be in the NCAA tournament. We know Villanova will be, and the interesting thing about this matchup is how well the two teams matchup, particularly up front. Neither the Irish nor the Wildcats have much size inside. If Notre Dame can pull off the upset, it will be time to start talking about them much more.

3. UCLA’s first action since the win at Kentucky: The last time that we saw the Bruins take the court they put up 97 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena. That’s pretty good. It’s also an easy way to get a big head, especially for a team that has so many freshmen on the roster. UCLA will face off with Michigan at home on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how they come out early on in this one.

4. Bounce-back chances for Big East programs: No. 13 Xavier has lost two games in a row now, both of them coming on the road. They were felled at No. 4 Baylor before getting dropped at Colorado on Wednesday. The Musketeers will host Utah, a winnable game that could help them find a rhythm shooting the ball.

No. 16 Butler is coming off of a loss of their home, having been upset at Indiana State by the Sycamores. The Bulldogs will have a bigger test than the Musketeers, as they host a top 25 team in No. 22 Cincinnati.

5. Jonathan Isaac’s health, Florida State’s tournament hopes?: Isaac is the forgotten top ten pick. He’s been terrific this season and has a chance to play his way into the top ten if he continues doing what he’s been doing, but he’s missed the last two games with a hip injury. This is an important game for the Seminoles, as they host Florida this weekend. Will Isaac be available?