March 23, 2012

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Xavier v Baylor

Tu Holloway’s costly missed free throw

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Tu Holloway has deservedly earned himself a reputation as one of the most clutch players in the country.

And rightfully so.

He made a name for himself as a freshman by hitting a number of clutch free throws as the Musketeers ran through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.  Since then, he’s seemingly made every big shot he’s taken, capped by the game-winning runner off the glass against Notre Dame in the opening round of this tournament. The kid is a cold-blooded killer late in a game.

And after a 75-70 loss to No. 3 Baylor, that fact will probably still be true, but it won’t change the fact that in his final game as a collegian, Holloway missed a shot in the final minutes that really hurt his team’s chance to win.

Down 12 with a minute and a half left in the game, Tu Holloway drove and drew a foul, completing the three-point play. On the ensuing possession, Baylor turned the ball over and Justin Martin buried a three, cutting Baylor’s lead to 69-63 with 1:22 left. After getting a stop, Holloway drew a foul against Deuce Bello with just 33 seconds left and headed to the line.

He would miss the front end of a one-and-one, and Xavier immediately fouled Baylor’s Quincy Acy. Holloway wouldn’t move from the line for a good five or ten seconds, bending at the waist and staring at the floor as he grabbed his knees. He may never have left the free throw live if he would have known that, after a pair of free throws from Acy, Holloway would score seven points in the span of 15 seconds to get within three points.

If that isn’t a microcosm of the season Xavier just experienced, than I don’t know what is.

Holloway had a terrific career as a Musketeer. He played a major role in three different trips to the Sweet 16, including this season, when Xavier’s season looked to be over after their brawl with Cincinnati.

But knowing how competitive he is, I have a feeling that this missed free throw is going to haunt him for a long time. And that’s a shame, because Holloway was as good as anyone in the country during his time at the collegiate level.

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

Ohio doomed by rebounding, D.J. Cooper’s off night

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Ohio v North Carolina
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With North Carolina having to go without starting point guard Kendall Marshall due to a fractured bone in his right wrist, there was the potential for Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper to win the battle at the point decisively.

For a guy who has led the Bobcats to three NCAA tournament wins in their last two appearances, how difficult could a match-up with unheralded freshman Stilman White be?

Plenty difficult, especially when your shots aren’t falling. Cooper made just three of his twenty shots from the field, scoring ten points and dishing out six assists (four turnovers) in the Bobcats’ 73-65 overtime defeat.

“I’ve been getting those same shots all tournament,” said Cooper after the game. “I’ve been making them, and tonight I just didn’t get the job done.”

Cooper shot his lowest percentage (15%) from the field since a January 28th win over Ball State, when he made just 1 of 7 shots on the day.

Against North Carolina the junior (nor his teammates) wasn’t able to get much going in the paint against the Tar Heels’ long-armed defenders, and that led to relying on the 3-point shot.

Cooper went 1 of 10 from deep (Ohio: 12 of 32 as a team), and the Bobcats’ shooting from inside the arc (11 of 39) didn’t help matters either.

Cooper didn’t play his best game but it’s also important to point out that it took more than one player’s off night to result in the end of Ohio’s season.

In addition to the poor shooting inside of the arc Ohio was whipped on the glass as they were out-rebounded 63-30, with three Tar Heels (Reggie Bullock, John Henson and Tyler Zeller) combining for 43 of those rebounds.

“I would have liked to have competed a little bit better there,” remarked head coach John Groce. “But fortunately for us what was able to cancel that out was the fact that we turned them over 24 times to our 13.  So the possession battle ended up being about even and thank goodness.”

Unfortunately for Ohio, the combination of rebounding woes and their star’s roughest night of the season proved to be too much for them to overcome.

Raphielle Johnson is the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Bullock, Zeller save North Carolina from massive upset

North Carolina Tar Heels forward Tyler Zeller shoots over Ohio Bobcats forward Reggie Keely  in the first half of their men's NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in St. Louis
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The loss of point guard Kendall Marshall was expected by many to cause No. 1-seed North Carolina trouble in Sunday’s Elite Eight match-up with either Kansas or NC State.

But his absence nearly cost UNC tonight against Ohio as the Tar Heels turned the ball over 24 times. But thanks to Reggie Bullock and Tyler Zeller the top seed in the Midwest will play in their sixth Elite Eight in the last eight years.

Zeller scored 20 points and grabbed 23 rebounds to lead North Carolina to the 73-65 overtime victory, with Bullock adding some key buckets late and going for 17 and ten boards.

Walter Offutt led Ohio (29-8) with 26 points but point guard D.J. Cooper couldn’t get going from the field. Cooper scored ten points, shooting 3 of 20 from the field in his worst shooting performance of the season.

As a team the Bobcats shot just 32% from the field and 28% from two as UNC’s interior length proved problematic for much of the evening.

The biggest question heading into the weekend in St. Louis was how freshman Stilman White would play at the point in place of Marshall, and to be fair White was solid. Despite not making a shot from the field (0 of 4), White dished out six assists and did not register a turnover.

The problem for UNC that came as a result of Marshall’s absence was that guys who can normally count on the sophomore making their decisions “easy” had to make more plays on their own, and that nearly got the Tar Heels beat.

Zeller led the way with six turnovers as Ohio increased the amount of attention they gave him defensively in the second half, and Harrison Barnes had five as part of a night the sophomore wing will likely want to forget.

Barnes scored five of his 12 points in overtime but shot just 3 of 16 from the floor for the game. And with the biggest weakness in his game being the drop in efficiency when he has to create for himself, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he struggled with Marshall out of the lineup.

Head coach Roy Williams stated during the post-game TV interview that he doubted Marshall would be ready for Sunday, and given how tonight went North Carolina should be very concerned going into the regional final. But most importantly the Tar Heels were able to survive to play another day.

“I think we feel like we got away with one,” said Zeller. “Ohio played the better game, they hit a lot of shots, I think we just were able to make a lot of plays at the end that made us capable of pulling it out.”

Raphielle Johnson is the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Baylor advances to its second Elite Eight in three seasons

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Xavier v Baylor
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For the second time in three years, No. 3 Baylor is heading to the Elite Eight with a 75-70 win over No. 10 Xavier.

The Bears jumped out to a 22-4 lead on Xavier in the opening minutes, and while the Musketeers were able to trim the lead to five before the half, they didn’t get to within one possession of the Baylor until there were 13 seconds left in the game.

Quincy Acy had 20 points and 15 boards, while Pierre Jackson chipped in with 16 points and 10 assists. The best news for the Bears, however, is that Perry Jones III had 14 points and five boards while shooting 7-of-8 from the floor. Coming into the game, Jones had a total on nine points on 4-for-14 shooting during the first weekend.

The question that now must be asked about Baylor is how we should regard their head coach Scott Drew. Drew tends to be a whipping boy in basketball circles, in part because many of his coaching peers dislike the way that he handles his recruiting and in part because he is the butt of a lot of “he can’t coach” jokes.

Well, the guy that can’t coach is in the Elite Eight. His team is playing as well as they have all season long, and they are doing it while their most talented player has yet to play up to his ability in this tournament. And while putting Drew in the same sentence John Wooden or Dean Smith at this point is premature, it should be noted that the Bears have become a different team since Drew made two changes: 1) he’s gone away from using the 2-3 zone quite a bit since the start of the Big 12 tournament; and 2) he’s started playing a three guard lineup — with Jackson, AJ Walton and Brady Heslip sharing the perimeter — more often.

The result has been Baylor’s postseason surge. It makes you wonder: what if he had made these changes earlier in the season?

Baylor will advance to face the winner of No. 1 Kentucky and No. 4 Indiana.

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

Weber State guard Damian Lillard to enter the NBA Draft

Eastern Washington Weber St Basketball
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As first reported by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Weber State junior guard Damian Lillard is expected to enter the NBA Draft.

Lillard, who helped lead the Wildcats to a 25-7 record this season, was the nation’s second-leading scorer with an average of 24.5 points per game. The Oakland, California native also averaged 5.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.

According to both Draft Express and NBADraft.net Lillard slots into the latter portion of the lottery, which likely doesn’t bode well for a return to Ogden for his senior season.

While the battle for the Big Sky crown could once again come down to the Wildcats and defending champion Montana, who will return both Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, losing Lillard widens the gap between the two.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Brad Stevens says ‘absolutely no truth to’ to Illinois rumors

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If the thought of Illinois hiring a high school coach seems wild, here’s an idea that’s even more far-fetched – Brad Stevens coaching Illinois.

The site HammerandNigel says a “very reliable source” indicates the Butler coach will accept an 8-year $21 million contract  to coach the Illini.

Except for one problem.

“There is absolutely no truth to it,” Stevens told ESPN’s Dana O’Neil. “I have not been contacted.”

“I don’t know anything about it. Nobody has called me. Here’s how I spent my day — I had individual meetings, I went fishing and I was just drawing chalk on the driveway with my daughter. I came in with all this fishing gear on and my wife told me my phone was blowing up.”

So there’s that.

Stevens is the coach every school with an opening — and even some with entrenched coaches — want. He’s been to two Final Fours, has established himself as a coach who maximizes talent and wins with regularity. Of course Illinois wants him.

But this doesn’t seem like a possibility. Not like this.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.brad