NIT Season Tip-Off

Delaware’s trip to MSG: Great experiences, missed opportunities

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – It wouldn’t be fair to say that Delaware caught a break that this happened to be the season they took part in the Preseason NIT.

They won the games that they had to win to get to Madison Square Garden and the semifinals of the country’s only true preseason tournament. They beat Penn. They went into Charlottesville and knocked off Virginia. They made it to the bright lights of MSG and a primetime showcase on ESPN on their own.

But I do think it is fair to say this: it didn’t hurt matters that the year the Blue Hens took part in the event just so happened to be the season that Monte’ Ross has his most talented roster in seven years in Newark, and that they just so happened to get put in a regional with a Virginia team that is now officially in the post-Mike Scott era.

If they happened to have gotten placed in Pitt’s regional, they may not have made it this far. If they had happened to have been invited to the event next season, than they would have been playing without star center — and potential NBA Draft pick? — Jamelle Hagins. This group had “Team of Destiny” written all over it. And when a Devon Saddler three cut a Kansas State lead that had grown to eight back to one, at 39-38, with 13:40 left in the game, everyone on press row had the same reaction: the Blue Hens might actually do this!

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as 32 points from Saddler weren’t enough for Delaware to complete the upset win over the Wildcats, losing 66-63 and missing out on a chance to take a swing at No. 4 Michigan on Friday.

The reason for the loss had nothing to do with intimidation, however. The Blue Hens didn’t make their way into the third place game because they were overwhelmed by the platform they were playing on or because they shied away from the challenge of playing a potential tournament team from the Big XII.

What cost them in this game was … spasming muscles?

With 15 minutes left in the game, one possession before that Saddler three cut Kansas State’s lead to 39-38, Hagins, who had 12 points and 15 boards before getting hurt, went down in serious pain, holding his legs. I could read his lips from press row. He said, simply, “Cramps. In both.” He’d return for a couple of possessions later in the contest, but Hagins was never the same. That was a massive loss; he has a chance to be an NBA Draft pick. Those don’t make their way down to Delaware too often.

“Who knows how this game would have turned out if Jamelle hadn’t come out,” Ross said. “They started pounding us inside when he came out.”

And those weren’t the only cramping issues that Delaware had to deal with. Jarvis Threatt, a sophomore and Delaware’s starting point guard, left the game with five minutes left as he was dealing with cramping issues. It’s kind of hard to pull off an upset when two of a team’s three best players are glued to the bench, getting their legs rubbed down by trainers with bags of ice.

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The beauty of Delaware’s trip to the Garden was that it was actually allowed to happen.

Far too often, the satellite rounds of the early season tournaments are nothing more than exhibitions and a guarantee made to the high-profile participants that they’ll get four games for signing up. Just ask Georgia. They lost to Youngstown State — “lost” is being kind; they were blown out at home by the Penguins — in the ‘opening round’ of the Legends Classic.

But who did you see lose to No. 1 Indiana on Monday night at the Barclays Center? And who did No. 11 UCLA beat on Tuesday? It certainly wasn’t Youngstown State. I know. I was there.

And that’s what makes the Preseason NIT so special.

“It would have been anticlimactic to beat Virginia and not get a chance to go to the Garden,” Ross said. “This is an earn your way tournament. It’s not predetermined. That’s what makes this tournament so special. For us, it was such a big deal to earn our way here and have an opportunity to play Kansas State.”

“I just hope it never changes, because it’s fantastic for a school like Delaware to have the opportunity we had. Like you said, it’s dwindling.”

The irony here is that people like me will paint this as a great story about the team from the little league winning the right to play with the big boys on the big stage. Use a couple of big words, toss in a few of alliterations and throw in some prose, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great story about those darling Blue Hens from the CAA.

Except the scribes are the only one that saw this group as a ‘David’.

“I knew coming into the game that we could play with them,” said Saddler, whose disgust for being asked about the implications of simply playing well on a big stage was as palpable as it was refreshing in its honesty. “It wasn’t no pride thing. We’re not into moral victories.”

I feel you, Devon. I do. And I don’t want to disagree with you, but I’m going to.

Saying that Delaware played badly in the first half would be a compliment. Saddler didn’t get it going until midway through the second half. His back court mates Jarvis Threatt and Terrell Rogers played as poorly as I’ve ever seen them play in the first 20 minutes. Kyle Anderson wasn’t hitting anything, and Delaware’s big men were getting abused on the offensive glass. The only guy that played well in the first half for Delaware was Hagins, and most of what he did was block and/or change enough shots that Kansas State couldn’t put together a big run. And despite that, the Blue Hens were only down two at the break.

In the second half, things didn’t get much better, as Hagins went down early, Threatt and Rogers continued their subpar play and Anderson still wasn’t hitting anything.

And despite all of that, Delaware went into the break down by two points and ended up losing by only three points to a team that is missing one player (and their head coach) from last year’s group that earned a No. 8 seed.

What happens when this team puts together 40 minutes of quality basketball?

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“There’s no such thing as great people in this world. There’s people, just like you and I, that take advantage of a great opportunity. We have a great opportunity right in front of us. Let’s take advantage of it.”

Those are the last words that Ross spoke to his team in the locker room before he sent them out to the Madison Square Garden floor. And while the Blue Hens fought and scrapped and threw every last punch they had against Kansas State, it wasn’t enough. The Wildcats were simply more physical and hit more key jump shots.

This wasn’t a wasted opportunity as much as it was a missed opportunity. Delaware could have won this game had they played better.

That will sting.

But that sting won’t last long.

Because the Blue Hens will have another great opportunity to take advantage of at 2:30 pm ET on Friday.

Their Madison Square Garden experience isn’t over yet.

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

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III goes #BIFM, takes control of race

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 28:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks dribbles the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats during the game against at Rupp Arena on January 28, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: For my money, Mason solidified his standing as the National Player of the Year front runner, the guy whose award it is to lose, this week. He was the spark of a comeback from 14 points down in the final three minutes against No. 12 West Virginia and led the Jayhawks back from 12 points down – six in the final three minutes – at No. 9 Baylor on Saturday, the win that solidified what will very shortly be the 13th straight Big 12 title for Bill Self.

Against West Virginia, he had 24 points, five assists and four boards. Against Baylor, Mason played arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 23 points and eight assists in a game where the Jayhawks struggled to find offense for long stretches.

But more to the point, what Mason provides this team is more than the numbers. There’s a competitiveness and a toughness that he brings. At the risk of being too cliché for my own good, he’s a winner and a leader that will drag his teammates along with him even when they aren’t playing well. He’s not the best player on Kansas — that would be Josh Jackson — and he’s probably not even the most valuable — hello, Landen Lucas — but there is no one that is more responsible for the fact that Kansas has won nine of their 12 Big 12 wins by seven or fewer points and seven of those nine by less than five points.

Mason’s numbers are sensational — 20.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.2 rpg, 50.4 percent 3PT — but his numbers simply do not tell the whole story here.

#BIFM indeed.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Last week, I tried to make the point that Josh Hart’s Player of the Year bid was going to die on the vine because his season was devoid of moments. That happened before Frank Mason led Kansas to wins in two thrilling comebacks, both of which were games between top ten teams that were the most important matchups of that day. Hart? Played at the same time as Kansas-Baylor on Saturday. He’ll play at the same time as Louisville-North Carolina on Wednesday. Saturday’s matchup with No. 23 Creighton would’ve drawn every eyeball in the sport … if Mo Watson Jr. hadn’t gotten hurt.

He’s a terrific player having a career-year for an awesome team. I don’t think he’s going to be the Player of the Year.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had one of his best games of the season, going for 24 points, 15 boards and five assists as the Boilermakers beat Michigan State on Saturday. I’m not sure what else there is to say about Swanigan at this point in the season. He’s the best big man in the country, and I’m not quite sure it’s all that close.

4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball has changed the culture of the UCLA program, at least for this year, and he’s done it with his unselfishness and his ability to create offense out of nothing. But more important than that, since the comeback against Oregon, the one where UCLA game up 0.65 points-per-possession in the final 14 minutes of the game, the Bruins have allowed 0.915 PPP in wins over Oregon State and USC. They become a real title contender again when they are consistently buying in defensively like that.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss averaged 24 points and seven assists in two wins last week, including a 30-burger against San Francisco. He’s the star and the go-to-scorer of the only undefeated team in the country.

6. Luke Kennard, Duke
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
8. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: I wrote about the ACC Player of the Year race in my weekly takeaways column on Monday, but I wanted to elaborate on it.

With all due respect to Bonzie Colson, John Collins and everyone else in that league, I think there is a pretty clear-cut top three for the ACC Player of the Year race. And if I had to pick ACC Player of the Year, it would probably be Justin Jackson over Donovan Mitchell by a whisker — depending on what happens Wednesday night — with Luke Kennard in third.

But if we’re ranking for National Player of the Year, I think that Kennard is first, Jackson is behind him and Mitchell is third out of that group. Hell, having Mitchell ranked eighth overall is somewhat debatable; that’s how poor he played, at least compared to his ACC counterparts, before the start of ACC play.

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils battles for a loose ball against Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

9. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ ranks fifth in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. My only issue with that: It doesn’t factor in that his foul shooting is a real problem, one that has, at times, forced him off the floor in crunch-time. That’s a pretty big concern for a guy that, in all other facets of the game, is criminally-underrated.

10. Josh Jackson, Kansas: What can’t Jackson do on a basketball court? He’s a pro shooting guard that is playing the four for Kansas. He blocks shots at the rim and gets steals on the perimeter. He’s lethal in transition. He’s a spot-up three-point shooter, he can make plays off the dribble and he’s a talented, albeit at times careless, passer. He’s tough, he’s competitive, he’s not afraid of a big moment or a big game.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that he’s been the best player for Kansas over the course of the last month or two. That’s the same Kansas team that Frank Mason III plays for.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso

No. 12 West Virginia takes down Texas

MORGANTOWN, WV - FEBRUARY 20:  Tarik Phillip #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers forces a turnover against Jarrett Allen #31 of the Texas Longhorns  at the WVU Coliseum on February 20, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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West Virginia raced out to a big lead and rode out a late Texas rally as the No. 12 Mountaineers captured a 77-62 home Big 12 win on Monday night.

During a weird night that featured West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins going to his knees after his defibrillator activated during a first-half timeout, the Mountaineers shot the ball well and held on for the win. Huggins went to his knees late in the first half as his team approached him on the floor during a timeout. He returned to the sidelines to finish the first half and coached the second half with no further incident.

As for the action on the floor, the Mountaineers (22-6, 10-5) shot 42 percent from three-point range as junior guard Jevon Carter continues a solid stretch of play as he finished with 24 points. Reserve wing Lamont West also provided a great boost off the bench for the Mountaineers by dropping in six three-pointers and finishing with 23 points in 21 minutes. Elijah Macon added 10 points as well for West Virginia, continuing his strong play over the last three games.

Texas (10-18, 4-11) tried to make a late push to get back in this one but they ultimately didn’t have enough after getting down double digits. Freshman center Jarrett Allen finished with a team-high 17 points while also throwing down a huge poster dunk.

Eric Davis Jr. (14 points), Kerwin Roach Jr. (13 points) and Andrew Jones (11 points) also finished in double-figures for the Longhorns but they were only 3-for-13 from three-point range.

West Virginia has two out of three on the road for the rest of the Big 12 schedule as they have to play at TCU, at Baylor and at home against Iowa State.

If the Mountaineers can take two of three they’ll be in great position for a potential top-four seed as long as they don’t bow out early in the Big 12 tournament.

Bacon leads No. 19 Florida State to rout of Boston College

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Dwayne Bacon had 16 points and 13 Florida State players had at least four points, helping the 19th-ranked Seminoles bounce back from two straight losses with a 104-72 victory over Boston College on Monday night.

Bacon went over the 1,000-point mark for his career on a 3-pointer early in the second half after going scoreless in last Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh.

PJ Savoy added 15 points and the Seminoles’ bench accounted for 59 points. Jonathan Isaac (14 points) and Jarquez Smith (10) also scored in double figures, and FSU (22-6, 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) never trailed and led by 34 (75-41) six minutes into the second half.

Kai Bowman had 24 points and Jerome Robinson 21 for Boston College (9-19, 2-13), which has lost 11 straight and 13 of its last 14.

BIG PICTURE

Boston College: The Eagles have lost 16 straight conference road games, including eight by 20 points or more. The game against Florida State started a stretch when BC plays three of its final four regular season games on the road.

Florida State: The Seminoles have reached double-digit wins in conference play for the first time since going 12-4 in 2011-12. FSU won the ACC Tournament that same season, and it was also the last time it made the NCAA Tournament.

CENTURY MARK

This was the fifth time this season the Seminoles have scored 100 or more points in a game, which is the first time that has happened since 1992-93.

It is the third time they have had two or more 100-point games in ACC play and the first since 1992-93.

UP NEXT

Boston College: The Eagles host Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies won the first game on Jan. 25, 85-79.

Florida State: The Seminoles travel to Clemson on Saturday. They beat the Tigers by 48 points (109-61) on Feb. 5.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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VIDEO: Bob Huggins drops to knees, needs medical assistance during timeout

West Virginia's Teyvon Myers (0) talks with head coach Bob Huggins during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Western Carolina, Wednesday Dec. 7, 2016 in Charleston, W.Va. West Virginia won 90-37. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)
(AP Photo/Tyler Evert)
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West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins needed some medical assistance during Monday night’s Big 12 home game against Texas as he went to one knee during a timeout late in the first half.

The 63-year-old Huggins grabbed a bit at his chest as he was on the floor on both knees as he went to meet his team on the floor during a timeout. Huggins regained his composure and finished up the first half before going to the locker room with his team. In one closeup shot, the camera appeared to catch Huggins mouthing over to Texas head coach Shaka Smart that he was okay to continue.

Huggins has previously had heart issues before as he suffered a heart attack in Sept. 2002 that nearly killed him. The first hospital Huggins went to after the heart attack was not equipped to handle the seriousness of his condition and he had to travel 15 miles via ambulance for emergency surgery.

According to ESPN’s Holly Rowe, Huggins said his defibrillator went off and he was having issues with it. Huggins said that it has since been corrected and he returned to coach in the second half. Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that West Virginia said that Huggins was, “lightheaded.”

Hopefully this sort of thing doesn’t happen again and Huggins can continue to coach like normal.