Ben Howland

The most disappointing team in the country: UCLA or Memphis?

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The craziest part about the beginning of the college hoops season is the number of teams that are already being labeled disappointments.

Baylor is back to their old tricks, failing to live up to the talent they have on the roster. That’s what happens when you barely beat a team that lost to Bryant or try two two-pointers in the final ten seconds of a game you’re losing by three at home. (Should I mention the latter came against Charleston?) UNLV was thought to be a potential Final Four contender, and they lost on their home court to an Oregon team that is still unproven. NC State, a title contender according to some pundits, got drubbed by Oklahoma State — who nearly got beaten by UC-Davis in their home opener — before hanging on against a rebuilding UNC-Asheville team. West Virginia, St. Mary’s and Drexel can all be lumped in there as well.

But without a doubt, the two most disappointing teams in the country are UCLA and Memphis.

If you didn’t stay up late last night to watch it, the Bruins, who were ranked No. 11 in the country last week, lost at home. To Cal Poly. (Yes, they’re a real team.) After blowing an 18 point lead with 12 minutes left, losing when Norman Powell fouled a Cal Poly player with the scored tied and 14 seconds left because he thought they were down. After losing to Georgetown, barely holding on to beat Georgia and getting taken to overtime (at home) by UC-Irvine.

And frankly, I’m not so sure that UCLA’s problems are fixable. Ben Howland is a defensive-minded coach. That’s how he took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours. Those teams never finished worse that third in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency ratings. We all remember how critics of Howland used to say he’d never be able to land recruits because his star players don’t get a chance to shine offensively, right?

Well, this group simply is never going to be good on that end of the floor, and it’s not simply a matter of ability; they have guys that are athletic enough to be good defenders, but do they pride themselves in being able to get stops? It hasn’t looked like it yet, and it certainly didn’t look like it as Cal Poly scored 37 points in the last 12 minutes on Sunday night. A zone won’t work, either, as this group isn’t active on the defensive end of the floor.

My advice? Accept it. Embrace the fact that you’re not going to be beating anyone 62-58 this season and instead try to break the century mark every time out. Use Kyle Anderson at the four, rotate the three wings (Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Norman Powell) and Larry Drew II as the three players joining him on the perimeter and let the Wears take turns manning the paint. Run the floor, score as much as possible, and hope that it’s enough.

At the very least, the Bruins will be having fun and into the game. That’s more than can be said for last night.

The issues that Memphis has seem to be more systemic than anything.

Is there an issue for Pastner when it comes to recruiting local kids? Is that why, after turning his team around for the stretch run last season, he team has regressed back to playing timid, mistake-prone basketball? Is that why his team looks like a group of freshmen that lack confidence and understanding?

The bigger question: is that Pastner’s fault? Local columnist Geoff Calkins believes so:

This isn’t about X’s and O’s, either, though plenty would criticize Pastner for his. This is about Pastner’s ability to lead and reach and inspire a team.

[…]

But all good coaches have one thing in common: They get their players to play hard and together and well.

Pastner does not. Or has not, with any consistency. And don’t blame the players, either. Pastner recruited every one of them. It is his team, from the first man to the last. There is nobody to hold responsible but the coach.

I disagree with Calkins here.

I watched quite a bit of Memphis from the Battle 4 Atlantis, and I don’t think their issue is effort. I legitimately believe that the kids on that team, for the most part, played hard. Yes, Joe Jackson sulked when he didn’t play well, but I think that sulking is more of a lack of confidence and frustration issue — understandable — than it is an indictment of Pastner. And to be fair, they lost to a very good VCU team and to Minnesota when a kid from Memphis that got passed over by Memphis went for 41 points.

Neithe of those losses equate to blowing an 18 point lead at home to Cal Poly.

My take: the Tiger’s problems stem from a) poor decision-making, which manifests as silly turnovers and forced shots; b) problems with their preparedness, as I’m not convinced the Tigers really knew what they were getting into against VCU’s pressure; and c) offensive and defensive execution.

Those issues, however, are more problematic than an inability to motivate.

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

Before he won an Academy Award, Mahershala Ali played at Saint Mary’s

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Actor Mahershala Ali accepts Best Supporting Actor for 'Moonlight' onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the film ‘Moonlight’ on Sunday night.

How does that tie into college basketball?

It’s simple: Ali played college basketball for four years at Saint Mary’s, from 1992-1996.

Now, this was before Saint Mary’s turned into the Saint Mary’s that Randy Bennett has built. At the time, Ernie Kent was the program’s head coach, and the teams that Ali — whose used his given last name of Gilmore at the time, although he was already using the shortened version of his first name, Mahershalalhashbaz — played on weren’t really all that good. They finished under .500 in the WCC three of the four season, finding a way to finish in a tie for second place in his junior year.

As a senior, Ali averaged 7.0 points for the Gaels.

This would probably make Ali the most famous player that Kent has ever coached. He’s more famous than Aaron Brooks, who had about two good NBA seasons, and he’s definitely more famous than Luke Ridnour, who is best known either for getting traded four times in a week or being name-dropped in a song by the rapper Wale, who bragged about being able to turn ‘Ducks into Bucks [like] Luke Ridnour.’

 

VIDEO: Tom Izzo’s touching senior day tribute to Eron Harris

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Eron Harris #14 of the Michigan State Spartans kisses the midcourt logo on senior day during the second half of the college basketball game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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Eron Harris suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game at Purdue earlier this month, meaning that he would not be able to take the floor for his Senior Day.

Tom Izzo made sure to rectify that, as he called a timeout with just 12 seconds left in Michigan State’s win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday, giving Harris a chance to go out to the center of the court, get a standing ovation and give the Spartan logo a smooch.

He was also greeted by the Wisconsin team. All around great moment:

Nick Ward-led Michigan State beats No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates during a game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the second half at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Nick Ward had 22 points and nine rebounds, Miles Bridges had 17 points and Matt McQuaid added a season-high 15 to help Michigan State beat No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74 on Sunday.

The Spartans (18-11, 10-6 Big Ten) have won six of their last eight games, moving them into a third-place tie in the conference and perhaps sealing their spot in a 20th straight NCAA Tournament.

The Badgers (22-7, 11-5) have lost four of five and lost a chance to pull into a first-place tie with No. 14 Purdue.

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes scored 22 points, Bronson Koenig had 17 and Zak Showalter added 15. Ethan Happ fouled out with eight points, more than six points below his average for the Badgers.

Michigan State went on an 11-1 run midway through the second half, building a 12-point lead that it was able to maintain unlike a big lead in the first half.

In the first half, the Spartans led 36-23 only to allow the Badgers to come back with a 15-4 run to pull within a point at halftime.

Michigan State’s Cassius Winston had 10 points and eight assists and Joshua Langford had nine points.

In the last game of the season at Breslin Center, senior guard Eron Harris checked in late in the game a little more than a week after he had a season-ending knee injury. Harris, with a brace on his right knee, went to center court and kissed the Spartan logo to follow a senior tradition Shawn Respert started in 1995.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have been shooting poorly and it is catching up with them. They were held to 43.1 percent shooting against Michigan State, a ninth straight game of connecting on 44 percent or fewer of their shots. They made 13 of 25 free throws at Michigan State after shooting 67 and 57 percent from the line the previous two games.

Michigan State: The Spartans are surging at the right time and are gaining confidence perhaps allowing them to position themselves for better seeding at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

POLL IMPLICATONS

With Wisconsin’s losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers will likely plummet from No. 16 in The Associated Press poll on Monday.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: The Badgers end the regular season at home, hosting Iowa on Thursday night and Minnesota on Sunday.

Michigan State: The Spartans close on the road, playing Illinois on Wednesday night and No. 24 Maryland on Saturday.

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

Update: Creighton’s Watson turns himself into police

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Update: Later Sunday, Watson turned himself into the Douglas County Jail, a law enforcement official told the Omaha World-Herald. Watson’s attorney told the paper that Watson was driving back to Omaha from his native Philadelphia and was slowed by the snowstorm that hit parts of the country this week.

Law enforcement has been unable to arrest Creighton guard Maurice Watson since a warrant for his arrest on the charge first-degree sexual assault was issued last week, according to police.

“The U.S. Marshals Service and the Omaha Police Fugitive Unit continue to look for Mr. Watson,” Omaha Police said in a statement Sunday. “At this point in time, Mr. Watson is dodging law enforcement efforts to arrest him.

“Until he is located and arrested by law enforcement, or turns himself in, the entire Douglas County Court system is operating off of Mr. Watson’s time frame.

“Neither OPD nor the Douglas County Attorney’s Office is part of any specific arrangements for Mr. Watson to turn himself in.”

Watson was accused by a 19-year-old acquaintance, who reportedly is also a Creighton student, of sexual assault in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. A report was filed later that day.

The point guard was in the midst of a banner season for the Bluejays before he tore his ACL in January, which ended his collegiate career. Creighton announced on Feb. 13 he was suspended from the team and not allowed to participate in senior night act due to  “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday.

 

Seventh-ranked Louisville dominates Syracuse

Rick Pitino
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The hint arrived early that Louisville might be no kind of matchup for Syracuse when the Cardinals jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead. The Orange, though, appeared to steady and seemed intent on delivering an interesting Sunday afternoon and a maybe another resume-changing win after beating Duke earlier in the week as the roared back to take a lead.

Everyone should have taken the early hint.

Louisville used a 21-4 first-half run to gain separation and never looked back as the Cardinals dominated Syracuse, 88-68, on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.

The win was the fourth in five games for Louisville, which shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting.

Donovan Mitchell was sensational, going for 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. It was his third-straight game with at least 20 points.  He also had an absolutely dynamic one-handed alley-oop late that was just fantastic.

The Cardinals showed no ill effects of a hangover stemming from the loss earlier this week at North Carolina, but instead it was as dominant a performance as they’ve had in weeks.

On the losing side of the ledger are the Orange, who looked to be building some momentum after a three-game losing streak by beating Duke on Wednesday. Then, the Blue Devils went and lost to Miami and Syracuse just got smashed by another ACC contender. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

For Syracuse, it looks destined to spend another Selection Sunday sweating, though there’s certainly enough time for it to go either way. The Orange can really only hurt themselves until the ACC tournament with Georgia Tech heading to the Carrier Dome this week. That’s a game Syracuse will need to win, lest they really want the pressure ratcheted up in Brooklyn.

A big part of the issue for Syracuse pinning its hopes on the ACC tournament is its total lack of depth. Tyler Lydon and Andrew White both went at least 40 minutes for the 11- and 10-straight games, respectively. Syracuse played seven and got 28 minutes total from its bench.

With a few days typically between days, that’s pretty sustainable for the regular season, but those minutes are sure to weigh on players going on back-to-back (and maybe longer) days.