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.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.