Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Louisville highlights a solid slate

2 Comments

Game of the Weekend: Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Kentucky at No. 4 Louisville (CBS)

It may not be the battle of top five teams that we expected it to be heading into the season, but that doesn’t take any of the excitement away from the battle for bluegrass supremacy.

Louisville enters this game playing as well as they have all season long. Their lone loss to Duke seems like it was an eternity ago, and given the success the Blue Devils have had this season, relatively insignificant as well. The Cardinals have one of the best back courts in the country in Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, and while their front line has played well over the course of the last month, Rick Pitino’s club will get a big boost on Saturday afternoon as Gorgui Dieng has been cleared to play. I’m sure he would have liked to have gotten Dieng in a game or two before throwing him into the biggest game of the regular season for the Cardinals, but having Gorgui is much better than, well, not having Gorgui.

While Louisville is beginning to hit their stride, Kentucky is still enduring some growing pains. As much talent as the Wildcats have on their roster, John Calipari looks like he is still figuring out how to get all that talent to fit together. The good news? Ryan Harrow is coming off of the best game of his collegiate career. The bad news? He now has to deal with one of the peskiest defensive back courts in the country.

And that right there is going to be what determines the outcome of this game. Can Kentucky’s back court handle the pressure that will inevitably be thrown at them by Louisville’s guards? Will Harrow’s confidence survive Smith’s quick hands? Can Archie Goodwin be patient enough in half court sets? If they can, than Kentucky might have a chance to upset the Cards.

Six more games to watch this weekend

  • Fri. 8:00 p.m.: Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga (ESPN2): So how good is Baylor? They won in Lexington, yes. But they also lost at home to Charleston and Northwestern at home. And isn’t this the same question we always end up asking about Scott Drew’s teams? Pierre Jackson is going to be a nightmare matchup for either Kevin Pangos or David Stockton, but the real question is going to be how Baylor handles Gonzaga’s physicality up front.
  • Fri. 10:00 p.m.: No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (ESPN2): UCLA looks like they are finally starting to hit their stride this season as their three stud freshmen all played their best games of the year the last time the Bruins took the floor. But Ben Howland’s team will have their work cut out for them with the Tigers, who have the kind of size and physicality that could give the Bruins problems. The key? Who wins the battle of the backboards. Missouri crashes the offensive glass as hard as anyone. Can the Bruins keep them from getting those second chance points?
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 20 UNLV at North Carolina (ESPN2): North Carolina will get a chance for some revenge against UNLV after the Rebels knocked them off of their No. 1 perch last season with a win in Vegas. And for UNC, that’s something that they definitely need at this point: a statement win. Something that tells the country that this season will be different than 2009-2010. Because right now, the Heels don’t look like a serious contender for the ACC title, let alone a national title.
  • Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Valparaiso at Murray State (ESPN3): One of the best mid-major matchups of the season. Valpo is the favorite in the Horizon, while Murray State looks like they picked up where they left off last season. Isaiah Canaan looks like an all-american again, and Stacy Wilson has proven to be terrific this year. The best matchup, however, will end up being Ed Daniel squaring off with Valpo’s front line of Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk.
  • Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Xavier at Tennessee (ESPNU): Xavier has one of the best freshman in the country in Semaj Christon, but where they will end up having issues with Tennessee is along with Vols front line. Does Chris Mack have anyone capable of hanging with Jarnell Stokes in the paint?

And the mid-majors?:

  • Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Iona at St. Joe’s
  • Fri. 7:30 p.m.: Bucknell at Loyola (MD)
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: North Texas at Western Kentucky
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at North Dakota State

No. 19 Wichita State upends No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — Dave Stallworth was running the show the last time Wichita State beat a Top 5 team on the road. Landry Shamet took the lead as the Shockers did it again 54 years later.

This one, too, will be a reference point, given all that was at stake.

Shamet scored 19 points, and No. 19 Wichita State ended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak, beating No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72 on Sunday to leave the American Athletic Conference race wide open.

The Shockers (21-5, 11-3) beat a Top 5 team on the road for the first time since 1964. They led most of the way, building an 11-point lead midway through the second half and holding on. Shaquille Morris’ dunk with 5 seconds left finished it off.

The Shockers ran onto the floor for congratulatory chest bumps. Coach Gregg Marshall got a celebratory dunking in the locker room, leaving his light-colored shirt clinging to him.

“It’s tremendous,” Marshall said. “Look at my shirt. College basketball has such tremendous parity. The games are decided by great players making great plays. Landry is a tremendous player.”

The Bearcats (23-4, 12-2) had won their last 39 home games. In their first real home challenge of the season, they wound up playing catch-up and coming up short. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten a ranked team all season, falling to 0-3 with losses to Xavier and Florida.

Cincinnati and Wichita State were expected to contend for the title in the Shockers’ first season in the AAC. Wichita State gave itself a chance with a solid all-around game led by its point guard. Shamet had 16 points in the first half, when the Shockers shredded the nation’s second-ranked defense to take control.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was bothered by his team’s “gross, mind-boggling defensive breakdowns,” including allowing the Shockers to get open for those two late layups. Wichita State shot 53 percent from the field, getting open 3-pointers in the first half and layups in the second half.

“We’re just not in a good place right now,” Cronin said. “I hadn’t slept much. We’re not in a good place for a lot of reasons.”

Wichita State closes the regular season by hosting Cincinnati on March 4. Houston (21-5, 11-3) also is in the running for the league title after beating Temple on Sunday.

The Shockers hit seven of eight shots during a 17-3 run that gave them a 34-23 lead. Cincinnati responded by turning up its full-court defense, forcing three quick turnovers, and going on a run that cut the deficit to 42-40 at halftime.

The Shockers showed a little defense of their own, forcing five turnovers while rebuilding their lead to 59-48 with 11 minutes left, matching its biggest of the game. Cincinnati closed to 72-70 on Trevon Scott’s dunk with 13 seconds left, but the Shockers scored on a pair of inbound passes by Landry, the last a full-court heave to Morris for a dunk that provided the final margin.

“This is what we do,” said Austin Reaves, who made the first of the two decisive layups. “We stick together on the road.”

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers needed a win to maintain their chances of a regular season title, and they got it with another good showing on the road. The Shockers are the most successful road team in the nation over the past five years at 47-8, including 7-2 this season.

“This is like our 50th red-out or white-out or black-out,” Marshall said. “We feel comfortable when that happens.”

Cincinnati: The Bearcats moved into the Top 5 even though they hadn’t beaten a ranked team all season. Losses at Houston and at home to Wichita State left them prepared for a plummet.

“As it gets later in the season, every team is better,” said Jacob Evans III, who had 16 points. “It’s not the beginning of conference or the season. Every team knows us well. We’ve got to be able to go to second options when they take away the first ones.”

NO LONGER A SWEET HOME

The Bearcats hadn’t lost at home since a 77-70 defeat against Temple on Dec. 29, 2015. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season and were 13-0 at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena, where they’re playing this season while their on-campus arena is renovated.

LONG TIME NO SEE

The Shockers and Bearcats played regularly as members of the Missouri Valley Conference from 1958-70, but it was their first game since 1981.

TOP 5 HISTORY

It was only the fourth time the Shockers have beaten a Top 5 team on the road. They beat No. 5 Oklahoma A&M in 1954 and topped No. 3 Loyola in 1963 and again in 1964 behind Stallworth.

TOUGH WEEKEND IN CINCY

Cincinnati had two teams in the Top 5, and both of them lost at home over the weekend. No. 4 Xavier lost to No. 3 Villanova 95-79 on Saturday at Cintas Center.cincinnati

Andy Kennedy resigns from Ole Miss effective immediately

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Andy Kennedy announced that, effective immediately, he will be stepping down as the head coach at Ole Miss. Tony Madlock will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The reason is simple: Kennedy wanted to “relieve any external pressure being felt by our current players” and he did not believe that last week’s announcement that this would be his final season in Oxford accomplished that.

“It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of The Standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Yherefore, I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that “clean breaks” are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies.”

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost by 17 points at Mississippi State. That came two days after Kennedy went viral for a brutally honest criticism of what his team was going through.

“I can’t get to them,” he said. “I can’t reach them.”

It’s sad that this is the way that it had to end for the best basketball coach that Ole Miss has ever had. But it had to be done.

No. 12 Duke beats No. 11 Clemson as defensive resurgence continues

Mike Comer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Grayson Allen finished with 19 points, four assists and four steals, scoring 17 of his points in the first half, and Wendell Carter added 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks as No. 12 Duke won their fourth straight game without Marvin Bagley III, 66-57.

No. 11 Clemson was short-handed as well, and that’s something that needs to be noted. Not only are they playing without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL earlier this year, but Shelton Mitchell was not in the lineup after suffering a nasty concussion at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Tigers were a No. 3 seed when the bracket reveal occurred last Sunday, but like Ohio State and Oklahoma, they have now lost back-to-back games; 11 of the top 16 teams have lost a game in the last week.

But the story here more than anything is Duke.

Yes, Allen finished with 19 points and continues to play well without Bagley on the floor. Getting him into a rhythm is critically important for this team. He was averaging 14.7 points in 24 games with Bagley. He is averaging 22.3 points in the last three games that Bagley has missed, and that does not include the 37-point outburst he had when Bagley went down with an injury against Michigan State.

Coach K also has had a chance to develop some confidence in his bench. Javin DeLaurier had 10 boards on Sunday. Marques Bolden didn’t play a done of minutes, but he still finished with five points, three boards and a pair of blocks. He was, generally speaking, a positive influence on the game.

But here is the most important and perplexing nugget: Duke, for the third straight game, was excellent defensively. They’ve now allowed fewer than 1.0 points-per-possession in each of the last three games. They are clearly not the same time offensively without Bagley’s presence on the floor, but it is impossible to ignore what they have been defensively in the last 10 days without him.

To put it into context: For all the talk about how much of a problem Duke’s defense has been, the Blue Devils are now ranked 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They were 79th after they lost to North Carolina, the last game that Bagley played. Villanova, who many believe is the best team in the country when healthy, is 42nd.

The question we need to ask is whether or not that will continue once Bagley makes his return.

Because the only thing standing between Duke and a Final Four is their inability to defend.

No. 8 Ohio State falls at No. 22 Michigan, Michigan State moves into first in Big Ten

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

After all of the drama and the speculation about whether or not Ohio State or Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten, water has seemingly found its level.

On Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, No. 8 Ohio State lost their second straight game, falling 74-62 at No. 22 Michigan and allowing No. 2 Michigan State — who had one of college basketball’s greatest comebacks on Saturday at Northwestern — to slide into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with just one week left of the regular season.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 17 points while Jordan Poole added 15 off the bench in the win.

The Wolverines did a good job of slowing down Ohio State’s all-american forward, Keita Bates-Diop. KBD finished with 17 points and seven boards, but he shot just 5-for-17 from the floor. Jae-Sean Tate led the way with 20 points and 15 boards for the Buckeyes.

There was a special moment before this game even started as Austin Hatch, a two-time survivor of plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, took part in the team’s Senior Day.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

Duane Burleson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying: