Trevor Mbakwe, Elliott Eliason

Minnesota needs to do more to be slotted as Big Ten favorite


I’m not going to sit here, trying to tell you that No. 9 Minnesota’s win over No. 18 Michigan State wasn’t impressive.

Because it was.

Andre Hollins is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Trevor Mbakwe is rounding back into the form that had him pegged as a potential All-American heading into the season and Tubby Smith has finally kept his talent around for long enough to build the Gophers into a real threat nationally. The win over the Spartans only confirmed what we all thought to be true about this group, and that 22-4 finishing kick was the kind of knock-out punch that us sportswriters love to build into well-written narratives.

But let’s keep everything here in perspective.

Minnesota is coming off of a season where they finished 5-13 in the Big Ten. Their 13-1 record isn’t exactly filled with cupcakes — they’ve now beaten six teams ranked in Kenpom’s top 100 — but Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, North Dakota State and Richmond aren’t destined for the Final Four. They commit too many turnovers and they don’t rebound the ball well enough on the defensive end of the floor.

In other words: yes, Minnesota is a good team. But before we go anointing them the new favorite in the Big Ten, can we wait to see them do more than beat Michigan State at home in a game they trailed by five with nine minutes left? I’m looking you, Jason King:

Indiana may still be considered the class of the league, but at this point, no team looks as capable of challenging the Hoosiers as Minnesota. Especially if Mbakwe plays like he did Monday.

What about Michigan? You know, the No. 2 team in the country? They only have a point guard in Trey Burke that’s playing like a National Player of the Year candidate and surround him with a trio of big, athletic and versatile wings. I’m still not convinced that Minnesota belongs above Ohio State. They only have the league’s best scorer, an all-american point guard of their own and a trio of role players — Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross — that could make the Buckeyes elite if they continue to develop.

Look, this isn’t meant to trash the Gophers. I think this group is really good and probably deserving of their top 10 ranking.

But we’ve been fooled by Minnesota before. We’ve seen them shoot up the rankings in the non-conference part of their schedule only to disappear in league play.

It’s going to take more than a home win over a team they are ranked higher than to convince me that Minnesota belongs in the same conversation as Indiana and Michigan.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Shane Richards’ shot lifts shorthanded Manhattan

Shane Richards
Associated Press
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Thanks to injuries and the departure of Jermaine Lawrence, the beginning of the season has been difficult for Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers. Entering Wednesday’s game against George Mason, which was coming off of a surprising run to the Charleston Classic title game, with just six available players the Jaspers looked to pick up their first win of the season.

And Manhattan was successful, with a Shane Richards three-point play with 1.1 seconds remaining being the difference in their 69-67 win at Draddy Gymnasium. Below is video of the game-winning play, courtesy of Manhattan Athletics.

Richards (13 points) was one of three Jaspers to reach double figures, with Rich Williams leading the way with 26 points and nine rebounds and Thomas Capuano adding 14 points. What also helped the Jaspers was the fact that they forced 25 George Mason, converting those opportunities into 24 points.

Not sure if Manhattan and George Mason are due to play again next season, but the last two meetings have produced dramatic outcomes. The Patriots won last year’s game in Fairfax on a Jalen Jenkins’ 75-footer as time expired.

Video credit: Manhattan Athletics

UNLV hangs on for 72-69 win over No. 13 Indiana

Tom Crean
AP Photo
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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) UNLV answered every run by Indiana, and the Runnin’ Rebels were able to hang through the frantic final seconds for a 72-69 victory over the 13th-ranked Hoosiers on Wednesday.

The game had the intensity of a February conference matchup and just enough mistakes to make sure it was November.

“One of the reasons we came to Maui, other than it was exciting for our fans, was to play against the best,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “See how we match up. See where we’re good. See where our deficiencies are, and now we’ll have all next week to practice.”

Patrick McCaw had 20 points for the Runnin’ Rebels (5-1), who bounced back from their opening loss to UCLA with wins over Chaminade and the Hoosiers (4-2), who leave Hawaii with just one win in three games.

“This is a test,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “The eight teams walking out of here, no matter what, in three days are getting tested. All right? Even if the champion tonight blows through it, whoever the champion is, they’re still getting tested because you’re playing three games in three days against very high level competition.”

Indiana trailed by 15 points in the first half and turned on some solid defense to get back in the game. The Hoosiers closed to 55-53 with 8:20 to play. The Runnin’ Rebels then went on a 12-1 spurt, with McCaw scoring seven of the points, including a run-closing 3.

“Coming in, we knew since Indiana is a great offensive team, we really had to lock down and play defense,” Ike Nwamu said. “It was really paramount for us to execute defensively.”

The Hoosiers weren’t done. They got within three points twice in the final 30 seconds. The first time was on a dunk by Thomas Bryant off a tremendous pass from a flying Yogi Ferrell. UNLV’s Jerome Seagears made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 13 seconds left to make it 72-67.

Max Bielfeldt’s drive for Indiana with 7.5 seconds remaining provided the final margin, but the game was far from over.

Nwamu missed two free throws with 7.1 seconds left, and Indiana gave the ball back to UNLV on a 5-second count on the inbounds. UNLV then threw the ball away on an inbounds pass. Nick Zeisloft’s 3-point attempt was partially blocked by Ben Carter, and Nwamu was fouled on the rebound. He missed both free throws with .8 seconds left, but all Indiana could get off was a heave that was well short.

“I knew my man set the screen. I knew they were looking for a 3,” Carter said of the blocked shot. “I saw Pat was trailing his man a little bit, so I knew I had to help. Luckily I was able to get the tip on the ball and it was a pivotal play.”

Crean said he wouldn’t change the play.

“That was excellent. They made an athletic play. But he did a good job taking the shot,” Crean said.

Carter and Nwamu had 16 points apiece for UNLV, and Seagears added 12.

“These kind of games, it’s so much about momentum,” Rice said. “It’s about a big stop here, a big basket here. We always focus on what happens at the end of the game. And that’s obviously critically important. … It’s an entire game. That’s why we focus on it’s every play throughout the course of 40 minutes.”

Zeisloft led the Hoosiers, who lost to Wake Forest in the final seconds in their opener, with 17 points, and James Blackmon Jr. had 13. Indiana had 21 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Runnin’ Rebels.

“We got ourselves in a hole at the beginning with our turnovers, and you’re not going to beat any type of team, let alone one as talented as UNLV, when you’re giving them 22 points,” Crean said. “It’s unacceptable with the guys that have the ball in their hands for us to be giving the ball that way, and we’ve got to get that fixed. We really do, or we’ve got to fix the lineup.”