Football is a game of inches. The hashmarks and yard markers make that pretty obvious.
The case can also be made for basketball as a game of inches, though the distinction is more subtle. The Virginia Cavaliers toughed out a 61-52 home win last night — their first ever over the Tar Heels in John Paul Jones Arena. In a hard-fought game, the difference often came down to position: where on the floor a screen was set, and how possession of that extra inch or two of space changed the flow of the game.
After the game, I spoke with UNC’s freshman starting point guard Marcus Paige (2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 turnovers) about the devil in the details of his first ACC road test.
[UVA point guard] Jontel Evans had a big second half. How did his experience work in his favor?
He just kept getting in the paint. He was using screens, and they had shooters setting the screens, so it was difficult for our big guys to help out a lot, and if they did, they were kicking to the corner and shooting threes. He did a good job of attacking the paint.
Defensively, how did they frustrate what you guys were trying to do?
They didn’t let screens affect them. They were getting through them. They didn’t have to rely on their help very often. When you do that, especially with the way they pack in their defense and take away driving lanes, it makes it a little tougher to get good shots. And that’s what they’re known for, they make it tough to score. We should have executed a bit more sharply.
This being the first time that you’ve seen them, what did you learn about how to attack this kind of team?
You’ve just got to set better screens. To screen against a team that has great pressure, you have to make hard, sharp cuts. We didn’t do a very good job of that, and as a result, our offense got pushed back and we didn’t get good shots.
(On defense) our pressure kind of let up. We didn’t convert a lot of those turnovers – a lot of the time we just turned it right back over. We needed to pressure them a little more in the second half. It’s easy to say that now.
Over the next few weeks, will you guys be able to find that rhythm you need?
I think we can. We do a great job in practice, we just need to bring that over to the games, especially games on the road. Execution just needs to be better; focus and intensity.
Now that Gonzaga has been eliminated from the 2018 NCAA tournament, the school has some important decisions to make regarding its basketball future.
A report at the end of February from Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune said that the Bulldogs were among two teams targeted by the Mountain West Conference for future expansion. The Mountain West talks are becoming more of a reality since the Zags were ousted by Florida State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com is reporting that Gonzaga will make a conference decision in the next few weeks as the school is exploring the possibility of leaving the West Coast Conference.
Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth confirmed to Dodd that the Mountain West and Gonzaga are talking while also noting that rumors of BYU and Gonzaga being a package deal are false. Since the window is quickly closing to try to get new teams into leagues for the 2018-19 season the Gonzaga/Mountain West talks should be figured out within the next few weeks.
“I think we’re into that crunch period for sure if we’re going to try to get it done for the fall of 2018. At the same time, we’re not going to rush the decision because of timing,” Roth said to Dodd.
“In a perfect world, we’re going to be making a decision in the next couple of weeks here. But there is no such thing as perfect worlds in the crazy world of college athletics.”
While Gonzaga has dominated the WCC over the last 20 years, the conference hasn’t provided enough quality competition for the perennial top-25 program. That’s why the jump to the Mountain West would be intriguing. The Bulldogs would get a better yearly strength of schedule to help its tournament profile. The Mountain West would add a stable NCAA tournament contender that would also boost the national profile of the league.
“Our conference doesn’t get the national respect, and the Mountain West has better respect,” Roth said to Dodd. “Whether it’s significant enough for us to make that move, we’re trying to figure [that] out.”
As Dodd noted in his report, this move would have little to do with revenue for Gonzaga. This move would be made strictly for competitive purposes:
Such a move would seemingly have little to do with revenue, at least for Gonzaga. The Mountain West TV contract is worth approximately $18 million (about $1.5 million per school). Gonzaga’s current league, the West Coast Conference, gets a tiny fraction compared to that amount.
Based on an industry standard that basketball is worth only 25 percent of any media rights contract, jumping to the MWC would net Gonzaga only $375,000 per season.
Based on Roth’s quotes about the WCC and the level of national respect, it will be fascinating to see if this move happens in the next few weeks. It makes sense for both Gonzaga and the Mountain West to make this move. But a lot of other things also have to be figured out for such a move to take place. Once the college basketball season is over, this will be one of the biggest storylines to follow heading into next season.
PHOTO: Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean has her signature Nikes on
St. John’s sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds will test the NBA Draft waters without hiring an agent, he announced on Saturday.
The 6-foot-1 Ponds was one of the best players in the country this past season as he put up 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game for the Red Storm.
Ponds had some memorable individual performances this season including back-to-back wins and monster performances against Elite Eight teams. After 31 points in a loss to Xavier, Ponds had 33 points in a win over Duke and 26 points in a win over Villanova.
It’ll be intriguing to see what the NBA feedback is like for Ponds. The sophomore can really score the ball at a high level, but Ponds hasn’t played for a winning team and he is also on the smaller side. Perimeter shooting is also a major question mark after Ponds only shot 25 percent from three-point range this season.
But there is no doubting that Ponds is a gamer, and he can score points in bunches if he gets going. If Ponds returns to St. John’s next season, he’ll be someone to watch for on preseason awards lists.
In one of the nicer moments of sportsmanship that we’ve seen in the NCAA tournament, Purdue senior Vincent Edwards — after his last game as a college basketball player — paid a visit to the team that ended his Final Four dreams, wishing them good luck throughout the rest of the tournament.
“Go win it,” he told the players in the Red Raider locker room:
BOSTON — To the public-at-large, the legacy of Jevon Carter comes down to this: He’s been in college for 100 years, and he looks like it because of his hairline.
He’s the Perry Ellis redux.
To everyone in college basketball — from his coaching staff to his program to the teams and players that he has wreaked havoc on — what he did and who he was meant so much more.
Let’s start with this: Jevon Carter knows what his opponent’s are going to try to do better than they do.
“Jevon tells guys on the floor where to go when they don’t know the plays,” said West Virginia assistant coach Ron Everhart, and he’s not referring to his own team. “He sits there and studies their film. He knows their plays better than they do. It’s pretty funny, actually. ‘You go there, and you better get out there, coach is gonna take you out.'”
The opposition is not the only team he coaches up. On the court, in the huddle, in the locker room. He’s always talking, always helping, always leading.
“He always taught me what to do,” said West Virginia’s sophomore center Sagaba Konate, one of the most improved defenders in the country this year. “In the game, in the huddle, he always show what to do. If I’m on the wrong side in a game, he told me be there, go to the other side. At halftime he come up to me, show what I’m supposed to do, swing here, swing here, I’ll throw it to you here. All that kind of stuff.”
And then there’s the way that he’s viewed by the people he chews up, spits out and leaves with nothing but a turnover or a missed shot in the box score.
“None,” Donte Divincenzo, who turned the ball over six times in Villanova’s 90-78 win over West Virginia on Friday night, a win that ended Carter’s career and sent the Mountaineers home in the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season, said when asked if he’s ever faced a better defender. “He’s the best ever.”
“Maybe Briante Weber at VCU,” added Villanova assistant Ashley Howard, the man that was tasked with putting together a scouting report to try and deal with Carter on Friday. “But in recent years? None.”
The quick hands. The lateral movement. The relentlessness. They say shot-blockers can change a game simply because shooters know they’re there, conscious of the fact that they may end up getting a layup put through the back board. It’s not often that you hear ball-handlers say the same about a guy out on the perimeter.
“Even when you get by him, you have that presence right behind you that can get the ball at any point,” Divincenzo said. “We were driving and he was still on our backs, still reaching and still getting his hands on balls.”
“He can have an off game but people still fear him on the defensive end.”
But to really understand what the man they call ‘JC’ has meant to this West Virginia program, you have to go all the way back to the very first moment that head coach Bob Huggins saw Carter play.
“I was in Orlando in Disney,” Huggy Bear said last week. “Got me a big cup of coffee to watch the 8 am game. He was in the furthest court away that you could be on. I’m trying to drink my coffee and wake up and this guy’s pressing at eight o’clock in the morning. No one else on his team’s pressing. Just him. He’s picking up the ball, pressuring people from end line to end line, and I pick up the phone and call my assistants and say, ‘We’ve got to sign this guy. I don’t know what he does well, but he sure tries to guard.'”
And he’s never stopped.
What you have to understand here is that Carter, as much as anyone, is to credit for West Virginia’s ascendance to being one of the best programs in the Big 12. When Huggins started recruiting Carter, West Virginia was in the midst of a transition that was not going well. In their first season in the Big 12 after leaving the Big East, the Mountaineers finished 13-19 overall, the first time that Huggs had a team finish a season below .500 since 1984-85, his very first year as a Division I head coach. The following year they were better, but their 17-16 mark was the second-most losses that Huggins has ever had in a season as a head coach.
“We were struggling,” Huggins said. “I underestimated the switch from the Big East and how they played in the Big East to the Big 12. We had the wrong kind of guys. We had guys that didn’t love to play.”
JC, and his four-year back court mate Daxter Miles, love to play. They were unheralded prospects that were brought in to replace guys like Eron Harris, who left the program after averaging 17 points as a sophomore, and completely changed the culture of West Virginia basketball.
It helps that their arrival sparked a change in philosophy — Press Virginia was born — but it bears asking: Would Press Virginia have worked without those two making their presence known?
“These two guys are — they’re at the head of that class,” Huggins said. “They work. They work every day in practice. They’re coachable. I’ve never had one complaint about either one of them. I’ve never had one issue with either one of them.”
Culture is a word that gets thrown around a lot in college basketball, sometimes unnecessarily so, but with Miles and, specifically, Carter, it is completely fair and justifiable to say that they changed the culture of West Virginia basketball.
“They’ve come into this situation and basically turned it around,” Everhart said. “Look at where we were four years ago when they got here and look at where we are today. We won 25 games four years in a row and three straight Sweet 16s, and I think that speaks volumes in terms of what they’ve meant to West Virginia basketball and our program, locker room, culture, where we are right now.”
“He’s the guy who really get me to play great defense,” Konate said, “because I never saw JC giving up or get tired. So I say, ‘if he’s doing it, why not me?'”
And that right there says all you need to know about Jevon Carter and the legacy that he will leave.