Arsalan Kazemi, Larry Drew II

College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Wild finishes: We were treated to plenty of them this week. There was Marshall Henderson’s 35-foot game-tying three against Vanderbilt. There was Alex Len’s game-winning tip-in. Matthew Dellavedova answered a go-ahead jumper from Tyler Haws with a running, double-pump 40-footer at the buzzer. VCU erased a four-point deficit in the final 14 seconds against St. Joe’s. Walt Lemon Jr. banked-in a running 25-footer as Bradley won at the buzzer on Saturday. Michael Carter-Williams won a game in the final seconds by dunking on Gorgui Dieng. Wichita State survived Creighton when Ethan Wragge missed two looks at a game-tying three. And, of course, there was Butler.

But you’re right. This is a down year in college hoops.

Was there a more important addition this season than Arsalan Kazemi?: Kazemi has long been one of the best rebounders in college basketball, but he was hidden at Rice as the Owls failed to have any kind of national relevance. But over the summer, Kazemi made the decision to leave the school prior to his senior season, in large part due to alleged racial discrimination he experienced at the school. Kazemi was allowed to play immediately at Oregon as a result, and it’s been the key to Oregon’s early season success.

The Ducks already had a talented and versatile front line, but Kazemi added a blend of physicality and toughness that wasn’t previously present. He’s far and away the leading rebounder for the Ducks despite coming off the bench. As good as the trio of Tony Woods, EJ Singler and Carlos Emory can be, none of those three guys are really willing to do the dirty work in the paint. Kazemi is, and that’s a huge reason that the Ducks are currently sitting alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Gonzaga will be fine: I’m not overly concerned about Gonzaga’s loss to Butler even when you factor in the absence of Rotnei Clarke. If not for a fluky play with 3.5 seconds left — a miscommunication on an inbounds, combined with a possible push-off by Roosevelt Jones, led to a running one-hander, and another possible push-off by Jones, that potentially came after the buzzer sounded. That’s how Gonzaga lost. At Hinkle. On the night they hosted College Gameday.

There may not be a program in the country that can handle losing their most talented player better than Butler, because the Bulldogs are as much about the system as any program in the country. Clarke provides some scoring, but Butler wins by being physical, chasing shooters off the three-point line and executing offensively. And they did just that on Saturday.

Ben McLemore’s best attribute? His ability to fit into a system: Here’s the thing that interesting about Ben McLemore as a player: he’s a star, he’s been labeled a top five pick, he’s been christened the Jayhawk’s go-to guy, yet he only uses 22.9% of the Kansas possessions when he’s on the floor, a value that’s typically found in role players.

What’s more impressive, however, is that he’s the most significant contributor to the Jayhawks offensively. Kansas is as balanced as any team in the country, which comes a year after they were as unbalanced as just about any team that’s ever made the national title game. McLemore’s really good at picking his spots and lethal in those situations — his shooting splits: 54.9/44.4/88.1 — but he doesn’t dominate the Kansas offense the way that Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor did a year ago.

Pay attention to Bryant: The best story of the season that no one is paying attention to? The Bryant Bulldogs. After winning just 20 games in their first four years at the Division I level, Bryant is 13-4 and 6-0 in the NEC.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.