Shabazz Napier, Brandon Triche

Shabazz Napier, Kevin Ollie angling for Big East postseason hardware

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While Jim Larranaga has all but locked up the National Coach of the Year award at this point in the season, there aren’t five coaches in the country that have done a better coaching job than Kevin Ollie has this year. As of today, he’s the Big East’s Coach of the Year, hands down.

Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that this is a team that, quite literally, has nothing to play for this season beyond pride.

Kevin Ollie has taken a team whose front line consists of Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey, Deandre Daniels and (if he’s reinstated) Enosch Wolf and turned them into a darkhorse threat to finish in the top four of the Big East standings. After yet another overtime win, this one coming via a 73-66 victory over Cincinnati at the XL Center in Hartford, the Huskies are sitting at 8-5 in the Big East and 18-7 overall. They’ve beaten Michigan State. They have a win over Syracuse, which may be the last time those two rivals square off this season.

That alone makes them a lovable bunch of misfits.

They get pounded on the glass game after game, but their back court has provided enough of a spark to carry them to twithin two games of first place in the Big East. And Ollie isn’t the only Husky angling at some postseason hardware. Shabazz Napier has had a sensational season a long way from the national radar. He entered Thursday night averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists, scoring 34 points in the 25 minutes of overtime that UConn had played. Against Cincinnati, Napier finished with 27 points, including 11 points — and two huge threes in the final two minutes — in OT.

Now take into account that UConn isn’t playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament or the Big East tournament. They don’t have a postseason this year. Their horrific APR numbers from four years ago took that away.

And yet here they are in February, sending Cincinnati just a little bit closer to the bubble and knocking off Syracuse when they are sitting atop the Big East.

The Huskies are the ultimate spoiler this year because they’re good enough to be a contender.

And they’re doing it despite the fact that they’ll be watching March Madness couchside, just like the rest of us.

That is why Ollie has to be in the conversation for any and all Coach of the Year awards.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.