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.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.