The most undertold storyline of this season is the injury bug: there are so many team across the country that are sitting back and waiting to see if they will get key players back — and fully healthy — by the time the tournament rolls around.
Duke. Florida. Oregon. Notre Dame. Lehigh.
It’s an epidemic.
But there is no team in the country that has more on the lineup when it comes to the successful healing of a couple of important pieces that Montana. The Grizzlies entered the season as one of the most popular mid-majors, and while dealing with the loss of star point guard Will Cherry to a broken foot for the first two months of the season, still managed to find a way to take a 15-1 record in the Big Sky into the final weeks of February.
But here’s the problem: not only did Cherry reinjure the foot this weekend in the BracketBusters game at Davidson, leading scorer Mathias Ward has a foot injury that could keep him out until the conference tournament. Here’s the latest:
“I just came down on someone’s foot wrong, twisted it and felt something pop,” Ward said Tuesday.
Doctors have told Ward he could possibly recover in time to play in the Big Sky tournament, which begins March 14 in either Missoula or Ogden.
“I’m hoping to come back sooner than that,” Ward said.
X-rays on Sunday, though, did not show a break and a more detailed look with a CT scan on Monday confirmed the X-rays.
“They actually said it looked exactly the same as my last checkup. (Jan. 28),” Cherry said.
Cherry said there is no timetable yet for his return.
It goes without saying, as good as Kareem Jamar is, if Montana is without two of their three best players, they are a completely different basketball team. When healthy, however, they have a chance to pull off an upset and win a game or two if they can get to the NCAA tournament.
Much has been made of Bob Huggins’ ejection on Saturday evening, as West Virginia blew yet another double-digit lead at Phog Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas picked up a critical, 77-69 win.
The ejection was hilarious, and everything that I want to remember Huggy Bear by: Cussing out all three refs as he earns his second technical and an ejection while needing to hold up his pants with his hands:
Huggs is a national treasure.
The more interesting conversation, however, centered around why Huggins was tossed. Kansas shot 35 free throws on Saturday. West Virginia shot just two, which is an absolutely staggering number.
And I thought this was deserving of further scrutiny.
Let’s start with the obvious: West Virginia fouls a lot, enough that it’s not an exaggeration to say that a foul could probably be called on every possession. Part of the strategy of playing the way that Press Virginia does is that they are betting that officials are not going to call a foul on every possession, because they won’t. West Virginia is also a jump-shooting team this season, as nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. Their free throw rate both offensively and defensively is dead last in the Big 12.
Put another way, the Mountaineers are always going to be outshot from the free throw line.
Then you have to combine that with the Kansas stats. The Jayhawks are second in the Big 12 on offensive free throw rate and third in defensive free throw rate. Throw in the home court advantage that comes with playing in the Phog, and the safest bet in the world would have been Kansas outshooting West Virginia from the charity stripe.
It also needs to be noted that the 35-2 advantage was 27-2 before West Virginia started fouling intentionally and before Kansas went to the line for those two late Huggins’ technical fouls.
But that didn’t stop Huggins from going off in the press conference after the game:
“We blew the game last year,” Huggins said. “We should have won the game. We had the game. They did a great job, they made shots, we threw it around, we missed free throws, we did everything humanly possible to lose the game. That was us.”
“I’ve been doing this 40 years. I don’t I’ve ever been in a game where we shot two free throws. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where the disparity 35-2. I’ve never been in a game like that.”
But perhaps his most telling line was this, when asked what his message to his team was:
“It wasn’t their fault.”
It’s pretty clear that Huggins believed his team was hosed on the road.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
West Virginia is normally going to shoot fewer free throws than their opponents. Kansas is normally going to shoot more free throws that their opponents. Studies have proven that home environments in college basketball have an impact referee decisions as much as any sport in the world, including English soccer. That’s part of having a home court advantage, and it’s part of the advantage of having a rowdy, raucous and loud crowd. It’s why places like Phog Allen, and Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Koch Arena, and the McKale Center, and anywhere else with a big and loud fan base.
But 35-2 is 35-2, and it will take quite a bit of video evidence to proof to me that Kansas did not get a significant benefit from playing in front of their home crowd on Saturday night.
So did the referees cost West Virginia the game?
Debatable. I’d argue that Jevon Carter missing some shots and Daxter Miles’ insistence on passing up open threes to try and pass the ball to players going for a rebound played a pretty big role, as did the fact that Kansas is a really good team that made some big shots down the stretch.
But the whistles played some kind of a role.
Just like they always do in the Phog.
College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25
Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.
Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.
CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Villanova-Xavier, the Big 12 is drunk, the best in the Big Ten is … ?
Rob Dauster was joined by Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic on today’s show to overreact to everything that happened this weekend, from Villanova pasting Xavier to the insanity that is the Big 12 to what happened in the Big Ten in the last ten days. We also spend a good 30 minutes talking about bubble teams, tournament resumes and some misconceptions with both. The rundown.
OPEN: Bubble Banter. We talk about weird bubble teams and whether or not we like the new Quadrant system.
36:08: Villanova’s win over Xavier and the Big East title race.