Late Night Snacks: Two tickets punched, two conference tournament upsets

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Tickets Punched: Liberty (Big South), Creighton (Missouri Valley) 

Game of the Day: No. 2 Indiana 72, No. 7 Michigan 71 

After taking some heat for cutting down the nets following a “Senior Night” loss to Ohio State on Tuesday, the Hoosiers clinched the outright Big Ten title in Ann Arbor. Cody Zeller’s layup with 13 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as two Michigan shots missed the mark. Michigan was out-rebounded 53-30, and while Indiana managed to score just 17 second-chance points this is an area the Wolverines need to address heading into the Big Ten tournament.

Important Outcomes

1. Creighton 68, Wichita State 65

Doug McDermott didn’t go off like he did in the regular season finale between the two Missouri Valley rivals, when he scored 41 points. But Ethan Wragge hit five three-pointers and Jahenns Manigat scored a team-high 16 points, which included a key jumper to give the Bluejays a 68-65 lead with 13 seconds remaining, to lead Creighton to its second consecutive MVC tournament crown. Malcolm Armstead scored 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Shockers, who will also hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

2. Florida International 61, Middle Tennessee 57

For the second consecutive season a Middle Tennessee team with 26 or more wins will have to wait a week to learn its NCAA tournament fate. The 28-5 Blue Raiders were upset in the Sun Belt semifinals, and the hope now is that their win total and non-conference strength of schedule (ranked 11th) is enough to get them into the field. FIU reaches the title game in Richard Pitino’s first season running the program, which is quite the achievement for this group.

3. Temple 84, No. 21 VCU 76

Temple struggled some with the VCU press early but once their seniors got things under control the Owls were good to go. Khalif Wyatt hit just one of his eight three-point attempts but still scored 30 points, Jake O’Brien added 19 and Will Cummings scored 13 points off the bench to lead Temple. The win likely seals an at-large bid for Temple, which will be the three-seed in next week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. VCU will be the two-seed, and their loss means that Saint Louis is the outright regular season champion.

Starred 

1. G C.J. Harris (Wake Forest) 

In his final home game Harris helped lead the Demon Deacons past Virginia Tech, scoring 29 points (6-of-6 3PT) and dishing out three assists in the 90-79 victory.

2. G Malcolm Armstead (Wichita State) 

Armstead was sensational in a losing effort for the Shockers, tallying 28 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three assists in the Shockers’ 68-65 loss to Creighton in the MVC title game.

3. F David Laury III (Iona)

Laury accounted for 20 points (7-of-12 FG), 17 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in Iona’s 79-73 MAAC semifinal victory over top-seed Niagara.

Struggled

1. G Treveon Graham (VCU) 

Graham didn’t make a three-pointer (0-of-4) and shot just 5-of-16 in the Rams’ 84-76 loss at Temple.

2. G Devon Saddler and G Jarvis Threatt (Delaware) 

Saddler and Threatt struggled in the Blue Hens’ 58-57 loss to James Madison in the CAA semifinals, combining to score 16 points on 7-of-27 shooting. They also combined for eight turnovers, with Threatt committing five.

3. G Pe’Shon Howard (Maryland)

Howard struggled in the Terrapins’ 61-58 overtime loss at Virginia, going scoreless and accounting for just two assists and one rebound in 25 minutes of action.

Three Facts

1. Liberty became the first NCAA tournament team with 20 losses since Coppin State pulled off the feat in 2008. Dale Layer’s Flames began the season 1-10 due to injuries and other roster issues, but they got rolling at precisely the right time. Look for Liberty to play its next game in Dayton.

2. Stony Brook may not be in the same position as Middle Tennessee but the Seawolves’ hopes of an NCAA tournament bid came to a painful end. Albany’s Mike Black scored a layup in the final seconds to give the Great Danes a 61-59 win over the America East regular season champions.

3. Virginia’s work isn’t done in regards to getting back to the NCAA tournament but the Cavaliers avoided a loss they could not afford, beating Maryland 61-58 in overtime. Tony Bennett’s team earned a first-round by in next week’s ACC tournament with the victory.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Calipari defends Diallo and gives insight into his own philosophy

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John Calipari was asked a question about struggling freshman Hamidou Diallo. He ended up giving an answer about his general coaching philosophy.

“Making them be responsible for who they are. In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working,” Calipari said. “If he’s willing to do that and put in extra work, I’m for him. If you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you and if you’re doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.

“It would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly to say you’re out and i’m going with these seven I’m just not going to do that.”

Calipari likened the approach to what a well-intentioned parent might say to him about their son who is struggling.

“I would say (a parent) would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable,’” Calipari said. “‘If he’s not going to listen to you you should not play him. That’s what I think a parent that’s not trying to enable their son (should say).”

On the other hand, Calipari discussed what the opposite of that situation would look like.

“If they’re listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you,” he said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first and I’m trying to stay that course but they are responsible for themselves.

“If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when they’re not performing, you can’t be in there.”

Calipari can oftentimes be full of bluster – it’s an essential part of his Always Be Selling philosophy that’s won the hearts of countless five-star recruits and a national championship. But this looks to be an honest look into the way he views his job and role with his players. Give ultra-talented guys opportunity, but keep them accountable. It’s a simple thought, but one that few execute as well and as consistently as he does.

Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans “day-to-day” with toe injury

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It would appear that sixth-ranked Texas Tech may have avoided its worst-case scenario with star guard Keenan Evans.

The senior is considered day-to-day with a toe injury suffered Saturday in a loss at Baylor, and could play as soon as Wednesday against Oklahoma State, Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said Monday.

“It’s going to come down to just pain tolerance and can he move,” Beard said, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “We all know Keenan is a warrior. He’s going to do everything he possibly can to play. … At the end of the day, just kind of how he reacts to his body.”

Evans is averaging 18.2 points per game for the Red Raiders, and his health is paramount for their attempt to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12. Texas Tech and the Jayhawks are locked in a first-place tie with matching 10-4 league records with four games to play. After the Red Raiders’ trip to Stillwater on Wednesday, they host Kansas on Saturday in a game that very well could decide the fate of the Jayhawks’ 13-year run of conference championships.

While the Big 12 race is certainly front of mind, the fact that Evans is potentially going to be able to play this week is a great sign for Texas Tech. Even if Evans does need to miss a game or two to get his toe fully healthy, the timeline and conditions Beard laid out Monday suggest that he’ll be good to go before the NCAA tournament for a Red Raiders team that certainly is a contender to finish its season in its home state – at the Final Four in San Antonio.

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

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The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Michigan State moves atop the Top 25

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Michigan State is your new No. 1 team in the country, according to the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Spartans received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes after their comeback from 27 points down to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.

Virginia is still sitting at No. 2 while Villanova and Xavier round out the top four. Duke climbed a few spots to No. 5.

Here is the full coaches poll:

1. Michigan State (20 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Gonzaga
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Wichita State
13. Auburn
14. Arizona
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan
17. Clemson
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Saint Mary’s
21. West Virginia
22. Nevada
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee State
25. Arizona State

Was Bob Huggins justified in his anger over foul shots in Kansas win over West Virginia?

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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.