tom crean

Tom Crean and the most important coaching decision in the Sweet 16

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Tom Crean will have the most interesting coaching decision of the Sweet 16 on his hands heading into tonight’s matchup with No. 4 seed Syracuse.

How will he matchup with the Orange on the perimeter?

Syracuse is as big and has as much length up and down their roster as any team in the country. Michael Carter-Williams, the Orange point guard, is 6-foot-6 with the wingspan of a pterodactyl. Starting off-guard Brandon Triche is 6-foot-4, as is Trevor Cooney, who is the first back court player off the bench. That’s before you get to their front court, where 6-foot-8 James Southerland plays the three while CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, who are both lanky, 6-foot-8 athletes, also man one of the wings in the Syracuse zone.

Indiana?

Well, their starting back court consists of 6-foot Jordy Hulls, 6-foot Yogi Ferrell and 6-foot-4 Victor Oladipo.

Now, this will obviously create issues on the offensive end of the floor. The length that Syracuse is able to employ in that zone is going to make it difficult to get a clean look at a three, something that the Hoosiers are going to have to rely on if they want to win this game. But it’s also going to make it a nightmare to try and get the ball into the high-post. The way to break down the Syracuse zone is to get the ball into the high-post, whether via the dribble or the pass, and find either Cody Zeller at the rim or one of the myriad of shooters Indiana will have on the perimeter. Can the Indiana guards feed the high-post with all of those arms between them and Christian Watford? Will they be able to pass out of the zone if they are able to penetrate to the foul line? Ironically enough, the ability of IU’s back court to penetrate the zone with the dribble may be more important given the fact that Watford is not exactly known as a great passer.

Those are concerns, but they may not be the biggest concern for Tom Crean.

The issue is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. The ideal would be for Oladipo, one of the best on-ball defenders in the country who also has the length and athleticism to matchup with Carter-Williams, to matchup with the Syracuse point guard to try and take away his effectiveness in the half court. But if Hulls and Ferrell are both on the floor, that would mean that one of those two would be stuck guarding Southerland or Fair or one of Syracuse’s other forwards. That’s a matchup that cannot happen.

The obvious answer? Play Will Sheehey and Remy Abell more minutes, but that creates a problem on the offensive end of the floor. Hulls is the zone-buster, one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the country. He doesn’t miss. Ferrell is easily Indiana’s best penetrator, the guy that can split the top of that 2-3 zone and break down the defense. Indiana’s effectiveness against a zone on the offensive end of the floor will take a hit with either of those two sitting out.

So what will Tom Crean do?

Does he play a 2-3 zone of his own?

Will he slide Oladipo onto Southerland and hope that Hulls and Ferrell can matchup with Triche and Carter-Williams?

Does he role the dice on rotating his little guards?

How Tom Crean handles the size differential may be determine the outcome of this game.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org