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Hanging onto Shaka Smart the key for growth of the VCU program

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Mark Few didn’t put Gonzaga on the map.

That award probably belongs to Dan Monson, who led the Zags to within a game of the Final Four in 1999 before leaving for Minnesota and opening the door for Few to take the program over. If it wasn’t Monson, it was probably John Stockton, who remains by far the most famous hoopster to come out of the program.

What Few did, however, was arguably more impressive. He turned Gonzaga from a flash-in-the-pan Cinderella story into one of the nation’s strongest basketball programs despite playing in the tiny West Coast Conference. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament in each of Few’s 14 seasons at the helm, winning 12 WCC regular season titles and 10 tournament titles along the way.

The Zags are now a powerhouse. Spokane is a college hoops hotbed.

The same can be said for Brad Stevens and Butler. The Bulldogs had more of a basketball tradition when Stevens took over than Gonzaga did when Few took over — Barry Collier, Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter all turned postseason trips into high major jobs — but Butler has reached a different level under Stevens. They made back-to-back national title games. They compete for some of the best recruits in the country. Butler’s ascended to the Big East and is arguably one of the top 20 programs in America.

The key to that success, for both Gonzaga and Butler, can be tied to keeping the right coach in place.

Stevens and Few both could have left for higher profile jobs and decided to stay.

That’s exactly what VCU is hoping is in the cards with their hotshot young head coach Shaka Smart. And the good news for Rams fans is that it sounds like Smart is sticking around for the long haul:

“I’ve always said, I think that there is an overly simplistic view of when people leave and go somewhere else. They’re all about being greedy and all about money, and all about going to the highest level. On the flip side, if someone stays, they’re the most loyal person in the world,” he said.

“I’m the same as you or anyone else in that I want to work at a place where I really enjoy it,” he said, a view he’s uttered many times. “I want to take care of my family just like everyone else does. I want to work with people that are fun to be around. I’m just fortunate that I have that at VCU.”

It’s not just about the money for Smart, although getting a raise and a seven-figure payday for being good at his job certainly doesn’t hurt.

He likes his job. He likes the people he works with and the kids he coaches. He likes where he lives. His family is happy.

More importantly, he knows that he doesn’t need to take a bigger job with more expectations to be able to have a nationally relevant program. He’s made the Final Four. His program moved into the Atlantic 10 and may still snag an invite into the new Big East. He’s consistently in the top 25. He can recruit against and land kids that are pursued by bigger programs.

Why would he bother leaving?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Gonzaga loses their first game of the season at home to BYU

SPOKANE, WA - FEBRUARY 25: Head coach Dave Rose of the BYU Cougars works from the sideline in the first half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at McCarthey Athletic Center on February 25, 2017 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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The streak is over.

Despite jumping out to an 18-2 lead on BYU in The Kennel, No. 1 and previously undefeated Gonzaga found a way to lose their first game of the season late on Saturday night, falling 79-71 to the Cougars behind 29 points and 11 boards from Eric Mika.

No. 5 UCLA dominates offensive boards to edge No. 4 Arizona

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 28: Bryce Alford #20 of the UCLA Bruins hits a shot over Dylan Ennis #31 of the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena on December 28, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Thomas Welsh scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and No. 5 UCLA dominated the offensive boards to beat No. 4 Arizona 77-72 in a Pac-12 showdown Saturday night.

The Bruins (26-3, 13-3) snapped Arizona’s 21-game home court winning streak and dropped the Wildcats (26-4, 15-2) into a tie with Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 heading into the final week of the regular season. The Ducks hold the tiebreaker by beating Arizona in the teams’ only meeting.

UCLA, avenging a 96-85 home loss to Arizona on Jan. 21, trailed 53-49 at the half but took control with a 19-4 second-half run.

Allonzo Trier scored a career-high 28 for the Wildcats. Parker Jackson-Cartwright added 11, and Lauri Markkanen had 10 for Arizona.

Five players reached double figures for the Bruins, led by Bryce Alford’s 15. TJ Leaf and Aaron Holiday added 12 apiece, and Lonzo Ball had 11 along with eight assists.

UCLA had 19 second-chance points to Arizona’s four. In the second half, the Bruins outrebounded the Wildcats 9-1 on the offensive boards.

The Bruins switched to a zone most of the second half and stretched the lead to 11 twice late in the game, the last at 73-62 on Welsh’s’ inside basket with 4:38 to play before Arizona managed one final charge, finishing the game on a 10-4 run.

Markkanen’s two free throws cut the Bruins’ lead to 75-72 with 29.2 seconds to play. Holiday missed the first of a one-and-one free throw opportunity and Arizona had a chance to tie it but Kadeem Allen, with a dislocated pinkie finger on his shooting hand, threw up an air ball from 3-point range.

After trailing by as many as seven points, Arizona outscored the Bruins 10-1 over the last 2 1-2 minutes of the first half to lead 43-39 at the break. Jackson-Cartwright scored seven in the surge.

UCLA took the lead for good, 54-53, on Welsh’s basket with 12:52 to play.

REVENGE

With the victory, UCLA had come back to beat all three teams that have beaten them this season. After a two-point loss at Oregon on Dec. 28, the Bruins came back to beat the Ducks in Los Angeles 82-79 on Feb. 9.

USC upset the Bruins 84-76 on Jan. 25 but UCLA came back to rout the Trojans 102-70 on Feb. 18.

PAC-12 REMATCH?

The outcome in Tucson could set the stage for a rematch between the two teams in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournaments.

Assuming, both teams win out, Arizona would be the tournament’s No. 2 seed and UCLA the No. 3. Oregon would get the No. 1 seed and, barring upsets, would face the UCLA-Arizona winner in the conference title game.

UP NEXT:

UCLA: The Bruins return home to face Washington on Wednesday night.

Arizona: The Wildcats play their final regular-season game of the season at Arizona State on Thursday.

No. 5 UCLA wins at No. 4 Arizona thanks to defense, rebounding?

TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins moves the ball upcourt during the second half of the college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on February 25, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats 77-72.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Showtime UCLA Bruins, the team that has defined the pace-and-space movement in college basketball, the nation’s most lethal offensive attack, landed their second elite road win of the season on Saturday night, going into Tucson and knocking off No. 4 Arizona thanks to their ability to grind out stops defensively, milk the clock and crash the offensive glass.

Yeah.

Who saw that happening?

The fifth-ranked Bruins avenged a beatdown that they took at the hands of Arizona a month ago, going into the McKale Center and handing the Wildcats just their second Pac-12 loss of the season, 77-72. The difference came in the second half, with just under 15 minutes left, when head coach Steve Alford made the change from a man-to-man defense to a 3-2 zone that just had Arizona completely flummoxed. The rhythm that the Wildcats had offensively completely disappeared, but that wasn’t just the work of UCLA’s defense.

Part of it was their offense, too.

Let me digress, for a second: Part of what makes Virginia’s defense so consistently successful is that the Cavaliers make you work on the defensive end of the floor, using up as much of the shot clock as possible. The reason is mostly that Tony Bennett wants his team to control pace and to work the ball around until they have the perfect shot, not just a good shot, but the by-product is that is just takes the air out of the ball for the team that is forced to spend that much time defending. Every. Single. Possession.

This is what UCLA started doing. If they weren’t getting layups in transition, they were running their sets, working the ball into Thomas Welsh and T.J. Leaf, trying to get Lonzo Ball isolated against the smaller Parker Jackson-Cartwright, milking the clock for all that it was worth.

That was before the offensive rebounds.

TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins attempts a shot between Dusan Ristic #14 and Rawle Alkins #1 of the Arizona Wildcats during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on February 25, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

UCLA grabbed nine of them in the second half — Arizona half just seven defensive rebounds in total, including three straight at the end of the game — and scored 14 second chance points in the second half. These weren’t just tip-ins at the rim. These were hustle plays, UCLA beating out Arizona’s big men to secure a board and work 30 more seconds off of the clock. Those are the back-breakers. Those are the plays that allow a visiting team to keep momentum in their favor and keep the home crowd from getting into the game. Those are the plays that helped prevent Arizona from looking like they had any clue how to attack a zone in the second half.

And that’s just not what we’ve become accustomed to seeing the Bruins do this season.

They run and they chuck threes and they let Lonzo Ball do what he can do and they don’t play much defense. That’s exactly who they were in the first half. They won this game because that’s who they weren’t for the final 15 minutes.

It brings us to a fascinating situation with the Pac-12.

Only one team from the conference is going to get a top four seed in the West Region. Whether it’s a No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, you will only see one of Arizona, UCLA and Oregon — all of whom have essentially locked up a top three seed at this point — in the same bracket as Gonzaga on Selection Sunday. That’s how the bracketing rules work. This is incredibly advantageous because of where their games would be played: In Sacramento (or Salt Lake City) the first weekend, San Jose the second weekend and Phoenix for the Final Four. Not only would all of those games be fairly local — particularly for UCLA and Arizona — but they would be played on West Coast time, an underrated advantage for teams who don’t have to readjust their body-clock to a 10 p.m. ET tip-off time.

The only way that this scenario wouldn’t play out is if a Pac-12 team climbs up to the No. 1 seed line where undefeated Gonzaga also lurks, but as of today — which is a long, long, LONG way from Selection Sunday — it seems like those four No. 1 seeds are pretty set in stone.

UCLA has now won at Kentucky and at Arizona. That’s the best pair of road wins of any team in college basketball. They beat Oregon at home. They’re 26-3 on the season. If they’re going to win the Pac-12 tournament title, they’re probably going to have to go through Arizona and Oregon to do it.

And if they pull that off, the Bruins could very well end up being the top seed coming out of the conference.

They wouldn’t have to leave California until the Final Four in Phoenix.

And had they lost at Arizona on Saturday, I’m not sure it would have been possible.

So while the Bruins were already more-or-less out of the Pac-12 regular season title running, this win had oh-so-much more meaning that simply quieting a rival on their home floor.

No. 3 Kansas clinches outright Big 12 regular season title

AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives around Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on February 25, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas — Josh Jackson scored 18 points and Frank Mason III added 16 to help No. 3 Kansas beat Texas 77-67 on Saturday night to secure its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship outright.

Devonte Graham and Dwight Coleby added 12 points apiece for the Jayhawks (26-3, 14-2 Big 12) who have won six straight games.

Jarrett Allen led Texas (10-19, 4-12) with 20 points. Andrew Jones added 18 for the Longhorns, losers of five straight games.

Texas committed 15 turnovers, six by guard Kerwin Roach Jr., and Kansas converted them into 28 points.

Kansas used a 12-0 push in the first half to take a 13-point lead before settling for a 40-31 edge at the break. Coleby, a little-used junior forward who averages 1.2 points a game, scored 10 in the half, converting 4 of 5 shots inside. Kansas had a 24-8 edge in points in the paint. His 12 points matched a career best.

Texas shot four air balls and committed nine turnovers in the half — five of them Kansas steals.

The Longhorns cut the lead to five with a 3-point basket by Jacob Young midway through the second half, but Kansas responded with an 8-1 run and eventually led by 15 with less than three minutes remaining. Mason and Jackson scored four points apiece during that span.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks have won 12 of their last 13 games against Texas, including seven straight, giving them a 29-8 edge since the Big 12 began competition in 1996-97. Texas did, however finish in a first-place tie with the Jayhawks during two of these 13 straight Kansas Big 12 regular season championships — in 2006 and 2008. The Longhorns beat Kansas in Austin both seasons.

Texas: The Longhorns are 4-4 in Big 12 home games. Before Saturday, their largest margin of victory or defeat was four points.

UP NEXT

Kansas is at home against Oklahoma on Monday. The Jayhawks beat Oklahoma 81-70 on Jan. 10 with Mason scoring 28 points, including five 3-point baskets.

Texas is at Texas Tech on Monday. The Longhorns beat the Red Raiders 62-58 on Feb. 1 in Austin. Eric Davis Jr. made a big 3-point basket with 28.8 seconds remaining for Texas, which does not have a road win this season.

VIDEO: Indiana caps 22-0 first half run with 75-foot buzzer-beater

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The Hoosiers were down 26-14 late in the first half. They were up 36-26 at the break thanks to this: