Michael Cobbins, Michael Dixon, Markel Brown

Business as usual: No. 11 Memphis can’t win a big game

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It’s a topic that has become all too common for hoops fans in the city of Memphis.

The Tigers entered the season with all kinds of hype and promise, finding themselves ranked in the top 15 based on the immense talent on their roster. And in their first marquee matchup of the season … they don’t show up to play.

On Tuesday night, the team with arguably the nation’s most talented back court got eviscerated by Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, getting smacked around as the No. 7 Cowboys took a sledgehammer to the Tigers, winning 101-80 in a game that certainly wasn’t as competitive as the final score would indicate.

It was embarrassing.

But it wasn’t unexpected, unfortunately. That’s what happens when you’re Josh Pastner and you’ve developed a reputation for the complete inability to win a big game. He’s now 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. He did win a game against St. Mary’s in the NCAA tournament last season — the Gaels were 48 hours removed from playing in the play-in game in a different city — and Randy Bennett’s club was ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll at the time, so in fairness, Pastner has beaten a top 25 team in his head coaching career. Barely.

(MORE: Marcus Smart added his name to the Player of the Year list)

It was also his first career NCAA tournament victory.

No. 11 Memphis was supposed to be different this season. They have four talented seniors in their back court with the addition of Michael Dixon, and those four were supposed to provide the leadership necessary to buck this trend of losing when the lights are the brightest. They were going to be able to spread the floor and create mismatches and rely on their bevy of offensive talent to be able to breakdown defenses and win games. Dixon, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson were going to give opposing back courts fits as they tried to handle the ball and run offense. There was going to be a mental toughness spurred on by the addition of Dixon, a bulldog of a lead guard that has been through enough ups-and-downs in his career to realize that no game can be taken for granted.

Instead, it was the same old stuff from the Tigers. That spread offense was a disaster, as Pastner’s team looked like they were running AAU sets offensively. Instead of having any kind of flow or movement on that end of the floor, the Tigers seemed content to simply swing the ball around the perimeter until one of their wings decided to try to beat their man one-on-one.

How’d that work out? Their vaunted back court combined to go 8-for-34 from the floor with ten turnovers. Dixon and Johnson were especially bad, finishing 2-for-20 combined. As a team, the Tigers were 2-for-24 on shots outside the paint.

As bad as they were on that end, Memphis was worse defensively, allowing Smart to basically do whatever he wanted to.

At some point, that’s forgivable. Everyone has off-nights, and when one of the best players in the country gets into the kind of rhythm that Smart was in last night — he scored 24 points in the first 12 minutes of the game — that’s tough to deal with.

What’s unforgivable is the fact that Memphis rolled over and took it.

I don’t know if it’s right to say they quit last night. I think the more accurate description is that they were resigned to their fate, like the culture of the Memphis locker is the expectation of a loss. They took their beating without really fighting back. That’s a bad sign for a team playing in a league that now includes Louisville and UConn and Cincinnati.

So what’s the answer?

I don’t know, but one thing that’s clear is that the people of Memphis are tired of asking the same question, over and over, year after year.

And when the media in Memphis starts doing things like saying that Josh Pastner can’t coach, it won’t be long for him in that town.

Bubble Banter: Make-or-break games for Rhode Island, Clemson, TCU and Pitt

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 09: Jaron Blossomgame #5 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates a basket against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half in the second round of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 9, 2016 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from. This post will be updated throughout the day. 

STILL TO PLAY

No. 19 Florida State at Clemson (RPI: 61, KenPom: 37, next four out), 12:00 p.m.

No. 8 North Carolina at Pitt (RPI: 63, KenPom: 66, next four out), 12:00 p.m.

No. 25 Wichita State (RPI: 44, KenPom: 12, No. 10 seed) at Missouri State, 12:00 p.m.

No. 12 West Virginia at TCU (RPI: 53, KenPom: 43, first four out), 2:00 p.m.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 54, No. 12 seed) at Northern Iowa, 2:00 p.m.

VCU (RPI: 25, KenPom: 42, No. 9 seed) at Rhode Island (RPI: 47, KenPom: 55, next four out), 2:00 p.m.

Seton Hall (RPI: 48, KenPom: 57, play-in game) at DePaul, 2:00 p.m.

Mississippi State at Vanderbilt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 51, next four out), 4:00 p.m.

No. 14 Purdue at Michigan (RPI: 51, KenPom: 27, No. 9 seed), 4:00 p.m.

Marquette (RPI: 68, KenPom: 31, No. 10 seed) at Providence (RPI: 55, KenPom: 56, play-in game), 4:00 p.m.

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 30, play-in game) at Oklahoma, 6:00 p.m.

Northwestern at Indiana (RPI: 100, KenPom: 46, bubble), 8:00 p.m.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 49, No. 9 seed) at Auburn, 8:30 p.m.

USF leaves two sleeping players behind at airport

HARTFORD, CT - JANUARY 25:  Troy Holston Jr. #25 of the South Florida Bulls reacts following a three-point shot in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the game at the XL Center on January 25, 2015 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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The University of South Florida’s men’s basketball season reached a new low late this week after the Bulls suffered a conference road loss at Tulsa.

USF fell to 7-20 overall and 1-15 in AAC conference play after Thursday’s loss. Somehow, the program made matters worse by leaving two players behind who fell asleep in the airport as the team waited for a connecting flight home.

According to a report from Collin Sherwin of the Daily Stampede, USF leading scorer Geno Thorpe and third-leading scorer Troy Holston were sleeping as the Bulls waited for a connecting flight at a Houston airport to help get them home to Tampa.

While the rest of the USF team and support staff boarded the connecting flight home, nobody woke up Thorpe and Holston until it was too late and they missed the flight. The school later made sure to get a new flight for the duo so they could make it back to campus.

USF is already facing an NCAA investigation for academic violations and head coach Orlando Antigua was fired from the program on Jan. 3.

Interim head coach Murry Bartow released a statement on USF leaving two players behind.

“Yesterday, as our team traveled back from Tulsa, two of our players were separated from the rest of our team when we boarded a connecting flight in Houston. This unfortunate circumstance, for which I apologize, was recognized by our staff as the plane was leaving the gate and not in time to get the players on the commercial flight. We immediately began to make arrangements to get the players on the very next flight to Tampa, and were in communication with them as soon as was possible. Both players arrived safely home in Tampa later that afternoon, at approximately 4:25 p.m., where a staff member met them at the airport. They are joining the rest of the team in a charity activity today.”

The mother of Troy Holston, Monique Holston-Greene, was not happy about USF leaving her son behind at the airport and made sure to express that on Twitter.

It’s hard to say what the fallout from this might be but don’t be surprised to see a massive amount of transfers from USF this offseason.

USF also might want to consider changing the headline and team photo from its game story from the Tulsa loss. The tweet of the story from the USF men’s basketball account shows a picture of Troy Holston inbounding to Geno Thorpe as the headline mentions that USF is “short-handed” during the loss.

VIDEO: Fairfield knocks off Canisius on Tyler Nelson buzzer-beating three

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Fairfield captured a buzzer-beating win over Canisius on Friday night as junior guard Tyler Nelson hit a pull-up three-pointer for the win.

With the game tied at 55 with under a minute left, Canisius worked the clock to try and get a shot close to the final horn. After a Jermaine Crumpton missed jumper, Fairfield’s Matija Milin corralled the rebound and got the outlet pass to Nelson, who pulled up and made the game-winning three.

Nelson led the Stags with 17 points as Fairfield improved to 15-13 (10-9 in the MAAC) with the road win.

 

VIDEO: Half-court buzzer-beater lifts DIII Ramapo College to conference title

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The Division III ranks had one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season on Friday night as Ramapo College clinched a conference championship in memorable fashion.

Ramapo College was facing New Jersey City University in the title game of the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament on Friday night when the game became tied at 64 after a NJCU free throw with 3.1 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds play, Ramapo had to go the full length of the floor. Josh Ford caught the Ramapo inbounds pass near mid-court and found a trailing Thomas Bonacum, who launched a half-court shot and nailed it for the win.

Bonacum finished with 20 points and nine rebounds on the night as he was mobbed by fans for helping the Roadrunners clinch its sixth automatic NCAA tournament berth under head coach Chuck McBreen.

Here’s another angle of Bonacum’s ridiculous shot

 

De’Aaron Fox a ‘game-time decision’ for Saturday showdown

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 23:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 23, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Kentucky star guard De’Aaron Fox is a game-time decision when the No. 11 Wildcats take on No. 13 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

He didn’t practice on Thursday and was limited on Friday due to a knee contusion he suffered on Wednesday night against Missouri.

“He hit his knee,” head coach John Calipari said, according to SEC Country. “It’s not sprained or anything like that. It’s a bruise.”

Fox is averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 assists on the season. He missed one game earlier in the year due to an illness.

Kentucky’s game against the Gators in Rupp Arema will be for first place in the SEC and, in all likelihood, the SEC regular season title.