The finish to the Old Spice Classic semifinal between No. 5 Oklahoma State and Butler was not a work of art to say the least. The two teams combined to shoot 0-for-6 from the field and 1-for-7 from the foul line down the stretch, with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart accounting for three of the misses from the charity stripe. Ultimately the game was decided by a Michael Cobbins blocked shot as time expired, advancing the Cowboys to the title game by the final score of 69-67.
The Cowboys shot 50% from the field for the game but their offensive execution down the stretch left much to be desired (they shot 40.7% in the second half), with the Bulldogs taking advantage and fighting back to with one point in the game’s final seconds. But even with the subpar finish there’s at least one positive (in addition to the win, of course) that Travis Ford’s team can take out of Friday’s game.
That positive would be the play of sophomore forward Kamari Murphy, who finished with ten points, eight rebounds and two assists on the afternoon. Much of the “heavy lifting” will be done by Smart (17 points, eight rebounds and three assists), Le’Bryan Nash (15 points, five rebounds) and Markel Brown (nine points, six rebounds), due to both their skill levels and the way in which the Oklahoma State offense is set up.
But if the Cowboys are to make a run at ending Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 standings (KU’s won at least a share of the last nine regular season titles), players such as Murphy and Cobbins will need to be heard from.
On the season Murphy’s leading the team in offensive rebounding rate (16.2) and ranks behind only Nash in defensive rebounding rate (21.5). Those percentages are significant improvements over what Murphy (4.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg entering today’s game) was able to contribute last season, in which he played just over 18 minutes per game (entering Friday he was averaging 16.6 mpg this season).
As a senior at IMG Academy Murphy averaged 20 points and ten rebounds per game, and it’s safe to say that the same number of offensive opportunities aren’t there in Stillwater due to the presence of the talented players mentioned above. That required an adjustment of sorts from Murphy, as he needed to become even more of a “lunchpail” guy in order to consistently see the floor. Through seven games Murphy’s shown signs of improvement in that role, and if he can continue on that path both he and Oklahoma State will reap the benefits.
It’s worth noting here that Derek Willis is not left-handed, yet he dunks this with his left hand.
No. 8 North Carolina knocked off Pitt on the road on Saturday afternoon, picking up an 85-67 win that clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the Tar Heels this season.
It’s the second straight season and the eighth time in the 14 years that Roy Williams has been the head coach of the Tar Heels that they can make such a claim. For comparison’s sake, Mike Krzyzewski and Duke have won just three ACC regular season titles in those 14 years and they haven’t won one since 2010.
So this is a pretty good run that Roy Williams is on, and that’s before you consider the two national titles — plus a third national title game — that he’s won during that stretch.
And this year may be as impressive as any job that he’s done during his career.
This UNC team is different than past UNC teams in the sense that it’s the first time that one of his great teams doesn’t have a front line anchored by a future first round pick that is a killer on the block and a stallion running the floor in transition. There’s no Brice Johnson or Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May. Joel Berry II is a really good college guard, but he’s not Kendall Marshall or Ray Felton or Ty Lawson, and his inconsistency is one of UNC’s bigger question marks heading into the tournament. Justin Jackson has turned into a killer this season, which is not something we would have said about Justin Jackson in any other year.
Put another way, this team is not a team that you can look at and know will be a title contender.
But they are.
They hold a two-game lead over an ACC that might get 10 teams into the NCAA tournament with two games left. If they win at Virginia next week, they will be playing for pride and for seeding when they take on Duke in the season finale.
I’d go as far as to say that the Tar Heels are as good, or better, than anyone in college basketball this season. They’ll probably end up as the No. 1 seed in the south and could very well make another run to the Final Four this season.
Considering just how good Williams has been throughout his career, and particularly during his tenure in Chapel Hill, you can understand what it means to say that this may very well be the best coaching job of his career.
Duke will be without star junior guard Grayson Allen on Saturday.
According to a report from Greg Gumbel of CBS Sports, Allen will miss the Blue Devils’ road game at Miami with an ankle injury.
The 6-foot-5 Allen is averaging 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season as he’s battled a few different injuries as well as getting suspended for another tripping incident. Duke is used to playing without Allen and the Blue Devils should still have enough to stay in this one against Miami but it is going to be a tough game to win on the road.
Duke is coming off of a road loss to Syracuse earlier this week as the No. 10 Blue Devils are trying to finish out a tough regular-season schedule these next three games.
Drake senior center Jacob Enevold received a special surprise on Saturday afternoon as his parents flew all the way from Denmark to surprise him for Senior Day.
The 7-foot-1 Enevold appeared perfectly content to take part in the Senior Day celebrations when his parents appeared on the floor and he ran to greet them.
Starting freshman guard De’Aaron Fox will be out for Kentucky on Saturday as the Wildcats host Florida in an important SEC showdown.
The 6-foot-3 Fox has a knee contusion, and without him, the Wildcats will start senior Mychael Mulder. Fox is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game as he’s been one of the country’s best two-way freshmen this season.
Kentucky and Florida both enter Saturday’s game at 13-2 in SEC play but the Gators took the first matchup by 22 points between these two teams in Gainesville on Feb. 4.