Late Night Snacks: Four ranked teams fall on first Saturday of 2014

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GAME OF THE DAY: Notre Dame 79, No. 9 Duke 77 

In their ACC debut Notre Dame knocked off Duke in South Bend, with guard Eric Atkins playing an important role in the outcome. Atkins finished the game with 19 points and 11 assists, and with Jerian Grant done for the season he’ll need to continue to do so. For Duke, Rodney Hood scored 27 points and Quinn Cook added 22, but a struggling Jabari Parker didn’t play for the final three-plus minutes. With Notre Dame having lost home games to Indiana State and North Dakota State, Saturday’s result was a much-needed one from a resume standpoint.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) Kansas State 74, No. 6 Oklahoma State 71

Marcus Foster scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Nino Williams added 15 off the bench as the Wildcats beat Oklahoma State in Manhattan. Le’Bryan Nash led the Cowboys with 20 points and nine rebounds, but with Markel Brown and Marcus Smart combining to shoot 8-for-22 Oklahoma State was unable to win their Big 12 opener. And looking forward, the Cowboys’ lack of interior depth in the aftermath of Michael Cobbins’ season-ending injury is a concern.

2) SMU 74, No. 17 UConn 65

The two-game trip to Texas wasn’t a good one for the Huskies, as they lost to both Houston and SMU. While UConn has some serious issues to address in regards to their front court production and offensive execution, Saturday’s win is a big one for Larry Brown’s program. In the first game at the new Moody Coliseum, the Mustangs put on a nice show for the sold-out crowd.

3) No. 2 Syracuse 49, Miami 44

Syracuse played its first conference game as an ACC member against the reigning ACC champions and it certainly wasn’t easy, as the Hurricanes did a good job of limiting the Orange’s fast break opportunities. But the Orange found a way to win anyway, with C.J. Fair scoring 15 points and Tyler Ennis adding ten points and seven assists.

STARRED

1) Elfrid Payton (Louisiana) 

The Ragin’ Cajuns fell to UL Monroe 103-98 in double overtime but Payton was highly productive, racking up 34 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals. And we have to mention UL Monroe’s Tylor Ongwae, who finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds.

2) Doug McDermott (Creighton)

One day after his birthday McDermott dropped 3o points, ten rebounds and five assists in the Bluejays’ 79-66 win at Seton Hall.

3) Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico) 

Bairstow racked up 29 points and 14 rebounds in New Mexico’s 80-73 win over Colorado State. And according to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal, Bairstow drew 14 fouls on the day. 

STRUGGLED

1) Memphis guards 

Memphis’ four-guard attack struggled offensive in the Tigers’ 69-53 loss to Cincinnati, combining to shoot 14-for-49 (28.6%) from the field and 2-for-17 from three.

2) Florida State

The Seminoles shot 30.8% from the field and had as many turnovers as made field goals (16) in their 62-50 home loss to Virginia.

3) Milwaukee

The Panthers missed all 16 of their three-point attempts (and shot 27.9% from the field overall) in a 77-49 home loss to Cleveland State.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

NOTABLES

  • After getting off to a slow start and trailing 17-2, Pittsburgh rebounded to win 74-62 at N.C. State with Lamar Patterson scoring 17 of his 22 points in the second half.
  • In the 100th meeting between the two teams Georgetown blew out St. John’s 77-60. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored 31 and grabbed six rebounds to lead the way.
  • Iona shot 64.5% from the field and 14-for-26 from three in their 118-92 beating of Niagara, setting school records for points in a regulation game and assists (34).
  • Maryland shot 10-for-19 from three and turned the ball over just six times in their 77-61 win over Georgia Tech.
  • Utah bounced back from a tough loss to No. 10 Oregon Saturday, beating Oregon State 80-69 with Brandon Taylor accounting for 23 points and eight assists.
  • Iona wasn’t the only team to set a school record for points in a game, as Louisiana Tech scored 126 in their 126-52 pasting of Longwood. The Bulldogs shot 17-for-35 from deep.
  • E.C. Matthews tallied 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists while Gilvydas Biruta added 19 points and 14 boards in Rhode Island’s 74-70 win at LSU.
  • Dayton was the other Atlantic 10 team to beat an SEC team, as Devin Oliver banked in a three with three tenths of a second remaining to give the Flyers an 83-80 overtime win at Ole Miss.
  • Can’t say that too many people expected Air Force to be 2-0 in Mountain West play (tied with Nevada), but they are after winning 75-68 at UNLV.
  • Buddy Hield led five Oklahoma players in double figures with 22 points as the Sooners beat rival Texas 88-85 in Austin.
  • Skyler Halford took full advantage of his first career start at BYU, scoring 28 points (11-for-16 FG) in the Cougars’ 87-53 win over San Diego.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, and Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

 

VIDEO: Jordan Bell’s spectacular chase-down block

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Oregon big man Jordan Bell has been the best player on the floor for the Ducks against Kansas, totally changing the way that Kansas wants to play with his defense.

As of the time of this posting, he had nine points, 11 boards, seven blocks and three assists, but his impact is not solely limited to the shots he swatted — every Kansas player that gets into the lane is very aware of the fact that Bell is lurking around the rim.

The thought of him changes shots.

The best block he’s had today came midway through the second half, when he snuffed out a dunk attempt from Landen Lucas with an impressive chase-down block:

No. 1 Gonzaga reaches first Final Four with win over No. 11 Xavier

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It took 18 long years, but after Gonzaga exploded onto the national scene with a Cinderella run that came one possession short of the Final Four in 1999, after the program followed up that run with back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed, after 19 straight trips to the NCAA tournament marred by moments of unfathomable heartbreak, the nation’s preeminent mid-major success story is finally headed to the Final Four.

What will the ‘Gonzaga is overrated’ crowd say now?

Armed with a roster that included a pair of blue-chip guards in their back court, a trio of high-major transfers and a McDonald’s All-American and future first round pick coming off the bench, Mark Few knocked off No. 11 seed Xavier, 83-59, on Saturday night to win the West Region and punch his first ticket to the final weekend of the college basketball season. Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with 23 points, eight boards and four assists and Johnathan Williams III, who was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player, added 19 points and nine boards as Gonzaga buried 12 threes and jumped out to an early lead they would never relinquish in a game that never felt like it was in doubt.

And with that, the monkey on Mark Few’s back is now gone.

“It means everything that we could deliver for guys like this,” Mark Few said after the game. Few had been the winningest NCAA tournament coach without a Final Four on his résumé. “They believed in us when they came. This is what we wanted to do and set out to do, and these guys were unbelievable. I could not be happier for all these guys, all our former players and all of Zag Nation.”

Whether or not that monkey was deserved is a fair question to ask. Gonzaga has had an incredible amount of success in the NCAA tournament. They’ve won at least one game in 16 of the 19 NCAA tournaments, including this year, that they’ve been a part of, including five of the six years in which they were a double-digit seed. In 13 of the previous 18 NCAA tournaments they played in, they advanced as far or further than their seed suggested they should have. Only five times did they lose to a team that was seeded lower than them. They’ve won 17 WCC regular season titles and 15 WCC tournament titles during that span.

What they’ve done, the consistency of the success that they’ve had, is not something done easily.

And it’s not something that should be overlooked when you consider where this program was in the early 90s. When Few was hired as an assistant coach in 1990, Gonzaga was thought of as the worst job in the WCC. The program, located in Spokane, Washington, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for recruiting, had never been to an NCAA tournament. The school didn’t even have a weight room for the team.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

“Players would sign out sweats and jerseys at the beginning of every school year and turn them back in nine months later,” wrote Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg earlier this week. “Sneakers were the only gear players received new, but obtaining a fresh pair typically required proving the old ones had a hole in the bottom.”

Within five years, Gonzaga was in the NCAA tournament. Within nine years, they had won the league and reached the Elite 8. Within 15 years, the school opened up a sparkling, $25-million, 6,000-seat arena, chartering flights for road games and recruiting trips.

Today, Gonzaga is arguably a top ten program in the sport

It is, quite literally, college basketball’s best rags-to-riches story.

They shouldn’t need this to justify their standing in the sport. Few shouldn’t need this to legitimize himself as something more than a coach feasting on a conference that can’t compete.

“My legacy is I guess built on a lot of other things,” Few said on Friday. “It’s built on the respect my players have for me and how they feel about they were treated and coached and developed and all that.”

“I’m schlepping along right now like vastly far behind my father who is 54 years a Presbyterian minister, man. He’s saved thousands of souls. He’s helped hundreds and thousands of people through all their tough times, you know. And that’s kind of the legacy that I’m looking at.”

But that’s not how our sport works.

March means everything.

If you can’t win on the biggest stage, if you don’t have that level of success when all eyes turn to college basketball, then everything you did during the previous four months is written off.

It’s not fair.

But that’s just how it is.

And now, nearly two decades removed from their introduction into the national consciousness, Gonzaga’s detractors no longer have that leg to stand on.