Utah v Arizona

Why losing Brandon Ashley would be a massive blow to Arizona’s title hopes

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No. 1 Arizona’s undefeated season came to an end on Saturday night, losing 60-58 to Cal on a game-winning jumper from Justin Cobbs.

Their bid to become the first Pac-12 team to make it through the conference undefeated since the league was known as the Pac-8 is over.

That No. 1 ranking goes ‘poof’ on Monday morning, taken over by a Syracuse team coming off of a thrilling win over Duke, and Nick Johnson’s bid to be the National Player of the Year takes a blow thanks to a 1-for-14 shooting performance in which he committed five turnovers.

Yuck.

But none of that actually matters in the long run. Arizona still is in commanding position in the Pac-12 standings. They still look destined to be a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. And Johnson is still an all-american that I would trust taking a shot with the game on the line over all but maybe five players in all of college basketball.

What matters is Brandon Ashley.

More specifically, what matters is Ashley’s right foot.

“We might have lost Brandon Ashley for the year,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said on his radio show after the loss on Saturday. He went on to say that there’s a really good chance that Ashley broke a bone in his foot, and that right now, the Wildcats are waiting to hear about the severity of the injury. “It’s more about the level of break that will be involved,” he said.

If Ashley’s injury keeps him out for six weeks, he may be able to return to the court in time for the Pac-12 tournament, which, in an ideal situation, would allow him to get back into shape for the NCAA tournament, where he wouldn’t really be needed until the second weekend.

That’s a perfect world.

But assuming that Arizona’s wold isn’t perfect, this is just a devastating blow to Wildcat’s title chances.

For starters, Ashley is arguably Arizona’s most talented player. He’s a versatile, athletic 6-foot-10 forward that can score with his back to the basket or step out on the perimeter and knock down a jumper. He averages 12.0 points and 6.0 boards and shoots 52.8% from the field and 39.3% from three. That alone makes Ashley’s loss painful.

But there’s so much more at play here:

  • Arizona’s size makes them so difficult to matchup with. With Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski up front and Aaron Gordon playing the three, they have the biggest front line in the country. Gordon can matchup with fours. He’s a mismatch against threes. Arizona loses that advantage.
  • Ashley’s ability to shoot helped spread the floor. Cal dared Gordon to shoot all night on Saturday, playing a good 10 feet off of him. With Gordon having to play primarily at the four, that allows a bigger body free roam in the paint to double-team Tarczewski.
  • That issue is two-fold. With Gordon at the four, that means Arizona will have to play either Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Gabe York. Hollis-Jefferson is one heckuva defender, but he’s a liability offensively. York can really shoot the ball, but he’s a liability defensively. In other words, without Ashley on the floor, Arizona’s best offensive lineup looks different than their best defensive lineup. With Ashley, that’s not the case.
  • The Wildcats don’t have much depth with Ashley healthy. Without him? Yikes.

It’s too early to write this team off completely as a national title contender, not when they’re coached by someone as smart as Sean Miller and not when they have the kind of talent on the roster that Arizona does.

But if the Wildcats don’t have a healthy Brandon Ashley, the odds of this team winning a national title will take a massive hit.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.