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Next two games could potentially change course of Utah’s season

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Even with the loss of three starters from a team that pulled off a surprising run to the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, the Utah Utes had the appearance of a team that could make a move in the Pac-12. Forward Jordan Loveridge and guard Brandon Taylor would be sophomores, and a group of newcomers led by junior Delon Wright would raise the level of talent at Larry Krystkowiak’s disposal.

After picking up their first true road victory of conference play on Thursday night, beating USC 79-71, the Utes are 17-7 with a 6-6 record in Pac-12 play. Given the quality of their non-conference schedule, Utah has a lot of work to do when it comes to reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. With this being the case the chances of the Utes making the Field of 68 are slim.

However, in front of the Utes are two games that could potentially change the course of their season should they find a way to win. Those games: at UCLA this weekend, and No. 2 Arizona at home next Wednesday.

Find a way to win those two, and Utah would have two much-needed quality wins on its resume. And while beating USC does little for Utah’s hopes of climbing into the NCAA tournament discussion, the fact that they were able to close out a game on the road is a step forward for a program that has struggled for much of its brief stay in the Pac-12.

Most importantly, Utah finally didn’t panic when a team made a run. Unlike Arizona, and Colorado, the Utes didn’t wilt when USC made a big push. And that’s why Utah finally can say it won a road game.

The differences against USC were three-point shooting and the way in which Utah distributed the basketball. The Utes made ten of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc, with Loveridge, Taylor and Dakarai Tucker accounting for all ten makes. And of their 24 made field goals 17 were assisted, resulting in an assist percentage (70.8%) much better than their rate for the season (58.4%).

There are areas to address however, most notably the 14 turnovers committed against USC. But Utah has a chance to turn this season into something more, a scenario few expected even after the Utes entered conference play with a gaudy 11-1 record. And even if that doesn’t result in a trip to the NCAA tournament, that’s a positive sign for Utah basketball in the future.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.

Washington State coach begins game on opponent’s bench

Ernie Kent
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In September, during the Coaches vs. Cancer Gala in Spokane, Washington, there was a live auction, which included the chance to be Idaho’s honorary coach for a regular season during the 2016-17 season.

Washington State head coach Ernie Kent’s $2,000 bid more than tripled the next highest bid, according to the Spokesman Review.

On Wednesday night, during Washington State’s game against the Vandals, Kent sat next to his counterpart on the Idaho bench.

Kent returned to his side of the court following the game’s first possession.

Behind 16 points from Ike Iiroegbu, the Cougars defeated the Vandals, 61-48.

 

Given Washington’s struggles, just how hot is Lorenzo Romar’s seat?

Lorenzo Romar
AP Photo/Stephen Brashear
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We tried to warn you what was coming on Wednesday night.

We tried to tell you just how bad things were for Washington right now, that, according to a coach that had faced the Huskies this season, “they were so ******* bad defensively” that “they looked like they hadn’t been coached.”

That’s not a good look for anyone, let alone a head coach that has missed the NCAA tournament the last five seasons despite having five first round picks come through his program during that time.

Which is why you shouldn’t have been surprised that the Huskies were gutted by No. 8 Gonzaga, losing 98-71 in a game that was never competitive at any point. And, given that Markelle Fultz, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is on the Washington roster, it’s the nightmare scenario.

So.

We need to start talking about the elephant in the room, because there’s a lot to unpack here:

Just how hot is Lorenzo Romar’s seat?

RELATED: What has gone wrong with Washington this season?

The simple answer? Scalding. Romar is one of just three Power 5 head coaches that have missed the NCAA tournament for five straight seasons without having to find new employment. You don’t get six tournament-less years and survive, not at this level.

But there’s more to the conversation that simply relaying the number of first round picks he’s failed to get to the Big Dance.

Four of those five first round picks played in two different seasons, meaning that in the other three seasons, Washington was led by C.J. Wilcox, the No. 28 pick in 2014, and Nigel Williams-Goss. In 2011-12, Washington had Terrence Ross, then a sophomore, and freshman Tony Wroten on the roster. They started slowly out of the gate, going 7-6 in non-conference play, before winning the Pac-12 regular season title outright. They missed out on the NCAA tournament in large part due to the fact that the conference as a whole went 1-29 against the RPI top 50; only two Pac-12 teams earned bids that season. Ross and Wroten both left after the season.

The other year that Washington had two first round picks was in 2015-16, which both Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray shocked everyone by becoming one-and-done talents. Both were drafted almost entirely on potential; Chriss was clueless defensively, fouling out of 15 of the 34 games he played, while Murray’s jumper left him a long way away from impacting an NBA game. The conversation about this Washington team would be totally different right now if Fultz had those two on the floor with him.

Part of the reason those two were able to leave early was because of Romar’s coaching style – he lets his most talented players play regardless of whether or not they’re making mistakes – and in part because the 2016 draft was bad.

Romar is, in part, a victim of circumstance, even if he dug himself into this whole in the first place.

RELATED: For Michael Porter Jr., Washington was all about family first

Washington is still paying Romar a relatively small amount. After the 2010 season, when he led the Huskies to his third Sweet 16, Romar got a 10-year contract extension worth $1.7 million annually. It runs three more years after this season and comes with a $3.2 million buyout, which isn’t massive but is expensive for an athletic department that projected to operate at a $15 million deficit in 2016. Then you have to consider what it would cost to hire an upgrade on Romar.

For comparison’s sake, Tubby Smith made $1.8 million in 2015-16 at Texas Tech and got a raise to more than $3 million-a-year for the next five years at Memphis despite the fact that he wasn’t the guy the school initially targeted. But Brad Underwood will make $1.2 million a year for five years at Oklahoma State, which makes him the lowest-paid coach in the conference.

If new Washington AD Jennifer Cohen wants to hire a new coach, she’d certainly be able to afford a replacement that we be, at the least, a respectable name, but there’s no guarantee that a replacement is going to have any kind of success there. Romar is far and away the most successful coach Washington has ever had. He’s been to six NCAA tournament and three Sweet 16s in his 15 seasons. The Huskies reached the Final Four in 1953, and in the nearly 50 years between that day and the day that Romar was hired, Washington reached just six NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s.

Romar is not having the same level of success that he had when guys like Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas were on his roster, but Washington is still somewhat relevant due to the pros that are coming through Seattle. There’s no guarantee that any replacement will make Washington more likely to get to the NCAA tournament, but at least Husky fans get Markelle Fultz this season and Michael Porter Jr., a top five prospect and the son of current U-Dub assistant coach Michael Porter Sr., next season.

That’s certainly more enjoyable than rooting for, say, Washington State.

And it’s certainly a factor that Cohen has to consider. Porter clearly picked Washington because Romar, his godfather, is part of the family.

“As we continue to look where we’re going and where we think we can go and what our plan is, then I’ll have more information about it,” Cohen said at her introductory press conference. “But absolutely, I’m 100 percent behind him right now.”

And if Washington can’t get back to the Big Dance?

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” she said. “So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Dana O’Neil discusses her book about Villanova

Villanova head coach Jay Wright celebrates as he cuts down the net after the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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On today’s podcast, I was joined by ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, one of my personal favorite writers who has penned a book chronicling how Jay Wright was able to build the Villanova program into a national title winner.

Dana spent seven years as a beat-writer for the Wildcats before making the move to ESPN, and she has some great stories about how the book came together and, frankly, how that Villanova team came together.

It’s a little “Inside Baseball”, but it was a fun conversation about a book that you know is going to be really good.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

VIDEO: World War II Veteran play anthem on harmonica before Pearl Harbor Invitational

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Peter DuPre’, a veteran of World War II, opened last night’s Pearl Harbor Invitational between Seton Hall and California with a moving rendition of the National Anthem, which he played on his harmonica.