Tracy Abrams, Gavin Schilling, Adreian Payne

Finally at full strength, Michigan State sleepwalks through loss to Illinois

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For the first time since January 4th, Michigan State played a basketball game with everyone on their roster available as Branden Dawson made his triumphant return from a broken hand on Saturday afternoon.

It’s the moment that we’ve been waiting for since Gary Harris sat out his first game with a bum ankle way back in November. It was the first chance that the Spartans had to prove that the team that lost five of their last nine games wasn’t the real Michigan State. That was the tired, beat down, injury-ravaged Michigan State.

This new Michigan State, the healthy one, was going to host a disappointing Illinois team with little left to play for, a team that had lost eight straight and 10 of 11 earlier this season.

And what ended up happening?

The Illini went into the Breslin Center and smacked around the No. 18 Spartans, jumping out to a double-digit first half lead and hanging on to win 53-46.

Oh.

Gary Harris scored 19 of those 46 points. He played well. Adreian Payne? He finished with four points, seven boards, just five field goals attempted and no fouls or blocks. Denzel Valentine was 1-for-6 from the floor with five turnovers. Keith Appling was 2-for-5 with four turnovers.

OK, then.

The most disconcerting part had nothing to do with the loss itself, because those happen. Everyone has off nights, even teams that are supposedly getting to full-strength and back to being a national title contender. No one — not even a Tom Izzo-coached team — is immune to a stinker.

But this wasn’t just an off-night from the Spartans. They looked completely out of it. Their fight wasn’t there, and in the end, that’s supposed to be what the difference-maker is for this group. Michigan State has a reputation for playing harder and more physical than anyone, and it just so happens that these guys are as talented as anyone in the country. That’s why the nation was enamored with them even when they didn’t have all their pieces available.

The silver lining? I doubt that Michigan State will sleepwalk through a game again, because I don’t think that anyone on that roster is going to enjoy what happens in practice the next couple of days. Effort is the only thing that an individual can control in a basketball game. They can, and I expect that they will, play harder than this for the next month.

The bigger issue may actually be Keith Appling. Michigan State’s all-Big Ten point guard is simply a shell of himself. “Keith Appling is a major problem right now because he just can’t do what he could do,” Izzo told reporters after the game. He injured his right wrist in December, and he is clearly not right. He can’t shoot, I don’t know how well he can dribble with his right hand, he’s not attacking the basket. It’s bad.

Travis Trice is a decent-enough replacement for Appling, but he’s not an all-league caliber player.

Effort issues can be fixed, but if Appling isn’t healthy, Michigan State will never truly be at full-strength.

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

Lorenzo Romar
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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)
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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.

Amaker becomes winningest coach at Harvard after 74-66 win.

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tommy Amaker talks to Siyani Chambers #1 of the Harvard Crimson in the first half against the Michigan State Spartans during the Third Round of the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 22, 2014 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) Harvard’s Tommy Amaker still feels the influence that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski provided. It’s helped lead him through a successful coaching career.

Amaker became the winningest coach in Harvard history on Wednesday night when Chris Lewis scored a season-high 22 points and Seth Towns had 18 to lead the Crimson to a 74-66 road victory over local rival Boston College.

It was Amaker’s 179th win in his 10th season, moving him ahead of his predecessor, Frank Sullivan (178-245), who was the coach from 1991-2007.

“I’ll communicate with coach for sure,” Amaker said. “He has so many different guys that he likes to keep track of. I don’t want to be a burden in any way, but obviously his influence has been paramount. It’s been as big as it comes for me.

“I’ve always thought of him as an amazing teacher, leader. I’ve always tried emulate some of the things he’s taught through the years.”

A star guard with the Blue Devils from 1983-87, the 52-year-old Amaker felt he could take Harvard to a successful level that’s led to five Ivy League titles in the past six seasons.

“We always thought if we could build our basketball program to go along with the things that happen at Harvard, we would feel good about ourselves, and we’ve done that,” he said.

It was the third straight victory for Harvard (4-4).

Jerome Robinson led Boston College (4-4) with 25 points. A.J. Turner scored 13.

The Crimson looked dedicated to driving to the basket on most possessions from the start, collecting a number of easy looks when they shot near 60 percent in the opening minutes. It triggered a 13-2 spree that helped them open a 23-10 lead.

“The last couple of games I was encouraged of what we were doing defensively, but we took a step back,” BC coach Jim Christian said. “We’d played seven games. These guys have played a lot of minutes – bad defense is bad defense.”

The Crimson pushed their advantage to 39-21 after Bryce Aiken’s driving basket capped a 6-0 spurt.

The Eagles trailed by 19 points with just under 10 minutes to play, but made a late charge, closing the deficit to 69-60 on Robinson’s 3-pointer from the left corner.

Both teams then went nearly three minutes without a basket before Harvard closed it out.

BIG PICTURE

Harvard: The Crimson seemed to have figured out what type of team they have become after opening the season 1-3. They showed balance in a two-night span when they beat Northeastern on Tuesday and Boston College. On Tuesday, they scored only 18 points in the paint and they had 20 at halftime against the Eagles, finishing with 34.

“We’re constantly trying to preach that we set the tone and be the aggressor early,” Amaker said. “I just thought they responded very well and made the necessary plays.”

Boston College: The Eagles need to find some more consistent scoring to go along with Robinson. The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard entered the game second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, averaging 20.1 per game.

REFLECTION

“I’m very proud of that,” Amaker said of the milestone. “I’m proud of our program and our team.”

PERFECT TEST

The Crimson looked at playing consecutive nights as a warm up to how things will be in conference play, when schools mostly compete on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We approached these two back-to-back games how we’d see Ivy League play,” said point guard Siyani Chambers, who had 11 assists. “We’re trying to figure out who we are.”

SERIES

BC leads the all-time series 34-16 and had won the last two meetings after losing six straight.

The two schools first met in the 1905-06 season when Harvard won 42-6.

UP NEXT

Harvard: At Houston of the American Athletic Conference on Friday.

Boston College: Hosts Hartford from the America East Conference Friday.

No. 8 Gonzaga throttles Washington

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, right, shoots while defended by Washington guard Markelle Fultz during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
AP Photo/Young Kwak
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SPOKANE, Wash. — Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points as No. 8 Gonzaga beat poor-shooting Washington 98-71 on Wednesday night in a resumption of their cross-state rivalry.

Przemek Karnowski added 17 points and Jordan Mathews had 14 for Gonzaga (9-0), which dominated from the opening minutes.
Freshman Markelle Fultz had 25 points and 10 rebounds for Washington (4-4), which has lost three straight. The Huskies came in averaging 88 points per game.

NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster writes about how Fultz may be destined to relive Ben Simmons’ year at LSU in which the No. 1 NBA draft pick missed the NCAA tournament

Noah Dickerson had 12 points and 15 rebounds for Washington, which shot just 30 percent for the game. Gonzaga shot 53 percent.

Williams-Goss, who played for Washington before transferring to Gonzaga and becoming eligible this season, made 9 of 13 shots against his former team.

Johnathan Williams scored Gonzaga’s first three baskets and Mathews added consecutive 3-pointers as the Zags jumped to a 16-4 lead.

Mathews’ hit another 3-pointer as Gonzaga pushed the lead to 27-6. Washington made only two of its first 16 shots.

Gonzaga led 35-10, after shooting 73 percent from the field, while Washington made just four of its first 25 shots.

Mathews had 14 points as Gonzaga led 47-22 at halftime, after making 64 percent of its shots from the field. Washington shot just 21 percent (9 of 42) and missed all seven of its 3-point attempts. But the Huskies did have a 17-0 advantage in offensive rebounds at halftime.

Washington’s shooting picked up early in the second half, but so did Gonzaga’s and the Huskies could not make up any ground. Silas Melson’s 3-pointer lifted Gonzaga to a 68-34 lead.

The teams first played in 1910, and have played intermittently ever since. Washington ended the home-and-home series in 2006, after Gonzaga won eight of the previous nine games.

Washington and Gonzaga actually renewed their rivalry in the Bahamas last season in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, an 80-64 Gonzaga win.

Washington’s last victory in Spokane occurred in 1944.

The Huskies still lead the all-time series 29-16, with their last win in 2005.

BIG PICTURE

Washington: Fultz came in averaging 22.7 points per game, 13th in the nation and tops by a freshman, while four other Huskies score in double digits. Washington is third in the nation with 7.7 blocks per game. The Huskies seek to end a five-year drought in going to the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have been to the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999. They last opened 9-0 in the 2013 season, before losing to Illinois. Six Zags are averaging at least 9 points per game, led by Josh Perkins at 13.1 ppg.

UP NEXT

Washington hosts Nevada on Sunday.

Gonzaga hosts Akron on Saturday.