Oklahoma State continues to improve with win over Kansas State

Leave a comment

In mid-February, Oklahoma State looked like they were in deep trouble, as the Cowboys had lost seven consecutive games and were reeling after Marcus Smart’s suspension.

But since Smart’s return, Oklahoma State — and Smart himself — have looked like its a completely new season and the recent inspired play of the Cowboys continued on Monday night as Oklahoma State took down Kansas State for a 77-61, Big 12 win on Senior Night. Oklahoma State has now won four consecutive games to move to 20-10 on the season and 8-9 in Big 12 play.

The Cowboys did a tremendous job of sharing the ball on offense, moving the ball with consistency and taking good shots on Monday as they clearly outplayed Kansas State in the second half. Phil Forte led the Pokes in scoring at 23 points — including 6-for-11 from the three-point line — but Marcus Smart was a huge reason for Oklahoma State’s Monday-night success.

The sophomore guard had 18 points (on 5-for-8 shooting from the field), five assists, six rebounds and three steals on Monday while also helping hold Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster to 4-for-16 shooting.

Smart’s play on both ends of the floor was fantastic and it always appeared like he was in total control of his play. There were no reckless drives to the basket hoping to draw contact and there weren’t many forced looks. When Smart had a smaller defender guarding him, he tried to attack him off-the-dribble or go to the mid-post. This was the patient, high-basketball-IQ Marcus Smart we saw at the beginning of the season and not the Marcus Smart that was forcing things during the losing streak.

While Smart played well, Markel Brown also had a really good outing against Kansas State. During Smart’s suspension, Brown became one of Oklahoma State’s primary handlers and facilitators after the dismissal of Stevie Clark and with Smart and Brown both taking intelligent shots and finding open shooters like Forte or getting the ball inside to LeBryan Nash, suddenly this Oklahoma State team is really dangerous once again on the offensive end.

On the defensive side of things, with Smart locking down Foster, the rest of the Cowboys stayed aggressive as they limited the Wildcats to 34 percent shooting and 20 percent three-point shooting.

When Oklahoma State shoots 47 percent from the field, 41 percent from three-point range and makes 28-of-34 free throws — as they did Monday — there aren’t many teams in the country that can beat them.

If Marcus Smart continues to play like this and doesn’t try to force things, it rubs off on his teammates as this team’s leader and best player. Is Oklahoma State back to being a major threat in March? That still remains to be seen, and questions will still linger about the Cowboys’ depth, but Travis Ford has to be thrilled with the way his team is playing lately and Oklahoma State is playing great ball heading into Saturday’s Big 12 finale at Iowa State.

Michigan’s hot shooting carries them into the Elite Eight past Texas A&M

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Historically known as a team that lived and died with the three-ball, No. 3-seed Michigan had spent the first weekend of the NCAA tournament proving history wrong.

In an ugly game in their opener against Montana, the Wolverines shot 5-for-16 from three while turning the ball over 14 times and managing a measly 61 points. Against Houston in the second round, Michigan shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc, with one of those threes coming courtesy of Jordan Poole at the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.

Put another way, Michigan looked the part of the defensive grinder that they turned into this season.

Against No. 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, however, the Wolverines turned into the Golden State Warriors.

Michigan bested the number of three that they had made in the tournament to date, hitting 14-of-24 bombs while shooting 62 percent from the floor in a 99-72 win over an Aggies team that had finally, for the first time since November, looked the part of the SEC title contender that they have the talent to be.

No. 11 Loyola moves on to Elite Eight after beating No. 7 Nevada

Getty Images
1 Comment

Loyola is in the Elite Eight.

The Ramblers’ dream run through March continued Thursday as they knocked off No. 7 Nevada, 69-68, in South Region semifinal in Atlanta.

Loyola, an 11th seed making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, will play the winner of Kansas State and Kentucky on Sunday for a chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since it won the 1963 national championship.

Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play to put the Ramblers up four and put the game all but out of reach for Nevada. Townes finished with 18 points while Clayton Custer had 15.  Loyola shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game.

The Wolf Pack’s Caleb Martin had 21 points while Jordan Caroline had 19. Nevada shot 41.4 percent from the floor.

Nevada looked like it may overwhelm Loyola early as it built a 12-point lead less than seven minutes into the game. The Ramblers, though, struck back by keeping the Wolf Pack off the board for nearly the last 8 minutes of the first half to take a four-point lead into the break.

The strong play considered on the other side of halftime for Loyola, which astonishingly made its first 13 shots of the second half. Still, despite the perfect start, the Ramblers only briefly took a double-digit lead before Nevada sliced it back down below 10.

Loyola’s inability to build a substantial lead came back to bite it as Nevada, the comeback kids of this tournament, mounted its attack on the deficit and had it erased before the under-four timeout, setting up the final frantic minutes of a battle for a spot in the Elite Eight that the Ramblers claimed thanks to Townes’ late triple.

2018 March Madness: Fans in Times Square pick fake teams in Sweet 16 predictions

Leave a comment

NBC Sports went into Times Square this week to ask basketball fans for their Sweet 16 picks.

The only problem?

The teams in the games are not actually playing in the NCAA Tournament.

They aren’t even actually teams.

Hilarity ensued.

Miami’s Bruce Brown declares for draft without an agent

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bruce Brown wants to hear what the NBA has to say.

The Miami sophomore has declared for the draft but will not hire an agent, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during his second season with the Hurricanes. He did, though, see his shooting numbers take a tumble compared to his freshman season with his field goal percentage down from 45.9 to 41.5 percent and his 3-point shoot go from 34.7 to 26.7 percent. There’s also the matter of a foot injury that required surgery and kept him off the floor for the ‘Canes’ last 12 games.

By declaring for the draft, Brown can get in front of NBA teams, who will likely take a very close look at his shooting mechanics after that sophomore season downturn. It will also be an opportunity for him to build up his reputation in the professional ranks after spending much of his sophomore season injured.

Big East makes its rules recommendations in wake of FBI probe

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Big East has ideas.

The conference on Thursday unveiled its recommendations to change college basketball in the wake of the federal investigation of corruption that resulted in 10 initial arrests and general tumult across the sport.

Among the recommendations are allowing players to go pro out of high school but requiring those who go to college to stay there at least two seasons.  They also posit increased regulation of agents, shoe companies and its own members as well as a changed recruiting calendar and more coordination with USA Basketball.

These all seem well-intentioned, but probably not destined for implementation or success.

First off, the age limit that creates one-and-dones is an NBA rule, and no matter what lobbying the NCAA does, they’re not likely to change it on college’s behalf. Any change there will come at the behest of the National Basketball Players Association. The only real leverage the NCAA has on this front would be to declare freshmen ineligible as they once were, but that seems incredibly unlikely. The idea was floated a few years back, but felt entirely like a bluff.

Even if the NCAA somehow mandated players spend at least two seasons on campus, that seems incredibly anti-player. Trae Young probably wouldn’t have left Norman North High School after his senior year, but it would be silly to make him stay another season at Oklahoma if he didn’t want to after the year he just had. Going to college helped Young’s draft stock, but staying there would almost certainly hurt him.

Players that play their way into a multi-million future being made to stick around and play for free for an extra year doesn’t seem to be a viable solution in 2018. Beyond being anti-player on its face, it could fuel even more negative consequences for players who feel they are fringe candidates. Instead of just going to school for a year and proving themselves, some players may just decide they don’t want to risk being there for two years and declare, essentially, a year early.

It also is worth noting that the same document that calls for shoe company influence to be curtailed while also bringing in USA Basketball, which is very intertwined with Nike, is…interesting.

At the end of the day, these recommendations address symptoms – and probably not that well – rather than the root cause, which is amateurism. As long as players, who clearly, literally and inarguably have value beyond their scholarship, are unable to cash in on their skills, there will be people willing to pay them surreptitiously.

It’s hard to “clean up the game” when the “dirty money” isn’t going anywhere.