memphis smu

No. 20 Memphis overcomes sluggish start in win over No. 18 SMU

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Memphis overcame a sluggish first half on Saturday as they got past American conference adversary SMU with a 67-58 home win.

The No. 20 Tigers shot 34.5 percent in the first half as their four senior guards combined to go 3-for-17 from the three-point line, but Joe Jackson and the Tigers stepped it up in the second half to put away another top-25 opponent.

Jackson scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half and Memphis also had the benefit of Chris Crawford (nine points) heating up for a stretch as well as some jumpers from Mike Dixon Jr. (nine points). But what really makes Memphis a potentially great team is when their bigs get involved.

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Trailing 30-26 at the half, Memphis freshman forward Austin Nichols scored four quick points and blocked a shot early in the half to set an early tone for Memphis. Nichols finished with 14 points and nine rebounds and looks so much more confident than he did during the early portion of the AAC schedule.

Although Shaq Goodwin’s stat line of two points and four rebounds doesn’t look good on paper, he was an active interior defender and added four steals and three assists.

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The growing chemistry between Goodwin and Nichols is fun to watch. Although Memphis’ guards dominate the headlines — and with four senior guards, they should — Goodwin and Nichols make for an interesting high-low big man duo on offense while they’re also improving playing off of each other on defense. Nichols added three blocks on the afternoon and many times it was on weak side blocks as Goodwin was guarding his man and providing the initial pressure. Markus Kennedy still had some easy ones down low, but those are becoming less of a trend for the Memphis defense.

Before the year, people were critical of Josh Pastner — and to an extent Memphis — because Pastner had never beaten a top-25 opponent. Now the Tigers own five wins over top-25 opponents this season and if they play balanced basketball and get their big men involved, they should get a couple more in the postseason.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.