Cameron Ridley sends Texas through to the Round of 32

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MILWAUKEE — Rick Barnes emerged from the Texas locker room a happy man. With a big smile on his face, the Texas head coach walked through the media members and Texas basketball staff standing in the hallway and happily slapped everyone in his path on the shoulder as he briskly moved towards the NCAA’s mandatory post-game press conference.

Following behind him was gentle giant Cameron Ridley, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center who had just put No. 7 seed Texas in the next round with his first career buzzer-beater in a thrilling 87-85 win over No. 10 seed Arizona State.

Barnes quickly left Ridley and sophomore teammate Demarcus Holland in the dust as the three made their way towards the press conference. As Barnes enthusiastically marched through the long and winding underbelly of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Ridley and Holland took their time and shared some laughs. Texas assistant athletic director Scott McConnell soon caught up to the duo in the hallway and began asking them questions about the chaotic final play.

With the game tied at 85, Texas had the final possession as the clock was winding down and the ball found its way to junior forward Jonathan Holmes on the left wing.

“Some guys were confused by what we were doing. Some guys knew that it was supposed to be a screen and a re-screen for Javan (Felix) but I think three guys out there didn’t know that,” Holmes said of the final, broken play that continued the Longhorns’ season. “There was six seconds left so I tried to just pop out and get open and my man backed off and let me get a shot off.”

Holland, Holmes and Ridley all believed the shot was going in but it went long, bounced on the floor and Ridley corralled the loose ball and flipped it off the glass with his left hand to put Texas into the next round.

“I knew it was about five seconds left when Javan called the play for Jon (Holmes),” Ridley said. “I expected Jon to make it and I went to the glass as hard as I could and the ball came to me and I put it up as quick as I possibly could and it went in.”

“Unbelievable,” Holmes said smiling and shaking his head about the final play. “The lowest you’ve ever felt followed by the highest you’ve ever felt and it all happens in .2 seconds. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.”

Centers aren’t usually known for making heroic, buzzer-beating shots and the soft-spoken Ridley is not much of a talker. As an elite high school prospect from Houston, Ridley shyly gave short answers to most questions, but he’s since graduated to quietly answering questions in a few sentences while mainly fixating on the podium below.

If Ridley wasn’t looking at the podium, he shared a quick glance and a smile with Holland, almost in disbelief that he was the center of everyone’s attention for a NCAA Tournament buzzer-beater.

“I’ve never made a game-winner in my life. To walk off the court and know that you’re the one that made the play to take us to the next round, it’s a great feeling,” Ridley said.

Walking back to the locker room after the press conference, Ridley and Holland went right past the Arizona State locker room. There, a hoard of Sun Devil admirers had gathered with their heads down waiting outside the locker room to greet their fallen comrades.

The Arizona State faithful looked up, noticed Ridley walking past them and quickly looked back down again. It seemed none of them could stand to stare at the giant that had just crushed their March dreams.

Ridley continued to stroll the hallway at a casual pace with Holland, nervously dancing his knuckles along the wall in a rhythmic pattern as they made their way back to the Texas locker room. The nervous energy was a dead giveaway that Ridley knew he was about to be swarmed with even more media attention.

First came an on-camera interview with Longhorn Network’s Kaylee Hartung. Hartung remarked that she wished she had worn heels as Ridley towered over her during the interview. The sophomore center spoke so softly that you couldn’t hear him from a few feet away as a long line of media members began to form behind the duo, awaiting their crack at the newest star of March Madness.

“I think he’ll be able to handle it,” Holmes said of Ridley’s newfound March stardom. “He’s a humble guy and he cares about us; it’s all about the team with him. He’s going to be able to handle it and keep it all under control. I’m happy we were able to come up with the win, but I’m happy that it was Cam that was able to come through because it’s going to do a lot for his confidence going forward.”

If you put a microphone in Cameron Ridley’s face, he might not be the most polished or charismatic speaker, but the sophomore did his talking with the buzzer-beating play that everyone will be talking about for quite some time.

And for now, that’s good enough for the Longhorns.

Virginia Tech picks up most important win of the season over No. 10 North Carolina

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Virginia Tech picked up its most important win of the season on Monday night as the Hokies earned an 80-69 ACC home win over No. 10 North Carolina.

While the Hokies have been competitive against some good teams, they’ve never been able to get over the hump against a team as good as the Tar Heels this season. Virginia Tech had high hopes entering the year as a potential ACC dark horse and dangerous team in March. So far, they’ve largely fallen short of those expectations.

During Monday’s win over North Carolina, the Hokies ramped up the defensive intensity and looked like a team that could still be dangerous the rest of the season.

Playing better defense than they’ve shown for much of the season, Virginia Tech also knocked down enough big shots as they made plays on both ends of the floor against the Tar Heels. Neutralizing everyone on the North Carolina offense outside of Luke Maye and Joel Berry (23 points each), the Hokies had a balanced defensive effort that helped to shut down other options for North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels only shot 32 percent from three-point range as Virginia Tech’s perimeter defense looked more consistent than in other games during the season.

Virginia Tech has a top-35 offense (according to KenPom) this season. Scoring points and having enough weapons on that end has never been the issue. Virginia Tech knocked down 12 three-pointers, shooting 40 percent from distance as seven different players made threes for the Hokies. Even on a night where Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (eight points each) both struggled to consistently knock down shots, Virginia Tech had plenty of offense. Justin Robinson led the way with 19 points while Ahmed Hill (18 points) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (16 points) both contributed plenty of offense as well.

The defense for the Hokies hasn’t been able to hold up against some of the elite teams on the schedule. With wins only over Pitt and Wake Forest before Monday night, the Hokies hadn’t picked up a win over a good ACC team thus far this season. And after allowing over 90 points in losses to Florida State, Louisville and Kentucky, Virginia Tech’s defense had a tendency to disappear against the best teams they faced on the schedule.

The North Carolina win was not only the signature victory that Virginia Tech could use at this point in the season. It was also a huge defensive improvement from what the Hokies have shown so far this season. Over the next month, Virginia Tech’s schedule remains difficult. They also don’t play any ranked teams until back-to-back road games on Feb. 10 and 14 against Virginia and Duke.

If Virginia Tech can put together a solid streak and continue to improve its defense, we can get a glimpse into how they could look during that important conference stretch in a few weeks. The Hokies looked like a NCAA tournament caliber team with its win over Monday night. Now can they put together a stretch to back that up and actually get in?

The North Carolina win also makes you wonder if this was a flash in the pan from an overrated team or a glimmer of hope in a turnaround effort.

SMU’s Jarrey Foster out of the season with a knee injury

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SMU will be without junior forward Jarrey Foster for the rest of the season, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-6 Foster is the second leading scorer and leading rebounder for the Mustangs as he partially tore the ACL in his left knee driving to the basket in a win over Wichita State.

Foster was putting up 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as he’s a huge part of why SMU is 14-6 and in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. Only playing five minutes in the win over the Shockers, Foster didn’t play in the SMU win over Tulane over the weekend.

According to Adam Grosbard of the Dallas Morning News, freshman forward Everett Ray will also miss the rest of the season as he suffered a broken foot in warmups before the Tulane game. The injuries to Ray and Foster leaves the Mustangs with only nine scholarship players left for the season.

Without Foster in the lineup, SMU should still be able to compete for an NCAA tournament bid. The Mustangs just won on the road against a top ten team and have plenty of talent as the team currently has six double-figure scorers. But Foster was the team’s most versatile frontcourt player, leading the team in blocks and creating turnovers on the wing. He’ll be tough to replace on the defensive end and he’s also capable of being a solid scorer.

Coach Cal takes another shot at Duke, Coach K

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Duke and Kentucky have been at the forefront on the recruiting world for some time now, and as of late, it has been Duke that has been winning those wars.

In the Class of 2018, Duke has beaten Kentucky on Cameron Reddish, R.J. Barrett and, on Saturday, Zion Williamson. Kentucky landed Kevin Knox, who many believed was a heavy Duke lean, but the Blue Devils also beat out Kentucky on Marques Bolden.

That has not quite gone as well as planned, but nonetheless, Bolden’s commitment did set off the most recent Petty Wars between the two programs. It started with something that was posted on Coach Cal’s website that said that Kentucky isn’t trying to sell recruits on the idea that the program and the program’s alumni-base will take care of the kid for the rest of his life. That was a clear reference to comments that Hamidou Diallo made about Duke tried to recruit him.

Then, after Bolden committed to Duke, the Duke twitter account did their best to troll Coach Cal, responding to a tweet where he said “Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish” with this tweet:

That was in the summer prior to the 2016-17 season.

After this year’s Champions Classic, where Kentucky lost and Duke beat Michigan State by playing zone the entire game, Cal had this to say:

“You know what was really funny? We were going to come in and I was going to play 40 minutes of zone. We were. My staff talked me out of it. And then I heard Duke played zone the whole. Like, the whole game. And I was going to do it simply to see if we can really play it then we’ll have to play it against this team. And then naturally I didn’t play one down of it, but I had come in with the idea. Like, let’s just throw it up and play zone the whole game. I laughed and I said look at—when you have a young team like that, a bunch of freshmen, it’s much easier to play zone than to try to teach them man-to-man principles and all the other stuff, which is what we’re trying to do.” (My emphasis added.)

That leads me to today, where Coach Cal met with local media to talk about, among other things, some of the issues that his program has had on the recruiting trail. (Quotes courtesy my buddy Kyle Tucker at SEC Country):

“I don’t sell, like, ‘When you come here, the university and the state will take care of you the rest of your life,’ ” Calipari said. “You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property in some swampland down in Florida to sell you, too.”

 

“Every one of us in this country is based on you’ve gotta take care of yourself. And then when you make it, you make sure that you’re helping [others]. And along the way you bring other people with you,” Calipari said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, just give these guys the best opportunity. We’re not trying to say this university or this state will take care of you the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is, ‘You’ve gotta go do it and we’re gonna help you do it.’ Some [recruits] like that. Some don’t like it.”

I am so here for all of this.

I love Duke-Kentucky becoming a year-round rivalry. I wish that they played more often than every three years in the Champions Classic.

As part of my effort to become commissioner of college basketball, I propose that these two programs must play at least once every year.

UCLA lands McDonald’s All-American center Moses Brown

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UCLA landed one of the premier Class of 2018 players left on Monday as five-star center Moses Brown pledged to the Bruins.

The 7-foot-1 Brown brings legitimate size and length to the interior for the Bruins as the New York native is one of the better big men in the class. A McDonald’s All-American, Brown is regarded as the No. 20 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018 rankings, according to Rivals. Brown made his announcement with a tweet through Slam.

Brown becomes the headliner of a strong four-man class for the Bruins that includes four-star forward Jules Bernard and guard David Singleton and three-star big man Kenneth Nwuba. UCLA has continued to recruit well despite the Chinese incident and the Ball family essentially leaving the program for good this season.

With his size and ability to impact the game inside, Brown could get early minutes right away for UCLA next season as he becomes an important piece for its future. If Brown stays around for a few years then he could anchor the interior for the Bruins — although it remains to be seen how Brown will look in a more up-and-down system.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kentucky is no longer a top 25 team

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The latest coaches poll was released on Monday, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who the top three teams in the country are.

Villanova, Virginia and Purdue are the consensus three best teams in the sport.

Kentucky also fell out of the top 25 after a pair of losses this week.

Here is the full top 25 poll:

1. Villanova
2. Virginia
3. Purdue
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. Michigan State
7. West Virginia
8. Xavier
8. Cincinnati
10. North Carolina
11. Oklahoma
12. Arizona
13. Ohio State
14. Texas TEch
15. Gonzaga
16. Wichita State
17. Clemson
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Auburn
20. Arizona State
21. Tennessee
22. Florida
23. Rhode Island
24. Miami
25. Michigan