Stanford is the most beguiling team in the NCAA tournament field. It is impossible to figure out Johnny Dawkins’ squad. An underwhelming Pac-12 regular season was followed by two quick wins in the league tournament until UCLA defeated the Cardinal by nearly 30 points. Paired against No. 7 New Mexico, though, and Stanford was able to score one of the tournament’s most underrated upsets, winning 58 to 53.
The game was a tutorial in cold shooting and zone defenses. Both teams were plagued by foul trouble — New Mexico’s Alex Kirk picked up two quick fouls, and Stanford’s Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis each had four fouls (Dwight Powell fouled out) — and the two squads had to use 2-3 zones to cut down on the hacking. Stanford’s zone had a deleterious effect on the Lobos’ interior scoring; the team spent much of 2014 repairing the damage done to its two-point shooting rep last year (the team made 51.8 percent of its twos, as compared to 46 percent in ’13), but Stanford’s zone rendered both Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk ineffective. The junior Kirk scored just 3 points, and while Bairstow dropped 24 points, he failed to make a basket for about ten minutes in the second half.
New Mexico should be commended for rebounding after starting the game down 20-4, but for the second straight season, UNM lost to the higher seed in the first round (No. 14 Harvard last season). Kirk and guard Kendall Williams managed to score just six points combined (on one for twelve shooting), and for those who picked New Mexico to defeat Kansas in the second round, and then rampage through the field until the Elite Eight, this game was certainly a disappointment. Williams, in particular, struggles when UNM leaves the confines of the Mountain West and ventures into the tourney field: against Harvard and Stanford, Williams shot made only two of his fifteen field goals, a poor shooting display that includes missing all nine of his threes.
The offensive star of the game was Stanford sophomore Chasson Randle. The guard scored 23 points and has been on a roll from within the arc; over the last five games, including against UNM, Randle is making more than 58 percent of his twos.
Stanford will next face the winner of No. 2 Kansas versus No. 15 Eastern Kentucky, and the Jayhawks’ coaching staff — should they get past the Colonials — have a much clearer path to next weekend. The Lobos’ interior posed significant problems for Kansas, and since Joel Embiid will miss the first weekend of the tournament, the thought was that Bairstow and Kirk would take advantage of Kansas’ weakened interior.
The Big South is moving its 2016 men’s basketball tournament out of Coastal Carolina and a new site will be figured out by November. According to a release from the conference the Big South is using a league bylaw that stipulates that members leaving with less than two years of notice are not eligible to host championships. Coastal Carolina announced this summer that it would be leaving for the Sun Belt as of July 2016, so the Big South wants to find a new location that benefits teams staying in the league.
The Big South men’s and women’s conference tournaments are now also going to be split into two unique events, with the men’s championships being held Thursday-Sunday, March 3-6. The women’s event comes the next week from March 10-13. Bids for both events will come into the league and a new location will be selected in the next few months.
It will be interesting to see if the site of the conference tournament is moved to a campus site or placed at a neutral venue. That type of thing could alter how the NCAA tournament autobid gets played out. With Coastal Carolina coming off of back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, this obviously changes their approach to the postseason now that they have to leave their city.
Virginia Tech is trying to decide what to do with injury sophomore guard Ahmed Hill, who had surgery this summer to deal with a tear in his patella tendon in his left knee.
The 6-foot-5 Hill has still not been released to work out with the team, but he is about a week to 10 days ahead of schedule in his rehab. But the injury is still nagging enough that Hill might not be healthy enough to really contritbute this season. Head coach Buzz Williams is deciding soon whether he wants to redshirt Hill or not.
Hill started a team-high 30 games for the Hokies last season, averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
“I don’t have a decision on (Hill),” Williams said to reporters on Monday. “I will make the final decision. I’ll let (him) and his mom be a part of it, but I want to make a decision using the wisdom of doing this for a long period of time. If you let a kid make the decision, they always want to play.
“Right now, I don’t feel comfortable that I would want to play him. It’s just too early to be able to have much more of an answer than that.”
It’s still a rebuilding year for Virginia Tech, but they do get Maryland transfer Seth Allen, who is a talented guard who can score. The Hokies were hoping to have Hill and Allen as complimentary perimeter scorers, but now the plans might have to be altered. Williams went on to say that he would like to make a decision on Hill’s status by Halloween.