UConn beat Florida because they played Florida’s game, only better

4 Comments
source:
AP Photo

ARLINGTON, Texas — The story all tournament long — all season long, really — was that the UConn Huskies were only going to go as far as Shabazz Napier was going to carry them. He was the reincarnation of Kemba Walker, a veteran, all-american point guard that took complete control of a supposedly overmatched UConn team, strapping them to his back and carrying them from an unremarkable regular season on a magical run to the Final Four.

That narrative played out to perfection for the first two weeks of the tournament. Napier was the East Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 boards and 4.5 assists. The only reason he wasn’t named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in the first two weekends was that it is an award that doesn’t exist.

Entering Saturday night’s bout with the Florida Gators, every single pundit told you that the only way the Huskies would be able to handle the behemoth that the Gators had become would be for Napier to go crazy. That didn’t happen. Shabazz didn’t score his first point for more than 15 minutes and finished with “just” 12 points, six assists and four steals.

And it didn’t matter.

UConn won 63-53.

“We had no chance, right?” UConn assistant Karl Hobbs told the media gathered outside the UConn locker as the Huskies left the floor and took their first steps towards playing for the program’s fourth national title. It wasn’t just Hobbs that felt that way, either. Walking through the UConn locker room, it was obvious that was something that had been made very clear to the players. The only people that thought UConn had a shot had an 860 area code.

“We like that everybody’s not believing in us and picking us to lose,” Ryan Boatright told NBCSports.com. “We were supposed to lose every game in the postseason. They had us losing every single one. We take that to heart and use it as fuel to our fire. Every time we step out on the court, it’s us against the world.”

It was Boatright that ended up being the difference maker in this game. DeAndre Daniels was the star, posting a 20-point and 10-rebound performance that may end up sending him off to the NBA Draft, but Boatright finished with 13 points, six boards and three assists, hitting a number of key buckets early in the second half and, more importantly, playing the kind of stellar on-ball defense that he did against Michigan State. “At my size, I can’t afford to lack on defense,” he said, and it certainly wasn’t lacking on Saturday.

Scottie Wilbekin is Florida’s best player. He was on a number of all-american teams and was named the SEC’s Player of the Year, which is a really long-winded way of saying the dude can ball. Against UConn, he had four points on 2-for-9 shooting with three turnovers and just a single assists. Kasey Hill, Florida’s other point guard, finished with four points and four turnovers on 2-for-6 shooting. Michael Frazier, Florida’s sharp-shooter, got just three looks at a three and made one of them.

Napier played a role in that, as did guys like Terrance Samuel and Lasan Kromah, but it was Boatright that did the heavy lifting.

“It all starts with Boatright,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said in regards to UConn’s defense. “He does a great job pressuring the ball.”

The irony is that UConn essentially beat Florida at their own game.

The Gators climbed their way to the No. 1 overall seed by playing smothering defense, particularly on the perimeter, and relying on a balanced, but limited at times, offensive attack spurred on by Wilbekin’s ability to make a play at the end of a clock.

UConn won this game because they were able to do just that, only more effectively.

After a slow start that saw UConn dig themselves a 16-4 hole more than 11 minutes into the game, the Huskies went on a 27-6 run because they were able to do three things: Napier and Boatright were able to turn the corner on ball-screen actions and get into the lane, UConn stopped turning the ball over and the Huskies were able to keep Florida off of the offensive glass. They took away opportunities for easy points in transition and on second chances, forcing the Gators to try and break down what has turned into a hellacious half court defensive team.

“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like he had all year long for us,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether against Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane. He had a really, really hard time getting in the lane around Boatright [and] Napier, which inevitably made our offense very, very difficult.”

“The biggest difference in UConn’s team, in my opinion, from seeing them in December and then watching them on tape is they have turned into a great defensive team.”

“Any time we can stop transition and make them play against our five we like our chances,” Boatright said.

At the other end of the floor, the Gators were able to limit Napier by switching on ball-screens and double-teaming him when the had the ball. Florida was daring the rest of UConn’s team to beat them, and they did.

The reward is a chance to play for a national title.

“We’re a complete team,” Boatright said as matter-of-factly as a player that just won a game in the Final Four can possibly speak. “It’s not a one player team, it takes an entire team to be in the national championship game. When Shabazz ain’t having the game that he’s normally having, people gotta step up.”

“People did.”

Allonzo Trier ruled ineligible by NCAA; Arizona appealing

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
1 Comment

Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier has been declared ineligible by the NCAA due to a second positive test for a banned substance, it was announced Thursday. The school is appealing the decision, claiming the positive test was leftover from of a substance that was found in Trier’s system in 2016.

Trier was tested in late January and the test “revealed the reappearance of a trace amount of a banned substance,” Arizona said in a statement. “The amount detected was miniscule by scientific standards and appears to be a remnant of a substance, which the NCAA agreed, Allonzo had unknowingly taken in 2016.

“The University is appealing the decision and is hopefully that Allonzo will regain his eligibility soon.”

This is a potential massive blow for a Wildcats team that began the season as one of the top national championship contenders, but has spent much of this season dealing with disappointment and distraction, from their part in the FBI corruption investigation to inconsistency on the floor and now this regarding one of its top players.

Trier is averaging 19.6 points and shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from the 3-point range.

The Wildcats play at Oregon State tonight and at Oregon Saturday before finishing the regular season at home against Stanford and Cal.

Attention will now turn to the NCAA appeals process – how quickly can it move and what determination will it make? Trier’s status will impact one of the most talented teams in the country, which by extension means it will impact the national championship race next month.

For a team that’s been in the center of controversy all season, and somehow has added another layer to a wild season.

Bubble Banter: Will the Pac-12’s bubble picture gain some clarity?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Leave a comment

As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

WASHINGTON
UCLA
UTAH

Duke’s Bolden undergoes surgery to repair nasal bone

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Duke sophomore Marques Bolden underwent surgery Thursday to repair a fractured nasal bone, the school announced.

Bolden is not expected to miss any time for the Blue Devils, who host Syracuse on Saturday.

The 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 4.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per night. Bolden has already missed time this season with a knee injury and has recently been playing through the pain of his fractured nose.

A five-star prospect coming out of Texas in the Class of 2016, Bolden hasn’t been a major presence for the Blue Devils the last two years, but has given Blue Devils good minutes since returning from that knee injury over the last month.

After hosting Syracuse this weekend, Duke, which is 23-5 overall and 11-4 in the ACC, plays at Virginia Tech and then welcomes North Carolina to Durham to finish off the regular season.

Michael Porter, Jr. cleared to return to basketball activities

Missouri Athletics
Leave a comment

Missouri may be adding a lottery pick to its roster for the stretch run.

Michael Porter, Jr., who began the year projected as a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, has been medically cleared to return to basketball activities after missing the entire season with a back injury, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein was the first to report the news.

The 6-foot-11 freshman played the opening minutes of the Tigers’ opening game against Iowa State to start the year, but has been sidelined ever since. It is currently unclear if he’ll move from being cleared to play to actually hitting the floor for the Tigers.

It seemed unlikely that Porter would ever play college basketball because of the injury, but throughout the season he has never ruled out the possibility. Now that he has reportedly been cleared to play, the question undoubtedly will become should he?

Even without playing another second of college hoops, Porter will be a top pick in June’s draft. Some teams may even consider him for the top pick, if his health screenings check out, just based on workouts and the track record of his dominating play on the AAU circuit for years.

Still, if he’s healthy enough to play and wants to play, it’s unquestionable that it is a decision that is completely his. And it would make Missouri one heck of an interesting team.

The Tigers are 18-10 overall and 8-7 and appeared poised to make the NCAA tournament in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first year in Columbia. For their next game, they play – of course they do – Kentucky on Saturday. Talk about added intrigue for that game.

Bubble Banter: It is a massive night for teams on the bubble

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
1 Comment

As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

UPDATED FOR SUSPENDED GAME

SETON HALL (RPI: 27, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 9): The Pirates landed their fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season on Thursday afternoon, picking off Providence in a game that had to be replayed after condensation on the floor made it unsafe to play on; leading scorer Desi Rodriguez sprained his ankle in the game. The tough part for the Pirates is that they have a tough finish to the regular season — at St. John’s, Villanova, Butler — and they may have to play it without Rodriguez.

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 37, KenPom: 69, NBC seed: 8): The Friars dropped to 17-11 on the season on Wednesday after they finished up their suspended game against Seton Hall. The Friars should be alright based on the wins they’ve put together — five in Quadrant 1, including wins over both Xavier and Villanova at home. The problem is that they have two Quadrant 3 and a Quadrant 4 loss. Their remaining schedule isn’t easy, either: at Georgetown, at Xavier, St. John’s. I think the Friars are in a more difficult spot that some are letting on.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: , KenPom: 46, NBC seed: 11): The Wildcats won their third straight game on Wednesday, beating Texas at home. They’re now 20-8 on the season and 9-6 in the Big 12 with three Quadrant 1 wins and a 9-7 record against the top two Quadrants. They have just one non-Quadrant 1 loss. The sticking points here: KSU has an atrocious non-conference SOS and their best wins are TCU, Oklahoma, at Baylor and at Texas. Their remaining schedule: at Oklahoma, at TCU, Baylor.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 49, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies added their fifth Quadrant 1 win of the season on Wednesday night as they knocked off Clemson at home. The Tigers have been sliding a little bit and were playing without Shelton Mitchell, but that is not going to factor in in the eyes of the Selection Committee. At this point, with a 20-8 record, I think we can move the Hokies out of the Bubble Banter discussion for the time being.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 58, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: First four out): The Golden Eagles won their second straight game and their third game in the last four. They are 4-8 against Quadrant 1 and 8-11 against the top two Quadrants. Three of their four Quadrant 1 wins went on the road — Providence, Seton Hall, Creighton — but the Golden Eagles can’t really improve themselves during the regular season. Their last three games: at DePaul, at Georgetown, Creighton. Frankly, I think Marquette needs to win four or five in a row to have a real chance at getting a bid.

TCU (RPI: 21, KenPom: 23, NBC seed: 10): For a team that plays in the Big 12, it’s weird that TCU’s two best wins this season came over Nevada (13) and Saint Bonaventure (25) on neutral courts. All told, the Horned Frogs have four Quadrant 1 wins and a 7-9 record against the top two Quadrants after winning at Iowa State on Wednesday. They’re in a good spot, but with home games against Baylor and Kansas State left before a trip to Texas Tech and the Big 12 tournament, I still think that they to win two more games this season.

USC (RPI: 36, KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Next four out): The Trojans won their third straight game, picking off Colorado in Boulder. With just two Quadrant 1 wins and a loss to Princeton (216) at home, I think they need to win their last two games — at Utah, UCLA — if they want to get into the tournament.

ST. BONAVENTURE (RPI: 26, KenPom: 68, NBC seed: Play-in game): There is no margin for error for the Bonnies. With two bad losses on their résumé right now and just three Quadrant 1 wins, they’re right on the cusp of being in the tournament. If they win out during the regular season and lose to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament, I think they will get a bid. If they lose to anyone else, it’ll be close. No matter what happens, it is not going to be a fun Selection Sunday for Mark Schmidt and company.

LOSERS

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 52, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: First four out): The Cardinals are not a tournament team as of today, and losing at Duke is not the reason why. They have three Quadrant 1 and 2 wins combined. The Quadrant 1 wins? At Florida State and at Notre Dame. The Quadrant 2 win? Virginia Tech at home. The good news is their “worst” losses are Florida State and Syracuse at home, and they have three Quadrant 1 games remaining: at Virginia Tech, Virginia, at N.C. State. I think they’ll want to win two of those.

FLORIDA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 29, NBC seed: 9): Suddenly, the Florida Gators are 17-11 on the season and 8-7 in the SEC. They’ve lost three in a row. They’ve lost five of their last seven and six of their last nine. And they have their toughest stretch of the season coming up: Auburn, at Alabama, Kentucky. The good news is that they have some really good wins. They’ve beaten Gonzaga on a neutral. They beat Cincinnati on a neutral. They won at Texas A&M, at Missouri and at Kentucky. But 11 losses is a lot of losses, especially when it would be very, very easy for them to lose two of their last three games. Who had the Gators on the bubble after PK-80?

TEXAS (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: 11): The Longhorns are in a tough spot after losing at Kansas State on Wednesday. Texas has lost four of their last five and five of their last seven. They’re 16-12 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12. But they also have five Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-12 record against the top two Quadrants. They also have some pretty impressive wins. They beat Texas Tech, they beat TCU, they won at Alabama, they swept Oklahoma. They need to win at least two of their next three: Oklahoma State, at Kansas, West Virginia. That still might not actually be enough.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 46, KenPom: 45, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Orange lost at home to North Carolina on Wednesday night. They entered this week having to win two of their last four games to feel good about where they stood heading into the ACC tournament. They’re at Duke on Saturday and then at BC and home against Clemson. The last two were always the two games they were most likely to win.

PENN STATE (RPI: 76, KenPom: 25, NBC seed: Out): The Nittany Lions had a chance to get this thing done. Losing by three at Purdue was a killer; they were up by nine in the first half of a game that would have been one of college basketball’s 10-15 best wins this season. Then, on Wednesday, the lost to Michigan at home. A win at Nebraska would help — that’s a Quadrant 1 game — but it probably won’t be enough. The Nittany Lions are going to have work to do in the Big Ten tournament regardless.