The ‘unlucky’ label doesn’t fit Iowa and Utah

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The topic of luck in sporting events is a tough one to broach with fans, as we tend to think about the outcomes of those games in absolutes.

You win, you’re the better team, even if that win came on your home court on a 35-foot buzzer-beater on a night where a 30% three-point shooting team went 8-for-10 from beyond the arc. That’s the way a sports fan’s mind works, because they want to believe that what happened during the course of a game wasn’t fluky or random or “lucky”.

On Tuesday, John Gasaway of ESPN Insider published his list of the unluckiest teams in college basketball in 2013-2014, a stat that he determined by looking at a team’s record based on what was expected given that team’s per-possession performance.

No. 1 on that list was Tennessee, a team that made the Sweet 16 and finished No. 7 nationally in KenPom’s rankings despite going 24-13 overall and 11-7 in the mediocre SEC. It’s not hard to find anecdotal evidence to support this point — the Vols twice lost to Texas A&M when Antwan Space, who hit 13 threes all season long, made a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer — which makes it easy for me to be on the same page calling the Vols “unlucky”.

But I have a hard time calling a couple of the other teams on this list “unlucky”.

Take No. 4 Iowa as an example. The Hawkeyes had enough talent on their roster to be a top ten team, but their issues had nothing to do with being unlucky or having the ball bounce their opponents’ way. They routinely blew late leads in games that they should have won, they couldn’t defend anyone and they completely lost their confidence over the last month of the season. They should be better than they were last season, and if they are, it will be because they developed the mental maturity to execute during a close game down the stretch and because they improved defensively.

The same can be said for Utah, who checks in at No. 6 on that list. The reason they missed out on the NCAA tournament was because their non-conference schedule was an absolute joke and because they couldn’t close out close games, particularly on the road. Of their 10 regular season losses, only one was by double figures and only two were by more than four points. They were 0-3 in overtime games and 0-5 in games decided by a single possession.

Winning is a skill. The mental fortitude to be able to execute in crunch time — being “clutch” — is a skill. Utah didn’t have either of them last season.

I get the point that Gasaway is trying to make: Utah and Iowa were probably better than their record indicated last season. I agree.

But let’s not pin their relative lack of success of being “unlucky”. Leaving it up to chance takes away fault, and the bottom line is that those two teams lost games they shouldn’t have lost.

No. 7 South Carolina upends No. 3 Baylor to advance to the Elite 8

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NEW YORK — It was with a whipping and a whimper that Baylor’s season can to an end on Friday night.

The final two minutes of the game wasn’t actually a game. No. 7 seed South Carolina dished out a 70-50 beatdown that wasn’t in doubt after the Gamecocks used an 18-0 run at the end of the first half to turn a rock fight into statement, and for the final two minutes of the game, the Gamecocks and, eventually, Baylor dribbled out the remaining seconds before joining arms at center court for a postgame prater.

It’s the third straight year that Baylor has been bounced from the NCAA tournament by a team seeded lower than them. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter’s heroics that knocked his dad off of a stool and sent No. 14 seed Georgia State into the second round of the tournament. In 2016, the Bears fell in the first round to No. 12 seed Yale, prompting one of the most memorable press conference moments in NCAA tournament history.

And on Friday night, it was South Carolina that sent the Bears into offseason hibernation.

It was a disheartening end to a season, a loss that will surely provide fodder for the people that traffic in ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes, the irony being that the 2016-17 season was definitive proof that Scott Drew is almost certainly better at his job than you are at yours.

“When you coach for a while and you make Elite Eights and Sweet 16, you kind of start taking it for granted that you will always be successful in March,” Drew said. “But it’s a good reminder to be here and know how hard it is.”

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.