Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Was Miles Bridges’ performance against Purdue the star-turn we’ve been waiting for?

Leave a comment

Miles Bridges got game after all, I guess.

With less than 10 seconds left and No. 4 Michigan State in need of someone to step up and make a play, Bridges did it. He came off a dribble-hand off, found himself isolated on the right wing against one of the Big Ten’s best defenders in Dakota Mathias and proceeded to bury a 24-footer with 2.7 seconds left to give Sparty a 68-65 win over No. 3 Purdue. Bridges finished with a team-high 20 points.

“I was really trying to go to the basket,” Bridges said on ESPN after the game, “but he gave me some room so I shot it.”

And with that, for the first time this season, Bridges is going to make headlines for all the right reasons. The 6-foot-7 sophomore entered this season with massive expectations because of the simple fact that he is a sophomore, and fair or not, when a player enters the season as the overwhelming favorite to win National Player of the Year and ends up an afterthought in the race for Big Ten Player of the Year, there are going to be questions asked.

Why hasn’t Miles Bridges gotten better?

Did he make a mistake in returning to school?

Was he overrated all along?

Why doesn’t he take over games?

The long answer to those questions is complicated and nuanced. I spent eight minutes on that very subject on a podcast last week. (See below.) The short answer, however, is this: Bridges is probably at his best when he’s playing as a complimentary piece, as a role player, and he’s done it better than you think.

His scoring is up from a year ago. He’s a better shooter than he was a year ago. His rebounding and shot-blocking numbers have come down, but that’s a by-product of playing on a team with the biggest front line in the sport this year instead of playing as a four. And now, after that shot, he’ll hopefully get some of the credit that he’s deserved.

That said, Bridges isn’t why Michigan State was able to beat Purdue on Saturday.

The secret is out on the Boilermakers. The way beat them is to allow Isaac Haas to go one-on-one on the block, hugging the myriad three-point shooters on Purdue’s perimeter, while eschewing double-teams at all costs. It’s not easy to do — Haas is a monster on the block — but it’s doable. Establish contact as early in the possession as possible, do your best to force him to post 10-12 feet and out and try to keep him from getting to his left shoulder. Do that, and Haas will get his numbers without the efficiency. He had 25 points on 22 shots, drawing just a single foul, against Michigan State.

Put another way, Haas isn’t going to beat you with twos, but game-planning to take him away by doubling would allow the Boilermakers a chance to beat you with threes.

No team in the country is better-suited to try and execute that game-plan than Michigan State. They have four guys on the roster — Nick Ward, Gavin Schilling, Xavier Tillman and Ben Carter — with the size and strength to hold their own in the paint against Haas, and they needed all four of them.

Hell, they needed everyone on their bench on Saturday. Ward played just 11 minutes. Jaren Jackson Jr. played just 12. Josh Langford only saw the floor for 19 minutes. That trio averaged 37.5 points. They scored 14 combined against Purdue.

In my mind, the hero of this game was Schilling, who was terrific down the stretch on Haas and grabbed a couple of critical offensive rebounds. Former walk-on Kenny Goins played 30 minutes and made a huge jumper down the stretch. Matt McQuaid hit three threes and scored more points than Langford. Bridges will get the plaudits, but this truly was a team effort, one that was won thanks to Michigan State’s unheralded bench guys and defensive execution.

But let’s really think about this.

The Spartans have had two major issues this season: turnovers and defensive rebounding. On Saturday, Purdue got just eight offensive rebounds and forced just six turnovers. They shot 6-for-19 from three as a team and had their two stars, Carsen Edwards and Vince Edwards, shoot a combined 8-for-26 from the field.

And Purdue lost on the road in arguably the toughest environment in the Big Ten on a 24-foot three at the end of the game. That happened four days after they lost at home off of an offensive rebound when they blew a 14-point lead.

Put another way, I’m not worried in the least about Purdue.

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

Abbie Parr/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 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.

YET TO PLAY

SYRACUSE
VIRGINIA TECH
PENN STATE
SETON HALL
PROVIDENCE
ST. BONAVENTURE
TCU
MARQUETTE
LOUISVILLE
FLORIDA
TEXAS
KANSAS STATE
USC

Wichita State’s Landry Shamet out sick against Tulane

(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Wichita State guard Landry Shamet will miss the Shockers’ game against Tulane on Wednesday night as he sits out due to illness.

Dressed in street clothes for the AAC conference clash, Shamet has put up All-American-caliber numbers for Wichita State this season as he’s putting up 14.7 points, 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Without Shamet in the lineup, it gives Samajae Haynes-Jones a potential shot at minutes as he’s fallen out of the rotation over the last several weeks. Wichita State is still heavily favored against Tulane at home on Wednesday but they have an important three-game stretch to close out the conference season. The Shockers have to go on the road to play SMU and UCF before closing out the conference slate with an important home game against Cincinnati.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III out for the fourth straight game with knee injury

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III will miss his fourth consecutive game on Wednesday night as he continues to battle a knee injury.

The 6-foot-11 freshman suffered a mild knee sprain in his right knee in Duke’s game against North Carolina on Feb. 8 as he’s missed the Blue Devils’ last three games — all wins. Bagley will miss Duke’s contest against Louisville on Wednesday as he’s also missed games against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Duke still has three regular-season games after Wednesday before the ACC tournament starts as Bagley still has plenty of time to heal and recover before the postseason begins.

Bagley is putting up 21.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for Duke this season as he’s a consensus top-five pick in most 2018 NBA mock drafts. Without Bagley in the lineup, Duke has continued to play well and win games as they’ve still had big man Wendell Carter to handle things on the interior.

 

Rick Pitino: ‘I had no knowledge’ of the violations that led to banner coming down

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
8 Comments

Disgraced ex-Louisville head coach Rick Pitino spoke at a press conference in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and denied any knowledge of the violations that were committed by Andre McGee, any potential NCAA violations involving the recruitment of Brian Bowen and pushed for Louisville to file an injunction against the NCAA’s decision to remove the 2013 national title banner.

“I take full responsibility for everyone I hire,” Pitino said. “To say I’m disappointed with the NCAA ruling is a gross understatement.”

“I have apologized many times. I feel awful for what happened. I’ve run a clean program all my life. [Sitting where you are], I would agree with you. It looks bad. I’ve coached for 41 years. For 35, as a head coach, nothing has come up.”

Pitino went on to say that he “hired the wrong person” when he made the decision to bring McGee onto his staff. McGee is the one that was responsible for hosting the parties and bringing the strippers and sex workers to them.

“I had no knowledge of the reprehensible things that went on in that dormitory,” Pitino said. “Did a few of [my players] partake in parties they didn’t organize? Yes, they did. That had nothing to do with an extra benefit,” going on to add that attending these parties were not the reason that Louisville won the 2013 national title.

Pitino also denied any involvement in the recruit of Bowen, a five-star prospect that committed to Louisville in a deal that was supposed to get his family paid $100,000 from Adidas.

“In 40 years of coaching, I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any effort to pay any money or extend any improper benefit to any recruit or recruit’s family members or representatives,” he said.

Pitino said that he has not had any discussions about coaching again or looking for a job this spring, but he did say that he does “miss it.” He also urged the new University of Louisville administration to fight this decision in court, to file an injunction and do what they can to keep Louisville from having to sacrifice a national title banner.

No other Division I basketball program has ever had a national title vacated.

“The NCAA,” Pitino said, “cannot rewrite history by taking a banner down.

John Wall is heading back to school to get a business degree

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Wall, the former Kentucky star that helped launch Coach Cal’s one-and-done movement in Lexington, is planning on using a piece of that $207 million contract extension that he signed last July for summer school.

“I’m going back to school this summer to get my business degree,” Wall told the Washington Post this week. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I promised my dad that.”

Wall’s dad died when he was eight years old, and anyone that knows his story knows that it hasn’t been the easiest path for Wall to get from that moment to this moment.

So good for John.

Seriously.

I do believe that it is important to educate yourself, even if that education is something as simple as learning how to run a business on your own.

But I also think that, in the larger context of basketball and, specifically, the one-and-done rule, this is important to note. Wall left school as a 19-year old, made a whole bunch of guaranteed money on his rookie deal, got more guaranteed money on his first contract extension and now is working under a contract that will pay him nine figures with a crooked number in front. Throw in endorsement deals, and by the time Wall hangs up his sneakers, he could end up banking close to half a billion dollars.

That’s more than enough money to be able to pay for three years worth of classes at Kentucky to finish his undergrad degree, get a master’s and become a PhD. For Wall, that financial hit would be like the financial hit you or I take for adding chips and guac at Chipotle. (But not queso. We pretend their queso doesn’t exist.)

My point is this: The time a person has to educate themselves never ends. The time that Wall, or any professional athlete, has to profit off of their ability does, and much sooner than most think.

So the next time you decide to criticize a player for leaving school early to chase their professional dreams or because they’re just looking to get paid or because they don’t care about education, just think about this.