VCU (RPI: 27, KenPom: 43, No. 8 seed): The Rams are getting closer and closer to locking themselves into a bid after they knocked off an injury-riddled St. Joseph’s team on Tuesday. All this group needs to do to go dancing is avoid losing a game to one of the A-10’s bottom-feeders the rest of the season and they’ll be fine.
Virginia Tech (RPI: 37, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed): Virginia Tech managed to avoid a loss at Pitt on Tuesday, coming back from an 11-point second half deficit to beat the Panthers and build on the momentum that came with knocking off Virginia on Sunday night. The Hokies are in a good spot right now, and should feel pretty comfortable about getting a bid.
Clemson (RPI: 56, KenPom: 39, first four out): Clemson tells you all you need to know about the bubble this season. Heading into Tuesday night, they had lost nine of their last 11 games and, somehow, they are still in the thick of the race for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Winning at home against Wake Forest on Tuesday night certainly helps their cause, not only because it adds a top 50 win to their profile but because Wake Forest is right there next to them on the bubble.
Dayton (RPI: 29, KenPom: 33, No. 7 seed): The Flyers beat Saint Louis which means they didn’t lose to Saint Louis, who ranks 245th in the RPI. With four games left against sub-100 opponents, Dayton isn’t quite a lock yet, but they shouldn’t have an issue doing what they need to do to dance.
Michigan State (RPI: 41, KenPom: 54, No. 10 seed): Sparty is still on the right side of the bubble after knocking off Ohio State at home on Tuesday. The Spartans have a tough schedule down the stretch of the season, as they play at Purdue, Wisconsin and at Maryland. I think they need, at least, a 3-2 finish to the regular season.
Tennessee (RPI: 44, KenPom: 41, next four in): The Vols whiffed on a major chance to a win a game that would vault themselves past the teams sitting between them and the NCAA tournament on Tuesday, losing in pretty dominating fashion to a Kentucky team that had a statement to make after three weeks of poor performances. At this point, I’m not even sure that the Vols would get a bid if they were to win out in the regular season.
Wake Forest (RPI: 31, KenPom: 32, first four out): There’s not really anything wrong with Wake Forest losing at Clemson on Tuesday night beyond the fact that the Demon Deacons are now 15-11 on the season with just one top 50 win to their name – No. 49 Miami – and games left at Duke and against Louisville. It’s not over yet, but it’s not going to be easy.
Towson’s John Davis out for the year following gunshot wound
Towson’s John Davis will miss the rest of the season after he was shot in the leg in his native Philadelphia in a drive-by shooting Saturday night.
“His health is fine,” Towson head coach Pat Skerry said curing Tuesday’s CAA conference call. “He’ll be able to play next year overseas, but he won’t play the rest of this season. He’s been a leader for us and a good role model for our guys. We are forever grateful for John. He’s done a lot more for our program than what we were ever able to do for him.”
Davis, who was one of Skerry’s first commitments when he took over the Towson program, was averaging 11.8 points and 7.6 boards. That Towson team went 1-31 amidst NCAA sanctions.
Davis stayed in Philadelphia following Towson’s win over Drexel last weekend to attend a commemoration for his nine-month old son. A bullet grazed his left leg when someone opened fire. Another person was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Justin Jackson climbing, Ethan Happ and Lonzo Ball sliding?
1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Here’s the thing that makes it difficult to drop Mason out of his spot: Even when he plays poorly, he puts up huge numbers. Mason shot just 3-for-13 from the floor for the Jayhawks on Monday night, playing like his shoes were made of cement as West Virginia built a 64-50 lead on Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse with 2:45 left. Then he was the guy who helped spark the comeback, getting to the free throw line, banging a three and making a pair of critical defensive plays.
He finished with 24 points, five assists and four boards, which is awful similar to the line he had against Baylor, when he shot 3-for-12 from the floor by ended the game with 19 points, six assists and four boards in a win. The Jayhawks didn’t even suffer in his worst performance of the season, a 80-79 win over Texas Tech where he went assist-less for the first time this season, fouling out with three minutes left after shooting a paltry 4-for-13 from the floor.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Here’s the concern with Hart’s Player of the Year candidacy at this point: When is he going to be playing games that we have to watch? Kansas and Frank Mason played in one last night. They play in one against on Saturday, when they visit Baylor. Lonzo Ball played Oregon on Thursday and will pay a visit to Arizona later this month. Caleb Swanigan went up against Indiana in Assembly Hall last week, just ten days after they squared off with Maryland.
The problem with the Big East right now is that no one in the league is going to challenge the Wildcats. Xavier and Creighton lost their star point guards and Butler went off the deep end. Villanova, as good as they are, is not the kind of team that is going to command eye balls regardless of opponent. So are we going to see enough of Hart to be able to loft him over Mason in these standings?
3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: 16 points, 14 boards, three assists, a win at Assembly Hall. That was Swanigan’s week last week, not bad numbers until you consider that he had averaged 25 points and 13 boards the previous week. He’s still third on this list for three reasons: He’s not on the same level defensively as the two guys above him, he’s fouled out of his last three games and, over the course of his last six games, he has 27 turnovers. That’s 4.5 per game. For comparison’s sake, only James Harden and Russell Westbrook average more turnovers than that in the NBA.
4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: There is a bit of a gap for me between the top three and Lonzo Ball for one simple reason: defense. Ball, and UCLA, proved that they can lock up when they need to in last Thursday’s come-from-behind win over Oregon, but the fact of the matter is that the Bruins ranks 126th in defensive efficiency and it doesn’t matter how good Ball, or UCLA, is offensively. Teams that defend like that aren’t title challengers, and Ball holds as much blame for that as anyone on the roster just like he deserves as much credit for their offensive renaissance as anyone in the program, including Steve Alford.
That said, Ball leads the country in “moments”. No one has made more big plays in big spots that spread around the internet like wildfire, and that certainly was the case in Thursday night’s game. He had a ridiculous drive through the lane for a layup to give UCLA a three-point lead with under two minutes left, then buried the dagger on an absurd, 27-foot step-back three:
It may not be right, but those “moments” matter, and Ball leads the nation in them.
5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: How about this: Gonzaga is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country and they have a point guard that leads them in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Williams-Goss may not have the NBA future that some of the other elite point guards across the country have, but his emergence has been the biggest reason why the Zags are as good as they are.
6. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: As good as Happ has been this season, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he gets taken out at the end of games because of his issues shooting free throws. Wisconsin survived overtime at Nebraska in spite of Happ. That did not happen at home against Northwestern, a game where Happ played just 26 minutes and had nine points and four turnovers.
7. Luke Kennard, Duke: For the second time in Duke’s recent five-game winning streak, the Blue Devils were bailed out by Kennard. Two weeks ago, it was a 30-point second half to lead Duke to a come-from-behind win at Wake Forest. On Saturday, he had a team-high 25 points as the Blue Devils narrowly squeaked by Clemson at home.
8. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: I had a revelation on Justin Jackson during North Carolina’s game against Duke last week, one that made me regret the error of my ways.
Joel Berry II is the guy that makes UNC’s offense run and the guy that makes the Tar Heels elite. Point guards, in general, are more valuable than scoring wings. That said, Berry has had a nasty habit of not showing up. He was 3-for-13 in UNC’s loss at Indiana. He was 3-for-13 in the loss at Georgia Tech. He was 0-for-8 with a technical foul when the Tar Heels got smoked by Miami earlier this month.
Jackson, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency all season long, particularly in ACC play. He’s scored at least 16 points in every league game and is second in the ACC in scoring during conference play at 20.1 points. He’s shooting the ball better than he ever has in his life, and he’s still utilizing a murderous floater-game that’s better than anyone in the country. He’s become North Carolina’s go-to guy and the big-time scorer that they’ve lacked for the last couple of seasons.
The Tar Heels may not have the hoss on the block that we are used to seeing from Roy Williams’ best teams, but the biggest reason that hasn’t hurt them yet is because of how good Jackson has been.
9. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is (deservedly) the Player of the Year for the Jayhawks, but it’s becoming more and more clear that Jackson is the most talented player and, arguably, the team’s best player. He had 31 points, 11 boards and four assists at Texas Tech to help the Jayhawks stave off an upset in a game where Mason fouled out with three minutes left, and last night, he had 14 points, 11 boards, five steals and three assists in that raucous, come-from-behind win over West Virginia.
In his last eight games, Jackson hasn’t scored fewer than 14 points and has hit for at least 20 four times. He has five double-doubles in that span, five games where he’s had at least three assists, five games with multiple steals and is shooting 50 percent from three in that stretch.
10. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Monday night’s loss aside, Motley has been consistently terrific all season long. Last week, he had 24 points and 11 boards against Oklahoma State and followed that up with 25 points and seven boards in a win over TCU.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Police: Man who stormed court ‘threatened to kill everyone’
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The man arrested for running on the court and briefly entering Miami’s huddle during Saturday’s game at No. 4 Louisville must stay away from the KFC Yum! Center and a dancer he allegedly kicked during the incident in which police say he “threatened to kill everyone” there.
Randall Bolton, 31, was released Monday on those conditions and faces a hearing Tuesday on several misdemeanor charges, including third-degree terroristic threatening. Louisville Metro Police had warned Bolton not to go on the floor before he ran from between sections 101 and 102 and onto the court during a first-half timeout, making contact with the Ladybirds dancer and joining the Hurricanes’ huddle.
The arrest report includes Bolton’s threat but does not specify when he made it. Bolton’s lawyer, Alex Fleming, had no comment when contacted Monday by The Associated Press.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Coach Tom Crean got right to the point after Indiana’s latest loss.
The defense must be more consistent, the shooting must improve and his players must become better leaders over the next month if the Hoosiers are to have any chance of earning an NCAA Tournament bid.
So after 26 games and the same old problems, there are real questions about what, if anything, can be fixed in time to make a late-season push.
“I’m not shirking responsibility one iota, it falls on me. One thing I’ve learned in nine years, it all falls on me,” Crean told reporters Sunday. “The bottom line is we’ve got to do something to get communication up and when the shots aren’t going is when the communication has got to be even higher. It’s very easy to be locked in and connected to one another when the shots are going, but when they aren’t going is when real leadership’s got to emerge.”
Those are not words Indiana fans expected to be hearing this season. The defending Big Ten champs were considered a preseason conference favorite and solidified that claim with November upsets of No. 3 Kansas and No. 3 North Carolina.
Since then, things have unraveled:
– They have lost five straight to ranked opponents and three in a row overall .
– They have lost four times at Assembly Hall this season, starting with Nebraska’s victory Dec. 28 that ended Indiana’s 26-game home winning streak.
– At 5-8 in league play, they are closer to last place than first.
– And with only one home game left finishing below .500 in the conference is now a real possibility.
Angry fans are blaming Crean. Some, again, want the coach fired. Others are again counting down the days till July 1, when Crean’s contract buyout drops from $4 million to $1 million. And after Sunday, some contended Crean was more critical of his players than himself.
“Immaturity in the back court,” Crean said when asked about Indiana’s season-long turnover problems. “We don’t play both ends of the floor with the same purpose that we have to play when our shots aren’t going. And we’ve had injuries in there, too. But that’s got to change.”
Indiana (15-11) lost starting forward and longtime leader Collin Hartman with a season-ending knee injury in September. OG Anunoby, the Hoosiers’ top defender, went down with a season-ending knee injury in January. Leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. hasn’t been the same either since returning from a lower left leg injury on Thursday. He’s averaged 8.5 points in the two games he’s played since returning from a three-game game absence, almost half his normal scoring.
While Crean refuses to use injuries as an excuse, the sudden struggle has forced the Hoosiers to question how they play.
“I just think a lot of it is not being prepared to shoot before you get the ball,” guard Robert Johnson said after scoring five points in Sunday’s 75-63 loss to Michigan. “A lot of it is not hitting guys on time and on target with passes, and I think it just comes from confidence.”
Why would a team that went into Sunday averaging 81.3 points this season and a league best 78.2 since 2011-12 suddenly lose confidence in its ability to shoot?
Crean intimated that his players may be feeling too much pressure to play up to the expectations.
But they also lack an experienced leader, and it shows.
For four seasons, point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell provided the expertise and intangibles needed to make the Indiana offense run. This season, with all of the injuries, the Hoosiers have struggled to find someone who can consistently take charge on the floor.
“It’s a 19-year-old guy trying to find his own game and trying to lead a group of guys that he really should be getting a little more help,” Crean said, referring to sophomore center Thomas Bryant who has battled foul trouble in each of the last two games. “I’ve got to give him more help, obviously.”
If the Hoosiers want to make any kind of postseason run, so do his teammates.
“It all falls on the upperclassmen, me, James, guys that have been here,” Johnson said. “We have to come with a consistent level of effort, communication. Those are things that we always have to have within the game, and I think we’ll be good to go if we do those.”
Kansas set a world record for the loudest indoor arena before Monday night’s tip-off, and with just under three minutes left in the game, the fans that set that record were heading for the exits.
It’s too bad, because that record may have been broken down the stretch, as No. 3 Kansas erased a late, 14-point deficit in a come-from-behind win No. 9 West Virginia to win 84-80 and maintain a two-game lead atop the Big 12 regular season standings.
The Jayhawks comeback was led by Frank Mason III, who finished with 24 points and five assists despite having an off-night, and Landen Lucas, as the duo ran point on a Jayhawk press that gave the Mountaineers a taste of their own medicine. As the old saying goes, teams that press don’t like to be pressed, and a series of sloppy turnovers in the final two minutes gifted away West Virginia’s chance to land the first conference sweep of a Bill Self coached team since he was at Tulsa in 1999-2000.
The regulation-closing run was 21-7 over the final 2:45, a stretch where the Jayhawks forced turnovers and hit three threes after missing their previous 12 shots from beyond the arc. Mason forced overtime with a pair of free throws, and West Virginia’s Tarik Phillip missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it.
The Jayhawks jumped out to a quick lead in the extra frame thanks to a pair of threes from Devonte’ Graham, his third and fourth in the span of five minutes of game time, and a layup from Jackson off of a turnover. All told, Kansas outscored West Virginia 29-7 over six minutes of game time, a stretch where West Virginia turned the ball over seven times. Graham had 12 of his 18 points in those six minutes, while Josh Jackson had 14 points and five steals.
Esa Ahmad had 20 points and seven boards to lead the Mountaineers while Phillip added 18 points. Phillip also had two turnovers in the final two minutes and missed the game-winning three after he settled instead of driving to the rim.
Here are three things to take away from this result:
1. The lack of depth for the Jayhawks was painfully obvious: Not to be the Debbie Downer here, but I don’t think the flaws in this Kansas roster could have been more apparent than they were on Monday night. The biggest one? They have, essentially, one functional big man in Landen Lucas, and he was as good as he always in against the Mountaineers. He blocked a couple shots, he changed a handful more, he grabbed 13 boards and he was terrific at the point of the Kansas press while avoiding picking up his fifth foul.
But once you get past Lucas it isn’t pretty. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t ready to play in a game at that level yet. Dwight Coleby is still battling his way back from a torn ACL he suffered late in 2015. And Carlton Bragg Jr., as talented as he can be offensively, just is not a guy that can handle being asked to provide any kind of physical presence. That’s not his game. He’s a 6-foot-8, 220-pound face-up four. He was manhandled on Monday, and looked like he was devoid of confidence.
The Jayhawks are always a couple of ticky-tack fouls on Lucas away from being in real trouble.
And that’s not the only place where Kansas lacks depth. Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson almost never come off the floor. Returning home from Lubbock on Saturday and turning around and playing just 48 hours takes its toll, and I’d guess that had as much to do with Kansas’ inability to make layups and open jumpers for the first 38 minutes of the game as anything.
This is a problem because the NCAA tournament is played on this same schedule. Can Kansas win two games in three days for three straight weeks?
2. The Big 12 race could come to an end Saturday: That’s when Kansas makes their return trip to Waco to take on No. 6 Baylor. The Bears lost on Monday night, falling in Lubbock to the same Red Raiders that came a potentially-illegal screen away from picking off Kansas in that same building over the weekend. That means that, as of today, Kansas holds a two-game lead over Baylor and a three-game lead over West Virginia with just five games left in league play. If they win at Baylor on Saturday, it’s time to start celebrating their 13th straight Big 12 title. Even with a loss, Kansas is in a position where it seems very unlikely that they’ll cough up the outright league title to Scott Drew.
3. Phog Magic: Two weeks ago, Kansas had gone three years without losing at home. If West Virginia hadn’t collapsed, this would have been the second straight loss that the Jayhawks had taken at home, and that hasn’t happened since 1988. It also would have been the second loss that Kansas has taken against West Virginia this season, having fallen by 16 points in Morgantown earlier this year. That would have been the first time that Bill Self has been swept in a home-and-home by a conference foe since he was coaching at Tulsa during the 1999-2000 season.