Rob Dauster

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Hoosiers struggling to find solutions for midseason funk

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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.”

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 3 Kansas lands epic, comeback win over No. 9 West Virginia

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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.

Maybe the term should be Self Magic.

Texas Tech lands critical upset of No. 4 Baylor

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Keenan Evans scored 21 points and Niem Stevenson added 19 points, six boards and five assists as Texas Tech vaulted themselves back into the NCAA tournament picture with a 84-78 win over No. 4 Baylor in Lubbock on Monday night.

Terr Maston led the Bears with 22 points and Manu Lecomte chipped in with 16 points. Jonathan Motley played one of his worst games of the season, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with just 11 points to go along with four turnovers.

Here are three things to take away from this game:

1. We got a little glimpse of Baylor’s back court depth issues: Baylor went on the road to a tough opponent and lost. That’s not the end of the worth, particularly when you consider that Motley didn’t play well and Lecomte, who is supposed to be this team’s leader and star point guard, fouled out with more than eight minutes left after picking up a technical foul arguing an illegal screen.

(That, frankly, is unacceptable for a redshirt junior.)

The Red Raiders beat West Virginia in that gym. They lost to Kansas by one point after Kansas got the benefit of a no-call on what looked like a moving screen on the game’s final possession. Their RPI is in the mid-90s, but their KenPom ranking is in the low-40s, which should tell you that the Red Raiders have been on the wrong end of some tough losses.

So, again, losing at Texas Tech hardly tells us that Baylor cannot win a national title.

What it does show us, however, is that when Lecomte isn’t out there, Baylor’s back court really isn’t all that scary. Granted, they were without Al Freeman on Monday, but Freeman isn’t exactly Dennis Smith Jr. There probably won’t be many games where Lecomte is fouling out with eight minutes left, but it is something to keep an eye on.

2. Let’s talk about that Texas Tech at-large bid: The Red Raiders just landed a win over the No. 1 team in the RPI. That will, unquestionably, help them climb in the RPI; there has never been an at-large bid for a team with an RPI anywhere near 90.

The key, however, is going to be what they do over the course of the next ten days. During that stretch. the Red Raiders play at West Virginia, Iowa State at home and at Oklahoma State. As it currently stands, Texas Tech has four top 50 wins, but all of them came at home and they have just five total top 100 wins thanks to a non-conference SOS that ranks 336th. Throw in losses to Texas and Oklahoma, which weigh down a résumé, and Chris Beard’s club still has a lot of work to do to get themselves in a position where an at-large bid is a realistic possibility.

Because as of today, it’s not.

3. What does this mean for the Big 12 title race?: At the time of this posting, Kansas and West Virginia are still playing. But at it currently stands, this loss drops the Bears two games off of the pace Kansas is currently setting. Even if the Mountaineers manage to pull off a win in Phog Allen, it would mean that the Bears whiffed on another opportunity to pull even with Kansas in the standings. Remember, Baylor hosts Kansas on Saturday. That game could have been a battle for sole possession of first place in the Big 12.

NIT to experiment with rules, similar to quarter-style play

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Next month’s NIT will experiment with rules, incorporating elements of playing four quarters while staying with a two-half format.

The NCAA said Monday its rules oversight panel has approved resetting team fouls to zero at the end of 10-minute segments in each half, as well as doing away with the 1-and-1 free throw in favor or two foul shots on many fouls.

Instead, teams will shoot two free throws after teams have reached a four-foul limit during each 10-minute segment and three fouls during overtime. The fouls will reset at the 9:59 mark of each half.

The possibility of playing a quarter system to mirror international basketball instead of halves has been a topic of discussion in the college game. The NCAA said in a statement the mid-half reset “may have the same effect” as resetting fouls at the end of 10-minute quarters while retaining “the unique format” of 20-minute halves.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes suspects it’s “just a matter of time” before the college game moves to the quarter system.

“I think the rules we should be playing really as much as any would be the international rules,” Barnes said. “They play quarters and reset (fouls) the same way. I’m just for having a universal game. I think the quicker we can get to that, I think it would help our game overall,” he said.

“Even when kids get to high school, if they start playing with a shot clock, I think that would help their progression with it. Again, I just think from high school on it should be a universal game.”

The NIT starts March 14 and ends March 30 in New York.

The panel also approved resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds, or leaving it the same if there was more time when play was stopped, instead of going back to 30 seconds when a team inbounds the ball in its frontcourt after a foul that results in no free throws. This would also include any technical foul against the defense or if the game is stopped for a player who is bleeding or has blood on his uniform.

The Men’s Basketball Rules Committee wants to see if that increases the number of possessions in a game, and therefore scoring, the NCAA said.

The results of the changes will be reviewed during the committee’s May meeting. The committee said other postseason tournaments can also use the experimental rules if they agree to gather data for the committee’s review.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Gonzaga remains No. 1

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Gonzaga remained No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll released on Monday afternoon.

The Zags got 29 of a possible 32 first-place votes. Villanova, who was No. 2 in the poll, got the other three.

Kansas, Baylor and UCLA rounded out the top five, while Arizona, Louisville, Oregon, North Carolina and Wisconsin were in the top ten.

Here is the entire poll:

1. Gonzaga (29 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (3)
3. Kansas
4. Baylor
5. UCLA
6. Arizona
7. Louisville
8. Oregon
9. North Carolina
10. Wisconsin
11. Kentucky
12. West Virginia
13. Florida
14. Duke
15. Virginia
16. Purdue
17. Cincinnati
18. Florida State
19. South Carolina
20. Notre Dame
21. Saint Mary’s
22. Creighton
23. SMU
24. Maryland
25. Butler

CBT Podcast: Jeff Eisenberg joins to talk Gonzaga, the Big Ten and the bracket reveal

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The biggest story in the weekend in college basketball was the bracket reveal where we got a glimpse of the top 16 teams in the selection committee’s eyes. Jeff helps me parse through that as well as Gonzaga’s undefeated run, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and whether or not Duke is really, actually, for real for real back to being back.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom