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No. 21 West Virginia gets back to basics in win over Baylor

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West Virginia was not happy about the way things ended in Lawrence, so they took it out on the hottest team in the Big 12.

On Saturday, No. 21 West Virginia blew a double-digit, second-half lead in a loss to Kansas for the second time this season. Given the nature of Saturday’s loss, not only with regards to the blown lead but also the frustration that comes with attempting just two free throws, the question for the Mountaineers going into Tuesday’s game at Baylor was how would they respond.

As was the case with its 35-point beating of Texas in the first game after their home loss to Kansas, West Virginia offered up a positive response in Waco. Esa Ahmad and Jevon Carter led a balanced offensive effort and Sagaba Konate was dominant around the basket as the Mountaineers picked up the 71-60 victory.

West Virginia built its advantage in the first half, finding quality looks offensively (and making them at a solid clip) while limiting Baylor on the other end of the floor. But Baylor was able to mount a rally in the second half, with West Virginia’s offense being stagnant at times with passing on the perimeter ultimately yielding to a hopeful hoist in the final seconds of the shot clock.

That’s been an issue for the Mountaineers on multiple occasions this season, in wins and losses alike, with Carter being the team’s best option to make a play either for himself or his teammates. Even with Tuesday’s win, West Virginia showed that it still has work to to in this area as the season’s most important month draws closer.

The second half offensive issues aside, the conversation should be about what Sagaba Konate gives West Virginia in the post. Konate finished with ten points, ten rebounds and nine blocked shots, tying the single-game school record set by D’Or Fisher in 2004.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore entered Tuesday’s game ranked fifth in the country in blocks per game (3.15), and his block percentage of 16.2 ranks third nationally. While the perimeter players, most notably Carter, receive attention for their roles in “Press Virginia”, a big reason why they’re able to be so aggressive is the presence of Konate on the back line. Players big and small alike have looked to challenge Konate at the rim, and more often than not those attempts fail to the his combination of timing and sheer strength.

Baylor was able to pull closer in the second half due to West Virginia’s at times sluggish offense and its work on the offensive boards. For the game Baylor rebounded 38.6 percent of its missed shots, outscoring the Mountaineers 15-7 in second-chance points. But they shot just 32.8 percent from the field and 3-for-9 from three, with West Virginia putting forth one of its better efforts with regards to half-court defense in addition to forcing 14 Baylor turnovers.

Ultimately, while West Virginia’s bounce-back performance was a good one the result wasn’t so much about learning something new about the Mountaineers so much as them getting back to who they are. The offense was balanced if not spectacular, and defensively one of the nation’s best rim protectors produced a virtuoso performance.

That’s been the formula West Virginia’s called upon when successful, and they’ll have to continue to do that if they’re to make a run in March.

Player Of The Year Power Rankings: Jalen Brunson has overtaken Trae Young

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Jalen Brunson is the National Player of the Year.

At least that’s the way that I see it.

If the season ended today, the award goes to Brunson. As incredible as Trae Young has been and as ridiculous as his efficiency stats and counting numbers are, winning has to matter when it comes to National Player of the Year. It has to matter when it comes to postseason awards. It’s why I campaigned against Ben Simmons being a Player of the Year or first-team all-american. It’s why I said that Markelle Fultz shouldn’t be considered for any preseason Player of the Year or all-american awards.

And it’s why Trae Young, in my mind, is no longer the National Player of the Year frontrunner.

I’ve talked about this a couple of different times before, but the simple fact of the matter is that we rarely see a player that isn’t on a national title favorite win the award. The last time a player that was on a team that wasn’t at least a top four seed that won the award was in 2005 when Utah’s Andrew Bogut was the consensus Player of the Year. Before that? You have to go all the way back to 1988, when Danny Manning and Hersey Hawkins both won three of the six major Player of the Year awards. Manning played on No. 6 seed Kansas, who went on to win the title that year. Hawkins played for No. 9 seed Bradley.

As it stands right now, Oklahoma is 16-11 overall. They’ve lost six in a row after getting mollywhopped at Kansas. They’ve dropped nine of their last 11 games. They’ve lost eight in a row on the road. They are 6-9 in the Big 12. If they go 1-2 in their final three games — which, at this rate, seems like a fairly likely scenario — they could end up missing the NCAA tournament entirely.

Seth Davis made an interesting point about this on a recent CBS broadcast, and one that I think it worth addressing: He said, and I’m summarizing here because I don’t remember the exact quote, that the award is the Player of the Year award and not the Player of the Month award, and I agree to an extent. A couple of bad games shouldn’t impact an entire season’s body of work.

My response to that is that we are talking about more than just a couple of games. Young and Oklahoma have struggled for the last 11 games. That’s more than 40 percent of Oklahoma’s season to date, and there are still three Big 12 games left before the Big 12 tournament kicks off. More importantly, the Big 12 season matters more than non-conference play. Does anyone really care that Young, say, tied the record for assists in a game against Northwestern State when he lost by 30 in the Phog?

Winning is the most important thing that a player can do. In any sport. If you are the star of a team that is not winning games, you are not having as good of a season as the star of a team that is winning games. That is a fundamental belief that I have that will not change.

And Brunson?

He’s having a historically good season from an efficiency perspective on a team that may just set the record for efficiency in the KenPom era. He can dominate a game when he needs to. He can also control a game as a facilitator, getting the ball to the guys that are cooking when he needs to. Case in point: at Xavier. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges were on fire, so Brunson made sure they got their touches.

I love Trae Young’s game. I love the way he plays. His struggles down the stretch are not entirely his fault.

But when you are not a threat to win a national title, I do not think that you can be a threat to win National Player of the Year.

Anyway, here is my top ten:

1. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
2. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
3. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
4. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
5. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier
6. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech
7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s
9. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
10. GARY CLARK, Cincinnati

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; JEVON CARTER, West Virginia; CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue; AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Michigan State moves atop the Top 25

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Michigan State is your new No. 1 team in the country, according to the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Spartans received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes after their comeback from 27 points down to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.

Virginia is still sitting at No. 2 while Villanova and Xavier round out the top four. Duke climbed a few spots to No. 5.

Here is the full coaches poll:

1. Michigan State (20 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Gonzaga
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Wichita State
13. Auburn
14. Arizona
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan
17. Clemson
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Saint Mary’s
21. West Virginia
22. Nevada
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee State
25. Arizona State

Was Bob Huggins justified in his anger over foul shots in Kansas win over West Virginia?

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Much has been made of Bob Huggins’ ejection on Saturday evening, as West Virginia blew yet another double-digit lead at Phog Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas picked up a critical, 77-69 win.

The ejection was hilarious, and everything that I want to remember Huggy Bear by: Cussing out all three refs as he earns his second technical and an ejection while needing to hold up his pants with his hands:

Huggs is a national treasure.

The more interesting conversation, however, centered around why Huggins was tossed. Kansas shot 35 free throws on Saturday. West Virginia shot just two, which is an absolutely staggering number.

And I thought this was deserving of further scrutiny.

Let’s start with the obvious: West Virginia fouls a lot, enough that it’s not an exaggeration to say that a foul could probably be called on every possession. Part of the strategy of playing the way that Press Virginia does is that they are betting that officials are not going to call a foul on every possession, because they won’t. West Virginia is also a jump-shooting team this season, as nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. Their free throw rate both offensively and defensively is dead last in the Big 12.

Put another way, the Mountaineers are always going to be outshot from the free throw line.

Then you have to combine that with the Kansas stats. The Jayhawks are second in the Big 12 on offensive free throw rate and third in defensive free throw rate. Throw in the home court advantage that comes with playing in the Phog, and the safest bet in the world would have been Kansas outshooting West Virginia from the charity stripe.

It also needs to be noted that the 35-2 advantage was 27-2 before West Virginia started fouling intentionally and before Kansas went to the line for those two late Huggins’ technical fouls.

But that didn’t stop Huggins from going off in the press conference after the game:

“We blew the game last year,” Huggins said. “We should have won the game. We had the game. They did a great job, they made shots, we threw it around, we missed free throws, we did everything humanly possible to lose the game. That was us.”

“I’ve been doing this 40 years. I don’t I’ve ever been in a game where we shot two free throws. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where the disparity 35-2. I’ve never been in a game like that.”

But perhaps his most telling line was this, when asked what his message to his team was:

“It wasn’t their fault.”

It’s pretty clear that Huggins believed his team was hosed on the road.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

West Virginia is normally going to shoot fewer free throws than their opponents. Kansas is normally going to shoot more free throws that their opponents. Studies have proven that home environments in college basketball have an impact referee decisions as much as any sport in the world, including English soccer. That’s part of having a home court advantage, and it’s part of the advantage of having a rowdy, raucous and loud crowd. It’s why places like Phog Allen, and Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Koch Arena, and the McKale Center, and anywhere else with a big and loud fan base.

But 35-2 is 35-2, and it will take quite a bit of video evidence to proof to me that Kansas did not get a significant benefit from playing in front of their home crowd on Saturday night.

So did the referees cost West Virginia the game?

Debatable. I’d argue that Jevon Carter missing some shots and Daxter Miles’ insistence on passing up open threes to try and pass the ball to players going for a rebound played a pretty big role, as did the fact that Kansas is a really good team that made some big shots down the stretch.

But the whistles played some kind of a role.

Just like they always do in the Phog.

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

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Virginia remained in the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll while Michigan State and Villanova still sit at No. 2 and No. 3 with Xavier once again in fourth.

The biggest change in the poll was that Duke rose to No. 5 after three straight wins; they were No. 12 last week.

Kentucky is still not a part of the top 25.

Here is the full AP Poll:

1. Virginia (42 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Villanova-Xavier, the Big 12 is drunk, the best in the Big Ten is … ?

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Rob Dauster was joined by Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic on today’s show to overreact to everything that happened this weekend, from Villanova pasting Xavier to the insanity that is the Big 12 to what happened in the Big Ten in the last ten days. We also spend a good 30 minutes talking about bubble teams, tournament resumes and some misconceptions with both. The rundown.

OPEN: Bubble Banter. We talk about weird bubble teams and whether or not we like the new Quadrant system.

36:08: Villanova’s win over Xavier and the Big East title race.

45:15: The Big 12 makes no sense and I love it.

58:30: Michigan State deserves the Big Ten title.