1/24 – College Hoops Week in Review: Buzzer Beaters galore

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Game of the Week: UConn 61, Villanova 59

This week was rife with buzzer beaters, but perhaps the most significant one came from UConn’s all-everything point guard Kemba Walker. Villanova’s Corey Fisher had tied the game at 59 with 22 seconds left on the clock, and after a UConn timeout, Walker sent the Wildcats back to Philly with a loss thanks to this shot:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stnWE0nAeHc]

Villanova looked like they were pulling away when an Antonio Pena jumper pushed the Wildcat lead to 45-48 at the nine minute mark, but UConn came back. It was a 14-3 run, sparked on the defensive end and capped by a Jeremy Lamb layup with just over three minutes left, that got the Huskies back in the lead. They were up 59-54 with 48 seconds left after two Walker free throws, but Corey Fisher scored five straight points to tie the game and set up the final possession.

Memphis and Indiana State’s exciting weeks: Like I said, there were numerous significant buzzer beaters this week — JaJuan Johnson and Brian Williams can attest to that — but the games that Indiana State and Memphis played probably resulted in the most chewed finger nails per fan of any program in the country this week.

Indiana State: For the Sycamores, it started with a Tuesday night visit from conference-leading Missouri State. It was a back and forth contest for 40 minutes, but with 4.9 seconds left on the clock, Indiana State had the ball down 69-67. It was inbounded to Jake Kelly, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, and he drove and scored with 0.6 seconds left. Kelly also drew a foul and calmly knocked down the free throw for the 70-69 win:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5HHSfHuzYo]

And that might not have been their wildest game of the week. On Saturday, the Sycamores went into Charles Koch Arena to take on Wichita State, who was a game behind both Missouri State and Indiana State for first in the MVC standings. ISU over came a 10 point second half deficit to take a two point left, but JT Durley tied the game with seven seconds left to force OT. In the first OT, ISU was down eight points, but managed to force a second overtime on a Kelly layup with 24.5 seconds left. Toure’ Murry forced the third overtime with a free throw with 8.8 seconds left. In the final OT, a Ben Smith three game WSU a 84-83 lead, and the Shockers would score the next nine points to win 93-83 in triple OT.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K7MEh]

Memphis: The Tigers had their own wild week. Still playing without Wesley Witherspoon (one game he was suspended, the other he was injured), the Tigers went 2-0 this week with a couple of fantastic finishes. On Wednesday night, Memphis dug themselves an 18 point hole against Southern Miss. The Tigers fought their way back into the game, and even took a 71-66 lead at one point. The Golden Eagles responded with an 8-2 run, setting up this ending:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnwVai-Y5SM]

Against UAB on Saturday, the Tigers pulled out an exciting overtime game that had a wild last two minutes of regulation. UAB took a 64-62 lead with 1:55 left, but a Tarik Black three point play gave Memphis the lead back. Jamarr Sanders answered with a strong drive and finish, but Will Barton buried a three with 55 seconds left as the Tigers went ahead 68-66. After UAB tied the game up, Barton banked in an off-balance thirty-footer, but he was called for a travel before he got the shot off. In the OT, Memphis didn’t allow UAB to score until there were 37 seconds left, but some horrific free throw shooting down the stretch allowed the Blazers two shots to tie on their final possession:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXZ-lycvJbo]

Four OT Madness — Utah Valley outlasts North Dakota: This one was wild.

Players of the Week: Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington

The Huskies have long been considered the favorite to win the Pac-10, but this week they erased any doubt that their slip-up at Stanford created. U-Dub took care of Arizona and Arizona State at home this week, largely due to the play of these two young men. Thomas has been the best point guard in the country in the month of January. He’s averaging 20.2 ppg, 9.2 apg, and 4.2 rpg while gathering 11 steals and posting an assist-to-turnovers ratio of 3:1. That time frame also happens to coincide with the loss of Abdul Gaddy to an acl injury. Thomas has always been a streaky player, but his talent has never really been questioned. Maybe the move to the point and more time with the ball in his hands is what he needed to jump start his season. For the week, he averaged 20.5 ppg, 9.0 apg, and 6.0 rpg.

MBA has developed into a monster in the paint, and showed why this week. Against Arizona and Derrick Williams, he had 18 points, seven boards, and three blocks, and while Williams outplayed him on the stat sheet — 22 points, 11 boards — the fact that MBA was able to get Arizona’s all-american into foul trouble down the stretch was a big reason Washington pulled away late. On Saturday against Arizona State, MBA had a career-high 30 points and was, again, instrumental in the Huskie’s late surge to hold on for the win.

Both MBA and Thomas are not only both playing as well as they have all season, but they seem to have developed a nice connection on the court. Thomas is looking for MBA when he drives, and MBA is getting open and finishing the passes he receives. The more I watch Washington, the more I believe this is a team capable of making a deep tournament run. With Thomas, MBA, and the bevy of wing players on this Washington roster, Lorenzo Romar has plenty of weapons on this team.

The All-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: The Broncs had a terrific week, beating both Gonzaga and Portland, but Foster was the star. He had 36 points and six assists against the Zags, following that up with 19 points in the win over Portland.
  • G: Jordan Hamilton/J’Covan Brown, Texas: The two Longhorn guards combined to averaged 37.5 ppg as Texas knocked off two top ten teams this week. Brown sparked the comeback against Kansas, while Hamilton’s second half put away Texas A&M.
  • G: Cam Long, George Mason: Long led Mason to a important 2-0 week as the Patriots knocked off both Drexel and James Madison to create some space at the top of the CAA standings. Long had 14 points and seven rebounds in the win against Drexel, but it was the 30 points, five assists, and four boards he had against JMU that got him on this team. He did it on 8-9 shooting from the floor, including 4-4 from three.
  • F: Justin Harper, Richmond: Its about time you start paying attention to this kid. An athletic, 6’10” power forward that shoots 50% from three? He’s averaging 18.2 ppg and 6.7 rpg on the season, 25.5 ppg and 7.4 rpg with 11 blocks over the last five, and went had 51 points and 18 boards in two wins this week against George Washington and UMass, who entered the week a combined 6-1 in the A-10.
  • C: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger was an absolute monster against Illinois on Saturday. He had 27 points, 16 boards, and three blocks, and almost single-handedly got the Illini’s entire front line in foul trouble.
  • Bench: Jimmer Fredette, BYU (42 points at Colorado State); Josh Gasser, Wisconsin (1o points, 12 boards, 10 assists vs. Northwestern); Ben Hansbrough (averaged 20.5 ppg and 5.5 apg in wins over Cincy and Marquette); Kore White, Florida Atlantic (22 points and 11 boards as FAU moved to 7-0 in the Sun Belt); Lazeric Jones, UCLA (205 ppg in 2-0 week); Tu Holloway, Xavier (21.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, four steals in wins over St. Bonaventure and Temple)

Team of the Week: Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns firmly entrenched themselves in the debate for the best team in the Big XII, and as a Final Four favorite, with their two wins over top ten opponents this week. On Wednesday, the ‘Horns hosted Texas A&M and blew them out of the water, opening up an early 20-5 lead and never seriously getting challenged after that. Then on Saturday, Texas went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse, a place that Kansas had not lost in 69 games, and came back from 15 down in the first half to beat the Jayhawks.

What makes Texas so good this season is their defense. Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown are not exactly elite defenders just yet, but they are much improved over last season. Cory Joseph is long for a point guard and not afraid to get out and pressure on the perimeter, while Dogus Balbay is one of the best on the ball defenders in the country. Combine that with big guys like Tristan Thomspon and Alexis Wangmene to protect the rim and Gary Johnson to clean up the misses, and Rick Barnes crew has settled into a nice defensive rhythm. More important, however, is that this season, in stark contrast to last year, everyone on this Texas team has a clearly defined role. The fact that their best offensive lineup is able to lock up defensively is another big change from last season. Believe it. These ‘Horns are for real.

Who had a good week:

  • UConn Huskies: The Huskies beat both Villanova and Tennessee this week at home in close games. The wins were nice, but more importantly the Huskies role players are playing great basketball right now. Alex Oriakhi seems to have worked through his midseason slump. Jeremy Lamb sparked the comeback against Villanova and had a career high 16 points against Tennessee. Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier can make plays on both ends of the floor. Kemba Walker did not play great this week, but with defenses focusing on slowing him down, UConn’s role players have been what is keeping the Huskies in the top 10.
  • Washington: I’ve already talked plenty about these Huskies in this post, so I’ll only add this — the past few seasons Washington has struggled on the road. Six of their next eight games are roadies, including trips to Pullman for Wazzu and Tucson for Arizona. Win those, and maybe the pollsters will start agreeing with Kenpom.
  • George Mason, Hofstra, and VCU: There doesn’t appear to be one great team in the CAA this season, but the top of this league is tough and balanced. These three teams look like they are starting to separate themselves from the pack. Hofstra, who rode Charles Jenkins to wins over UNC-Wilmington and William & Mary, and VCU, who knocked off Georgia State before going into Richmond to beat Old Dominion, are tied atop the league at 7-1 while GMU picked up wins against Drexel and James Madison to find themselves alone just one game back.
  • Xavier Musketeers: Once again, Xavier seems like they are primed to prove the doubters wrong. After a ho-hum non-conference schedule, the Muskies have won their first five games in A-10 play, capped by an 88-77 victory over Temple on Saturday. Don’t write off their win at St. Bonaventure, either. The Bonnies are improved this season, and Xavier fought back from an early double digit deficit.
  • Memphis Tigers: As we mentioned earlier, the Tigers picked up two huge wins this week, beating C-USA contenders Southern Miss and UAB in exciting fashion on the road without Wesley Witherspoon. Memphis has now won three games in a row, and they are finally starting to look like the team we all expected in the preseason. Memphis is young, but they now appear to be playing not only with effort and intensity, but with more smarts. There have been fewer bad shots and much more defense the last three games.

Who struggled this week:

  • Seton Hall Pirates: It would have been one of the great storylines of the season if Seton Hall was able to turn things around with Jeremy Hazell’s return, but an 0-2 week — including a loss to Rutgers — means SHU has now lost eight of ten overall and six of seven in Big East play.
  • Colorado Buffaloes: So much for this team being a sleeper in the Big XII. After impressive wins over Kansas State and Missouri, Colorado proceeded to lose to Nebraska and Oklahoma this week.
  • Gonzaga Bulldogs: The Zags lost to both Santa Clara and San Francisco this week, dropping them to 3-2 in the conference and setting up an enormous game against St. Mary’s on Thursday. If they lose that one, the Zag’s stranglehold on the WCC may officially be over.
  • Northwestern Wildcats: Northwestern desperately needed to pick up a win against Wisconsin at home on Sunday if they truly wanted to be considered a threat for an at-large bid. Instead, they lost by 32 points.
  • The MWC: The talk of the MWC in the preseason was that the league had the potential to earn four — maybe even five — bids to the NCAA Tournament this season. They may be lucky to get three this year. UNLV got blitzed by Colorado State. The Rams proceeded to lose to BYU at home — a win they needed if they wanted a real shot at an at-large bid — while UNLV picked up an ugly win against New Mexico. The Lobos are in real trouble, as they are now just 1-4 in conference play and have lost six of nine. Is Drew Gordon a chemistry killer? The Lobos are just 5-6 since he got eligible.
  • St. John’s Red Storm: Like Seton Hall, the Johnnies had a chance at being one of the great stories of college hoops this season, but after starting off 3-0 in Big East play, they have now lost four of five. Getting smacked by 25 at Louisville was bad, but losing at home to fellow bubble-dweller Cincinnati at home might have been worse.
  • Morehead State: With Austin Peay and Murray State losing a couple of games this week, Morehead had a chance to swoop in an climb their way up the OVC’s standings. Instead, they lost their second straight game, this time to Eartern Kentucky, to fall to 5-4 in league play.

Matchups of the Week:

  • 1/24 – 7:00 pm: Notre Dame @ Pitt
  • 1/25 – 9:00 pm: Purdue @ Ohio State
  • 1/26 – 10:00 pm: SDSU @ BYU
  • 1/27 – 7:00 pm: Hofstra @ VCU
  • 1/27 – 11:00 pm: St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga
  • 1/29 – 12:00 pm: Georgetown @ Villanova
  • 1/29 – 12:00 pm: Louisville @ UConn
  • 1/29 – 12:00 pm: Xavier @ Richmond
  • 1/29 – 1:00 pm: Minnesota @ Purdue
  • 1/29 – 7:00 pm: Kansas State @ Kansas
  • 1/29 – 9:00 pm: Missouri @ Texas

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.