Wednesday’s Shootaround: Champion’s Classic

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No. 3 Ohio State 81, No. 8 Florida 74: This game had the same, familiar theme as the two that took place at the Champion’s Classic in New York. The underdog — Florida here — got off to a hot start and opened up a lead, but the favorite — the Buckeyes — made a strong push at the end of the first half and took control early in the second half. Florida did a good job of limiting the touches for Jared Sullinger on the low-block, but Thad Matta’s club proved that they have more than just one weapon. William Buford went for 21 points, DeShaun Thomas added 15 and Aaron Craft and 13 points and seven assists in the win.

For Florida, the good news was the performance that Billy Donovan got out of Erik Murphy. He’ll be a real weapon on the offensive end as he will be able to keep the court spread, creating space for the Gator’s talented back court to penetrate and giving Patric Young room to operate inside. Murphy had 14 points last night on 5-6 shooting, 4-4 from beyond the arc. Florida’s back court struggled a bit. Erving Walker was 1-6 from the floor and finished with just five points. Brad Beal led the way with 17 points, but he was 6-16 from the floor and had five turnovers. Mike Rosario played just 19 minutes and took only four shots. Kenny Boynton was the best of the group, going for 15 points on 5-10 shooting.

No. 10 Memphis 97, Belmont 81: I was very, very impressed with Memphis on Tuesday afternoon. The Tigers, who were playing at 11:00 am local time, absolutely man-handled a good, experienced Belmont club that had just come a point from upsetting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The matchup was, frankly, less-than-ideal for Belmont, who struggled with the Tiger’s length and athleticism (especially around the rim, where the Bruins must have missed 15 shots from point black range), but that should only drive home just how good this Tiger team can be.

In terms of talent, this group is top five in the country. They aren’t at the same level as Kentucky and North Carolina, but there is an argument to be made that this Tiger team has more talent up-and-down their roster than UConn does. Joe Jackson finally showed the country why all the recruitniks made such a big deal about him in high school, finishing with 20 points and seven assists, including a pair of sensational passes as the Tigers rans through the Belmont press. Wesley Witherspoon finally looked like the guy that was thought to be a potential lottery pick, finishing with 22 points on 8-8 shooting. Will Barton’s length and athleticism is going to make him very difficult to stop in the mid-range. He finished with 23 points. Adonis Thomas showed flashes of the strength and athleticism that made him such a highly-regarded recruit. And the guy that folks in Memphis were the most excited about this year — Tarik Black — struggled to find a rhythm as he battled four trouble.

The issue for this Memphis team is going to be discipline and attitude. Will they play this hard every single game? Is Wesley Witherspoon going to get frustrated when he realizes that he is the third or fourth option offensively? Will Memphis be able to run an offensive set when they play a team more equipped to defend them? Whether or not Josh Pastner gets this group to buy into his game plan is the question mark and, admittedly, one of the most important story lines of the season from a national perspective.

Champion’s Classic:

No. 2 Kentucky 75, No. 11 Kansas 65: The Wildcats looked terrible in the first half against Kansas. Everything was 1-on-1, the team was breaking off plays early, they were turning the ball over (led by six from Marquis Teague in the first half) and they were missing open looks. And you know what happened? Kentucky went into halftime tied with the Jayhawks. The second half was a different story. Anthony Davis took over on the defensive end of the floor, Teague started picking his spots better and finished at the rim and Doron Lamb and company knocked down a couple three balls, and Kentucky steamrolled an overmatched Kansas team. I’ll have much more on this game coming this afternoon.

No. 6 Duke 74, Michigan State 69: Andre Dawkins was the after thought in Duke’s perimeter attack. With Seth Curry and Austin Rivers sharing the back court, Dawkins was the guy that had everyone saying “yeah, and that kid will start too”. But he proved just how dangerous he could be on Tuesday night. Dawkins carried the Blue Devils in the first half, going for 14 of his 26 points and hitting four of his six threes while putting on a clinic on how to run off of screens. The Blue Devils struggled offensively in the early going, and if it wasn’t for Dawkins, Michigan State would have been able to build a bigger lead. I’ll have a post coming on the Spartans this afternoon.

Villanova 76, La Salle 69 OT: La Salle got 24 points and five assists out of Tyreek Duren, but they blew a five-point lead in the final 1:23 of regulation. Villanova took over in overtime. The Wilcats were led by 22 points from Maalik Wayns, but he also led the way in poor shooting. Wayns was 5-16 from the floor and 2-7 from beyond the arc as Villanova shot 35.2% from the floor and 4-23 from beyond the arc. La Salle is a bottom-feeder in the Atlantic 10. I guess you can never predict a Big 5 game.

Texas 100, Rhode Island 90: The Longhorns are going to score a lot of point this season. J’Covan Brown went off for the second straight game, finishing with 35 points and six assists, while Myck Kabongo added 18 points and nine assists. The issue for Texas is going to be on the inside; their four big men combined for 26 points and 22 boards.

Weber State 73, Utah State 63: The Wildcats got 28 points and seven threes out of Scott Bamforth and 17 points from Damian Lillard as Weber State stated their case as being the best team in the state of Utah. Morgan Grimm led Utah State with 19 points.

High-Majors fall hard:

Middle Tennessee State 86, UCLA 66: That score is correct. Look it up. And it comes just days after the Bruins lost their opener to Loyola Marymount by 11. The worst part? The problems aren’t exactly fixable for the Bruins. Their leading returning scorer and rebounder, Reeves Nelson, was suspended for this contest because of an attitude problem; there’s speculation that he doesn’t even want to be on the team. Their dominant low-post presence, Josh Smith, is too fat and out of shape to be the star he should be. They have no perimeter shooting and their point guard play is, frankly, embarrassing for the program that produced Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, and Russell Westbrook. Another storyline to follow? If UCLA doesn’t improve, is Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s No. 1 recruit that most consider a UCLA-lean, still going to want to play there, especially when he sees Kentucky dominating blue-bloods on national television?

Kent State 70, West Virginia 60: It would be unfair to Kent State to call this game an upset. One of the favorites in the MAC along with Akron, the Golden Flashes brought back essentially their entire team from 2010-2011. It showed against West Virginia. After getting pounded on the glass in the first half and heading into the break with a five-point deficit, KSU turned up their defensive pressure, forcing turnovers and using a 15-3 run to take a 51-44 lead. West Virginia, who is a freshmen-heavy team this season, crumbled against the pressure, eventually getting down by as many as 15 points. The Mountaineers are going to need to get much better play out of their back court of Jabarie Hinds and Truck Bryant.

Pepperdine 66, Arizona State 60: As if things weren’t already bad enough for the Pac-12. Pepperdine is a bottom-third team in the WCC. They have a new head coach and lost their most talented player last season. But the Waves hit 8-11 from beyond the arc and held everyone not named Trent Lockett to 10-42 shooting from the field. Herb Sendek’s seat has to be getting hot in Tempe.

Drake 74, Iowa State 65: Fred Hoiberg’s transfer experiment hasn’t started off too well. Royce White finished with 21 points and 14 boards, but in-state rival Drake got 24 points from Ben Simons and 18 points from Rayvonte Rice as they opened up a lead as big as ten on the Cyclones last night. Its another big win for the Missouri Valley in non-conference play.

Coastal Carolina 71, LSU 63: No one really expected LSU to be any good this season, but I doubt that anyone truly expected them to get smacked around by a Coastal Carolina team that was devastated by injuries and New York Times investigations last season. Coastal Carolina out rebounded LSU 53-34, and while I know rebounding margin is not a great stat, that’s still an astonishing number.

Elon 58, South Carolina 53: Maybe this is why Bruce Ellington decided to play football. Elon got 16 points out of Lucas Troutman and 12 points from Ashley Hamilton as they opened up a big first half lead on the Gamecocks and held off a late-game rally.

The rest of the Top 25

No. 5 Syracuse 98, Albany 74: Kris Joseph and James Southerland led the way for Syracuse, scoring 19 points apiece, as the Orange surprisingly played another New York team at the Carrier Dome.

No. 12 Baylor 77, San Diego State 67: Baylor is just as big and just as athletic as we all thought. But I don’t think they’ve answered their point guard question. This team still looks rudderless offensively. That said, Quincy Miller had 20 points and has now scored 54 points in three games.

No. 14 Xavier 86, IPFW 63: Tu Holloway had 24 points and six assists in his first game back from suspension and Mark Lyons added 21 points for the Musketeers.

No. 20 Cincinnati 73, Jacksonville State 59: The Bearcats built a 27 point lead on the strength of 16 first half points from Dion Dixon (he finished with 20), but they allowed Jacksonville State to battle their way back. Cashmere Wright led the way with 23 points.

No. 20 Vanderbilt 80, Bucknell 68: Jeff Taylor had 14 points to lead five players in double figures as the Commodores bounced back from a tough loss to Cleveland State. More importantly, they did so without John Jenkins or Festus Ezeli, and Bucknell is a good team.

No. 22 Cal 72, Austin Peay 55: This was over by halftime, when Cal opened up a 40-13 lead.

Other notable scores:

– Drexel 80, Rider 62
– Virginia Tech 78, Florida International 63
– Harvard 73, Holy Cross 64
– Butler 57, Chattanooga 46
– Miami (FL) 72, Rutgers 57
– Virginia 69, Winthrop 48
– Oklahoma State 73, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
– George Mason 71, Monmouth 39
– UT-San Antonio 78, Oral Roberts 77

Top Performers:

Dorenzo Hudson, Virginia Tech: Hudson had 31 points as the Hokies knocked off Florida International to earn a trip to New York in the Preseason NIT.

J’Covan Brown, Texas: Brown had 35 points, six boards and six assists in a win over Rhode Island. Through two games, Brown is averaging 31.5 ppg, 7.0 apg and 5.0 rpg.

Scott Bamforth, Weber State: Bamforth had 28 points and hit seven threes as Weber State stated their claim to the throne of the best team in the state of Utah with a 73-63 win over Utah State.

Francisco Cruz, Wyoming: Cruz went for 30 points and five boards as the Cowboys knocked off Northern Colorado.

Ike Azotam, Quinnipiac: More impressive than the 17 points, 18 boards (nine offensive) and four blocks that Azotam had in QU’s win over Yale? The five points he helped hold Greg Mangano too.

Harold Washington and Alshwan Hymes, Canisius: Washington and Hymes combined for 54 points as the Golden Griffins knocked off Longwood.

Chase Tapley, San Diego State: Tapley scored 28 points, but it wasn’t enough for the Aztecs to upset Baylor on the road.

Gerardo Suero, Albany: Suero had 31 points in a losing effort against Syracuse.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

“I trust the SEC office will do the right thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says after bump from official

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Tennessee 63-58 loss to Texas A&M wasn’t without some controversy.

In the final seconds of the game, official Mike Nance appeared to bump into Vols coach Rick Barnes, who was standing stationary on the sideline, and the two exchanged words.

“I really have a lot of confidence in the SEC office that they are going to look at that,” Barnes said after the game about the incident, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I believe they will look at this game and take it apart. I just think they will do that. That shouldn’t happen in any way shape or form. I would like to say what I want to say, but I won’t because I trust the SEC office will do the right thing.”

Nance was headed to the monitor to review a call when the bump occurred, and Nance appeared to ask Barnes if the coach initiated the contact.

“Coach (Bob) Knight told me a long time ago that in a game officials are going to miss seven to nine or 10, 11, 12 calls,” Barnes said. “He kept going up every year. He said, ‘You just hope things aren’t egregious at any point in time.'”

Coach K screams at Duke fans, defending Jeff Capel

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In one of the stranger things that we’ve seen in college basketball this season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went off on the Cameron Crazies for what he believed was a shot they were taking at former Duke player Jeff Capel.

The crazies were chanting, “Jeff Capel sit with us.” Coach K thought he heard something else.

Check out the video:

After the game, Coach K acknowledged that he misheard what the fans said, adding that he will apologize for the mishap.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “But I’d rather make a mistake for the protection of my guy.

“I love Jeff. I erred on that side. I just hope the ACC doesn’t fine me like they did [Mike] Brey.”

He ended the back and forth with this: “Jeff can sit with me anytime.”

 

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

Bubble Banter: Virginia, Mississippi State the biggest winners of the night

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It was a wild night on the bubble on Tuesday night, as 12 teams with their NCAA tournament hopes still up in the air were in action.

A full bubble watch breakdown can be found here. Here are tonight’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): It is impossible to overstate just how big a win over Florida State (15) for a Virginia team that entered the night without a top 50 win to their name. They had one Quad 1 win on their resume — at Syracuse (64) — to go along with wins over Virginia Tech (50) at home and Arizona State (56) on a neutral floor. That’s it. When combined with a pair of Quad 3 losses — South Carolina (89) at home and at Boston College (153) — there’s a reason that the Wahoos were completely out of the NCAA tournament picture entering the day.

And to be honest, I’m not sure that a win over a top 20 team at home is really going to change all that much. But with just three more games against the top of the ACC left on their schedule, this was an opportunity that could not slip through their fingers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Bulldogs added a critical road win on Tuesday night, going into Gainesville and knocking off Florida (37). It’s the second Quad 1 win in six days for Mississippi State, who needs to add some pop to the top of a resume that includes a pair of Quad 3 losses. This will help.

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): Michigan entered Tuesday night having lost four games in a row and five of their last six and were playing without Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson at Nebraska (158). They could not lost this game. They did not.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island is in a spot where they probably cannot afford to take a loss to anyone other than Dayton (5), who they play twice, the rest of the season. On Tuesday night, the Rams beat George Mason. Next up: VCU (39) on Friday night.

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble): Utah State absolutely could not lose at Wyoming (299) on Tuesday, and they didn’t. The Aggies have neutral site wins over LSU (25) and Florida (37), which is enough to keep them in this discussion despite road losses at Boise State (102), UNLV (130) and Air Force (184). They make the trip to Viejas Arena to take on San Diego State (2) on Saturday, and that feels like a must-win for Utah State at this point.

LOSERS

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): The Vols took a loss that they just could not afford to take on Tuesday, falling to a bad Texas A&M (149) at home. It’s their first Quad 3 loss, meaning that now half of their eight losses are outside the Quad 1 level. With just two Quad 1 wins, neither of which came against a top 35 opponent, Tennessee is backing themselves into a corner. The good news? They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols can survive this if they get hot.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange saw their five game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday as they fell at Clemson (81). This is not a terrible loss, but for a team that is already trying to make up ground on the field, these are the kind of losses that really hurt.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Tuesday’s visit to the Siegel Center was Richmond’s last shot at getting a Quad 1 win dueing the regular season. They lost to VCU (39) by 17 points. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): The Johnnies lost for the seventh time in their last nine games when Villanova (14) waltzed into MSG and beat the Red Storm by 20. That’s not ideal. St. John’s is still in the mix because of wins over West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), the latter of which came on a neutral court. But with road games left against Villanova, Seton Hall (12) and Butler (9), Mike Anderson’s club has backed themselves into a corner.

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out): The Boilermakers dropped to 11-10 on the season with a 70-63 loss at Rutgers (23) on Tuesday night. That means Purdue has dropped five of their last seven games. They’re 2-7 against Quad 1 opponents with a 29 point win over Michigan State (8), but there are a lot of losses on their resume already and the Big Ten is a bear.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out): The Hokies did themselves no favors by losing at Miami (106) on Tuesday night. In the last three days, they’ve suffered their two worst losses of the season. The Hokies also have a non-conference SOS that ranks 341st, which eliminates much of their margin for error. The good news? They still have pair of Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and four of their five Quad 1 and 2 wins came away from home. It’s not all bad.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Hoyas lost their third straight game on Tuesday night and have now dropped six of their last eight. Making things worse is that they were up by 13 points on Butler (9) late in the first half. This was their best chance to land an elite win this season. They still get Villanova (14) and Seton Hall (12) at home, but the biggest issue with Georgetown’s tournament chances is that they are trending in the wrong direction with just seven scholarship players.

Virginia upends No. 5 Florida State, 61-56

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Remember back to the season’s opening night? Nearly three months ago? That was when Virginia embarrassed Syracuse in a 48-34 win. That game foretold a lot of the season up to this point for the Cavaliers. Their title-defending team would have the defense that’s defined Tony Bennett’s program while the offense, well, that would be a bit of a struggle. What it did not predict was more Quad 1 wins, as the Cavaliers, despite a dominating defense, failed to rack up another such victory after that season-opener.

Until Tuesday.

Virginia injected some life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 win over fifth-ranked Florida State in Charlottesville to pick up a critical victory in an ACC that offers far fewer marquee opportunities than in years past.

The victory was exactly what Bennett’s team needed to help buoy that resume before the start of February. January was extremely rough on them with a 3-4 mark before the win over the Seminoles put them at .500 for the month. With only four chances left against the ACC’s best of FSU, Duke and Louisville, beating the Seminoles at home may not have been an absolute-must for the Cavs, but it sure makes it a lot easier to chart a path to the tournament now, even if it’s still a rocky road, than if they had dropped the game.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime, changing the game offensively for the Cavaliers with his dribble penetration into the middle of the Florida State defense. He wasn’t wildly efficient, but his ability to get into the teeth of the defense – creating some buckets and free throws for himself and chances for his teammates – provided just enough lift for the offensively-challenged team. His beautiful reverse layup with a minute left gave Virginia a lead it would not relinquish as it closed the game on an 8-0 run.

Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine boards for Virginia while Braxton Key had 13 points and nine rebounds.

The loss stops a 10-game winning streak for the ‘Noles, who led for most of the game but could not ever find any meaningful separation. Devin Vassell had 17 points to lead Florida State, which had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds but missed both 3-point attempts horribly. If Virginia can surge a little in the season’s final month, this win won’t be much more than a missed opportunity for the Seminoles, but if it proves to just be a blip on the radar for Virginia, Florida State may have done some damage to its seed line Tuesday.