College Hoops Week in Review: Tray Woodall and Miami make noise


Player of the Week: Tray Woodall, Pitt

Pitt lost eight straight games this season. They started off Big East play with seven consecutive losses. They lost to Wagner. They lost to DePaul. They lost to Rutgers by 23 points at home. And despite all of that, the Panthers are all of a sudden a team that not only looks destined to be headed to the NCAA Tournament, they look like they actually deserve an at-large bid.

Why? Its simple: Tray Woodall. The talented Panther point guard missed an extended period of time in the middle of the season due to groin and abdominal injuries, but he returned to the lineup on January 21st. Pitt lost that game as Woodall was, quite evidently, working to get his bearings back. But since then, the Panthers have won four straight, including going into West Virginia and taking home the title in this year’s Backyard Brawl. Woodall had 24 points and three assists. Then on Saturday, Woodall went for 29 points, six assists and five boards in a nine point win over Villanova.

I went back and watch the tape of Pitt prior to Woodall’s and return and with him back, and there are a couple of differences. The first is that the Panthers are now able to break a press. Believe it or not, that was as big of an issue as any without him in the lineup, particularly against Marquette. More importantly, however, Woodall’s return give Pitt a playmaker at the point that is capable of creating off of the dribble not just for himself, but for the rest of the team. Ashton Gibbs, when he is forced to go 1-on-1 off the dribble, can get a good look, but he’s not going to be finding assists. Woodall is a much more dangerous player with the ball in his hands.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:

G: Damian Lillard, Weber State: The nation’s leading scorer showed why he is such a dangerous offensive weapon this week. He went for 40 points and five assists in a win over Portland State and followed it up with 35 points and five assists against Northern Colorado, upping his scoring average to 25.5 ppg. What makes Lillard so dangerous is how efficient he is. Lillard’s offensive rating is 130.3, which is an astounding number considering that he uses 31.7% of Weber State’s possessions. Think about it like this: looking at every player in the country regardless of usage rate, Lillard is 12th in terms of efficiency. No one else in the top 20 uses more than 23.3% of their team’s possessions. Only three players in the top 50 — Jared Sullinger (25.9%), Doug McDermott (28.0%) and Isaiah Canaan (26.0%) — use more than 23.9%.

This week, Lillard totaled his 75 points while shooting 25-36 (69.4%) from the floor and 11/17 (64.7%) from three with just five turnovers in 70 minutes. That’s impressive.

G: Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech: Lillard may be this season’s scoring leader, but Murphy was this week’s champ. On Monday night, the 6’6″ guard went for 50 points, the most scored this season to day, on 16-21 shooting. On Thursday, Murphy followed that up with 33 points before finally closing out the week with a measly 23 point performance at Jacksonville State. If the 106 point aren’t enough, Murphy shot 59.3% from the floor, hit 12-22 from three and added 7.0 rpg.

F: Garrett Stutz, Wichita State: Don’t look now, but Saturday’s matchup between Wichita State and Creighton will be one of the most anticipated games of the season. Why? Because after the Bluejays got dropped on a buzzer-beating three on Saturday afternoon, the Shockers pulled back into a first-place tie in the MVC with them. And the biggest reason WSU has been able to make their run has been their biggest player. Stutz had 25 points and 11 boards in a win at Missouri State on Wednesday and followed that up with 24 points, 15 boards and five blocks as the Shockers outlasted Indiana State on Saturday night.

F: Joshua Smith, UCLA: UCLA went just 1-1 on the week, with their one win coming against Washington State and their loss coming when they blew a late, 10 point lead against Washington. It wasn’t exactly the greatest week for the Bruins. It was, however, arguably the best weekend that Smith has had in his collegiate career. He went for 24 points and nine boards against UW and followed that up with 19 points against Washington State. Its a shame that it takes a trip back to his native Seattle to get him motivated, but maybe tasting success keeps him motivated. When he wants to be, Smith is a top ten center in the country.

C: Anthony Davis, Kentucky: What is there to say about Davis that hasn’t already been said 100 times over? He’s a freak. He’s the most terrifying defensive force in the country. His presence around the rim makes the Wildcats one of the best defensive teams in the country, and that wouldn’t change even if I was playing the two. His offense is starting to come around now as well. This week, in wins over Tennessee and South Carolina, Davis averaged 20.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 7.5 bpg.

Team of the Week: Miami Hurricanes

You might not have realized it on Sunday with that other game going on, but Miami landed a massive win that vaulted them into serious contention for the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off the Blue Devils in overtime despite the fact that Malcolm Grant managed just one field goal on the day. Reggie Johnson went for 27 points and 12 boards, eight offensive, which led to a fourth straight win. Miami has also won five of their last six and nine of 12 since Reggie Johnson returned from him injury.

In fact, the biggest reason for Miami’s turnaround is not necessarily Johnson’s return. Well, it is, but what Johnson’s presence inside has allowed is Kenny Kadji to get free up as a stretch-four on the perimeter. He’s averaged 16.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in the last 12 games and looks like one of the best four-men in the ACC. I do have concerns about Miami’s back court — they don’t always make great decisions and Shane Larkin is a freshman running the point — but this group looks like they can be in contention for a top four spot in the ACC.

Teams that deserve a shoutout:

Arizona: The Wildcats lost Kevin Parrom to a season-ending foot injury at the start of last week, a blow that had caused the majority of the Pac-12 watching public to all-but write them off this season. So what did Sean Miller’s club do? Oh, they just went into Cal and knocked off the Bears and then went into Stanford and handled the Cardinal. No big deal. Arizona is still very much alive in the Pac-12 race.

Notre Dame: The Irish are back because the Burn Offense is back. After going into Hartford to knock off UConn, Notre Dame beat Marquette — who just may be the second best team in the Big East — by 17 points at home. They have now won four straight games, including a win over Syracuse, and have moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Big East. Who saw that coming? Mike Brey has to be at the top of a short list for National Coach of the Year right now.

Florida: Florida seems like one of those teams that no one is talking about right now. They are right on the edge of being in the top ten and, after beating Vanderbilt on Saturday, seem to have a pretty firm grip on second place in the SEC. They have a lottery pick in the middle and a ridiculous amount of talented spread across their perimeter. But this group still isn’t being taken seriously, and that’s probably because we all have visions of terrible shots from Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker dancing in our heads. Well, with Brad Beal starting to come into his own and Will Yegeute providing quite a dangerous defensive presence at the point of Florida’s press, maybe we should start paying a bit more attention to this team.

Florida State: Yup, the Seminoles did it again. After rolling over Georgia Tech, FSU beat Virginia at home despite blowing a 15 point second half lead. The win keeps Florida State on pace with North Carolina at 7-1 in the ACC, a game in front of Duke and two games up on NC State, Miami and Virginia.

Yale: All the talk heading into this season in the Ivy League was that Penn and Princeton would be the two teams that would give Harvard their biggest test of the season. After this weekend, however, its Yale that is sitting all alone in second place in the league. Thanks to 44 points and 22 boards from big man Greg Mangano, the Elis took care of both Penn and Princeton at home. The bad news? Six of Yale’s last eight games are on the road, including return trips to both Penn and Princeton and a rematch with Harvard, who beat Yale by 30 in New Haven.

Five Thoughts:

Kansas and Missouri rivalry has to continue, but in time: There is so much to love about this rivalry, and with Missouri well on their way towards returning to national prominence, this intensity of this game will continue to grow. That said, there is no way that it happens immediately. If the Big 12 hadn’t managed to survive — which is still no guarantee for the future — the Jayhawks would have been deciding between the remnants of the Big East, the Mountain West and the Missouri Valley for their conference affiliation. You’d be mad, too.

Temple taking control of the Atlantic 10?: No conference in the country — and that includes the Pac-12 — is as big of a mess as the A-10 is right now. Just last week, there were 11 teams within a game of first place in the conference. As of today, there are six teams within a game and two more just two games out. But only one team — Temple — has a hold on first-place, and the Owls look like they are primed to run away with the league. They’ve won six in a row and now have starting center Michael Eric back in the mix.

Iona needs to get better defensively: Thanks to two dominating offensive performances this week, the Gaels have moved into first-place in the MAAC. But as well as Iona can score the ball, they are going to be in trouble if they cannot figure out a way to get stops. The Gaels gave up 86 points to Canisius, who is 1-12 in MAAC play. Their two losses in league play were the result of blowing two separate 18 point leads. Its not difficult to imagine their season being cut short because of their inattentiveness to the defensive end of the floor.

Colorado is still hanging around: I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out of the Buffalo’s season, but this group just simply keeps on winning. This weekend they swept Oregon and Oregon State, moving into a tie for second place in the conference with Cal. They’ve now won five of their last six games. That said, the Buffs have done their damage at home. They are 7-0 in Boulder in league play and 1-3 on the road. The one win came against USC. Oh, and five of their last seven league games are away from home. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to perform at this level.

Time for Northwestern’s run?: We’ve been asking the question for so long that it seems almost silly to bring it back up again, but could this be Northwestern’s year to make the dance? Last week, that idea would have seemed silly as the Wildcats were sitting in at 2-6 in Big Ten play. But after this past week, where the Wildcats beat Minnesota and knocked off Illinois on the road, this group still has a glimmer of hope left. They visit both Purdue and Indiana and get Michigan and Ohio State at home. They’ll need to win at least two of those games for a chance.

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

Marquette’s Shaka Smart voted men’s AP coach of the year

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Shaka Smart has packed an entire career’s worth of experiences into 14 years as a college head coach. He led VCU to an improbable Final Four as a 30-something wunderkind in 2011, guided mighty Texas to a Big 12 Tournament title during six otherwise tepid years in Austin, and now has turned Marquette into a Big East beast.

It’s sometimes easy to forget he’s still just 45 years old.

Yet his work with the Golden Eagles this season might have been his best: Picked ninth in the 11-team league by its coaches, they won the regular-season title going away, then beat Xavier to win their first Big East Tournament championship.

That earned Smart the AP coach of the year award Friday. He garnered 24 of 58 votes from a national media panel to edge Kansas State’s Jerome Tang, who received 13 votes before guiding the Wildcats to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, who earned 10 before taking the Cougars to the Sweet 16.

Voting opened after the regular season and closed at the start of the NCAA Tournament, where the No. 2 seed Golden Eagles were knocked out in the second round by Michigan State and Smart’s longtime mentor, Tom Izzo.

“I’m very grateful to win this award,” said Smart, the second Marquette coach to take it home after Hall of Famer Al McGuire in 1971, “but obviously it always comes back to the guys you have on your team.

“Early on,” Smart said, “we had a real sense the guys had genuine care and concern for one another, and we had a very good foundation for relationships that we could continue to build on. And over the course of seasons, you go through so many different experiences as a team. And those experiences either bring you closer together or further apart. Our guys did a great job, even through adverse experiences, even through challenges, becoming closer together.”

It’s hardly surprising such cohesion is what Smart would choose to remember most from a most memorable season.

The native of Madison, Wisconsin, who holds a master’s degree in social science from California University of Pennsylvania, long ago earned a reputation for building close bonds with players and a tight-knit camaraderie within his teams.

No matter how high or low the Golden Eagles were this season, those traits carried them through.

“Everything that we go through, whether it be the retreat that we went on before the season, all the workouts in the summer, he’s preaching his culture,” said Tyler Kolek, a third-team All-American. “And he’s showing his leadership every single day, and just trying to impart that on us, and kind of put it in our DNA. Because it’s definitely in his DNA.”

That’s reflected in the way Smart, who accepted the Marquette job two years ago after an often bumpy tenure at Texas, has rebuilt the Golden Eagles program after it had begun to languish under Steve Wojciechowski.

Sure, Smart landed his share of transfers – Kolek among them – in an era in which the portal has become so prevalent. But he largely built a team that finished 29-7 this season around high school recruits, eschewing a quick fix in the hopes of long-term stability. Among those prospects were Kam Jones, their leading scorer, and do-everything forward David Joplin.

“He teaches us lots of things about the importance of each other,” Joplin said. “He lets us know, time and time again, that we can’t do anything without each other, but together we can do anything.”

That sounds like a decidedly old-school approach to building a college basketball program.

One embraced by a still-youthful head coach.

“I think being a head coach has never been more complicated, never been more nuanced, and never more all-encompassing,” Smart told the AP in a wide-ranging interview last week. “Does that mean it’s harder? You could say that.

“What makes your job less hard,” Smart said, “is having a captive audience in your players, and guys that truly understand and own what goes into winning, and that’s what we had this past year. But those things just don’t happen. There are a lot of steps that have to occur on the part of a lot of people, not just the coach, to get to where you have a winning environment.”

Purdue’s Zach Edey named AP men’s player of the year

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Zach Edey spent the days following Purdue’s historic NCAA Tournament loss lying low, his phone turned off, along with the rest of the outside world.

The disappointing finish did little to diminish the season the Boilermakers big man had.

Dominating at both ends of the floor during the regular season, Edey was a near-unanimous choice as The Associated Press men’s college basketball player of the year. Edey received all but one vote from a 58-person media panel, with Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis getting the other.

“The season ended in disappointment, which really sucks, but it’s always nice to win individual accolades,” Edey said. “It kind of validates your work a little bit. The last three years I’ve played here, I’ve seen my game grow every year. AP player of the year is a great feeling, it just kind of stinks the way the season ended.”

That ending came in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson, joining Virginia in 2018 as the only No. 1 seeds to lose to a No. 16.

Before that, Edey dominated.

The 7-foot-4 Canadian was named a unanimous AP All-American and the Big Ten player of the year after finishing sixth nationally in scoring (22.3), second in rebounding (12.8) and first in double-doubles (26).

Edey also shot 62% from the floor and averaged 2.1 blocked shots per game while leading Purdue to its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2017. He is the first player since Navy’s David Robinson in 1985-86 to have at least 750 points, 450 rebounds and 50 blocked shots in a season.

“He’s kind of a one of a kind,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “I’ve never played with someone like him, probably never will again.”

And to think, Edey didn’t want to play basketball when he was younger.

A hockey and baseball player growing up in Toronto, Edey resisted basketball at first. He was 6-2 by the sixth grade and the natural inclination by the adults was to push him toward basketball, where his size would be a massive advantage.

“It was something I kind avoided all my life.,” Edey said. “I didn’t like people telling me what I should be doing with my life and it felt like that’s what people were doing with basketball. When I started playing competitively, that’s when I really fell in love with the sport.”

Edey developed his game quickly. He played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and proved himself against some of the nation’s best high school players, drawing attention from college coaches. He ended up at Purdue, where coach Matt Painter had a proven track record of developing big men.

Edey had a limited role as a freshman, then averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season on a team that had talented big man Trevion Williams and future NBA lottery pick Jaden Ivey.

Already a tireless worker, Edey put in even more time during the offseason, spending extra time after practice and taking better care of his body. His already solid footwork got better, he added quickness and developed more patience with the constant double teams he faced – not to mention the barrage of physical play teams tried to employ against him.

“There’s not really any kind of cool, sexy answer,” Edey said. “I came in every day, I worked hard, I stayed after practice – stayed a long time after practice. I took care of my body and was able to steadily improve. There was nothing revolutionary I did. I just worked hard.”

It certainly paid off, even if the season ended with a huge disappointment.

George Mason Final Four star Tony Skinn hired as hoops coach

Doral Chenoweth/Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

FAIRFAX, Va. – Tony Skinn, who helped lead 11th-seeded George Mason to the Final Four during March Madness as a player in 2006, was hired Thursday to coach men’s basketball at the school.

Skinn replaces Kim English, who left George Mason for Providence after Ed Cooley departed Providence for Georgetown.

“Tony Skinn is the right man for this moment in Mason’s basketball program,” university President Gregory Washington said in the news release announcing the hiring. “His coaching style will galvanize our student-athletes and his connection to our finest hour on the court is sure to electrify our alumni and fans.”

Skinn was a starting guard for the Patriots 17 years ago when they picked up a series of surprising wins – including against UConn in the regional final in Washington, about 20 miles from campus – to make the semifinals at the NCAA Tournament.

George Mason’s coach at the time, Jim Larrañaga, is now at Miami and has the Hurricanes in this year’s Final Four.

Skinn was most recently an assistant coach at Maryland. He also has worked at Ohio State, Seton Hall and Louisiana Tech.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to step back on campus,” Skinn said. “I’ve had some of my greatest memories here and I’m looking forward to making new ones with our fans and our community.”

Gonzaga’s Timme among five finalists for men’s Wooden Award

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – Drew Timme of Gonzaga is one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award as the men’s college basketball player of the year.

He’s joined by Zach Edey of Purdue, Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, Houston’s Marcus Sasser and Jalen Wilson of Kansas.

Timme took his team farthest in the upset-riddled NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga losing in the Elite Eight. Sasser helped Houston reach the Sweet 16. Purdue lost in the first round, while Indiana and Kansas were beaten in the second round.

The winner will be announced April 4 on ESPN. All five players have been invited to Los Angeles for the 47th annual presentation on April 7.

Also among the top 10 vote getters were: Jaime Jaquez Jr. of UCLA, Brandon Miller of Alabama, Penn State’s Jalen Pickett, Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky and Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis.

Voting took place from March 13-20.

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley will receive the Legends of Coaching Award during the ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Indiana’s Teri Moren wins AP Coach of the Year

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

DALLAS – Teri Moren has led Indiana to some unprecedented heights this season.

The team won its first Big Ten regular season championship in 40 years, rose to No. 2 in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll and earned the school’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Moren was honored Thursday as the AP women’s basketball Coach of the Year, the first time she has won the award. She received 12 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was second with eight votes. Utah’s Lynne Roberts received five and Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks three.

Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.

“I think a lot of people were like this is going to be a year where Indiana is reloading, rebuilding, they won’t be as good as they had been the year prior. We were picked third in the Big Ten,” Moren said.

Moren was surprised by her team, who told her she won in an elaborate ruse.

“Anytime you can share it with people that made it happen. the staff, the players, the most important people who have been instrumental in the season and this award is special. I was speechless.”

Moren accepted the award at the Final Four, sharing the stage with AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark to complete a Big Ten sweep.

The team has come a long way from when Moren was a young girl growing up in southern Indiana. She was a diehard fan of the Indiana basketball team. The men’s one that is.

She would attend men’s games with her family when she was a kid and was a big fan of coach Bob Knight. She has a constant reminder of the Hall of Fame coach in her office as a picture of his infamous chair-throwing incident hangs by the door. Moren said it’s the last thing she sees before heading to practice.

As far as the women’s team, they just weren’t very good. Times have changed, as Moren has built the program into a blue-collar team that focuses on defense and is a consistent Top 25 team the last few seasons, appearing in the poll for 75 consecutive weeks starting with the preseason one in 2019-2020. That’s the fourth-longest active streak.

Before that, the Hoosiers had been ranked for a total of six times.

“People still talk to me about living in Bloomington and they couldn’t afford a ticket to the men’s game. Not that they settled, but became women’s basketball fans. At that moment, you could walk in and find any seat you wanted and watch women’s basketball,” Moren said.

“There were 300-400 people in the stands, now to what it is today, it’s an unbelievable thing to watch it grow. Things you dream about to see fans and bodies up in the rafters.”

The Hoosiers had six of the school’s top 10 most attended games this season, including crowds of over 13,000 fans for the first round of the NCAA Tournament and 14,000 for the second round game – a shocking loss to Miami.

“It stings right now, but that last game doesn’t define our season,” Moren said.