It’s fitting: Buzz Williams reaches Sweet 16 with his most ‘Marquette’ team to date

6 Comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. — All you need to know about this Marquette team can be summed up in a two minute stretch that happened early in the second half of the No. 3 seed Golden Eagle’s 71-61 win over No. 2 seed Miami in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

The Hurricanes were a no-show, digging themselves a 14-5 hole in the first five minutes and finding themselves down 29-16 at the half. By the time Jim Larranaga called his first timeout of the second half with 14:47 left in the game, Miami was down 41-23 and you had to wonder if the Hurricanes were ever going to show up.

Well, they did, if only briefly.

Miami came out of that timeout and star point guard Shane Larkin drew a foul, which sent us to another TV timeout. That’s seven minutes of commercials broken up by 16 seconds of game time, enough to knock any team out of a rhythm. Larkin hit both free throws, and Miami immediately threw a press on. They forced a turnover by Trent Lockett immediately, which led to a layup for Durand Scott. Marquette wasn’t rattled, however, and calmly broke the press on their next possession, working the ball inside to Davante Gardner for a layup. Miami answered with a three, cutting the lead to 13 and finally putting together some kind of momentum offensively.

But Junior Cadougan broke Miami’s press singlehandedly on the next possession, going the length of the court for a layup. After another missed jumper from Kenny Kadji, Marquette worked the shot clock, getting a 15 foot jumper from Vander Blue to put them back up 17 with 12:17 left. That lead eventually grew to 21 points, and Miami wouldn’t get that close again until there was less than a minute left on the clock.

The Golden Eagles didn’t get rattled by that press. They weren’t affected by the fact that the first time they really got into a rhythm, they were forced to spend seven minutes sitting on the bench while the NCAA raked in TV’s advertising dollars. Not in the slightest. They calmly broke the press, then did it again, and then slowly but surely extended their lead.

That’s toughness.

“Buzz’s favorite quote is ‘ring the bell everyday’,” senior forward Jamil Wilson said after the game. What’s that mean? “Getting up and showing up every time.”

“In this part of the season, in March, crucial possessions can come back and haunt you. So we just define toughness by being there every possession.”

And for 40 minutes, Marquette did just that. Miami’s game-plan isn’t a secret. So much of what they do offensively runs through Larkin and his ability to use ball-screens from Miami’s big men to create. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Marquette’s focus on the defensive end of the floor was getting the ball out of Larkin’s hands. Every time Miami tried to set him a ball-screen, Marquette trapped him. If they were going to get beat, they were going to get beat by Trey McKinney Jones and Kenny Kadji and Rion Brown hitting threes, not by Larkin coming off of a ball-screen.

Marquette also took advantage of their size inside. With Reggie Johnson physically and Julian Gamble mentally back in Miami — Gamble finished with six points and six boards, the majority of which came when Miami was already down by 20 — Gardner and Chris Otule had their way in the paint, while Trent Lockett swooped in and finished with 11 boards, including one swooping, highlight-reel tip-dunk in traffic. All told, Marquette scored 40 of their 71 points in the paint.

“All of the things that we wanted to do — keep them out of the paint with their drives, keep them off the offensive boards, find the open man on our end and make some threes — we weren’t able to do any of those things,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said.

It’s only fitting that Buzz Williams finally broke his Sweet 16 curse with this group of cast-offs and misfits. Perhaps no team in his tenure in Milwaukee has better personified Marquette basketball than this group.

There aren’t any pros on this roster unless Vander Blue develops three-point range. Trent Lockett is a transfer from Arizona State. Jamil Wilson couldn’t crack the rotation at Oregon. Chris Otule called himself terrible coming out of high school. Davante Gardner is a 6-foot-7, 300 lb center that committed to Marquette over South Florida.

Everyone on this Marquette team has a chip on their shoulder. Everyone of them has been overlooked and underrecruited. Everyone of them, including their head coach, has gotten to where they are through grit and determination and effort. They are the epitome of an underdog.

Are they talented? Compared to me, yes. Compared to Indiana? Not as much.

The irony?

That’s what they want to hear. That’s what they feed off of. Pick them to lose in the opening round? Well, that just means the Golden Eagles are going to get that many more floor burns and fill up the puke buckets in practice just that much more.

“If you just look at our roster, you wouldn’t think we’re an Elite 8 team,” Blue said. “That fuels our fire. There’s nothing we can do about that. When we step on the court, if you don’t give us respect, we’re going to earn it. Sooner or later, you’ve gotta give credit where credit is due.”

“We want to keep being the hunter. We don’t want to be the hunted.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

 

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

1 Comment

Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

Allen Dean Steele /Allsport
1 Comment

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.