Anatomy of a comeback … and collapse

8 Comments

When Kansas led Michigan by 11 with four and a half minutes left, the Jayhawks seemed to be just about the least likely team in America to blow the lead. This was a team that started four seniors. This was a team hardened and forged  by years of winning tough road games in the Big 12. This was a team coached by Bill Self, who has been on both sides of this situation so many times there seemed no surprises left.

Anyway, Michigan did not seem capable of a comeback, not on this day. The Jayhawks had held a steady lead from the start. The Wolverines had done surprising work just keeping the game relatively close — all game they had seemed like the little brother swinging punches at the air while the older brother holds him off with one arm. It just seemed a matter of the clock running out.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way.

4:04 left: Kansas’ Travis Releford had ball stripped away by Michigan freshman Mitch McGary.

There was something off about the way Kansas came in. Heck, the game began with senior Elijah Johnson committing a flagrant foul by hitting McGary in the general groin area. People will argue, I suppose, whether Johnson fully intended to hit McGary in the general groin area — it was only that sliver of doubt that prevented Johnson from being kicked out of the game. Before the game, senior Jeff Withey had apparently talked about how small McGary was (he’s 6-foot-10) and how he expected Kansas to dominate inside. It was all very strange and not very helpful at all.

It’s as if they didn’t understand that McGary, though only a freshman, shows the sorts of tendencies that have already made him beloved at Michigan and will, over time, make him one of the most despised and feared players in the Big 10 — he does all sorts of little things that tear out opponents hearts. It’s the Bill Laimbeer stuff, the Dennis Johnson stuff, in baseball the A.J. Pierzynski stuff, — he strips away a pass, he grabs a loose ball, he steals an offensive rebound, he tips in a ball, he already seems to have a particular knack for staying in the moment and making the winning play.

Remember that scene in “The Usual Suspects” when Chazz Palminteri says to Kevin Spacey, “I’m smarter than you. I’ll find out what I want to know, and I’ll get it from you whether you like it or not?” Yeah, poking at McGary kind of felt like that.

3:55 left: Michigan’s Trey Burke missed a three-point shot. Teammate Glenn Robinson III grabbed the rebound. Robinson missed a shot. McGary grabbed the offensive rebound (another play!), the ball was passed around and it ended up in the hands of Tim Hardaway Jr. He was fouled and made one of two free throws. KANSAS 70, Michigan 60.

Michigan was beginning to out hustle Kansas. This would play a major role in the final four minutes.

3:29 left: Elijah Johnson had ball stripped away by McGary (yet another play!). Michigan quickly worked the ball around and McGary got the ball underneath and scored (we’ll stop putting stuff in parentheses for McGary). KANSAS 70, Michigan 62.

2:54 left: Kansas passed the ball around beautifully and found senior Kevin Young underneath the basket. It looked like he would try a reverse layup but instead he made a brilliant little tip pass to Withey who slammed. KANSAS 72, Michigan 62.

Looking back, I suspect Kansas’ players thought this would be the clincher. It sort of felt that way. They had a double-digit lead, less than three minutes left, the huge Kansas crowd in Cowboys Stadium was roaring (Michigan players talked about this feeling like a road game), this thing seemed to be over from the outside looking in. The way Kansas played the last three minutes, you can’t help but wonder if it looked that way on the inside looking out too.

2:31 left: Hardaway missed a jumper. Robinson got the offensive board — Michigan was playing with the energy of the desperate — and the ball worked back to Hardaway who missed another jump shot. This time Elijah Johnson got the rebound. You could almost hear the deep breath release on the Kansas side. Here Johnson made what I think was the single most devastating play of the game for Kansas.

2:24 left: Johnson dribbled the ball too far in and then tried to pass the ball back out. The ball was tipped away by Robinson, who outran Kansas players for it and dunked on the breakaway. KANSAS 72, MICHIGAN 64.

Everything Elijah Johnson did here — absolutely everything — seemed wrong. He dribbled fast into the Michigan front court, even though Kansas needed only to take some time off the clock. He dribbled into the teeth of Michigan’s defense, even though there was clearly no opening there. He did not call timeout when he got in trouble, even though Kansas had timeouts. He passed the ball back toward the half court stripe, even though it was a reckless pass that could not lead to anything good.  This single play was pure panic and it led to a dunk and a Michigan sense of hope. Bill Self probably should have realized this and called timeout. Instead …

2:02 left: Johnson, perhaps still in a fog from his turnover, seemed to lose all sense of time. He was caught by a 10-second violation when he could not get the ball across half court in time. You almost never see THIS kind of 10-second violation. Michigan didn’t trap him. They didn’t double team him. He simply let precious seconds tick away, and then, there was some tough defense that stopped him before he could make it across the line. It was as if the batteries on his inner alarm clock had run out.

Elijah Johnson is a good player. He has been through pretty much everything in his four years at Kansas, he has played just about every role, he has made many big plays in big moments. But something about this moment overwhelmed him.

1:55 left: McGary again — this time he was open under the basket he made a little layup. KANSAS 72, MICHIGAN 66.

And now, yes, everybody understood that it was a game. One minute of clock-time earlier, it was not a game. Not a competitive one. But Michigan’s hustle, the Wolverines playmaking along with Kansas’ trepidation and lack of energy had turned everything around. Bill Self called a timeout. You could lip-read his word: “Unbelievable.”

1:22 left: Travis Relaford got fouled by McGary as he drove hard to the basket. This was a break for Kansas. McGary definitely got all ball on the block — Steve Kerr thought it was a clean play, and Marv Albert tended to agree. You could argue that McGary did hit Relaford pretty hard with the body. The point is not whether it was a good call, though. The point is that it could have gone either way. This one went Kansas. Relaford made both free throws. KANSAS 74, MICHIGAN 66.

1:16 left: Burke made a long three-point shot. KANSAS 74, MICHIGAN 69.

No comeback/collapse of this magnitude can happen with one or two plays. It has to be an astonishing series of heroics and mishaps, good and bad bounces, big plays that nobody will remember later. Carlton Fisk’s homer would never have happened except for Bernie Carbo’s three-run homer, and George Foster’s great throw to the plate and numerous other things. But, inevitably, someone will have to step up and do something extraordinary. Trey Burke, the Big 10 player of the year, seemed to understand that this last bit was his job. He did not make a single shot in the first half. Michigan coach John Beilein had told him to look for his shot. It was his time.

41 seconds left: Kansas Ben McLemore missed a driving shot.

There are many people who believe McLemore will be the first pick in the NBA Draft. He will definitely be a very high pick. He has amazing talent — Self calls him the most talented player he’s ever coached. He glides. He can get off his shot seemingly whenever he wants. When his confidence soars (and there were times in this game when his confidence was soaring) he’s an absolute force of nature.

But throughout this tournament, McLemore had often looked lost and discouraged. People offered numerous theories about it, but nobody really knows — not even McLemore. Everything happens so fast in college basketball. McLemore’s father was a playground legend in St. Louis … but he disappeared from Ben’s life. His older brother, Keith, is in jail serving a long sentence after two shooting incidents. Ben grew up in a tiny home often without heat. He followed his basketball talents. He played at three different high schools, was declared ineligible for his freshman season as a partial qualifier, and not long after that told the Lawrence World Journal’s Tom Keegan that his best day is every single day he’s on campus at Kansas.

Then, suddenly, he’s on national television, he’s playing in front of millions, he’s got NBA scouts breaking down his every move, he’s got countless people relying on him, he’s got countless critics looking to call him a fraud, he’s driving to the basket with a chance to put the game away. Of course, a player can’t think about these things or they’ll never succeed. They must remove all this from their minds. They must live inside the moment. They must try, anyway.

33 seconds left: Tim Hardaway missed a three-point shot. There was a scramble for the ball. McLemore seemed to have the best chance to simply fall on the ball — Kansas had the possession arrow. Instead Robinson took the ball away, and he hit a difficult reverse layup. KANSAS 74, MICHIGAN 71.

“Seasons,” Bill Self would say, “usually come down — if you have a pretty good team — to one possession.”

21 seconds left: Johnson made two free throws. KANSAS 76, MICHIGAN 71.

Even with all the fury on the Michigan side and all the panic on the Kansas side, it STILL seemed like the Jayhawks would win when Elijah Johnson stepped to the line and swished two free throws.

14 seconds left: Burke drove to the basket and made an open layup. KANSAS 76, MICHIGAN 73.

The Jayhawks were clearly defending the three-point shot. Burke realized that and pierced through the defense and scored easily.

I think this was a brilliant and game-saving play by Burke … and another blunder by Kansas. It is often said by announcers that the worst thing you can do here is foul because it stops the clock. I’ve heard that so many times that I never really questioned it — now I will. I don’t think it’s true, at least not in this situation. i’m not saying you WANT to foul. I am saying, though, that allowing an uncontested layup in seven seconds seems worse to me than fouling. An uncontested layup also stops the clock and it gives the team two easy points. At least if you foul the player has to make both free throws.

13 seconds left: Elijah Johnson was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Everything about the way Michigan ran the final minute was perfect — John Beilein is one of the best chalkboard coaches in America, and it showed. Michigan only allowed one second to expire after Burke’s made layup before the Wolverines fouled Johnson. They had not used up their fouls earlier in the game, so Johnson was forced to shoot a one-and-one. When he missed, Hardaway grabbed the rebound and got the ball into the hands of Burke. It was, as the cliche goes, just the way you draw it up.

4 seconds left: Trey Burke made amazing 28-foot three-pointer. KANSAS 76, MICHIGAN 76.

When the game ended, many people would blame Bill Self for not fouling before Burke could get off the shot. This seems to me classic second-guessing and, I think, wrongheaded. Let’s say Kansas fouls Burke with eight or nine seconds left, which is what we’re talking about here. OK, now what? Burke is an 80% free throw shooter, and he was locked in, so let’s just assume he makes both free throws.

And … now what? Kansas STILL was in the one-and-one. You assume Michigan fouls immediately, and would you REALLY want a Kansas player on the line with six or so seconds left shooting a one-and-one with the Jayhawks up only a point? I wouldn’t. A foul there and Kansas legitimately could have lost the game in regulation.

That’s not to say that Kansas and Self escape second-guessing. Self admitted afterward — the Jayhawks defended the play terribly. One defender got picked out of the play, another did not switch and Burke got a good look. It was a very long look, sure, and this is not to take away anything from Trey Burke making a ridiculous 28-foot shot to tie a game with four seconds left.

But you can’t give him a clean look at that shot. You just can’t. Burke might be the best player in America. He’s a great shooter.  You don’t want to give him a comfortable look from 25 feet or 30 feet or 40 feet or 50 feet away. You don’t want to let him get his feet set, basket clear sight, no way. You don’t want to just hope he misses. Not Trey Burke.

Of course, he didn’t miss. When Kansas’ Nadir Tharpe missed his three-pointer — it wasn’t a bad look either, actually, but he missed it — the game went to overtime. Kansas wouldn’t play well in the overtime. Burke would play great. And then game ended in more chaos when Kansas, trailing by two, had Elijah Johnson drive toward the basket. He seemed to realize that he was too far behind the backboard, he passed the ball wildly back to Tharpe for a wicked off-balance three pointer and Kansas lost. “Obviously we didn’t do a very good job on that last possession,” Self said, knowing he was understating things.

But the game wasn’t lost on that one play just like the game wasn’t won when Burke made his long three-pointer (or his even longer three in overtime). It was, instead, a stunning series of plays made by Michigan and not made by Kansas.

John Beilein would say: “The ball bounced our way down the last few minutes, and we keep on playing.”

Bill Self would say, “This will be a tough one to get over for a long time.”

That’s the NCAA Tournament.

S. Hauser, Anim lead No. 11 Marquette past Providence 76-58

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Leave a comment

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sam Hauser had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Sacar Anim scored 18 and No. 11 Marquette raced past Providence 76-58 on Saturday.

The Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2 in the Big East) led by 11 points at halftime and showed no signs of letting up, shooting 53.6 percent in the second half to finish at 54.9 percent for the game. Anim went 8 for 12 and Hauser 7 for 10 for Marquette, which got 14 points on 2-of-12 shooting from leading scorer Markus Howard.

Alpha Diallo had 19 points and six rebounds for the Friars (15-13, 5-10 Big East). Providence went from shooting 27.6 percent in the first half to 50 percent in the second half, yet Marquette proved too tough a cover on a day that the Golden Eagles had five players in double figures.

Joey Hauser had 15 points and Markus Howard added 14 for Marquette.

Marquette put the game away after Providence moved to within 40-33 early in the second half. On three straight trips to the basket, the Golden Eagles connected from deep, with a 3-pointer from Howard allowing the visitors to take a 58-37 lead with 10:54 remaining.

The Golden Eagles shot 10 of 21 from 3-point range while the Friars went 6 of 20.

TOUGH OUT NO MATTER WHERE

Marquette is 16-1 at Fiserv Forum, matching the most home wins in a single season since the 2012-13 team finished 16-0. Saturday saw the Golden Eagles pick up their sixth road win in league play versus one defeat. The six road wins against conference foes represents the most in a single season since Marquette joined the Big East in 2005.

TAKE A BOW

During halftime, Providence honored a dozen former student-athletes who were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. Included in the Class of 2019 was Jamel Thomas, who played a key role on the team that came close to reaching the Final Four in 1997. Thomas ranks sixth on Providence’s all-time scoring list (1,971 points).

STIFF COMPETITION

The Big East entered Saturday’s action as the only Division I conference in the nation with every team owning an overall winning record.

UP NEXT

Marquette travels to defending national champion Villanova on Wednesday. It will be a rematch of a game the Golden Eagles won 66-65 on Feb. 9 in Milwaukee.

Providence is at Butler on Tuesday. The Friars and Bulldogs have yet to play each other.

Without Tremont Waters, No. 13 LSU beats No. 5 Tennessee for first place in SEC

Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP
Leave a comment

Playing without their star sophomore point guard Tremont Waters, No. 13 LSU got 29 points, five boards, five assists and three steals from freshman Javonte Smart and 23 points from Skylar Mays as they outlasted No. 5 Tennessee, 82-80, in overtime.

The win did not come without some controversy, which only makes sense given that it is LSU that is involved. In the final seconds of overtime, after LSU tied the game at 80, Lamonte Turner missed a shot and in the ensuing battle for a rebound, Smart came up with the ball and was fouled by Tennessee’s all-american, Grant Williams with 0.6 seconds left on the clock. It was a tough call for Tennessee to take, but it was the right call. Smart made both free throws and the Tigers got the win.

And that is a win of significance, too.

LSU entered the day a game out of first place in the SEC standings behind Tennessee, and with No. 4 Kentucky’s blowout win over Auburn in Lexington on Saturday, there is now a three-way tie for first place in the conference title race. Next Saturday, the Wildcats make a return trip to Knoxville for a rematch with Tennessee.

The most impressive part of this win for LSU is that it not only came without Waters available, but with Naz Reid playing one of the worst games of his basketball career. He spent much of the first half in foul trouble and finished the afternoon 0-for-9 from the floor with just a single point.

Who saw that coming?

And it reinforces something I think that we all have figured out about this LSU team: There is not a team in college basketball that can combine a ceiling as high as their ceiling and a floor as low as their floor. The talent is, unquestionably, there. If you can win in Rupp Arena against this Kentucky team, if you can pick off a top five team and SEC title contender while getting essentially nothing out of your two most talented players, you are dangerous.

But we cannot overlook the fact that, in between those two wins, LSU very nearly lost at Georgia and then did take a loss at home to Florida.

That’s just who they are.

When they get up for a game, they are dangerous, and it’s hard to imagine a situation where they are not up for games in March.

Hunter Rallies No. 3 Virginia Past No. 18 Louisville 64-52

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — De’Andre Hunter scored 19 of his career-high 26 points after halftime, and No. 3 Virginia rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat No. 18 Louisville 64-52 on Saturday.

The Cavaliers (24-2, 12-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) trailed early in the second half before regrouping to hold the Cardinals (18-10, 9-6) to 6 of 30 from the field (20 percent) and 31 percent shooting overall. Virginia also found its offense, shooting 59 percent and using a 12-1 run over 4:36 for a 55-48 lead it stretched to 12 for its fourth consecutive victory.

Hunter was perfect after the break, making all six shots to finish 9 of 11 from the field. Mamadi Diakite added 14 points, while Jay Huff came off the bench to score 12. The Cavaliers maintained at least a share of the conference lead in the process.

After making 10 of 16 from long range in the first 20 minutes, Louisville managed just 2 of 17 afterward and lost for the fifth time in seven games.

Jordan Nwora had 17 points and reserve Ryan McMahon scored 12 for the Cardinals.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Virginia continued its push toward the top of the AP Top 25 with the victory. Louisville figures to fall out of the poll with its second double-digit loss this week.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers improved to 8-2 against ranked foes and won their eighth in a row over Louisville. While they shut off the inside throughout the game, their patience in letting the Cardinals shoot themselves out paid off as they won on the boards 39-28 while dominating the paint 38-4.

Louisville: The Cardinals needed this victory for reasons beyond conquering their nemesis. They instead continued their freefall in the standings, and their failure to generate anything inside was a key factor.

UP NEXT

Virginia: hosts Georgia Tech on Wednesday in its lone regular-season meeting with the Yellow Jackets.

Louisville: visits Boston College on Wednesday night, seeking a season sweep of the Eagles after winning the earlier matchup 80-70 last month.

Bubble Banter: All of the weekend’s bubble action in one place

John Weast/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Now that conference play is just about done and the NCAA tournament is right around the corner, it is time for us to get fully invested in the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Ole Miss, Ohio State, Auburn, Wofford, Baylor, Minnesota, St. John’s, Syracuse.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

CLEMSON (NET: 44, SOS: 31): Beating Boston College (123) at home isn’t going to change all that much for the Tigers, but for a team that is currently sitting at one of the First Four Out in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection, that’s a loss that would have been TOUGH to survive.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 38, SOS: 13): Have the Sooners figured things out? After snapping a five-game losing streak last Saturday at TCU (41), they turned that into a winning streak by beating Texas (41) at home this Saturday. The Sooners are 17-10 on the season and 5-9 in the Big 12, but with a couple of good wins — Wofford (24) at home, Florida (31) on a neutral, at TCU (41) — they are in a good spot considering the state of the bubble this year.

TEMPLE (NET: 54, SOS: 63): Temple picked off a Tulsa team that has been playing better of late, but the issue the Owls are currently facing is that there isn’t really a way to drastically improve their profile until the American tournament starts. As it stands, we have them in a play-in game. Essentially every game they play is a must-win at this point.

LOSERS

TEXAS (NET: 35, SOS: 9): Playing without Kerwin Roach, Texas went into Norman and lost to Oklahoma (38), 69-67. That’s the seventh Q1 loss for the Longhorns this season. On the season, they’re 15-12 overall with four Q1 wins and an 8-11 mark against the top two quadrants. Throw in a home loss to Radford (130) and Texas is nowhere near safe despite the fact that they have a neutral court win over North Carolina (9), home wins over Purdue (11) and Kansas (15) and a win at Kansas State (28). This team is the perfect example of why the bubble is so soft this season.

LEFT TO PLAY

No. 19 Iowa State at TCU (NET: 41, SOS: 33), Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
George Washington at VCU (NET: 37, SOS: 32), Sat. 2:00 p.m.
GEORGETOWN (NET: 69, SOS: 75) at Creighton, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)
No. 15 Purdue at NEBRASKA (NET: 46, SOS: 92), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (BTN)
Missouri at FLORIDA (NET: 31, SOS: 29), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
WOFFORD (NET: 24, SOS: 152) at FURMAN (NET: 45, SOS: 232), Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
UTAH STATE (NET: 36, SOS: 123) at Boise State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
Vanderbilt at ALABAMA (NET: 51, SOS: 27), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
SIU-Edwardsville at BELMONT (NET: 53, SOS: 217), 6:00 p.m. (ESPN+)
SETON HALL (NET: 64, SOS: 51) at St. John’s, 8:00 p.m. (FS1)
SMU at UCF (NET: 39, SOS: 72), Sun. 12:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
East Tennessee State at UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 60, SOS: 148), Sun. 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Wake Forest at N.C. STATE (NET: 32, SOS: 208), Sun. 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
Cal at ARIZONA STATE (NET: 66, SOS: 69), Sun. 6:00 p.m. (Pac-12)

Iowa Play-By-Play Man Suspended For Calling African Player “King Kong”

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
8 Comments

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin has been suspended for the rest of the season for referring to Maryland’s Bruno Fernando as “King Kong” during a broadcast.

Hawkeye Sports Properties, the multimedia rights manager for Iowa’s athletic, announced the move just hours before the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes hosted Indiana.

No. 24 Maryland beat Iowa 66-65 in Iowa City on Tuesday night. Fernando had 11 points and 11 rebounds, including a go-ahead putback with 7.8 seconds to go.

In describing the game’s closing moments, Dolphin said that Fernando — a 6-foot-10, 240-pound African-American player who was born in Angola — “was King Kong at the end of the game.”

This is the second time that Dolphin has been suspended this season.

He sat out two games after being caught on a microphone criticizing Iowa guard Maishe Dailey in a win over Pittsburgh in November.