Monday Overreactions: Gonzaga’s defensive woes, Kentucky’s back, show the mids some love

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
0 Comments

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Juwan Morgan, Indiana

Indiana’s best player this season put together the best performance of his career on Saturday afternoon.

One year after setting his career-high by scoring 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Juwan Morgan went out and put 35 points on Butler in this year’s iteration of the same event. He was 12-for-14 from the floor. He made four of Indiana’s nine threes and seven of their eight free throws. He scored 35 of their 71 points in a 71-68 win over Butler, and while Robert Phinisee’s buzzer-beating three is going to be what everyone remembers from this game, the truth is that Morgan is the reason the Hoosiers won this game. He kept them close in a game that Butler more or less controlled from the tip and gave them a shot to win in the final seconds.

And frankly, it’s a microcosm of Indiana’s season to date. The Hoosiers have yet to hit anything close to their stride. The 23 point win over Marquette last month looks better and better, but since that game Indiana has lost twice and struggled in their six wins. It took them longer than it should have to put away UT Arlington and UC Davis. They won one possession games in four straight, over Northwestern, at Penn State, against Louisville and, on Saturday, vs. Butler. They’ve battled injury. They’ve battled depth issues. They have a roster full of underclassmen that are being asked to figure things out on the fly.

Yet, they are currently 9-2 on the season with a number of good wins and nary a bad loss. Getting smacked by Duke in Cameron is going to happen to everyone. Their loss at Arkansas was by one point in a game that Indiana probably should have one.

If there has been one constant for them, it’s Morgan, their ever-underrated star.

If and when Indiana finally gets healthy and starts playing up to their potential, they are going to be in a position to get a pretty good seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s due, in very large part, to the work Morgan has done these first 11 games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina landed the marquee non-conference win that they’ve been searching for on Saturday.

A loss to Texas in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational burned their shot at playing Michigan State. The Tar Heels were smoked on the road by Michigan. Kentucky, as of today, doesn’t look like it is going to end up being as good as we thought they would be.

That left Saturday’s home date with then-No. 4 Gonzaga, and North Carolina delivered. Spurred on by hot shooting from Cam Johnson and — finally — Luke Maye to go along with a career-best 14 points from Seventh Woods, the Tar Heels ran away from the Zags late in the first half and coasted to a 103-90 win in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels are dangerous. They actually matchup well with the likes of Duke, Gonzaga and Tennessee, and given that Nassir Little is still coming off of the bench — we’ll get to that in a bit — they have the kind of depth and lineup versatility that you need. When it comes down to it, getting smoked at Michigan when Zavier Simpson eats up a freshman point guard is not that bad of a loss, and the loss to Texas came on the one day this season where Kerwin Roach decided he wanted to be Russell Westbrook.

I’m still very much in on the Tar Heels.

(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. GONZAGA’S DEFENSE WILL COST THEM A FINAL FOUR

We have reached the point in the season where I can comfortably say that Gonzaga’s defense is a major, major problem. As of today, the Zags rank 63rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, but considering that KenPom’s algorithm still factors in last season’s data, it stands to reason that the Zags are, truthfully, worse than just 63rd in defensive efficiency. Against North Carolina on Saturday, they gave up 103 points. They allowed 76 in 68 possessions to Tennessee. Washington scored 79 in just 67 possessions. Creighton put up 92 points in 76 possessions. Duke lit up the Zags as well, scoring 48 of their 87 points in the second half.

I did a study on this last season when Duke’s defense was the biggest concern in college basketball. Only one team has won a national title in the KenPom era when they entered the NCAA tournament ranked outside of the top 35 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric — North Carolina in 2009. Only two other teams reached the title game when they entered the tournament ranked outside the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and reached the national title game: Butler in 2011, the year they beat No. 11 seed VCU in the Final Four, and Trey Burke’s Michigan team in 2013.

The good news for the Zags?

Both Michigan in 2013 and North Carolina in 2009 were one of the top two teams offenses in the country, and that’s precisely where the Zags reside this year.

And it would stand to reason that the return of Killian Tillie will help on the defensive end of the floor.

But it is worth mentioning here that neither Josh Perkins nor Zach Norvell Jr. are considered good defenders, while Rui Hachimura’s biggest issue is being able to stay in front of people on the perimeter. Tillie’s return would likely bump him to the three.

It is too early to start freaking out about this. Remember, we had this same conversation about Duke last season, and they ended up as a top ten defense after switching to zone. We also had this conversation about Duke in 2015, the year they won the title.

But this is something we will need to track all season long.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

2. KENTUCKY IS … BACK?

The Wildcats de-pantsed a bad Utah team, which in a vacuum is really nothing to write home about.

Kentucky should be beating teams ranked outside the top 100 on KenPom 88-61 in Rupp Arena.

But the reason this is notable today is because Kentucky hasn’t been doing that this season. They’ve struggled to put away teams that we all thought would be overmatched, and since they have lost the only two games they’ve played outside of Lexington, they are falling out of top 25s all over the place. They were not ranked in the NBC Sports Top 25 last week or this week.

That said, this was a promising performance from Kentucky simply because they finally beat the hell out of someone. We’ve been waiting all season for them to play like the team that whooped up on everyone that crossed their path in the Bahamas, and they did that on Saturday. Utah is going to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the Pac-12 this year, but that is still a high-major basketball team coached by one of the best coaches in the sport.

Maybe all they needed to kickstart their season was a week’s worth of doubters telling the world how losing Quade Green and dropping an overtime game to Seton Hall was the death-knell for the John Calipari era at Kentucky.

3. KANSAS CANNOT REACH THEIR CEILING WITHOUT GETTING QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

The Jayhawks are a two-headed monster at this point in the year. I wrote 1,000 words on Saturday explaining why. The tl;dr version is pretty simple: No Udoka Azubuike means that Dedric Lawson has to play the five. Dedric Lawson at the five means that Kansas doesn’t have anyone capable of scoring that can play the four, and since Bill Self’s freshman backcourt hasn’t looked all that much more effective offensively than Marcus Garrett, there are really only two players that opposing defenses have to worry about.

Lawson and Lagerald Vick.

Some of that gets solved with the return of the big fella.

But there is no doubt that Kansas needs to find a way to get Quentin Grimes going. After looking like the best freshman in the country for the first half of the first game this season, Grimes has been non-existent for the Jayhawks. He’s not making threes. He’s not getting to the rim. He looks like he’s totally lost his confidence. And if he’s not a threat to score, there’s no point in having in on the court, as Garrett is better than Grimes at everything that doesn’t involve putting the ball in the basket.

4. THE NCAA TOURNAMENT SELECTION COMMITTEE MUST REWARD THE MID-MAJORS THIS YEAR

The Pac-12 had a dreadful weekend in what has been a pretty dreadful start to their season. Washington was smoked by No. 13 Virginia Tech. Utah was embarrassed by No. 19 Kentucky. Belmont won at UCLA in a game where UCLA led by 12 in the second half. USC got smoked by Oklahoma. Arizona lost at home to Baylor, who most think will be competing for second-to-last in the Big 12 this season. Oregon State lost at home to a rebuilding Texas A&M. Cal improved to 4-5 on the season, but they needed a jumper with 3.8 seconds left to get past 3-6 Cal Poly.

There’s a very real chance that the Pac-12 is a two-bid conference.

The American looks like it is going to end up being a two-bid league, depending on how things shake out. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a one-bid league. The Mountain West and WCC will likely both end up being one-bid leagues as long as Gonzaga and Nevada are the teams that win their respective automatic bids.

The problem with this, however, is that we are going to need to find a way to get to 36 at-large bids somehow.

I hope this means that the mid-majors that have won big games during non-conference play get rewarded. Belmont has beaten UCLA on the road, Illinois State and swept a Lipscomb team that has won at SMU, at TCU and very nearly pipped a win at Louisville. Buffalo is undefeated with a win at West Virginia and a sweep of Southern Illinois. Furman is undefeated with a win at Villanova and a trip to LSU coming up on Friday.

I know there are more teams that deserve mention here as well that I’m just not remembering off the top of my head.

And I hope that the work these programs have done in the non-conference will get them the attention they deserve and an at-large bid should they end up getting upset in their league tournament.

I also know that probably isn’t going to be how it goes.

We’ll just invite the entire ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 and call it a bracket.

5. CAM JOHNSON IS THE REASON NASSIR LITTLE DOESN’T PLAY 35 MINUTES A NIGHT

Much has been made this season about why Nassir Little, a top five prospect and a potential top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, isn’t starting and is only seeing 20 minutes when he’s been so productive in those minutes.

The reason why is very, very simple, and I explained it all right here on Saturday.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

Syndication: The Des Moines Register
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.