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Monday Overreactions: P.J. Washington, Phil Booth and a rant about officiating

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: P.J. Washington, Kentucky

I’ve been on the “Kentucky is back!!!” bandwagon for more than a month at this point, ever since they took down North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

Over the course of the last nine days, the rest of the college basketball world has caught up. Last Saturday, Kentucky landed what we thought was their most impressive win to date, going into Auburn and picking off the Tigers, but that was before they put a 21 point win on Mississippi State in Rupp Arena and followed that up by taking out Kansas on Saturday.

Those wins put Kentucky firmly in the race to get a No. 1 seed — the Wildcats still have two games left against No. 1 Tennessee — and the man that they have to thank for those wins is P.J. Washington.

Washington has had something of an up-and-down season, but he was at his very best against the Bulldogs, finishing with 21 points, six boards and four blocks while knocking down three threes before following that up with a dominant 20 points, 13 boards and two blocks against the Jayhawks. His performance against Kansas was made doubly-impressive because he was the player that forced Kansas out of their small-ball lineup. Washington spent a lot of time guarding Marcus Garrett, who had averaged 17 points in his previous three games and managed a 1-for-9 shooting night with three turnovers against the Wildcats.

John Calipari has said it himself: When Washington plays like he’s Kentucky’s best player, that’s when the Wildcats can hit their ceiling.

We saw that in full this week.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Purdue Boilermakers

Talk about a statement win.

Purdue, who entered last week unranked despite being a top ten team on KenPom, went out and absolutely worked over No. 6 Michigan State on Sunday. The final score was 73-63, but at one point in the second half, Purdue was up 55-32. Making that win all the more impressive was the fact that Purdue got a 4-for-18 shooting performance out of Carsen Edwards, the guy we thought this team was going to live and die with this year.

Purdue also won at Ohio State last week, extending their winning streak to five games and pushing their record in Big Ten play to 7-2.

Just what should we make of that performance and this Purdue team? I went in depth on that very subject in this week’s Top 25.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. THE CARNAGE ON THE BUBBLE THIS WEEK IS MORE EVIDENCE MID-MAJORS NEED SERIOUS AT-LARGE CONSIDERATION

This weekend was something of a disaster for teams that are sitting on or near the bubble right now. The full breakdown of everything that happened can be found here, but let’s take a look at just a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Indiana lost their sixth straight game, falling to 12-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten with two games against Michigan State, home dates with Purdue and Wisconsin and four total games against Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota left.
  • Nebraska not only lost their third straight game and fifth game in their last seven, Isaac Copeland’s season came to an end when he tore his ACL.
  • Saint Louis lost at home when Jordan Goodwin missed two free throws down one point with 0.4 seconds left.
  • Arizona State lost at USC while Arizona was swept by USC and UCLA.
  • Texas lost at Georgia.
  • Fresno State got worked over by Colorado State in a game they really couldn’t afford to lose.
  • San Francisco dropped a roadie against San Diego.
  • Seton Hall was absolutely mollywhopped by Villanova in Philly, extending their losing streak to four games.
  • UCF got beaten at Memphis by 20 points. That loss is the first Q1 games that UCF has played.
  • Temple lost at home against Cincinnati, leaving them with just two potential Q1 wins the rest of the season.

I’ve gone on this rant before and I’ll probably go on this rant again before the season comes to a close, but with just how ugly some of these high-major conferences have become, can we please let this be the year where we give the best mid-majors their due?

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The Pac-12 does not deserve more than two bids to the NCAA tournament, and they should only get two bids if someone other than Washington wins the automatic bid to the big dance. No one else in that league is close to good enough to get an at-large invite. The same can be said for the Mountain West and the WCC, who are arguably better leagues this season than the Pac-12 is. The American probably should be a two-bid league at this point as well. Houston has proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the country, and I have a feeling that Cincinnati will end up having a resume that is good enough to get a bid come Selection Sunday, but are we really buying into Temple and UCF here? The Knights have literally played a single Q1 game at this point in the year. Temple has only won one. The top two in the Big East are very, very good, but as of January 27th, eight of the ten teams in the conference are below .500 in league play. The Atlantic 10 does not have an at-large worthy team this year.

So let’s give the best mid-majors in the country a real shot at this.

Take Wofford, for example. They are currently 31st in NET with a win at South Carolina, who is 5-1 in SEC play. They play in the better-than-you-realize SoCon, a conference that currently has four teams in the top 85 of the NET. The Pac-12 also has just one top 50 team and only four in the top 70. They only have one Q1 win (at UNC Greensboro) but all four of their losses are Q1 losses. Would you rather see the Terriers and sharpshooter Fletcher Magee get slotted in a play-in game, or someone like Florida, whose sole accomplishment this season is being good enough to game the metrics by playing a whole bunch of good teams close?

Then there’s Murray State. They lost their only two Q1 games — at Auburn and at Alabama by a combined 11 points — and then got dropped in their only Q2 game because their superstar point guard Ja Morant twisted his ankle in the first minute against Belmont. We know how difficult it is to win on the road in college basketball. Kentucky, who we all think is a national title contender once again, lost at Alabama in a game they trailed by double-digits late in the second half and only won at Auburn by two. You don’t think a healthy Murray State could take down either of those schools — or two-thirds of the SEC, for that matter — playing in front of 8,600 fans at the CFSB Center?

Hell, let’s not forget about Belmont, who won at UCLA earlier this year and just this past week won at Murray State and at Austin Peay. The Bruins also swept Lipscomb, who sit at 41st in NET with wins at TCU and at SMU. Then there’s a team like Penn, who swept the Big 5 schools — including Villanova — to go along with wins at George Mason, Miami, at New Mexico and at Toledo. If they’re not so banged over the holiday period, we would be talking about the Quakers as one of the best mid-major in college hoops. Hofstra is on a 16 game winning streak with their only losses coming at Maryland, at VCU and at Marshall.

This is my play to the NCAA tournament selection committee: The NET rankings tell you everything you need to know about these teams. They are all ranked in the top 75. Most are ranked in the top 50. They are good enough. Don’t punish them because the big boys won’t play them on the road and because they happen to inhabit a conference on the outskirts of college basketball relevance.

2. WE NEED TO HAVE A REAL CONVERSATION ABOUT COLLEGE HOOPS OFFICIATING

It’s not great, and there were a couple more instances this weekend of poor officiating influencing the outcome of a game. Take Marquette-Xavier, for example. With just under four minutes left, Xavier head coach Travis Steele was upset that he did not get a foul call on a Naji Marshall jumper, and in a two-point game he was hit with a technical foul. That gave two points to the Golden Eagles on free throws, and in the aftermath of that whistle — which the rest of the officiating crew knew was bogus — the next three calls were very borderline and all went in favor of the Musketeers. One of the three fouled out Marquette’s starting center.

On the other side of the country, in a game where New Mexico led with 30 seconds left, a phantom over-and-back was called that gave the ball back to Utah State, who promptly hit a three with 1.6 seconds left to win.

I could probably do this all day.

The truth is this: There were 150 Division I games played on Saturday. That means that there were 450 different referees working a difficult job. It’s hard enough for the best in the business to get calls right, let alone the 425th-best referee. That’s just something that coaches are going to have to accept. There’s human error in that business, and there are going to be more human errors with more humans working.

But part of the issue is that some coaches don’t treat referees like humans.

I’ve never really understood why it is acceptable for coaches to act the way they do on the sidelines. They scream, they yell, they curse, they show up and they try to embarrass the adults that are calling these games, and then they have the audacity to acted shocked when the grown-ups they have spent the better part of two hours disrespecting gets a bang-bang play wrong.

It’s even worse when coaches play the victim card for getting a technical foul on the 27th F-bomb that they hurled at an official.

If you don’t act like a jackass and you won’t get treated like a jackass.

(David Purdy/Getty Images)

3. LINDELL WIGGINTON WAKING UP IS A DIFFERENCE-MAKER

The Iowa State star has spent the better part of this season stuck somewhere between a shooting funk and the training room as a foot injury kept him out of the lineup for a month and, to date, and moved him out of Iowa State’s starting lineup.

The truth is that he’s probably the most talented scorer that the Cyclones have, but when you’re shooting under 35 percent from the floor, you aren’t going to play all that much for a top 20 team. On Saturday, however, he popped out of his shooting slump, scoring 18 points while shooting 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from three in a win at Ole Miss. If the Cyclones can get Wigginton back to being the guy that averaging better than 16 points as a freshman, they become a much more dangerous basketball team.

4. PHIL BOOTH WILL PLAY IN THE NBA

He probably won’t be a first round pick and he may not even get drafted this year, but I’m convinced that Booth is going to be the next Villanova star to find a long and profitable career as an NBA role player. He’s always been an efficient player but this year, he’s taken it to another level. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 boards while shooting 42.1 percent from three on more than seven attempts per game. He can play the point. He can defend bigger guards. He understands what it takes to play a role. He’s a proven winner. He just turned 23, so he’ll be ready to contribute the second he signs a pro contract.

In an era where versatility, playmaking and shooting is prioritized, Booth is a guy that you have to be a fan of.

5. THE WORST THING INDIANA DID THIS YEAR WAS BLOW OUT MARQUETTE EARLY IN THE YEAR

I wrote this on Friday night, after Indiana lost their sixth straight game, but I think it bears repeating. Here is my full take on what is going on with these Hoosiers:

Beating Marquette the way that he did (96-73) was the worst thing that could have happened to Archie Miller this season because, when combined when Romeo-mania coming into the program, it set expectations much higher than they should have been. The truth is that this is a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores alongside Juwan Morgan. One of those freshmen is Indiana’s starting point guard, and he wasn’t a top 100 prospect. They are shooting 25 percent from three in Big Ten play and are 13-for-75 from three the last four games.

The truth is that this team is and always was going to be closer to what they’ve been the last month than what they were against Marquette.

And frankly, it’s not quite disaster territory just yet. Those six losses were: at Michigan, at Maryland, Nebraska, at Purdue, at Northwestern, Michigan.

That’s brutal for anyone, let alone a young team that has totally and completely lost any semblance of confidence they had in November.

Yes, Indiana lacks leadership. Yes, Romeo has looked like a freshman far too often. No, Archie Miller has not done a good job with this team. But can we stop pretending like this is the 2008 team going into the tank? Indiana wasn’t ranked in the preseason top 25 for a reason, and you’re seeing it now.

“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.