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Monday Overreactions: Kansas State’s rise, Jack White’s demise, Justin Robinson’s absence

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jordan Bohannon, Iowa

Let’s start with the obvious one here: Bohannon scored 13 of his 15 points in the final three minutes, sparking a game-ending, 23-7 run that culminated in the Iowa point guard burying a three in the final seconds to beat Northwestern at home:

That was impressive, and it came on the heels of an even more impressive performance. Bohannon went for 25 points and six assists without committing a turnover as the Hawkeyes went into Assembly Hall and picked off Indiana. Bohannon hit a number of critical jumpers in the final minutes of that game as the Hoosiers threatened a late comeback.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas State Wildcats

Entering the week, Kansas State held a share of the Big 12 lead, tied with Baylor atop the conference standings with dates against Kansas (at home) and those Baylor Bears (in Waco) on the schedule.

As of this morning — and thanks, in part, to wins from Texas and TCU — the Wildcats sit all alone in first place in the league with a two game lead in the loss column over the field and just eight games left on their regular season schedule.

It’s baffling to truly comprehend. A month ago, Kansas State was sitting at 0-2 in the Big 12, coming off of a home loss to Texas where they mustered all of 47 points. They were ranked outside the top 200 in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, and after digging themselves a 21 point second half hole against West Virginia in Manhattan, it looked like this might finally end up being the season that cost Bruce Weber his job. It sounds foolish to admit to saying that now, but it’s true. Kansas State looked like they were going to miss the NCAA tournament as a preseason top 15 team.

And now, after beating their archrival at home and then picking off the No. 2 team in the league on the road, the Wildcats are the favorite to end the Kansas reign in the Big 12.

This is what K-State’s remaining schedule looks like:

  • at Texas
  • Iowa State
  • at West Virginia
  • Oklahoma State
  • at Kansas
  • Baylor
  • at TCU
  • Oklahoma

If they go 5-3 down the stretch — which is very doable — they are going to win the Big 12.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. MARQUETTE CANNOT RELY THIS HEAVILY ON MARKUS HOWARD

Howard was absolutely sensational in No. 10 Marquette’s win over No. 14 Villanova on Saturday. He finished with 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting, hitting 5-for-11 from three and carrying the weight in a 66-65 win for the Golden Eagles. The problem is that the rest of the Marquette roster combined to score 28 points, and 18 of them came from Sacar Anim, a role player that is not known as much of an offensive threat. The Hauser brothers were a combined 2-for-10 from the floor and finished with four points.

On the one hand, this was a win that the Golden Eagles had to get if they wanted to have a shot at the Big East regular season title. Howard’s performance made that possible. On the other hand, there is no chance that they can win the league — or anything in March — if they are just going to hope Howard carries them there.

I am all in on the Markus Howard bandwagon. I think he’s sensational. But the Hausers cannot disappear like this in a big game again, because next time Marquette won’t be so lucky.

They probably should have lost this game as it is. Phil Booth, one of the best decision-makers and best players in college hoops, had a chance to win it on Saturday and did this:

Look at this screenshot:

Booth has to be able to score that. He didn’t, and it kept Marquette in the title race.

2. THE MOST IMPORTANT INJURY IN THE COUNTRY IS JUSTIN ROBINSON’S

On January 30th, in a win over Miami, Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson suffered a foot injury that has since left him on the Hokie bench during games wearing a boot and, on Saturday, using crutches. This is the same player that was averaging 14.4 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 41.1 percent from three. This the guy that put 35 points and eight assists on Syracuse four days before he was hurt and had 17 points in 19 minutes when he went down against the Hurricanes.

And as of now, we don’t really have an answer for his status. Buzz Williams has not been forthcoming with information about Robinson’s status, either on the record or off the record. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is the best NBA prospect on Virginia Tech’s roster, but Robinson is their most important player, arguably their best defender and the guy that makes their offense run. In the three games that he’s missed, Virginia Tech is 1-2 while averaging 54 points per game and just 0.931 points-per-possession. The one game they won came when N.C. State mustered just 24 points.

With Robinson, the Hokies are one of the best shooting teams in the country and among the nation’s elite offensively. They are dangerous because of what they can do shooting the ball.

Without him, they are thoroughly average and do not have a point guard on the roster.

3. VIRGINIA IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE

Duke does everything well on a basketball court. They are elite defensively. They are maybe the best team in transition in college hoops history. They will clobber you on the glass. They are always going to have the two or three best players on the court. The equalizer for teams playing against them is that they have not been able to make threes this season.

To beat them, you have to pack in your defense, dare R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson to make shots and go from there. That’s exactly what Virginia did on Saturday in Charlottesville, and Duke hit 13 of their first 18 threes and left with a dominating win.

There’s not much the Wahoos can do about that.

Hell, I’d argue that they played well enough on Saturday to win.

Zion stuffed the stat sheet, but the Wahoos did about as good of a job of keeping him in check as you can. Barrett didn’t do much of anything on the offensive end of the floor after he made those five threes to open the game. Cam Reddish did score 17 points, but his damage was done as a spot-up shooter. Those are the shots that you have to live with as a coach.

Virginia, as a team, shot 46.7 percent from the floor. They were 10-for-24 from three. They forced 15 Duke turnovers and limited the Blue Devils to just eight offensive rebounds. They more or less kept Duke from getting out in transition and beating their defense down the floor. I think Tony Bennett will be able to go to sleep tonight knowing that there wasn’t much else he could have done. It was just one of those nights.

4. MARQUES BOLDEN IS EATING UP JACK WHITE’S MINUTES

Earlier in the season, I made the point repeatedly that I thought Duke’s best lineup came with Jack White on the floor and Zion playing the five.

And while I still think that is their best lineup in theory, two things have changed since then:

1. White has forgotten how to play basketball. Since hitting a career-high four threes against Clemson on January 5th, White is 1-for-23 from beyond the arc. He has scored 13 points in the last 10 games. He started three of those games and played at least 24 minutes is five of of them. He was one of just two players to play all 40 minutes against Virginia. He’s averaged 12.4 minutes in the last five games.

2. That can coincided with Marques Bolden proving himself to be capable defending in a system where Duke switches everything. We know he can protect the rim, that he’s a vertical spacer and that he can rebounder the ball fairly well, but the reason that he has been unable to get consistent minutes during his time at Duke is that he has been a mess on the defensive end of the floor.

That’s not so much the case anymore, and while he’s hardly been a guy that is going to draw comparisons to, say, Clint Capela or Jordan Bell or another player of that ilk, he’s been fine when asked to switch onto guards. He can stay in front for a couple of dribbles, and his length allows him to contest jumpers.

It’s not ideal, but it has worked for Duke this month.

5. THE BUBBLE IS THE WORST IT’S EVER BEEN

I know you hear this every year, and I have been trying to avoid writing this for as long as possible, but I can’t do it anymore.

The bubble is just absolutely atrocious this year, as bad as it has ever been.

The reason I am bringing it up now is because two more at-large spots opened up in our latest bracket projection — the team in first place in the league standings is granted the auto-bid, and with VCU and Buffalo moving back into first place, the Atlantic 10 and MAC once again morphed into one-bid leagues.

This is where we stand: Georgetown, who ranks 78th in the NET, who has beaten just a single top 50 team (St. John’s, who is 49th, on the road) and who has three Q1 wins, a 7-7 record against Q1 and Q2 and two Q3 losses, is our first team out. UCF, who is 0-2 against Q1 teams and whose best win is Alabama (43) at home, is an at-large team. Oklahoma, who is 15-9 overall, 3-8 in the Big 12 and has lost four in a row and six of eight, is in the tournament largely due to the fact that a home win over Wofford is a Q1 win.

Indiana, Providence, Florida, Creighton. These teams are all somehow still in the tournament conversation, and it is baffling.

We have to get to 68 teams somehow.

And it is going to get ugly.

Women’s Wednesday: Kobe Bryant’s impact on women’s basketball

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“His legacy will live on. You’ll feel Kobe Bryant.”

Dawn Staley’s words ring true as the world continues to mourn the untimely and tragic passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, as well as his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.  

Staley, the head coach for the South Carolina women’s basketball team, is a Hall of Fame coach and player and a three-time Olympic gold medalist. She was also a friend of Kobe’s, growing up in Philadelphia and sharing a gym with him under the watch of the 76ers’ John Lucas. The two also participated in the Olympic games together. 

The Laker legend is known worldwide for his impact on the NBA, with five championship titles, two Finals MVPs, and more.

While his resume is endless, Staley also remembers “The Black Mamba” for the father he was to four daughters, and the impact he had on women’s basketball. 

“Kobe was like no other when it came to supporting women’s basketball,” Staley expressed.

“He single-handedly took women’s basketball to another level by showing up at the games, by giving interviews and expressing what he felt was in his heart about women’s basketball. Once you’re able to see women’s basketball in that light, it helps grow the game, especially when it’s someone as powerful as Kobe Bryant, and as thoughtful, as detailed, as he was.”

Staley stressed the impact that Gianna’s love of the game had on her father being a fierce advocate for women’s basketball, saying, “I think Kobe would have been like this in whatever his daughters chose to have a passion about.”

“He thought long term and expressed things that no other professional men’s basketball player would ever say, that there are players in the WNBA that could play in the NBA,” the Gamecocks coach explained. “Kobe saw what he was instilling in his daughter. He probably wanted to say those things about Gigi… that she could one day play in the NBA.” 

After his retirement, Kobe could be found sitting courtside with his daughter, affectionately nicknamed “Gigi,” but he could also be found coaching at Mamba Sports Academy, where he was the head coach for Gigi’s team, the Los Angeles Lady Mambas.

Gigi dreamed of playing for UConn, and frequently went to Husky games with her dad. The pair also championed other top women’s programs, such as Oregon. 

“If you look at every single player that he has touched — Sabrina Ionescu, or the entire Oregon women’s basketball team,” Staley said, with emotion evident in her voice. “You look at UConn. Gigi wanted to go to UConn, she was fascinated with what accomplishments and traditions UConn stood for. We feel [her loss], there is a big void.”

Kobe’s passion for basketball, paired with the love he had for Gigi, has left many thinking that he would have become more involved in the WNBA in years to come. 

“I think women’s basketball would’ve grown to the point where Kobe would’ve put more of his money into it, because I know he put money into the Mamba Academy,” Staley said. “I’m sure he eventually would’ve gotten around to maybe even buying a team or buying into the league in some form or fashion.”

The devastating helicopter crash that took nine lives — including two other young girls, GiGi’s teammates, taken far too early — reminds us all of the fragility of life, and how quickly it can be taken away from us. 

In the wake of this tragedy, people are turning towards love and one another. 

Timelines are flooded with stories and anecdotes about Kobe, his relationship with his wife, Vanessa, and four daughters. Buildings and memorials all over the country are lit up in purple and gold, while tributes for the all-star pour in from as far away as the Philippines. 

Kobe has left a lasting legacy, one that Staley won’t forget.

“I hope with several of the NBA players, when they speak on keeping Kobe’s legacy alive, they will bring the women’s game along with it.

“Because that’s what Kobe Bryant was doing.”

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

UConn faced off against the U.S. national team on Monday night, putting up impressive show but ultimately falling short of an upset in a 79-64 loss. Fiver former Huskies dressed for the national team’s exhibition game.

Alongside many NBA teams, UConn and Team USA took honorary shot clock violations to start the game as a tribute to Kobe Bryant. 

The Huskies set up a stunning memorial for the late Gianna Bryant, who dreamt of playing for UConn one day, on their bench:

– The top teams in the county took care of business this weekend, with not a single ranked team upset by a lower-ranked team on Saturday or Sunday. 

– South Carolina maintained its No. 1 spot atop the polls, with 26 first-place votes from the AP panel, after an 88-53 rout of Georgia on Sunday. Baylor is No. 2 once again as well. 

– The rest of the top-10 reflects the talent among the top teams, with UConn and Oregon swapping spots as Oregon notched two back-to-back wins over rival Oregon State to take No. 3 in the rankings from the Huskies. The Ducks beat the Beavers 76-64 on Friday, outscoring Oregon State 45-29 in the first half, and then again on Sunday, 66-57.

When asked about her mentor and friend Kobe Bryant after the game, Sabrina Ionescu replied that “this season’s for him”:

Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu continued on her record-breaking rampage, toppling Gary Payton’s passing record as the all-time leader for Pac-12’s men and women’s assists. She is now No. 7 on the women’s career assists list.

– In another in-state rivalry, then-No. 18 Arizona secured the 59-53 upset over then-No. 16 Arizona State. The Wildcats jumped up to No. 16 while the Sun Devils dropped to 19.

– No. 7 N.C. State continues to impress with a 76-68 win over rival North Carolina. 

– And in the Play Of The Week: Anna Makurat goes behind the back to Christyn Williams for the layup in STYLE:

“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.