Thursday’s Things To Know: Zion returns, bubble teams fall and West Virginia lives

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Myles Powell, Seton Hall and Zion Williamson, Duke

While Williamson’s return to action was the focus of many, the show that Powell put on in the first half of Seton Hall’s Big East quarterfinal win over Georgetown was a sight to behold. Powell scored 29 of his 31 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, a Big East tournament record for points in a half, outscoring the Hoyas by four with Seton Hall taking a 53-25 lead into the half in a game it would win 73-57.

Powell did get a bit banged up during the second half, so that’s something to keep an eye on as he and the Pirates face Marquette and Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard (who lit up St. John’s for 30) in Friday’s second Big East semifinal matchup.

Now, back to Williamson. The freshman played 38 minutes in his first action since February 20, shooting 13-for-13 from the field and finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, two assists and one blocked shot in Duke’s 84-72 win over Syracuse. The only place where Williamson showed any sign of rust was at the foul line, where he shot just 2-for-7 on the night.

Next up for he and the Blue Devils is a matchup with North Carolina, which swept the regular season series. Williamson played a total of 33 seconds on those games due to the knee injury he suffered in the first meeting. Now he’s healthy, and has a stronger pair of shoes to play in as well.

THURSDAY’S BUBBLE BANTER

TEAM OF THE DAY: West Virginia

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that West Virginia’s 2018-19 season has been a disappointment, as Bob Huggins’ team entered the Big 12 tournament with a 12-19 record. But conference tournaments can give teams a shot at redemption, and the Mountaineers are now in the Big 12 semifinals after knocking off No. 7 Texas Tech Thursday night, 79-74.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. scored a career-high 28 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, with Jordan McCabe adding 13 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals. Next up for West Virginia is Kansas, and while the challenge will be a difficult one it would be foolish to rule out the Mountaineers. And their run is one that has the attention of bubble teams across the country, with those programs hoping that West Virginia does not end up being a “bid thief.”

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Terence Mann, Florida State

Of the four quarterfinals in the ACC only one went down to the wire, with 4-seed Florida State and 5-seed Virginia Tech needing five additional minutes to determine the winner. The Seminoles advanced, winning 65-63 with Terence Mann’s floater with 1.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Florida State advanced to face top-seed Virginia Friday night in the first ACC semifinal.

And an honorable mention goes to Long Beach State’s Jordan Roberts, whose jumper with three-tenths of a second remaining gave the 49ers the 68-66 win over Hawaii in a Big West quarterfinal matchup.

THURSDAY’S WINNERS

Ohio State: One of the biggest “bubble games” of the day was the Big Ten second round matchup between 8-seed Ohio State and 9-seed Indiana, with the winner getting a shot at top-seed Michigan State on Friday. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes got the job done, winning 79-75 with Keyshawn Woods (18 points, seven rebounds), Kaleb Wesson (17 points, 13 rebounds) and C.J. Jackson (17 points, five rebounds and five assists) leading the way. Of the two teams the Buckeyes appeared to be in a better spot with regards to the NCAA tournament, and Thursday’s result does nothing to hurt Ohio State’s case for inclusion.

Xavier: The Musketeers were also locked in a bubble struggle of sorts, with Big East quarterfinal opponent Creighton also in need of a win. Travis Steele’s team beat the Bluejays by a 63-61 final score, with Zach Hankins’ tip-in with 27.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Xavier’s veteran transfers made big plays late, with Hankins’ basket being followed by a Kyle Castlin block of a Ty-Shon Alexander three-point attempt in the game’s final seconds. How close Xavier is to an NCAA tournament bid is up for debate, but they’ll have another opportunity to impress the selection committee with Big East champion Villanova being the opponent Friday night.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide helped their case for an NCAA tournament bid with a 62-57 win over Ole Miss Thursday afternoon in Nashville. Tevin Mack accounted for 21 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Donta Hall led a dominant effort on the glass with a game-high 15 rebounds. Alabama outscored Ole Miss 38-19 in the second half, and the reward is a matchup with 2-seed Kentucky on Friday. Avery Johnson’s team will see Kentucky’s full rotation, as Reid Travis (knee) has been cleared to play.

North Carolina: In the first quarterfinal of Thursday’s evening session at the ACC tournament, 2-seed North Carolina advanced with an 83-70 win over 7-seed Louisville. Luke Maye and Coby White scored 19 points apiece to lead the way, with the latter also dishing out six assists and committing just one turnover. While much has been made about the case for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament that Duke can make now that Zion Williamson is back, North Carolina can also strengthen its argument.

UNC won both meetings with Duke, but with Williamson playing 33 seconds total in those games some may look to attach an asterisk to the results as if it is North Carolina’s fault that he couldn’t play. Friday night North Carolina and Duke meet again, and a win for Roy Williams’ team would likely lock up a 1-seed regardless of what happens Saturday night.

Florida: The Gators have been inconsistent for much of this season, hence their being a bubble team in the eyes of many. Florida took care of business Thursday afternoon, eliminating Arkansas (66-50) to advance to the SEC quarterfinals. Mike White’s team, which was led by Keyontae Johnson (20 points, 12 rebounds) will face LSU for the third time this season Friday afternoon.

The Tigers, outright SEC regular season champions, don’t lack for talent but given everything that’s gone on around that program recently maybe they’re vulnerable. Florida don’t lack for talent, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. Friday would be a good time to change that.

The Pac-12 office: The Pac-12 has been an absolute mess this season, so it would have been fitting for either regular season champion Washington or runner-up Arizona State — the league’s best bets for an at-large bid — to get knocked off Thursday in Las Vegas. That didn’t happen, with the Huskies escaping USC’s upset bid in the first game of the day and the Sun Devils handling UCLA in the first game fo the evening session.

Joining those two teams in the semifinals are 5-seed Colorado and 6-seed Oregon, arguably the two hottest teams in the Pac-12. Last month there were serious conversations as to whether the Pac-12 would be a one-bid league. Should Colorado or Oregon win the automatic bid, there’s a chance that the conference winds up with three bids come Selection Sunday.

THURSDAY’S LOSERS

TCU: The good news for the Horned Frogs is that they avoided losing their Big 12 tournament opener Wednesday night. The bad news: Jamie Dixon’s team missed on its opportunity to (most likely) lock up an NCAA tournament bid, as TCU lost to top-seed Kansas State by a 70-61 final score. Not counting Thursday’s results TCU was ranked 48th in the NET, and the team is now 9-13 in games against Quadrant 1/2 opposition. Is TCU’s resume good enough as is? It may be given some of the other profiles up for debate, but the Horned Frogs would have slept much better had they pulled off the upset.

Texas: There were some who believed that a win over Kansas would be just what the Longhorns needed to seal a tournament bid. Shaka Smart’s team failed to do so, losing to the Jayhawks by a 65-57 final score to fall to 16-16 on the season. No .500 team has even received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so at this point the Longhorns will have to hope that its strength of schedule can sway the selection committee.

What makes matters even worse for Texas is the fact that freshman big man Jaxson Hayes suffered a left knee injury late in the second half of Thursday’s loss. Hayes’ health is obviously the most important thing here. But it also gives the committee another question to ponder, especially if the diagnosis isn’t a good one.

Indiana: As noted above the matchup between the Hoosiers and Ohio State was a big one, and with its loss Archie Miller’s team has to play the waiting game. Indiana has some good wins on its resume, including a sweep of Michigan State, but that 1-12 stretch earlier this season could be too much to overcome. The Hoosiers, ranked 51st in the NET, are 8-15 in Quadrant 1/2 games. Three of those wins were earned on the road: Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois. NCAA or NIT? We’ll find out Sunday. But until then Indiana can only sit at home and root for “chalk” in the conference tournaments that are still being played.

Creighton: The Bluejays will also have to endure the uncomfortable wait thanks to their Big East quarterfinal loss to Xavier. Ranked 54th in the NET, Greg McDermott’s team is now 9-14 in Quadrant 1/2 games with its best win being a 66-60 win at Marquette back on March 3. Creighton has as many Quadrant 1/2 wins as Ohio State, but the Bluejays won’t have the opportunity to add another to the ledger thanks to Thursday’s loss to Xavier.

St. John’s: Say this much for Indiana, which fought back to erase a 20-point deficit before losing, and Creighton: at least those teams competed. St. John’s, on the other hand, fell behind Marquette early and did not appear all that interested in fighting back as it lost by an 86-54 final score. And after the game Chris Mullin declined on the opportunity to politic on behalf of his team.

The Red Storm can point to home wins over Villanova and Marquette, but this is also a team that lost both regular season meetings to DePaul (they beat DePaul Wednesday night) and did not play the toughest of non-conference slates either. St. John’s will likely get into the field thanks to the wins over the Big East’s two best teams, but Shamorie Ponds and company may be headed to Dayton.

Maryland: Mark Turgeon’s team has struggled with two things for much of this season: slow starts and turnovers. It all went wrong Thursday, as Maryland was bounced from the Big Ten tournament by Nebraska, 69-61. Maryland is obviously headed to the NCAA tournament and will most likely wear its home uniforms for the opener. But the Terrapins may not be there too long based upon how they played in Chicago and the program’s recent history in postseason play. The last time Maryland wasn’t one and done in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournament: March 2016.

FINAL THOUGHT

With Duke’s Zion Williamson making his return to game action Thursday, the debate of whether or not he should be playing once again came up. Of course there are those who believe that Williamson should play, out of loyalty to his teammates and coaches. And there are those who were (and still are) of the opinion that he would be best served to sit in preparation for his likely being selected with the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft (if he decides to forego his final three years of eligibility).

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the matter, but only one truly holds any weight: Zion’s. Had Williamson decided that, in the aftermath of his injury, the risk was too much and he wanted to protect himself from a future earnings standpoint that would have been fine. Williamson’s decision to play because, as he stated in his postgame interview on ESPN, of his love for his teammates is perfectly fine as well.

The only “concern” should be whether or not Williamson — or any other athlete in a similar position — is able to make that decision on their own terms.