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The ten wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade

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Today, we are talking about the wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade. The first five are in this story, and the top five can be found below.


5. WHAT IF FAB MELO IS ELIGIBLE FOR SYRACUSE IN 2012?

Syracuse played 30 games with Fab Melo in the lineup during the 2011-12 season. They lost one, falling by three points to a good Cincinnati team in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.

That’s it.

That was their only loss when Melo, a 7-foot anchor that led the program in rebounds and blocks as a sophomore, actually took the court.

In the seven games he did not play, the Orange were 5-2, and one of those losses came in the Elite Eight against Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in their region. The other came in a loss at Notre Dame on January 21st, when the Orange were one of only two undefeated teams left in America. They had received 60 of a possible 65 first-place votes.

North Carolina may have been the second-most talented team in the country that season – more on that below – but the Orange were a top two team in the AP Poll for every week except one from Dec. 12th through the end of the season.

If they had the anchor to their zone in the fold in for the NCAA tournament, would John Calipari have a national title on his resume right now?

Kendall Marshall (Getty Images)

4. WHAT IF KENDALL MARSHALL DOESN’T BREAK HIS WRIST IN THE SECOND ROUND IN 2012?

The way that the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket broke down was absolutely perfect from a neutral’s perspective.

Kentucky was a No. 1 seed on one side of the bracket. North Carolina was a No. 1 seed on the other side of the bracket. They were, arguably, the two best and, inarguably, the two most talented teams in college basketball that season. They had played an absolute thriller in Rupp Arena in December that season, a game that was decided when Anthony Davis blocked John Henson with six seconds left in a one-point game.

We all wanted that rematch because we all knew that the Tar Heels were one of the handful of teams that actually had a chance to beat a Kentucky team that had the first two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft on their roster, including the National Player of the Year.

But that all went up in smoke when Marshall was knocked to the floor by Creighton’s Ethan Wragge late in the second half of a second round win. He landed on his right, non-shooting hand and fractured his scaphoid bone, meaning that Stillman White, a walk-on, was the only point guard left on the roster.

The Tar Heels were able to get past Ohio, a No. 13 seed, in the Sweet 16 in overtime, but they were beaten by Kansas, the eventual national runners-up, in the Elite Eight.

If Marshall never gets hurt, if he plays and he leads UNC to the Final Four, there’s no guarantee that they would have had enough to beat the Wildcats that season. Kentucky was peaking by the end of the year. Davis was playing his best ball, the Wildcats smothered any kind of offense in the paint and the Tar Heels were a team that thrived on getting the ball inside.

But it would have been a matchup everyone wanted to see.

And if there is a world where a healthy UNC team picked off Kentucky in the title game, than I can only imagine how much fans and media alike would be losing their collective minds over whether or not Coach Cal will ever win a national title.

Mamadi Diakite (Getty Images)

3. WHAT IF MAMADI DIAKITE MISSES THE SHOT AGAINST PURDUE?

Just like Villanova, there are plenty of moments that could have derailed Virginia’s run from becoming the first No. 1 seed that ever lost to a No. 16 seed to becoming the National Champion the following season.

In a way, that run felt a little like destiny. Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by 14 points in the first round of the tournament. What if that comeback never happened? What if Kihei Clark doesn’t hit that three with five minutes left in the second half that ended a 13-2 Oregon run in the Sweet 16 and tied the game again? What if Kyle Guy doesn’t draw a foul while shooting a three against Auburn and the officials call Ty Jerome for a double-dribble instead? What if De’Andre Hunter’s game-tying three doesn’t go down? What if that loose ball that went off Davide Moretti doesn’t get overruled?

Hell, ‘What if De’Andre Hunter never fractures his wrist?’ works as well as anything.

But the moment that stands out more than anything else is Diakite’s shot.

Because that was it.

There was no coming back from a miss.

If you’ve forgotten, here’s what happened:

A miss and it’s over.

A miss and Virginia is still the program that cannot win games that matter. They’re still the program that play at a pace that is untenable for winning in March. They’re still the choke artists that will always find a way to lose. The narratives would have taken over.

And honestly, I don’t even want to know where we would be right now if Virginia hadn’t validated their style of play by winning last year’s national title, because the unfortunate truth is that this year’s Virginia team actually is everything that everyone said Virginia was over the course of Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville. Last year, the Wahoos had three pros, two of whom were first round picks and one of whom was the best player in college basketball not named Zion. They actually ranked higher in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric than in his defensive efficiency metric. They were patient and played at the tempo they wanted to play at, but they were absolutely lethal offensively.

This year?

They are still slow, but they don’t have all that much talent and they just cannot score. Maybe that changes if Kyle Guy comes back to school – and if UVA gets dropped in the Elite Eight, that might have been the case – but that’s just speculation. And frankly, simply adding one shooter isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with this year’s team.

Would good players still want to play for a program that wins ugly, but never wins in March?

2. WHAT IF NIGEL HAYES HAD HIS SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION CALLED?

Look away, Kentucky fans.

Please.

For the sake of yourselves, just skip this part.

Trust me.

With under three minutes left in regulation and Kentucky clinging to a 60-58 lead, Wisconsin took the ball out of bounds under their own basket with just three seconds on the shot clock. They got it in to Nigel Hayes in the deep corner, who drove baseline and forced up a shot over Willie Cauley-Stein that drew nothing but air. He grabbed his own missed and laid it back in but, but that was clearly after the buzzer had sounded.

It was a shot clock violation.

Wasn’t it?

According to the replay, it was. Clearly. According to the officials on the floor, it was not.

It was also not reviewable.

Which meant that instead of getting the ball back with 2:39 left and a 60-58 lead, Kentucky was in a tie game. Aaron Harrison missed a jumper on the ensuing possession, and that was followed by Sam Dekker burying a three with 1:44 on the clock, giving the Badgers a lead that they would never relinquish.

The implication here is obvious.

Kentucky, at the time, was sitting at 38-0. They were two wins away from becoming the first team since 1976 to finish a season undefeated and the first team in college basketball history to go 40-0. They were a win away from becoming, unequivocally, the best team in the history of college basketball.

Can we blame all of that crumbling down on one missed shot clock violation?

… maybe?

Look, Wisconsin still had to go out and win the final two minutes of this game. They got the stops. They made the shots. They hit seven of their eight free throws. They won this game, and then they got beaten by a very, very good Duke team.

There were more great teams in college basketball in 2015 than in any season I can remember. Duke included. It would not have been an easy road for the Wildcats to get to 40-0.

But it is impossible to say that things wouldn’t be different without those two points. Does Kentucky need to burn a timeout to get settled after Hayes’ bucket if the violation is called? Do they execute better down the stretch without that frustration in the back of their mind? Hell, even if you want to pretend like things would have gone down the exact same way, that’s not possible. With 17 seconds left, Karl-Anthony Towns missed a free throw with the score at 66-64. Kentucky was forced to foul because there wasn’t enough time left on the clock. That was the best defensive team that I’ve ever seen at the college level. At the very least, we can say there would have been a good chance that this game ended up in overtime, no?

I think the most diplomatic way to say this is that the failure to correctly rule that a shot clock violation cost Kentucky a fair shot at getting to 39-0 and to the national title game.

And that sucks.

Because that team was legitimately great and deserved a chance to prove it.

1. WHAT IF GORDON HAYWARD MAKES THAT SHOT?

I was torn on where to put this on this list, because it’s unlike some of the other ‘What ifs?’.

On the one hand, yes, if this shot goes in, it’s the greatest moment in the history of college basketball. A team from the Horizon League, playing in the national title game in their hometown, beats the Big Bad Duke Blue Devils on a banked in half-court shot at the buzzer? Kris Jenkins’ shot in 2016 might not have even made SportsCenter. Am I supposed to be impressed with a regular old three at the buzzer when Gordon Hayward banked in a halfcourt shot to beat Duke?

On the other hand, what does that shot going in actually change beyond where a banner is hanging and who got rings?

Does missing make the fact that Brad Stevens got Butler to back-to-back national title games any less impressive? Is getting a prayer to go down really going to be what convinces Stevens’ critics, if they exist, that he’s actually a good coach? Would winning a title be enough to keep him in the college ranks, or would the chance to jump to the NBA always be too appealing? If anything, it probably makes an NBA team swoop in sooner.

My point is that the fact that Butler was in that position, that they were a halfcourt shot away from winning the national title, is proof enough of how good that team was. The fact that they made it back the next season despite losing a top ten pick only drives that point home. As weird as this sounds, Hayward’s shot doesn’t prove anything to anyone.

All it does is win Butler the national title.

Anyway, here’s video of that shot, because I never tire of seeing Kyle Singler get de-cleated by a Matt Howard screen:

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure:

Kansas-Kansas State fight: Nuance, context the key in Silvio De Sousa discussion

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So I wanted to elaborate on a point that I made on twitter this morning because 280 characters just is not enough to be able to parse through the nuance of this situation.

If you missed it, the thread is here.

First and foremost, everyone involved in this needs to be punished. Silvio De Sousa needs to be suspended. Antonio Gordon needs to be suspended. James Love III needs to be suspended. David McCormack, and potentially Marcus Garrett, probably need to be suspended, although I’m not sure either of them actually through a punch. Point being, anyone else that threw a punch needs to be suspended.

Full stop.

I am not saying otherwise.

But I think that it is important to add some context to the conversation, and I also think that it is important to say this: This doesn’t make any of the young men involved in this fight bad people. Silvio De Sousa is not inherently a bad person because he picked up a stool, and the faux-trage of people calling for him to get booted out of school, arrested or even deported are, at best, completely over-reacting and, at worst, showing off a bit of their racial bias.

Before I get into this, one more thing: I am not condoning any of it. Fights like this should not happen.

But the reality of hyper-competitive athletics is that in emotionally charged situations, fights are going to happen. And if you’ve ever been in a fight like this, you know that things happen incredibly quickly. You’re not thinking, you’re reacting. You can’t call a 20 second time out to come up with a way to defend yourself when someone is throwing haymakers, you just do what you can in the moment.

So let’s talk about the moment, shall we?

De Sousa is the guy that set this entire thing in motion with the way that he reacted to DaJuan Gordon’s steal and layup attempt. The reason the Kansas State bench rushes over to the scene is because De Sousa is towering over one of their freshman teammates, and the reason the Kansas sideline runs over is because the Kansas State sideline does. What turned this incident into a full-fledged brawl was Antonio Gordon flying in and shoving De Sousa over the back of the basket stanchion. De Sousa reacts by throwing punches at two different Kansas State players when a third player — James Love III, in the black polo — comes flying in and squares up with him. They both throw a few punches at each other, knocking De Sousa back over the stanchion again as Kansas staffer Jeremy Case comes flying in to break them up.

Put yourself in De Sousa’s shoes here. In the span of 10 seconds, he’s fought three different Kansas State players, sees nothing but purple in front of him and just got knocked to the ground. Is he getting jumped? Does he have to fight them 1-on-3? That’s when he grabs the stool, to defend himself, and when he sees that no one is coming after him anymore, he drops it:

Context.

He should be suspended for 8-10 games.

He set this entire thing in motion.

But maybe, just maybe, tone down the rhetoric.

Women’s Wednesday: A new column dedicated to the women of college basketball

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Welcome to CBT’s first ever weekly women’s basketball column. I’m here to help provide you with some insight into the world of women’s college hoops.

Women’s sports are reaching new heights, especially in basketball. The WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement starting in the 2020 season that includes a 53 percent raise, maternity benefits, a base salary and performance-based bonuses. This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament will be broadcasted in its entirety on ESPN, with the semifinals and championship game premiering in primetime.

Female athletes are beginning to garner the attention they deserve. Sabrina Ionescu is drawing national attention for a historic senior season, as she has 22 career triple-doubles and became Oregon’s all-time leading basketball scorer in her career-high 37-point performance against Stanford last week. In the WNBA, women such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and more are shattering gender stereotypes and proving that women can play basketball at a high level, just as men can.

While women’s sports have made a push into the public eye, there is still quite a way to go. It’s important to place an emphasis on the women who excel in their sport and give them the spotlight they deserve. Too many times women are only given credit through a masculine lens, whether that’s only getting attention after receiving praise from men, being compared to a male counterpart, or being a footnote in a male athlete’s story. Female athletes deserve to be their own story.

That’s what I’m hoping to do with this column over the rest of the season — give women a place to shine. I’d like to use this space to highlight some of the amazing women that play in the NCAA and hear from them about their experiences, the records they’re setting and their basketball journey. While I won’t even begin to make a dent in the breadth of talent available in women’s college basketball, I hope to use this column each week to take a deeper dive into some incredible women, as well as give you an idea of what’s happening around the country that week.

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

South Carolina sits atop the world of college hoops, earning 22 first-place votes from the AP panel to nab the No. 1 spot. The Gamecocks have an 18-1 record with wins over ranked opponents such as Maryland, Baylor, Kentucky and most recently Mississippi State.

Baylor — the reigning national champs —- sits in the No. 2 spot in the rankings after dethroning UConn and ending its dominant 98-game winning streak at home. The Lady Bears received six of the first-place votes from the AP committee.

The rest of the top five is filled out by UConn at No. 3, Oregon at No. 4 after beating then-No. 3 Stanford, and Louisville rounds it out at fifth, receiving the last two first-place votes.

In a monster performance against Stanford, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu had a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. She has four triple-doubles on the season and has a chance to become the NCAA’s first player to eclipse 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. As of Jan. 18, she has 2,265 points, 904 rebounds and 928 assists.

DePaul remains unbeaten in the Big East, with Chante Stonewall leading the team with 17.9 ppg while Kelly Campbell has 102 assists on the season, ranking No. 8 in the country.

Baylor’s 40-point victory over then-No. 17 West Virginia is their 45th consecutive Big 12 win.

Mississippi State’s JaMya Mingo-Young and Aliyah Matharu combined for 24 points and four steals off the bench in a close 79-81 loss to South Carolina on Monday.

Star freshman and No. 1 recruit Haley Jones suffered an apparent right knee injury and left Stanford’s Sunday win over Oregon State. She is scheduled to have an MRI but the team has given no further updates.

North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane has 20+ points in four of her last six games and 10 double-doubles on the season, helping the Wolfpack to a dominant win over Florida State last week.

UCLA became the last undefeated team to fall with a double overtime loss to USC — who hadn’t yet won a Pac-12 matchup —  on Friday.

Northwestern made its debut this season in the Top-25, coming in at No. 22 — its first ranking since the 2015-2016 season.

No. 3 Oregon faces rival No. 7 Oregon State on Friday in a crucial Pac-12 matchup.

Stanford freshman Fran Belini threw down a one-handed dunk in pregame warmup before facing Oregon that you HAVE to see: