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Thursday’s Things to Know: Struggles pop up for Pac-12, Georgetown picks up a big win and a wedgie rescues Notre Dame

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There weren’t any matchups between top-25 teams Thursday night, with the main November events still a week away, but there is plenty to discuss from around the country. Here’s what you need to know.

1. A rough night for the Pac-12

After a strong start to the season, the Pac-12 came back down to earth on Thursday.

The league only managed to get just three teams into the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years. But things have been pretty dire since the league expanded ahead of the 2011-12 season. That year the league’s regular-season champion, Washington, didn’t even make the tournament, though Cal (a 12 seed) and Colorado (11) did. That’s it.

Things have, admittedly, improved since then, but that was really the only direction to head, right? Only three times in the last eight years has the conference gotten more than four teams into the tournament. The Pac-12, which as a reminder is a Power 5 conference, has only been ranked as a top-five conference nationally on KenPom three times in the last eight years.

There isn’t much in the way of expectation for the league this season, certainly past the quartet of Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and Washington, but the conference started hot. Entering Thursday, they were 43-4 combined on the season. Still, though, nights like Thursday are difficult to watch.

It was an awful evening for the Pac-12, with Washington State blowing a 16-point lead at home in an eventual 85-77 loss to Omaha of the Summit League, Utah getting blasted 79-55 by the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Classic and Cal getting demolished by top-ranked Duke, 87-52. Then to top it all off, UCLA lost at home to CAA resident Hofstra. Arizona was the bright spot of the night, and the Wildcats needed to overcome a halftime deficit to beat South Dakota State in Tucson.

Obviously, none of those four teams which lost Thursday were expected to carry the Pac-12 banner this season and 12-team leagues are going to inevitably have some bad teams every season, but, my goodness, is there a better distillation of the overall health of the league’s basketball than a night like this?

Cal was miles away from being able to compete with the Blue Devils while both the Cougars and Utes couldn’t even hang with teams from so-so mid-major conferences. UCLA is the flagship program in the conference and they lost to a Hofstra team that lost their pro to graduation this offseason. It’s a league whose best teams can compete against the country’s best, but has almost no meaningful depth beyond that thin upper crust.

The Pac-12 has had just one Final Four team since its expansion, with Oregon getting there in 2017. That ties the conference with the Missouri Valley over that same period. Some of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the vast majority of the Pac-12 is no good, it makes building an NCAA resume for its good teams more difficult, leaving them with more difficult NCAA tournament paths. Maybe that changes this year if undefeated starts for USC, Stanford and UCLA signal an improving middle class. Thursday’s results don’t signal good times on the horizon, though.

It’s just all around ugly for the Pac-12.

It’s bad news for people who like to stay up late watching west coast basketball, but it’s really bad news for a league whose genuine tradition slides further and further into memory with each passing season.

2. Georgetown lands a top-25 win

The first two years of the Patrick Ewing era at Georgetown have been encouraging, with the Hoyas improving both their overall and Big East win totals by four in Year 2 of the Hall of Famer’s return to his alma mater. It wasn’t enough to get the Hoyas even on to the NCAA bubble last year, though, thanks in part to a horribly weak non-conference schedule.

The Hoyas beefed up their early-season schedule this season, and just saw the first fruits of the decision.

Georgetown ran away from No. 22 Texas in an 82-66 victory at Madison Square Garden to land a potentially resume-booster four months before Selection Sunday.

Ewing has an interesting and talented team with the backcourt duo of James Akinjo and Mac McClung back for sophomore seasons and big man Omer Yurtseven eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from NC State. Testing this group early is only going to pay dividends in the long-run.

Ewing’s first non-conference schedule was ranked 351st by KenPom and last year’s was only marginally better at 292. Now, the Hoyas have already faced Penn State and Texas, with Duke on a neutral floor coming Friday with a road swing at Oklahoma State and SMU on tap before Syracuse visits D.C.

That’s a real non-conference schedule. And Ewing might have the team to navigate it, with the destination ultimately being his first NCAA tournament appearance.

3. Notre Dame rides wedgie to win

There are fewer pure facepalm moments on a basketball court than when a player lodges a shot between the rim and the backboard. The wedgie, as it’s commonly known, is one of the game’s great quirks.

Maybe never, though, has the phenomenon been as welcomed as it was in South Bend on Thursday.

The wedgie helped Notre Dame pull itself out of a tight spot.

Down three, the Fighting Irish got a great look from distance, but TJ Gibbs’ attempt missed its mark. Had it been any normal carom, the game would have just ended with a Notre Dame home loss to Toledo. But no, my friends, Gibbs’ miss was not of the standard variety. It was, indeed, a wedgie. Which means a stopped clock and a jump ball, giving the ball back to Notre Dame with a second to play.

That set up Nate Laszewski’s overtime-forcing triple as time expired in regulation. Notre Dame went on to win, 64-62, in overtime.

Truly, a rescue wedgie.

Pac-12 loosens intra-conference transfer rule

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The Pac-12 approved a measure Monday that will lighten restrictions on players that want to transfer to schools within the conference.

Players who now make an intra-conference transfer will no longer be subject to an immediate loss of a season of eligibility, the conference announced.

“This rule change removes one of the last remaining penalties associated with transferring between Conference schools,” the league said in a press release, “and is designed to provide student-athletes with a similar experience to any other student who decides to transfer.”

The league also has passed rules to beef up its non-conference schedule as programs will be required to a non-conference five-year trailing average of opponents’ NET ranking must be 175 or less, no participation in road buy games, no regular season games against non-Division I opponents and no road games versus a non-conference opponent with a five-year trailing average of 200 NET. Those requirements, along with the move to a 20-game conference schedule, come in response to continued struggles by the league in basketball, with last season seeing the league flirt with being a one-bid NCAA tournament conference. Ultimately, its league champion, Washington, received a No. 9 seed with Oregon getting a 12 and Arizona State an 11 and a First Four invitation.

 

Report: Marquette lands grad transfer center Jayce Johnson

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Marquette picked up a key graduate transfer big man on Tuesday night as former Utah center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Golden Eagles. The news was first reported by Ben Steele of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

One of the Pac-12’s most productive big men last season, the 7-footer came on strong in the final weeks of the season as Johnson became a regular double-double threat. Averaging 7.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in only 21.9 minutes per contest, Johnson has a chance to become a key piece in Marquette’s rotation.

While Marquette is still trying to figure out the loss of the Hauser brothers to transfer, the Golden Eagles have solidified their frontcourt with the pickup of Johnson. Although foul trouble has been an issue with Johnson during his college career, he’s an elite rebounder (Johnson ranked top 30 in offensive and defensive rebounding rate on KenPom last season) and capable rim protector who should fit in nicely with veteran big man Theo John.

When you also add Ed Morrow into that mix and it’s not a bad group for Marquette. Although none of those guys are consistent floor-spacers like the Hausers were, this group should provide plenty of toughness and experience in what should be a tough Big East next season.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Zion’s acrobatics, Markus Howard goes bonkers, Kansas State to win the Big 12

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Markus Howard, Marquette

Howard finished with 38 points on Saturday afternoon, shooting 13-for-24 from the floor and 5-for-11 from three, as the Golden Eagles knocked off Villanova, 66-65, to remain within a game of first place in the Big East regular season title race. This was the third time in the last four games that Howard has reached 30 points, and the fifth time this season he’s scored at least 37 points in a game.

TEAM OF THE DAY: TCU Horned Frogs

There was no bigger winner on the bubble on Saturday than TCU, who went into Ames and landed themselves a top 15 road win by knocking off Iowa State. The game wasn’t all that close, either. A 22-2 first half run put TCU in front, and the Cyclones never really threatened in the second half. Entering the weekend, TCU was slotted in a play-in game in the latest NBC Sports bracket. This is the kind of win that can bump them up a full seed line.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Parker Van Dyke, Utah

UCLA somehow managed to find a way to blow a 22-point second half lead to Utah, and they did it in the most dramatic way possible:

EXTRA ONIONS: Luke Maye, North Carolina

Coby White led the way with 33 points and six assists, but it was Luke Maye’s jumper at the end of regulation that allowed the Tar Heels to avoid an embarrassing home loss to what may be the worst team in the ACC this season, Miami:

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS

KANSAS STATE, BIG 12 FAVORITE: Kansas State rolled into Baylor in a battle for first place in the Big 12, and thanks in part to some injuries to Makai Mason and King McClure, they left with a 70-63 win. With Iowa State taking a home loss to TCU a couple of hours earlier, it means that the Wildcats are now two games against of Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas in the loss column. Who saw that coming?

NEVADA’S REVENGE: The last time we saw Nevada and New Mexico play, the Wolf Pack suffered their only loss of the season … an 85-58 humiliation at the hands of the Lobos. On Saturday, Eric Musselman’s team hosted New Mexico and made a statement of their own, getting revenge and winning the season series by two thanks to a 91-62 smackdown.

CLEMSON AND TCU: TCU was the biggest winner of the day on the bubble, but Clemson landed a monster win of their won. The Tigers entered the day on the bubble despite the fact that they had not yet earned a Q1 win, and then they turned around and picked off a Virginia Tech team that is sitting in the top ten in the NET.

JON TESKE: After Ethan Happ tore up Michigan in the first five minutes of Wisconsin’s visit to Ann Arbor, Teske did a terrific job slowing him down. Happ had just four points on 2-for-9 shooting in the second half as the Wolverines knocked off Wisconsin, 61-52.

THE HYPE FOR KENTUCKY’S UPCOMING WEEK: The Wildcats held of a scrappy Mississippi State team, 71-67, thanks to 23 points from P.J. Washington and some timely buckets from Tyler Herro. This sets the table for a week that might determine the SEC regular season champion: Kentucky hosts both LSU and Tennessee. The Vols hold a one game lead in the standings over both teams.

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS

ALL OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Duke made 13 threes.

13!

The result was a resounding win in Charlottesville over the Wahoos, a performance that made a very, very good Virginia team look rather pedestrian. If Duke is going to shoot anywhere close to this well the rest of the season, then we might as well give them the national title now and find something else to do for the next two months.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER’S THREE-BALL: That thing vanished:

PHIL BOOTH’S DECISION MAKING: I don’t think that the Villanova star has made the wrong decision at any point this season … until he had a chance to ice the Big East regular season title. Markus Howard left the ball, Booth had a lane and he dribbled into trouble, ending the game:

Look at this screenshot:

Booth has to be able to score that. He’ll regret this in film tomorrow.

IOWA STATE: The Cyclones had a chance to remain just a game off the pace in the Big 12 regular season standings, and what did they do?

They lost at home to TCU in a game that they never really threatened. That just can’t happen if you want to have any chance to win the Big 12.

LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals blew a 10 point and eventually lost on the road to Florida State in overtime.

FINAL THOUGHT

I know that the big talking point with Gonzaga right now is that Killian Tillie is out and that they cannot win the title now.

I think that’s stupid.

Gonzaga did not have Tillie when they beat Duke in Maui. They have cruised through a better-than-it-looks WCC with Tillie playing very limited minutes to date. They did not have Tillie when they beat Saint Mary’s, the second-best team in the league, by 48 freakin’ points on Saturday night.

Depth matters when it comes to injuries, foul trouble and getting 5-on-5 reps in practice. Depth does not matter all that much come March, especially when the position that Tillie plays is currently occupied by two of the ten best big men college basketball has to offer in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke.

Hell, I would go as far as to say that Gonzaga’s depth is on full display because they are still very much in the national title hunt despite the fact that Tillie — who is very, very good — has basically had a lost season.

WATCH: UCLA loses at buzzer despite fouling while up three

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UCLA found a new and inventive way to blow one of the biggest leads of the season.

The Bruins led Utah at home by 17 points at the half. They led by as many as 22 points in the second half. They were up 17 points with 6:19 to play. With 2:50 left in the game, the Bruins were up 83-70.

And they still found a way to lose despite fouling when up three.

Here’s what happened: The Utes were able to chip away at the lead until a Both Gach three with eight seconds left cut the lead to 89-88. After two David Singleton free throws made the lead three, UCLA fouled Sedrick Barefield before he had a chance to get a shot off. After Barefield made both of his threes, Singleton was again fouled, but he only hit one of the two free throws.

That left the door open for this to happen:

This isn’t even the wildest finish to a game that UCLA has been a part of.

Last month, they trailed Oregon 72-59 with less than 2:30 on the clock and found a way to win. The end of that game was even crazier, as Oregon fouled UCLA up 80-77 with three seconds left, but UCLA hit the first free throws, missed the second and then got an and-one layup off of an offensive rebound with one second left. They missed the free throws, but ended up winning in overtime.

What a time to be alive.

If the NCAA had the NBA’s trade deadline, what deals would get made?

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College basketball needs a trade deadline.

I’m convinced of it. Imagine, for a second, the offers that would get thrown around as Duke looks for some shooting, or Michigan looks for another playmaker, or Kansas tries to find a way to avoid losing the Big 12 for the first time since Hoobastank was still a thing. 

It wouldn’t make the headlines that this Anthony Davis soap opera has, but it would be one of the biggest story in sports.

So with that in mind, let’s pretend this trade deadline exists. What would happen? We have the answers. 

One major caveat here: These trades have to benefit both teams, and they have to be trades that, in theory, would be accepted. So, for example, no matter how much I want to imagine someone like Cam Reddish with the freedom he’d have at Kansas. The same can be said for someone like Dylan Windler or Ja Morant or Chris Clemons. Those mid-majors superstars are on teams with the talent to win their league. They’re not making moves right now.

I know it’s kind of silly to require some sensibility for something that could never possibly happen, but it makes the exercise that much more fun.

Anyway, here are the trades. Drop a note in the comments or hit me on twitter with any I missed:

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WICHITA STATE’S MARKIS MCDUFFIE TO DUKE FOR ALEX O’CONNELL

McDuffie is everything that Duke is missing at this point in the season. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 wing that is a versatile defender and, most importantly, a senior that has already won a bunch of games in March. He’s have the best year of his career this season, averaging 18.9 points while shooting 38.1 percent from three. He’s a better version of Jack White, a piece that can spell any of Duke’s Big Three while also being able to hold his own if Duke went to their death lineup — with McDuffie on the floor with the four freshmen.

O’Connell would be a good get for Gregg Marshall. He’s going to have to be better defensively to fit in there, but you get better defensively when you spend time in that program. And frankly, playing for one of the better programs in the American is more O’Connell’s level than playing for arguably the best program in America. He hasn’t been great for Duke, but keep in mind, he’s an athletic, 6-foot-6 wing that can shoot it from three and was a top 75 prospect coming out of high school.

Wichita State is dead in the water this year, so it makes sense to give up McDuffie for the rest of a wasted season to get two more years of O’Connell in return.

STANFORD’S KZ OKPALA TO MICHIGAN FOR BRANDON JOHNS AND THE COMMITMENT OF JALEN WILSON

Stanford’s season is done. They’re 11-10 on the year, they’re 4-5 in the horrid Pac-12 and while Jerod Haase isn’t quite on the hot seat just yet, he’s getting closer and closer to that territory by the moment. He also has one of the best sophomores in the country on his roster in K.Z. Okpala, a 6-foot-9 wing that shoots 41 percent from three, can handle the ball and will likely end up being a top 20 pick in this year’s draft.

This season is currently going to waste for Okpala, who is the perfect fit on a Michigan team that can go through stretches were they really struggle to score. Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and, to a point, Charles Matthews are sensational defenders that can be liabilities on the offensive end of the floor, and when all of them are playing roughly 20 minutes together, Michigan can get bogged down on that end of the floor.

Enter Okpala, who has the length and athleticism to be a plus-defender and whose shooting and playmaking ability will fit in perfectly with a John Beilein offense. He’ll create depth on a roster that doesn’t have a ton of it, and suddenly give Beilein the option of playing a lineup that includes Iggy Brazdeikis, Isaiah Livers, Matthews and Okpala.

Johns is going to end up being pretty good, and Wilson is a top 50 prospect, so that’s a lot to give up, but Johns will play at least one more year behind Teske and Livers, and Wilson can be replaced on the recruiting trail still. Okpala gives Michigan a real chance to win a title this season, and Stanford will be getting good foundational pieces to add to a young core in return.

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NORTHWESTERN’S VIC LAW TO KANSAS FOR CHARLIE MOORE

SOUTH CAROLINA’S CHRIS SILVA TO KANSAS FOR MARCUS GARRETT

Charlie Moore has not had anywhere near the impact we thought he would have this season for Kansas. Devon Dotson has taken over starting point guard duties, and Moore — who was good for a bad Cal team as a freshman — has been forced into essentially being a back-up point guard that shoots a bunch of threes. Northwestern is closer to his level, and Law is a perfect piece to add to the Kansas roster. He’s a versatile and talented 6-foot-7 wing defender — he’s averaging better than 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game this season — that is averaging 15.0 points and 2.9 assists this season. He’s not shooting it all that well this year, but the last two seasons, he was a 39 percent three-point shooter.

But it is the second trade here that really gets the juice flowing. Marcus Garrett has become surplus to requirements for the Jayhawks with the emergence of Ochai Agbaji and the struggles of Quentin Grimes, which has made it seem more and more likely he’ll end up in Lawrence for a second season. Garrett is one of the nation’s best defenders, but he is not the offensive weapon that Self needs him to be.

He is, however, the perfect fit longterm for a South Carolina program that is more or less dead in the water right now. They aren’t going to get an at-large bid and currently sit three games behind the No. 1 team in the country and two games behind the No. 5 team in the country in the SEC title race. Chris Silva is a hoss in the paint and maybe the most underrated big man in the sport. He’s precisely what Kansas needs for the rest of the year with Udoka Azubuike out and the rest of their frontcourt not ready.

These two deals would make Kansas the best team in the Big 12 and would not totally mortgage the program’s future.

USC’S BENNIE BOATWRIGHT TO SYRACUSE FOR JALEN CAREY

Bennie Boatwright is perfect for Syracuse. He’s 6-foot-10 and he’s not all that interested in playing defense, which makes him a perfect fit to be hidden in that zone. He also can shooting the cover off the ball, and what the Orange need more than anything else is someone that can create some space offensively. He’ll pull defenses out of the lane and allow Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett to do what they do best.

Jalen Carey has had some flashes for the Orange, but he’s on the smaller side and he can’t really shoot it, which has limited his effectiveness as the season has gone on.

TULSA’S DAQUAN JEFFRIES TO TEXAS TECH FOR KYLER EDWARDS

Finding the right fit for Texas Tech was tough. I toyed with Justin James of Wyoming, a number of the other wings you currently see on this list as well as Robert Franks from Washington State. I finally settled on Jeffries.

A lot of people won’t be familiar with Jeffries, but he would be a perfect fit for the Red Raiders. He’s tough as hell, he’s a really good defender and, most importantly, he can shoot it from three. That is the big thing that this team needs — floor-spacing. Someone that can ease the burden that is on Jarrett Culver’s shoulders. Jeffries can be that guy.

Giving up Kyler Edwards would not be ideal, but Texas Tech does have some depth on their perimeter and some pieces coming in in their backcourt. He’ll be a star for Tulsa in the American, and would give Frank Haith a nice building block moving forward.

ST. JOSEPH’S CHARLIE BROWN TO KENTUCKY FOR JEMARL BAKER

Charlie Brown is a talented, 6-foot-7 sophomore with an NBA future that has struggled to find his way within the St. Joe’s program. He needs a fresh start, and his length and athleticism on the perimeter would be a really nice fit on Kentucky’s roster. He can shoot it as well, meaning that the Wildcats won’t lose much with Baker leaving.

St. Joe’s, on the other hand, will be getting a former four-star recruit that needs a place where he can get more minutes to prove how good he can be.

UTAH’S SEDRICK BAREFIELD TO INDIANA FOR TWO FRESHMEN TO BE NAMED LATER

There are two things that this Indiana program needs: Veteran leadership at the point guard spot, and someone that can consistently hit jumpers to create space for Romeo Langford, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis to operate. Barefield is a senior that is averaging 16.3 points and 3.8 assists for Utah while shooting 40.6 percent from three. He’s the perfect fit for the Hoosiers, who, in exchange, would send back some of their young pieces. Who do you like? Clifton Moore? Damezi Anderson? Jake Forrester? Jerome Hunter? If I’m Archie Miller, the only guy that I’m not giving up is Robert Phinisee.

NEW MEXICO’S ANTHONY MATHIS TO VCU FOR P.J. BYRD

I really think that this VCU team has a chance to be dangerous this year … if they can find a way to start consistently making threes. Anthony Mathis is a guy that will consistently take, and make, threes. He plays in a system at UNM that is not all that different from what VCU does, and while Byrd has looked promising in his limited minute with the Rams, VCU will be getting Marcus Evans back next season. There won’t be many minutes for him available, and it shouldn’t be that hard for Mike Rhoades to find another point guard to fit what he wants to do.