Boston College’s upset of Syracuse got me thinking — has there ever been an instance of visiting fans rushing another school’s home court? I’d argue that every BC fan in the Carrier Dome last Wednesday had a right to run onto the court and celebrate. The Eagles are terrible and they just lost a longtime member of the program to ALS. Beating the 25-0, unanimous no. 1 team in the country is a huge achievement for them. Even die-hard curmudgeonly sports columnists would agree that BC’s win was worthy of a court storming, only the game wasn’t at home and there probably weren’t enough BC fans in attendance to organize a mass rush past security.
By the way, what is the minimum number of people necessary to storm a court? Because I’m pretty sure if you and your buddy just try to run on the floor after a win, security will Taser your face, throw you in cuffs, and beat you senseless. How about a group of five guys? Is that enough for security to say “Welp!” and just step aside? Does it take 10? Twenty? One hundred? What’s that magic number? Is it just one more than the number of security guards?
Anyway, I’ll be able to die happy if I ever see visiting fans rush a court. Even so, I can’t envision how it would ever happen. If a win is really worth storming another team’s court, chances are that the home team is so good that it draws a huge crowd and makes tickets for visiting fans hard to come by. And when the visiting fans can get a big group together (like, say, Kansas at TCU), the home team probably sucks so much that it’s not worth rushing the floor. Maybe if Arizona were having a down year and played at 25-0 UCLA. Arizona fans always travel well and there are a ton of Arizona alumni in L.A. Meanwhile, UCLA fans are too busy not caring about basketball to care about basketball, so maybe Arizona fans get a ton of tickets, the Cats pull off the upset, and throngs of Arizona fans celebrate on the court. So many stars would have to align for that to happen, though, and even then I still suspect that Arizona fans might not go through with it.
Is there any fan base out there with the testicular fortitude to storm an opposing school’s court? Is the head of a student section reading this and smiling as the wheels turn in his head? Is that very student section leader going to plan a conference tournament or NCAA tournament court-storm? Probably not. But we can always dream.
12. Saint Louis
Let’s see — great defense, low-scoring offense, one of the longest winning streaks in the nation, and close games that get decided in the final minute nearly every time it takes the floor. Yep, Saint Louis is the new Syracuse. Now that Billikens fans have had to sweat out their last four games, Saint Louis’s 19-game winning streak has included eight wins that were one-possession games with less than a minute left in regulation. Even though Saint Louis’s mascot is closer to an alien than a feline, I halfway expect pundits to start calling this team the “Cardiac Cats.” (Maybe “Blood Pressure Billikens” works? What about “Butt-Clenching Billikens”? That’s my pick.)
It’s fair to say Saint Louis hasn’t recently played like it’s one of the best teams in America. In the last month, George Mason — which is 9-17 and in last place in the A-10 — took the Billikens to overtime twice. But to Saint Louis’s credit, even though the team has come close to blowing several games, it finds a way to win. Its 19-game streak is the fourth-longest in Division I college basketball right now behind Wichita State, Florida, and “Stone Cold” Stephen F. Austin, which has to mean something. Not only that, but Jordair Jett is averaging 20 points, 5.25 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in his last four games. The guy is a 6-foot-1, 215-pound bowling ball who can’t shoot, isn’t overwhelmingly athletic, and looks like he belongs in an NFL backfield, yet somehow he’s been tearing up the A-10.
Speaking of which, there should be an award for players who excel on the court despite obvious physical disadvantages. I know we have the Khalid El-Amin All-Stars for guards who look out of shape, but that’s too specific. This award would cover every physical disadvantage — being too short like 6-foot-7 Iowa State center Georges Niang; being overweight like Cameron Ridley of Texas; being injury-prone like George Washington’s Maurice Creek; or being excessively white like Marshall Plumlee. Basically, it would be for players who would suck at the NBA combine but are still great nonetheless. Screw it — I’m calling it the Khalif Wyatt Award and adding it to my list of made-up awards (Bob Knight Award for shot fakes, Felipe Lopez/Bracey Wright Award for frustrating players, and whatever else I forgot about).
11. Iowa State
In Iowa State’s lone game this week, the Cyclones beat TCU, 71-60, in a game that was closer than it should’ve been because Iowa State shot 1-of-11 from the 3-point line. TCU was terrible last year and this year it’s even worse, so I won’t bother analyzing a game that the Cyclones probably thought of as an annoyance. Instead, let’s watch this Fred Hoiberg mixtape because it deserves more views.
Between the remixed NBA on NBC music, the flashing graphics, highlights that include Hoiberg dribbling out the clock and shooting free throws, and the jolt of nostalgia it provides, I think this might be my new favorite video. (By the way, most of the highlights seem to be pulled from this 1995 All-American promotional video for Hoiberg, which is equally amazing.)
I spent most of the Louisville-Cincinnati game huffing into a paper bag, and I still haven’t completely recovered from the anxiety it gave me. It was the sloppiest, most physical, manliest, pants-shittingly terrifying game I’ve seen all season. I often complain about college basketball referees and I certainly thought the officials were terrible in this game, but this time I’m giving them a pass. If I were reffing that game, I wouldn’t know whether to call a foul on every play or just leave the arena altogether, have a WWE steel cage lowered from the ceiling, and let both teams duke it out. Cincinnati fans probably get tired of seeing their team reduced to “THEY’RE SOME GROWN-ASS MEN!” (on second thought, who am I kidding — they love this), but it really is impossible to watch the Bearcats without feeling like you’re watching the start of some viral fight video, especially when Louisville is just as nasty as Cincinnati.
But enough about the nightmares I’m having. Let’s talk about the teams. For Cincinnati, this was a brutal loss. Justin Jackson sat most of the first half with foul trouble, the Bearcats fell way behind twice and managed to come back both times, they had a late lead and gave it up, and then they got it back only to lose on a short-armed midrange jumper from a guy who had a reputation last season for crapping the bed at the end of close games. A win would’ve given the Bearcats breathing room in the AAC title race and, as crazy as it sounds, it may have even put them in the conversation for a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Looking back on this game, it must be hard for Cincinnati fans to keep from wondering, What if we hadn’t committed 13 turnovers? What if at least three of those turnovers hadn’t resulted in breakaway layups for Louisville? What if Sean Kilpatrick had shot well? What if the referees had done a better job? What if God was one of us? What if we lived in a world where we never got to see Mick Cronin’s glorious scowl?
This doesn’t exactly doom Cincinnati’s season, though, as there’s still plenty for Bearcats fans to be optimistic about. For starters, if even one of the what-ifs goes UC’s way, the Bearcats probably would have won. When you consider everything that went wrong for Cincy that doesn’t usually go wrong, that Louisville is the defending national champion playing its best basketball of the season, and that Cincy was still one shot away from winning, there’s no need for fans to panic. Plus, even though Cincinnati’s remaining schedule (at UConn, vs. Memphis, at Rutgers) seems pretty tough except for Rutgers, Louisville’s final three games (at Memphis, at SMU, vs. UConn) are even tougher, so the Bearcats are still in a good spot to pull out the AAC crown.
For Louisville, this was the marquee win that’s eluded the Cards all season. Heading into Saturday, they were 22-0 against unranked teams and 0-4 against ranked teams. Sure, they beat UConn in Storrs and they had won their previous three games by an average of 32.7 points. But doing that while still being winless against ranked teams is like owning a yacht in Nebraska. Beating Cincinnati on the road eliminates many of my doubts about the Cardinals.
If you haven’t paid much attention to Louisville this season, here’s the SparkNotes version: The Cardinals’ defense is as stifling as ever. They average 9.6 steals per game — the third-most in college basketball. Russ Smith isn’t taking as many stupid shots as he did last year, which means he isn’t scoring quite as much, but he’s averaging 1.6 more assists per game. Montrezl Harrell has posted six double-doubles in his last 12 games. Luke Hancock battled injuries and hasn’t quite returned to form yet, which means he’ll probably break out of his funk in the NCAA tournament and apply The Lotion1 all over his opponents. Chris Jones has been up-and-down. So has Terry Rozier, but he’s been playing really well recently. Mangok Mathiang makes strides every game. Wayne Blackshear gets where he fits in. Stephan Van Treese is also on the team. And Kevin Ware was given a redshirt in January after the duct tape that doctors used to put his leg back together started to lose its adhesiveness.
The worst part about Louisville being winless against ranked teams and Hancock struggling in big games this year is that I haven’t been able to use the nickname I gave his jump shot at the start of the season. Brace yourselves, because I’m going to be overcompensating and using it way too much for the next month and a half.
Add all that up and what you’ve got is a team that’s definitely not as good as a season ago, yet still good enough to win a national title. This is especially true if Harrell continues his dominant run. Hancock needs to step up and Jones needs to be more consistent, but the pieces are falling into place for the Cardinals, and a second consecutive title looks more possible with each passing day.
Have you ever noticed that when a team frequently puts the basketball through the hoop it looks much better than when it doesn’t put the basketball through the hoop? In the first half against Indiana on Tuesday night, the Buzzcuts threw up brick after brick, partly because Indiana played solid defense but mostly because Wisconsin just couldn’t make open shots. The Buzzcuts shot 26 percent overall and 10 percent from behind the 3-point line before going into halftime with only 19 points on the board. Somehow, a completely different Wisconsin team showed up in the second half, as the Buzzcuts not only shot a blistering 62 percent from the field but also held the Hoosiers to 16 points in the first 18 minutes of the second half. The complete 180 for both teams left me thinking that Tom Crean should file a complaint to the Big Ten that the hoop the Hoosiers shot at in the second half was either bent, not regulation height, or both.
Whatever the case, Wisconsin’s hot streak also included an impressive road win over a desperate Iowa team and the second-half beatdown of the Hoosiers this week. Michigan is in the Big Ten driver’s seat and the Wolverines at their best are probably better than any other Big Ten team, but if the NCAA tournament started tomorrow and I had to bet all my Bitcoins on a Big Ten team to win it all, I’d pick Wisconsin. Just look at the box score from the Indiana game. All five starters finished in double figures, the Buzzcuts turned the ball over only three times, and they were one Jordan Hill foul away from a Trilly Five-Way.2
As a reminder, the Trilly Five-Way is when five guys on the same team are subbed in during scrub time and all five get trillions. I’ve never actually seen it happen but there have been a handful of times (this one included) where a team has been a hair away from pulling off history.
So many teams in college basketball have an identity that’s set in stone. There are defensive teams (Syracuse, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona, etc.) that leave something to be desired on the offensive end. There are teams like Creighton, Duke, Iowa State, and Michigan that rely on high-powered offenses. But as long as the Buzzcuts aren’t in a shooting slump, Wisconsin is one of the few teams that’s not significantly better on one end of the court than the other. Of course, if it comes out and plays two crappy halves in the tournament, that could be the end of Wisconsin’s Final Four aspirations, but that goes for any time, and I’d rather bet on a well-balanced team over a more one-dimensional squad.
DAT RUN THO. If you don’t already know: With 11:12 left in the second half, Virginia inbounded the ball in a 43-43 game against Notre Dame. Over the next 8:41, Virginia outscored Notre Dame 25-0. TWENTY-FIVE TO ZERO. I felt like I was watching the first Creighton-Villanova game all over again, only Virginia actually played defense and shot from within 40 feet of the basket. How is that stretch not on YouTube yet? Somebody needs to take that video and cut in increasingly excited crowd shots from And1 tour videos every time Virginia scores. When Malcolm Brogdon hits the 3 with 3:01 left, cut to the announcer yelling “OOOHH BABY! OOOHH BABY! IT’S OVAH! SHUT IT DOWN, IT’S OVAH!” as chaos ensues and random fans in enormous jeans with hand towels over their shoulders cover their mouths. I’d watch that a couple hundred times at least.
That run was the best basketball any team in America has played all season. I know Notre Dame isn’t the strongest opponent and the Irish blew several open shots that could have halted the run. But that doesn’t change the fact that six guys scored for Virginia during the stretch. The Hoos hit 3s, 2s, and free throws. There were dunks and circus shots. They scored in the half court and on the fast break. There were solid defensive stops where Virginia just collected rebounds, there was a steal, and there were two blocks. It was like watching a season’s worth of highlights over a single nine-minute span. Again, I know Notre Dame is struggling and I know Virginia didn’t play particularly well for the first 28 minutes. But if you’ve been wondering if this team should really be considered a Final Four threat, I dare you to go watch the last 12 minutes of Saturday’s game without thinking the Hoos are the most underrated team in the country right now.
It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.
During Saturday’s Duke-Syracuse game in Durham, how did Dick Vitale, Dan Shulman, and Jay Bilas end up talking about Cincinnati?
A. Shulman reminds viewers that Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim are no. 1 and no. 2 in all-time wins for Division I men’s head coaches. This prompts Vitale to ask Bilas and Shulman if they know who is fourth in wins among active coaches. Bilas immediately says Rick Pitino, as if he’s insulted Vitale would ask him something so obvious. Vitale then affirms Bilas’s answer before reminding viewers that Pitino, who coaches Louisville, earlier that day had won a big game against Cincinnati.
B. Rodney Hood catches the ball in the high post, shot-fakes, and draws a foul. This prompts Vitale and Bilas to discuss how much they love to see players use shot fakes. As that discussion wraps up, Vitale says he thinks Louisville’s Luke Hancock is the best shot-faker in college basketball. Shulman reminds viewers that Hancock and the Cardinals pulled out a huge win earlier that day at Cincinnati.
C. As the game enters the final minutes, ESPN cuts to a montage of all the close games Syracuse has played this season. After it’s over, Bilas mentions how cold-blooded Tyler Ennis’s game winner against Pitt was because he’s not convinced the Panthers have earned an NCAA tournament bid. Vitale then points out that even though it didn’t seem like much at the time, another game that could’ve given Pitt a résumé boost was the Panthers’ 44-43 loss to Cincinnati.
You may have noticed that Syracuse didn’t exactly have a great week. The Orange gave up a 13-point second-half lead to Boston College before losing at home in overtime, they fell victim to some home cooking and a zone-busting dose of Rodney Hood against Duke, and they nearly blew a late double-digit lead at Maryland, all within the last seven days. College basketball fans had been waiting for months to call the Orange overrated, and they got their chance this week. Now some fans are suggesting that a record-setting Syracuse team is mediocre and a handful of others are wondering if the Orange still deserve a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament.
I think we can agree that Syracuse isn’t quite as dominant as we might imagine a 25-0 ACC team would be. But it’s been this way all season. I’ve power-ranked the Orange first for most of the season and I’ve applauded their ability to pull out close games, but I was never ready to crown them national champions. A week like this has been a long time coming for the Orange. Now that it has happened, does it really change that much? Syracuse has been a really-good-but-not-great team that has played to the level of its competition but still found ways to pull out close games all season. That well dried up last week, but does that mean Syracuse is no longer a good team? Isn’t it exactly what it has always been, only now we know for sure that Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair are actual humans who can’t make every single big play in the clutch?
National championship teams don’t lose to 6-19 teams at home in late February. National championship teams don’t struggle to score 60 points. I get that. Syracuse fans have some cause for worry. Trevor Cooney has been awful lately, and Ennis, Fair, and Jerami Grant have been inconsistent. The Orange have never been great on offense and they’ve never had a deep bench, so now that a couple of guys are disappearing offensively every game, serious problems are surfacing. But let’s not act like Cuse was 2012 Kentucky last week and now they’re 2013 Kentucky. The Orange haven’t fallen off the cliff. They’re still a tweak or two away from being just as good as they were two months ago, which, again, was really good but not great. The good news for Orange fans is that college basketball doesn’t have any standout “great” teams this year, so Cuse is definitely good enough to be considered a title contender. Go ahead and count Syracuse out if you want. Just don’t be surprised if it ruins your bracket in March.
Duke was dominated so thoroughly in the second half of the North Carolina game that I started questioning everything I thought I knew about college basketball. I mean, Roy Williams clearly outcoached Mike Krzyzewski. Do you realize how historic this is? Coach K gets blatantly outcoached maybe once every few years. Actually, that might be too generous to other coaches, because I can’t ever remember a time when somebody outfoxed the greatest coach in college basketball history. Similarly, I don’t think I’ve ever finished watching a game and thought, Roy Williams made one brilliant move after another in that game. I don’t criticize Williams as much as some other fans do, but it’s fair to say he hasn’t achieved all his success thanks to his mastery of X’s and O’s. So to watch Williams orchestrate Carolina’s changing defenses in a way that left Duke dumbfounded was like witnessing some once-in-a-lifetime occurrence along the lines of a leprechaun riding Halley’s Comet or a funny episode of The Big Bang Theory.
The most disappointing aspect of Duke’s performance against UNC was how the players seemed to give up when Carolina mounted its comeback. The sense of urgency, the pride, and the desire to kick UNC’s ass — all qualities we associate with Duke basketball — were missing, and in their place was a bunch of players who looked like they were thinking, Shit, we’re blowing this, aren’t we?
That’s why I was so anxious to see how the Blue Devils would respond against Syracuse. Would Coach K return to being a genius? Would Duke’s guys take a punch to the mouth, shrug it off, and keep fighting? Yes. By halftime of Duke’s first game against Syracuse, I had already started yelling at my TV for Jabari Parker and Hood to get to the middle of Cuse’s zone, turn and face, and either knock down the 12-foot jumper or take the middle defender one-on-one. By the time my message got to central New York, Parker had four fouls and could punish the Orange defense for only a few possessions before fouling out. This time, Coach K stuck with Amile Jefferson and Plumlee in the high post to start the game, but he eventually flashed Parker and Hood in there and let his studs do what they do best. Syracuse never really had an answer, especially for Hood.
Most impressive was that Duke got contributions from just about everybody against the Orange. Parker and Hood were great as always. Rasheed Sulaimon (eight points, seven assists, four rebounds) and Jefferson (five points on 2-of-2 shooting and five rebounds in just 21 minutes) were solid all around. Tyler Thornton shut down Cooney. Plumlee played the game of his life. Quinn Cook struggled shooting, but he made up for it by mean-mugging the hell out of Syracuse when he hit a big 3 late in the game. Sure, Andre Dawkins made only a brief cameo and the search for Josh Hairston’s corpse remains unsolved. But for the most part, this was a complete team effort from Duke, and the Blue Devils played great defense and hung tough after Syracuse built an early lead. The crash-and-burn that seems inevitable for this Duke team may still come, but those who thought the North Carolina game signaled the beginning of the end couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you think college basketball should shorten its shot clock, you might want to use Arizona’s play the past couple of weeks as Exhibit A in your argument. Against Arizona State last week, just about every Arizona possession was a struggle. You could see the overthinking and frustration on the Wildcats’ faces during the game. But sometime between that game and the Utah game, Sean Miller obviously called a team meeting and said something like this to his guys:
“I’m sick of you guys looking like you’re trying to figure out who the Yellow King is when we’re on offense. Basketball is a simple game and you guys are overcomplicating it. That’s why we’re instituting a new rule: If you’re open, shoot. And if you’re not open and you’re Nick Johnson, shoot. We’re as talented as any team in America and certainly more talented than every team in the Pac-12. So let’s stop acting like we need to use the entire 35 seconds to get a shot. The truth is that any shot in which any of you guys are open is a great shot.”
The Arizona that showed up for stretches against Utah and then against Colorado was as loose, confident, and carefree as it’s been all season. I don’t know if the stats back this up, but I’d be willing to bet that the Cats took more quick shots against Utah and Colorado than in the rest of the season combined. At times, T.J. McConnell looked like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, pulling the trigger on jump shots after zero passes. A month ago, McConnell was so pass-first that I wondered if he was fighting the urge to throw lobs to Aaron Gordon when he shot free throws. And now he’s jacking shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock? And Elliott Pitts is taking challenged 3s after one pass? Who is this team and what the hell happened to Arizona?
The new-look Arizona is so much better offensively, and all Miller had to do was give his guys freedom. This is the game that fans of the shorter shot clock want to see. When guys don’t have to deal with coaches telling them to “run the offense all the way through” or “work the ball” or “pass up a good shot to get a great shot” and they can just use their natural talent to make plays, it’s amazing how much better they look. Structure and valuing possessions are definitely important aspects of the game, but too often it seems like players can’t identify a great shot so they turn down a bunch of good looks while waiting for the better opportunity that never comes. If you’re a top-10 team, at some point you have to realize that it’s asinine to tell your starting point guard to turn down open 3s or to tell your starting small forward he can’t shoot open elbow jumpers. This evidently clicked with Miller, and as a result, Arizona’s offense is operating at a much higher level than it was even a week ago.
When you throw dominant Wildcats defense on top of the team’s resurgent offense, Arizona — even without Brandon Ashley — is back in the national title picture. I know the Cats are just 4-2 without him, including one overtime win and one two-point win, but both losses came on the road and both were lost on last-second shots. Besides, you can see game-to-game improvement from Arizona as it figures out how to play without Ashley, and the way it just beat the snot out of an NCAA tournament team (Colorado) on the road suggests that process is going well.
Even though Kansas destroyed Texas and played well in a win over Oklahoma this week, I’m hesitant to get too excited since sustaining these kinds of efforts has been a problem for the Jayhawks all season. What I’m not at all hesitant to get excited about, though, is Kansas’s 10th consecutive Big 12 championship, which it clinched with Monday’s win over Oklahoma. That makes Bill Self the only coach in college basketball history to win a decade’s worth of consecutive conference championships in a major conference. If you’re going back over that last sentence to try to find a bunch of qualifiers, you’re wasting your time. Literally no one else in the history of the sport — including John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Knight, Krzyzewski, and Travis Ford — have won 10 straight major conference titles as head coach. That’s insane.
To further blow your mind, here is a list to remind you of the state of the world when Kansas started its streak on March 2, 2005:
• Ricardo Patton, Wayne Morgan, Jim Wooldridge, Quin Snyder, Barry Collier, Kelvin Sampson, Billy Gillispie, Eddie Sutton, and Bob Knight were all coaching in the Big 12.3
• Brad Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston.
• Britney Spears was married to Kevin Federline.
• Dan Rather was the anchor of CBS Evening News.
• Peter Jennings was the anchor of World News Tonight.
• Tom Cruise hadn’t yet jumped on Oprah’s couch.
• Zero episodes of Deal or No Deal had aired.
• Zero episodes of The Colbert Report had aired.
• Zero episodes of The Office had aired.
• E! still aired The Howard Stern Show.
• Nobody knew who Deep Throat was.
• Nobody knew who Carrie Underwood was.
• Nobody knew who Mike Jones was.4
• Only one Saw movie (out of an eventual seven) had been released.
• Zero chapters of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (out of an eventual 2,398) had been released.
• Jimmie Johnson had zero NASCAR championships.
• The Chicago Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908.
Related: Exactly 48 of the 64 coaches in the 2005 NCAA tournament aren’t coaching the same team today.
This is the craziest thing about Kansas’s streak. Mike Jones was a nobody when it started, became one of the hottest rappers in the world, and is back to being a nobody … and the streak is still going. By the way, I still have Jones’s cell phone number memorized but I don’t have any idea what my blood type is. Reading that back, I think I should give up my right to vote.
If you still aren’t impressed, consider this: In the last 10 seasons, Syracuse, Duke, Kentucky, and UConn have combined to win nine conference championships. Every Kansas fan could put a statue of Bill Self in their front yard and I’d still think they’re taking him for granted.
2. Wichita State
I’ve been down on Wichita State in recent weeks because the Shockers weren’t playing to the standard they’d established from last year’s Final Four through the beginning of this year’s unblemished start. Fair or not, because Wichita State plays a weaker schedule than every other likely Final Four contender, many expect the Shockers to blow out their opponents every time they take the court. For me, the score lines don’t matter as much as the sense I get while watching Wichita State play that it could compete with power conference teams like Kentucky or Duke. As recently as two weeks ago, the Shockers looked a cut below those teams. Now, they’re back on the level.
Wichita State’s identity is their defense, but I’d count the Shockers among the teams like Wisconsin that aren’t obviously one-dimensional. Four Wichita State players are averaging double-digit points this season and the Shockers are shooting an absurd 50.2 percent from the field in their last six games. Three Wichita State players have led the team in scoring in their last three games, and none of them were leading scorer Cleanthony Early. Wichita State is loaded with offensive weapons and the Shockers can be unguardable when everyone is clicking, and that’s happening more and more often of late. My one big gripe is that their 3-point shooting isn’t exactly lights-out, but then there are games like Tuesday’s win over Bradley, where every member of the Early–Ron Baker–Fred VanVleet–Tekele Cotton quartet hit multiple 3s, and perimeter shooting doesn’t seem like such a problem anymore.
I won’t pretend to have any idea how the postseason will unfold for Wichita State. College basketball has conditioned me to prepare for anything, especially when it comes to mid-majors. But being 30-0 isn’t something anyone should take lightly, no matter how easy the Shockers’ schedule has been. And if Wichita State maintains the effort it has put forth in its last couple of games, it can beat anyone.
Am I crazy or is there not nearly enough buzz for Billy Donovan as national coach of the year?5 Florida has won 20 consecutive games. It has zero likely first-round picks on its roster, and the Gators’ only losses came at Wisconsin in November (when basically half the team was suspended, sick, injured, or ineligible) and at UConn in early December (when Scottie Wilbekin left the game with three minutes remaining and Shabazz Napier hit a game winner that may have turned out differently if Wilbekin were guarding him). You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who doesn’t think either Florida or Wichita State is the best team in America right now, and I’d bet more Wichita State players than Florida players end up on NBA rosters. It’s ridiculous that the coach of the year award should always go to the guy whose team was supposed to suck but somehow doesn’t. Just because the Gators returned a four-man senior class that has won a ton of games doesn’t change the fact that Florida doesn’t have the same level of individual talent as other elite teams. Plus, the Gators lost their top three scorers from a season ago. Donovan could be a victim of his own success here.
Ten more coaches that deserve national coach of the year recognition: Larry Brown, Mick Cronin, Jim Crews, John Beilein, Sean Miller, Jay Wright, Tony Bennett, Tim Miles, Gregg Marshall, and Steve Fisher.
The one thing that harms Donovan’s case is that the SEC is a cesspool of unwatchable basketball. Sure, the Missouri Valley Conference isn’t great either, so you could say the same thing about Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. But you know what the Missouri Valley doesn’t have? Georgia holding down third place with a 2.5-game lead over the closest team behind them. Georgia started the season 1-4, and it has lost to Davidson by 12 and to George Washington by 18, then lost to Georgia Tech at home by nine, and yet the Bulldogs are cruising to the non-Florida, non-Kentucky SEC title. Every time the SEC Network runs an ad claiming that the SEC is “the most storied conference in college athletics,” it should have to run a disclaimer on the bottom of the screen that reads, “We are required by law to inform you that Georgia is far and away the third-best basketball team in our conference.”
But no matter how bad the SEC is this year, Donovan deserves more love for the job he’s done at Florida. The Gators are on fire, their national championship stock is through the roof, every player on their roster seems to have dramatically improved from last season, and the no. 1 team in America resides in Gainesville for the first time in seven years. This doesn’t just happen by chance. Somebody is pulling the strings, and that somebody is Donovan.
The Half-Court Game-Winning Buzzer-Beater of the Week
Western Washington is a Division II school located in — and this is just a guess here — western Washington. Saturday, the Vikings played rival Central Washington in a game with Great Northwest Athletic Conference title ramifications, and found themselves tied at 91 with 2.7 seconds left to play. Then Richard Woodworth happened.
Two things make this play: (1) Woodworth shot it like a normal shot. He jumped off both feet and didn’t throw a chest pass toward the bucket like a lot of people do with their half-courters. It was like he had practiced shooting from this deep before and was just waiting for his coach to give him the green light to do it in the normal flow of the game. And, (2) it was nothing but net. That’s respect.
The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is B. See you next week.