Oklahoma and Kansas survive gritty challenges

SONG SELECTION:

Tame Impala, “Let It Happen”
Found on Currents album

Released July 17, 2015 on Interscope Records

Buddy Hield goes off again, but smartly plays decoy for winning basket

Billed as a game with National player of the year candidates on both sides, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center was really rocking early on Saturday night.

Although Ben Simmons tried his best Magic Johnson impersonation circa 1979, it was not enough in the end.

Buddy Hield may have only scored 11 points by halftime, but he simply went off on a scoring binge by nailing 7 of 8 attempts from three-point land.  But the smartest play came at the end of the contest, when he found Isaiah Cousins (finished the game with 18 points) inside the paint.  His lean-in jumper with four seconds left provided the winning margin at Oklahoma rallied from a 14 point deficit to stun LSU 77-75.  Ryan Spangler had a double-double with 16 points to go along with 10 rebounds as the nation’s top ranked team moved their overall mark to 18-2 with this impressive and gritty road win.

LSU certainly made things interesting before Cousins’ winning basket.  Antonio Blakeney drilled a pair of threes, with the second one tying the game with 24 seconds remaining on the second half clock.

But in those final frantic seconds, Tim Quarterman of LSU (13-8) had his final shot blocked by Khadeem Lattin.  ESPN cameras quickly showcased the Oklahoma players chest-bumping each other in triumph, but the cameras did not show what CBSSports.com reported on their website, and I quote:

“Many fans seemed to think Quarterman (who led the Tigers in a losing effort with 18 points) was fouled. Some even hurled garbage toward the court, showering those below them with bits of ice.”

There is simply no place for that kind of disrespectful behavior to take place at any sporting venue, college or professional.

I don’t wish to speculate, but if I was on the Athletic board–I would reprimand those specific fans and whomever else threw the garbage for at least the last part of the home schedule.  I would subsequently ask them to send a handwritten (not emailed) or typed letter stating why they felt they had to do it and in turn, hopefully show lots of remorse in saying how sorry they were and they would never do it again when stepping inside that gym or arena.

Hield led all scorers with 32 points, his eighth game of scoring at least 30 as he clearly is running away with being the 2016 national player of the year based on his ability to score and defend over this past month.

After a spectacular reverse two handed dunk that pushed LSU’s lead to 50-38 early in the second half, Ben Simmons attempted only one shot in the final ten minutes.  His stat line was 6 of 7 from the field for 14 points, along with a team high 9 rebounds and five assists.  Oklahoma overcame a 49% percent shooting clip by LSU in making the key shots when they were needed most.

Another heavyweight fight, but only five extra minutes were needed this time in The Phog

Kentucky controlled a majority of the nightcap, but thanks to Wayne Selden’s driving layups and consistent ability to keep Kentucky’s big men off balance, Kansas dominated the overtime to win going away 90-84.  Kansas outscored UK 14-8 in the extra session.

Kentucky was whistled for 33 fouls during the game, Kansas just 20 times.  You could tell by the expressions on Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s face as he pleaded and tried to will his guys to get over the top–but in the end, Kansas had the fresher bodies and more depth as UK’s big men consistently fouled out.

It all started with Derek Willis committing an over-the-back violation with 4:51 to go in a 64-all game.   Kansas would score on the next possession and brought the Kansas crowd pumping back to life.

Marcus Lee fouled out with 1:24 remaining with UK then nursing a slim 72-71 lead.  Skal Labissiere picked up two quick fouls in overtime, the last one coming with Kentucky trailing 81-78 with 2:11 left.  Alex Poythress fouled out with 25 seconds remaining when Kansas salted away the game from the free throw line.  Kansas made eight more foul shots (30) than Kentucky attempted (22).  That was the difference in an otherwise well played game.

But the night belonged to the junior shooting guard Wayne Selden, Jr.  He scored a career-high 33 points on 12 of 20 shooting.  Tyler Ulis played all 45 minutes for Kentucky as he led the Wildcats with 26 points on 11 of 19 shooting.  The telling stat in this game besides the free-throw shooting was the rebounding.  Kansas dominated 12-5 on the offensive glass, and won the rebounding battle 38-29.  It was only the seventh win in 29 attempts for the top two winningest college basketball programs in history of the sport.

Obviously, this was the second best game of the year after the three overtime barnburner on January 4 when Kansas outlasted Oklahoma.  However, the start of the season with the annual Champions Classic should not be the only time these true basketball blue bloods should be meeting on the court.

This CBSSports.com article late on Saturday night nailed things right on the head, as Kansas head coach Bill Self expressed his thoughts on the subject and what ramifications might present themselves in future summer scheduling sessions:

http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/eye-on-college-basketball/25467793/kentucky-kansas-are-best-of-college-hoops-and-should-play-every-year

A few other upsets marked a memorable Saturday

North Carolina State stopped Miami’s hot streak 85-69, while Texas A&M earned a signature win over Iowa State 72-62.  An even bigger upset was Florida upending West Virginia in The Swamp by an 88-71 count.  But the crazy stat of the day was in Louisville, as Rick Pitino’s team was held to tying the fourth lowest point total in his coaching career for a single game as Virginia chopped, sliced, and diced through the Louisville defense in tune to an impressive 63-47 win.

More cool games to come this coming week, as we enter the Dog Days of February come Monday.  And yes, LSU will be featured in my next installment of the “Under the Microscope” series.  Look for that either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Please enjoy the rest of your weekend.  The best games are yet to come.

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Highlighting the big games in Big 12-SEC Preview

SONG SELECTION:
The Like, “Trouble In Paradise”

Found on the 2010 album Release Me, by Geffen Records

A pair of titanic matchups could determine the first 4 or 5 seeds for each region

With ESPN doing their annual Winter X Games competition in Aspen, Colorado–the tip times will be late Saturday afternoon in the Big 12-SEC Challenge:

5 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN, top ranked Oklahoma at LSU

“It’s a good game for college basketball, a lot of hype to it.  Two of the best players in college are playing.  Of course, the media is gonna blow it up.  It should be fun.”

Buddy Hield, star Oklahoma guard in comments mentioned in the Tulsa World newspaper after the Texas Tech game

Buddy Hield vs. Ben Simmons will probably not happen, but there will be a lot of stake for both players.  Not since Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble from Loyola Marymount met up with Shaquille O’Neal and the formerly named Chris Jackson on Super Saturday 1990 have we seen this buildup down in Baton Rouge.

Did you know that it has been over a decade since we have seen any player from a major conference shoot at least 50 percent of his shots from inside the three-point line, while hitting at least 50% of his attempts from three and going 90 percent from the free-throw line?

That last player was Salim Stoudamire from Arizona during the 2004-05 season.  Hield is currently at 25.9 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 2.5 assists per game while shooting a sizzling 53 percent from the field.

Simmons is trying his best to carry the load, hitting 55.3% from the field on the season to date while averaging 19.8 ppg, 12.7 rebounds per game, and 4.9 assists per game.

If LSU does not pull off the upset unlike what Shaq helped do to LMU in that overtime thriller way back in 1990, Simmons could keep one streak alive.  No player of the year has ever missed that year’s NCAA Tournament, and that was all started with Patrick Ewing at Georgetown when the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Five major SEC games remain on the Tigers slate before the conference tournament in March (at South Carolina, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Florida, at Arkansas, at Kentucky).

7 p.m. Eastern, Kentucky at Kansas

This game could replace the Oklahoma-Kansas duel for game of the year.  Talent brimming on both sides and you have two of the greatest minds patrolling both benches in John Calipari of Kentucky and Bill Self of Kansas.  As I mentioned in my last blog below, Perry Ellis is going to have to come up huge if KU wants to get the better of UK.

Kentucky would need to take better care of the basketball, and with that Phog crowd feeding up a major frenzy, I think this game might be out of reach before halftime.  But that is what we all thought entering the first Big Monday telecast against Oklahoma, and it turned out to be an instant classic.

Honorable Mention:  2 p.m. Eastern, Iowa State at Texas A&M

Two streaky teams and possible 2 or 3 seeds are at play here.  This one promises to be a scoring fest.

One other key game to keep a brief eye on:

Noon Eastern on CBS, Virginia at Louisville

Virginia tries to get back on track, while this is a statement game for the Cards.  If they beat the Cavaliers, they could go on that roll that earned them the 2013 title.

If I get some time on Saturday night, I will blog about those three games.  Should be a fun Saturday of hoops.  Please have a good night and pleasant hoop dreams.

aa

 

 

 

 

 

Under The Microscope: Duke, Kansas, and Connecticut

bc

Image courtesy of microscope.com

At first glance, the casual reader might have been thinking of one of these four things while I typed the headline featuring three recent champions and three prominent schools that typically dominate the headlines each and every winter into early spring:

a) Playboy was pulling off an early April Fool’s joke and secretly poses with a bunch of women who posed nude somewhere many miles away from the site of Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, but were too scared to mention the news online.

b) Most of the former Briefcase Gals started filming a reboot of the once popular game show Deal or No Deal–but instead of airing on NBC, it would be airing on satellite TV and have a different host.

c) The thoughts of Shaquille O’Neal talking about his days at LSU…

d) The new CBS Sports graphics need more tinkering before week one of the SEC kicks off the new college football season come early September.

But instead, none of those things really crossed my mind except each of these prominent schools may seed their stranglehold on the top seeds be relinquished to other schools for the first time in several years.

And to pay tribute to the once famous baseball announcer Harry Caray, had he been alive today, he probably would have said this about Duke’s Hall of Fame basketball coach:

“Krzyzewski spelled backwards is ikswezyzrk.”

Duke Blue Devils, Atlantic Coast Conference

Good Wins:  November 20, neutral site win vs. VCU, November 22 another neutral site win vs. Georgetown, and December 2 vs. Indiana.

Bad Losses:  December 19, neutral site vs. Utah, January 13 at Clemson, January 16 vs. Notre Dame, January 18 vs. Syracuse, and January 25 at Miami (Florida).

RPI Breakdown:  overall rank 28, with a 15-6 overall record and 4-4 record in ACC play.  The Blue Devils have three wins against the RPI’s Top 100 and only one win against the RPI’s Top 50.  Their Adjusted Offensive Efficiency ranks second behind Notre Dame at 122.6 points per game.  Meanwhile, their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency per 100 possessions is at 101.9 ppg, which is around the middle of the pack at 143rd place.

Analysis:  This Duke team is lacking the key swagger needed to close out games.  If it is all about Grayson Allen and everyone else just stands there to watch him do his thing, it will be curtains for Duke.  The way they have played in the last two weeks is simply not acceptable for the Cameron Crazies, which for thirty years have been mostly spoiled by the school’s constant success.  Sure, they had the seventh toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, and that should have them looking anywhere from a 4 to an 8 seed depending on how they fare with the likes of North Carolina State, Louisville, and Virginia all due to pay a visit to Cameron Indoor before their annual showdown down tobacco road with the suddenly resurging Tar Heels from North Carolina.

Percentage chance to reach the Big Dance:  35 percent.

Kansas Jayhawks, Big 12 Conference

Good Wins:  January 2 vs. Baylor, January 4 in showdown game vs. Oklahoma, January 9 at Texas Tech, and January 23 vs. Texas.

Bad Losses:  January 12 at West Virginia, January 19 at Oklahoma State, and January 25 at Iowa State.

RPI Breakdown:  Overall ranked #6 in the nation with a 16-4 overall record, 5-3 in the Big 12.  Their AOE (according to KenPom.com) is 116.4 ppg (14th in the nation), while their ADE is 95.7 is good for 36th in the nation.

Analysis:  Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk may be clipped en route to The Phog before the final dust settles in six weeks.  A showdown game with classic rival Kentucky awaits (please read my brief Big 12-SEC preview in the blog above for some key details for the early Saturday evening marquee matchup).  But as Perry Ellis goes, so go the Jayhawks.  If they somehow get past the grasp of John Calipari’s multiple platoon lineups, more pitfalls await the Jayhawks when West Virginia provides the opposition on February 9 before the rematch at Oklahoma four days later to kick off Valentine’s weekend.  With their current fifth place standing in the Big 12 conference standings, their streak of winning 11 consecutive regular season titles is in very serious jeopardy.

Percentage chance of reaching the Big Dance:  85 percent, just to be safe.

Connecticut Huskies, American Athletic Conference

Good Wins:  November 25 on neutral site vs. Michigan and December 29 at Texas.

Bad Losses:  November 26 on neutral site vs. Syracuse, November 27 on neutral site vs. Gonzaga, December 8 on neutral site vs. Maryland, January 5 vs. Temple, and January 28 vs. Cincinnati.

RPI Breakdown:  Overall rank is 73, with an overall record of 14-6, 4-3 in AAC play.  The Huskies have only two wins against the RPI’s Top 50, and are 2-4 against the RPI’s Top 100.  Their AOE is 106.2 ppg good for 128th in the nation, while their ADE is 91.9, pegged at the ninth position.

Analysis:  The runner by Gary Clark, Jr. with 12 seconds to play will probably be too much to overcome for Kevin Ollie.  Just two years ago, they went on that run in March en route to winning the national championship.  The only game with true RPI implications is a rematch in Cinncinnati on February 20.  Everyone else is having an RPI of 75 and below, with the notable exception of SMU not eligible to play in the 2016 Tournament in the first place.

Percentage chance of reaching the Big Dance:  20 percent, since they have to win the AAC postseason tournament just to get an invite.  I think their 96th place in terms of their strength of schedule in non-conference games, while being 88th overall SOS wise spells big-time trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

Maryland escapes in tight affair against Iowa

SONG SELECTION:

The Heavy, “Since You’ve Been Gone”

From the album, Hurt & The Merciless.  To be released April 1, 2016.

Maryland returned home five days after slowly digging out of the largest blizzard in the state’s history by barely getting past Iowa 74-68 on Thursday night.

The Terps held a slim 62-60 lead before freshman center Diamond Stone (and no, that is not a girl’s name in this blog) made a dunk off a pass from senior Jake Layman with 1:24 remaining on the clock.  Melo Trimble then forced a steal on the other end and a few seconds later, Jared Nickens converted on a  layup for a six-point lead.

Maryland (18-3, 7-2 Big Ten) iced the game by converting 8 free throws in the last 49 seconds.  Layman and Trimble scored 11 points each and Stone chipped in with nine.

Robert Carter Jr. and former Duke star Rasheed Sulaimon each had 17 points in helping halt Iowa’s nine game winning streak–one short of the team record.

The Terrapins went 9 for 27 from the field in the second half, missing all 10 of their attempts from long distance.  Iowa also did not fare that much better from deep, hitting only 5 of 24 attempts for the night (20.8 percent).

Iowa (16-4 overall, 7-1 in Big Ten play) suffered their first defeat since December 10.  The Hawkeyes were led by Peter Jok with 14 and Adam Woodbury pitched in a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 2:47 left to play.

As for the Big Ten leader in scoring averaging 18.9 points per game, their start player in Jarrod Uthoff missed all five of his shots during the first half and finished the game with nine points on an anemic 2-for-13 shooting clip.

Couple that with Cincinnati winning at Connecticut, the proverbial microscope is growing with each passing day.  My next “Under the Microscope” installment is going to surprise you with two teams that frequently hear their names called as number 1 seeds–but it appears these streaks will be ending here in 2016.

 

Michigan State sneaks past Maryland

Heavy hearts for Terrapins players while at the same time, the record for most snow to fall over a two-day period was shattered in Baltimroe

23 of 29 free throw attempts will help any team out, but Denzel Valentine managed to get some help.  Thanks to the efforts of Bryn Forbes, who shot 8 of 15 from the field and Valentine nearly accomplishing another triple-double–the Spartans (wearing lime green uniforms for the first time) led most of the way in defeating Maryland 74-65.  Only two players scored in double figures for the Terps, who managed to get outrebounded 42-32.  The most telling stat of the game was Michigan State scoring 15 second chance points off of 17 offensive rebounds.

Tom Izzo, Denzel Valentine join some select company

With ESPN sideline reporter Shannon Spake joining the other 85 million plus Americans still waiting out the last remnants of the Great Blizzard of 2016, she saw along with the rest of us see a bit of history.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo tied former longtime Purdue boss Gene Keady with his 512th victory for one school in Big Ten history.  The record is 661 wins by The General, Bob Knight during his three decade run at Indiana.

As for Valentine, he became the first player in Big Ten history to record at least 1,300 career points, 700 rebounds and 500 assists.  He is the fourth such palyer to accomplish this rare feat since 2000.

Next up, big games for both teams on Thursday night as Maryland should be all dug out from their record setting blizzard before hosting Iowa.  Meanwhile, while the cold persists in the Midwest–no major snow or ice is expected IN Evanston as Northwestern hosts Michigan State.

Most ranked teams won on Saturday

Duke got a much needed win at North Carolina State, rallying from a halftime deficit by scoring 52 second half points en route to winning by double digits 88-78.

Creighton upended Butler in Nebraska, 72-64.

But the upset of the day was out West…as California upset Arizona 74-73 as Jordan Mathews led the charge for the Golden Bears with 28 points in a nice “Gold Out Game” for the faithful fans inside Haas Pavilion.  This was a similar tactic used by baseball’s Chicago White Sox since the 2008 American League wild card game, when fans were asked to wear black T-shirts during their then one-game playoff game against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.  Future Hall of Fame candidate Jim Thome provided the only scoring that night with a powerful sixth inning home run that saw the bull nearly reach the center field bleachers.

Enjoy watching and listening to the rescheduled games on Sunday.

If I get some time, I will try to update you if any upsets occur.  Have a good night, and please continue to pray for those innocent people out East as they will start the long, lethargic process of shoveling nearly three feet of snow–where at one point, some residents saw snow fall at a rate at a whopping clip of four inches per hour–yikes!!  At least, the dogs like roaming in the snow.

Duquesne bus makes it safely back to campus

Stranded for 22 hours on Pennsylvania Turnpike, the team survived as best they could

According to senior Darius Lewis, he told Steve Levy on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Saturday night, “We are all so close, like brothers…The National Guard sent us water and the coaching staff went to a nearby (grocery) store and got us some chicken and salad sandwiches.”

There was a small video of the players attempting to push the bus in the final miles towards their campus in Pittsburgh.  But it was not as drastic as what SMU faced in Philadelphia on Saturday.  Take a look here:

http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/eye-on-college-basketball/25459601/look-smus-bus-gets-stuck-in-the-snow-in-philly-player-makes-snow-angel

Bottom line, everyone is safe and sound and that is the best news of all.

More cancellations due to blizzard

CBSSports.com released has a more exhaustive list on Saturday morning involving more games being moved involving many teams throughout the ACC, AAC, Ohio Valley, and Big East Conferences.

The full list is here for your reference.  Please stay updated on your favorite websites and smartphones apps for the latest information, as other key games are still slated to take place today–Duke at North Carolina State a huge game in the middle part of the tripleheader block on CBS, 2 p.m. Eastern time in Raleigh.

Providence-Villanova has been moved from Saturday to Sunday, a 12:30 p.m. Eastern tip in Philadelphia (after trying to dig out from over 18 inches of snow).

Davidson-Richmond has been rescheduled from Saturday to Monday night at 7 p.m.

SMU-Temple will play Sunday at noon instead of today.

St. Bonaventure-VCU will start at 3 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.

Saint Joseph’s-La Salle likewise will play on Sunday, with the tip slated for 5 p.m. at Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia.

UNC Wilmington at Drexel will start playing shortly after 12 noon Eastern time also on Sunday.

In Nashville recovering from a major ice storm that has mostly paralyzed the South, a game involving Tennessee State at Belmont will start on Sunday shortly after 4 p.m. Eastern time.

If I see more updates, I will try to post them when I get some time.

In the meantime, there are still other games being played in the other 33 contiguous states–with Oklahoma at Baylor, along with Michigan State breaking out the lime green jerseys for an early evening encounter with Maryland.  Out West, a game listed on my Top 5 games to watch during the October season preview has Arizona visiting Cal-Berkeley, a huge game in the Pac-12.  That game gets going shortly after 9:30 p.m. Eastern time.