March, 9, 2014
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
ST. LOUIS -- The commemorative T-shirts Wichita State received for winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament Sunday were far from perfect. The back of the shirt contained the tournament bracket, and it had Indiana State listed as the winner.
“That’s crazy, right?” Shockers senior forward Cleanthony Early said. “I guess they predicted that we were going to lose.”
The mix-up was the result of an error by the T-shirt printer, one which conference officials didn’t catch before handing out the shirts. Yet you didn’t exactly need to be a true detective to recognize the yellow king of Arch Madness.
Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsFred VanVleet scored 20 points in the Shockers' win over Indiana State.
The Shockers turned back Indiana State 83-69 at the Scottrade Center to keep their loss column a flat circle and capture their first conference tournament title in 27 years. By doing so, they joined the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels as the only Division I teams ever to start a season 34-0. No other team has entered the NCAA tournament with 34 victories, as Wichita State will do next week, with a chance to set the record for perfection against a No. 16 seed.
So the Shockers weren’t about to lose here this weekend, not even against a sturdy and determined Indiana State squad fighting for its own NCAA bid. The crowd that suggested Wichita State would have been better off losing before the real madness begins overlooked this program’s hunger for an MVC tournament title after many disappointments in this city.
“Now that it’s all said and done,” guard Ron Baker said, “it’s a big relief. There was quite a bit of pressure on us, because it hasn’t happened in so many years.”
Relatively speaking, Indiana State put as much pressure on Wichita State as anyone had in a few weeks. After winning their first two tournament games by a combined 47 points, the Shockers found themselves clinging to a four-point lead with a little more than 13 minutes left.
But as they’ve done so often, they answered every thrust with a rally. Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton sank back-to-back 3-pointers to push the advantage back to double digits. The Sycamores pulled back within five points a few minutes later, but then Wichita State ripped off a 13-0 spurt to go up 68-50, and that was pretty much that.
“I didn’t have enough timeouts to stop their runs, but that’s what they do,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “If you turn it over, have any quick shot or lose it at one end, they put it in the basket at the other end. That’s why they’re undefeated. That’s why they’re hoisting the trophy.”
Even with leading scorer Early disappearing offensively in the second half and Baker uncharacteristically struggling with his shot (3-for-11 from the field, 0-for-6 on 3s), the Shockers didn't need to sweat. Point guard VanVleet, who focused mostly on distributing the ball during his first two tournament games, scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to tie a career high. Cotton, the Valley’s defensive player of the year whom opponents used to sag off, had 20 points and went 4-for-6 behind the arc en route to tourney MVP honors.
“People kind of sleep on that part of my game,” Cotton said of his improved jumper. “But my whole team and my coaches give me confidence to overcome that.”
Nobody will ride into the NCAA tournament with more momentum than these Shockers. For the first time in a while, they actually had to execute down the stretch Sunday to secure a victory. But, as VanVleet noted, “It shows how far you’ve come when somebody being within four or five points is a heck of a test for you.”
They will have nearly two weeks now to rest up, savor the accomplishment of going 34-0 and get ready for the next assignment. The odds are good that they will be back in St. Louis as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Good thing they exorcised some demons in this city.
“It would be something that we're comfortable with,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “There would not be any ‘Ooh, aah’ moments. I think we'd actually be staying, if we get the right seed, in the same hotel, which we're very comfortable with. We know the routine there. The breakfasts are very good.”
Going 34-0 brings certain expectations for the rest of the way, especially for a team whose schedule and conference have constantly been knocked. Wichita State got to the Final Four last season. Would anything less than 40-0 now qualify as a disappointment?
“I don’t think we have to win it all,” Early said. “But we want to win it all. We understand that a 34-0 season is just as rare as a Final Four, and what we’ve accomplished as a group is very special.
“Some people might say if we don’t win it all now it’s a failure. But those are people who can’t get past their own simple minds.”
Know this: Until the Shockers actually lose a game, it’s probably wise to hold off on printing any more completed brackets without them.
March, 9, 2014
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On the third floor of Maryland’s Comcast Center, a line of about 500 people wrapped around the concourse Sunday morning, fans clutching their game programs and other memorabilia, patiently waiting for autographs from former coach Gary Williams and former standout players Juan Dixon, Walt Williams and Tom McMillen.
Across from the autograph table, another crowd gathered to take pictures of a display of the 2004 ACC championship trophy.
On a day in which Maryland coach Mark Turgeon spoke of building his program for the future with a 75-69 overtime win over No. 5 Virginia -- an opponent the Terrapins have faced more than any other school -- it was impossible not to recognize the program’s past. Every seat in the arena was given a commemorative newspaper flyer with the number 61 on it, the number of years Maryland has been in the ACC. A raucous crowd was on hand to witness the Terps’ final home game in the conference before officially joining the Big Ten this summer.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said 13-year-old Tommy Jennings, decked out in Maryland colors from head to toe.
AP Photo/Nick WassMaryland fans stormed the court following the Terps' win over No. 5 Virginia.
Indeed, there were some rare moments.
It was an emotionally charged atmosphere that helped propel the Terps to a stunning upset, halting the Cavaliers’ 13-game winning streak and six straight wins against Maryland. Twice the students lined up to storm the court, only to be sent back to their seats as Virginia sent the game into overtime.
“Today wasn't just an ordinary game,” said Turgeon. “You can tell by the cameras in here. You can tell by the fans. It was a lot of things -- last ACC game, last regular-season game, Senior Day, playing a top-five team in the country that had already wrapped our league up. Just a tremendous team. We always play for Maryland, but today we played for former players, former coaches, all our fans. I made the comment today that there's probably a lot of Maryland fans who haven't watched all year that might have tuned in to watch because it's the last ACC game we ever play in.”
They made it one to remember.
Maryland shot 48 percent from the field and scored 32 points in the paint against the nation's top-ranked defense, which came into the game holding opponents to 54.8 points per game. The Terps have lost heartbreakers all season -- dropping three of their last five games by a total of eight points, including a 77-73 double-overtime loss at Clemson.
This time, they had some added motivation -- not to mention a definitive home-court advantage.
Gary Williams, whose trademark fist pump and sideline tirades became as well-known as the school colors, watched the game from a courtside seat across from the Virginia bench. Former player Steve Francis, wearing a green Len Bias Celtics jersey, Maryland Pride socks, a Maryland Pride hat, sunglasses and a gold chain, came late and was escorted to the sideline where he gave Williams a hug and sat next to him for a while.
Tahj Holden, a key player on Maryland’s 2002 national title team, was also there, along with Ernie Graham and Bob Bodell.
AP Photo/Nick WassSeth Allen, left, Evan Smotrycz and the Terps had plenty to celebrate Sunday.
Many fans described the day as “bittersweet.”
“It’s very weird,” said Eric Pilka, a 1975 graduate. “It’s kind of sad seeing the traditional rivalries with Duke, Virginia and North Carolina going by the wayside. It’s hard to get behind it. Not to disparage any of the Big Ten schools, but rivalries form over a long period of time and it’s going to be a while before we start looking towards the Maryland-Indiana game.”
Jen Claus, a 2007 graduate whose parents are season-ticket holders in both basketball and football, agreed.
“To me, it’s a very big deal because I grew up watching Maryland since I was 5 years old,” she said. “Leaving the ACC is a very sad experience for me. People think it will be a good move eventually, but everyone is very sad because the ACC is what you grew up with. It’s what you know. It’s home.”
It was home.
One student held up a “B1G” sign during the game, and another had one that read “ACC: Already Cashing Checks.”
The students aren’t na´ve; they know the reason behind the move.
“Financially, I think it’s going to be great for the school,” said senior Rick Henry, who plays the baritone in the pep band. “I know we’re in a lot of money trouble right now, having cut seven varsity sports last year. Honestly, I feel like a lot of the negativity is a little overblown, but it is sad because we’re a founding member and there are some emotional ties, but honestly I feel like any rivalry we have in the ACC is a one-way thing. Duke isn’t as interested in us as Carolina. I really think a clean start in the Big Ten is going to be good for us, and that TV is going to be great for all athletics and hopefully the students too.”
Time will tell how the program will fare in its new conference, but on Sunday, Maryland gave its fans something to celebrate now. With the win, the Terps have some positive momentum heading into its final ACC tournament, which begins Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.
“We’re trying to build something,” Turgeon said. “We have one senior. This will help us as we move forward.”
Saturday’s win over Virginia certainly helped the program put its past behind it.
March, 9, 2014
By C.L. Brown | ESPN.com
DURHAM, N.C. -- If Duke freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore Rodney Hood never play another game in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Blue Devils, they gave a performance worthy of a senior night send-off against North Carolina.
Parker scored a career-high 30 points and Hood added 24 -- which marked the first game in ACC play that both players surpassed 20 points -- as Duke beat the rival Tar Heels 93-81. Parker's 30 points were the second-most by a freshman in a Duke-North Carolina game, falling one short of Walter Davis' 31 for North Carolina in 1974.
Neither player has revealed their intentions regarding whether or not they’ll turn pro at the end of the season, but both showed why they’d be coveted by NBA teams as soon as they are ready to declare.
Parker and Hood were so dominant even teammate Rasheed Sulaimon confessed to being transfixed by the way they played.
“It’s crazy kind of watching that,” Sulaimon said. “You’re in the game, but at some point you’re kind of spectating as well when two great players like that just take over the game.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who donned a Duke pullover, and Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo were among the celebrities in the crowd, but it was quite clear who the stars were.
It’s long past the time when Hood can walk around town in anonymity. But after his performance in avenging the loss to the Heels, he can add a Cheshire grin.
“I got tired of walking through Durham with people screaming 'Carolina' at me when I walk through Walmart and stuff like that,” Hood said. “It was a big-time win, I’m just happy to keep the streak going.”
Duke moved its nation-best home win streak to 33 consecutive games by focusing on its best two players.
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJabari Parker and Rodney Hood joined forces for 54 points Saturday against North Carolina, their best performance as a duo in ACC play.
In the Blue Devils’ loss to Wake Forest, they got away from going to Parker and Hood in the game’s deciding minutes. Saturday, Duke determined its offense had to go through Parker and Hood to be effective.
“The Wake Forest game gave us a sense of urgency after losing,” Parker said. “We can’t do the same things that we’ve been doing so we had to change, and I think today we have. That’s all that matters is consistency from this point.”
Hood’s three-point play early in the second half sparked an 11-3 spurt that gave Duke all the separation it would need, as the Heels never got closer than eight points after that.
Parker drilled his only 3-pointer in the second half and kissed the fingers on his shooting hand as he ran back down the floor. The 19-point lead effectively helped the Blue Devils kiss North Carolina’s 12-game win streak goodbye.
“I just got lost in the game, they want to share my energy and emotion -- Coach is really big on that -- but not celebrating too much,” Parker said. “I kind of lost myself in the moment. That’s not exceptional: I just got to get my butt back on defense.”
But Parker was exceptional. Carolina tried just about everything it could to slow him down. James Michael McAdoo, who was the primary defender against Parker in their earlier meeting, was in foul trouble throughout.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Five different Tar Heels found themselves trying to defend Parker at some point, from 6-foot-9 forward Brice Johnson, whose reach was supposed to give Parker trouble, to 6-foot-5 forward J.P. Tokoto, whose quickness was supposed to keep Parker from getting in the lane.
Parker got the shots he wanted. During a sequence in the first half, Parker drove baseline past Leslie McDonald, rose over Johnson and made a floater just as Kennedy Meeks was swatting to try and block his shot.
“He was feeling it, he was in attack mode,” Hood said. “We expect more, to be honest. Like Coach said 30 is probably not enough.”
Hood was referring to points, but he easily could have referred to shots. Parker and Hood combined for 30 attempts, with no other Duke player taking more than eight shots. If nothing else, Saturday’s win proved that is the formula for the Blue Devils’ offense.
Parker and Hood need to be the ones leading the way.
“They are a duo that not many people, or nobody else, has,” Duke senior guard Tyler Thornton said.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams would agree. He used zone in the Heels’ win to slow the Blue Devils’ offense down. But Duke, which entered the game shooting 27 percent from 3-point range in its past four games, busted the zone from deep.
Parker and Hood combined for five of the team’s eight 3-pointers, including three of Duke's six in the second half. Whether inside or out, the pair was a problem for the Heels.
“Between Jabari and Rodney we really had trouble trying to figure out a way to try and stop them,” Williams said. “And we still didn’t figure it out.”
Duke even eliminated the one big advantage the Heels were supposed to have. Carolina got outrebounded 34-20, which marked its lowest rebound total since the 1987 ACC tournament championship against N.C. State.
Parker, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, contributed to the Heels' misery in that area, too. With Carolina trailing by 11 with two minutes left, Duke finally missed a free throw (it shot 23-of-27 in the second half), but Parker got the rebound, was fouled and made a pair of free throws. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Parker scored 10 second-chance points.
Carolina shot 59.6 percent from the field. It was the first time during Williams' tenure that his team lost when shooting better than 50 percent. During those prior 141 games, the Tar Heels never faced a duo that was as on their game as Parker and Hood were Saturday.
“We’re a completely different team offensively I think; it’s so difficult to guard both of us at the same time,” Hood said. “Then you have guys like Andre [Dawkins], 'Sheed [Sulaimon], Quinn [Cook] that can chip in like that, we can score in the 80s, 90s every game.”
Saturday, the last full day of regular-season college hoops, was a grand affair. We had overtime and history-making matchups and buzzer-beaters and memorable Senior Nights.
And the NCAA tournament hasn’t even started.
It’s probably best to recap this day according to its most significant numbers:
3,000: Bill Walton won two national championships with UCLA. Lew Alcindor won three national titles for the Bruins. J.J. Redick shattered records at Duke during his time there. Ralph Sampson won three consecutive Naismith player of the year awards at Virginia. Sampson, Alcindor and Walton are three of the greatest athletes who ever played at the collegiate level. But none of the aforementioned four players scored 3,000 points in their respective careers. Now, it’s only fair to note that eligibility limits blocked freshmen from competing with the varsity squads then and the 3-point line wasn’t available, either.
None of that diminishes what Doug McDermott has accomplished, however, as the senior forward became just the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 career points. He reached that historic tally on a 3-pointer with 11:27 to play in Creighton’s 88-73 win over Providence on Saturday. He finished with 45 points total and 3,011 for his career to date.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikCreighton's Doug McDermott because just the eighth player to score more than 3,000 career points.
4: Iowa State and Oklahoma State have had two battles this season. And after Saturday’s thriller, the Cyclones can claim both victories over the Pokes, but they needed four overtimes to get there. The first game, a 98-97 win for Iowa State, demanded triple overtime in Stillwater. Naz Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to drag Saturday’s game into the extra period in Ames, where Iowa State secured the 85-81 victory in the rematch.
41: Remember that stuff about Andrew Wiggins not being aggressive enough? Well, that’s so 2013. The freshman, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has been one of America’s best players in recent months. Proof? He dropped a career-high 41 points in Kansas’ 92-86 loss at West Virginia. At one point in the game, the Mountaineers had a 64-39 lead. But the Jayhawks, who were missing Joel Embiid, had a chance in the end. Yes, Kansas suffered a loss, which doesn’t help its argument for a top seed. But Wiggins produced the second-highest point total for a freshman in Big 12 history, per ESPN Stats & Information. That’s impressive.
18-0: Kentucky made things interesting for a moment. But the Wildcats couldn’t handle Florida’s full onslaught in the Gators’ 84-65 victory in Gainesville, a win that gave Florida a perfect 18-0 record in conference play. The Gators are the first team in SEC history to finish a year with 18 wins, per ESPN Stats & Information. The win also extended Florida’s winning streak to 23 games.
13: In the final home game of his career at Louisville, Russ “Russdiculous” Smith decided to let his teammates shine. He dished out a career-high 13 assists during an 81-48 Senior Night win over UConn.
1: With Cincinnati topping Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn, the American Athletic Conference had a problem. The Bearcats and Cardinals split the league title so the conference used a coin flip to finalize the top seed in next week’s AAC tourney. The winner? Cincinnati. "I requested that Coach Pitino and I play one game of liar's poker," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin joked to reporters after the game. “We used to do that all the time -- for fun, obviously.”
7 minutes, 32 seconds: That’s how long Arizona went without a field goal in the second half of a 64-57 road loss to Oregon, which snapped the Wildcats' five-game winning streak. That drought helped the Ducks seize a commanding lead via their 17-5 run.
73 seconds: That’s how much time remained in the game when Glenn Robinson III hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in Michigan's 84-80 win over Indiana.
33: Wins for undefeated Wichita State after Saturday’s 67-42 victory over Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney semifinals. The Shockers are just the third team in Division I history to achieve a 33-0 mark, per ESPN Stats & Information.
30: Jabari Parker's career high in a 93-81 win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor (most points by a Duke freshman in a matchup against North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information), which gave Duke 33 consecutive home wins -- a Division I-high that the Blue Devils currently share with Stephen F. Austin.
2007: Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the Ohio Valley tourney title game. The Colonels became the second team to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament this season. And they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2007.
March, 8, 2014
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
ST. LOUIS -- The best and maybe only chance of someone knocking off Wichita State in the early rounds of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament would have involved the Shockers seizing up from the pressure of remaining undefeated.
So, yeah, about that ...
Wichita State hasn't shrunk from the moment one iota. In fact, it somehow appears to have grown even stronger. The Shockers blew the doors off Missouri State 67-42 in Saturday’s semifinals at the Scottrade Center. In their first two tournament games here, they've won by a total of 47 points.
On Saturday, they led by as many as 38 in the second half before coach Gregg Marshall emptied his bench. For a team whose motto is “Play Angry,” Wichita State sure had fun posing after dunks and chest-bumping one another.
Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsAt 33-0 on the season, Cleanthony Early and the Shockers will be a "very, very tough out" in the NCAA tournament, according to coach Gregg Marshall.
“That was one of our better-played games of the year,” sophomore guard Ron Baker said. “I’d say our excitement out on the court was the best it’s been all year. We’re just playing relaxed and trying to have fun.”
Basketball is pretty fun when you never lose. Wichita State became just the third Division I team in history to win its first 33 games in a season, tying Larry Bird’s 1978-79 Indiana State Sycamores for the second-best start of all time. Coincidentally, the Shockers will face Indiana State, the No. 2 seed in this event, on Sunday for the MVC tournament title and a chance to join 1990-91 UNLV as the only teams to start 34-0.
Some of their spurts against Missouri State would have made those old Runnin’ Rebels proud. Wichita State went on a 17-0 run during the first half and then eclipsed that with a 24-0 blitzkrieg during a nine-minute second-half span.
“We've had a lot of good runs this year, but I feel like that was one of the best,” senior forward Chadrack Lufile said. “It was special to see us really execute, really play defense and dive for the ball regardless how much we were up. We’re still hungry. I feel like that’s our mentality.”
This was the same Missouri State team that gave the Shockers their biggest scare of the conference season, taking a 19-point lead on Jan. 11 in Springfield before eventually falling in overtime. But Wichita State beat the Bears by 23 points at home in the regular-season finale a week ago and delivered an even worse beating in the third meeting.
The Shockers are very nearly upset-proof because of their consistent defensive and rebounding effort. Or as Missouri State’s Christian Kirk put it, “It’s hard to catch them off their guard because they’re always on their guard.”
They also share the ball and work for good shots on offense, and on Saturday they made eight of 10 3-pointers in the first half, with the only two misses coming on desperate heaves to beat the shot clock. Cleanthony Early, the team’s best post presence, and Tekele Cotton, known mostly as a defensive stopper, each hit three shots from behind the arc. Wichita State was shooting close to 70 percent in the second half before finishing on a cold spell with its subs on the floor.
“If we can shoot it like this for as long as we can continue playing, we’ll be a very, very tough out,” Marshall said.
Marshall calmly sipped from a water cup most of the second half, needing to offer his team little in the way of guidance. He never called a timeout.
“It’s a fun team to watch,” he said. “It’s a fun team to coach. It’s a fun team to be around. Who can find fault with 33-0?”
Marshall has instructed his team to view this tournament weekend as a three-game season and not to think about the undefeated streak. His team likely secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament simply by getting to Sunday at Arch Madness. But the Shockers really want to cut the nets down here; the program hasn't won the MVC tourney since 1987, despite being the first or second seed seven times since 2005.
“Our fans deserve it,” Baker said. “They've waited a long time.”
The pressure of that drought and the streak will be in play Sunday. But don't expect that to affect this bunch.
“We want to go out there and make history,” Lufile said. “Every game is history right now, I feel like. And there’s no stopping us now.”