College Basketball Nation: Big East
NEW YORK -- New Big East, same old Madness.
Less than 24 hours into the 2014 Big East tournament, we’ve already had two stunning upsets and lost the top seed.
On Wednesday night, Georgetown was defeated by DePaul for the first time in 20 years. On Thursday afternoon, No. 3-ranked Villanova fell to Seton Hall 64-63 on a buzzer-beater by sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs.
For Seton Hall, it’s the first win in school history against a team ranked in the top three in the Associated Press poll. The Pirates had been 0-30 against such teams.
Seton Hall had just 15 hours to rest and prepare for Villanova following its 51-50 victory over Butler on Wednesday night.
Perhaps the short turnaround helped. Villanova trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half before scoring the final six to make it 34-26 at intermission. The Wildcats shot 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) and missed seven free throws in the first half.
A 16-0 Villanova run fueled by several open-court steals and scores put the Wildcats back in front with just more than eight minutes remaining. But the Pirates did not fold. The game came down to the final minute, when the lead changed hands four times.
Josh Hart's layup with 41 seconds to play put Villanova up 61-59. Freshman Jaren Sina buried a 3-pointer from the corner 20 seconds later to give Seton Hall a 62-61 lead.
Darrun Hilliard's floater in the lane rolled in with 11 seconds left, pushing the Wildcats back ahead 63-62. And then Gibbs hit the biggest shot of them all -- a step-back jumper from the top of the key as time expired.
“It was supposed to get in my hands, and I was supposed to create a shot for my teammates or create a shot for myself,” Gibbs said. “I just stepped back and hit the jumper.”
Seton Hall finished the regular season in eighth place in the 10-team Big East but has played nine games decided by a single point this season, going 4-5. The Pirates also have two three-point losses, one in overtime and the other in double overtime.
“One of the referees told me the other night, he said he’s never seen a team go through what we’ve gone through and still come back and play hard every night,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. “I just think it’s the character of these guys.”
The new Big East now has its first signature moment, and Seton Hall has a berth in the Big East tourney semifinals for the first time since 2001. The Pirates will play either No. 4 seed Providence or No. 5 seed St. John’s on Friday.
Seton Hall was swept by St. John's in the regular season, but both losses were by -- you guessed it! -- one point. The Pirates split with the Friars, winning by one in double overtime and then losing by five.
“I really thought if we could get past Butler, we could beat anybody,” Willard said. “I was really scared about getting past Butler. It’s a tough matchup for us. They defend really well on us, and I thought if we could get past them, we could get some momentum and just keep going.”
Villanova, whose three previous losses this season came against ranked teams Syracuse and Creighton (twice), is still projected to be a No. 1 seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi -- as of now. But that could change as the rest of Championship Week unfolds.
“This was not about 1-seeds, 2-seeds,” Wright said. “This was about we wanted to come to Madison Square Garden and win the Big East tournament. Winning the Big East tournament would mean much more to us than a 1-seed.
“This is a great tournament. We want to be here until Saturday. I think we’re more disappointed about that. The NCAA tournament seedings? My belief is 1, 2, 3 -- it doesn’t matter that much. You’re going to play great teams.”
In the coming weeks, the Associated Press will make Doug McDermott a member of its All-America first team. The senior star, who topped 3,000 points with a 45-point effort in a win over Providence on Saturday, will become the first player to earn that honor in three consecutive seasons since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing did it in the 1980s.
When McDermott announced that he was returning for his senior season, most expected him to put up big numbers and make Creighton a contender for the championship in the new Big East. And that’s exactly what happened.
The rest of the season? Mostly unexpected.
Marquette was the preseason pick to win the conference but Buzz Williams’ crew (79th in the RPI) finished in the middle of the pack and will need a conference tournament championship to earn a bid a year after reaching the Elite Eight.
Villanova might warrant a No. 1 seed after surprising the country with its rise to the top of the conference. And a bunch of teams are on the bubble.
It’s all a great setup to a tournament for a league that’s already had its share of drama.
What’s at stake?
During the Big East’s media day in New York in October, commissioner Val Ackerman announced plans to turn the conference into a power league. But she wasn’t speaking of the future. Ackerman expected early results.
The Big East won’t be judged by the postseason alone, but conference tournaments are significant platforms, especially for leagues seeking more national relevance. Plus, the Big East tournament will be played at Madison Square Garden. That helps. Or hurts. It depends on what happens.
While it’s still too early to fully assess the Big East, sending two or three teams to the NCAA tournament wouldn’t exactly make the immediate splash that Ackerman anticipated and desired.
A Creighton-Villanova title game is probably the most appealing matchup to TV folks. It’s not, however, the most significant game in the field.
The Bluejays and Wildcats are playing for higher seeds, not berths.
But Xavier could remove all doubts about its postseason destination with a win over Marquette in Thursday’s quarterfinals. There wouldn’t be any concerns about Chris Mack’s Musketeers if they topped Creighton for the second time this season in the semifinals Friday.
Xavier isn't the only nervous team in this mix, though.
St. John’s, Providence and Georgetown are on the bubble, too. All three are ranked in the 50s of the RPI.
St. John’s is 1-7 against the RPI’s top 50 teams. Georgetown is 5-6 and Providence is 2-6.
Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup between St. John’s and Providence could be a win-or-go-to-the-NIT game.
The Big East tournament has always been entertaining. The reconfigured Big East doesn’t possess the same potency as the former version. That doesn’t mean, however, that this group won’t put on a show.
“There’s no doubt the eyes of the basketball world and the eyes of others in college sports are definitely on the Big East,” Ackerman said in New York during the league’s media day. “I think everybody in our league uses that as a source of motivation.”
Team with the most to gain
Georgetown owns the No. 9 strength of schedule. Plus, the Hoyas have wins over Kansas State, VCU and Michigan State. That helps.
But an 8-10 record in conference play and a nonconference loss to Northeastern (11-21) does not. Same goes for two losses to Seton Hall (6-12 in the Big East). Markel Starks & Co. have the most to gain and lose in the Big East tournament.
If the Hoyas lose to DePaul in the first round, they’ll probably warrant an invitation … to the NIT. But a win over DePaul would set up a matchup with Creighton in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
This is a tournament of extremes for John Thompson III’s program. So much is on the line.
It’s March. Championship Week begins Friday, and we’re less than two weeks away from the Big Dance.
We’ll probably see a multitude of thrillers, overtime games and clutch performances in the coming weeks. At least, we hope we will.
With the game on the line, these players should have the ball in their hands.
Here’s a list of America’s most clutch performers:
- Sean Kilpatrick: Cincinnati’s defense has been critical in the Bearcats’ rise to the top of the American Athletic Conference. But Kilpatrick has been the offensive catalyst for a team that’s struggled from the field this season. He’s arguably the top shooting guard in America, and his 34-point effort in Thursday’s 97-84 win over Memphis was his 17th performance this season with 20 points or more.
- Shabazz Napier: This list wouldn’t be valid without Napier. The senior guard has been clutch throughout his career at UConn. He’s always confident with the ball in his hands during big games. The legend continued when he hit the game-winning shot over Florida in December. He’s averaging 18.1 PPG, 5.3 APG and 1.9 SPG, along with shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. He’s always ready to show up down the stretch.
- Russ Smith: He’s still “Russdiculous.” Sometimes Smith can lose control and force shots, but he rarely shrinks under the spotlight. The senior star just keeps rolling, even on his worst nights. Against Cincy on Feb. 22, he’d missed seven of nine field goals when he caught the rock in the final seconds. He hit the shot, beat the buzzer and won the game for Louisville. The shot alone was impressive, but Smith’s ability to move on to the next play and help his team is rare.
- Tyler Ennis: Yep, Syracuse is struggling. But prior to this 1-4 stretch, Ennis was probably the most dependable player in America in the final minutes of a game. Through Feb. 12, he was 8-for-9 from the field and 14-for-14 from the charity stripe with a 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in the final five minutes of the second half and overtime, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That’s a ridiculous stat line that illustrates Ennis’ reliability in crucial moments for the Orange this season.
- Doug McDermott: Perhaps a list like this has to feature a senior who is on the verge of scoring 3,000 points for his career and earning his third consecutive Associated Press first-team All-America honors (he’ll be the first player since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing in the 1980s to complete that feat). McDermott is also shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line this season and averaging 25.9 PPG.
- Traevon Jackson: Wisconsin’s veteran guard can’t match the accolades that other players on this list boast. But whenever the Badgers are in a tight spot toward the end of a game, Bo Ryan usually turns to Jackson, the son of former Ohio State and NBA standout Jim Jackson. Sure, Jackson has missed a few late, but he’s also nailed clutch shots during his time in Madison. He beat Minnesota and Penn State last season with shots in the closing seconds. And his most recent heartbreaker was a last-second dagger that finished Michigan State last month.
- T.J. Warren: His blood type? Ice. The 6-foot-8 sophomore plays on a Wolfpack squad that won’t crack the NCAA tournament field without an ACC tourney championship. But he has put together some of the season’s most magnificent performances. His 41 points (16-for-22) in a 74-67 victory at Pittsburgh Monday probably opened some eyes, but he has scored 30 or more eight times this season.
- Billy Baron: There is only one player with a higher offensive rating (125.2) than Doug McDermott, per Ken Pomeroy. That’s Baron. But Canisius fans knew that already. Last season, Baron hit a 3-pointer toward the end of regulation to force overtime in a win at Youngstown State in the CIT, capping a comeback from a 45-28 halftime deficit. This season, Baron put together a late barrage during a 40-point night that lifted Canisius to a triple-overtime win versus Siena.
- Jermaine Marshall: Arizona State wouldn’t be in the NCAA tourney conversation without the Penn State transfer. He hit big shots in overtime during ASU’s win over rival Arizona last month. In January, Arizona State beat California in overtime after Marshall’s 3-pointer forced the extra period. He hit clutch free throws in a win over Oregon a few days later, too. The senior doesn’t have much time left and is playing with a sense of urgency, an attitude that has helped the Sun Devils compete for an at-large bid.
- Nik Stauskas: The versatile sophomore has fueled Michigan’s run to the Big Ten title. He’s averaging 17.3 PPG in a season that could end with All-America and Big Ten Player of the Year honors. His teammates can trust him with the game on the line. In January, two clutch performances stood out. Stauskas helped the Wolverines secure a road win over Minnesota Jan. 2 after Glenn Robinson III missed the second half with an ankle injury. Two weeks later, he knocked down a 3-pointer in the final minutes to help the Wolverines hold on to their lead in a win at Wisconsin.
If the NCAA tournament comes anything close to what we witnessed during Tuesday night’s slate of 7 p.m. games, we’ll have a fulfilling end to the college basketball season.
This closing week of the regular season felt like the opening weekend of the tournament with upsets that will potentially upset the tournament bubble. A must-win for Georgetown ended with a 75-63 victory over No. 13 Creighton. A must-win for Baylor ended with a 74-61 triumph over No. 16 Iowa State. Georgia Tech contributed to the downward spiral of No. 7 Syracuse by pulling off a 67-62 upset.
No. 1 Florida and No. 25 Kentucky both needed second-half awakenings before pulling away for their respective wins.
No. 12 Michigan was the only team than made the outcome totally boring. The Wolverines secured the Big Ten title outright by pummeling Illinois 84-53.
Baylor and Georgetown played with the desperation of teams needing to solidify their résumés. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Bears in as an 11-seed before beating Iowa State. Tuesday’s win should just solidify their standing -- especially if they end the regular season with a win at Kansas State to reach .500 in Big 12 play.
Brady Heslip broke a 61-61 tie with his fifth 3-pointer of the second half and the Bears never trailed again.
Georgetown’s win over the Bluejays propels it into Saturday’s regular-season finale with another opportunity to impress the committee at No. 6 Villanova. The hot-shooting Hoyas jumped on Creighton from the beginning en route to shooting 54 percent from the field.
It was the defensive job they did on Creighton’s Doug McDermott that keyed their win. Though McDermott did score 22 points, he needed 23 shots to get there. The Hoyas held him to just six points on 3-of-10 shooting as they built a 42-28 lead at halftime.
McDermott got hot in the second half and led a charge that cut a 16-point deficit down to five with 1:34 left. But the Hoyas made five of six free throws and Creighton couldn’t muster another basket to close the game.
Syracuse’s fall from being a potential No. 1 seed in the tournament appears to be complete unless it can turn things around quickly. That doesn’t seem likely as the Orange lost for the fourth time in five games and suffered their second setback to a team in the lowest third of the ACC.
The Yellow Jackets were a perfect senior night opponent having entered the Carrier Dome as losers of their past four. But they were in control most of the game against a Syracuse offense that again struggled to score.
C.J. Fair delivered 28 points and Tyler Ennis added 18, but no other Syracuse player reached double figures. Guard Trevor Cooney went 3-for-12 from the field -- including just 1-of-7 from 3-point range -- and finished with seven points.
The Orange sorely missed the presence of sophomore forward Jerami Grant, who is nursing a back injury and did not dress out for the game. Grant averages 11.8 points and is their leading rebounder with 6.7 rebounds.
The loss dropped Syracuse one step closer to a full scale panic. Kentucky nearly joined them.
The Wildcats trailed Alabama 28-25 and were flirting with their first three-game losing streak in five years. Tied at 32-32 in the second half, they used a 9-2 spurt to take the lead for good en route to a 55-48 win.
It wasn’t an overwhelming show of strength for the Cats. They shot just 32 percent from the field, including a 1-for-11 outing by James Young, but they showed fortitude they didn’t have in the loss at South Carolina. Julius Randle's 11 rebounds powered a 41-27 advantage for Kentucky, which helped it outscore Bama 18-3 in second chance points.
No. 1 Florida made upset-minded South Carolina believe that it was headed toward paying another SEC fine. The Gamecocks knocked off Kentucky on Saturday leading their crowd to rush the court after the game. That drew a $25,000 fine from the league for violation of policy and another violation would have upped the ante to $50,000.
The Gators led just 28-26 at halftime and by four points at the under-12 media timeout. The Gamecocks’ confidence seemed to be rising with each minute they remained close, but Michael Frazier II put an end to that.
Frazier already had five 3-pointers in the half. He made six more over the game’s final 11 minutes, including his first of those six that ignited a 15-0 run en route to a 72-46 win. Frazier set a new school record with his 11 3-pointers, beating Joe Lawrence’s mark of nine set on Dec. 27, 1986. He also scored a career-high 37 points.
The Illini never really had a chance against Michigan. They held their previous four opponents to less than 50 points. The Wolverines scored 52 in the first half. They bombarded Illinois by shooting 11-of-14 from 3-point range and 67.9 percent overall from the field.
The win secured Michigan’s first outright Big Ten title since 1986. The Wolverines were the only ranked team that seemingly were never seriously challenged on Tuesday. That’s why, although the tournament is still two weeks away, the madness has already started.
The Villanova Wildcats have lost exactly three games this season. One of those games was at Syracuse. The other two losses came to Creighton.
The latter two, as you know, weren’t just losses; they were thrashings. The first, a 96-68 Bluejays win Jan. 20, came in Philadelphia, set all kinds of records and led to countless unconfirmed cases of the rare and mysterious “Bluejay meltface syndrome” -- or “BMS,” as we in the scientific community refer to it.
The second, on Sunday, wasn’t much better: Creighton scored 101 points on 69 possessions. National player of the year lock Doug McDermott submitted virtually the perfect offensive night (39 points, 13-of-17 from the field, 9-of-9 from the line). Jay Wright spent most of his news conference calling McDermott the best all-around player he’d ever seen. It was less a conference clash than a coronation.
On Tuesday night, in their 82-79 win at Providence, the Wildcats stuck to the script.
Just two days after that trip to Omaha, Wright’s team bounced with a road win in double overtime. It was an impressive, physical, hard-fought, high-level bounce-back of a victory -- a lot like the impressive, physical, hard-fought, high-level victory Villanova bounced back with the last time it lost to Creighton.
The only difference was the stakes -- what Villanova’s win means for the team it beat the second time around.
Let’s be blunt: Providence desperately needed this win. With one month left until Selection Sunday, the Friars are the walking amalgam of a team on the bubble, with every win or loss -- especially big marquee chances like Villanova at home -- could measure out the balance of their season. In the weeks to come, you’ll hear a lot of vague things about a lot of teams being “on the bubble.” Truth is, most of them won’t be. Most will be fine. But there is a select group of teams -- maybe 20 or 25 -- mired in the bubble tar pits. For the next month, they will clamber over one another in increasingly desperate ways. And Providence, whom BracketoloJoe Lunardi placed among his last four byes Monday, is down there scrapping it out with them.
The Friars played like it Tuesday night. Bryce Cotton -- maybe the most underrated player in college basketball -- played all 50 minutes. No player in the country plays a higher percentage of his team’s available minutes than Cotton, and no one with his tidy assist-to-turnover ratio comes close. He finished the game with 22 points, nine assists, six rebounds and a host of huge buckets -- a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of the first overtime, another late in the second, a baseline-hesitation reverse layup that momentarily resembled a much smaller Michael Jordan.
Cotton led a group of players beset by injuries all season for every minute of an all-out effort. The Friars took an early first-half lead, squandered it, then closed a five-point deficit in the final 1:44. They were locked in defensively. Coach Ed Cooley was working the sideline, working refs. The crowd was great. Every overtime possession was hard-fought.
The last two possessions decided the game.
With the game tied 79-79 and six seconds left, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono drove left, earned a foul, and finished the play -- the same shot he missed horribly with zero contact at the end of the first OT. After Arcidiacono made the resulting free throw, Providence was impeccably prepared. In the matter of two seconds, Cotton inbounded the ball to midcourt, got a quick pass back, then whipped it up the sideline to a wide-wide-open LaDontae Henton. Henton had an extra second to mess with; he had a great, rhythm look. The Dunkin Donuts Center crested. And then the shot rimmed short. It was a heartbreaking way to lose.
It was also -- not that you needed to tell anyone in the Dunkin -- a major missed opportunity. The Friars have now dropped five of their past seven, including losses to Marquette, St. John’s, Xavier and Georgetown. Their nonconference schedule is a blemish on a profile which main strength is its Jan. 18 win over Creighton. Adding a win over the Big East’s other marquee opponent would have been massive. Now the Friars have road games at Butler and Seton Hall before finishing versus Marquette and -- and this might be their best last chance -- at Creighton on March 8. It would be a shame to see a player as good and reliable as Cotton miss out on the NCAA tournament in his final season, but that’s the risk Providence faces.
For Villanova? Well, no big deal. The Wildcats had seen the other side of a Creighton demolition before, and on Tuesday night they responded to the second one in a month with another gutty, well-earned road win against a team with everything on the line.
If you’re the Bluejays, it seems, Wright’s team is no sweat. If you’re someone else? Look out.
Well, Wichita State stayed undefeated after securing a win over Northern Iowa, but most predicted that.
Larry Brown is in the national coach of the year conversation nearly 30 years after winning the national title with Kansas. That SMU win over Cincinnati was a major step for Brown’s program.
I was surprised by Iowa’s stand against Michigan. Memphis came from behind and then stayed strong late against a Gonzaga team that stopped playing defense in the last five minutes. Traevon Jackson hit a game winner for Wisconsin against Michigan State.
Just the typical mid-February chaos.
This weekend, however, is a bit more difficult to assess.
But I’ll do my best.
Last week: 4-1
VCU at No. 12 Saint Louis, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Remember VCU? Well, the Rams got lost on the national scene for a few reasons. They didn’t get off to the dazzling start many had anticipated with the talent that Shaka Smart brought back, including leading scorer Treveon Graham. The Rams still wreak havoc on defense (no team in America forces more turnovers per possession than VCU, according to Ken Pomeroy). But this is one of America’s most mysterious offensive groups. Smart’s squad has shot 41.3 percent from the field in conference play (11th in the league). The Rams have the Atlantic 10’s top scoring offense (77.3 PPG), but they’re 101st in adjusted offensive efficiency (according to Pomeroy). Saint Louis is much easier to figure out. Jim Crews’ squad has been flawless since a Dec. 1 home loss to 26-0 Wichita State. The Billikens are third in adjusted defensive efficiency. Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett are a potent pair on both ends of the floor, but they haven’t faced an offense like this.
Prediction: VCU 60, SLU 56
No. 3 Florida at No. 14 Kentucky, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: For weeks, Florida has looked like a bored team just itching to play an opponent that can truly give it a fight for 40 minutes. The Gators have won 16 in a row and are 7-2 against the BPI’s top 50. Since a December stretch that included a loss to Connecticut and wins over Memphis and Kansas, however, they’ve played only two teams in the BPI’s top 50 (Missouri and Tennessee) and zero in the top 25. Florida is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but Billy Donovan’s program hasn’t been tested in a month. Literally. That’s not its fault. The SEC is bad. The Gators can’t control that, but this is a sharp turn from what it has dealt with in league play. Fighting on the road against a Kentucky team that has that next-level ability when it’s focused -- and I assume John Calipari’s team will be focused for a huge matchup -- will not be an easy affair. Plus, the Wildcats have the edge in offensive rebounding rate (43.2 percent to 37.5 percent) and free throw rate (54.8 percent to 45.5 percent), per ESPN Stats & Info. Turnover rate, however, will be more important. The last time Florida (24th in defensive turnover rate) played a young, athletic team with ballhandling challenges (Kentucky is 113th nationally in offensive turnover rate), Kansas left Gainesville. Fla., with a loss. Expect the same result in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday.
Prediction: Florida 87, Kentucky 84
No. 20 Memphis at No. 24 UConn, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: In the first meeting, DeAndre Daniels was a monster. He finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in UConn’s 83-73 win in Memphis. Shaq Goodwin scored 10 points (4-for-9) in that game. The rematch will once again focus on the two big men inside. Both programs field comparable backcourts. Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Lasan Kromah can play with any backcourt in the country, but Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon Jr. can, too. Any of the aforementioned guards could go big and carry his respective squad to the win, but Daniels and Goodwin could be the difference-makers. Will be the difference-makers. If Goodwin doesn’t match Daniels and contain him with stingy defense, then the veteran big man will have another huge night for UConn. But Goodwin learned from that game. He’s been fearless in recent weeks, the sign of a young player who recognizes his significance to Josh Pastner’s plans.
Prediction: Memphis 75, UConn 70
No. 6 Villanova at No. 18 Creighton, 5 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1:
On Thursday night, the wonderful minds at ESPN Stats & Info distributed an email titled "A Complete Breakdown of Doug McDermott's Scoring (Through Feb. 13)" shortly after the national player of the year frontrunner -- and it’s not close right now -- scored 26 points (11-for-19) and hit a late 3-pointer in Creighton’s 68-63 win at Butler. That memo included stats like this one: "Doug McDermott has 2,824 career points, 15th all time in Division I history. He is averaging a career-high 25.3 points per game this season." By the end of this season, McDermott should be one of the 10 greatest scorers in Division I history. Think about that. But he wasn’t the guy who torched Villanova in the first game. Ethan Wragge was 9-for-14 from the 3-point line in a 96-68 win over Villanova last month. He’s a 49 percent shooter from beyond the arc, but he’s made eight of 22 since that breathtaking display, so maybe Creighton’s 21 conference record-setting 3s against Villanova last month were an anomaly. The problem is that Creighton (39 percent from the 3-point line) gets hot often and Villanova just hasn’t done a great job of defending against the Bluejays’ best weapon (Big East teams shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line against Villanova). Another loss for Jay Wright’s crew in Omaha, Neb.
Prediction: Creighton 77, Villanova 72
No. 21 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: This is an interesting game for so many reasons. It’s a battle between a Michigan team that’s tied with Michigan State atop the Big Ten and a Wisconsin team that has to build momentum for a strong finish to keep Bo Ryan’s streak of top-four finishes in the league alive. In recent weeks, both teams have shown some of their flaws. Michigan is an offensive turbo-engine (No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy) that’s 18-2 when it registers a 105.0 offensive rating, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But, Big Ten player of the year candidate Nik Stauskas struggled during a recent 1-2 stretch for Michigan. Wisconsin has always been a stubborn defensive team, and the Badgers have gone from the 90s to the 40s in recent weeks in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. But they were No. 1 last season. Both teams are regaining their stride entering this game. Wisconsin, however, will stumble on the road.
Prediction: Michigan 64, Wisconsin 60
Bubbles can burst well before Selection Sunday.
And it’s that part of the schedule when it’s time for teams to make their closing arguments. Some will be haunted by wins they couldn’t claim or by taking losses they couldn’t afford. Others will be thankful for their NCAA tournament bids because of wins during their final regular-season push.
Minnesota’s 64-57 loss at Wisconsin certainly wasn’t a make-or-break game for the Gophers. Their body of work thus far should have them in the tournament. But they can’t afford to rest solely on what they’ve done to this point.
Since beating then-No. 9 Wisconsin at home on Jan. 22, the Gophers have lost four of their past five. With six games left, including consecutive games at Ohio State, Iowa at home and at Michigan, there’s still work to be done.
For starters, the Gophers could use a little more consistency. They had eight first-half turnovers, which helped the Badgers erase an early seven-point deficit and instead made Minnesota play catchup the rest of the game.
Colorado will get credit for how well it played earlier in the season including its marquee win over Kansas. But the Buffaloes’ record since senior guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending knee injury against Washington will also be considered.
They missed a chance to bolster their post-Dinwiddie resume by losing at UCLA 92-74. It seems the rash of injuries has caught up to Colorado. In addition to Dinwiddie, guard Tre'Shaun Fletcher is still out with a knee injury and forward Wesley Gordon missed a second game with a sprained ankle.
The Buffaloes had shown signs of improvement with Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson each picking up the slack scoring. But they couldn’t keep up with UCLA, which made eight of its first 12 3-point attempts en route to a 56-point outburst in the second half.
The loss to the Bruins snapped a three-game win streak, which all came at home. The Buffs close with four of their last six games on the road, including at Stanford and at California. But their home finale -- and last regular-season chance to make a splash -- is against No. 2 Arizona.
Missouri and Arkansas entered Thursday in similar positions. The Tigers squeezed by with an 86-85 win over the Razorbacks thanks to 25 points from Jabari Brown, including the game-winning jump hook.
The irony was Brown was trying to give the ball to Jordan Clarkson, who had a game-high 27 points, in the backcourt. Clarkson was heavily guarded by Mardracus Wade so Brown advanced the ball while Clarkson stayed behind. It was essentially a game of four-on-four when Brown took Rashad Madden one-on-one and scored in the paint.
Madden led five Arkansas scorers in double figures with a team-high 17 points but had a rough final 30 seconds. He had a turnover with a chance to put the Razorbacks up three with 23.9 seconds left. He had the final attempt, a running bank shot, that was too strong as time expired with both teams scrambling for a loose ball and Madden injured from a collision.
Arkansas is just 1-5 on the road this season, but will get LSU at home before the rematch at Kentucky to try and strengthen its case for a bid. Missouri, listed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as one of the first four out of the tournament, simply survives to Saturday when it will be tested all over again against Tennessee.
St. John’s could have been the biggest winner of the night simply by avoiding a bad loss. The Red Storm are trying to make a late charge into the NCAA tournament. They’ve won seven of their past eight games with the only loss a 63-60 heartbreaker to Creighton.
Their 68-67 win at Seton Hall came down to a 40.7 percent free throw shooter giving them the lead with 2.1 seconds left.
Center Chris Obekpa not only delivered the game-winning point in the clutch, he then swatted the ensuing inbounds pass that ran the clock down to 0.1 seconds, ensuring the Pirates would not have enough time to get a shot off.
St. John’s first win at Seton Hall since Feb. 15, 1998 came with great timing. It allowed the Red Storm to pull to .500 in the Big East and, more important, keeps their tournament hopes alive.
The answer is yes. It wasn’t particularly impressive, but the buzz about the Red Storm will only increase after their 68-67 win at Seton Hall on Thursday -- even if just a couple hundred fans were in the building to witness it due to a nasty nor’easter.
St. John’s (16-9) has climbed from 0-5 in the Big East to 6-6 in the span of just three weeks, and now practically anything seems possible.
“This team is a special bunch,” guard D’Angelo Harrison said, “and we’re finding ways to win.”
They found a way Thursday despite a brutal first half in which the team eclipsed its turnover average (10.2) with 11 in just 20 minutes. Seton Hall had a 9-3 advantage on the offensive glass, a 14-5 edge in second-chance points, and led 38-33 at the break -- despite being without two starters, swingman Brian Oliver and power forward Gene Teague, who were suspended by coach Kevin Willard for attitude problems.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said it was the worst his team had looked since their first half at Georgetown on Jan. 4, when the Red Storm trailed 42-16 at intermission.
“It was a group of zombies that I didn’t recognize,” Lavin said, “because for over a month now we’ve been in a really good way and on a good path of progress and playing together as a team.”
St. John’s played better in the second half, but the game was still tied at 67 in the final minute. Seton Hall guard Fuquan Edwin, who scored a game-high 25 points, missed a decent look from the top of the key with 27 seconds remaining.
“I’ll live and die with Fu taking shots,” Willard said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s giving all his effort. He’s been shooting 42 percent from the 3. It was good defense by them.”
The winning point came at the foul line -- from Chris Obekpa, of all people. A fitting end to a strange night.
St. John’s ran the clock down, with the chance to take the last shot in regulation. Harrison, the team's leading scorer, was the primary option, naturally. But Obekpa was open in the lane after setting a screen for Harrison, and freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan hit Obekpa with a pinpoint pass. A 40.7 percent free throw shooter, Obekpa made one of two from the foul line, and then St. John’s intercepted a long baseball pass to seal the victory.
“He’s as exceptional a passer as any player I’ve coached, for this stage of a career,” Lavin said, of Jordan. “The judgments, the precision is first-rate.”
It was fitting that Jordan and Obekpa teamed up for the game-winning play, because the improved performance of those two players has been the key to the Red Storm’s resurgence. Each scored 10 points in the game, two of four St. John’s players in double figures. Harrison led the way with 12, and Sir’Dominic Pointer also scored 10 off the bench.
It was yet another balanced effort, from a team clicking on all cylinders right now -- Thursday’s first half notwithstanding.
St. John’s notched its first road win versus Seton Hall in 16 years, and is now firmly in the NCAA tournament at-large bid conversation, despite a hellish start to conference play.
“I’d put this group up there with as special as any that I’ve worked with,” Lavin said, “because of their resiliency, their pluck, their spirit, their fight-back, their gumption.”
Next up is a rematch with Georgetown on Sunday -- a chance for redemption, against a team that handed St. John’s its worst loss of the season six weeks ago.
“[Getting to] .500 is still not good enough for us,” Harrison said. “We gotta get past this game and get ready for Georgetown [on] Sunday. That’s a big game.”
They’re all big now, thanks to this remarkable three-week run -- capped off by a gutty victory in a nearly empty Prudential Center.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There was a time, and it wasn’t all that long ago, when the Villanova Wildcats were one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Through Jan. 18, two opponents scored more than a point per trip in any game against the Wildcats. The first was Delaware in a tight win on Nov. 22, just before Villanova handled Kansas and Iowa on back-to-back nights in the Bahamas. The second was Syracuse, which still hasn’t lost a game. Jay Wright’s team ranked among the top three or four defenses in the country; it pressured offenses to the 3-point line and defended the perimeter with nearly equal enthusiasm; it was consummate. When the Jan. 19 Associated Press poll was unveiled, Villanova was deservedly ranked No. 4 in the country.
And then Creighton happened.
The Bluejays’ 96-68 master class -- the best win in Creighton history and possibly the best offensive performance of the past decade -- didn’t merely produce a bunch of eye-popping, retweetable statistics. It exploded Villanova’s defense. Without breaking a sweat, Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott and everyone else in a royal blue uniform did everything the Wildcats are designed to stop, over and over again, on Villanova’s home floor.
By the middle of the second half, when it became clear Creighton wouldn’t stop, it was worth wondering whether Wright’s team had just suffered the kind comprehensive emotional battering Michael Jordan made famous. The kind old NBA veterans still whisper about, the kind that ruins a season.
Seven days later, Villanova is doing just fine, thanks.
“That was old-school Big East basketball,” Wright said. “That was fun.”
The Wildcats won despite shooting just 40 percent from the field, and 31.8 percent from 3-point range, in large part because they forced the action on the offensive end enough to shoot 28 free throws. It was offense-as-erosion, and nearly as slow.
Meanwhile, Georgetown couldn’t crack Villanova’s defense, turning the ball over 18 times and getting just nine free throws for their trouble. And that puzzled John Thompson III.
"We're getting the ball into the paint, we're getting penetration, we're getting drives, we're getting the ball down low, but fouls aren't being called," Thompson said. "I'm not saying we're being fouled and they're not called. I don't know, but you look at that stat right away and you see we shot nine foul shots they shoot 28, so we've got to figure out how to get fouled.
“Every game seems to be called differently. One could say that opposite ends of court are called differently."
The officials may have had a rough night at the office, and Georgetown’s offense has hardly set the world alight -- Bluejays 2.0 it is not. But credit the Wildcats, too. Villanova’s ability to combine maximum turnovers and minimal fouls made every Hoyas mini-run -- and it felt like there were dozens -- ultimately futile. After an 8-0 run to start the game, Thompson’s team led just once.
One decisive late play summed up the general tenor: Down 61-58 with 34 seconds remaining, Georgetown guard Markel Starks -- who had 20 points and six assists and was the Hoyas’ only effective offensive player -- drove baseline. As he elevated to swing a pass to an open teammate in the opposite corner, he crashed into a rotating Wildcats defender who had already anticipated the charge.
It was a sort of inverse scenario from just two days prior. On Saturday, Tony Chennault's would-be game-winner at Marquette was waved off at the last second. But Wright’s team managed to pull out a 94-85 OT win anyway -- a game they won by pouring wave after wave of points on the board. Neither game was an aesthetic wonder, Wright admitted, but even he was impressed to come away from the week 2-0.
“[Our guys] really have great character and mental toughness,” Wright said. “They really do. There’s a lot of challenges, you know? You win a couple games, you get things going good, and then you get smacked in the face, you get knocked down. How you respond is important.
“Since that game we’ve been on the road two games back to back against two very good teams. We haven’t been pretty in either one of them, but we’ve found a way.”
That game. Whether intentional or not, Wright avoided mentioning Creighton by name. Under different circumstances, the omission could be read as denial. After two gutty bounce-back road victories, it reads more like acceptance. The Wildcats have moved on, and they seem to be doing just fine.
- Michigan’s stunning 6-0 Big Ten start sets up arguably the biggest game of the Big Ten season to date in East Lansing on Saturday … just in time for Michigan State’s frontcourt to find itself recused with injuries. Forward Adreian Payne will miss his fifth straight game with a foot injury, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Friday.
- That would be bad enough on its own, of course, but it is especially so given forward Branden Dawson will miss the next month with a broken hand he suffered when he slammed his hand on a table during a film session on Thursday. (Becoming so angry with yourself while watching yourself on film that you take it out on yourself by breaking your own hand … that’s a daunting Freudian tangle.) Dawsen was devastated when he announced the news on Thursday, and Tom Izzo had words for any Michigan State fan who “rips” his player. “I hate the social media," Izzo told reporters on Thursday. "And I hate it more because I got managers running up to me saying our own fans and people are ripping. If anyone rips BJ, anybody rips BJ, it'll be me. If any other fan rips BJ on something that we've all done, every guy in this room, every fan, I'm going to be more disappointed. If Michigan fans rip him, God bless 'em. If one Michigan State fan rips him
one,give 'em my number." The Spartans will be fine long term, and they’ve won through their injuries for weeks now. But can they hold off a sizzling Wolverines team without their two starting forwards?
- Creighton's Ethan Wragge’s one-sided offensive brilliance is fascinating in its own right: Wragge has made half of his 148 3-point attempts this season, and he’s taken just six 2-point field goals. Six! Who does that?! But SI.com’s Luke Winn found something even more remarkable about Wragge: The further away from the basket he is, the more accurate his shooting becomes. For the record: This is not how basketball is supposed to work. Insane.
- It’s a good thing these Marquette uniforms are for a good cause, because ow, my eyes!
- The ACC is slow -- slower than the Big Ten, and threatening to unseat the midwest league as the nation’s slowest power conference for the first time in at least a decade -- and it’s not just Syracuse’s fault.
" Basketball-first, like-minded schools would be better served aligning themselves together than existing as football’s forgotten baggage. Few would argue that point.
" The schools involved, with their name brands and long histories, would give the league instant credibility. That’s where things get a little messy.
No doubt the schools still boast recognizable names, but the real path to legitimacy comes in the win-loss column. Right now, the Big East is struggling in that department. Georgetown, Butler and Marquette, three old reliables, are skidding, while the old guard of St. John’s, Seton Hall and DePaul have little to show but dusty old record books filled with past glory.
That’s why Saturday’s game between Xavier and Providence is so critical. The Big East desperately needs someone to assert themselves besides Villanova and Creighton, and these two are the most likely to do it.
Truth be told, it would be even better for the conference if the Friars won. The Musketeers are a proven commodity thanks largely to their past NCAA tournament experiences, and with quality wins against Cincinnati and Tennessee -- not to mention a hearty RPI of 30 -- Xavier is in good NCAA position. The name resonates; the results bolster the name.
But Providence is a different story. Ed Cooley has worked wonders to rebuild the Friars into a contender. The process has been long and occasionally messy, but Cooley has turned Providence into a respectable program again.
Were it not for a guy named Doug McDermott, Bryce Cotton would be the Big East’s player of the year.
There is a difference between respectable and contender, though, and that’s the step Providence needs to take. That’s the step, frankly, the Big East needs Providence to take. After three dismal losses in a row, the Friars have won four straight, knocking off Georgetown and Creighton in the process. That turns Providence into a curiosity right now -- an "are they really that good?" question mark. A win against Xavier might make that answer a bit more definitive.
It’s been 10 long years since this once-proud program went to the NCAA tournament, and the Friars are more "bubble" than "lock" right now. ESPN's Joe Lunardi put Providence among his last four in this week, and with an RPI of 45, that makes perfect sense.
Beating Xavier won’t make the Friars a lock or automatically bump up the Big East’s image, but it will be a much-needed shot in the arm for both program and conference.
I never thought Cincy would stomp the Tigers the way it did last weekend. That was my lone blemish.
I figured out the rest, though.
I have a feeling, however, that I’ll be less accurate this weekend. Too many difficult matchups to predict.
So I’d advise you to take all of this with a grain of salt. (What on earth does that mean anyway?)
Last week: 4-1
Prediction: North Carolina 82, Syracuse 80
No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, noon ET, ESPNU: When I was in Ames earlier this week for Iowa State-Baylor, Cyclones fans told me that they were nervous about this game. Lon Kruger’s program has given other nationally ranked opponents fits this season. The Sooners are fifth in the country with 87.0 PPG scoring average. On paper, Iowa State is certainly the better team. And the Cyclones are coming off a 15-point whipping of Baylor. But this is their third true road game of the season. Plus, there’s a gigantic matchup versus Kansas coming on Monday. This is dangerous for the Cyclones because Oklahoma is good enough to ruin Iowa State’s undefeated record, especially if Fred Hoiberg’s program gets caught looking ahead.
Prediction: Iowa State 82, Oklahoma 75
No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: San Diego State became just the third team to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse over the past 115 games. Think about that. That’s a tremendous streak. The Jayhawks rarely lose at the Phog. But Bill Self’s current assembly is still figuring things out. That’s fine in early December. But it should be troubling in early January, especially when Kansas has so much competition at the top of the Big 12, perhaps the best league in the country pound for pound. And the Jayhawks are playing a confident Wildcats team that is nationally ranked after upsetting Oklahoma State last weekend. Kansas State has a stubborn defense that can exploit KU’s knack for committing turnovers (K-State is 39th in defensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy). Can and will, however, are two different things.
Prediction: Kansas 79, Kansas State 76
No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS: Ohio State nearly knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing after recovering from a 17-point deficit earlier this week. That’s really all you need to know about the Buckeyes. Their defensive prowess and guts have anchored the program all season. This wasn’t their first close call, but it was more proof that it will take a 40-minute effort (and possibly extra time) to beat Thad Matta’s program. For 30 minutes, Iowa outplayed Wisconsin on Sunday. Illinois’ lopsided loss in Madison on Wednesday should put the Hawkeyes’ performance in Madison in the proper perspective. Even after Fran McCaffery was ejected from that game, the Hawkeyes continued to fight. McCaffery’s team might be a legit Big Ten contender. Iowa would prove it by beating a top-tier squad on the road. Iowa will prove it by beating a top-tier Big Ten squad on the road.
Prediction: Iowa 69, Ohio State 68
Xavier at Creighton, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: Grant Gibbs’ knee injury is a major blow for Creighton. The Bluejays could have lost star Doug McDermott too. McDermott suffered a shoulder injury in a win over DePaul earlier this week. But he’ll be available this weekend for a critical Big East battle with Xavier. The Musketeers haven’t lost since late November when they ended the month on a three-game losing streak. They outplayed preseason title favorite Marquette on Thursday night behind Semaj Christon’s 28-point effort. Creighton, Villanova and Xavier are all 3-0 in league play. So Sunday’s matchup could be critical in the race, even though it’s early. The next time Xavier faces Creighton (March 1), Gibbs should be back in the mix. But even without him, Creighton will tough to beat in Omaha.
Prediction: Creighton 90, Xavier 88 (overtime)
Nope. Ackerman emphasized that the league could win big in 2013-14.
She was right.
Although the conference didn’t end the nonconference season with the splash some had anticipated, there are still four Big East squads ranked in the top 50 of ESPN’s RPI (Georgetown, Creighton, Xavier and Villanova).
But Marquette, the preseason favorite to win the inaugural title in the new Big East, might not be a top-100 squad anymore. The Golden Eagles were ranked 95th in the RPI before Thursday night’s 86-79 loss at Xavier.
They had a chance in that game.
They were down 46-34 with 17 minutes, 14 seconds to play.
And suddenly, Marquette began to look like the old Marquette again.
That team that appeared to be the best program in the conference, along with Creighton, before any games were ever played. That squad that brought back Gardner and other pieces from a team that won a slice of the former Big East crown and reached the Elite Eight in one of the most stunning runs of last year’s NCAA tournament.
That achievement seems ancient now, with Buzz Williams’ squad owning a modest 9-7 record after it failed to finish against the Musketeers.
It’s important to note that three of those seven losses came against squads currently in the top 15 (San Diego State, Wisconsin and Ohio State). And losses to New Mexico in Las Vegas and defeats on the road against Xavier and Creighton were not inconceivable, either. The loss at Arizona State, Marquette’s worst of the season, wasn’t horrible.
Many non-elite teams would incur similar damage if they’d faced that slate.
Marquette should be elite, though. Thursday was another opportunity for the Golden Eagles to shake their funk and compete against a program that has gone from Big East sleeper to legit contender.
Now, it seems, the Golden Eagles are a second-tier team in the Big East. Only a sliver of potential remains. They don’t have any signature wins. And their RPI proves as much.
If they’re going to turn the corner, it has to happen soon.
But that won’t happen if they continue to approach late-game deficits with poor shot selection or if they give up 86 points again or if they can’t find playmakers when they need them.
In the final minutes of Thursday’s loss, Gardner had room to drive to the lane. Instead, he took a bad 17-footer near the top of the key. Why? Jake Thomas went 5-for-11 from the 3-point line against Xavier, but he passed on a wide-open 3-pointer late. Why?
Offense was an obvious concern entering the season. Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett had all departed. That was more than 30 points per game for the Golden Eagles. In games like the one Marquette was in Thursday, it’s at definite a disadvantage because it lacks the offensive diversity that it was blessed with last season.
But the collective absence of those players, Williams told local reporters earlier this week, is no excuse for the team’s struggles.
“Junior [Cadougan] was not that good a player,” Williams told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Vander was OK. Trent Lockett statistically was average.”
Still, Marquette is ranked 118th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. The Golden Eagles entered Thursday’s game with the Big East’s worst scoring offense (71.4 points per game).
Marquette, however, was also holding its opponents to 63.1 PPG, the top mark in the league. Against Xavier, Marquette had no answer for NBA prospect Semaj Christon (28 points). The Musketeers shot 52 percent from the field.
The Golden Eagles have given up 70 points or more in four of their seven losses.
Their problems are on both ends of the floor.
The good news for Marquette is that the young talent on its roster should blossom in the coming years. Freshman Duane Wilson redshirted after suffering a leg injury. First-year man Deonte Burton had 13 points in Thursday’s game. JaJuan Johnson, the 27th-rated player in the 2013 class per Recruiting Nation, will continue to grow.
Right now, they’re just members of a program that hasn’t met the preseason standard and is at top of the list for disappointing teams in college basketball.
There’s still time for Marquette to have a revival and catch the winning spirit. That’s college basketball. The teams trapped in a ditch in early January can climb out of it by February. And maybe that will happen with this Marquette squad.
Thursday’s game wasn’t exactly promising, though.
It was more of the same.
Marquette just didn’t have enough. Again.
Syracuse was down. Way down in its 78-62 win over Villanova on Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Though it was too early to call the game due to early domination, Villanova did not appear to be in any mood to take its foot off the neck of its former Big East rival.
The road’s pitfalls trap many. Not just this season. Most seasons. That was the most prominent concern for the No. 8 Wildcats as they attempted to secure a win against an undefeated second-ranked Syracuse team on the road.
But they seemed oblivious to the doubt as they toyed with a Cuse squad that just couldn’t guard them, especially outside.
And then, the Carrier Dome erupted as Syracuse turned a 20-5 deficit into a 38-34 halftime lead with the assistance of a 22-0 first-half run that will certainly help coach Jim Boeheim’s squad earn more No. 1 votes in the new polls.
The statistical analysis of what transpired Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y., is secondary to that moment prior to halftime. That moment when Cuse could have quit.
Teams rarely do it deliberately. But there is a psychological element that all people encounter when they’re in a bind.
In sports, some squads simply accept it. Even though they’re on the floor and competing, they’re sometimes mentally resigned to defeat. And other times, teams ignore circumstances and a 15-point gap and missed layups and turnovers and they regroup. Syracuse did that.
That intangible quality will matter more as March approaches.
We know talent alone is not enough. Kansas and Kentucky have already proved that this season. The best programs demand a nucleus that remains strong in tough times. They need grit.
The problem with the discovery of that vital characteristic is that teams aren’t certain they have it until they’re in that situation.
You can practice all day and all night, but you can’t simulate the events that breed it. You can’t reproduce the lull in a crowd that loses hope as its team wanes. You can’t create that scenario until it occurs.
And it happened to Syracuse on Saturday. Most expected a war, but Villanova reached for the knockout in the first round. That first-half push would have flattened most squads. Not this Syracuse squad.
This game provided evidence that Tyler Ennis is one of the best freshmen and point guards in the country. C.J. Fair is a likely first-round pick. Jerami Grant will probably join him next summer. And Trevor Cooney is one of the most reliable 3-point shooters in the country.
But those traits are meaningless when a team experiences the collective meltdown that Syracuse faced against the Wildcats. When everyone is missing shots and easy buckets, to whom can you turn? How will a team get out of the mess that it has made?
We’ll ask those questions often in the coming weeks and months because every team will encounter these challenges. Their ability to create success amid apparent failure will determine wins and losses, postseason positioning and tourney longevity.
Yes, numbers matter for Syracuse and everyone else.
That zone defense will continue to challenge teams to find space in the high post and establish an offense that includes more variety than an assortment of deep 3s. The Orange’s length, athleticism and skill on both ends of the floor will probably present defensive problems and offensive quandaries for upcoming ACC opponents.
It’s not possible, however, to measure a team’s resolve until it is placed into a predicament that requires it.
“We stepped up big time today,” Boeheim told reporters after the game. “This was our first real adverse situation where we were down a lot, and nothing fazed them.”
And that -- in relation to its ACC and national title aspirations -- was a critical element in Syracuse’s win, which could have been a loss if the Orange had accepted that outcome in the first half.
But they refused.