College Basketball Nation: Buzz Williams
Here are a few surprises from the initial set of rankings:
Buzz Williams (No. 38): Marquette entered last season as the favorite to win the title in the (new) Big East’s first season. The Golden Eagles fell short of those expectations when they finished sixth and missed the NCAA tournament. Not the best regular season for Williams, who left to fill Virginia Tech’s opening a few weeks ago, but Marquette was coming off a shared league title in a much tougher version of the conference. The Golden Eagles split that 2012-13 crown with a Louisville team that won the national championship that season and a Georgetown team that looked like a Final Four squad before Dunk City ruined those plans in the opening round. Marquette made five consecutive NCAA tourney appearances (2009-2013) under Williams. That run included two Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight run in 2013. Nothing against Colorado's Tad Boyle (No. 34) and Nebraska's Tim Miles (No. 32) -- both good coaches -- but they can’t match that. Seems too low for Williams.
Archie Miller (No. 26): Miller is no longer just Sean Miller’s brother; he has his own legacy now. Last season, he not only led Dayton to its first NCAA tourney appearance since 2009 but also guided the program to its first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years. It was an impressive feat. The Flyers won 26 games as Miller became one of the hottest young coaches in the game with that memorable tournament run. But No. 26 in the rankings? It’s only Miller’s third season as a head coach. Although he's done more in three seasons than other coaches with lengthier résumés have achieved in their careers, longevity has to be a factor, and it’s too early to know whether Miller will continue this success in the coming years. Plus, he has to turn Dayton into a consistent contender for the A-10 crown. He definitely has the tools to get there, but No. 26 might be premature.
John Thompson III (No. 46): Georgetown struggled in the new Big East last season. After losing key pieces from the previous season, the Hoyas finished seventh in league play. Plus, the 2012-13 Georgetown team lost in a major upset to Florida Gulf Coast in the Big Dance. But the program also has won or shared three Big East championships and reached the Final Four in 2007 and the Sweet 16 in 2006 under JTIII. Those achievements seem ancient now, though; Thompson has amassed a 2-5 record in the NCAA tournament since that Final Four appearance. That’s why JTIII barely cracked the top 50 in these rankings. But again, he has a résumé that surpasses what some of the coaches ranked ahead of him have.
Scott Drew (No. 50, tie): Drew is one of the most polarizing coaches in college basketball. Ask other coaches or media folks about him, and they’ll probably express an extreme view. The people who think he’s a bad coach think he’s a really bad coach. The folks who think those critics are just haters believe that he’s flawless. The truth, as it is with any coach, is somewhere in the middle. But here’s the reality: Drew turned Baylor into a player on the national scene after a major scandal nearly crippled the program before his arrival in 2003. Drew’s talent hasn’t always matched his team’s results. Last season, Baylor began Big 12 play with eight losses in 10 games, but the Bears recovered and reached the Big 12 tournament championship game and the Sweet 16. Drew has guided Baylor to four NCAA tourney appearances and two Elite Eight berths. Baylor had reached the NCAA tournament only four times before his arrival. He’s certainly guilty of missed opportunities and in-game coaching errors, but Tubby Smith (No. 39), Jim Crews (No. 29) and Ed Cooley (No. 41) can’t match his achievements over the past six seasons. An argument, a strong one, could be made that Drew deserves a higher ranking.
There was a dark period for the Golden Eagles near the turn of the millennium (Marquette missed the NCAA tournament from 1998 through 2001), but they rebooted under Tom Crean and Buzz Williams. The Badgers haven’t missed the Big Dance or a 20-win season under Bo Ryan.
But Marquette still owns a 55-64 record in the series, as the two programs prepare for another intrastate battle on Saturday.
This year, Buzz needs the win more than Bo. Marquette is approaching desperation in its quest for the resume-boosting nonconference victories that will pay off on Selection Sunday.
A series of mishaps in holiday tournaments diminished the Big East’s buzz. The conference’s contenders failed in recent nonconference matchups that would have enhanced their respective NCAA tournament hopes/seeds.
Marquette was pegged as the preseason favorite to win the new Big East. And the Golden Eagles are certainly talented enough to fulfill that prophecy. But they’re struggling right now after losing to Arizona State and San Diego State in two of their last four games.
And they’ll face their toughest and most significant test when they meet the Badgers over the weekend. Both squads feature defenses ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 20 for adjusted efficiency.
Wisconsin’s offense has improved (14th in adjusted offensive efficiency) this year, but Marquette can’t find consistent scorers.
The Golden Eagles, 103rd in adjusted offensive efficiency compared to 25th last season, are still searching for offensive continuity following the departures of Vander Blue, Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan (30.3 PPG combined).
How will they score? On Saturday? In the games after that? During the conference season?
Solving that riddle against a Badgers squad that gave up just 38 points in a win over Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday will be difficult.
The Golden Eagles won’t have a prayer unless they spread the load.
Jamil Wilson (10.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Davante Gardner (14.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) have done the bulk of the offensive work this season. But they’ve been inconsistent, too. Williams needs more offensive production from a unit that features multiple freshmen. And he needs his team’s stars to be go-to players every night.
This might be the team’s last chance for a meaningful nonconference win.
Saturday’s game might not be a must-win for Marquette. But it’s close.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: The new Big East contains multitudes.
In March, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on Day 3 of my Regional Road Trip, which still makes me tired every time I think about it, I ran into Bradley Kalscheur. It was the middle of the Marquette-Syracuse East Regional Final, and I was looking for interesting fans to talk to -- I wanted to take their temperature on the fresh drama that would carve out a new Big East from the old, realignment-ravaged (and renamed) American.
Kalscheur, a Milwaukee attorney, was one of the first people I noticed -- mostly because he was wearing an amazing sweatshirt. During a timeout, we got to talking, and I asked him for his thoughts on the new league. I assumed he would be sad. I assumed wrong.
"[Founder] Dave Gavitt would smile on the new league," Kalscheur said. "It isn't going away. It's carrying on with the original intent."
In 2013-14, we get to officially test that theory.
To me, that's the most interesting thing about the new 2013-14 Big East. Yes, there are loads of individual storylines. There's Creighton making the leap from the Missouri Valley. There's Creighton star Doug McDermott — who has a chance to become the first three-time All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale — testing his limits every single night. There's Butler, which was a Horizon League member just two seasons ago. There's its new coach, Brandon Miller, replacing the new head coach of the Boston Celtics, charged with turning all the success and goodwill of his predecessor's tenure into a lasting spot among college basketball's elite.
There's Xavier, recovering from the rare "down" year, hoping guard Semaj Christon blossoms into a star. There's Georgetown without Otto Porter (and Greg Whittington) and St. John's still-talented-and-still-frustrating group and Jay Wright pushing Villanova back into the light and the impressive ongoing success Buzz Williams is having at Marquette. There are many more, too; this post can't be 3,000 words.
But the biggest -- certainly the unifying -- story is what all of those disparate parts create in unison. What is the Big East, exactly? It's nothing like a mid-major, obviously. Is it a power league? Can you even have a "power" league without football? Has the landscape simply changed too much? In a year's time, how will we regard the first season of the new Big East?
When the "Catholic 7" staged its insurrection, walked away with the Big East name, and snapped up Butler, Creighton and Xavier, college basketball fans roundly applauded, and why not? We agree with Kalscheur: This is what the Big East should be. But Dave Gavitt's Big East was created in a different time. Is the great-basketball, no-football model still viable anymore? Can you really thread that needle? What if, in a year, all of these questions are silly?
That's precisely the point. We're about to find out.
2. First Steve Forbes, now Scott Monarch is back in Division I. Forbes was part of the Tennessee staff that got dumped over the allegations from a barbecue with a recruit and subsequent statements over the event that followed. Forbes didn't lie to investigators but still had a one-year show cause. Forbes was a successful junior college coach at Northwest Florida, winning 66 games and reaching the national title game before landing back in a high-profile position as an assistant at 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State. A year ago, Monarch was fired at Marquette after not giving truthful responses over whether or not he provided gear and transportation to a recruit. Head coach Buzz Williams had to sit a game to start the Big East schedule due to the violation, even though he wasn't a participant. Now, Monarch is back in Division I at North Texas, working for former Marquette associate head coach Tony Benford. The coaching bonds are strong and these show how coaches can come back from an NCAA issue as long as they have relationships and networked well. Burn the bridges, turn your back on someone and getting re-hired soon in Division I will prove to be extremely difficult.
3. Transfers are coming to every program in America. Deal. No program is above the add on of players. And coaches are realizing that they must add players mid-stream who they may not have recruited. The latest examples are at TCU where the Horned Frogs added Chris Washburn Jr. from UTEP and Trey Zeigler of Pitt. Georgia Tech added Tennessee's Trae Golden. It has become increasingly apparent that programs can't survive without adding a transfer at some point to balance the classes or simply for an infusion of talent.
2. Count Marquette coach Buzz Williams in the camp that is frustrated about no commissioner being named of the new Big East yet. The coaches and athletic directors meet Monday in Florida and adviser and former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe will be running the meeting unless someone is suddenly hired over the weekend. Williams said the same issues were discussed at the Final Four and he said he wondered if anything new could be talked about since there is still no leadership. The new 10-team Big East starts competition in August in fall sports. Marquette still needs one more game on its schedule with a slate that includes Ohio State, a road game at Arizona State, the three-game tournament in Anaheim, at Wisconsin and playing New Mexico in Las Vegas.
3. It's great to see when schools take a chance on long-time assistant coaches who deserve a shot to lead a program. That's exactly what UMass-Lowell did with Northeastern assistant Pat Duquette. Duquette had as much a role in developing Boston College into a consistent ACC power during Al Skinner's tenure as any other assistant. Duquette -- who, along with Skinner, was instrumental in finding Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson when he was a high school player in Colorado -- will have a tall task ahead in leading Lowell into Division I. The program has a four-year probationary period in the America East (replacing Boston University, which is off to the Patriot League) before it can play in the postseason. Duquette sought out the best paths to do just that from his former assistant colleague at BC in Bryant's Tim O'Shea, Nebraska's Tim Miles and North Dakota State's Saul Phillips. The latter two had to take the Bison in a similar path to Division I like Bryant.
West Region Final: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Wichita State
A Key To Ohio State's Success
Deshaun Thomas is going to get his -- the Buckeyes' leading scorer has accounted for 28 percent of their points this season. However, in Ohio State's last two games (both three-point wins) Thomas had help carrying the scoring load.
In the first 34 games of the season, LaQuinton Ross was averaging less than 8 points per game. But in the last two, Ross has had 17 points in each game -- including the game-winning three against Arizona. Ross has made five of seven 3-pointers, and the Buckeyes -- who shot less than 35 percent behind the arc during the season -- are shooting 50 percent on threes (23-46) during the tournament. Wichita State has held its three tournament opponents to under 28 percent on three-pointers.
A Key To Wichita State's Success
In the Sweet 16, Wichita State outscored La Salle 40-26 in the paint. The Shockers took 43 shots in the paint, the most such attempts for a team in this year’s tournament. The Shockers’ 43 shots in the paint were 11 more than they had in their previous two games combined. The Shockers are shooting 57.3 percent inside the paint and must continue to shoot well on the interior for two reasons:
1. It’s an area they can take advantage of against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are allowing opponents to shoot 58.7 percent in the paint, the highest among Sweet 16 teams.
2. Outside the paint, the Shockers are shooting just 34.1 percent, which ranks 13th among Sweet 16 teams.
East Region Final: No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 4 Syracuse
A Key To Syracuse's Success
In eight games this season, the Orange have held opponents to shooting 20 percent or less behind the 3-point line -- and three of those games have come in the NCAA tournament. Montana, Cal and Indiana were a combined 11 for 67 behind the arc. When those three teams stepped inside the arc, they combined to shoot 42.2 percent.
Before Thursday's loss, the Hoosiers were making more than half of their two-point field goal attempts, but against Syracuse they shot just 39.3 percent (13-33) inside the arc. However, one reason Marquette beat Syracuse earlier this season (aside from outscoring the Orange 29-5 at the free throw line) was that the Golden Eagles shot 57.7 percent on two-point field goals (15-26). In all other games this season, Syracuse's opponents shot less than 43 percent on two-point field goals.
A Key To Marquette's Success
If late in the game the score is close, Buzz Williams' team has shown that it will continue to play with poise. Combined in the final five minutes against Davidson and Butler, Marquette shot 9-of-15 from the floor and outscored those two 29-19.
Marquette has made just 12 3-pointers in the tournament, but four of them came in final five minutes against Davidson and Butler.
The Big East brand isn't on the line, but a Marquette win will enhance it more than any television deal or agreement to play games at Madison Square Garden. The new Big East has had Final Four representatives in the past from the likes of Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence and Butler.
But none of those matter as much right now as this Marquette team. The Golden Eagles are the last ones standing and can send a strong message to the rest of Division I that a strong basketball-centric league can survive on its own.
"It would be an enormous validation for what we believe to be our purpose in college athletics,'' Marquette athletic director Larry Williams said Friday. "We are a group of 10 schools that focus on the development of student athletes that primarily focus on men's basketball. This is an opportunity to be in the Final Four this year and we want to do it in future years. It would be a validation of our charge."
Syracuse is off to the ACC. If Marquette were to beat the Orange Saturday at the Verizon Center, it would be a signal that this league is more than viable. The new Big East, with its television partner at Fox, can pump this up.
"An already top league would climb even higher,'' Butler athletic director Barry Collier said Friday.
For the 10 that are venturing out -- especially the seven that split from the old Big East -- it would soothe any fears.
"It's a validation that we believe shows we took the right course of action,'' Williams said. "It affirms those that may have had any questions. They can say they're doing it the right way.''
Williams said he has received a number of friendly text messages from his fellow athletic directors in the new conference, particularly pleased with the potential to add NCAA tournament units. When asked if those units would stay with the new Big East or the old, Williams declined to answer.
The game will be played on the home court of another member of the new Big East -- Georgetown. The Verizon Center, like the majority of the other members' home courts, is a big-time pro environment, providing another reason why this looks like a legitimate plan.
"Obviously there is risk here by charting our own future,'' Williams said. "But we feel some sense of responsibility for it.''
Marquette coach Buzz Williams (no relation to Larry) and the team aren't feeling any added pressure to perform based on the new league. But to Larry Williams, this will be an affirmation of basketball belonging at the adult table.
"This is an important element,'' said Larry Williams of reaching a Final Four.
The Marquette brand would benefit greatly from a Final Four appearance. So too would Buzz Williams, much like Tom Crean did when he took Marquette in 2003. But the biggest beneficiary will be the new Big East, which can claim it is here to play with everyone else on equal footing -- even without football.
WHO TO WATCH
Michael Carter-Williams. Syracuse's lead guard has become one of the toughest matchups in the NCAA tournament. He shredded Indiana with 24 points and completely controlled the game. Carter-Williams scored 14 points and added five assists but had four turnovers in the 74-71 loss at Marquette last month. He seems to be seeing the floor better and is playing with as much, if not more, confidence than at any point this season. He is a tough matchup because of his size and length, and Marquette cannot afford to let him find his range and soft spot on the floor.
WHAT TO WATCH
Second-shot opportunities. The Orange successfully created additional opportunities against Indiana. Marquette limited Miami to one shot on many occasions. The wings of Marquette, like Jamil Wilson, Trent Lockett and Vander Blue, can certainly board with the bigs like Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. But they'll need to keep the length of Jerami Grant, Baye Moussa Keita, DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas off the glass. Syracuse has a host of bigs to rotate in with their length that includes a wing like James Southerland. If the Orange continue to keep possessions alive, then Syracuse has a solid chance to advance to the Final Four.
STAT TO WATCH
The 3-point shot can be the great equalizer. Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and Southerland can bury daggers on 3s. The Golden Eagles aren't as prolific a 3-point shooting team. Marquette doesn't rely on the 3-ball to get into the Syracuse zone. The Golden Eagles would rather slice through it or pound the ball inside. But Syracuse can stretch leads with 3s and make it even more difficult to catch up against the zone. The onus will be on Marquette, more than Syracuse, to be on top of defending the 3-point line.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- They are joined now, linked in this new Big East conglomerate that will start play next season.
And they are becoming so similar.
They are doubted. They aren’t feared at all.
Butler and Marquette have become synonymous with playing on the edge. It’s how Butler’s Brad Stevens and Marquette’s Buzz Williams coach.
Neither side tends to blow anyone out. Rarely does either get run out of a gym. Butler has had its moments this season, against VCU most notably. But they are more rare than common.
And so it was not surprising that, with a Sweet 16 bid on the line, this game -- like their meeting in Maui in November -- would come down to one final shot.
Butler couldn’t convert. Marquette won, 74-72.
“In our last eight games decided by one possession or less we’re 6-2,’’ said Williams. “We’re just good enough not to get blown out and not good enough to blow an opponent out. The quicker we can turn it into a fight, the better. If it’s a fight, then it’s going to be a one- or two-possession game.’’
The third-seeded Golden Eagles needed a Davidson turnover to get a second chance to win in the round of 64. Vander Blue made a driving layup to win that game, the same shot, though from a different side, that he hit to knock off St. John’s at Madison Square Garden to earn a three-way share of the Big East regular-season title.
“I think we’ve played more one-possession games than any team in the BCS,’’ said Williams. “We give too many teams extra possessions.’’
The NCAA tournament has mostly been kind to Butler since 2010. The sixth-seeded Bulldogs have experienced some incredible highs and one painful low -- until Saturday.
Two years ago, the Bulldogs beat a Pittsburgh team they should not have to advance. Two shots, not just one, didn’t go down in one of the most memorable finals in the past 10 years in a loss to Duke at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2010.
On Saturday, Stevens sat slumped in a chair outside the Bulldogs’ locker room, his head leaning back against a post. He was exhausted. He had seen the other side so often.
This is the cruelty of the NCAA tournament. You can have the unbelievable emotion one second only to feel agonized a moment later.
“The Pitt game was miserable for them, the Duke game was miserable for us,’’ said Stevens. “It all evens out over time. Our guys played really hard. We have nothing to hang our heads about. We ran into a team that played at a high level, especially in the second half.’’
Both teams made their share of mental mistakes to leave the game hanging on the final possession.
The final five seconds were about as harried as possible.
Marquette’s Davante Gardner had put the Golden Eagles up by four with four seconds remaining with a pair of free throws.
This happened after Butler’s Rotnei Clarke took a Marshall Henderson-like deep 3-pointer when he wasn’t closely guarded and the Bulldogs were only down two. The ball barely nicked the net.
Then, for some reason after the Gardner free throws, Jamil Wilson attempted to block -- but ended up goaltending -- an Andrew Smith bucket to pull the Bulldogs to within 74-72 with two seconds remaining.
And then Marquette pulled a Davidson and messed up the inbounds pass. The ball went out of bounds; possession, Butler.
Down two, with two seconds left, Butler had a shot to tie or win.
Marquette did a great job preventing Clarke from getting the ball. Stevens said the play was on him. He had a play if Marquette went to a 2-3 zone and one if it went man. But the players didn’t recognize the defense and got confused.
Roosevelt Jones inbounded the ball to a leaning Smith, who stumbled, and hurled up an errant 3-pointer. Smith crumpled to the floor. His career over. Jones sat on the floor, too, before Williams helped him up after going through the handshake line.
Both teams were exhausted. Coming down the hallway to the locker room, Blue said he was sore. He was beaten up from a brutal game.
“If you don’t go at that team then they’ll hurt you,’’ said Blue, who finished with 29 points. “They play defense similar to Wisconsin. They’re not a shot-blocking team. You have to get to the basket and if you do you can be successful.’’
Blue said as Clarke’s 3-pointer was in the air, he had a flashback to the Maui Invitational game.
“I was like, ‘Please Rotnei, don’t make this one.’ I knew he was going to shoot it,’’ said Blue. “He’s a great player. But this is how we like it. Nobody ever panics, and it’s in our character, with all the hard work we put in this year. We wouldn’t like it any other way. We put it out there. There is something incredibly special about this team.’’
Williams amazingly still had energy after the game. He has had quite a week.
He got to Lexington and had to take his wife, Corey, to the hospital for what turned out to be appendicitis. He had two of his four children with him here in Lexington, but, luckily, had family with him to help. He spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in a Lexington hospital by Corey's bedside.
“My wife has been in the hospital in Lexington for over half our stay here,’’ said Williams. “It’s been a crazy, crazy four days in Lexington.’’
Corey was released from the hospital and is recovering. Williams was waiting to see if she could fly home Saturday night. His two boys, Calvin, 9, and Mason, 6, were with him past midnight by the locker room, wide-awake and thrilled to be going to a third straight Sweet 16.
Williams, much like Stevens, has a team that most doubt, yet never quits and plays possessions like they are valued commodities.
Butler is done for a season. Marquette is moving on. They will meet again in the Big East next season and the scripts will likely be exactly the same.
Iverson is one of five senior starters on a team that is a rare breed in college basketball. Miami has fifth- and sixth-year players. But the norm for most teams is to have a sprinkle of underclassmen in the top five or six.
This Colorado State team is anything but traditional. This new coffee habit is a symbol of the maturity the Rams have shown and will need to display when they play top-seeded Louisville Saturday night at Rupp Arena.
Iverson transferred from Minnesota to play for Tim Miles and he sat out last season.
While Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk has been receiving praise for his work during a redshirt year, some of the love should also be shifted to Iverson. He changed his body during the year off. He's lighter on his feet. Tubby Smith taught him to play defense at Minnesota. Miles schooled him on how to become more of an offensive threat. Miles left for Nebraska so when Larry Eustachy was hired he molded him into being an all-around player.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he followed Iverson due to his close association with Smith. He now sees an all-around player and an outstanding rebounder who can score over either shoulder.
But it wasn't until this year that Iverson took on the odd habit for a high-level college basketball player.
"It actually started over Christmas break this year," said Iverson. "I used to hate coffee but Wes Eikmeier and Jesse Carr got me hooked and ever since I have to have it every day."
And here's the twist. He drinks it right before practice. By Friday afternoon, Iverson had already had a few cups.
"The younger guys on the team give us crap about it when we show up drinking coffee every day and they're drinking Powerade," said Iverson. "They joke we're the old guys."
Carr said he tries to get Iverson to drink water as well so he doesn't get dehydrated. That was Steve Barnes' plea, too. The longtime Eustachy assistant, who is the director of player personnel, said he found it odd that Iverson, Carr and Elmeier would drink it right before practice. But it has worked for them and they're not about to stop.
Carr said he started drinking coffee the last 10 games of the season and he played well. So he has become superstitious about it. The three players will stop at McDonald's and get coffee before practice and games.
"We were about to start practice here (Wednesday) and I see him (Iverson) drinking a McDonald's coffee on the side before we started running,'' said Carr. "We've all accepted it that we're old for college basketball at 22-23 years old."
Barnes had to do a double take when he saw Iverson jotting down notes with his coffee as if he was attending a seminar.
"I felt bad I wasn't taking notes," said Barnes. "They're an older mature group."
And that's why the Rams won't get rattled against the Cardinals, even if they get flustered by the pressure. They can score. They can board. They can handle the ball. This CSU team has been in games at UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State and have not been flummoxed by the atmosphere.
"This is our last go-round and with five seniors we are looking at every game, taking notes and what to make sure we know what their capabilities are," said Iverson.
Iverson credits Eustachy with putting everything together in his game. Eustachy said he has never had a player improve as much as Iverson.
Now the two, along with the other seniors on this team, will try to shock the tournament and knock off the Cards.
If there is one sidebar to watch during the Butler-Marquette game Saturday night it will be the two coaches' demeanors.
Butler players relish Brad Stevens' calm approach. Stevens can get upset. But he never gets too wild.
Marquette's Buzz Williams is animated, but he reads his team's needs. When the Golden Eagles hit game winners to beat St. John's and Davidson in the past two weeks -- both by Vander Blue -- Williams didn't jump around like Steve Lavin. He stood firm, saw the ball go in and calmly walked down to shake hands with the opposing coach.
"He brings energy to the team and that's good," said Davante Gardner. "It's really funny. Sometimes when I'm on the court, I peek over to see what he's doing."
Trent Lockett and Chris Otule said they don't notice Williams as much during the game but when they see the tape of one they are immediately drawn to him. Williams sweats quite a bit and that's why he shows up in postgame news conferences with a different shirt. Otule disclosed a secret about Williams -- he has to wear a Dri-Fit shirt underneath due to the sweat.
"At the end of the game his Dri-Fit looked like he actually played in the game since it's so sweaty," said Otule. "He's just a really energetic person. It's an honor to play for him."
Williams doesn't hide his emotions. He pushes when he has to and holds back on other occasions.
"I understand that it's emotional most of the time but so much of what we do is based on energy," said Williams. "I don't think that you can have great energy without great emotion."
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Vander Blue had made that exact shot, just from the other side, two weeks ago.
He was on a grand stage and the stakes were high -- at Madison Square Garden, with a chance to lock up a share of the Big East regular-season title for Marquette.
But for Blue to get a chance to mimic the shot that beat St. John’s on March 9 -- a shot with 1 second remaining Thursday that would knock off Davidson 59-58 in the opening game of the NCAA tournament for both teams -- he needed two unpredictable events.
Davidson had to throw the ball out of bounds on a poorly executed inbounds attempt, and the third-seeded Golden Eagles needed a timeout to settle down.
Davidson obliged with the turnover.
The officials then gave Marquette the chance to talk over the final play and calm any late-game angst. Not through anything of the Golden Eagles' doing, however: Marquette didn't have any timeouts remaining, but the refs had to go to the monitor to ensure there were 6.7 seconds remaining and not 5.5, which is what the scoreboard read.
Maybe, in a future NCAA tournament or regular-season game, the sport will see fit to force the players to stay on the court and not huddle with their staff when a timeout isn’t available. But that’s not the case now.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams said the stoppage of play was an unexpected advantage for one reason -- his players needed to chill.
“It definitely helped,” said Williams, adding that he almost never finds himself without a timeout in late-game situations.
“Our guys knew what we were going to run, but it probably helped us to calm down somewhat,” said Williams. “They had been changing man to zone, zone to man. We were going to run the same play, but I would say emotionally it probably helped more than strategically.”
Davidson’s Jake Cohen said he got switched on the play, and then Blue sliced past to the hoop and finished. The layup essentially ended a terrific performance by Cohen, whose versatility in scoring (20 points) and assists (one, but it was on a key cut to the basket for a deuce) were on display.
McKillop said the No. 14-seeded Wildcats were trying to get Blue to catch the ball away from the basket. He went right to it and got the hoop.
Davidson (26-8) went from being the story to being forgotten in a matter of seconds.
“You can tell by our faces we’re not happy about it,” said Cohen. “It’s devastating.”
Blue, meanwhile, was euphoric.
“We got their 5-man to stand up a bit, and it was a footrace to the basket,” said Blue. “I’m just grateful that Coach has unbelievable trust in me to take the last shot, and all my teammates wanted me to shoot the ball.”
The bucket to beat St. John’s was the appetizer for an entree that Blue will remember forever.
“It prepared me a little bit,” said Blue. “But all I was thinking was if I get to the rim, I’ve got to finish, because if I don’t make that, we probably lose.”
Up next for the Golden Eagles (24-8) on Saturday at Rupp Arena is sixth-seeded Butler, which beat them in the Maui Invitational in November on a Rotnei Clarke running 3-pointer.
Those memories are still fresh for Marquette.
“For me, it’s the last shot when Rotnei Clarke hit it,” said Blue. “I would say everybody would say that.”
OK, so of course everyone wants to play in the NCAA tournament. But watching the past week or so of college hoops, you could have been convinced otherwise. Why, it was just last Saturday that basically every SEC bubble team lost a bad game, while Arizona State, St. John's, Iowa State, Indiana State and Akron, just to name a few, suffered the kind of losses that can cost you a bid in the tournament.
The weekdays since haven't been much better. Virginia spent all week undoing the résumé boost earned with its victory over Duke. Kentucky lost at Georgia. Baylor flopped against Texas. It got so bad we had to begin considering the fringiest of the fringe -- Southern Miss, Iowa, Providence, Maryland -- even though it was almost physically painful to imagine most of those teams in the tournament.
And then, finally, mercifully, some of these teams started acting like they wanted to play meaningful basketball in March. Kentucky, Tennessee, Boise State and Baylor all got huge wins at home. Iowa State held on at West Virginia. Even Cincinnati, which had been quietly slipping toward the bubble in recent weeks, avoided a brutal loss to South Florida.
It wasn't all good news. Oklahoma lost at TCU. Arizona State fell flat at Arizona. Xavier, Providence and St. John's all missed chances to get somewhere near reality in this thing. There were, as there always are, a handful of head-scratchers -- how Louisiana Tech goes three months without losing once and then drops back-to-back games in the matter of two days is beyond this humble bubbleologist.
But the end effect is clear: The bubble is just a little more firm than it was at the start of the day, a little tougher to crack. Good things happen when players play like they actually care about making the tournament. Who knew?
Kentucky: The biggest bubble story of the day, and almost certainly the most impactful, Kentucky's win over Florida put the Wildcats back on the right side of the bubble in their final regular-season opportunity. Considering where Kentucky was after its loss at Georgia this week -- all self-recrimination and disbelief -- it was a bit remarkable to stand up at the last possible moment, once and for all.
I won't spend a whole lot of time here, because you can read my reaction from this afternoon here. Long story short: UK is no lock to make the tournament, and it still has to navigate a tangle of prospective bad losses in the SEC tournament, but right now, compared to much of the rest of the bubble, the Wildcats are closer to being in than not.
Baylor: I am not above making a tired and dumb bodysnatchers joke -- see pretty much anything I've tweeted about Keith Appling for the past three weeks -- but rare is the opportunity to do so in regards to a team that plays inexplicably well. Today, Baylor is that team.
I mean, how else do you explain the Bears not just beating Kansas in Waco, Texas, but blowing Kansas out? When in the past seven days we've seen a) Baylor lose at home to K-State on one of the most heartbreaking (and poorly executed) final seconds of the season and b) lose 79-70 at Texas? That team -- a team that was admittedly still playing hard but looking utterly lost in doing so -- turned around and beat the Jayhawks by 23 points in the penultimate game of the regular season. How does that happen?
Complete shock aside, the bad news for the Bears (sorry) is that they're just 2-10 against the RPI top 50, 5-10 against the top 100, and still have a prohibitively high RPI (No. 73 entering Saturday). As nice as Saturday's win was, and for as much as it helped the Bears, the damage they did in recent weeks isn't so easy to overcome in one fell swoop. They still need more -- and a first-round Big 12 tourney shot against Oklahoma State is an awfully good place to start.
Boise State: In case you're not up to speed on the Broncos -- and no, they don't play their home games on blue hardwood -- they established their potential tournament case all the way back on Nov. 28, when they shocked Creighton (then the No. 11 team in the country) on its home floor. (Eight days earlier, they had pushed Michigan State 74-70, and we all wondered what was wrong with the Spartans. Go figure.) Since then, they've trucked along in the Mountain West in almost exactly the fashion you'd expect: They've beaten some of the league's toughest teams (UNLV, Colorado State) at home and fallen to some of the league's lesser squads (Air Force isn't a bad loss; Nevada is) on the road. In other words, today's win over San Diego State wasn't exactly revolutionary; it was a realistic get, and the Broncos got it. The one thing really setting Jeff Elorriaga & Co. apart from the rest of the bubble dregs is their quality wins. Add one more.
Tennessee: What is it with Tennessee and late-season boosts? The Volunteers did this last season, too, when they turned a brutal first two months into a 10-6 SEC performance and a late desperate push to get into the NCAA tournament. It didn't happen then, but after Saturday's home win over Missouri -- a thank-you card addressed to Phil Pressey is currently in the mail - it looks very much like it's happening now.
I'm not saying that a home win over Missouri is this huge bubble landmark. It's at least a degree or four below a win over Florida. Missouri's only true road wins all season came at Mississippi State and South Carolina. Road warriors these Tigers are not, but combined with UT's other work -- eight wins in its past nine games, including a 30-point demolition of Kentucky and its own victory over Florida -- the résumé is now right in the middle of the bubble picture. Like Kentucky, or really any of these SEC teams, anything can happen going away. But for now, the news is good.
Iowa State: Of any of these bubble winners, Iowa State should be in the best shape. For one, the Cyclones are easily the best team in this group; even a cursory glance at their efficiency numbers (especially when contrasted with the rest of these teams) reveals one of the best offenses in the country and a top-35-ish team overall. I also happen to think the committee will go outside its nitty-gritty sheets and delve into Iowa State's two losses to Kansas, both of which came in overtime, the latter of which was ripped from them thanks to some truly diabolical officiating. Anyway, I wouldn't be able to say any of this had Iowa State lost at West Virginia on Saturday. It didn't, and so I can.
Ole Miss: The Rebels won by 14 at LSU. Were they in better position to start the day -- had they not lost to Mississippi State last week, perhaps -- I might have stuck them down in the "Survivors" category. As it is, they remain in the picture, but have a ton of work to do in the SEC tournament. One win won't get it done.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are basically done. It's not just a loss at Arizona -- that is obviously forgivable, even if the Wildcats aren't nearly as good as we thought they'd be this season -- it's the four losses in a row (to Washington, UCLA and USC, the latter two of which were on the road, before today's loss at Arizona) as well as an RPI in the 90s, the 283rd-hardest schedule, and so on. Credit Herb Sendek and Jahii Carson for getting this program back in the mix in short order, but it's hard to see an at-large here.
La Salle: The Explorers aren't in bad shape, relatively speaking, and you can hardly fault any team for taking one on the chin at Saint Louis, which they did today. But La Salle has been sort of quietly sliding toward the bubble in the past couple of weeks, and losing 78-54 at this point in the season is hardly the best way to impress the committee. Definitely worth keeping an eye on right now.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma has been in great tournament shape for the majority of the past month -- the Sooners have been playing solid hoops, and their RPI and SOS figures are great -- but it nonetheless entered Saturday outside the comfort of lockdom. And then the Sooners lost to TCU. That probably isn't enough to put Oklahoma below a score of the teams you see here, but when you really dig in to its résumé, there's not much about it that screams "lock." A first-round loss to Iowa State next week could have the Sooners wavering by Selection Sunday.
Colorado: This week's Bubble Watch included a little homily on how the Buffaloes' résumé wasn't all that much different from UCLA's, but Colorado was frequently a No. 10 seed while the Bruins were most often placed on the No. 6 line. That was wrong, I wrote. Naturally, Colorado proceeded to lose at home to Oregon State. Like Oklahoma, the Buffaloes are still in better shape than, say, Baylor, but their regular-season finale was enough to introduce some serious questions going forward.
Minnesota: How do you follow up a win against Indiana? If you're Minnesota, you lose at Nebraska and Purdue. I don't really understand how that works, but I don't understand anything about this Gophers team. I don't think Tubby Smith does, either. The good news is Minnesota is still in much better shape than almost anyone on this list, thanks to its batch of top-50 wins and some pretty peerless computer numbers (RPI: 20; SOS: 2). But the Gophers did just finish the Big Ten season at 8-10, and what if they fall in the first round of the Big Ten tournament? You have to at least consider them to be on the bubble right now, right?
Alabama: The Crimson Tide scraped out a three-point home win over Georgia on Saturday. That is the definition of bubble survival: A loss probably would have knocked Anthony Grant's team totally out of the conversation. As it is, it's still a bit of a long shot -- the Tide were Joe Lunardi's last team among the first four out Saturday evening -- with absolutely zero good wins on its docket. Just a totally uninspiring résumé.
Southern Miss: Speaking of totally uninspiring résumés: the Golden Eagles, everyone! To be honest, it sort of baffles me that Southern Miss is even in the conversation; its best wins are at Denver and a sweep of East Carolina. But the Golden Eagles are hanging around the very fringes of the bubble, and Saturday's home victory over UCF preserved that ungainly status.
Iowa: If Iowa doesn't make the tournament -- and right now it looks very much like Iowa is not going to make the tournament -- Fran McCaffery will really only have himself to blame. The Hawkeyes' nonconference schedule was that of a team still in rebuilding mode, looking for some forgiving opponents and early-season wins. It didn't help that Northern Iowa wasn't as good as advertised, but still, the overall nonconference schedule rank of 308 looks like it is going to keep this .500 Big Ten team -- which would normally be a worthy distinction -- from serious bubble consideration, barring a big push in Chicago next week.
Cincinnati: What if Cincinnati had lost to South Florida on Saturday? That would have been the Bearcats' seventh loss in their past nine games, would have put them at 8-10 in Big East play and, worst of all, would have been a loss to South Florida, which has been just flat-out bad all season long. Fortunately, Cincinnati didn't lose to South Florida. Mick Cronin's team held on 61-53 and should be in solid shape moving forward.
Belmont: This sort-of-kind-of doesn't count, because Belmont won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in thrilling fashion Saturday, and its Dance status is now of the automatic variety. But had they lost, it's entirely possible the Bruins would have missed the tournament altogether.
Xavier: Two weeks ago, despite the young Musketeers' growing pains, it was impossible to look at Xavier's schedule and not have your saliva glands start working a little overdrive. Chris Mack's kids would get VCU, Memphis, UMass and Saint Louis all at home, and then they'd finish the season with a trip to Butler. The Cintas Center is a difficult place to play; a 4-1 record was entirely believable, and could have been a season-changing stretch. Instead, Xavier went 2-3 -- it lost at Butler on Saturday 67-62 -- and its tournament credentials look about as so-so as they did back in mid-February. Alas.
Providence: An even bigger long shot than better-than-you-think brothers-in-arms Iowa at this point, at least Providence, which would close the season at Connecticut, had the best chance of notching an impressive road victory on the final weekend of the season. Instead, UConn held on 63-59. Keep an eye on the Friars going forward; like McCaffery at Iowa, Ed Cooley has them playing better basketball than anyone expected this early in his tenure. But a tournament bid will have to wait.
St. John's: After suspending D'Angelo Harrison, sitting Sir'Dominic Pointer for a one-game fighting suspension and losing three in a row, St. John's looked totally cooked coming in to the weekend, both on the bubble and on the court. But the Red Storm didn't roll over. Instead, they gave Marquette a genuine test, forcing guard Vander Blue to make a last-second running layup to win and secure Buzz Williams a share of the Big East title. It was an impressive showing by the Red Storm, albeit one that came up just short. No chance this team gets in the tournament now.
1. I don’t trust Florida anymore. Sometimes, the numbers lie. Sometimes, a team with dazzling stats fails to justify the analytic mechanisms that elevate it. That could be the case with Florida. The BPI, the RPI, Ken Pomeroy and Sagarin all love the Gators. Per the film, however, I see problems. The same Florida team that amassed a plus-18.8-points-per-game scoring margin in SEC play entering Saturday’s 61-57 loss at Kentucky (more on that soon) and crushed Marquette and Wisconsin in November has suffered four road losses in February alone. The Gators were outplayed by Arizona and Kansas State off campus in the nonconference portion of their schedule. Sure, they’ve spent of a chunk of the season punching teams in the mouth, but they’re 0-5 in games decided by six points or fewer and haven't beaten a single top-50 RPI team in a road game. And we really haven’t seen that dominant version of Florida, which began SEC play with historic margins of victory, in a month. Who are the Gators now? Well, the final minutes of the Kentucky loss told their story. They’re balanced and talented, but they fumbled in the last stretch of that loss because they couldn’t find that catalyst, that Ben McLemore/Marcus Smart/Doug McDermott/Trey Burke, to lead them beyond the funk that ruined the moment. They did not score in the last seven-plus minutes of the second half. They were the veterans, but they played like freshmen. It’s tough to believe in this program’s postseason potential when it continues to suffer road losses against hungry SEC opponents that don’t match them on paper. Guess what they’ll have to do to advance in the NCAA tournament? Beat hungry underdogs outside Gainesville. Yes, Kentucky re-entered the bubble convo with this win, but Florida did little to prove that it’s worthy of its statistical hype. Again.
2. Marcus Smart and the national/Big 12 POY conversation. Listen, I think Trey Burke deserves national player of the year, but I might change my mind if Victor Oladipo outplays him tomorrow. Here’s the general Burke argument -- and it’s a convincing one -- that circulates within college basketball media circles: “If you take him off that team, there’s no way they’re top 10 and competing for a Big Ten title.” And that’s accurate. I can’t argue against that. Here’s another one to consider: “If you take Marcus Smart off Oklahoma State’s roster, you probably have the team that finished 7-11 in league play last season and not the 13-5 team that’s competed for the Big 12 title in 2012-13.” Smart is the Big 12 player of the year. I like McLemore, Jeff Withey and Rodney McGruder, but Smart deserves the honor following his performance (21 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals) in Saturday’s 76-70 win over Kansas State, a victory that jeopardized the Wildcats’ hopes of winning a Big 12 title. He should be a legit candidate for national POY, too.
3. The sad conclusion to Georgetown-Syracuse. Following his team’s 61-39 loss at Georgetown on Saturday, Jim Boeheim told reporters, “I’m pretty much ready to go play golf someplace. If I was 40 years old, I would be real upset. I’m not 40 years old. That should be obvious.” That comment and his team’s lackluster finish to the regular season (1-4 in its last five) will continue to fuel the retirement speculation that’s surrounded Boeheim for years. John Thompson III might have won national coach of the year honors with his team’s Big East title-sealing win. But the lopsided effort -- the Hoyas’ largest margin of victory against Syracuse since 1985 -- offered a melancholy ending to this classic rivalry. Georgetown will join the Catholic 7, and Syracuse will move to the ACC next season. The two may reconnect in the future, but their battles won’t be regulated by league affiliation. So this could be the end, and as a college basketball fan, I wanted to see drama, overtime, controversy in the final seconds, a buzzer-beater, a comeback something. This rivalry deserved that. Instead, we were treated to the sight of one impressive squad smashing an opponent that failed to show up for the conclusion of this storied series.
4. Marquette wins its most crucial bizarre game of the year. The Golden Eagles love the theatrics that tend to define college basketball in March. Their 69-67 win at St. John’s was their fourth overtime game of the season in Big East competition. It was their third conference win by three points or less. Marquette hasn’t forged the prettiest path to the Big East title, but it earned a share of the crown with another gritty victory Saturday. St. John’s launched an impressive comeback in the final minutes that sent the game into overtime. Buzz Williams just smiled as his team prepared for the extra period; he’d been in that position multiple times this season, so his squad didn’t panic. With the game on the line, Vander Blue drove into the lane and beat the buzzer with the layup. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is what Marquette does. A team that was picked to finish in the middle of the standings earned a share of the Big East title. Wow. The Golden Eagles are clearly tough enough to make noise in the NCAA tourney, too.
6. Meet Derrick Marks. In the final seconds of a 69-65 win that might have pushed his Boise State squad into the field of 68, Marks made a split-second decision to contest Xavier Thames' layup with 21 seconds to go. If Thames had made that shot, the Aztecs would have cut Boise State’s lead to one point. But Marks made plays like that all afternoon. The sophomore guard is just one of the reasons that the Broncos could win a game or two in the NCAA tourney -- I’m putting them in the field, although I’m not so sure about San Diego State anymore. Leon Rice’s program is healthy now (eight guys earned minutes against the Aztecs). The Broncos possess an offense that’s ranked 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Pomeroy, and they’ve won five of their past six games. Watch out for the Broncos in the coming weeks. Huge victory for that team.
7. Get ready for drama in Nashville. Next week, the SEC tournament will take place in Nashville. This league is packed with bubble squads, and I think that will add to the drama in what could be the most exciting conference tournament of them all. Proof? On Saturday, Alabama beat Georgia on a half-court buzzer-beater, Tennessee overcame a late deficit to secure a key win over Missouri and Kentucky kept its NCAA tournament dreams alive with a victory over Florida. The chaos will continue in Nashville.
8. Florida Gulf Coast becomes first team to dance. The Eagles earned the field’s first automatic NCAA tournament berth with an 88-75 victory over Mercer in the Atlantic Sun tourney championship. This is an Eagles squad that finished 8-10 (tied for sixth) in the conference last season, but their first victory of the 2012-13 season came against a top-10-bound Miami team. Kudos to Andy Enfield’s program.
9. Creighton-Wichita State III. The two Missouri Valley Conference power players split their season series this season. Despite their respective struggles, they were still the league’s top two programs. Their most recent matchup, which the Bluejays won, determined the regular-season champion. Creighton’s 64-43 victory over Indiana State and Wichita State’s 66-51 win over Illinois State in Saturday’s semifinals of the MVC tournament guaranteed a third matchup between the league’s top two teams in Sunday afternoon’s final.
10. Louisville makes statement without five overtimes. So the rematch between Louisville and Notre Dame didn’t match the hoopla of the first game. We didn’t get five overtimes. We didn’t even see one. But the Cardinals continued to support the notion that they’re going to be a very dangerous program in the NCAA tournament with a 73-57 victory over Notre Dame. It was the seventh consecutive victory for a team that’s ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. As a team, the Cardinals shot 51 percent from the floor against the Fighting Irish, and Gorgui Dieng registered 20 points (8-11 FG) and 11 rebounds. The Cards are playing like a Final Four team.
2. The ACC said late Saturday that it won't know the 2013-14 season schedule for a few weeks. There is still a chance Duke and Maryland could play twice. If they play only once then the site of that game is still undetermined. I would be surprised that if there was only one meeting in between the two schools that it would happen in College Park. But we shall see. Clearly, though, Duke isn't going to schedule Maryland in a nonconference series when the Terps head to the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season. There is always the chance of a meeting in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but Duke more than likely will continue to be matched up with the top two or three teams in the Big Ten. It's up to the Terrapins to become one of those benchmark programs in their new conference to draw a game against the Blue Devils in the future.
3. Marquette and Georgetown are the two surprise teams atop the Big East with Syracuse. The Orange and second-place Louisville were expected to be in first, but not the aforementioned two teams. Marquette coach Buzz Williams said that through 12 games it was statistically impossible to justify one single reason. Instead, he cited what has been the norm for the Golden Eagles -- they play really hard. As for Georgetown, a once anemic offense has been solved by younger Hoyas finding each other in the right spots, according to coach John Thompson III. Another reason is they finally moved past the relying on the three players who weren't there (Henry Sims, Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson). Oh, and JT3 added that "Otto Porter is very, very good!"