College Basketball Nation: Clemson
Texas Southern 54, Alcorn State 51
Texas Southern won despite recording only two assists. That’s tied for the fewest assists by a team in a win this season.
UNC-Asheville 91, Charleston Southern 64
UNC-Asheville shot 28-for-30 (93.3 percent) from the charity stripe in the victory. The Bulldogs now have three of the top seven single-game foul line percentages of the season (min. 30 attempts).
Clemson 58, Virginia Tech 56
Clemson won despite shooting 0-for-10 from 3-point range. The Tigers are the eighth team this season to win a game in which they missed at least 10 3s without making one.
LIU-Brooklyn 80, Sacred Heart 68
LIU’s Jason Brickman handed out 13 assists in the win. It’s his third 13+ assist game of the season; only UNC’s Kendall Marshall and Iona’s Scott Machado have more such games.
Alabama A&M 73, Jackson State 53
Jackson State’s Keeslee Stewart shot 0-for-10 from the field off the bench in the loss. He’s just the second substitute this season to attempt double-digit field goals and not score a point.
Boston College-Virginia, noon
At stake: Both teams are hoping this is the beginning of a stunning run of four victories in four days. Not likely for either, but you have to start somewhere.
Who has the edge: The Eagles. Virginia has lost nine straight and suspended its leading scorer, Sylven Landesberg, for academic shortcomings. BC won by 13 when the two met in Chestnut Hill on March 3.
Stat to watch: Virginia has attempted the fewest free throws of anyone in the ACC, just 485. Next fewest is Boston College at 537, a full 80 fewer attempts than 10th-place Miami. Can either struggling offensive team find the easiest way to score by getting to the foul line?
Miami-Wake Forest, 2 p.m.
At stake: Miami is hoping for a miracle. The Demon Deacons are playing for NCAA seeding and would like to win their first postseason game since 2008.
Who has the edge: Wake, but not as big an edge as you might think. They’re played poorly down the stretch, losing four of their past five, and the teams split their two regular-season meetings.
Stat to watch: Wake Forest leads the nation in effective field-goal percentage defense, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics. Miami, meanwhile, is a pretty good shooting team at 46.2 percent, second-best in the league. Which strength wins the day?
Georgia Tech-North Carolina, 7 p.m.
At stake: Tech needs to win this game and perhaps another to feel secure about an NCAA tournament bid – and coach Paul Hewitt needs an NCAA tournament bid to feel secure about keeping his job. The Tar Heels are simply trying to pick their teeth up off the ground and salvage something from a disastrous season.
Who has the edge: Georgia Tech swept the season series, winning close in Chapel Hill and by 17 in Atlanta. And the Yellow Jackets are closer to playing for something than the Heels.
Stat to watch: Which team takes care of the ball? Both have committed more turnovers than they’ve forced – Carolina is last in the 12-team ACC in turnover margin in league games, and Georgia Tech is tied for eighth.
North Carolina State-Clemson, 9 p.m.
At stake: North Carolina State is hoping to start a run – and, potentially, hoping to extend Sidney Lowe’s tenure as coach. The Tigers are trying to improve their NCAA seeding.
Who has the edge: Clemson. It won the only meeting between the two this season by three points in Raleigh. But NC State has won three of its past four coming into this game.
Stat to watch: NC State is shooting just 44 percent on the season – and that drops to 40 percent in league games, last in the ACC. But the Wolfpack shot 50 percent or better in their past two victories. If Clemson keeps the Pack closer to 40 percent accuracy than 50 percent, it should win.
No. 7 Ohio State 73, Illinois 57: There were zero upsets to speak of last night, and Illinois' bid for a tournament-securing win at Ohio State was no different. Instead, the night was a feel-good Buckeye festival. Thad Matta's team secured a share of the Big Ten title. Evan Turner got a national spotlight, not that he needed it (more on this below). And Mark Titus, the by-now-famous purveyor of Club Trillion, made the most of his senior night, notching one final trillion in front of hundreds of Club Trillion t-shirt-clad OSU fans -- not to mention raising a whole bunch of cash for sick children. Really, things couldn't have gone much better.
The most notable performance of the night -- other than Titus', obviously -- probably came from Ohio State sharpshooter Jon Diebler, whose seven 3-pointers for 21 points (this scoreline math is refreshingly simple) helped bury the Illini in the second half. After the game, though, the only national topic was Turner. More specifically, the topic was "Is Evan Turner the player of the year?" Every analyst ESPN had to offer on Sportscenter proclaimed it to be true. The only dissenters? America. In a SportsNation poll, 37 percent of the country voted for John Wall as the player of the year; Turner notched 33 percent of the vote. Which means one thing, America: You're on notice. I know Wall might be the most familiar name, but it's March now. There's no excuse for this. Inform thyself. Wall is a great player, but Turner has had a better season, and he deserves the award. I thought we Turner advocates had settled this issue already -- seriously, you have no idea how good it felt to see the unanimous pundit praise for Turner Tuesday night -- but apparently not. We have more work to do. Turner bandwagon team ... assemble!
No. 19 Vanderbilt 64, Florida 60: Again, no upsets here: Florida, like Illinois, could have sealed an at-large NCAA tournament spot with a win over the sturdy Commodores on Tuesday night. It didn't happen. Still, the Gators acquitted themselves nicely in the loss; Florida held a typically efficient Vanderbilt offense to a mere 64 points on 60 possessions. Billy Donovan's team was undone by its poor shooting, though, hitting 21-of-50 2-point shots and just 2-of-13 from 3 for a paltry 31.8 effective field goal percentage. Even in a solid defensive effort, that's not going to get the job done.
The Associated Press wrap of the game seems to think that Florida significantly hurt its tournament chances with the loss, but that seems slightly overstated. Sure, Florida didn't help itself, but losing by four to Vanderbilt at home isn't the worst result in the world, is it? Florida might have more work to do -- but no more work than before Tuesday, right?
Everywhere else: Cincinnati likewise needed a big win to keep itself in the at-large conversation. They almost got it, but insert the old koan about horseshoes and hand grenades here ... UTEP clinched the outright Conference USA title with a hard-fought win at Marshall ... Missouri's Zaire Taylor almost perfectly recreated Tyus Edney's famous game-winner in a thrilling overtime win at Iowa State ... North Carolina became the second team in the history of college basketball to get to 2,000 wins; one wonders if the current players felt strange holding that 2,000-win plaque, given this season's ugliness ... Syracuse had no problems with St. John's on senior night ... Baylor won at Texas Tech, handing Pat Knight's team its sixth straight loss ... Minnesota suffered a major letdown at Michigan, one which officially puts the final nail in the the already almost-entirely-assembled Gophers' coffin ... Trevor Booker did manly things in Clemson's win over Georgia Tech ... and Marquette shredded Louisville's zone in a 21-point win in Milwaukee.
Don't let anyone tell you the college basketball regular season doesn't matter. It does. Wednesday night doesn't boast a single match up between top 25 teams, but it does have at least four games featuring bubble (or barely bubble) teams with a chance to immediately boost their at-large chances. A quick gander:
No. 3 Purdue at Minnesota, 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: Don't look now, but Minnesota has a chance to make the NCAA tournament. I know, I know -- it's a distant chance. But it's a chance. After a 16-point win over Wisconsin on Feb. 18 and a subsequent blowout at Indiana, Tubby Smith's team is at 16-10 and 7-7 in the Big Ten with four games to play. A win tonight would be the Gophers' third in a row, and would give them a much-needed quality win for the résumé. Then, with a win over the No. 3 team in the country in their pocket, the Gophers would have three winnable games -- at Illinois, at Michigan, and at Iowa -- to play. Win out, and that gets Minnesota to 20 wins, an 11-7 conference mark, and serious at-large consideration. Easy, right?
OK, not so much: Purdue is playing its best basketball of the season right now, and the Boilermakers are in the thick of a Big Ten title race with Ohio State and Michigan State. There will be no letdowns. If Minnesota wants to sneak into the tournament, it will be earned.
South Florida at Villanova, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN360: South Florida, much like Minnesota, is nowhere to be found in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket. At 16-10, the Bulls share much the same burden as the Gophers, which is not how the animal kingdom works at all, but that's OK, because we're actually talking about college basketball. Anyway, stay focused: South Florida very much needs a win at Villanova -- not an impossible feat, given Nova's prodigious fouling habit and overall defensive vulnerability -- to stay in the bubble picture. At the very least, fire up your laptop to watch Dominique Jones take on the porous Wildcats. Bubble talk or no, that ought to be a treat.
San Diego State at BYU, 9 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports: San Diego State has had two prior chances to prove itself worthy of an at-large bid. The first was Jan. 23's 71-69 loss to BYU at home. The second was an 88-86 loss at New Mexico. Swap either one of those incredibly close and no doubt disappointing results, and SDSU isn't sitting there wallowing among the first four out. So here you go, Aztecs. Last chance. You get BYU and Jimmer Fredette in Provo with a tournament at-large on the line. You've proven you can play with the best teams in your league. Now you must, thanks to the selection committee's totally unfair and not cool at all focus on "wins," win.
No. 21 Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: You already know the story here: Right now, Notre Dame shares two things with the aforementioned South Florida Bulls: a 6-8 Big East record and a fringe chance of making the NCAA tournament. How to remedy that? The Bulls have the better of the opportunities tonight, but Notre Dame has the more winnable. The only problem? Luke Harangody is expected to sit out again for the Irish, a knee injury that's come at the worst possible time for the perennially bubble-bound team.
Everywhere else: Both of these teams are already in the tournament, so they get shoved all the way down here to the flotsam, but tonight's best game is no doubt Oklahoma State at Texas, where Texas will experience life without Dogus Balbay for the first time ... There's also Texas A&M at Baylor, a match up of two very capable and tourney-ready Big 12 teams ... Dayton didn't fit up top, but it too needs a bubble win over Temple to make a late case for tournament inclusion ... UTEP will try to continue its conference dominance at Southern Miss ... Virginia Tech can't afford to lose to Boston College ... Florida State at North Carolina will be on your television whether you like it or not ... Xavier will go to St. Louis in tonight's other big A-10 match up ... And Clemson will play at Maryland as the Terps try to keep edging toward that elusive bracketology respect.
No more: As of yesterday, Duke is the only 2009-10 ACC team left in the top 25, breaking the conference's 30-year multiple-team streak.
The good news for the ACC is that things aren't quite so bad -- seven different ACC teams have held a poll spot at some point this season, and Virginia Tech and Maryland are just outside the poll in that ever-so-close "others receiving votes" pile. (Va. Tech tallied 76 votes this week while Maryland nabbed 57 votes this week, putting both teams just behind UTEP.) And there is still Duke, sitting pretty at No. 5. It's not as though the ACC is quite in dire Pac-10 poll drought levels yet.
The bad news, however, is that the ACC is demonstrably sliding a bit in recent weeks. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest and Clemson and Florida State and (most obviously) North Carolina aren't sniffing much of the poll anymore. That isn't the worst thing in the world, NCAA tournament-wise, but it's also not the most encouraging sign for conference partisans or, for that matter, for Duke, which would rather appreciate its conference mates putting up a fight as it seeks another signature win and a spot on the tournament's No. 1 line. If that win doesn't come from Maryland or Virginia Tech, it might not come at all.
See, the ACC has a bit of a scheduling mess on its hands. Several of the conference's teams have already met twice, or not at all, meaning they'll play two games in close proximity late in the year if they haven't already. This is unfair not to any particular team, but it is unfair in general. Hypothetically, let's say you have to play Clemson twice, and you get both of those games out of the way early in the year. Maybe the Tigers hit their stride late. Maybe you luck out. But that means some time will have to play the late-blooming Tigers twice in February, when, remember, the Tigers are really hitting their stride. (This is hypotehtical, but you get the idea.) Spreading these games out would be fairer to everyone, yes?
Mike Krzyzewski certainly thinks so:
The imbalance in teams' schedules puzzles Krzyzewski. Duke played Clemson twice in its first six ACC games and will play Maryland twice in 18 days later on.
Georgia Tech and Florida State had met twice by Jan. 24.
"There are a number of teams in our league that we haven't played yet, but this is our 10th game," Krzyzewski said. "There should be more balance, because teams change positively from January to February. So everybody in the league - and I'm not saying it benefits us or doesn't benefit us - but overall you have more equity involved if you play a team in January and you play a team in February."
Teams can also change negatively from the end of December to the beginning of March -- anyone obligated to play Texas twice would love to play both of those games right this very moment -- but the point still stands. This can't be the only way to do things. Scheduling is tough, but it's not impossible, and our major conferences have been at this for, like, half a century. We can do better.
Well, not we -- the ACC. I have no practical means of solving this problem. My involvement ends after this paragraph. But, um, good luck, conference scheduling dudes! I'm sure you guys will figure something out.
A look at their record reveals otherwise: The Terps are 1-4 against the RPI top 50 and have no real quality wins to speak of. It's possible Maryland's best road win is at Indiana on Dec. 1, and let's just say the committee isn't going to be handing out lollipops for beating Indiana. The truth is that Maryland hasn't been tested. Or, more accurately, every time the Terps have had a reasonable test they've failed. They beat the teams they're supposed to beat and lose to the teams to which they're supposed to lose to. So why does it feel like we know nothing about them?
I'm not the only one here; the Maryland fans at Testudo Times have similar concerns:
So, no, the sky is not falling. At the same time, the ugly truth of the matter is that this team rests squarely on the bubble after the loss, and I do think you have to take something out of this loss. [...] Here's the thing: Maryland doesn't have any incriminating losses. Nor do they have any particularly encouraging wins, outside of the home win against FSU. We really don't know just how good or bad this team is yet. That's partially what makes the upcoming FSU game so important.Maryland is an efficient team. The numbers say good things about the Terps. Now it's time to match those numbers with a few résumé-building wins. It would be a shame if a team this good, with a coach this hard-working, didn't make the most of the opportunity. Maryland is at risk of doing just that.
In the meantime, there are sure to be a flood of stories about why this is a good loss for Kentucky. That makes sense. It will disappoint Kentucky fans that their ascent to college basketball's upper crust has been derailed so quickly, but the more reasonable among them would have had to assume it would happen eventually. Upsets happen. All Kentucky can do is take the lessons from Tuesday night -- John Wall and Eric Bledsoe must protect the ball better; when DeMarcus Cousins has position, he needs the rock; help defense means stopping penetration and recovering to your man -- and apply them as they go on their quest for a national title. I'm not sure I buy the good loss theory. There are no such things as good losses. But there are plenty of good lessons to come from losses, and those are what Kentucky needs right now.
(Oh, and for plenty more on last night's game, be sure to scroll below for Pat Forde's instant postgame observations and Dana O'Neil's wrap.)
No. 5 Michigan State 57, Michigan 56: I have no allegiance to Michigan, other than my affection for a friend who went there, and that has nothing to do with Michigan basketball. (Plus, that friend broke our fantasy league's traveling trophy yesterday, so I couldn't care less about him right now. Such disrespect!) I attended a rival Big Ten school. But I have to admit I'm starting to feel a little bit sorry for Michigan fans. First their team is ranked in the top 15 at the beginning of the season. Then they have to suffer through 19 games of mediocre, lifeless basketball, nine of which the Wolverines lost. Then their best player is suspended for a date at Purdue. Then they welcome No. 5 Michigan State, play the Spartans tough for 40 minutes, lose a one-point lead on a Kalin Lucas jumper with 3.5 seconds left, and then rim out an inbound play that nearly got them a two-foot game-winner with less than a second left. I mean, yikes. Whether Michigan should be better than this or not is up for debate; whether their fans expected more and are now forced to face a 10-10 team is not.
But there is a silver lining here, however bleak it may be: Even if Michigan had won last night, it's not like they'd be in the tournament for sure. Heck, even if they'd won, converted the win into momentum, and finished the Big Ten regular season strong, there's no guarantee the committee will find the Wolverines worthy. Michigan will probably need to win the Big Ten tournament to get in the NCAA. Look on the bright side, Michigan fans: This loss, painful though it may be, doesn't really matter.
No. 13 Kansas State 76, Baylor 74: Smart money was on this being a close game, an eminently winnable one for Baylor if the Bears kept K-State off the free throw line. At the most crucial time, that didn't happen: LaceDarius Dunn fouled Jacob Pullen with eight seconds left to put the Wildcats guard on the free throw line, where Pullen knocked down the two game-winning shots to give K-State a steal of a win on the road. Baylor actually shot more free throws than Kansas State; the Bears also managed to keep turnovers low and rebound a decent portion of their offensive misses. The difference was in the shooting. Kansas State shot a 58.8 eFG percentage, while Baylor shot 43.2 eFG, and the Bears' solidity in other facets of the game wasn't enough to overcome a cold night in Waco.
Everywhere else: On a day when Clemson fans were talking about becoming an elite hoops program, this has to be a disappointing road loss at Boston College ... Maryland cruised over Miami, continuing the Terps' streak of efficient, impressive basketball in the ACC thus far ... West Virginia had few issues at DePaul ... UAB defended its place in the top 25 by topping Tulsa and taking full ownership of a wide-open C-USA ... This was probably NC State's best shot at toppling the hated Tar Heels in, what, five years? Unfortunately for the state's red-clad fans, it didn't happen, as UNC cruised to a 14-point win ... and Northwestern, despite its ugly efficiency profile, played Minnesota tough at Minnesota. The Wildcats are still, despite all odds, looking tourney-worthy.
No. 1 Kentucky at South Carolina, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Only four players in the country use more of their team's possessions than South Carolina star Devan Downey. DeMarcus Cousins is one of them. But where Cousins probably takes a few too many shots in Kentucky's offense -- John Wall and Eric Bledsoe are standing right there, DeMarcus -- the Gamecocks rely on Downey's production much the same way as Ohio State relies on Evan Turner. Perhaps even more. The question is whether Downey's gaudy offensive production is enough to stand up to a Kentucky team that is better than South Carolina in literally every way. The Gamecocks are especially vulnerable when the ball hits their own rim; they rank 339th in the country at preventing opposing offensive rebounds. Here's where it gets worse: Thanks to Cousins' prodigious rebounding ability, Kentucky ranks No. 1 in the country in grabbing their own misses. This smells like disaster. If the Gamecocks can keep Kentucky off the glass even occasionally, and thus give Downey a chance to go at Kentucky's defense on the other end, maybe South Carolina can hang with a Kentucky team that has had trouble putting away inferior opponents in the past. But if not -- if Cousins works as freely on the glass as the numbers suggest -- South Carolina has no shot. No matter how good Downey is.
In any case, tonight is Kentucky's first game as the No. 1 team in the country. Will that affect the Cats' play? Will it matter at all? This is not a team unused to hype, so I'm betting no ... but it's worth some attention all the same.
No. 5 Michigan State at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Can Michigan get a reschedule? This is really not a good time. Manny Harris is coming off a suspension. The Wolverines are still desperately looking for leadership. And John Beilein is saying things like this: "It's almost like the old-time days in the mid-majors. You got to go on a big string at the end of the year or you have to peak at tournament time and win the tournament. Those are our two options right now." Meanwhile, Michigan State is playing its best basketball of the season, or at least coming off its most emotional win, a come-from-behind last-second win at Minnesota on Saturday, the kind of win Tom Izzo teams always seem to get right before they figure things out and tear through the second half of their season. There are a lot of ancillary factors for Michigan at work here, and none of them look particularly positive.
No. 12 Kansas State at Baylor, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: Fire up the laptops; this is tonight's best game. Baylor nearly beat Kansas at the Phog last week. Kansas State toppled Texas before dropping a home game to Oklahoma State on Saturday. So K-State is vulnerable, and Baylor is at home. This has the makings of a close one. Baylor's key? Keep the Wildcats off the free throw line, which they go to more than any other team in the country. K-State's key? Get to the free throw line (naturally), and also keep Baylor's perimeter shooting (the Bears make 40 percent of their threes and 53.3 percent of their twos) under wraps.
Everywhere else: West Virginia visits a DePaul team that's playing slightly better since interim coach Tracey Webster took over ... Clemson will take on Boston College in Boston on ESPN2 ... Maryland will attempt to preserve their hot ACC start (Gary Williams' team is playing the best offense in the conference thus far) against a cupcake-bloated Miami (FL) team in College Park ... North Carolina State has been better than expected and North Carolina has been far worse; which wins out when the Heels head to Raleigh? ... Seattle will visit Washington with its secret weapon, former Washington juco recruit Charles Garcia in tow; check out Diamond's post about Garcia, who uses more of his team's possessions than any other player in the country, here.
- Imagine my shock last night as I learned, via a Twitter friend, that UCLA students had rushed the court after a one-point win over Washington, a mediocre team in a bad conference likely headed for a one-berth postseason. Scandalized, I emailed Diamond, who was actually at the game, and he said students sort of half-rushed the court before they were stopped by Pauley Pavilion security personnel. Hooray for security personnel! UCLA is the most storied program in all of college basketball. It is having a down year, but just two years ago it was riding a wave of pro talent to one Final Four after the next. Had this court storm occurred, it would have gone on record as the worst, least-deserved court storm of all-time, and this is coming from someone that more often than not doesn't care about court storms. (My latest post on the topic might insinuate the contrary, but really, I usually don't care.) Bruins Nation was likewise upset, writing, "It was definitely exhilarating moment. Apparently too exhilarating for bunch of folks in the Bruin Den to lose all perspective and attempt to rush the court. Come one people, show a modicum of respect to the banners hanging in our rafters. Don't act like a D-2 program which is all excited about beating a mediocre, NIT-bound Washington team which still hasn't won a single road game this season. It makes our student section look pathetic and embarrassing. Thankfully the security turned them away." UCLA fans: High five your Pauley security guard next time you go to the arena. They're heroes, you know.
- Rick Majerus is not happy in the Atlantic 10. According to Majerus -- whose St. Louis team is having a pretty solid year so far -- the flights are too long, the East Coast cities are too expensive, and the academic situation too difficult on his players, who he says are "in peril" from missing so many classes when the Billikens fly to play their A-10 counterparts. It's not often you hear a coach openly campaign for a conference switch (Majerus makes it clear the he wants to be in the Missouri Valley, which makes more sense geographically), but hey, this is Rick Majerus. Rick Majerus says funny things sometimes.
- The Cleveland Plain-Dealer posts video of Evan Turner's visit to his boyhood home in Chicago, where Turner taught himself to hoop in an alley behind his house. That sound you hear is thousands of over-involved sports dads abandoning expensive basketball camps and sending their sons to the back alley with nothing more than a basketball and a crate. If it worked for Evan Turner, it can work for you! Now SHOOT. And stop crying!
- Storming The Floor takes a revisionist's look at the Trent Johnson-John Brady-Johnny Dawkins coaching carousel, and how it's worked out for each school.
- It's not just ISU fans that are ticked at defector Lucca Staiger, who left ISU this week to return to Germany to play professionally. Gary Parrish is irate, too.
- Luke Winn hits your face with another batch of his patented power rankings, which cram more information into each team's blurb than your brain can probably handle in one sitting. Kentucky ranks atop the board, as you might imagine.
- Rush The Court acknowledges Winn's ranking (really, where else would you put the Cats?) but also mentions Kentucky's low KenPom rating -- the Wildcats are No. 11 in adjusted efficiency margin thanks largely to a soft perimeter defense -- as reason for slight concern. Calipari's teams are typically not this soft defensively, and giving up too many threes is not a vulnerability you want to take into the NCAA tournament.
- Frank Martin is in line for a raise. That sounds about right.
- Some controversy on the last play of Louisville's loss to Seton Hall last night. Matt Norlander explains the situation and says the Cardinals were "jobbed" out of a chance at overtime. Rob Dauster isn't quite so sure.
- Gasaway looks at UConn's situation both on the court and off it, and on the court, UConn is shooting a drastically low number of threes. This is not, despite what your high school basketball coach might have told you, the most efficient way to run an offense.
- Speaking of Gasaway, here's a longer, in-depth look at what seems to be plaguing the North Carolina Tar Heels this season.
- FanHouse's Terrence Moore declares Indiana's undefeated season unmatchable. Sure, the college basketball landscape is different now -- more games, more pressure, better competition -- but never sure seems like a long time, doesn't it?
- Rivals pinpoints some "under the radar" seniors worthy of your attention. Yes, there are still seniors in college basketball. Who knew?
- Oh, and speaking of power rankings, here's SB Nation's blog poll, which combines the votes of the network's college basketball bloggers in the same way as the AP poll combines media members' votes. Always a fun comparison.
- And last but not least, some guy named Dick Vitale weighs in with some of his favorite home court advantages in college hoops. Clemson, stand up!
No. 18 Georgia Tech 66, No. 16 Clemson 64: Sometimes size is all you need. That's the prognosis over Georgia Tech's last-second win over Clemson Tuesday night, wherein Trevor Booker fouled Zachary Peacock on the arm with three seconds remaining, putting Peacock on the line to hit the game-winning free throws. Booker shouldn't feel too bad; he led Clemson in points (19), rebounds (nine), steals (three) and blocks (two), and in the all-important "impressive breakaway dunk that causes a "SportsCenter" anchor to inexplicably and awesomely reference 'Lost In Translation'" category with one. (Check the highlights here if you don't believe me.) In the end, though, the Georgia Tech win came down to size, specifically the size possessed by Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. Favors went for 17 and 14, and finally appeared to be breaching his uber-prospect potential -- this was one of those "oh, THAT'S why" games -- and he and Lawal scored a combined 66 percent eFG. Their work on the interior also gave Georgia Tech a decided offensive rebounding advantage, and in a tough, somewhat ugly conference game, that was enough to make the difference.
Wichita State 60, No. 22 Northern Iowa 51: Those of you who tuned in to Purdue-Illinois expecting a raucous Assembly Hall crowd had to feel a little disappointed; every time I dialed up the Big Ten on my remote, the Orange Krush and company were downright demure. Not so in Wichita. There, the Shockers played the streaking Northern Iowa Panthers for a shot at the Missouri Valley regular-season crown and, even more importantly, a chance to prove that the MVC isn't just a one-bid league in 2009-10. The Shockers opened up small lead after small lead against UNI, guarding the Panthers all the way out to 25 feet and holding what is usually a good 3-point shooting team (29.9 percent on the season) to a dismal percentage (11.8 percent). Wichita State made the most of its possessions by grabbing offensive rebounds, and Northern Iowa could never erase the deficit.
It's a huge win for the WSU program generally and coach Gregg Marshall specifically, and it gets Wichita State right back in the hunt in the MVC, which is all Marshall and company could ask for Tuesday night. Thanks to some impressive play and a rowdy home crowd, the Shockers got it.
No. 15 Purdue 84, Illinois 78: This is a held serve, isn't it? Sure, road wins are tough, and road wins at Assembly Hall are tougher, but you would expect a good Purdue team to go into Champaign and beat a mediocre Illinois squad, would you not? That's fair, yes?
OK, so the Boilermakers have had their share of troubles these last three games, but this team is still talented, well-coached, deep (except at point guard, where it's very shallow) and experienced. Methinks the Boilers -- who got back to their efficient ways Tuesday night, scoring 1.12 points per possession (even as they allowed more than a point per possession on the defensive end) -- will be just fine.
No. 8 Tennessee 63, Alabama 56: Tennessee won for three reasons Tuesday night. One, the Volunteers didn't turn the ball over. Like, at all. Two, the Volunteers got to the free throw line at an extraordinary rate, especially for a road game -- someone should tell the referees in Tuscaloosa what home-court advantage is supposed to mean -- and three, Wayne Chism. Chism scored all of his 11 points in the final seven minutes of the game, helping the Volunteers close out another SEC win, this one on the road. The question now is how long Tennessee can keep this up. After all, it's still four scholarship athletes down, including Tyler Smith, the Vols' best all-around playmaker before his dismissal. Can Tennessee keep rolling? Hey, it's come this far.
My mind is big on finding themes where perhaps there are none. I recognize this is foolish. But if there is any sort of theme to be drawn out of tonight's action, it's whether the teams on hand are real or fake, about which side of their personalities are the real deal. It's like figuring out a girlfriend after a couple of months; that's when things start to get familiar and real, whether you like it or not.
All right, that analogy was terrible. Sorry. Let's just get to previewin':
No. 16 Clemson at No. 18 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Can either of these teams win the ACC? It's not looking good: Despite Kyle Singler's odd senior-year struggles, Duke is looking like an efficient beast unlikely to yield many conference losses. This is Duke's conference to win. But Georgia Tech and Clemson have proved themselves more than capable of beating the conference's usual powers. So which team is a contender? Which team can unseat Duke? If anyone can do it, it's probably Clemson; the Tigers are one of only four teams (Duke, Maryland, and Virginia being the three others) with a positive efficiency differential, and they have the ACC record to show for it. A win at Georgia Tech -- something Duke couldn't accomplish last week -- would go a long way toward proving the Tigers are more than just another footprint in Duke's path to an easy conference title. A loss means ... well, not a whole lot. It means Georgia Tech can win home games against solid teams, and it means Clemson probably isn't as good as their 20-point win over North Carolina. It's a confusing conference, this ACC. Let's see how it plays out.
No. 15 Purdue at Illinois, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Can Purdue right the ship? After a 14-0 nonconference tear, the Boilermakers are looking suddenly vulnerable, having lost three straight Big Ten games, one of which came in a come-from-behind loss to Ohio State at home -- the kind of thing this Purdue team would have seemed incapable of three weeks ago -- and an upset loss to Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday. (Which was an awfully nice, résumé-building win for the Wildcats, for what it's worth.) Purdue doesn't look like the defensive buzz saw that took down a full-strength Tennessee team in one of the best games of the young season in November. They don't look like the team that beat West Virginia by 15. Ever since they hit conference play the Boilermakers look like a mediocre defensive team, and this Purdue team can't afford to be mediocre on defense. It's, like, their thing. They need to be good at it, or all hopes of a Final Four will be gone faster than Conan O'Brien. (Topical humor! What, are people not still talking about Conan O'Brien? Have we moved on?)
Meanwhile, Illinois is 4-1 in the Big Ten and is looking a little more coherent than in their disappointing non-conference start, but that start has just as much to do with playing Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State than anything else. Tonight is Illinois's chance to prove they deserved their preseason top 25 ranking, or at least some reasonable slice of it. It would be a quality Big Ten win. Heck, it would be a quality win, period. Illinois doesn't have nearly enough of those this year.
No. 22 Northern Iowa at Wichita State, 9:05 p.m. ET, ESPNU: If the above options don't excite you, how about a little quality hoops from the Missouri Valley? Northern Iowa is ranked for a reason: The Panthers have won their last 15 games and have only been challenged a couple of times during that stretch, quietly going from MVC unknown to national mid-major power in the course of a couple of months. (In the meantime, if anyone can figure out how this UNI team lost to DePaul on Nov. 20 -- beyond "It was November and weird things happen in November" -- feel free to fill me in.) Tonight is the country's chance to get acquainted with the Panthers. While doing so, enjoy the Wichita State Shockers, who have racked up their own impressive record (16-3, 5-2 MVC) and appear to be UNI's most relevant challenger. At the very least, the Shockers can prove that the MVC is more than a one-bid league in 2009-10.
Everywhere else: Is Tennessee ripe for a letdown? You would have said that before their handy win over Auburn and their gutty overtime victory over Ole Miss, and that didn't work out so well. But now the Vols must take their underhanded show on the road, where a rebuilding Alabama team awaits ... Can Northwestern follow up its home win over Purdue with a road win over the Evan Turner-energized Ohio State Buckeyes? It doesn't seem likely, but neither did Saturday's victory ... Miami built a gaudy nonconference record before it got into ACC play, and things have headed downhill from there; tonight's match up with Boston College in Miami should be a brief respite from the losing.
One of two things happens: A traditional also-ran experiences a sudden surge of success and upsets a traditional power at home. Or a traditional power that's fallen on hard times (say, Indiana) temporarily overcomes those hard times and beats a highly ranked opponent at home. It never fails. The students rush the court, and people like me are left to break out the weary old "you crazy kids got no respect for tradition!" chestnut, because I am approximately 76 years old and can remember when court-storming MEANT SOMETHING, DARNIT.
After the final buzzer ended the Tigers' dismantling of North Carolina in Littlejohn Coliseum Wednesday night, Clemson's students rushed the court. This despite Clemson's favored status (the Tigers were a 3-point favorite), a top 20 ranking, and a relatively (relatively being the key word here) down year for the Tar Heels.
The immediate reaction to this court-storming was displeasure bordering on disgust. I felt the same way. "What is Clemson doing?" I thought. "This is not a court-stormer. Not even close." The more time I spend thinking about it, though, and the more I read Andy Katz's postgame dispatch from Littlejohn last night, the more I begin to think maybe the court-storming was warranted after all:
You can call out the court storming all you want.
But spend an evening here at Littlejohn Coliseum. Talk to the students who suffer from a bit of an inferiority complex regarding their neighbors to the north. Chat with a seasoned fan like Gary Girmindl, who was watching his 512th consecutive Clemson home game, a streak that spans 31 years.
Their Tigers, who have never beaten UNC in Chapel Hill, had lost 10 straight games to the Tar Heels overall. So beating North Carolina, regardless of the transition the Heels are going through, means something down here.
I'm not sure I'm completely sold, but it's at least forgivable. Should Clemson students get a pass here? Does traditional ineptitude override present-day anti-court-storm conditions? We report, you leave comments! (Even better, you can register your thoughts in this morning's SportsNation poll.)
In the meantime, I think we can all come together on the following two points: 1). Court-storming is out of hand, and 2). There's really nothing wrong with this. Are college students rushing the court way too often for the gesture to mean anything? Sure. Does this matter in any real way? In other words, should we worry about the "cheapening" of a gesture based primarily on college students feeling momentary euphoric joy and choosing to express that joy in a communal manner? Absolutely not.
College kids will keep finding reasons to storm courts, and I'll keep writing about why the court-storming wasn't deserved, and the cycle will go on forever and ever until I shake off this mortal coil. Which will be soon, because I am 76 years old.
Clemson 83, North Carolina 64: Two conclusions. 1). North Carolina is, as of Jan. 14, not very good. 2). Clemson's basketball fan support is at an all-time high, and the Tigers are better for it.
On the first: This isn't exactly a shocker. After all, North Carolina came into Thursday night's game ranked No. 41 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings. They're merely OK defensively, and in past years this was fine, because the offense was otherworldy. That's not the case this year; UNC is 40th in points per possession, scoring about 1.1 points per trip. That's just ... meh. (And it doesn't help when you turn the ball over on 30 percent of your possessions, either.) It's certainly not what we've come to expect from Roy Williams' North Carolina teams, who have overwhelmed their opponents on the offensive end since the day Roy found a house in Chapel Hill. This team is young and new and not vintage UNC, and it shows. On nights like Wednesday, it shows badly.
Make no mistake, though, North Carolina wasn't merely bad on Wednesday. Saying so would be a disservice to Clemson and its fans. This is the second conclusion: Don't look now, but Clemson is starting to look like a pretty darn good ACC program. They've got the ability, sure. That's not entirely new; Oliver Purnell's teams have been playing at about this level for a few years now. But more than anything, Wednesday night showed just how far Clemson's fan base has come. It was this time last year that Clemson writers were aghast wondering why so many people were showing up to noon tip-offs at Littlejohn Coliseum. That was unlike Clemson fans, who typically prefer their football. (They're in South Carolina, after all. Don't fish prefer the water?) Newsflash: Clemson basketball has plenty of fans, too, and those fans are relishing the Tigers' stellar on-court product.* Chicken, meet egg.
*Speaking of on-court relish, this of course doesn't excuse the court-storming that went down on Wednesday night, which I'll get to in a later post. Here's a preview: Tsk-tsk, Clemson students. Tsk. Tsk.
Texas 90, Iowa State 83; Kansas 84, Nebraska 72; Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89: Well, it was fun while it lasted. Most of Wednesday's talk revolved around how well Big 12 teams had done at home in 2009-10; the conference was 112-1 going into Wednesday night's games. I said yesterday that that stat would be tested, and if it held up after Wednesday night's games, something seriously freaky was going on. Never mind. All three Big 12 road teams won on Wednesday night, even Missouri -- ostensibly rebuilding after an Elite Eight last year, but quietly 14-3 and 3-0 in conference -- at Texas Tech. I think we can rule out the supernatural.
Michigan State 60, Minnesota 53: Minnesota is almost good enough to be ranked. Almost. The Gophers have lost five of their last six games to ranked teams (that stat courtesy of the wonderful folks in the ESPN research department), including on Wednesday night, when they played Michigan State almost even for 40 minutes in East Lansing and only barely came up short. The Spartans, meanwhile, are starting to find their groove after some struggles in the early nonconference season. Sound familiar? (I meant that rhetorically. Of course it sounds familiar. The Spartans do this every year.)
Pittsburgh 67, Connecticut 57: Dana said it best last night: Pitt is legit. Simple, syntactically rhythmic and also, you know, true. Pittsburgh was supposed to rebuild in 2009-10. They were supposed to feel every pound of DEJuan Blair's body mass lifted from underneath the opponent's basket. (Which, by the way, note to every NBA GM that didn't take Blair in the late first or early second round: You are idiots. I'm not the first to tell you, but I'll gladly join the chorus. Letting Blair go to the Spurs in the late second round. Unbelievable.) Anyway, the point is, Pittsburgh isn't missing its big three nearly as much as we all thought. They're doing just fine, actually, perched quite neatly atop the Big East with wins at Syracuse , at Cincy and now at UConn. Jamie Dixon: coach of the year?
Everywhere else: Duke destroyed Boston College at Cameron, which: duh ... Syracuse dismantled Rutgers in New Jersey, which again: duh ... BYU had no problems with Air Force on its way to a 12th win in a row, and speaking of coach of the year candidates, Dave Rose, come on down ... Northwestern had a chance to notch a huge Big Ten win over Wisconsin but lost hold of the game in the closing minutes, losing 60-50 and taking another step toward a perpetual NCAA tourney-less existence ... Georgia plays hard, that's for sure; unfortunately the Bulldogs' best effort is often not quite good enough, and such was the case in yet another close loss to a ranked team Wednesday night ... Hey, wait a second. Is that Virginia? Beating Georgia Tech? Why yes, yes it is! More on this later in the day ... Utah State outlasted Nevada in a close overtime WAC win ... Vanderbilt barely escaped Alabama in Tuscaloosa ... and Xavier battled toward the top of the A-10 with a win over Charlotte.
No. 13 North Carolina at No. 19 Clemson, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Oh, road wins. How fleeting you are. If there's been a theme on the blog today, that's been it. Some schools can get them (Ohio State's win at Purdue Tuesday night, for example) and some schools can't (that would be everyone in the Big 12, naturally). North Carolina gets a chance to bring this debate into the ACC, where the young Tar Heels will visit Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C., Wednesday night. At stake for the Heels is a chance to prove their brutal nonconference stretch was a growing experience, that road wins in the ACC will not only be achievable but expected, even for a young team. At stake for Clemson? The Tigers have an opportunity to not only beat a talented team and get an ACC win (duh), but to make their name nationally as a program worth watching. This has been the case for two years now, but Oliver Purnell has yet to receive the requisite recognition. Maybe that starts tonight. Maybe the Tigers can be the random car in the Tar Heels' bus side. Weirder things have happened. (Like, for example, a car hitting the North Carolina bus today. That was definitely weirder.)
No. 20 Pittsburgh at No. 15 Connecticut, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Now here's a confusing conference. The Pac-10 is wide-open because it's bad. The Big 12 is closed -- either Texas or Kansas is taking that thing, obviously -- but its middle portion, the teams that are neither good nor bad, is chock full. The Big Ten is the Big Ten; four teams can win, and the others have no shot. But the Big East? The Big East is wide open because it's good. There are at least seven teams that have been playing quality basketball and can challenge for supremacy before the year is out. Pittsburgh and Connecticut are two of those teams. From a pure efficiency margin standpoint, Pitt has recovered from its slow start and been the better team for a few weeks now, while UConn has had trouble figuring out how to make the most out of its possessions in an uptempo setting. Let's see if either team can win a measure of separation from the pack on Wednesday night.
Boston College at No. 7 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: This note is to merely let you know that this game is on. Boston College is barely hanging on to its place in the Pomeroy top 70; Duke is an efficient, balanced team coming off a conference-opening loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta Saturday. Duke is playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium. You get the idea: It could be a long night for Al Skinner's squad.
No. 1 Texas at Iowa State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: In a way, this is timed perfectly. Duke and BC will be in the second half just as the newly-crowned Longhorns will be taking on Iowa State in Ames, Iowa -- you can fire up your laptop and check out ESPN360 right at 8 p.m. (I'm getting really good at this whole corporate synergy thing, aren't I?) In a rational world, Iowa State wouldn't have the horses to dream of competing against the Longhorns; Craig Brackins is a beast, but he's no match for Damion James and Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley and Justin Mason and insert other awesome Texas player here, because there are like 10 of them. But we do not live in a rational world. We live in a world in which only one Big 12 team has lost at home all season long. 112 other games have gone the other way -- to the home team. Factor in tonight's Kansas-at-Nebraska matchup, and we'll get a true test of just how much home court really means in the Big 12. I have a feeling that crazy 112-1 home win stat is like the entire O'Doyle family: It's going down. If not, something seriously weird is going on here.
Everywhere else: Syracuse will face a struggling (which is a nice way of saying they're bad and getting worse) Rutgers team in northern New Jersey tonight ... Michigan State will host Minnesota, yet another previously ranked Big Ten team looking to stay in the conference hunt ... West Virginia gets a relative breather with South Florida tonight after WVU's upset loss to Notre Dame Saturday ... If you like incessant motion offense, be sure to tune into Wisconsin at Northwestern ... After an upset of Georgia Tech and a close loss at Kentucky, Mark Fox will try to keep Georgia rolling as Ole Miss comes to town ... In a game that will almost certainly be high-scoring (much to Bob Knight's chagrin), Texas Tech will take on tempo-nuts Missouri in Lubbock ... and, last but not least, your ostensible mid-major game of the night: Charlotte at Xavier.
Get your couch's butt-grove ready. It's going to be an awesome night.