College Basketball Nation: Iowa State
ESPN Stats & InformationBaylor guard Brady Heslip made nine 3-pointers en route to 27 points in leading the Bears to an 80-63 win over Colorado.
In the Baylor Bears’ Big 12 semifinals victory over Kansas on March 9, Brady Heslip made four of seven 3-pointers to help put his team over the top.
That was just a prelude to Saturday’s performance, when Heslip exploded for nine 3-pointers and helped push his Bears to the Sweet 16 for the second time in the last three seasons.
From the start of the Kansas game through Saturday's victory over Colorado, the sophomore is shooting a scorching 61 percent (22-for-36) from beyond arc.
All of Heslip's 27 points came via the 3-point shot, as he did not attempt a free throw and missed his only 2-point field-goal attempt.
Here’s a snapshot look at the other early-evening statistical highights in the Men’s Basketball Championship.
(1) Kentucky 87, (8) Iowa State 71
Kentucky scored its most points since scoring 87 against Loyola (Md.) on Dec. 22. The Wildcats join Ohio State as the two teams (so far) who have made the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons.
Kentucky shot 55 percent from the field, something it has done in both Men’s Basketball Championship games so far. The last time the Wildcats shot 55 percent or better twice in the same tournament was in 1998, when they won the national championship.
(4) Indiana 63, (12) VCU 61
The Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, when they lost in the National Championship game. Indiana is now 15-0 against non-conference teams this season.
Indiana had 22 turnovers, its second-most in a Men's Basketball Championship game in school history. The most for the Hoosiers was 23 in 2002 against Duke, a game that Indiana also won.
But the Hoosiers clamped down on the Rams in the final 12:19, forcing more turnovers (5) than they allowed points (4). VCU shot 2-for-15 from the field to close the game (all in half-court sets), 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and 0-for-2 on free throws.
VCU attempted 30 3-pointers (and made 9), its most in a game since 2006.
(3) Marquette 62, (6) Murray State 53
Marquette held Murray State to 31.3 percent shooting from the field. That's the lowest shooting percentage by a Marquette opponent in a Men's Basketball Championship game since Arkansas shot 31.2 percent to beat Marquette in the 2nd round of the 1995-96 tournament.
Those are the two lowest opponents’ field goal percentages by a Marquette opponent, covering all but its first tournament appearance in 1955 (for which the box score does not list team field goal percentages).
(4) Wisconsin 60, (5) Vanderbilt 57
It's the first time in school history that Wisconsin has made consecutive trips to the Sweet 16.
Vanderbilt shot only 26 percent from 3-point range, its fourth-worst shooting percentage from long-distance in a game this season and its second-worst shooting on 3-pointers in an NCAA tournament game.
Make no mistake, this decision will energize the locals. Clone Chronicles is already predicting a "massive" increase in ticket sales thanks to Hoiberg's hire. No other player, and no other coach, could do this for Iowa State the way Hoiberg will. ISU's basketball program will practically market itself.
Here's the downer part, though: Can Hoiberg actually coach? He's never done so before. Hoiberg transitioned immediately from his NBA playing days with the Minnesota Timberwolves to a front-office position in St. Paul, eventually rising to become the T-Wolves' vice president of basketball operations. Hoiberg has done a lot of college playing and a lot of college scouting, but none of his post-retirement jobs have involved coaching or recruiting. That stuff tends to come in handy when you're trying to build a program.
In other words, Hoiberg is in some ways just as risky as Gillispie, if not more so. He will be a popular man for years to come, and he'll get plenty of coverage from fans on both flanks if the Cyclones struggle in Hoiberg's first, oh, four years. Maybe longer. But eventually, if Hoiberg can't coach -- and we have no idea if he can or not -- no amount of popularity will mask it. It won't matter. Iowa State fans' one true hero will be just another on the pile of discarded Cyclones coaches who have failed at the school since Larry Eustachy drank the Natty Lights heard 'round the world.
Hoiberg deserves more, and he's putting it on the line here. Let's hope the Mayor has a plan.
Oh, and there's this: In beating Kansas State, the Cyclones snapped a 21-game losing streak to ranked teams, and improved -- "improved" being a relative term here -- their record to 8-104 in their past 112 games on the road against said ranked teams. Um, yeah: This was a big win.
It was likewise a big loss for Kansas State. Frank Martin's team had risen to No. 5 in the country, and with Purdue fading in the wake of the Robbie Hummel injury had positioned itself as the likely fourth No. 1 seed, at least according to Joe Lunardi's latest bracket. With today's loss, that chance is gone, and the fourth No. 1 seed is again in flux.
That seed, by the way, will almost certainly go to Duke, assuming the Blue Devils finish off the blowout they're working on against North Carolina. (The Devils are up 40-19 with 4 minutes left in the first half as of this writing.) Purdue's out; Villanova's home loss to West Virginia today certainly disqualifies them; New Mexico, Lunardi's other No. 2 seed, seems unlikely to garner a No. 1. That leaves Duke as the top overall candidate, barring, perhaps, a run to the Big East tournament title by West Virginia, or a similar performance from Ohio State in the Big Ten.
There's still time for that, though. Tonight, Iowa State will be primarily concerned with celebrating the one bright spot in what has been an otherwise brutally disappointing season. Tournament seeds -- not even in the NIT -- don't apply here. A bit of redemption, on the other hand, does.
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.
Illinois at No. 7 Ohio State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Of any team facing bubble implications to play tonight, Illinois' situation is perhaps the most fluid. A win at Ohio State puts the Illini in the absolutely-in pile; a loss leaves them right about where they are now, if not worse off. Losing would make the Illini would 18-12 overall, the sort of record the committee will not be perfectly thrilled with, and Illinois would still have to fend off loss No. 13 when Wisconsin comes to Champaign, Ill. on Sunday.
The good news is Illinois has proven capable of beating top Big Ten teams on the road before. The bad news is that Illinois' style plays right into the Buckeyes' hands: Few teams prevent free throws quite like the Buckeyes, and few teams refuse to pocket their jump shots and attack the rim quite like the Illini. If Illinois can reverse this trend for a night -- if they can get Demetri McCamey to attack the basket and get forwards Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis some good looks against Ohio State's somewhat undersized, shallow front line -- Bruce Weber's charges have a chance. If not, well, Ohio State is better and more efficient than Illinois in just about every aspect of the game. Things don't bode well.
No. 19 Vanderbilt at Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of bubble teams in need of help ... Florida, come on down. Joe Lunardi has Florida as a No. 10 seed in the tournament right now, but thanks to a close loss at Georgia (which is actually not that horrible loss, given how well Georgia has played at home this season), Florida could use a big win tonight before a daunting trip to Rupp Arena on Sunday.
Make no mistake: That's what a win over Vanderbilt would be. Big. The Commodores have been a steady force in the SEC all season. Their only league losses have been to Kentucky and a blowout at Georgia -- there's that pesky Georgia team again -- and while not a great defensive team, Kevin Stallings' bunch is very difficult to stop on the offensive end. Vanderbilt's attack is nicely balanced between forwards A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffrey Taylor, and guard Jermaine Beal, all who shoot a plus-50 effective field goal percentage. Florida's lack of a true post presence could hurt them against the 6-foot-11 Ogilvy. Then again, Florida's strength isn't its size; it's speed. Make Ogilvy work away from the hoop on defense -- the sudden offensive brilliance of forward Chandler Parsons applies here -- and the Gators can make Vanderbilt exceedingly uncomfortable. And then we can stop talking about the Florida's bubble issues forever. I'm cool with that.
Everywhere else: Cincinnati doesn't share Illinois' and Florida's bubble anxiety -- it's entirely out of the picture, now -- but a win over Villanova couldn't hurt matters, I guess ... Gonzaga would put the cap on another WCC title season by topping Cal-State Bakersfield tonight ... With a win at Marshall, UTEP would seal the outright Conference-USA crown ... Baylor will put its third-place standing in the Big 12 on the line at Texas Tech ... Likewise for Missouri at Iowa State ... Minnesota plays at Michigan in yet another battle of the upper midwest's most disappointing teams ... and deadlocked Big East teams Louisville and Marquette will play a game both teams want, but don't necessarily need, in regards to NCAA tournament hopes. Marquette is involved, so it's a safe bet the game will come down to the wire. That should be fun.
No. 6 West Virginia 70, No. 21 Pittsburgh 51: Who wants to go play in Morgantown? Not me. Granted, I am not a college basketball team, so I don't have to worry about that. If I was an opposing team, though, I would officially see the angry fans -- the people who threw spare change onto the court (make it rain!) as Pitt rebounded and closed the deficit last night, prompting Bob Huggins to grab the microphone and tell fans "that's stupid" -- and I would get a little nervous. But the real cause for concern is the Mountaineers themselves. West Virginia is officially finding its stride. Huggins' group has won five straight over Big East foes in consistent and overpowering ways, especially on the offensive glass -- WVU grabbed 57.6 percent of its misses on offense last night, leading to a variety of second-chance buckets and putbacks, and that's the key right there. That's how West Virginia wins. They don't have to shoot the ball all that well. They just have to rebound. If you can stop them, you can win, but good luck: No one's figured it out yet.
Pittsburgh shouldn't be too discouraged by this result, which started OK and then got ugly after the half. (Speaking of ugly and true to its name, the Backyard Brawl included some mild brawl-like occurrences late in the game.) Why? Because the Panthers never really found their shot, and despite a high number of free throws and plenty of offensive rebounds of their own, the lack of shooting wasn't enough. It should correct itself in time. That might not make Jamie Dixon, whose team has now lost four of its last five, feel any better. But it's true.
No. 1 Kansas 72, Colorado 66: I barely previewed this game in Saddle Up, and that tiny mention was merely this: "New No. 1 Kansas will try to avoid the fate of last week's No. 1 when it hits the road for a meeting with a marginal conference opponent." Lesson learned: Don't sleep on marginal conference opponents at home. Of course I knew this already, but sometimes it takes a little reminder, and last night's thrilling back-and-forth in Boulder (my third favorite college town of all-time, and I've only been there for like three hours) was all that and more.
Part of me wants to say I knew Colorado had this in them -- the Buffs were pesky against Gonzaga and Arizona in Maui in November, after all. But I didn't. Rather, I expected Kansas to take control of the No. 1 seed and avoid the road pitfalls that have so frequently plagued other No. 1s this year. Oh well. The Jayhawks weren't at their finest, and Colorado deserves credit for finding a way to hang in despite not really beating Kansas in any particular phase of the game, but after Colorado missed its last-second opportunity in regulation, you had to figure Kansas would overpower the Buffaloes in overtime. So it did, and so it stays. But at least it was interesting on the way down.
South Florida 72, No. 8 Georgetown 64: "Y'all come watch Dominique Jones play!" That was the sentence screamed from Georgetown's court by -- who else? --Dominique Jones Wednesday night, just after Jones scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half to give South Florida its biggest win in program history. Um, you guys? Maybe we should listen to him. If you caught any glimpse of the game last night, or if you've seen Jones in the past, you know: Jones is an occasionally dominating college basketball player, a guy with skills to isolate the ball at the top of the key but the size outrebound and physically dominate smaller defenders. Check out the move he makes at the -0:15 mark in these highlights. Strength, size, speed and skill, all melded into one. Watch him play. He wasn't joking.
Everywhere else: Running out of words in a hurry, so let's go to the lightning round: UAB will have to wait to take full control of Conference USA, as Memphis topped the Blazers by 10 and pulled itself into a tie for the conference lead. ... Vanderbilt got a major late challenge from Mississippi State; Jarvis Varnado had another ho-hum nine-block effort. ... Northern Iowa hung on at home over Wichita State, avenging its earlier loss in Wichita and moving to 11-1 in the Missouri Valley. ... Evan Turner line watch: 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals (!!). ... Baylor cruised over Iowa State at home. ... Georgia State handed George Mason its second conference loss, moving Jim Larranaga's squad to 10-2 in the CAA and making a conference tournament win a must.
How about this quote from PC coach Keno Davis: “We can beat anybody in the country. We have enough talent, but we have to play extremely hard.’’ I’m not sure I’m buying that proclamation, but it’s good to know Davis has that much confidence in his crew.
UConn’s win over Texas was as impressive a W as we’ve seen this season. But I knew if Connecticut was an elite team the Huskies had to win a game on the road that they’re supposed to -- and they didn’t. It’s odd looking at the Big East standings and seeing UConn ranked No. 19 yet in 11th place in the league.
- Not sure there was as impressive a road performance in the SEC (save Kentucky winning at Florida) as Vanderbilt’s win at Tennessee. The Commodores got spirited production out of Jermaine Beal (25 points) and held the Vols to 6-of-20 on 3s. Vandy goes into Kentucky on Saturday with a chance to actually build a two-game lead on the Cats. Huh?
- No one should fault BYU for losing at New Mexico, 76-72. The Pit is and will be one of the toughest places in the country to play, and I can tell you from years covering the Lobos that there is no opponent that gets the place as amped as the Cougars. BYU remains the MWC favorite even with the loss to the Lobos. But UNM desperately needed the win to stay in the race.
- Memphis coach Josh Pastner picked up a quality road W by winning at Marshall to keep the Tigers in the C-USA league race.
- Villanova’s 18-1 record and 8-0 mark in the Big East after beating Notre Dame is as impressive as any in the country. But the Wildcats' schedule is back-loaded with road games at Syracuse, Georgetown and West Virginia that will be tough to tackle.
- In a 95-83 win over Texas Tech, Texas coach Rick Barnes did shorten his bench as promised. Barnes went with primarily eight players with Alexis Wangmene and Jai Lucas only getting a few minutes. The primary bench players were Gary Johnson, Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown. It helped that Dogus Balbay wasn’t in foul trouble.
- Duke won again at Cameron. I just don’t see the Blue Devils losing at home. So that’s eight ACC wins right there. The Devils have already won at Clemson. So that’s nine. Pick up at least two road wins out of BC, Miami or Virginia (don’t see UNC or Maryland) and the Blue Devils will likely win the league with 11 wins. That’s unless Maryland decides to string together a bunch of road wins.
- It’s hard to call out must-wins, but Illinois desperately needed to beat Penn State on the road to move to 5-3 in the league. The Illini are in the soft portion of the schedule that they must dominate.
- Florida is winning the games it should at home now with a 79-63 win over Georgia to move to 4-2 and move closer to an NCAA berth after two NIT years.
- Drexel snuffed out Northeastern’s win streak at 11 (which was the third-longest in the country) with an impressive 61-48 win on the road.
- Hard to generate buzz for William & Mary now after the Tribe lost to James Madison by a deuce to fall to 6-4 in the CAA.
- Hard not to cheer for Oklahoma State to beat Texas A&M on Wednesday, the ninth anniversary of the tragic plane crash that killed 10 people associated with the program. OSU beat the Aggies to move ahead of them in the standings at 4-2 (A&M is 3-3).
- Impressive that Oklahoma beat Iowa State with Willie Warren and Tony Crocker sitting out due to sprained right ankles. What a night for freshman Tommy Mason-Griffin, who had 38 points and 6 assists. Iowa State’s NCAA season is over with a 1-4 mark in the Big 12. Too much ground to make up at this juncture.
- What has happened to LSU’s offense? The Tigers led Alabama at the break, but scored just 13 points in the second half. Tasmin Mitchell and Bo Spencer were a combined 4-of-18 in the 57-38 loss at Alabama. The defending SEC champs are now 0-6 in league play.
- Believe it or not, Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins had an eight-point play in the Pride's 93-54 win over UNC Wilmington. He scored on a layup and was fouled. But it was ruled an intentional foul and then Wilmington’s Benny Moss got a technical for arguing. Jenkins hit all four free throws (two for the intentional and two for the technical) and then Hofstra got the ball because of the intentional foul and Jenkins scored off the inbound pass with a floater. In five seconds, the score went from 26-9 to 34-9. Wow.
No. 10 BYU at New Mexico, 10 p.m. ET: BYU has had a hard time earning respect. This is probably fair. Last year's Cougars put together an impressive resumé and had the tempo-free chops to go along with it, and as soon as they got to the tournament (and as soon as yours truly picked them to finish in the Sweet 16), the Cougars lost by 13 to a so-so Texas A&M team, bowing out of the NCAAs after 40 minutes. So it's probably fair if this year's BYU Cougars -- a 20-1 team currently ranked fourth in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings -- are met with a degree of skepticism from the national media. For example, Monday Digger Phelps told his ESPN studio mates that BYU was too high in the polls at No. 10, which was met with understandable agreement. BYU hasn't played anybody. But in regards to their poll placement, the numbers seem to disagree; BYU might actually deserve to be higher.
The lesson here? They have to prove it. Tonight -- an away game versus a New Mexico team that launched itself into the top 25 early in the season, beating Texas Tech and Cal on the way there -- is a chance to do just that. It's also a chance to see Jimmer Fredette, BYU's point guard and leading scorer, match up with New Mexico guard Dairese Gary. It's as good a look as the Cougars going to get for a while. They ought to make the most of it.
Notre Dame at No. 3 Villanova, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Does Villanova want a No. 1 ranking? If so, it'll have to handle its business tonight against a pesky but not-quite-there Notre Dame team. The Irish gave Syracuse a few fits with its zone last week, but ultimately fell short because their own defense was so bad. This is a trend under Mike Brey, and it's just the way things will go for this ND team. They might win a few games, but they'll need a surge if they want to make Luke Harangody's final year anything but another stopover to the next level, wherever Harangody might end up. (Maybe the NBA, maybe not.) A quick aside here: That's sort of sad. Watching Luke Harangody is a joy. He's one of the weirdest, most effective players we've seen in decades, and he's arguably best Notre Dame player of all-time. That he has toiled away his last two years of eligibility on decidedly mediocre teams feels like a waste.
Florida State at No. 7 Duke: Duke has had its occasional issues this season, but from a tempo-free standpoint, they still look awfully good. That's good news, because Florida State doesn't fear Cameron Indoor Stadium; the Seminoles are one of only four visiting teams to have won at Cameron in the past four years. Florida State won seven in a row before back-to-back losses at Maryland and against N.C. State at home, and that last loss is not the stuff quality NCAA tournament teams are made of, even if N.C. State has been a slight surprise this season. But maybe, just maybe, if Florida state can manage to somehow keep its turnover bug at bay, its defense will be stingy enough to keep things close in Cameron. The court may look flat, but an uphill battle awaits.
Everywhere else: It's not on the main network, but if you have ESPNU you can watch the newly minted top 25 Vanderbilt Commodores go to Knoxville to take on in-state rivals Tennessee ... Temple faces another roadblock in its path to a potential A-10 title in 14-5 Charlotte ... Ohio State goes to Iowa to see what happens when Evan Turner looks around, sees lots of 5-foot-8 guys guarding him, stops being polite, and starts getting real ... Iowa State will visit Oklahoma in a match up of two Big 12 teams with singular talents who have managed to completely disappoint their fans ... Illinois State goes to Wichita State ... Georgia will see if it can keep its reputation for playing ostensibly superior teams tough on the road as it heads south to Gainsville ... Connecticut goes to Providence; the Huskies are still without Jim Calhoun.
He threatened to leave last year in the offseason, and decides to bail midseason this year. The team was down to 8 scholarship players heading into the game tomorrow, and now they are down to 7. Way to overshadow the team the eve before the biggest game of the year, by bailing out on the squad.
Honestly, the guy is the opposite of everything a team stands for. ISU fans like to talk about Wesley Johnson, but at least Wes didn't bail midseason. What happened here is far worse.I feel ISU fans' pain -- the scholarship thing is bad, to be sure, and leaving in the middle of the season is as uncool a move as any a teammate can make. (Last year, not one but two of my rec league basketball teammates skipped our semifinal game to hang out with their girlfriends. They didn't answer their cell phones and ignored furious text messages as we were forced to play a much better team with zero subs. Lucca Staiger is officially that guy.)
However, if I may briefly play devil's Keanu Reeves (Worst. Casting. Ever.), you have to sort of see where Lucca is coming from, no? Staiger wants to play professional basketball. He came to America to do just that. It's become obvious to him that that's not going to happen for him in the U.S., so he's taking the opportunity now, as poorly timed as that opportunity might be. It's not completely mystifying, you know?
OK, OK, I said I was playing devil's advocate. Those lucky enough to be taught this lesson in childhood -- that you don't quit on your teammates, no matter what -- will be repelled by Staiger's decision. Rightfully so, I guess.
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.
- Road wins are tough to come by in college basketball. You know this because you watch college basketball; you have mounds of anecdotal evidence transmitted between your eyeballs and your brain tells you that even the best teams in the country struggle on the road, even when their opponents are merely good. This is how things work. In 2009-10, though, the Big 12 has taken this maxim to its logical conclusion: The conference is a combined 112-1 at home since the start of the season. The only loss came when Iowa State dropped a 63-60 game to a tough Northern Iowa team in Ames, Iowa on Dec. 2. Other than that, nada. Even Colorado got in on the act last night. The next likely loss? Kansas at Nebraska tonight. If the Jayhawks lose to the Huskers after their disappointing Sunday loss in Tennessee, then something truly freaky is going on.
- Speaking of Kansas, this seems like a bad thing: Guard Tyshawn Taylor, now approaching two-year-starter status, says he's unsure of his role on the Jayhawks: "We have so many people, so many players, so I feel like I don’t know, sometimes I don’t know how I fit, like what I'm supposed to do. Like Sherron (Collins) is a scorer or X (Xavier Henry) is a scorer. Cole (Aldrich) is our post presence. Sherron is our point guard, so sometimes I feel like I get lost in the thing. I think a lot of guys feel like that." Word to the wise, Tyshawn: Just enjoy it. Basketball is always so much easier and so much more fun when you have so many weapons to rely on; you can pick and choose your spots and simply enjoy playing for a quality basketball team. This is a dream situation. Don't go all Shawn Marion on us, now. (Oh, and by the way, if anyone should be complaining about his "role" it's Aldrich. The big man is ruthlessly efficient in the post, but Kansas hasn't given him nearly enough touches this year.)
- Jay Bilas dropped his midseason All-America team Tuesday, and there's very little to dispute. In case you're still catching up with college hoops, that's as good a primer as any on the names you need to know in the next few months.
- Back in the summer, when no one really knew how good the Kentucky Wildcats would be -- only that they'd range from "inconsistent and mercurial" to "unstoppable," and anywhere in between -- Florida freshman Kenny Boynton said he thought the Gators were a better team. Um, not so much.
- Marcus Ginyard sits down (figuratively speaking, that is; nowadays, actual sit-down interviews only happen when someone needs to admit they've been taking steroids) with the Sporting News and reveals one interesting piece of info: Ginyard thinks Texas is the toughest team North Carolina has played all year, more so than Michigan State and Kentucky. Which isn't exactly surprising, but still. And hey, what about Syracuse?
- Bob Knight keeps making interesting theoretical points: Isn't Gatorade also technically a performance enhancer? What about caffeine? Less college basketball than sports in general, but even if it's a bit of a logical stretch, it's worth considering all the same.
- Here's John Gasaway's first look at "how teams are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis." Louisville makes a strong showing, which bodes well for their chances at building a putatively "surprising" tourney-ready team down the stretch. In other B-Pro news, Ken Pomeroy delves into why teams need to take the reigns off in the first minutes of games. Hint: Because they'll score more points!
- In case you missed last night's Tennessee riot fun, Tennessee hoopster Renaldo Woolridge became UT's de facto Anderson Cooper, constantly updating his Twitter feed on the riots, the tear gas (never happened; someone just burned a mattress instead) and simple-but-important takeaways such as this: "All im gonna say is this...don't make our fans mad haha." I'd say that's pretty sound advice.
- Casual Hoya decides to eschew the end-of-decade "Best Of" lists and instead detail the worst Georgetown players of the last 10 years. Harsh, but someone had to do it.
- An argument for why Scottie Reynolds is underrated.
- The ACC's highly touted freshmen are basically performing like freshmen: Some are good, some are OK, and some have yet to make an impact.
Of course, the game was played in Chicago, which usually means one thing in January (and February, and March, and December): bad weather. That's why the Cyclones are, as of right now, still in Chicago: Their flight was delayed thanks to the 10 to 12 inches of snow we here in the Chicago area have received since Wednesday night. The Cyclones were supposed to leave Thursday. Coach Greg McDermott says the team will now leave Friday, and that Saturday's game with North Dakota State remains on the schedule.
To make matters worse, Chicago is expected to get another two to four inches today. Which means at least two things. 1) No way am I leaving my house tonight, and 2) the Cyclones might consider hiring a dog-sledding team. Tell me that wouldn't be a fun way to cross Illinois. Thought so.
After all, this is Duke. If there is a polar opposite from perennially slept-on programs, Duke is it. The Blue Devils' games are on national TV with consistent frequency. Their student section is the most famous in the country. When not busy shilling for a credit card company, their coach is winning gold medals and recruiting top-tier talent. Duke gets plenty of love, and fans -- many of whom rightly or wrongly see some sort of East Coast bias inherent in the Dukies' popularity -- are all too aware of it.
Which is why this feels so weird to write, even though it's true: Duke -- or at least this 2009-10 iteration of Duke -- is underrated.
Duke shot 15-of-40 in the first half against ISU and still took an eight-point lead into the half. The Devils followed that minor bit of impressive play -- they usually doesn't shoot so poorly, you know? -- with a torrid 15-of-25 second half. The Cyclones are the seventh-best team in the country at disallowing opponents' free throws; Duke went to the line 11 times in the second half and never missed a shot. It was almost as Mike Krzyzewski's team decided to flip the "Let's be awesome" switch, and no matter what Iowa State could have done -- and this was probably not Iowa State's best performance anyway -- it wouldn't have mattered.
The visual reasons for this dominance are clear. Jon Scheyer is ruthlessly efficient at the point guard spot; his 31 points came on 10-of-19 shooting and 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Kyle Singler is one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the country. Nolan Smith is an emerging star. And freshman role players like Miles and Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins and give the Devils a well-rounded, balanced, and deep team capable of playing uptempo or grind-it-out.
All of that was evident Wednesday night. You didn't have to look too hard. That's usually the case with Duke, as prominent a college basketball program as the United States of Hoops has. If the Devils keep playing like this, the secret won't last long. The 2009-10 team will be just as famous as the rest.
Miscellaneous postgame notes before the blizzard hits:
1. It was a Chicago kind of night at the United Center. Mike Krzyzewski attended Weber High School in Chicago before his early-70s days at West Point under Bob Knight. Jon Scheyer was a preps legend at Glenbrook North High School in Chicago's north suburbs before attending Duke. And Iowa State's Chris Colvin went to Whitney Young High School in Chicago, where, alongside Marcus Jordan, Colvin won an Illinois state championship in 2009.
After the smoke had cleared and the women and children had been safely ushered ashore, one blogger gazed up at the scoreboard and confirmed the undeniable truth: Iowa State was still down 41-33 at the half. Total buzzkill, bro.
The eight-point deficit is the largest the Cyclones have trailed at the half all season, and it required a desperation heave even to get ISU that close. That is what happens when you shoot 42 percent on your 2s and make only one 3-pointer in 20 minutes of basketball, basketball that happens to be on the same floor as the Duke Blue Devils: you lose. This is not a mystery.
All hope is not lost for Iowa State. Quite the contrary. After digging themselves a hole in the opening minutes -- Iowa State trailed 12-2 at the 15:37 mark -- the Cyclones fought back and closed in before Duke opened an 11-point lead in the final minute of the half. The Cyclones can play with Duke. Big man Craig Brackins is a nightmare for Duke's inexperienced interior; he has five blocks already. Point guard Diante Garrett can get to the rim against Jon Scheyer and company. The Cyclone defense has decided to stay in tight on Scheyer and Kyle Singler and give Mason and Miles Plumlee as many open shots as they like.
This can work. But the Cyclones have to convert interior shots more efficiently, they have to get to the line more often (they shot just six free throws in the first half) and they have to hope Duke doesn't suddenly start pouring in shots. The Devils shot a mere 37.5 percent in the first half. Given their yearly averages, a second-half surge seems likely. And then the Clones are really in trouble.
In any case, at least the fans from Iowa brought the funny in the first half. During a free throw sequence, two men behind me were talking about Brian Zoubek. A brief recreation of that conversation:
Dude 1: "So, this Zoubek guy. Seven-foot center. Wish we had that kind of height."
Dude 2: "Zoubek? Where's he from, Minsk?"
Dude 1: "No. New Jersey."
Dude 2: "Same thing."
Hi-oh! Dude 2 will be here all night, and politely reminds you to tip your waiters and waitresses. Add that golden nugget to Cyclones fans' sarcastic cheering at their first bucket at the 16:46 mark, and the (presumably unintentionally funny) chants of "East Coast bias" at the referees -- guys, this game is in Chicago -- and I've been spending almost as much time laughing as watching basketball. Almost.