College Basketball Nation: Tennessee

Numbers To Know: Wednesday recap

December, 6, 2012
Player of the Night – Jerrelle Benimon, Towson

Jerrelle Benimon’s career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds led Towson, a team that went 1-31 last season, to a win over Vermont, the preseason favorite in the America East. The transfer from Georgetown will face his old team on Saturday. The Tigers snapped a 27-game road losing streak, picking up their first win since December 2010 at La Salle.

Stat Sheet Stuffer – Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s

Matthew Dellavedova scored 31 points and added seven assists, as the Gaels beat Drake 88-73. He’s just the third West Coast Conference player with 30 points and seven assists against a Division I team in the past 15 years (Manny Quezada and Dan Dickau). Not all of his numbers were great though. Dellavedova also committed nine turnovers, the most for any Saint Mary’s player in at least 15 years.

Bench Player of the Night – Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga

Kevin Pangos was the hero of Gonzaga’s 71-69 win over Washington State, but Kelly Olynyk kept them in it. He scored a career-high 22 points, all coming in the second half. He went 10-for-12 from the field after halftime, and accounted for half of Gonzaga’s second-half points. At 9-0, Gonzaga is off to its best start since joining Division I.

Freshman of the Night – Jahii Carson, Arizona State

Jahii Carson scored 20 points and added five rebounds and six assists, as the Sun Devils beat Hartford 71-63. He’s just the sixth freshman with a 20-5-5 game this season. Carson currently ranks fourth among freshmen in scoring (18.3 ppg) and sixth in assists (5.3). Those averages stack up nicely to one of the greatest seasons for a Pac-12 freshman point guard. Terrell Brandon averaged 17.9 ppg and 6.0 apg for Oregon in 1989-90.

Ugly Stat of the Night - Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee failed to score 40 points for a second straight game, falling to Virginia 46-38. It’s the first time the Vols have been held under 40 in consecutive games since February 1946. It’s also the first time since 1943 that Tennessee has lost back-to-back games while failing to score 40.

Saddle Up: Five about Friday

March, 12, 2010
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the day's best basketball action. We're officially into that oh-so-awesome part of the season when a healthy portion of your daily hoops regimen will be happening, you know, during the day, necessitating Saddle Up's move to the morning. So let's do this.

Just like Wednesday and Thursday, let's open Friday with five themes to watch for as the conference tournaments heat up.

1. The Patriot League -- the L-ingest league in the world. Apparently, a precursor for success in the 2009-2010 Patriot League conference tournament involves a name that starts with the letter "L." Hey, I don't make the rules. I merely report them. But is there any other conclusion to draw from the Patriot League final, a matchup of No. 3 seed Lafayette and No. 1 seed Lehigh? With the exception of the various at-large bids being traded back and forth by sundry bubble teams, the Patriot League final is today's only surefire tournament bid producer, the lone automatic qualifier decided Friday. Thus far, this week's automatic qualifiers have almost uniformly survived down-to-the-wire games to get to the tournament. Let's hope the Patriot League finale is no different.

2. Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it. Anarchy in the Big East! Every top seed in the Big East tournament but West Virginia lost Thursday, which leaves us with the rather random pairings of Marquette-Georgetown and Notre Dame-West Virginia, and it's officially anyone's tournament. It's hard not to like West Virginia, which stumbled late against Cincinnati but hit a last-second Da'Sean Butler three to get past a suddenly pesky Cincinnati team. West Virginia is the most athletic team left in the bracket, and now has a clear opportunity to do what Butler said they were planning on doing when the Mountaineers finished their season-closing win at Villanova last Saturday -- win the Big East tournament and get a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Notre Dame is no simple matchup though; it will be interesting to see if West Virginia's length can disrupt a suddenly potent Irish offense.

3. Quick: Give me two words you hate to hear if you're either Ole Miss or a Wall Street banker. SEC and bubble. See what I did there? Really, though, the Ole Miss Fighting Admiral Ackbars had the best day of their season in a while yesterday. While other SEC teams (better ones, like Tennessee) duked it out in the first round of the tournament, geographically fortuitous Ole Miss sat back and watched the action unfold. By the end of the day, thanks to teams like Memphis and UAB helpfully losing, Mississippi was promoted into the NCAA tournament by one Mr. Joe Lunardi. Now comes the real work: Actually winning a game in the SEC tournament and holding on to that spot. The Rebels will face Tennessee today, and a win would bolster what to me looks like a pretty shaky tournament case. A loss? Say bye-bye.

4. Three cheers for chalk! Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy a good conference tournament upset as much as the next person who loves college basketball with a deep, burning, passionate, unquenchable love. But it's also nice to see the de facto best teams in a conference duke it out in that conference tournament's semifinals. That's what we've got in the Big 12 today, where No. 1 seed Kansas will take on No. 4 seed Texas A&M and No. 2 seed Kansas State gets No. 3 seed Baylor. Look out for the Bears here -- no team has inspired quite so many "I think this team is dangerous!" comments in our last two days of live-chatting, and the Bears' late-night win over Texas proved why. Baylor is deep, athletic, balanced and smart. They score. This tournament is still Kansas' to win, and unlike its Big East counterpart, there is no parity to discuss here. Just dominance at the top. Refreshing, huh?

5. You're watching the Mountain West tournament, right? Because you should be watching the Mountain West tournament. Unfortunately for those of us who don't live in America's most beautiful 1,000 square miles or so and thus don't get The Mtn., the Mountain West's take on the Big Ten Network, watching the early rounds of the Mountain West tournament has been a challenge. HOWEVA, if you have CBS College Sports -- which comes on a sports tier package with cable providers and DirecTV -- you can watch the rest of the tournament, as Mountain West games have switched over to the more available network. This is a good thing. Why? Because Jimmer Fredette is doing ridiculous things with the ball in his hand, for one. He scored 45 points in Thursday night's win over TCU. (That's almost half of his team's 95, by the way.) On the other side of the bracket, New Mexico and San Diego State will duke it out, the Aztecs with an NCAA tournament bid on the line. So, yeah, find a TV, and make sure that TV has plenty of channels.

Bonus thing, per the usual: In just a few minutes, I'll be chatting from 12 p.m. ET to 6 p.m., right here, same as Wednesday and Thursday. These chats are a great time. Be there.

Saturday's winners and losers

March, 7, 2010
Winners from Saturday

Notre Dame: The Irish gave the selection committee another reason to put them in the dance with yet another road win, this time with Luke Harangody and at Marquette -- a team in the tournament field. The Irish are earning their way into the field.

Duke: The Blue Devils likely earned the fourth No. 1 seed with a hammering of North Carolina on Saturday night. Duke also clinched a share of the ACC regular-season title. The Blue Devils passed the eye test of a team that could get to Indy.

Saint Louis: The Billikens won at Dayton, completing a season sweep of the Flyers and finishing in fourth place in the Atlantic 10. Rick Majerus has done an outstanding job with a club that is void of upperclassmen. The Billikens could be a sleeper to win the A-10 in Atlantic City next week.

Baylor: If you’re looking for a sleeper in the Big 12 tournament, it could be Baylor. The Bears ran away from Texas and looked like a team ready to get busy in the postseason.

Kansas: The Jayhawks may have locked up the No. 1 overall seed after winning at Missouri on Saturday. Kansas got inspired play from its key contributors and once again heads into the conference tournament on a high.

Louisville: The Cardinals had to win two of there games this week and did. Louisville beat Connecticut, then lost at Marquette before beating Syracuse on Saturday. That gave the Cardinals a sweep of Syracuse and a likely bid to the Dance in the final game at Freedom Hall.

Tennessee: The Vols did something Lane Kiffin couldn’t do, taking a 17-0 lead on the road in the SEC. Tennessee lit up Mississippi State and had the look of a team that could be a major factor in an SEC tournament that they'll play in their home state just a few hours away in Nashville.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies didn’t have their second-leading scorer in Dorenzo Hudson, survived a nasty moving screen by Gani Lawal on Malcolm Delaney and gutted out a win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Hokies dismissed any doubt about their candidacy with a win.

Washington: The Huskies kept alive their chances of an at-large berth by winning at Oregon State. That win doesn’t get them in the dance, but a loss would have been crushing.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are in Joe Lunardi’s bracket and they had to beat UCLA to stay in the field. They did, sweeping the L.A. schools this week. But here’s the deal: ASU and Washington are heading for a showdown in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tourney. Loser is out, winner has a pulse.

Memphis: The Tigers had a great week, winning at UAB and crushing Tulsa at home. The Tigers get the sweep of the Blazers. If you’re looking for a second C-USA team to go along with league champ UTEP, it could be the Tigers. They may get a third shot at UAB in the semifinals.

Maryland: The Terps won at Virginia. Yes, UVA was playing without Sylven Landesberg, who has been suspended for the season due to academics, but the Terps still won a road game. That means Maryland gets a share of the ACC title. That’s an outstanding accomplishment for this squad.

Pitt: The Panthers lost to Indiana early in the year without Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown. Pitt could have lost to Providence at home, but when it mattered most the Panthers have come up huge. They beat Rutgers as expected Saturday but that meant Pitt got the No. 2 seed after beating West Virginia and Villanova at home in February. Jamie Dixon has done a phenomenal job with the Panthers. There is no reason Pitt should be No. 2 in the Big East with what it lost.

Losers from Saturday

Rhode Island: Had a shot to convince the selection committee that it was worthy, but lost at UMass a week after losing at St. Bonaventure. The Rams didn’t beat the top three teams in the A-10 (Xavier, Temple or Richmond). URI must win the conference tournament.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs started a must-win game down 17-0. Mississippi State has blown two chances to win a key home game – to Kentucky and now Tennessee. The Bulldogs didn’t do anything Saturday to convince the selection committee.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets may still get into the field. But they gave the selection committee a reason to pause after losing at home to Virginia Tech, sans Dorenzo Hudson, who was hurt. The Yellow Jackets finished seventh in the ACC and had only one conference road win.

Connecticut: The Huskies had an awful week, losing at Notre Dame and then losing at South Florida on Saturday. The Huskies now probably have to get to the Big East semifinals to crawl back into the conversation.

Dayton: The Flyers were teetering on the bubble before the Billikens bulldozed the Flyers late and stole a win. Dayton now probably has to win the A-10 tournament to get a bid.

Villanova: The ‘Cats may have played themselves out of a No. 2 seed by losing at home to West Virginia. Villanova also fell to the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament. ‘Nova can still make a magnificent run, but it made the journey more difficult.

Kansas State: The Wildcats lost their third home game in the Big 12 by falling to lower-level Iowa State (also lost to Kansas and Oklahoma State). The Wildcats blew a No. 2 seed with the home loss Saturday.

LaSalle: The Explorers were supposed to be a sleeper in the A-10. They won’t even make the tournament in Atlantic City. The Explorers will join winless Fordham in sitting out the conference tourney.

Oklahoma: The disaster season came to a conclusion with a sad effort against Texas A&M. The atmosphere was awful and the Sooners sunk.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels were handed the second-worst loss under Roy Williams. The Tar Heels were embarrassed by Duke and limp into the ACC tournament. It was just awful.

UAB: The Blazers had a huge week with games against UTEP and Memphis. They lost them both and pushed themselves onto the wrong side of the bubble.

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane got hammered by Memphis and limp into hosting the conference tournament next week. Tulsa was the preseason favorite to win Conference USA.

A few nuggets:
  • Georgetown coach John Thompson III said late Saturday night that Austin Freeman felt fine after the game, his first since being diagnosed with diabetes. Freeman scored 24 points in the win over Cincinnati. Freeman missed the West Virginia game last Monday. Thompson told me that the Hoyas will continue to monitor Freeman’s blood-sugar level and don’t anticipate any problems going forward this season.
  • Notre Dame got Luke Harangody back for the win at Marquette. Harangody played 11 minutes off the bench. Irish coach Mike Brey told me late Saturday night that Harangody will continue to come off the bench this season. He said ‘Gody told him to use him however he wants to ensure the team wins. Brey said the Irish have become mentally tougher in the past few weeks. The Irish were 4-2 without Harangody, beating Pitt and Connecticut at home and winning at Georgetown.
  • KVAL-TV reported that Oregon coach Ernie Kent has been fired and that he was told on Feb. 22 by Oregon athletic director Mike Bellotti. No one will be surprised if this does occur, but Kent told me in a text late Saturday night that this is the same story he has heard the past four years. Meanwhile, Bellottti sent this statement out late Saturday night after Oregon’s win over Washington State: "Ernie and I have talked, and we will continue to talk through the Pac-10 Tournament."
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But maybe he should be.

After the Tennessee Volunteers upset No. 2 Kentucky Saturday, the common consensus was that Bruce Pearl had hit on an effective way to slow the Wildcats down. The game plan is simple: Walk the ball up the floor, take good shots where possible (thanks to Wayne Chism's desire to fire the ball at the rim-shaped apparatus so indiscriminately, this part of the plan wasn't on point), get back on defense to prevent transition, and sink into a saggy, help-heavy zone in the half court. Though it's not nearly as bad as some of Calipari's former Memphis teams, this year's Kentucky team only shoots 34.1 percent from three; much of its offense comes from penetration and the offensive rebounding of DeMarcus Cousins.

In other words, according to the parameters of standard basketball strategy, Pearl's strategy makes sense. A zone is the play. And the Vols have the win to show for it.

This may not surprise you, but John Calipari does not agree:

"It's funny, because everybody has the 'This is how you play them.' Yeah, you hold your nose and close your eyes and hope we can't make any shots. Yeah, that's a good way to play. If we make shots -- if we go 5-for-22, which stinks -- we win going away."

This is a fair point, I guess. But part of the reason Kentucky shot 2-of-22 -- which is unusually bad, obviously -- is because they're not a great three-point shooting team. Let's clarify. Kentucky is a great team. But like any of this year's great teams, they have slight blemishes, areas in which they're not as impressive as others. When you play great teams, you have to force them to rely on skills at which they are merely good. Or in the case of Kentucky's three-pointing shooting, average. For better or worse, this is what a zone does. Whether those shots are falling or not is beside the point; the idea is merely to make Kentucky shoot. Which Tennesseee did.

That's what Tennessee did to Kentucky, both in Saturday's win and in Tennessee's tight performance at Rupp Arena on Feb. 13. And it's what other teams will do to UK, too. Fortunately for the Cats, their defensive efficiency is approaching typically high John Calipari-at-Memphis levels, meaning they're built to survive off-nights from behind the arc. But if the Wildcats are forced to rely on their three-point shooting -- if they let tournament teams push them away from the penetrating, dominating inside game that's made them so effective -- they'll have similar struggles in March. Calipari should worry about that.
March is an awesome month. The weather in my adopted town has a lot to do with this; in many ways, March 1 is a huge mental marker for the imminent return of days when you don't have to encase your body in 30 pounds of Gore-Tex just to step outside the house. But forget the weather: March is really awesome for the basketball it promises -- the final week of conference play, the 31 conference tourneys, and the rapturous glory that is the NCAA tournament. Welcome, one and all. The next 30 days are going to rule.

To celebrate, how about some links? OK then:
  • Hoyas fans are none too pleased with the effort Georgetown gave in Saturday's not-really-all-that-competitive loss to Notre Dame, a loss that will likely hurt Georgetown's seed and has put Notre Dame right back in the bubble conversation.
  • Georgetown's shame had a lot to do with the suddenly off-the-charts play of Ben Hansbrough, who, yes, is Tyler Hansbrough's brother and who, yes, heard plenty about being Tyler Hansbrough's brother throughout his first season for the Irish. Hansbrough doesn't have the sheer talent or raw strength of his older sibling, but on Saturday he displayed several of those vaunted Hansbrough-y qualities: basketball intelligence, will, and boundless energy. Oh, and it helps that he can stroke the outside shot; that's at least one thing Tyler never quite mastered.
  • If you were a Kansas fan, would you be upset about Saturday's loss at Oklahoma State? The Jayhawks are 27-2, after all, and the loss doesn't demonstrably effect Kansas' accomplishments this season -- they'll still be the Big 12 regular season champs and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Still, though, something more was lost on Saturday, as the Kansas City Star's Martin Manley wrote this weekend: "If you stop and think about it, this is one of the most disappointing regular season losses in KU’s 500 years of basketball. How can I make such a radical statement? Well, first of all I don’t care about a loss. For crying out loud, they are 27-2. But, here is what got flushed down the toilet Saturday. 1) They probably will not beat North Carolina to 2,000 wins. 2) They will not make 2,000 wins on March 6th, the last regular season game and on the road against their primary rival – Missouri. 3) They will not hit 30 wins on March 6th. 4) They will not be 16-0 in the conference. 5) They are no longer chasing the best beginning in KU history of 34-1. 6) They no longer have a chance at 39 wins – which would be an NCAA record. 7) They likely will not be #1 in the polls. 8) It was only the second game in the last 103 that a KU opponent has hit over 50% from the field and they were at 60.4%!..." OK, so none of these are reasons to freak out -- but for fans interested in historical markers and statistical quirks, the loss will still be disappointing.
  • For now, though, Rock Chalk Jayhawk is more concerned with honoring Sherron Collins, who will play his final game at Allen Fieldhouse when Kansas State comes to town on Wednesday.
  • Ballin' Is A Habit praises Tennessee's win over Kentucky Saturday, and asks the question: Just how good are the Volunteers? Here's my short answer: Good, not great, but with Bruce Pearl at the helm, the Vols will always be a dangerous tourney team. Fair?
  • Meanwhile, John Calipari claims that two of his players "sleepwalked" against Tennessee, though he wouldn't name names. The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton does a quick elimination process and comes up with Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins -- and perhaps forward Patrick Patterson -- as the prime suspects of Cal's postgame scorn.
  • The Only Colors takes a long look at Durrell Summers' inconsistency, finding that Summers is actually pretty peerless on offense so long as he stays inside the three-point line. Defensively? That's a slightly less complimentary story.
  • As is the case every March, there's been plenty of discussion lately about the methods the selection committee uses to pick its field of 65; I could link all of these posts separately, but since Mike Miller went ahead and rounded them all up, head over and peruse accordingly.
  • Adam Zagoria asked former Pitt players whether they were surprised at the success of the star-less 2009-10 team. The answer is unlikely to surprise.
  • The New York Times' Pete Thamel remains on top of the Binghamton beat, where there is concern the school hasn't entirely shifted its focus from the win-at-all-costs attitude that got Kevin Broadus suspended and upended the team in the offseason. The key graph: "Even though the university president, Lois B. DeFleur, has announced she will retire in July; the athletic director, Joel Thirer, has resigned; and the men’s basketball coach, Kevin Broadus, has been placed on paid administrative leave, faculty members and administrators are concerned that those who carried out the orders in building a big-time basketball program remain. They worry that when the SUNY chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher, makes recommendations to the board March 23, she will focus on Binghamton’s athletic problems, not its academic troubles."
  • Are officials overworked? They would tell you no. The reality seems otherwise.
  • The Big 5 title -- the yearly championship awarding the Philadelphia area's best team -- will go to Temple for the 26th time in 2009-10.
  • Finally, everyone's probably familiar with the basketball odyssey taken by Wes Johnson before he ended up at Syracuse, but this story from the Post-Standard lays out the recruiting pitch given to Johnson and his brother by assistant coach Rob Murphy: “I said ‘OK, if you guys want to waste time, go ahead, but I’m telling you in the next couple days, you’ll call me back and say I’m going to Syracuse,’” Murphy said, recalling the final conversation of the trip. “‘You’re not going to find any place like this. We’ve got everything you want. You want to be a professional. You’ll work hard and play against Paul Harris and all these guys next year in practice and then next year, you’ll probably start for us, we’ll have a good year and you’ll go pro. It’s just that simple.’" Not bad, right?

Jayhawks fall on wacky Saturday

February, 27, 2010
The stars -- or at least the schedules -- had aligned. One look at today's hoops schedule and it was clear this was, at least on paper, the best Saturday of college hoops we've had all year. All we needed was for the games to live up to the hype.

They did. It was. And we're not done yet.

The insanity that will be Syracuse-Villanova is still minutes away from tipoff, but look how far we've come already: Notre Dame won at No. 13 Georgetown to reinvigorate its tournament hopes. No. 12 New Mexico beat No. 11 BYU in Provo to clinch a share of the Mountain West title (and make a pretty clear argument as to who the best, most tourney-ready MWC team really is).

[+] EnlargeJames Anderson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State's James Anderson scored 27 points against Kansas on Saturday.
No. 17 Tennessee knocked off No. 2 Kentucky in Knoxville, building a big lead in the first half before succumbing to Kentucky's inevitable onslaught ... only to score the last nine points of the game, seal a thrilling win over a hated rival, and hand UK its second loss of the season.

Then, of course, there was Kansas. Anyone who thought we'd end the day with not one but both of our top two teams in road losses deserves some sort of clairvoyance award and a lucrative late-night cable infomercial. Just a few hours after Kentucky fell, the Jayhawks lost their first conference game of the season at Oklahoma State.

If the loss itself wasn't shocking -- playing on the road in conference play is always hard, even for great teams like Kansas -- the way Oklahoma State thoroughly handled Kansas was. The Cowboys dominated Sherron Collins and company almost from the opening tip. By halftime, the lead had ballooned to 47-29. James Anderson was scoring at will against Kansas' typically impenetrable defense, and when the Cowboys didn't make shots -- which was rare; they posted a 69.8 percent effective field goal rate -- they were able to grab the offensive rebounds that Cole Aldrich and the Jayhawks almost never allow.

Much like their compatriots at the top of the polls, Kansas fought back late, eventually closing the lead to nine with over two minutes to play. Unlike Kentucky, though Kansas wasn't able to get any closer than that, thanks in large part to 5-foot-9 OSU sharpshooter Keiton Page's four late 3s. And that was that: Just like No. 2 before them, No. 1 had fallen, and any dreams of a perfect Big 12 season would be deferred.

All of which sounds very dramatic, of course. And it was. Still, let's not overplay KU's loss. The Jayhawks would never admit it, but they had nothing substantial on the line in Saturday's game. They'll still be the Big 12 regular season champs. They'll still be the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

Most important of all, they'll still be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament -- probably the No. 1 overall seed, barring a Big East tournament title by Syracuse. We should take notes from last year's eventual champs, the North Carolina team that blitzed the NCAA tournament from start to finish. In the regular season, sometimes the best team doesn't win. Sometimes the best team seems downright disinterested. Kansas' loss felt a lot like that today, and while that's not exactly the best excuse for a loss -- eh, we didn't have anything to care about, right? -- it shouldn't affect the way we look at the Jayhawks going forward. Make no mistake: Bill Self's team is still the favorite.

Want to know the most awesome thing about today? All of that already happened ... and the day's best, most important game is still minutes away from tipoff. (Which is not to mention Mizzou-Kansas State, a very good Big 12 matchup currently in progress.) Syracuse-Villanova should be everything everybody (including the record crowd currently packed inside the Carrier Dome) hoped. But if it isn't? Oh well. Saturday was still the best day of college basketball we've had all season. It was the perfect way to welcome March, the very best month of the year.

Show of hands: Who's ready for the tournament? Yep. Thought so. Me too.
  • Somehow, this escaped The Morning After's purview today, which, considering the season-long love for Jarvis Varnado, is a very weird oversight on my part. In any case, the Sporting News' Chris Littman reminds (tsk-tskingly, with good reason) that Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado did indeed break the all-time record for shots blocked in a college basketball career last night, stuffing eight shots against Alabama to overtake Wojciech Mydra's record of 535 blocks. Mydra played at Lousiana Tech, and while 535 blocks is 535 blocks, it is all the more impressive that Varnado broke the tally playing for four years against high-level SEC competition. Hat's off, Jarvis. Now, if Mr. Varnado can get eight stops a game throughout the SEC tournament, Mississippi State might just get themselves another automatic bid.
  • College Hoops Journal's Matt Norlander spends plenty of time and words deconstructing the latest NCAA tournament expansion talking point. It goes a little something like this: "Coaches (and writers) in college basketball consistently bash the snot out of college football. It’s practically a proud rite of passage for these guys (and, again, honks like me). Like most outside of it, and many in the game will acknowledge this as well, college football -- from a participation standpoint, at worst -- is a crock of a playoff system. For the past decade, once February rolls around, we’ve heard how great it is that college basketball’s championship is “decided on the court” and how silly it is to have more than half of its teams involved in the bowl system. [...] So why is it now a talking point of coaches to, basically, say, 'Well, since college football has half of its teams make the postseason why can’t our game involve more teams?'" Note to coaches: I'm no political strategist, but you don't have to be David Plouffe to know that of all the pro-expansion arguments to be made, "make it more like college football" is probably the worst. No thanks.
  • Seth Davis takes a somewhat novel approach to evaluating teams: Promising coaches off-the-record status, thus giving them free reign to say how they really feel about their conference opponents. The result is an interesting look at the major conferences' teams without any of the regular "they're a tough team, we need to play hard" postgame coachspeak.
  • Tar Heel Blue's Adam Lucas discusses how most UNC fans must be feeling right now. They're down, but they're not out, and even a bit defiant: "This is what he said: 'You have to sit through the bad ones to enjoy the good ones.'" The truth is, we don't sit through many bad ones as Carolina basketball fans. No one feels sorry for us. You know that, right?"
  • Take a swing at Joe Lemire's picks for this season's most disappointing player, conference and team. None of them will surprise you. All of them have disappointed you.
  • The more I hear Tennessee's Renaldo Woolridge, aka Swiperboy, talk, the more I like him: "Woolridge took time out of his schedule to visit with Gibbs' fifth graders and speak to them about topics ranging from his hip-hop career to the importance of chasing a dream. 'I told them about using writing as an expression of who you are and what you're feeling,' Woolridge said. 'I have reached a step in my life where I have achieved part of what I want to achieve. But every day I get up and work harder to reach my dreams. I told them they have to have that mindset, and the only person stopping you from trying is you. I wanted to tell them that so they could have someone to look up to. I had a few people like that when I was their age, and that direction really helped me a lot.'"
  • No one knows the status of Purdue's Robbie Hummel -- at this point, it could be anything from a tweak to a torn ACL -- but if he is out, Keaton Grant, who hit last night's game-winning shot for the Boilermakers, will have very large shoes to fill.
  • Storming The Floor catches us up on The Great West conference. I needed more than a refresher.
  • Speaking of the west, The Mid-Majority's "My Team" features have been an excellent running series; here's Travis Mason-Bushman on Idaho.
  • Joe Lunardi, master bracketologist, breaks down a Wednesday night that featured just about every bubble team you can think of. (Insider)
  • John Gasaway goes deep on whether and why the selection committee should use efficiency margin in their evaluations: "So why doesn't the selection committee avail itself of this "better and more detailed information" when selecting and seeding the field? In theory the committee does indeed consider a very wide range of information, even up to and including an efficiency-margin-based rating system like Ken Pomeroy's. But in practice the standing objection to a proper acknowledgment of efficiency margin's value can be boiled down to one word. Sportsmanship. It is feared that if the selection committee starts explicitly giving teams credit for beating the heck out of their opponents, then really good teams will start running up the score intentionally and wantonly. I can't help feeling that this fear is overblown. First off, I'm not advocating a selection process that simply parrots Ken's rankings or Jeff Sagarin's Predictor or my listings of efficiency margins step by mindless step. No one would advocate that, just as no one would suggest that such ratings should banned from the committee room outright. But in between these two extremes there's a sweet spot where efficiency margin is along for the evaluative ride without driving the bus."
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Saddle Up is our nightly preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown, where we find ourselves officially in that "What does this mean for the NCAA tournament?" time of year.

No. 11 Georgetown at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: If you had to guess which of these two teams had the better Big East record, would you guess Georgetown? Probably not, actually, since by merely asking the question I've given away the answer. It is, in fact, Louisville. The Cardinals, 9-5 in the country's best league, aren't just playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament (after looking like an NIT team two weeks ago). They're also playing to hold off the Hoyas, who at 8-6 are trying to avoid their third straight loss, the first of which came in an ugly effort at Big East doormat Rutgers.

The Hoyas' task won't be easy: Louisville's offense is one of the best in the country, and its defense, though still porous, has gotten noticeably better down the stretch. (For anecdotal evidence, see: holding Syracuse to 60 points in the Carrier Dome last Sunday.) How will Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe match up with Edgar Sosa and Samardo Samuels? Can Georgetown prevent a late-season swoon and a slide onto the bracket's fourth line? Can Louisville keep proving itself? If the Big East regular season race isn't your thing, the answer to those questions should be.

No. 17 Tennessee at Florida, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: If the above game features tonight's two best teams, then Tennessee's trip to Gainesville is certainly the most tourney-dire. Florida needs a win. Is there a route for the Gators into the NCAA tournament without one? Sure. It's possible. Much like being on a boat, anything is possible. (This boat is real!)

Beating Tennessee tonight -- the Gators are 1-8 against UT since Bruce Pearl arrived -- would instantly change Florida's season trajectory from "mediocre and disappointing, so nah" to "mediocre but possibly peaking at the right time, so hey, let's keep an eye on them." The Gators have one of the more difficult closing stretches in college hoops: Tonight's matchup, a game at pesky Georgia, a home contest with Vanderbilt, and a trip to Lexington to face the mighty Wildcats. Win a couple of those -- preferably tonight and Vanderbilt, though some combination of the two with a win at Georgia wouldn't be the worst thing in the world -- and Billy Donovan won't have to pine for tournament expansion quite so enthusiastically.

Everywhere else: Syracuse rebounded nicely from its loss to Louisville by beating Georgetown at the Verizon Center last week; the Cuse will look to continue its road-warrior-ness (totally not a word, until now) with a visit to Providence ... Texas Tech's 4-8 conference record has all but doomed its tournament hopes, but a win over Kansas State might keep Pat Knight's tourney candle flickering for a few more days ... Illinois will try to rebound from its two losses to Ohio State and Purdue at the ever-disappointing Michigan's Crisler Arena ... and after tonight's game at 7-20 Evansville, Northern Iowa will either improve to 25-3 or have doubts as to whether it's an NCAA tourney lock or not.

The Morning After: Hard-Boiled

February, 18, 2010
The Morning After is our semi-daily look at last night's best hoops action. Try not to make it awkward. Oh, and sorry about that headline. I couldn't help myself.

No. 4 Purdue 60, No. 12 Ohio State 57: Any time you face a player as good as Evan Turner, the conventional strategy is simple: Make someone else beat you. It might not have been conscious, but Purdue's execution in last night's impressive road win at OSU was the exact opposite. It let Turner get his points (and his assists, and his rebounds, and pretty much anything else he wanted, because what are you going to do, triple-team him?) and the rest of the Buckeyes couldn't step up in time. By the time OSU started hitting the shots it usually makes to complement Turner's brilliance, it was too late: Purdue is simply too smart, too hard-nosed and too complete on defense to spot it 15 first-half points. OSU and Turner made a valiant comeback, but it was too late.

Purdue's defense didn't stop Turner -- he went for 29 points, seven rebounds, and five assists -- but what it did do was isolate Turner from the rest of his teammates. Purdue swarmed OSU with that patented man-to-man defense, and Ohio State's offense turned simple. There was no motion, no movement, none of the things that the Boilermakers kept wowing with on their own offensive end. Instead, Turner would bring the ball up the floor, receive a screen or an iso call, go to the hoop and oftentimes score. But even a player as good as Turner can't rebound all of his misses. Even Turner can't find himself on back cuts. Even Turner can't make every shot. Ohio State had six assists all game; Turner had five of them.

In the end, it's games like these that set Purdue apart from the Big Ten pack. The Boilermakers have elite talent -- JaJuan Johnson is perpetually slept on; sooner or later we'll learn -- but they also have the depth and style, that hard-nosed, lockdown defense thing that you can feel when you watch them, to outlast mercurial teams like Ohio State. Matt Painter's boys are not perfect, and they're not Kansas, but they're the closest thing the Big Ten has to a Final Four favorite. That much is no longer in dispute.

Louisville 91, Notre Dame 89, 2OT: Which team needed this one more? Louisville, coming off an upset of Syracuse and trying to fight its way back into safe bubble territory? Or Notre Dame, whose bubble hopes are almost entirely waned, but who could maybe take a win at Louisville to the committee as a résumé-builder? Hard to say. What I do know that is that a Louisville win -- in which Samardo Samuels scored a career-high 36 points, including 16-of-19 from the free throw line, marking the only real difference between these teams in Four Factors land -- moves Louisville into legitimate tourney consideration, and just might move Notre Dame off the bubble for good. Such is life in the middle of the Big East.

Missouri 82, No. 17 Texas 77: Is Texas going to drop out of the Top 25? This is the Longhorns' sixth loss in nine games, and while there's nothing wrong with losing at Missouri -- Missouri is a tough out, to be sure -- a team as talented as Texas losing so many games in the stretch run of its season, just as the country's elite are hitting their stride and doing their best work, ought to be hugely discouraging to voters. Take a gander at those Big 12 standings: Texas is 6-5 in the conference, behind Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor and, yes, Missouri, which moved to 7-4 with Wednesday night's win. Texas is one of the most-talented teams in the country. How does that happen? Anyone with a really good answer -- something besides "Rick Barnes plays too many players" -- wins a cookie. Not kidding. I will mail you a cookie of your choosing. Just please help me understand this, because I am so very confused.

Everywhere else: Duke was over the ledge in the first half at Miami, trailing by 12 at halftime and apparently doing another of its incomprehensible road loss routines, but credit the Devils for the turnaround: Duke won 81-74 in an impressive comeback victory. Sure, it's just Miami, but a road ACC win is a road ACC win. Especially for Duke. ... It was a night of survival for highly ranked teams, and Kansas State's near-loss at home to Nebraska was no exception. ... West Virginia withstood Providence's second-half rally. ... St. Louis got a huge win for itself and for the prospect of six A-10 teams in the NCAA tournament with its win over Rhode Island. ... Tennessee got a challenge from Georgia, but pulled away for the nine-point win. ... Florida State rolled at Virginia, a doomer for the Cavaliers' faint NCAA hopes. ... South Carolina did itself no favors by losing at Arkansas; as fun as it would be to have Devan Downey in the NCAA tournament, it's not looking good.

Saddle Up: Get home early

February, 17, 2010
Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Wednesday night's rundown.

No. 4 Purdue at No. 12 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: If you're one of the college basketball fans who doesn't live in a market that carries the Big Ten Network, or that doesn't have DirecTV, well, man. I'm sorry. That's no good. Because tonight is one of the biggest games the Big Ten has had in years, and you're going to have to follow along on the Internet. You're also going to have to rush home from work; a 6:30 p.m. ET start time is mighty unfriendly to those Big Ten fans who live in the central time zone, which is most of them.

[+] EnlargeEvan Turner
Robin Alam/Icon SMIExpect Purdue to try to smother Ohio State star Evan Turner.
Sneak out early. Duck your boss on your way out. Put up an out-of-office notification email. ("I'm not in the office, because I'm watching an awesome basketball game. Please direct all urgent issues to Person X, and don't bother me for the next few hours, nerds.") Do what you need to do, because the battle between the fighting Evan Turners and Matt Painter's steadfast and solid Boilermakers team is full of implications. If Purdue wins, they make a very strong case to displace Villanova as the fourth No. 1 seed and might cruise to the Big Ten title. If Ohio State wins, it boosts its own tourney resume and gets the added bonus of a foot forward in the Big Ten title race. The Big Ten is loaded at the top; tonight's result should provide some measure of separation.

The most notable match up on hand is, obviously, Evan Turner versus, well, anyone Matt Painter decides to send Turner's way. The Boilermakers are great at harassing opposing guards, and the one chink in Turner's armor is his tendency to turn the ball over. Expect Painter to try and smother Turner with multiple defenders as soon as he crosses the half-court line, and maybe before. E'Twaun Moore and Chris Kramer will play a prominent role, and it wouldn't be shocking to see Robbie Hummel try to keep Turner from dominating inside.

That's a solid strategy, but it leaves Purdue open to Ohio State's biggest non-Turner strength: shooting. The Buckeyes hit their outside shots. That efficiency means Turner doesn't need to dominate the scoreline for OSU to stay productive on offense; he merely needs to be enough of a distraction to dominate the other team's gameplan. If Purdue can find a balance between keeping Turner away from the areas he usually owns, as well as keeping OSU's shooters from getting too many kickouts and easy, Turner-delivered looks, Purdue has a great chance to win. But that, as with anything Villian-related, is easier said than done.

Whatever both teams decide to do, the numbers would point toward a close game: Ohio State is the country's eighth-best offense; Purdue is its seventh-best defense. Ohio State has the No. 24 defense in the country; Purdue has the No. 24 offense. Both teams have their eyes on deep tournament runs, and both teams are hitting their late-season strides. Like I said, rush home from work. Screw your personal file. This one is worth it.

But that's not all! Bonus previews, notes, and errata: Be sure to check out Hammer And Rails' lengthy preview of tonight's game; same goes for Boiled Sports, who says the anticipation "almost feels like a football game," which, were I a Purdue basketball player, would offend me. For the OSU-interested, you can find excellent fan-centric previews at Eleven Warriors and Buckeye Battle Cry. The Big Ten Network seems rather excited about tonight's game, too. And don't forget the implications. So many implications! (I like writing the word "implications." Implications. OK, sheesh, I'll stop.)

Everywhere else: Duke gets a chance to prove itself on the road against a decidedly mediocre Miami (FL) team, which should be no problem, except this is Duke on the road, and, well, you know ... West Virginia goes to Providence, where Bob Huggins' men will attempt to sidestep the recent plague of Big East upsets ... Nebraska plays Kansas State in Manhattan; have fun, Huskers ... Your sneaky-good game of the night? Texas at Missouri ... Georgia has played well on the road in the SEC; their next challenge is at Tennessee ... Notre Dame, barely hanging on to a bubble spot, will face fellow bubblers Louisville at Freedom Hall ... In a stacked A-10 with six possible NCAA tournament teams, Rhode Island at St. Louis means a lot ... and two fringe ACC bubble teams will try to sort themselves out when Florida State goes to Virginia.

Video: Kentucky ready for tournament?

February, 14, 2010
College GameDay recaps Kentucky's 73-62 win over Tennessee.


Forde observations: Temper hinders Kentucky's Cousins

February, 13, 2010
Ten o'clock thoughts:

  • DeMarcus Cousins gave us a glimpse of what makes him both overpowering and maddening during the first half against Tennessee. He's the best offensive rebounder in the country -- and perhaps the most immature player in the country, too.

    I believe he's Kentucky's best player. He can get his hands on anything that comes off the glass, which is why the argument that he's dependent upon fellow freshman John Wall to get him the ball is a fallacy -- Cousins gets the ball for himself off missed shots.

    But Cousins also is addicted to cheap and silly drama -- throwing elbows, talking trash, arguing with officials. He was T'd up yet again in the first half against the Volunteers along with J.P. Prince. If he doesn't think opposing players and fans are going to continue to work on his hair-trigger temper, he's fooling himself.
  • Tennessee is outmanned, banged up, on the road -- and right in the game. Give the Volunteers credit for moxie, but you still have to wonder about their horrendous shot selection. If they continue to jack up long 3s early in the shot clock, they'll get run out of the gym eventually.
  • Kentucky has seen all kinds of zone this season without it costing them. But zones from better teams could be another matter. The Wildcats struggled in the first half against the Vols' zone and surely will see more of them as their SEC schedule stiffens down the stretch.
  • Good stuff from the ACC tonight, particularly Georgia Tech-Wake Forest (won by the Demon Deacons) and Virginia-Virginia Tech (won by the Hokies). It's not a very good league by its own lofty standards, but it is a competitive one. ACC tournament should be a big ball of messy fun.
  • Western Kentucky crushed Arkansas-Little Rock on the road, continuing to pull out of a midseason tailspin in which it lost six of seven games. The perennial mid-major power will finish in the middle of the Sun Belt pack in the regular season but figures to be dangerous in the league tournament.
  • Oregon State, which lost by 51 points to Seattle, won at Arizona. The Pac-10 is amazingly mediocre.