College Basketball Nation: Tony Mitchell

1. Jaren Sina, a top recruit out of New Jersey for Northwestern, was granted a release by NU AD Jim Phillips Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune. Sina may still go to Northwestern, his father was quoted by the Trib. But the actions of Phillips should be applauded. He took the time to fly out to New Jersey Monday upon making the decision of firing Bill Carmody. He wanted to talk to the prospective recruit and make an attempt to keep him but at the same time honor the family's request. There is no reason to turn this into some protracted fight when a player may not want to attend the school. The genuine gesture by Phillips would likely be respected by the Sina family if they connect with the new hire. Northwestern could easily play hard ball and not release Sina. But what would that prove? Phillips is being a hands-on athletic director, trying to get this hire right with the correct fit and at the same time ensuring there is a comfort level with the incoming players. More ADs should take note.

2. Arizona coach Sean Miller was fined $25,000 by the Pac-12 for his postgame behavior during the conference tournament in questioning the officiating. Rutgers fined Mike Rice $50,000 during the season and suspended him for three games for his behavior in practice in the previous year. The NCAA committee on infractions suspended Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett for the first five games of the WCC season in 2013-14 for a failure to monitor violations. This is no longer a trend. This is the new normal for coaches. They are being singled out and, in some cases, being held accountable and, in other cases, being held responsible for the actions of their subordinates. This is a new era and coaches now have to be on guard and on edge for the way they are being watched -- and ultimately punished -- for actions by schools, conferences and the NCAA.

3. I'd love to say more players will stay but the draft may be the weakest in years, which means spots are available. That's why it should come as no surprise that Tony Mitchell of North Texas will declare for the draft Wednesday, as first reported by CBSSports.com. North Texas coach Tony Benford said Monday night Mitchell still has to make it official but this is not a shock. UNT struggled through an injury-riddled season and went 12-20. Mitchell is still a potential lottery pick, assuming he comes out, according to Benford due to his skill set. Mitchell will be one of the first to declare but he likely will lead another exodus.
Finally, college basketball is here. The 2012-13 season kicked off Friday with some great finishes, high drama and even a pair of cancellations. More on those later.

Here’s a snapshot of the action from Friday night:

Connecticut 66, No. 14 Michigan State 62: The pageantry surrounding college basketball’s opening-day matchup in Europe elevated the first high-profile game of the 2012-13 season. MSU and UConn played at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, home to more than 17,000 servicemen. A year after kicking off the season by playing basketball on a ship, college basketball’s creative minds raised the bar by sending a pair of perennial powerhouse programs overseas. (You know we’re about five years away from a “Let’s play on the moon” conversation.)

The Spartans and Huskies entered this game under different circumstances. Michigan State lost former All-American Draymond Green but regrouped with a talented recruiting class and returning standouts such as Keith Appling and Derrick Nix. Connecticut was banned from postseason play due to subpar Academic Progress Rate scores during the offseason. Then, Jim Calhoun retired and left the program to Kevin Ollie, who has essentially been given seven months to prove that he’s worthy of a long-term contract. They can’t compete for the national title, so what’s their motivation?

And yet, the Huskies played like a determined squad and the Spartans looked flat, going 13-for-33 from the field in the first half. They committed eight turnovers. The Huskies exploited the opening and took a 34-18 lead with 7:46 remaining in the first half after making 11 of their first 12 shots. Michigan State chipped at the deficit and eventually took a lead in the closing minutes.

But the Spartans couldn’t overcome their 15 turnovers or the production of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier (14-for-28 and 38 points combined). That backcourt duo will challenge any defense. It’s not doomsday for the Spartans, who lost their first two matchups in 2011-12 but finished the year with 29 wins. They clearly need more time to develop chemistry. The game means much more for UConn. The Huskies competed like a team that’s still focused, despite its situation. Ollie’s “10 toes in” philosophy worked Friday. The Huskies came to play in Germany.

No. 3 Kentucky 72, Maryland 69: Earlier this week, former Xavier standout Dez Wells was cleared to play after the NCAA reversed its decision on his initial eligibility. Wells was expelled from Xavier following sexual assault allegations and transferred to Maryland. He lost his first waiver request but won an appeal. That decision enhanced the buzz leading up to Maryland’s matchup against the defending national champions at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Here’s the thing. Wildcats coach John Calipari has found success year-after-after with the same formula. He convinces multiple high-level prospects to compete together. They play good defense and score at will. That’s why he’s achieved so much during his time at Kentucky. The group he’s assembled for 2012-13 is very similar to past teams he’s assembled at Kentucky. They’re young but dangerous and deep. Former walk-on Jarrod Polson scored 10 points and came up with a crucial steal and big free throws down the stretch. The Wildcats seem to have it all. Again.

With Nerlens Noel’s shot-blocking (three swats), Kyle Wiltjer’s 3-pointers and Archie Goodwin’s penetration (16 points), the Wildcats amassed a 53-38 lead midway through the second half (Maryland started the game 2-for-11). Game. Set. Match. Nope.

Maryland bounced back with a 15-0 run that suggested it’s not going to be a pushover in the ACC. Alex Len looked like a lottery pick (23 points, 12 rebounds). Wells (2-for-12), however, struggled. But the Terrapins were tougher than Kentucky (23-12 edge in offensive rebounds). And there multiple moments when the Wildcats looked like a young, inexperienced team. But they were mature enough to hold on for the win. Kentucky led 70-69 with 7.7 seconds to play before Polson hit two free throws. Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Nice game. Jay-Z should be proud.

Here’s what we learned: Len and Wiltjer are stars. Their respective teams will count on their continued production all year. And if they produce at a level comparable to their efforts on Friday, then both programs will thrive. Len takes a lot of pressure off his teammates with his effectiveness inside. Wiltjer is 6-foot-10 with range (4-for-6 from 3-point-line line). How do you guard that?

The aircraft-carrier cancellations: Games on boats make a lot of sense. Until they don’t. This year’s Carrier Classic between Ohio State and Marquette seemed like a great idea. Michigan State and North Carolina started the 2011-12 season on a ship. Why not do it again? And why stop at one ship? The Marquette-Ohio State matchup on the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., was one of a handful of scheduled games on watercrafts.

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AP Photo/Mic SmithCondensation on the court aboard the USS Yorktown made things unsafe for Ohio State and Marquette.
But a condensation problem turned the court into an ice rink. The chaotic scene played out on NBC Sports Network as players, coaches and servicemen used towels to dry the floor. But they couldn’t stop the moisture from resurfacing. Citing the potential safety risk, game officials ultimately canceled the game. It will not be rescheduled.

It was an important matchup for both squads. There are major questions for each team. Marquette lost so much talent from last season and earlier this week, Todd Mayo was deemed academically ineligible. Ohio State was set to compete for the first time with a new nucleus sans Jared Sullinger and William Buford. But now they’ll both wait to play their first games of the year on Sunday, when Marquette plays Colgate and Ohio State faces Albany.

And that was just the first game of the night that was canceled due to condensation. Georgetown’s matchup against No. 10 Florida was called after halftime (the Gators led 27-23) because game officials had similar issues with a slippery floor aboard the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Fla.

We might have just witnessed the end of the game-on-a-ship era. So if you like outdoor basketball, make sure to savor Syracuse-San Diego State on Sunday.

A few more observations from games that actually did happen on Friday ...

  • During No. 19 Baylor’s 99-77 victory over Lehigh in Waco, Texas, Bears freshman Isaiah Austin, a 7-1 center, scored 22 points in 17 minutes before he was sidelined with an ankle injury. He was 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, too. After the game, coach Scott Drew said the injury wasn’t as severe as it initially appeared. That’s great news for a Baylor team that looked like a legitimate threat to Kansas in the Big 12. Cory Jefferson had 26 points and 13 boards. Pierre Jackson had 12 assists. Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum tried to keep the Mountain Hawks alive with 36 points, but Baylor was too much. The Bears are legit.
  • Last season, No. 25 Florida State beat South Alabama by 41 points. On Friday, the Seminoles lost by five, 76-71, in the biggest upset of the night. The Noles, last season’s ACC tournament champions, lost multiple starters from its 2011-12 team. Yes, they’ll need time to come together with so many new faces joining the program. But a home loss to a Sun Belt squad in the season opener? Wow. FSU committed 17 turnovers (the Jaguars had 19). All-ACC guard Michael Snaer struggled in a 2-for-11 effort. South Alabama’s Antoine Allen scored 21 off the bench. This weekend’s practice should be fun for Florida State.
  • South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters scored 30 points, but they weren’t enough to hold off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Jackrabbits led 29-16 with 4:14 to go in the first half. They controlled the game. But a late 11-0 run helped the Crimson Tide regain their footing by halftime. Bama slowly found its confidence and momentum late in the second half, when Trevor Lacey nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal the come-from-behind victory. Good effort from SDSU. And a nice comeback for Alabama.
  • Sean Woods won his first game for Morehead State in a 77-74 victory over NEC favorite LIU-Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. Woods took the new gig after leading Mississippi Valley State to the NCAA tournament last season. Senior forward Milton Chavis scored 24 points in the win. Nice start for Woods’ program.
  • Other results of note: Nice start for Doug McDermott and Creighton as the All-American contributed 21 points and 11 rebounds in a duel with fellow NBA prospect Tony Mitchell of North Texas. The Bluejays won by 20. ... Huge for George Mason to not only get Virginia to come to Fairfax, but also for the Patriots to pull off the 63-59 victory over a program they'd never beaten before. ... Two other CAA rivals weren't as fortunate: Old Dominion was surprised at home by Holy Cross and league favorite Drexel fell in overtime at Kent State. ... Everyone remember Lehigh beating Duke last season, but few remember that the Mountain Hawks didn't even win the Patriot League regular-season title. Bucknell did. And the Bison opened the new season with a 70-65 win at Purdue. That's going to be quite a conference race in the Patriot.

Bruce Pearl breaks down our fantasy draft

November, 6, 2012
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What a great exercise it was in getting our experts here at ESPN to put together a fantasy draft for the upcoming college basketball season! If only it were that easy. I guess the closest thing to that we’ve seen recently was Kentucky’s national championship team a year ago.

You can vote on who you think picked the best team here. Here's how I think they did:

Like any fantasy draft, the first pick is a huge plus, and Joe Lunardi certainly took advantage of his position by taking Cody Zeller. Zeller is arguably the best player in the country -- and is an oh-so-valuable center, which gives Lunardi a strong edge in his frontcourt. To give you an idea, the next center taken was an unproven freshman in Nerlens Noel.

[+] EnlargeTony Mitchell
Andrew B. Fielding/US PresswireThe likes of North Texas' Tony Mitchell give Joe Lunardi's team the edge in Bruce Pearl's book.
Myron Medcalf’s team has incredible defensive cohesion and may be the most complete team when thinking about both ends of the court. Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and Kenny Boynton (Florida) are exceptional defensively and Jeff Withey is a premier shot-blocker. With Rick Pitino pulling the strings, this is not a team that would be easy to score on and, when you throw in Doug McDermott’s ability to carry a team scoring-wise, this team has the potential to be special.

I liked how Eamonn Brennan and Fran Fraschilla took some chances that could pay off in the long run. Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) and C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) showed how dynamic they can be last season. Can they do it again now that they have a target on their backs? Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina) and Phil Pressey (Missouri) tasted success last season, but now they are “the man” on their respective teams. How will that affect them? Lastly, Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) is a beast, but Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) is not eligible yet, and Noel may be limited offensively.

What stood out to me was the appropriateness of the coaches taken by each expert. Tom Izzo heads a perennial championship-contending team at Michigan State and has the most proven roster to work with. Pitino is masterful in getting the most out of his guys, especially on the defensive end, and has some real playmakers on both sides of the ball. Mike Krzyzewski is unbelievable at bringing together a mix of playing styles (see his two Olympic gold medals) and has highly talented but unproven players. And John Calipari is great at working with young talent and putting guys in positions to be effective, which is a must for Fran’s roster.

Overall, I would rank the teams as (1) Lunardi, (2) Medcalf, (3) Brennan and (4) Fraschilla. Lunardi’s team separates itself with its mix of skill and grit. Tony Mitchell may be the best player nobody has heard of, Trey Burke is a playmaker who can distribute the ball, and Zeller is probably the national player of the year. I love dimensions as a coach. Florida State’s Michael Snaer might be the toughest, most competitive player in the country, Duke’s Mason Plumlee -- the best of the Plumlees -- will be a great glue guy on this team. Oh, and Butler’s Rotnei Clarke can make shots the minute he crosses half court.

On Election Night, one thing is clear: Joe Lunardi has gone from bracketologist to fantasy guru!

3-point shot: NIT seeking one more team

September, 3, 2012
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1. The NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 21, 23) is desperately searching for its final team so the other 15 schools can release their nonconference schedules. Former Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt, who is now a director of the men’s basketball championship at the NCAA, is helping in the search for a team, which may end up being a Division 2 school. The NCAA closed the New York offices of the NIT, but long-time NIT executive director Jack Powers will remain on the NIT selection committee, especially for the postseason event, which has been renewed at Madison Square Garden. The NIT doesn’t pre-determine the semifinalists like other tournaments that feed into events in New York, Brooklyn, Las Vegas and Kansas City. The pods for the event aren’t set yet, but likely could end up being: Host -- Kansas State (North Texas, Lamar, D-2 team); Host -- Pitt (Penn, Robert Morris, Lehigh); Host -- Michigan (Bowling Green, Cleveland State, IUPUI); Host -- Virginia (Fordham, Fairfield, Delaware).

2. A men’s basketball ethics committee, made up of a select group of current head coaches and at least one former head coach as picked by the basketball focus group, held a conference call last week and a proposal was made to come up with a handbook for all new head coaches. The purpose would be to provide structure for new coaches as they deal with a number of the challenges that are likely to face them in the first months and year on the job.

3. North Texas and Creighton agreed to play in Omaha, Neb., to tip off the season on Nov. 9. The game should be attended by NBA scouts. Two of the more heralded players outside of the power six conferences are Creighton junior forward Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg) and North Texas sophomore forward Tony Mitchell (14.7 ppg). McDermott is almost certain to be a preseason All-American while Mitchell should be at the very least be listed as honorable mention. North Texas, under first-year coach Tony Benford, is projected as a Sun Belt favorite in its final year in the conference before moving to Conference USA, while Creighton will once again be predicted to win the MVC and reach the NCAA tournament again.

3-point shot: Draft disappointment

June, 29, 2012
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1. Alabama took a hit with both JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell going undrafted Thursday. So too did Georgetown after Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims went unselected. Add New Mexico's Drew Gordon, Xavier's Tu Holloway, Long Beach State's Casper Ware, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, Ohio State's William Buford, Texas' J'Covan Brown, West Virginia's Kevin Jones and Iona's Scott Machado to the list of players who didn't get picked.

2. Mississippi State's Renardo Sidney can't be too disappointed. He was a long shot to be selected. He has had one of the most bizarre and most discussed careers I have seen in covering the sport for 22 years. Hopefully he will find his way. The Bulldogs' Dee Bost, who didn't get picked either, once famously declared for the draft then returned to school in 2011 after claiming he didn't know the rules.

3. The Big East fully expects Boise State to be a football member and is doing all it can to help the Broncos get the rest of their sports into the Big West, even making a financial commitment. San Diego State spent Thursday lobbying other Big West members to help get the Broncos into the league. Boise State has until Saturday to withdraw from the Mountain West for 2013 or face further penalty. The Big West has to simply make a decision. The basketball conference will be much improved by adding Boise State with SDSU and Hawaii -- three programs that care deeply about their sports.

Four standouts from Chicago skills camps

June, 22, 2012
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CHICAGO -- This week’s college workouts at the Deron Williams and Amar'e Stoudemire skills academies were intense and competitive. Here’s my take on a few players among the many who stood out:

Tony Mitchell, North Texas

New UNT head coach Tony Benford has a stud power forward in Mitchell. He has a pro body with elite athletic ability, explosiveness and the ability to finish everything around the rim with power.

Mitchell was also impressive on the defensive end of the floor as he worked to push the offensive player out of his sweet spot, gapped the live dribble in order to not get beat with a quick spin and doing a great job holding his position to make the offense shoot over him. His blocked shots often resemble a volleyball spike and he has the ability to defend both forward positions.

Mitchell must continue to build his offensive skill and feel, but he has tremendous upside. One NBA scout told me today "if he can improve offensively, he will be able to make a lot of money."

It also helps that he’s already gained a trust with his new coach.

“I am very comfortable with [Benford],” Mitchell said. “He is a hard worker and doing a great job.”

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

Ohio State combo forward Deshaun Thomas proved to be a tough matchup in this setting. He has a short memory and his offensive confidence is off the charts.

Thomas gives defenders nightmares and when he gets on a roll, he can rattle off points from all three areas of the floor.

He can post up and elevate over defenders with his smooth lefty turn shot or score with his midrange, rhythm dribble pull-ups and 3s off the catch or dribble. He can also pick and pop or come off a variety of screens.

Thomas has not met a shot he didn't like and I like his chances of making them as long as he is on balance, within the offense or if he is taking advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Overall, this Buckeye flat-out gets buckets and is fun to watch when he gets hot.

"I have always had a scoring mentality,” Thomas said, “and when I see a matchup I like, my eyes light up.”

Trey Burke, Michigan

At 6-foot and 185 pounds, Burke has continued to improve. He has a great command of the ball and is a terrific open court passer.

He can also knock down open jumpers on the break or when reading the defense as he comes off ball screens, can nail ball-reversal spot up 3s and make a play when the offense breaks down. Burke has worked to become a complete point guard and his improvement is easy to see, along with his improved strength.

"I had to learn how to read the way teams were guarding me and then adjust to score and get my teammates involved,” he said. “I had to get in the film room and learn all the reads off pick-and-rolls and it has really paid off for me.”

Doug McDermott, Creighton

At 6-foot-8 and 223 pounds, McDermott is a skilled combination forward who has drawn comparisons from some scouts and coaches here in Chicago to former NBA player and Miami (Ohio) great Wally Szczerbiak.

McDermott runs the floor and showed his smooth, sweet stroke in the post and from behind the arc. He is a coach’s dream when it comes to pick-and-pop action because he reads the defense and has deep range and a quick trigger.

"I get a lot off the pick-and-pop action,” McDermott said. “I have learned to get to the spot I want to on the floor before the defense can react. I am working on making a play off the dribble when the defense pressures me.”

McDermott's skill is a thing of beauty and his production is consistent. He is also one of those players who can stretch the defense and can create driving lanes and one-on-one post up situations for teammates because his defender stays attached to him whether he has the ball or not.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Breaking down the Friday afternoon games in Greensboro:

No. 9 seed Alabama (21-11) vs. No. 8 Creighton (28-5), 1:40 p.m. ET

Creighton loves to score in a hurry; the Bluejays averaged 80 points per game and scored 90 or more nine times this season.

Alabama prefers to play at a relative snail’s pace, limiting its opponents to only 58.1 points per game, fewest in the SEC and ninth-fewest in NCAA Division I.

Their contrasting styles will meet in a Midwest Region second-round game at Greensboro Coliseum.

“It’s tough for us to simulate,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “But we’re not going to change anything that we do. We’re going to shoot a bunch of 3s, we’re going to try to jam it inside, we’re going to try to fly it up and down the floor, just like we have played all year. You can’t change anything at this stage of the game.”

Why would the Bluejays change anything now? Creighton has won seven games in a row, including an 83-79 victory in overtime over Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game March 4. The Bluejays rank No. 7 nationally in scoring and they’ve made 42.5 percent of their 3-pointers and 50.9 percent of their shots overall.

Sophomore guard Doug McDermott, the coach’s son, ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring with 23.2 points per game and was No. 2 in the MVC with 8.2 rebounds. He knows he’ll face a stiff challenge from the Crimson Tide, who will be longer and more athletic than most opponents he faced this season.

“I’ve seen a lot of different defenses this year with double teams and guys just being more physical with me,” McDermott said. “But I think that if they’re going to put a lot of attention on me, it’s just going to open up a lot of things for [my teammates].”

The Crimson Tide recovered from a 3-6 stretch in midseason to earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2006. Alabama overcame the suspensions of four players and myriad injuries to win five of its final seven games. Tide forward Tony Mitchell, the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.1 points per game, was suspended on Feb. 20 for the rest of the season. Because of the roster upheaval, the Tide used 13 starting lineups and eight in its past 11 games.

“I think that every program at some point during the year, whether it’s injuries or illnesses or something, you go through adversity,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “I think every coach you talk to says your team’s going to face adversity and [it’s about] how you handle that adversity. Sometimes that adversity can come through losing; sometimes it comes through winning. But that’s just a part of the game. Our team’s no different. I think our guys have grown and matured over the course of the season, individually and collectively.”

Who to watch:

Creighton’s McDermott: No player will get as much defensive attention as McDermott, who was named MVC Player of the Year and set a Creighton season record with 765 points. Only two other sophomores in MVC history scored 700 points in a season -- Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird. McDermott ranked second in the MVC in 3-point shooting (49.5 percent) and scored 30 points or more in six games.

Creighton’s Gregory Echenique: Creighton’s chances might come down to Echenique’s ability to hold his own against Alabama’s frontcourt of JaMychal Green and Nick Jacobs. Echenique, a junior from Guatire, Venezuela, averaged 9.8 points and 7.4 rebounds and led the MVC in blocked shots in each of the past two seasons.

Alabama’s Green: After returning to the starting lineup against Auburn on Feb. 29, Green recorded double-doubles in three of the Tide’s final four games. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Tide’s 66-63 loss to Florida in the SEC tournament, the 27th double-double of his career. Green, the Tide’s only senior, missed seven games because of injuries and suspensions but still averaged 14 points and 7.4 rebounds.

What to watch: Guard play. The Crimson Tide likes to turn opponents over with a full-court press and half-court traps. The Bluejays turned the ball over 405 times -- 61 more than their opponents had in 33 games -- but senior Antoine Young led the MVC in assist/turnover ratio in each of the past two seasons. Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs was also among the MVC leaders with 5.1 assists per game.

No. 16 seed Vermont (24-11) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (29-5), 4:10 p.m. ET

North Carolina probably won’t need forward John Henson to defeat Vermont. After all, No. 1 seeds are 110-0 against No. 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

But if the Tar Heels are going to advance beyond the tournament’s opening weekend and perhaps even to the Final Four in New Orleans, they’ll need Henson to return from a left wrist injury that caused him to miss most of the past three games.

Henson, a 6-foot-10 junior from Tampa, Fla., went through about 70 percent of the team’s practice in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Thursday morning and then most of the Tar Heels’ light workout in Greensboro. The two-time reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Henson is averaging 13.8 points and 10.1 rebounds with 94 blocked shots this season.

Henson says he’s ready to play for the first time since injuring his wrist in the early minutes of an 85-69 win over Maryland in the ACC tournament on March 9, but UNC coach Roy Williams isn’t so sure.

“We practiced [Thursday] morning,” Williams said. “John did a little more than he did [Wednesday]. We let him in some live situations. He did not shoot the ball left-handed a single time. He did not block any shots left-handed. So I’m extremely concerned about that part of it, because that’s his dominant hand in a big, big way. He did block one shot, it was right-handed, and he took one jump hook right-handed and it fell about three miles short. But he felt like if the game were to be played today, he felt like he could play. I’m not convinced.”

If Henson can’t go, UNC freshman James Michael McAdoo will probably start his third consecutive game. McAdoo struggled on offense in UNC’s 85-82 loss to Florida State in the ACC final Sunday, scoring four points on 2-for-10 shooting. But he grabbed eight rebounds with one blocked shot and four steals.

“We prepare both ways, prepared for [Henson] to play as well as not play,” UNC senior Tyler Zeller said. “We don’t know yet what’s going to happen with him, so we have had him in for some plays. We have also had James Michael in with the first team playing a lot also. We’re just trying to prepare for whatever we have and make the best of it.”

Henson, who has 272 blocked shots in 106 games at Carolina, would be a big mismatch for the Catamounts, who don’t start a player taller than 6-8.

“I don’t think it’s affecting us,” Zeller said. “We would love to have John play. He’s a fantastic player, a great rebounder, shot blocker, and he can score. So all-around he’s a fantastic player. But we also have confidence in our substitutes, and John Michael especially, we have a lot of confidence in him to be able to step up and fit in the role.”

Who to watch:

North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall: The Tar Heels point guard has 330 assists this season, an UNC and ACC single-season record. Marshall’s assist total is the fifth-highest in NCAA history -- he needs only four more to move into fourth place -- and his 9.71 assists per game were the most by a sophomore in NCAA history.

North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller: The ACC Player of the Year led the conference in field goal percentage (56.9 percent) and offensive rebounds (four per game), was second in rebounds (9.7), third in scoring (18.5 points) and sixth in free throw percentage (83.3 percent).

Vermont’s Four McGlynn: McGlynn’s real name is Patrick McGlynn IV, but he goes by “Four.” McGlynn, a freshman from York, Pa., didn’t start a game all season, but he led the Catamounts with 12 points per game. He shot 39.3 percent on 3-pointers and 88.7 percent on foul shots.

What to watch: Pace of play. The Tar Heels average 82 points per game, which is No. 2 in NCAA Division I. The Catamounts gave up 80 points only one time in 35 games, an 80-75 loss to Long Island, which was No. 3 nationally in scoring with 81.9 points per game. Vermont held 23 of its last 24 opponents to 70 points or fewer in regulation.
Don’t panic.

Down by double-digits Tuesday night, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers surveyed their situation and encouraged one another. They were down by 13 points to North Texas with 12:51 remaining in the Sun Belt tournament title game, but it wasn't an unfamiliar situation.

The team had overcome a double-digit deficit in a quarterfinal victory over Arkansas-Little Rock with the same ferocity that transformed WKU from a 5-14 squad in early January to an NCAA tournament team Tuesday night after a 74-70 win over North Texas.

[+] EnlargeTeeng Akol
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireTeeng Akol and the Hilltoppers overcame a 13-point deficit to beat North Texas and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
The 7-seed Hilltoppers stormed back against a feisty and talented UNT team behind gutsy efforts by Oklahoma State transfer Teeng Akol (career-high 23 points) and freshman George Fant (17 points), who helped Western Kentucky earn its 22nd NCAA tournament bid overall and first since 2009.

“We were just saying, 'Be calm. We’ve been here before. It’s not a big deal.' Our whole goal is to come out and be the tougher team, win or lose,” Fant told ESPN.com. “We just want the other team after the game to say, 'That team is really tough because they fought the whole game.'”

But Tuesday’s comeback really started two months ago when Ken McDonald lost his job the morning after a controversial loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. That January loss ended in overtime with the Ragin’ Cajuns using six players on their final, game-winning possession. It was also Western Kentucky’s fifth defeat in six games.

The school immediately gave assistant Ray Harper the interim head coaching job. He had to reassure a flummoxed squad and stop the bleeding.

“We were a team that really had to become a tougher basketball team,” Harper said. “I thought we got better each day. We got tougher and that’s why we’re still playing."

Don’t panic.

Fant quickly culled his fellow freshman teammates -- the Hilltoppers have seven freshmen on their roster -- and stressed calm. Harper had helped recruit them. Fant trusted him.

The season could be salvaged, the young leader told them.

“I’ve been knowing Coach Harper for a long time and I know what he’s capable of. I just told my team, ‘You guys, don’t panic,’” Fant said. “I think our intensity picked up a lot [after he arrived].”

On his first official day as interim head coach, Harper called every player into a room for individual meetings. He issued his expectations and demanded more toughness. The 'Toppers would have to fight for two halves the rest of the season. No excuses.

They embraced that trait in the weeks that followed Harper’s promotion. Beginning with a Jan. 21 win over UALR, the Sun Belt’s West division champ, the Hilltoppers won 10 of their next 14 games and Harper was named the program's permanent head coach on Feb. 19.

That's looking like a wise move these days, with 15-18 WKU the first team in four years to advance to the NCAA tournament with a losing record.

On Tuesday, North Texas freshman Tony Mitchell (18 points) put the Mean Green on his back. But Akol (5.8 ppg) promised Harper the he wouldn’t let him down after scoring 16 points in his team’s three previous games combined. He didn’t care about leading the team in scoring. His goal was to challenge Mitchell and fight the way Harper wanted his team to fight.

“We just went in there aggressive,” Akol said. “Tony Mitchell is an unbelievable player and I’m just trying to go attack him every time I get the ball. Go at him.”

Don’t panic.

Sensing tightness in his team after North Texas took that 13-point advantage, Harper reminded the Hilltoppers that they’d faced previous obstacles. And for this program, that word encompasses matters that they’ve encountered on the court and off it.

They couldn’t panic, he told them. He asked them to “nibble” at North Texas’ lead.

Three minutes after the Mean Green seized that double-digit edge, WKU had made the Sun Belt tournament title matchup down to a four-point game.

That’s when Harper cracked a joke.

“I said, ‘You guys are catching up too quick.’ And they laughed,” Harper said. “I just wanted them to loosen up.”

And not panic with a shot at the NCAA tournament on the line.

It seems that this season, the Hilltoppers rarely do.
Click here to read our afternoon recap. Now back to the lecture at hand, which comes in three parts:

The Rivalry

No. 2 Syracuse 71, Connecticut 69: One of the many things to love about this Syracuse team -- besides its great zone defense and incredible depth and talent and length and pretty much everything besides defensive rebounding -- is how well it handles close games. Since the Jan. 21 loss at Notre Dame, Syracuse has taken respective best shots from Cincinnati, West Virginia, Georgetown, Louisville, South Florida and now at UConn, and each time the Orange have either pulled away late or made the key stop down the stretch to preserve the narrow win. It's a real skill, and it isn't entirely intangible; when you have a defense this good, you tend to get a lot of stops, and there's no reason why that wouldn't be true in the final minutes of any given game, too. But however you quantify it, the Orange win close games. Such traits tend to come in handy in March.

As for Connecticut? While the Huskies didn't get the win, they appear to be rounding into form, or at least starting to figure a few things out. UConn had its fair share of issues with Syracuse's zone, and there were plenty of bad shots to be had, but the Huskies were much more balanced (four players finished in double figures, while Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier combined for 13 assists) and competent on both ends of the floor in the second half. Unless it suddenly begins shooting the ball from outside at a much higher clip, this team probably has a ceiling. But there are plenty of realistic improvements to be made. Even better, many of them appear to be in progress. Let's not bury this team just yet.

The Upsets

Purdue 75, No. 13 Michigan 61: When Purdue guard Ryne Smith was asked what he thought about guard Kelsey Barlow's dismissal from the team last week, he was direct, even curt: "Addition by subtraction," Smith said. Apparently he was right. Whatever the reason, Purdue played its best game of the season Saturday at the most important time, containing Michigan's outside shooters and slowly stretching a second-half lead thanks to the heady play of point guard Lewis Jackson, forward Robbie Hummel and, most importantly, guard Terone Johnson, who scored a career-high 22 points and made a handful of key plays down the stretch, including two big and-1 finishes around the rim. Purdue is an unconventional team with no true post presence; the Boilermakers rely on Hummel's outside-in versatility and an extended, guard-oriented style. This makes them a great matchup for Michigan, and, in their own way, a dangerous team.

In any case, Purdue can now feel entirely safe about its at-large NCAA tournament chances. Beating Michigan at home -- the Wolverines' first home loss of the season -- is most definitely a signature victory. And it couldn't have come at a better time.

TCU 83, No. 21 New Mexico 64: Let's hear it for TCU! A round of applause is most definitely in order. At this time in 2011, the Horned Frogs were in the midst of a season-ending 13-game losing streak, en route to an 11-22 finish. This season is an entirely different story: TCU is playing its best basketball down the stretch, having won four of its past five (and eight in a row at home) and toppling ranked UNLV and New Mexico and a good Colorado State squad in the process. The key: great 3-point shooting. The Horned Frogs lead the league in long-range makes in conference play, and they're undefeated at home as a result. What a difference a year makes.

In the meantime ... um, what happened to New Mexico? Last Saturday, we watched in near-awe as the Lobos thoroughly dominated UNLV, which came just a few days after a 10-point win at San Diego State. Steve Alford's team, once a relatively unheralded efficiency darling with few good wins to show for it, looked set to run away with the Mountain West and make a deep run into March. Since then, the Lobos are 0-2 and are now in a three-way tie. A loss at Colorado State makes some sense; we know the Rams are tough, particularly at home. And this is not to take away from TCU, which (as you just read above) is giving everyone more than they bargained for in February, particularly in their own building. But a 19-point blowout loss? Isn't this the team that just rolled UNLV in the Pit and moved to 8-2 in the league? It's kind of weird, right?

Georgia 76, No. 11 Florida 62: This is an upset, of course, but I'm not sure we should be all that surprised. Frankly, I'm not sure if a Florida loss should ever truly catch us off guard. Don't get me wrong: The Gators are good. But they're a specific kind of good. When their steady diet of 3s are falling, they can shoot opponents off the floor before said opponents even have a chance to catch their breath. But if the shots aren't going down, Florida has no Plan B. Patric Young is the only true post presence, and his offensive game is still a work in progress (and he's still underutilized as a scoring threat to boot). The Gators' defense -- which ranks fifth in opponents' points per possession in SEC play, No. 10 in opponents' 3-point field goal percentage and No. 10 in block rate -- still isn't good enough to hold opponents in check when the shots clanging off the iron and the opponents start turning long rebounds into secondary breaks and easy buckets. Florida might yet get there on the defensive end, but it isn't yet. If this UF team has a lower ceiling than it should, well, that's why.

The Bubble Specials

Alabama 67, Mississippi State 50: It was instinctively easy to write off the Crimson Tide when coach Anthony Grant suspended Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green; it was easy to predict a late collapse, even a fall off the bubble, for a team whose two leading scorers would be missing such important games down the stretch. Instead, the Crimson Tide keep, well, rolling. They've now won three in a row and prevented any hint of a collapse. Mississippi State, on the other hand, appears to be doing exactly that: The Bulldogs are collapsing. This is the Bulldogs' fifth consecutive defeat, a stretch that has included some good basketball (in the near-miss vs. Kentucky this week) but also some baffling losses (the loss at Auburn especially). It's no stretch to say Mississippi State -- which for much of the season looked like a tourney near-lock -- could wind up missing the tournament after all. The Bulldogs are, after all, 6-8 and tied with rival Ole Miss in the SEC standings. Ouch.

[+] EnlargeJohn Shurna
Rob Christy/US PresswireJohn Shurna's free throws pushed Northwestern past Penn State -- and kept an NCAA bid in sight.
Northwestern 67, Penn State 66: Breathe a big ol' sigh of relief, Northwestern fans: In the chase for their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, the Wildcats remain very much alive. Senior forward John Shurna made the game-winning free throws with just 2.6 seconds remaining, giving Bill Carmody his first win in State College since 2002. Big challenges still lie ahead: Ohio State comes to town on Wednesday, followed by next weekend's season-ender at Iowa, a team that just knocked off Indiana and Wisconsin in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But for now, some minor rejoicing is in order. Northwestern's tourney hopes are still very real.

Rutgers 77, Seton Hall 72 (OT): Let's not take Seton Hall off the bubble just yet, eh? The Pirates got a great win over Georgetown this week, one that could have firmed up a previously shaky at-large profile. All Seton Hall needed to do the rest of the way was avoid bad losses. Well, losing to a young, 13-16 Rutgers team at home is just that. Next weekend, the Hall travels to DePaul. If the Pirates lose there, all the good vibes from the emphatic Georgetown victory will have almost entirely faded from the picture.

VCU 89, George Mason 77: First things first: Thanks to Drexel's one-point win at Old Dominion on Saturday afternoon, VCU's win over George Mason won't give them a share of the CAA title this season. Bummer, sure, but the Rams would surely settle for a spot in the NCAA tournament, something to which they're at least a little closer after this victory today. As a league, the Colonial's top teams (Drexel, VCU and GMU) didn't get quality nonconference wins (VCU's best came against South Florida, for example), so any at-large consideration will have to come from separation at the top and perhaps a pair of deep runs for both Drexel and VCU in the CAA tournament. A win here was a must, and Shaka Smart's team got it, behind Bradford Burgess' career-high 31 points.

Dayton 76, UMass 43: A home loss to UMass can't be called "bad," but for a team like Dayton -- which is desperately scrapping for a spot in the NCAA tournament -- it could have been disastrous. Instead, the opposite happened: UD won, and won big, looking very much like one of the A-10's best teams and a squad worthy of a tourney bid in the process. We'll see how the Flyers finish up, but if they're one of the last four in, they might just be one of the play-in game candidates, which are held in -- you guessed it -- Dayton!

Saint Joseph's 82, No. 22 Temple 72: Speaking of somewhat fringe Atlantic 10 tournament hopefuls, the A-10 can't offer a bubble team a better shot at a marquee win than Temple on its own floor late in the season, but the Hawks still had to overcome Fran Dunphy's typically peerless bunch, which had won its previous 11 games and 13 in the 15-game stretch beginning with its Jan. 4 victory over Duke. Phil Martelli's team is now 9-6 in the league and 19-11 overall, and it added the one thing it desperately needed to its profile: A legitimate top-25 RPI win. Temple is most definitely that.

Penn 55, Harvard 54: Just when you think it's time to plan a long-awaited Harvard hoops coronation, Penn's Zack Rosen comes along, scores 20 points, makes a huge jumper down the stretch and ices two game-winning free throws in the final 30 seconds. And all of a sudden the Ivy League race is legitimately up for grabs with both of these teams having two losses. (Another one-game playoff for the Crimson? Oh boy.) As an at-large entity, Harvard is still in decent shape, but its profile isn't so strong that it can afford to lose at either Columbia or Cornell in its final two games, lose out on the Ivy auto-bid, and still feel safe about being picked to join the group of 37 at-large teams. Big days ahead for Tommy Amaker's team.

Washington 59, Washington State 55: For the first 10 or so minutes of the first half, it looked like Wazzu was going to hand its in-state opponent the type of loss that would severely damage Washington's at-large chances. But the Huskies fought back and, as the AP report notes, won the game's most important battle -- at the charity stripe: "Ultimately, the game came down to free throws. WSU (14-14, 6-10) went 11 of 12 to keep the game tied at 28-all despite shooting 27 percent in the first half. In the second half, the Cougars shot 6 of 20 from the free throw line, while the Huskies, who only went 2 of 5 in the first half, finished 17 of 24." The win keeps Washington on the right side of the bubble for now, but UW's marginal profile might not be able to survive a loss at either USC or UCLA going away.

Xavier 65, Richmond 57: Kenny Frease's season highs in both points (19) and rebounds (14) helped carry Xavier to an ugly but ultimately victorious Saturday. A loss here would have kicked Xavier off the bubble for good and almost certainly, barring an upset in the A-10 tournament, ended Chris Mack's 100 percent NCAA tournament hit rate in his XU tenure. Instead, the Musketeers live to fight another day.

No. 21 San Diego State 74, Colorado State 66: The Rams pass at least two NCAA tournament bubble tests: The RPI/SOS numbers are great, and they sure do look like a tournament team. But will that be enough? A win in Viejas Arena would have provided a tidy bookend to this week's huge victory over New Mexico, but the loss isn't a huge deal. Colorado State, which is undefeated at home in Mountain West play, hosts UNLV in Fort Collins in just three days' time. Win that one and the Rams are probably set.

3-point shot: Grant has Tide rolling

February, 24, 2012
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1. Alabama coach Anthony Grant has built up quite a bit of leverage. Grant held his ground on the suspensions of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell and the Tide has won two straight. Mitchell is done for the season, but Green has been reinstated, though, Grant didn’t play him at Arkansas Thursday night. The Tide, which looked lost and out of the NCAA tournament discussion a week or so ago, are now back in position with three winnable games to close the season against Mississippi State, Auburn and at Ole Miss.

2. Could Iowa make a run to the NCAA tournament? Well, it’s not totally crazy. The Hawkeyes have won two home games in a row over ranked Indiana and Wisconsin as Matt Gatens scored a combined 63 points in two games. What if Iowa were to win at Illinois, Nebraska and beat Northwestern at home to finish 10-8 in the Big Ten? It’s not implausible. The Hawkeyes may be more than a spoiler in the Big Ten tournament. There is a chance the Hawkeyes could be playing their way toward a bid. The beauty of a league like the Big Ten is that the opportunities are still available.

3. Duke has a more favorable schedule than North Carolina. What would really be remarkable is if Duke won the ACC despite losing two conference home games and neither was against North Carolina. But it’s possible. The Blue Devils aren’t going to wow you, but they have risen in the games that mattered most on the road in the ACC. Duke could end up being one of the softest No. 1s among the four, but could earn it if the Blue Devils can get past the Tar Heels in the coming weeks.

3-point shot: Syracuse, Kansas step up

February, 14, 2012
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1. If you wanted more proof as to why Syracuse and Kansas can be in the Final Four then Big Monday served up prime examples. Both teams won tough road games (Syracuse at Louisville and Kansas at Kansas State) that they nearly gifted to their opponents. But both teams also made a key defensive play to win the game.They forced Louisville and Kansas State to make poor decisions late and each team failed to make a play. Syracuse and Kansas executed. The Orange and Jayhawks each has a player who has emerged that could be a key component to a possible national title run. C.J. Fair has delivered for Syracuse off the bench. Jeff Withey has become the post-presence that KU desperately needed; allowing Thomas Robinson to play his natural position.

2. Alabama coach Anthony Grant wanted to make it clear that the suspensions to Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green were separate from each other and different than the one for Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele. The latter two were reinstated for the Florida game Tuesday while Mitchell and Green remain suspended indefinitely. Grant wouldn’t divulge the reason for any of the suspensions.

3. Loved the Nolan Richardson story on ESPNU. Richardson has never received the true credit he deserves for what he did at Arkansas. He gave the program a national identity. He commanded loyalty and earned tremendous trust. He was a pioneer. One of my favorite stories I’ve done for ESPN was going down to El Paso with Richardson when he was coaching the Mexican National Team. Spending time with him in his old neighborhood was priceless.

Weekend recap: Plumlee cleans the glass

February, 13, 2012
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Player of the Weekend -- Miles Plumlee
Plumlee came off the bench to haul in 22 rebounds in Duke's win over Maryland. It's the most rebounds in a game in the Mike Krzyzewski era at Duke, and most for a Blue Devil since Randy Denton's 25 in 1970. The last player with more rebounds off the bench? North Carolina's Sean May had 24 on Senior Night against Duke in 2005 (a pair of Tar Heel seniors started and played one minute).

Freshman of the Weekend -- Tony Mitchell
Mitchell had 22 points and 20 rebounds, but North Texas fell short of Florida Atlantic in double overtime. Mitchell is the first freshman with a 20-20 game since Michael Beasley. With six blocks and five assists, Mitchell is the first freshman with 20 points, 20 rebounds, five blocks and five assists since Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin in 2000.

Scoring Star -- Jamal Olasewere
Olasewere went 11-for-11 from the field and scored a career-high 32 points as Long Island beat St. Francis (NY). That matched Vermont’s Luke Apfeld for the most field goal attempts without a miss this season. Olasewere is the first player to score 30 or more while going at least 11-for-11 from the field since Oklahoma State’s Marshall Moses last season.

Stat Sheet Stuffer -- Scott Machado
With 10 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds, Machado notched the second triple-double in Iona history in an 83-74 win over Marist. The previous triple-double came from Nakiea Miller in 2000. Machado is on track to be the first player to average double-digit points and assists since 1988 when Avery Johnson and Anthony Manuel did it.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend -- Jared Sullinger
The good news? Sullinger had a triple-double in Ohio State’s 58-48 loss to Michigan State. The bad news? One of those categories was turnovers. Sullinger had 17 points and 16 rebounds, but his other numbers stick out more: 10 turnovers and a 33 field goal percentage. Of course, the rest of the Buckeyes shot just 24 percent. Sullinger is the first Big Ten player with 10 turnovers in a game since Evan Turner in 2009.

Behind the box scores: Saturday's games

February, 12, 2012
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A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Saturday.

Indiana State 78, Southern Illinois 68
Indiana State made all 12 of its 3-point attempts Saturday, the most 3-pointers without a miss in a single game in NCAA history. The previous record for most 3s without a miss was nine, done by Minnesota against Penn State on Jan. 11, 2009.

Lipscomb 99, Stetson 91 (OT)
Lipscomb scored 25 points in the extra session, one shy of the NCAA Division I record for points in an overtime period. The record of 26 was done by Vermont on Jan. 24, 1998, against Hartford.

Duke 73, Maryland 55
Duke’s Miles Plumlee had 22 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench, the most rebounds by a bench player since Sean May had 24 against Duke on March 6, 2005 (May did not start that game because it was North Carolina’s Senior Day). Plumlee is the first player this season with at least 20 rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes of playing time.

Michigan State 58, Ohio State 48
Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger had 17 points, 16 rebounds and 10 turnovers in the Buckeyes’ loss Saturday. It’s the first "triple-double" using points, rebounds and turnovers in Division I this season. Jerrell Williams of La Salle had the last one on Jan. 19, 2011, against Duquesne.

Kansas 81, Oklahoma State 66
The Jayhawks’ Jeff Withey had 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in the win. He’s the first player to reach all three of those levels in the same game since VCU’s Larry Sanders put up the exact same line on March 9, 2009, in the CAA championship game against George Mason.

Texas 75, Kansas State 64
Texas attempted 48 free throws to Kansas State’s 12. That free throw differential of 36 is the largest in a game involving a Big Six team this season and the third-largest overall. Texas’ 48 free throw attempts are the second most by a Big Six team on the season (Washington attempted 59 on Jan. 10 against Seattle).

Texas Tech 65, Oklahoma 47
Oklahoma scored just six points in the paint, the fewest points in the paint in a game by a Big Six team this season.

St. Bonaventure 69, Duquesne 48
Florida Atlantic 86, North Texas 81 (2OT)
St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson scored 21 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in the Bonnies’ win, and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the Mean Green’s double-overtime loss. They became just the sixth and seventh players this season to record a 20-20 game. Nicholson’s 23 rebounds are the second most in a game this season, trailing only UAB's Cameron Moore, who had 24 on Dec. 28.

Seattle 100, Longwood 99 (OT)
Seattle’s Chad Rasmussen was 6-for-17 from the field in the Redhawks’ win, with all of his attempts coming from 3-point range. That is the most 3-pointers attempted in a game without attempting a 2-point field goal.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff 64, Southern 58
Trillion of the Night: Jamar Harris of Arkansas-Pine Bluff played 12 minutes without accumulating a single stat in his team’s 64-58 win over Southern.

Weekend recap: Ratliffe efficient for Mizzou

January, 23, 2012
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Player of the Weekend – Ricardo Ratliffe
Ratliffe scored a career-high 27 points to go with eight rebounds, as Missouri came away with an 89-88 win at Baylor. He went 11-for-14 from the field, and now has a 77.2 field goal percentage on the season. That’s on track to break Steve Johnson’s Division I record of 74.6 percent in 1980-81. How efficient has Ratliffe been? Consider that he’d need to miss his next 18 shots just to fall into second place in the nation.

Filling Up the Stat Sheet – Jesse Sanders
Liberty’s Jesse Sanders came into Saturday averaging 12.6 PPG, 7.9 APG and 7.9 RPG this season, yet somehow a triple-double had escaped him. That changed in an 84-78 win at High Point, as Sanders finished with 14 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. The senior has now had a triple-double in all four years on campus. Sanders is now averaging 8.0 RPG and 8.1 APG. No one has done that in at least the past 15 seasons.

Losing Legends – Boeheim, Calhoun, Krzyzewski
Syracuse, Duke and Connecticut all lost Saturday, meaning the three winningest active coaches all fell on the same day. Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski hadn’t lost on the same day since Jan. 18, 2003. That’s a span of 3,291 days. The fourth-winningest active coach (Bob Huggins) did manage a win on Saturday, as West Virginia topped Cincinnati in overtime.

Lofty Historical Comparison – Tony Mitchell = Michael Beasley
On Saturday, Missouri picked up its biggest win of the season down in Waco. Meanwhile, just two hours to the north, a former Tiger recruit had a huge game. Tony Mitchell had 30 points and 17 rebounds in North Texas’ overtime win over Denver. In just 11 career games, he's hit 30 points and 15 boards twice. The last freshman with multiple such games? Michael Beasley, who did it five times in 2007-08.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend - Brandon Young
Shadowed by Hugh Robertson for most of the game, DePaul’s Brandon Young went 0-for-13 from the field in Sunday’s 75-59 loss to South Florida. It’s the most attempts without a make by a Division I player this season. The last Big East player to go 0-for-13 or worse was South Florida’s Collin Dennis in 2006.
This Saturday promised one of the best wall-to-wall slates of college hoops fixtures thus far this season, and the afternoon action didn't disappoint. In fact, it just about blew my mind. Let's take a comprehensive look at what we learned from said afternoon action, shall we? (Check back late tonight for a recap of the evening action.)

Florida State 76, No. 4 Duke 73
What we learned: How cool is Leonard Hamilton? Bad charge call? He just smiles. Another bad, potentially crucial, game-deciding charge call? A smile and a wink. A buzzer-beating 3 to upset No. 4 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium -- the same 3 that sent FSU's bench into a joyous on-court scrum? A quick nod. A walk to midcourt. A handshake. No big deal, right?

Hamilton isn't the celebratory type; he's as steady a presence as there is in college hoops. But what his team did Saturday -- just a week after it blew the doors off against North Carolina at home -- was worth much more than the cucumber-cool reaction Hamilton offered. This was a massive, season-changing win for the Florida State Seminoles.

There were plenty of opportunities to fade away. Midway through the second half, Ryan Kelly hit two 3s and a fast-break dunk to extend Duke's lead to 58-50, its widest margin of the afternoon. The crowd was rocking. FSU's shots weren't falling. It appeared Duke would do what Duke does: Gather itself, extend a lead, and ride out another ho-hum ACC home victory. Instead, the Seminoles kept battling. Within a minute, they had closed the eight-point lead to just five, and by the time the game reached its crucial moments -- the final minute -- FSU pulled just ahead at 71-70.

Things stayed tight all the way through. Kelly received the benefit of the doubt on a pretty clear charge with 20 seconds left and Duke guard Austin Rivers made a great move to the rim to tie the game at 73 with just 6 seconds remaining. But FSU guard Luke Loucks, calm as his head coach, advanced the ball to guard Michael Snaer in time for Snaer's buzzer-beating, game-winning 3 just a few feet in front of the visitors bench. That's when the ecstasy, apparently shared by all but Hamilton, commenced.

So what did we learn? We learned that the Noles are indeed very real. Are they as good as their 33-point blowout over UNC? Of course not. But they're good enough -- strong enough, defensive enough, big enough, tough enough -- to present matchup problems for some of the best teams in the country, even on those teams' home floors. Before the season, we thought Florida State was the third-best team in the ACC. After losses to Harvard and Princeton and a wipeout at Clemson, that projection looked wildly optimistic. Now, it almost feels cautious. If the Seminoles play like this the rest of the way, they're definitely better than that.

No. 5 Missouri 89, No. 3 Baylor 88
What we learned: This one-point deficit was reached thanks to a meaningless last-second 3 from Baylor's Brady Heslip, and so the score line belies the real takeaway from this Tigers road win: Missouri is no illusion. No. This team is just flat good.

Can any other conclusion be reached? Consider the accomplishment here: The Tigers went on the road against the No. 3 team in the country, one with as much size and athletic interior talent as any of the nation's contenders -- a quality supposedly anathema to Mizzou's very essence -- and scored 1.24 points per possession in a win that required a first-half battle, a second-half push and a late survival of an inevitable Baylor run. The Tigers are simply relentless on the offensive end, attacking the tiniest of defensive gaps with more speed than any other backcourt in the country.

If you were wondering why Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe is so handily dominating competition this season -- leading the nation in field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage by a huge margin to date -- you received your answer today. Ratliffe cuts and spaces in the middle of the paint as well as any forward in the country. He's a tireless, opportunistic offensive rebounder with great hands and lightning-quick feet. And more often than not, Missouri's guards -- particularly Phil Pressey, who was brilliant in Waco -- break down the defense, ruin its rotation and find Ratliffe for easy finishes around the rim. His line Saturday, against all that long, NBA-worthy Baylor talent: 27 points on 11-of-14 from the field (see?), 8 rebounds (6 offensive) and 2 blocks. He was, per the usual, brilliant. Meanwhile, Pressey finished with 18 points and 7 assists, 6 steals and 5 rebounds. Can't understate his total impact on the game.

There are concerns for Baylor going forward. Perry Jones III continues to live up to the occasionally unfair "soft" label; when you're a 6-foot-11 lottery pick, and the opposing team had only two contributors bigger than 6-6, 8 points and 4 rebounds just doesn't cut it. The Bears, despite their clear size advantage, allowed the Tigers to rebound 48.3 percent of their misses on the offensive end; per Ken Pomeroy's rankings, Baylor is the 220th-best team in the nation on its defensive glass. When you can run a front line of Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller (who turned in a stellar scoring performance today, it should be noted), why are you getting so consistently and comprehensively outworked on the boards?

Still, let's give the Tigers a huge amount of credit. When Missouri were blown out at Kansas State, the concerns about this team's size were seemingly validated. Sure, Mizzou played well in the nonconference. Sure, the shots were falling. Sure, Ratliffe was on a tear. But could Frank Haith's team really keep it up in conference play? Weren't the Tigers, among any team with an undefeated nonconference record, the most likely to fade into Big 12 mediocrity? The answer, as we now know, is a resounding no. Small? Sure. Guard-oriented? You bet. This team is what it is. What you see is what you get. And what you get is one of the best offensive -- check, that, one of the best, period -- teams in the nation, bar none. Great win.

West Virginia 77, Cincinnati 74 (OT)
What we learned: If you haven't seen Kevin Jones play lately, you're missing the Big East Player of the Year to date -- and a legitimate national POY contender, too. Frankly, you might not recognize him. Jones, who struggled to adapt to a star role last season, has emerged as all that and more in 2011-12. This form was again on display today, especially late in regulation, when Jones hit a massive go-ahead 3 to help WVU push Cincinnati to overtime, where the Mountaineers outlasted the Bearcats for a massive home win. Jones finished with 26 points on 11-of-15 from the field, hitting both of his 3-point attempts and grabbing 13 rebounds in the process. Like I said: If that's not the Big East Player of the Year thus far, I don't know who is.

In the meantime, despite the loss -- and a truly questionable layup attempt by Dion Dixon, when the Bearcats needed a 3 to tie -- Cincinnati can come away from this game looking pretty good. Just a few days after beating UConn on the road, it faced down a star-led squad on its brutal home court and very nearly, but for a few late errors and big plays by West Virginia, came away with a win. If you thought Cincinnati was the second-best team in the league after the win over the Huskies, you might still feel that way now.

Tennessee 60, No. 11 Connecticut 57
What we learned: The Huskies can't stop the slide. Saturday's loss at Tennessee marks UConn's fourth loss in its past six games, and was again emblematic of the woes facing this team: disjointed offense, a willingness to take bad shots, lack of leadership in tough situations, interior play far below the sum of its insanely talented parts. We knew Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee squad would come out and play hard in Knoxville. Even when the Volunteers have been bad this season (which has been often: This win moves them to a mere 9-10 overall), they've played with a blue-collar, let's-work-hard spirit preached constantly by their first-year head coach. Today it paid off.

But Connecticut deserves much of the blame here, too. Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi should be dominating undermanned frontcourts like UT's. Instead, they combined for 11 points and were obviously outplayed by freshman Jarnell Stokes, who posted a double-double in his third career game. The same Stokes who was a 17-year-old kid in high school last month. Great win for the Vols, of course, but the postgame questions will be all about UConn. As of Jan. 21, this team -- so talented, so promising, so mystifyingly mediocre -- still has miles to go before it can be considered a Big East contender, let alone one with national title aspirations.

No. 2 Kentucky 77, Alabama 71
What we learned: There are no moral victories in college hoops. Alabama coach Anthony Grant will be eager to share that rather cliché bit of information with his team following Saturday's loss at Kentucky. And it's true -- a win is a win, a loss is a loss, and minimal nuance is allowed to color those stark W's and L's at the end of the season. Still, in the final moments of Bama's impressive Saturday road stand, against the No. 2 team in the country and a program that has won its past 47 road games, the longest active streak in Division I, the only thought that occurred to this viewer was: "Well, no matter whether they win or lose, this was a great game for Alabama."

It was. The Crimson Tide are in the midst of a three-games-in-eight-days scheduling bump, one that put them on the road at Mississippi State (loss), at home against Vanderbilt (loss, and an ugly one at that) and then, mercilessly, on the road at Kentucky. Yet Alabama never quit coming at the typically impressive Wildcats. Even when struggling forward Tony Mitchell fouled out with five minutes remaining, the Tide kept getting scores and free throws and good looks, pushing the game and preventing UK from ever finishing in comfort.

In the end, Anthony Davis' freakish interior defense saved Kentucky's day; the last of his four blocks came with 7 seconds left to preserve a four-point lead, and thus the expected result was achieved. But give Alabama credit: That was a gutsy, tough road performance. This team seemed easy to write off over much of the past two months, but if Saturday's performance was any indication, it will be a worthy competitor in the coming SEC stretch run.

Dayton 87, Xavier 72
What we learned: The Flyers have come a long way since Nov. 30. That's when this team lost 84-55 to Buffalo at home, three days after winning the Old Spice Classic title game over Minnesota. Four days later, Dayton was blown out at Murray State. At that point, first-year coach Archie Miller appeared to have a sincere rebuilding project on his hands. Nearly two months later, the Flyers are, well, flying. This 15-point home win over putative Atlantic 10 favorite Xavier puts them at 4-1 in A-10 play, another excellent addition to a résumé that includes victories over Alabama, Saint Louis and, most recently, a strong 10-point win at Temple. By now, Dayton isn't a rebuild. It isn't a neat little story. It's a legitimate A-10 contender with an easy case to make for an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament. Who saw that one coming?

In the meantime, Xavier's off-and-on struggles -- which appeared to abate with a four-game winning streak in A-10 play -- reared their ugly head again. The Musketeers were mediocre on offense and downright bad on defense, allowing 87 points in 65 possessions, or 1.33 points per trip. Sometimes it's ugly offense, sometimes it's lenient defense, but in either case, it's clear Chris Mack's team hasn't put its midseason slide entirely in the rearview.

[+] EnlargeTyshawn Taylor
AP Photo/Eric GayTyshawn Taylor didn't have a single turnover, and 22 points, as Kansas held off Texas.
Some other observations from Saturday afternoon's selections:

  • I didn't get to see all of Kansas' tough 69-66 road win at Texas, but the portions I did see lent some solid eyeball observations to my current theory on Texas: The Longhorns have plenty of holes, particularly in their frontcourt, but they're much better than most people seem to think. To wit, the Longhorns entered Saturday ranked No. 24 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. They're solid on the offensive glass, good at getting to the free throw line, and while they don't play vintage Rick Barnes defense, they keep games close enough to give lights-out scorer J'Covan Brown chances to go win the game late. He had one such chance Saturday, and it missed, but the lesson was well-taken: Texas will give superior teams fits from here on out. Don't say you weren't warned. (And how 'bout Tyshawn Taylor's continued torrid pace with 22 points and ZERO turnovers? What a three-game stretch.)
  • Playing Kentucky's brutal Davis-led defense must have a way of making other defenses feel wide open. That appeared to be the case in Fayetteville today, where the Arkansas Razorbacks -- fresh off a loss to the Wildcats this week -- made their first 11 shots and went 80 percent from the field in the first half against Michigan. Early in the second half, the score was 49-33 Arkansas, and a blowout appeared to be in the works. But the shooting slowed down, Michigan made its comeback, and the Razorbacks narrowly avoided a late loss when Wolverines guard Trey Burke's last-second 3 missed. Bad second half, but a nonetheless solid win for freshman B.J. Young and the rest of Mike Anderson's young team. And what a day for the SEC, eh?
  • Purdue had the toughest task of any team in the country Saturday afternoon: The Boilermakers had to fight a Midwestern snowstorm that trapped them on their airport tarmac and prevented them from getting more than a few hours of sleep before the 12 p.m. ET tip. Predictably, Michigan State rolled. Purdue has serious issues on both ends of the floor, particularly with an offense that offers little but a barrage of outside shots. But it's hard to blame the Boilermakers too much for the lopsided 83-58 result.
  • Yes, it's hard to win on the road. Yes, it's hard to win on the road in the Big East with a team comprised almost entirely of freshmen. But it's even harder to lose when your opponent shoots 3-of-24 in the first half, 12-of-41 for the game -- which ties Harvard for the season record for fewest field goals in a win -- and makes just three of its 14 3-point field goal attempts on the afternoon. And yet, that's exactly what Rutgers did Saturday, as Georgetown overcame a legendarily poor shooting performance (effective field goal percentage: 33.8) to rally for a late win. Hoyas freshman Otto Porter continued his stellar freshman campaign, scoring Georgetown's final six points and nailing the winning free throws with just 8 seconds remaining. Georgetown fans won't necessarily be pleased with this one, but when you shoot this poorly and still get a win, and thanks to a steady freshman to boot, there's encouraging stuff in there somewhere.
  • Maryland will eagerly await to hear the status of freshman center Alex Len, who left the Terps' 73-60 loss to Temple at the Palestra with an ankle injury. Len has helped lead a quiet stretch of solid play from the Terps. With him, this team can compete in the ACC. Without him, well, it's not looking good.
  • Poor Boston College. The Eagles showed signs of improvement in two early ACC wins over Clemson and Virginia Tech, but Steve Donahue's team returned to early-season form Saturday, which is a way of saying it got beat soundly at home by another very marginal team -- in this case, a 71-56 home loss to Wake Forest. Yeesh.
  • What happened to Belmont? Everyone's favorite mid-major darling -- which returned the lion's share of personnel from last season's 30-5 campaign -- fell 79-78 at USC Upstate on Saturday, dropping to 13-7 overall and 6-2 in the Atlantic Sun to date. The other loss came at home to Lipscomb earlier this month, and all of a sudden the Bruins' expected A-Sun dominance looks entirely vulnerable. Strange times in the Volunteer State.

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