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Saddle Up: A Hoya redemption?

March, 1, 2010
3/01/10
3:51
PM ET
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Monday night's briefer-than-usual rundown.

No. 20 Georgetown at No. 8 West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: There's no mystery as to why Georgetown fell off a cliff in this week's coaches' poll; the Hoyas have lost three of their last four, including a loss at Rutgers and Saturday's blowout at home to a desperate, bubble-riding Notre Dame team. This is the mark of the Hoya in 2010: inconsistency. Georgetown has the talent to play with anyone, and can blow out very good teams on its best nights -- see the Jan. 30 Duke rout, easily Georgetown's best win of the season -- but the Hoyas are prone to frequent letdowns against lesser squads. A win at West Virginia would right the ship, so to speak. Georgetown has no hope of a Big East title now. But ending the season with a win over a top 10 team at a place like Morgantown is the sort of boost any psychologically inclined Georgetown fan would love to see. It couldn't hurt the Hoyas' tournament seeding, either.

The Mountaineers have the chance to close their season on a similarly uplifting note. Tonight's game is big enough; Saturday's at Villanova is even bigger. Win both of them and Bob Huggins' team could put itself in position to snag a No. 2 seed on Selection Sunday. The Mountaineers are miles ahead of Georgetown on tempo-free paper, and are still doing what they've been doing all season long: rebounding an insane number of their misses on the offensive end and creating second possessions at a higher rate than anyone in the country. Against Georgetown's mediocre defense -- the Hoyas are just No. 132 in opposing offensive rebound percentage -- it's safe to expect more of the same.

Oklahoma at No. 25 Texas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: This is another in a long list of combined Oklahoma and Texas games that looked pretty awesome before the season started. Then Willie Warren and the Sooners had an inexplicably disastrous year, rendering them a non-entity in the Big 12. Warren has been sidelined with mono and will miss tonight's game thanks to an ankle injury as the Sooners look to avoid their first seven-game losing streak in -- get this -- 41 years. Meanwhile, Texas is Texas, and you already know this story. Rick Barnes can't decide on a rotation, the Longhorns on the floor can't seem to figure out their roles, and a team that began the year by winning its first 17 games and rising to No. 1 overall is now a fringe top 25 team entirely gone from the Final Four picture. If North Carolina and UCLA showed up in Austin, Tex., tonight, we could hold a star-studded convention of the year's most disappointing teams.

Everywhere else: Morgan State and Utah State will both try to avoid upsets tonight; other than that, Monday's offerings won't do much for you. (Unless you're trying to do some deep scouting for minor conference tournament predictions, in which case, can I look at your notes?)
  • Bob Huggins was not pleased with the officiating in Monday night's loss to Connecticut, so much so that he earned himself an ejection in the final minute -- one of those "I'm sick of this, I'm getting kicked out, which ref do I insult first" coach's decisions you see from time to time. After the game, though, Huggins was less direct: "You saw it. You're allowed to report on it. I'm not," Huggins said when asked about the effect of 46 fouls and 65 free throws -- 42 of them by UConn -- on the way the game played out. "That's a tremendous advantage."
  • Northern State coach Don Meyer announced Monday that he will retire after the current season is over. Meyer is the NCAA's all-time wins leader in college basketball for all divisions, followed by former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight and current Philadelphia University coach Herb Magee. Magee plans to stick around a little while longer; Jameson Fleming at the Bleacher Report picked Magee's brain and found out why.
  • Did BracketBusters work? And just what does "work" mean? The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg writes: "If the purpose of the Bracket Buster event is to help more mid-major teams play their way into the NCAA tournament, then there's no denying that this year's event was a colossal failure. In addition to Old Dominion and William & Mary, Siena's at large hopes vanished after a blowout loss at Butler and Wichita State's did so as well after falling at Utah State. [...] The solution to this, of course, would be to pit mid-majors against big-name opponents in the BracketBuster event, except few if any teams from the power six conferences would have anything to gain by such a format." Ballin' Is A Habit responds: "The bottom line? No matter who you play, you must win games to make the tournament. Old Dominion, Siena, and Wichita State lost games that would have helped their tournament resume. William & Mary lost a game it should have won. If ODU and Siena had both won, and that win helped the two teams to earn an at-large bid, people would be singing a much different tune about BracketBusters. So until a situation arises in which a team winning their BracketBusters game has a negative effect on their tournament résumé, I think BracketBusters is working just fine."
  • Hokies fans are predictably giddy about their team's late-season rise into the NCAA tournament bracket; here's a roundup of Virginia Tech's newfound bracketology love.
  • Gasaway's Tuesday Truths. More on this later, but Maryland is much, much better than the RPI folks seem to think. Oh, and here's more Gasaway, this time taking on the Purdue homers who insist on claiming this team is "old-fashioned" and "hard-nosed" (which they are, sort of) while completely ignoring what's made the Boilermakers of 2010 so much better than last season's counterparts: the offense!
  • Nebraska is 1-11 in the Big 12 and 13-14 overall, but Nebraska's athletic director isn't putting coach Doc Sadler's head on the chopping block. Rather, he's extending the always-welcome-when-it-seems-sincere vote of confidence, saying Sadler is the "right guy to get this thing done."
  • Michigan State's Kalin Lucas was frustrated Saturday. After losing to Ohio State in East Lansing -- and scoring a mere nine points on 3 of 13 shooting -- Lucas decided to pull a LeBron and blow off the postgame media question-and-answer session. On Sunday, Lucas called head coach Tom Izzo to apologize and tell him he felt bad about "leaving his teammates to explain" the loss. On Monday, Lucas joined Izzo at the coach's weekly news conference, where Lucas apologized to the media for ditching out. All things considered, a pretty classy move.
  • Doug Gottlieb (Insider) says he's heard Jim Calhoun has five-year contract extension from UConn "on his desk" and that Calhoun should sign it, thereby ignoring folks like me who think now's as good a time as any to experience the joys of retirement.
  • SB Nation's Andrew Sharp has some lighthearted fun with Vanderbilt's A.J. Ogilvy, and the many faces of A.J. (Of special note is Ogilvy's hair, which reminds of the kids I used to play club soccer with -- they loved to frost their tips. Like aging 90s country chicks and their relationship to mullets, I have an irrational soft spot for this hairstyle.)
  • Speaking of lighthearted fun, let's hope this budding Kent State sideline reporter -- and heir to the "Boom Goes The Dynamite" guy's legacy of student reporter hilarity -- can laugh at himself in the morning.
  • Barry Alvarez confirms: The Big Ten is indeed looking for another school, and has hired a research firm to look into 15 potential expansion additions. Not on this list? Texas and Notre Dame.
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

Seton Hall 80, Louisville 77: Wednesday was a night of streaks. Memphis lost its conference win streak; DePaul broke its conference losing streak; Pitt ceded its Big East home game streak, and so on. Louisville might as well have played on Wednesday night, as the Cardinals lost for the third time in a row for the first time since 2005-06. If that seems confusing, it's not just the awkward phrase. That's how good Louisville has been in the Big East for the past three years, and in 2009-10, for whatever reason, the Cardinals are managing to post efficient statistics and numbers and still look utterly mediocre in the win column. That's what's most confusing: Why isn't this Louisville team better? Or, more precisely, why isn't this Louisville team, which appears on paper to be one of the best four or five teams in the Big East, so apparently unable to turn that efficient profile into wins?

No. 20 Butler 48, Loyola (IL) 47: Perhaps the most important thing for Butler is they survived, and won, a game in which they made .08 points per trip, posted a 38.4 FG percentage, went to the free throw line on a mere 17 percent of their possessions, and were out-rebounded on the offensive end almost 2-to-1. Still, though, that is an ugly performance. Even against mediocre Horizon League teams like Loyola, Butler won't be able to play this badly and expect to make it through the conference slate unbeaten, which is pretty much what they have to do to secure an at-large bid and not worry about the pressures of the conference tournament come March. If you wanted to over-analyze the game, you could say that surviving and winning on the road on such a bad night was a good thing, that it proved Butler's mettle, or something. Or you could just call it what it is: a bad game that Butler can't afford to replicate all that often.

Indiana 67, Penn State 61: Indiana fans have had a weird relationship with this year's IU team. Most went into the season with some cautious optimism, only to have that optimism simultaneously piqued and dashed week in and week out. Tom Crean's team is capable of beating Pitt in Madison Square Garden, only to lose Loyola (MD) at home a week later. This is the kind of up-and-down, tweener season Crean is having right now: His team can play inspired, coherent basketball and challenge and even topple superior teams ... and then a night later can toss in horrid, ugly performances that have some of the more strident IU fans already questioning the length of Crean's contract. (Kentucky fans get a bad rap for being too hard on coaches, but IU fans deserve a shout-out: That some are already nibbling at the edges of his popularity is kind of shocking. What did you expect? Things were screwed up before, and Crean is trying to make them less screwed up, and you're going to blame him when the process takes longer than you hoped? Note that you could, were you so inclined, substitute Barack Obama's name in for Tom Crean's ... but let's not go down that road.)

Anyway, the point is that Thursday night was one of IU's Dr. Jekyll nights. Penn State is a bad team, but Big Ten road wins were an absolute impossibility last season. Crean has his team at .500 after 18 games. Given the circumstances he inherited, that's worthy of some measure of respect.

No. 10 Gonzaga 91, Pepperdine 84: Today's AP wrap makes note of the history of Pepperdine-Gonzaga, when both teams used to contend for the WCC every year, when both teams used to make it to the NCAA tournament, when both teams were mid-major darlings (even if Gonzaga hogged most of the press). Those days are basically over: Gonzaga has emerged the victor, becoming a national power a ubiquitous national profile and Nike shorts in every sports good store in the country. Pepperdine has receded in WCC mediocrity. But last night, the two teams had one of their trademark duels, the kind that harkened back to the glory days of the late 1990s, and Gonzaga needed a career-high 32 points from Matt Bouldin and a 20-and-13 from freshman Elias Harris to get past the Waves at home. One more note on Harris: Most reading this blog will already know this, but Elias Harris should be in contention for every freshman award there is. It's not that he'll win all of them -- John Wall, John Wall, John Wall -- but Harris' performance deserves national attention. He's special.

Everywhere else: Florida notched a big SEC road win over Arkansas, 71-66 ... Utah State cruised in Fresno ... Siena stayed unbeaten in the MAAC with a six-point win over Loyola (MD) ... Isiah Thomas' FIU team dropped to 6-16 overall with a 15-point loss to Arkansas State at home ... Cal utterly destroyed Oregon in Berkeley ... Oregon State scored 35 points in a 60-possession game and promptly lost to Stanford; more on this later ... Washington State beat a lifeless USC team in L.A. ... and UCLA caused its fans to rush the court with a home win over Washington. More on this later, too. In the meantime be sure to check out Diamond's live coverage of the game from Pauley Pavilion.
Saddle Up is a quick preview of the basketball your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Thursday night's rundown.

Louisville at Seton Hall, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: If I told you Louisville was almost exactly as efficient a basketball team as Syracuse, would you believe me? Probably not: Syracuse has one loss and is a favorite to make the Final Four; Louisville already has two losses in the Big East and is still apparently rebuilding from last year's Earl Clark-Terrence Williams dual exodus. But it's true! Louisville has been a pretty darn efficient team so far in the Big East, tying Syracuse with a plus-.11 efficiency margin, good for fourth in the conference. Louisville plays very good offense (largely thanks to its No.5-ranked offensive rebounding percentage) and serviceable defense. Louisville's problem is fouls: The Cards give up way too many trips to the line to opposing teams, a stat that makes Pitino's style of play -- pressing, pushing, forcing teams to play fast and scattered -- much more difficult to pull off. Seton Hall, meanwhile, needs a to start a flurry of Big East wins if it wants to sniff the NCAA tournament; the Hall's weak non-conference schedule make a Big East run imperative. At 1-3 so far, it's not looking good.

Florida at Arkansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of teams that need to start rattling off conference wins: Florida. This is a team that doesn't shoot particularly well, and combines that problem with its stunning inability to get to the free throw line. Florida is No. 302 in the country in free throw rate. This is very bad; either the Gators need to figure out a way to shoot better, or they need to figure out a way to get to the line. One or the other could cause a veritable renaissance in Gainesville. Neither will see the Gators left out of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.

No. 20 Butler at Loyola (IL), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: Butler has an interesting conundrum on its hands. Because the Bulldogs fared somewhat poorly in their non-conference slate -- the same non-conference slate that could have pushed them into high-seed territory come March, had things gone as planned -- Butler finds itself needing to win almost every league game to avoid needing to win the Horizon League tournament to guarantee its NCAA bid. Fortunately, the Horizon League isn't chock full of talented teams, at least not as talented as Butler. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter. What'd we learn Wednesday night? (And, you know, in every college basketball tournament ever?) Upsets happen. The Bulldogs could slip and still make the tournament as an at-large bid, but it won't be a guarantee. This means that every league game Butler plays -- even against opponents like Loyola, which is 3-4 in Horizon League play -- is important and nervy. Sounds like fun, right?

Everywhere else: There's a big slate of Pac-10 games this Thursday, including Washington-UCLA, where our man Diamond Leung will be on the scene. If you desperately want to watch a desperately unwatchable conference, there's also Oregon State-Stanford, Oregon-Cal, and Washington State-USC ... Gonzaga will take on Pepperdine at home, which used to be a much better game, but should still provide some exciting moments ... Indiana and Penn State will do battle in the three-team race (the third team is Iowa, natch) not to be the worst team in the Big Ten which, given the other two teams in each's equation, would be very bad indeed ... Siena will look to stay perfect in the MAAC ... and last but not least, Utah State will travel to Fresno to help settle in a match up of 3-2 WAC teams. Also, Jersey Shore is on. You know you're going to watch. Don't lie to me.
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

Clemson 83, North Carolina 64: Two conclusions. 1). North Carolina is, as of Jan. 14, not very good. 2). Clemson's basketball fan support is at an all-time high, and the Tigers are better for it.

On the first: This isn't exactly a shocker. After all, North Carolina came into Thursday night's game ranked No. 41 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings. They're merely OK defensively, and in past years this was fine, because the offense was otherworldy. That's not the case this year; UNC is 40th in points per possession, scoring about 1.1 points per trip. That's just ... meh. (And it doesn't help when you turn the ball over on 30 percent of your possessions, either.) It's certainly not what we've come to expect from Roy Williams' North Carolina teams, who have overwhelmed their opponents on the offensive end since the day Roy found a house in Chapel Hill. This team is young and new and not vintage UNC, and it shows. On nights like Wednesday, it shows badly.

Make no mistake, though, North Carolina wasn't merely bad on Wednesday. Saying so would be a disservice to Clemson and its fans. This is the second conclusion: Don't look now, but Clemson is starting to look like a pretty darn good ACC program. They've got the ability, sure. That's not entirely new; Oliver Purnell's teams have been playing at about this level for a few years now. But more than anything, Wednesday night showed just how far Clemson's fan base has come. It was this time last year that Clemson writers were aghast wondering why so many people were showing up to noon tip-offs at Littlejohn Coliseum. That was unlike Clemson fans, who typically prefer their football. (They're in South Carolina, after all. Don't fish prefer the water?) Newsflash: Clemson basketball has plenty of fans, too, and those fans are relishing the Tigers' stellar on-court product.* Chicken, meet egg.

*Speaking of on-court relish, this of course doesn't excuse the court-storming that went down on Wednesday night, which I'll get to in a later post. Here's a preview: Tsk-tsk, Clemson students. Tsk. Tsk.

Texas 90, Iowa State 83; Kansas 84, Nebraska 72; Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89: Well, it was fun while it lasted. Most of Wednesday's talk revolved around how well Big 12 teams had done at home in 2009-10; the conference was 112-1 going into Wednesday night's games. I said yesterday that that stat would be tested, and if it held up after Wednesday night's games, something seriously freaky was going on. Never mind. All three Big 12 road teams won on Wednesday night, even Missouri -- ostensibly rebuilding after an Elite Eight last year, but quietly 14-3 and 3-0 in conference -- at Texas Tech. I think we can rule out the supernatural.

Michigan State 60, Minnesota 53: Minnesota is almost good enough to be ranked. Almost. The Gophers have lost five of their last six games to ranked teams (that stat courtesy of the wonderful folks in the ESPN research department), including on Wednesday night, when they played Michigan State almost even for 40 minutes in East Lansing and only barely came up short. The Spartans, meanwhile, are starting to find their groove after some struggles in the early nonconference season. Sound familiar? (I meant that rhetorically. Of course it sounds familiar. The Spartans do this every year.)

Pittsburgh 67, Connecticut 57: Dana said it best last night: Pitt is legit. Simple, syntactically rhythmic and also, you know, true. Pittsburgh was supposed to rebuild in 2009-10. They were supposed to feel every pound of DEJuan Blair's body mass lifted from underneath the opponent's basket. (Which, by the way, note to every NBA GM that didn't take Blair in the late first or early second round: You are idiots. I'm not the first to tell you, but I'll gladly join the chorus. Letting Blair go to the Spurs in the late second round. Unbelievable.) Anyway, the point is, Pittsburgh isn't missing its big three nearly as much as we all thought. They're doing just fine, actually, perched quite neatly atop the Big East with wins at Syracuse , at Cincy and now at UConn. Jamie Dixon: coach of the year?

Everywhere else: Duke destroyed Boston College at Cameron, which: duh ... Syracuse dismantled Rutgers in New Jersey, which again: duh ... BYU had no problems with Air Force on its way to a 12th win in a row, and speaking of coach of the year candidates, Dave Rose, come on down ... Northwestern had a chance to notch a huge Big Ten win over Wisconsin but lost hold of the game in the closing minutes, losing 60-50 and taking another step toward a perpetual NCAA tourney-less existence ... Georgia plays hard, that's for sure; unfortunately the Bulldogs' best effort is often not quite good enough, and such was the case in yet another close loss to a ranked team Wednesday night ... Hey, wait a second. Is that Virginia? Beating Georgia Tech? Why yes, yes it is! More on this later in the day ... Utah State outlasted Nevada in a close overtime WAC win ... Vanderbilt barely escaped Alabama in Tuscaloosa ... and Xavier battled toward the top of the A-10 with a win over Charlotte.

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