College Basketball Nation: Vanderbilt

Numbers to know: Thursday recap

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:45
PM ET
Player of the Night - Kyle Fuller, Vanderbilt
Kyle Fuller scored all 12 of Vanderbilt’s overtime points in a 66-64 win over Xavier. Fuller finished with a career-high 25 points. Not bad for a player who scored a total of 17 points all last season.

On a team that lost its top six scorers from last season, Fuller (13.3 PPG) and Kedren Johnson (17.0 PPG) are taking on the load. On Thursday, they combined for 44 of Vanderbilt’s 66 points.

Stat Sheet Stuffer I – LaDontae Henton, Providence
He may be playing in a small state, but LaDontae Henton showed a pretty big game on Thursday. The sophomore went off for 21 points and a career-high 17 rebounds as Providence beat URI 72-57 in the battle for Ocean State pride.

It’s no surprise to see a Friar putting up big numbers, given their depleted bench. The Friars had only six scholarship players suited up on Thursday. Three Providence players rank in the top five of the Big East in minutes. Freshman Josh Fortune has played all but 13 minutes this season.

Stat Sheet Stuffer II – Kyle Barone, Idaho
Kyle Barone did a little bit of everything in Idaho’s 81-79 overtime win over Eastern Washington. He finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds five blocks and five assists.

He’s just the fourth player in the past four seasons to post such a 20-10-5-5 line, joining an impressive list of small conference luminaries: Tony Mitchell, Keith Benson and Kyle O’Quinn.

Scorer of the Night – Greg Gantt, Florida Atlantic
Greg Gantt had 21 points at halftime and finished with a career-high 34 points in Florida Atlantic’s 88-78 win over Stetson.

It’s the most points by a Sun Belt player this season, and the most by an Owl since DeAndre Rice’s 39 in 2007.

Ugly Stat of the Night – Arkansas-Little Rock
UALR had as many turnovers (32) as rebounds in its 87-53 loss to Cincinnati. Three Trojans finished with at least six turnovers on the night.

The 32 turnovers match the most by any team this season and is the most by a Sun Belt school in 11 years. It’s the most forced by Cincinnati in almost six years.

Heslip's treys send Baylor to Sweet 16

March, 18, 2012
3/18/12
2:50
AM ET

ESPN Stats & InformationBaylor guard Brady Heslip made nine 3-pointers en route to 27 points in leading the Bears to an 80-63 win over Colorado.

In the Baylor Bears’ Big 12 semifinals victory over Kansas on March 9, Brady Heslip made four of seven 3-pointers to help put his team over the top.

That was just a prelude to Saturday’s performance, when Heslip exploded for nine 3-pointers and helped push his Bears to the Sweet 16 for the second time in the last three seasons.

From the start of the Kansas game through Saturday's victory over Colorado, the sophomore is shooting a scorching 61 percent (22-for-36) from beyond arc.

All of Heslip's 27 points came via the 3-point shot, as he did not attempt a free throw and missed his only 2-point field-goal attempt.

Here’s a snapshot look at the other early-evening statistical highights in the Men’s Basketball Championship.

South Region
(1) Kentucky 87, (8) Iowa State 71

Kentucky scored its most points since scoring 87 against Loyola (Md.) on Dec. 22. The Wildcats join Ohio State as the two teams (so far) who have made the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons.

Kentucky shot 55 percent from the field, something it has done in both Men’s Basketball Championship games so far. The last time the Wildcats shot 55 percent or better twice in the same tournament was in 1998, when they won the national championship.

(4) Indiana 63, (12) VCU 61
The Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, when they lost in the National Championship game. Indiana is now 15-0 against non-conference teams this season.

Indiana had 22 turnovers, its second-most in a Men's Basketball Championship game in school history. The most for the Hoosiers was 23 in 2002 against Duke, a game that Indiana also won.

But the Hoosiers clamped down on the Rams in the final 12:19, forcing more turnovers (5) than they allowed points (4). VCU shot 2-for-15 from the field to close the game (all in half-court sets), 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and 0-for-2 on free throws.

VCU attempted 30 3-pointers (and made 9), its most in a game since 2006.

West Region
(3) Marquette 62, (6) Murray State 53

Marquette held Murray State to 31.3 percent shooting from the field. That's the lowest shooting percentage by a Marquette opponent in a Men's Basketball Championship game since Arkansas shot 31.2 percent to beat Marquette in the 2nd round of the 1995-96 tournament.

Those are the two lowest opponents’ field goal percentages by a Marquette opponent, covering all but its first tournament appearance in 1955 (for which the box score does not list team field goal percentages).

East Region
(4) Wisconsin 60, (5) Vanderbilt 57
It's the first time in school history that Wisconsin has made consecutive trips to the Sweet 16.

Vanderbilt shot only 26 percent from 3-point range, its fourth-worst shooting percentage from long-distance in a game this season and its second-worst shooting on 3-pointers in an NCAA tournament game.
Walker Dominated Glass in Return to Nashville
Andre Walker spent four years at Vanderbilt, graduating in May. Now playing for Xavier, his return to Nashville couldn’t have gone better. Xavier beat Vanderbilt in overtime 82-70, as Walker hauled in a career-high 14 rebounds. The Musketeers held a 54-33 edge on the boards, the worst beating the Commodores have taken on the boards at home since 2002 against Mississippi State. Vanderbilt hadn’t lost a home game in overtime since 2006. The Commodores were 35-2 at home against non-conference foes in the previous four seasons. This season, they are 3-2.

Hamilton Perfect Against Tennessee
Reggie Hamilton scored a career-high 35 points as Oakland knocked off Tennessee 89-81. He went 15-15 at the line, the second best performance in school history. In 1991, Tom Eller his all 17 free throws that he attempted. Hamilton joins Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham as the only players with back-to-back game of 34 or more points this season. Oakland is now 2-0 all-time against Tennessee, having also defeated the Vols last season.

Iona’s Double-Double Duo
Michael Glover and Scott Machado continued to put up gaudy numbers, as Iona beat Long Island 100-84. Glover went off for 28 points and 14 rebounds, his second straight game reaching at least those totals. He’s the first player to reach those numbers in back-to-back games since Lipscomb’s Adnan Hodzic in 2010. Meanwhile, Machado made it five double-doubles in five games. He’s now averaging 18.6 ppg and 12.2 apg. Only two players in D-I history have averaged double digit points and assists in a season: Southern’s Avery Johnson and Bradley’s Anthony Manuel, both in 1987-88.

Lillard Leads Nation in Scoring
The nation has a new top scorer. Weber State’s Damian Lillard scored 36 points in an 87-70 loss to Saint Mary’s to push his season average up to 25.6 ppg. Lillard had 26 points in the second half, including 21 straight during a 10-minute stretch. The junior guard played only nine games last season before suffering a foot injury that caused him to miss all remaining games. His 36 points matched a career high.

Can’t Miss, Still Lose
St. Francis (PA) shot 63.9 percent from the field, but still came up short in a 65-63 loss to Niagara. That’s the highest field goal percentage in a loss in almost four years. In December 2007, Howard shot 65.7 percent against Furman, but lost 67-62. The Red Flash shot 71.4 percent in the first half on Monday, but ultimately blew an 18-point halftime lead. The 63.9 FG pct marked the best shooting performance by St. Francis since shooting 64.0 percent in December 1998 against Maryland-Eastern Shore.
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Jacob Pullen & Sherron CollinsIcon SMIJacob Pullen and Sherron Collins figure to play prominent roles in Wednesday night's showdown.
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. The big nights are coming faster and more furious than at any point during the season -- I've barely recovered from Saturday -- and Wednesday night is no exception. Here's the rundown.

No. 5 Kansas State at No. 2 Kansas, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: This one doesn't need much by way of explanation. The in-state rivalry. The Big 12 title implications. The seeding possibilities. The two-point Kansas win at Bramlage on Jan. 30. A freaky Frank Martin. Sherron Collins' senior night. The packed Allen Fieldhouse crowd.

Yeah, It's safe to say this is going to be a big game. A very, very big game.

Martin's team can secure a shot -- an outside shot, but a shot -- at a share of the Big 12 title if it wins tonight, but that's probably less of a concern for K-State than A) Beating its hated, abusive basketball big brother on the brother's own floor in Collins' last home game and B) Making a case for a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. A win would without question put Martin's team on the selection committee's top line. First, though, the Wildcats have to figure out a way to do what they do best -- get to the free throw line -- while preventing the Jayhawks from doing the same. Kansas State is one of the best teams in the country at getting to the line. This is the sort of offensive attribute (alongside great outside shooting from Jacob Pullen) that gives the Wildcats hope against anyone, including a Kansas defense designed to keep opponents out of the lane. In the first meeting, Kansas won the battle of the freebies. The Wildcats can't let that happen again.

Oh, and as you've probably noticed, no, tonight's game isn't being televised. It stinks, I know. But look at the bright side: You get to test out ESPN360. It's actually pretty awesome, so don't knock it until you try it. And no, I'm not just saying that because I work here. Promise. Though I would totally say that anyway. I'm completely shameless. Which brings me to my next point: If you can't watch the game, come here for our live chat from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. I'll be here, as will a bunch of your favorite college hoops heads, answering questions and live-blogging throughout the evening. Don't miss it.

No. 4 Duke at No. 23 Maryland, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of big games, well, ahem. This qualifies. It would mean as much in College Park even if the Terrapins didn't have so much riding on the game, for there is little hatred in the country -- in college basketball or elsewhere -- quite like the purely distilled brand Maryland fans brew for all things Duke. And anytime Greivis Vasquez gets this sort of spotlight, you can expect sparks to fly. It's going to be rowdy.

There are more than taunts on the line here, though. With a win, Gary Williams' team could pull even with Duke at 12-3 in the ACC with one game each left to play. It won't be easy. After occasional stumbles, most of them on the road, Duke has quietly morphed into the most efficient offense in the country, and the Devils are finally starting to play the sort of defense that anchored them in last year's campaign. After a 1-4 start on the road, Duke has won its last four away from Cameron. Maryland's is no easy task. But the Terps have been underrated all year, though, and tonight is the perfect opportunity to showcase -- to the tournament committee, especially -- just how far perception lags behind reality.

Everywhere else: While you're futzing around with your laptop -- and totally chatting with us, remember! -- Connecticut and Notre Dame will be slugging it out on ESPN for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Neither team is guaranteed a berth, but both teams can nary afford a loss, and both teams would surely benefit from the win. ... Kentucky will face a test at Georgia, where the pesky Bulldogs have taken down Vanderbilt, Florida, Georgia Tech and Illinois this season. ... Indiana travels to No. 6 Purdue, which should be a nice break from the post-Robbie Hummel meat-grinder Purdue is facing these days. ... Memphis and UAB will duel for bubble considerations. ... Oklahoma State at Texas A&M is an interesting battle between two tourney-worthy Big 12 squads. ... A-10 leader Temple will visit a St. Louis team that has streaked into the tourney-sphere in the last half of the season. ... The fading Demon Deacons have another battle on their hands at Florida State tonight. ... and lowly Fordham, the last team in Division I without a conference win to its name, will try to get that first win over Xavier tonight.
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best action. Try not to make it awkward.

No. 7 Ohio State 73, Illinois 57: There were zero upsets to speak of last night, and Illinois' bid for a tournament-securing win at Ohio State was no different. Instead, the night was a feel-good Buckeye festival. Thad Matta's team secured a share of the Big Ten title. Evan Turner got a national spotlight, not that he needed it (more on this below). And Mark Titus, the by-now-famous purveyor of Club Trillion, made the most of his senior night, notching one final trillion in front of hundreds of Club Trillion t-shirt-clad OSU fans -- not to mention raising a whole bunch of cash for sick children. Really, things couldn't have gone much better.

The most notable performance of the night -- other than Titus', obviously -- probably came from Ohio State sharpshooter Jon Diebler, whose seven 3-pointers for 21 points (this scoreline math is refreshingly simple) helped bury the Illini in the second half. After the game, though, the only national topic was Turner. More specifically, the topic was "Is Evan Turner the player of the year?" Every analyst ESPN had to offer on Sportscenter proclaimed it to be true. The only dissenters? America. In a SportsNation poll, 37 percent of the country voted for John Wall as the player of the year; Turner notched 33 percent of the vote. Which means one thing, America: You're on notice. I know Wall might be the most familiar name, but it's March now. There's no excuse for this. Inform thyself. Wall is a great player, but Turner has had a better season, and he deserves the award. I thought we Turner advocates had settled this issue already -- seriously, you have no idea how good it felt to see the unanimous pundit praise for Turner Tuesday night -- but apparently not. We have more work to do. Turner bandwagon team ... assemble!

No. 19 Vanderbilt 64, Florida 60: Again, no upsets here: Florida, like Illinois, could have sealed an at-large NCAA tournament spot with a win over the sturdy Commodores on Tuesday night. It didn't happen. Still, the Gators acquitted themselves nicely in the loss; Florida held a typically efficient Vanderbilt offense to a mere 64 points on 60 possessions. Billy Donovan's team was undone by its poor shooting, though, hitting 21-of-50 2-point shots and just 2-of-13 from 3 for a paltry 31.8 effective field goal percentage. Even in a solid defensive effort, that's not going to get the job done.

The Associated Press wrap of the game seems to think that Florida significantly hurt its tournament chances with the loss, but that seems slightly overstated. Sure, Florida didn't help itself, but losing by four to Vanderbilt at home isn't the worst result in the world, is it? Florida might have more work to do -- but no more work than before Tuesday, right?

Everywhere else: Cincinnati likewise needed a big win to keep itself in the at-large conversation. They almost got it, but insert the old koan about horseshoes and hand grenades here ... UTEP clinched the outright Conference USA title with a hard-fought win at Marshall ... Missouri's Zaire Taylor almost perfectly recreated Tyus Edney's famous game-winner in a thrilling overtime win at Iowa State ... North Carolina became the second team in the history of college basketball to get to 2,000 wins; one wonders if the current players felt strange holding that 2,000-win plaque, given this season's ugliness ... Syracuse had no problems with St. John's on senior night ... Baylor won at Texas Tech, handing Pat Knight's team its sixth straight loss ... Minnesota suffered a major letdown at Michigan, one which officially puts the final nail in the the already almost-entirely-assembled Gophers' coffin ... Trevor Booker did manly things in Clemson's win over Georgia Tech ... and Marquette shredded Louisville's zone in a 21-point win in Milwaukee.
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown.

Illinois at No. 7 Ohio State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Of any team facing bubble implications to play tonight, Illinois' situation is perhaps the most fluid. A win at Ohio State puts the Illini in the absolutely-in pile; a loss leaves them right about where they are now, if not worse off. Losing would make the Illini would 18-12 overall, the sort of record the committee will not be perfectly thrilled with, and Illinois would still have to fend off loss No. 13 when Wisconsin comes to Champaign, Ill. on Sunday.

The good news is Illinois has proven capable of beating top Big Ten teams on the road before. The bad news is that Illinois' style plays right into the Buckeyes' hands: Few teams prevent free throws quite like the Buckeyes, and few teams refuse to pocket their jump shots and attack the rim quite like the Illini. If Illinois can reverse this trend for a night -- if they can get Demetri McCamey to attack the basket and get forwards Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis some good looks against Ohio State's somewhat undersized, shallow front line -- Bruce Weber's charges have a chance. If not, well, Ohio State is better and more efficient than Illinois in just about every aspect of the game. Things don't bode well.

No. 19 Vanderbilt at Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of bubble teams in need of help ... Florida, come on down. Joe Lunardi has Florida as a No. 10 seed in the tournament right now, but thanks to a close loss at Georgia (which is actually not that horrible loss, given how well Georgia has played at home this season), Florida could use a big win tonight before a daunting trip to Rupp Arena on Sunday.

Make no mistake: That's what a win over Vanderbilt would be. Big. The Commodores have been a steady force in the SEC all season. Their only league losses have been to Kentucky and a blowout at Georgia -- there's that pesky Georgia team again -- and while not a great defensive team, Kevin Stallings' bunch is very difficult to stop on the offensive end. Vanderbilt's attack is nicely balanced between forwards A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffrey Taylor, and guard Jermaine Beal, all who shoot a plus-50 effective field goal percentage. Florida's lack of a true post presence could hurt them against the 6-foot-11 Ogilvy. Then again, Florida's strength isn't its size; it's speed. Make Ogilvy work away from the hoop on defense -- the sudden offensive brilliance of forward Chandler Parsons applies here -- and the Gators can make Vanderbilt exceedingly uncomfortable. And then we can stop talking about the Florida's bubble issues forever. I'm cool with that.

Everywhere else: Cincinnati doesn't share Illinois' and Florida's bubble anxiety -- it's entirely out of the picture, now -- but a win over Villanova couldn't hurt matters, I guess ... Gonzaga would put the cap on another WCC title season by topping Cal-State Bakersfield tonight ... With a win at Marshall, UTEP would seal the outright Conference-USA crown ... Baylor will put its third-place standing in the Big 12 on the line at Texas Tech ... Likewise for Missouri at Iowa State ... Minnesota plays at Michigan in yet another battle of the upper midwest's most disappointing teams ... and deadlocked Big East teams Louisville and Marquette will play a game both teams want, but don't necessarily need, in regards to NCAA tournament hopes. Marquette is involved, so it's a safe bet the game will come down to the wire. That should be fun.
Saddle Up is our nightly preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Thursday's rundown.

Tulsa at No. 5 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Hey, Dad, I can't see real good. Is that -- waves glasses up and down face -- is that a nonconference game I see over there? Why, yes, Matt Foley, it is: Those of you who thought we were done with any and all nonconference fun until the NCAA tournament were wrong. Instead, Tulsa will head to Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight to play Duke. Why does this game exist? Two reasons: 1) Because Coach K wanted a late-season nonconference game to help prepare his team for the NCAA tournament, and 2) because Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik wants his team to experience playing an elite team in a hostile road environment.

Both missions will be accomplished. The slightly disappointing Golden Hurricane will get their experience and a long-shot chance to do what no team has done this year (beat Duke at home) or in 77 tries (beat Duke at home in a nonconference game). Duke will put Tulsa through the meat grinder in the name of tournament preparation. Both parties will go home happy. The only way to change this status quo -- and maybe the only way for Tulsa to get in the tournament, with a big emphasis on the maybe (and barring the C-USA tournament, of course) -- is for it to pull off an shocker-of-the-season-level upset. But don't hold your breath.

South Carolina at No. 2 Kentucky, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The only reason Kentucky isn't, as of Feb. 25, sitting at 27-0 and dealing with writers like me trying to put into perspective how impressive that run is, and how likely the Cats are to finish a perfect season, and so on and so forth, is South Carolina. More specifically, Devan Downey. The diminutive guard and his cohorts dealt Kentucky its only loss of the season on Jan. 26. Of course, that game was in Columbia, where the Gamecocks are game. Away from home, South Carolina is an ugly 1-8, and tonight's match up requires Downey and company to play in front of 24,000 screaming Kentucky fans, a far cry from the last time these two faced off. That alone would lend to a blowout tonight; add in Kentucky's reborn focus in recent weeks and its likely desire to punish South Carolina for dealing John Wall and company that lone loss and, well, yeah. Things could get ugly.

Everywhere else: Mike Montgomery will hope Cal fans show up to tonight's game with Arizona, as the Bears can inch closer to their first conference title in 50 years. ... Santa Clara will go to Gonzaga for tonight's late West Coast showdown. ... Wisconsin travels to all-but-dead Indiana; for seeding purposes, the Badgers can't afford another letdown. ... Iowa-Northwestern is your early ESPN game, and don't try to hide your excitement, either. ... Georgia will look to climb back to .500 at Vanderbilt; good luck. ... and, this being Thursday night, there are a host of Pac-10 games that (other than Cal-Zona, I guess) don't mean a whole lot more than which team gets which seed in the Pac-10 tournament, when the real anarchic fun ought to begin.
  • 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.

Saddle Up: Big night in the Big East

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
4:00
PM ET
Saddle Up is our nightly look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Thursday night's rundown.

No. 5 Syracuse at No. 10 Georgetown, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Sunday, Syracuse lost to Louisville. Sunday, Georgetown lost to Rutgers. Do those losses in any way diminish what we're likely to see at the Verizon Center tonight? Not even in the slightest.

If we've learned anything this season, it's that even the best Big East teams are prone to the occasional disappointment. Syracuse can lose at home to a bubble team. Georgetown can go to Rutgers and lose to one of the worst major conference teams in the country. (Villanova can give up 103 points on the road. You get the point.) And then these teams can come right back and play thrilling, high-level, Final Four-quality basketball. It's only fair for us to expect that much tonight.

Syracuse and Georgetown might be the two teams most familiar to basketball watchers -- it feels like both have been on national TV twice a week for months now -- but for the sake of the February newbies, let's do some previewin'. Jim Boeheim's team thoroughly dominated Georgetown at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 25 for two reasons: Georgetown shot poorly and readily gave the ball away. The former is maybe a bit unlucky, as Georgetown typically posts a 56-plus effective field goal percentage. The latter is all Cuse. Georgetown tried desperately to break into Syracuse's zone, and this led to 19 turnovers and a 28 percent turnover rate. Georgetown couldn't stop Syracuse on its own end, so those blown possessions were especially disastrous, and Syracuse rolled to an easy win.

The answer is rather simple: If Georgetown wants to win, it needs to make perimeter shots -- sharpshooting guard Austin Freeman especially -- and use that to stretch Syracuse away from the hoop, where Greg Monroe can operate. Fortunately, the Hoyas have a tendency to turn up their offense at home. (See: "scorching-hot blowouts over Villanova and Duke" in your reference manual.) It's that simple: Make shots. Northwestern had it right all along.

No. 21 Pittsburgh at Marquette, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Fortunately for Marquette, in statistics, there are these things called "corrections." (I have no idea what any of this means, but I like to pretend I do.) The Golden Eagles have been putting up impressive tempo-free numbers all year, but suffered eight losses in their first 19 games thanks to a grand total of 25 points. When you throw out the nine-point loss at Wisconsin on Dec. 12, Marquette lost seven games by a grand total of 16 points. That is capital-U Unlucky.

Marquette is starting to show results, though: The Eagles have won their last five, and they have a chance to make a statement at home tonight against a Pittsburgh team that refuses to fade as the regular season winds down. At 18 points and 8 rebounds per game, Lazar Hayward is one of the best players in the Big East, and he's a lot like his team: You may not realize it, but there's a lot to like up in Milwaukee these days. Don't let that deceptively ugly record fool you.

Everywhere else: Wisconsin will travel to Minnesota, where the Badgers will find a 14-10 team so disappointing, they will get distracted and completely forget why they came. (OK, probably not. That would be weird.) ... Ole Miss will battle Vanderbilt for a tournament spot in Oxford ... and it's Thursday night, which means there's a bevy of Pac-10 games you can completely ignore. That might be foolish, though, because you never know. Maybe a second Pac-10 team sneaks in the tournament, and you have to figure out your bracket. Why be unprepared? That just seems reckless.

The Morning After: Big Ten in flux

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
8:37
AM ET
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not make it awkward.

[+] EnlargeE'Twuan Moore
AP Photo/Al GoldisPurdue's E'Twaun Moore scored 25 points against Michigan State.
No. 6 Purdue 76, No. 10 Michigan State 64: Well, now we've got a Big Ten race. As recently as eight days ago, it seemed an undefeated Michigan State team was primed to run away with the Big Ten. No more. Kalin Lucas sprained his ankle. The Spartans were blown out in Madison and then edged at Illinois. And Tuesday night, with a clearly laboring Lucas in the lineup, the Spartans couldn't stop a balanced, thorough, complete Purdue team. That leaves us with a logjam at the top of the Big Ten, one that should provide plenty of entertainment as the season winds down, and one that ought to leave Tom Izzo and company less than thrilled.

Then again, it was probably only a matter of time before Michigan State came down to Earth a bit, right? That's not even the best way to phrase it, I guess, because a loss to Purdue doesn't constitute some sort of statistical correction. The Boilermakers are just good. Robbie Hummel can score and direct from distance. E'Twaun Moore has what Steve Lavin might call a "complete toolbox, the hammer, the screwdriver, the bandsaw." (I just made that phrase up, but it sounds like something Lavin would say, only less awesome.) Chris Kramer is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. And, perhaps most importantly, JaJuan Johnson is becoming a dominant force in the paint.

Johnson has been good in the past, but he hasn't always gotten the touches his high level of efficiency should demand. He hasn't needed to; Hummel and Moore and even Kramer can handle the scoring load just fine, thanks. But Johnson is a uniquely effective weapon for the Boilers. He can score in the paint, stretch defenses with outside jumpers and, on the defensive end, disrupt any interior shots with his freakishly long arms. (I hope that's not mean to say. Those arms are freakish.) Purdue has its own flaws. It's not a perfect team. But the Boilermakers are solidly balanced enough to play with anyone anywhere.

Oh, and Michigan State fans? Don't freak out. Your team is banged up and in the middle of the toughest part of their Big Ten season. There are worse places to be than 9-3. You'll be all right. Probably.

Illinois 63, No. 13 Wisconsin 56: Don't look now, but Illinois is 9-3 in the Big Ten. And don't look now, but the way Illinois has put themselves in the thick of the Big Ten race after a shaky start is worthy of serious respect. Beating a Kalin Lucas-less Michigan State team at home is one thing. Going to Wisconsin and handing the Badgers their sixth loss (and their first-ever to an unranked team) at the Kohl Center under Bo Ryan is entirely another. Demetri McCamey deserves much of the credit -- McCamey scored 27 points on an efficient 11-for-17 shooting Tuesday night, adding seven assists (though he did have five turnovers, which I suppose we can let slide). Forward Mike Tisdale was likewise efficient, scoring 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting. The Illini have plenty of flaws, and there's no question they caught Wisconsin on a particularly bad shooting night -- the Illini aren't a great defensive team this year, at least not yet -- but when Illinois is shooting this well, it's hard to blame their opponents for their success. They deserve the credit, and with the aforementioned Michigan State loss, they deserve to be in the thick of the Big Ten race. Now all Bruce Weber's team has to do is play this well the rest of the season. Easy, right?

No. 24 Vanderbilt 90, No. 12 Tennessee 71: 43. 43! That's the number of free throws the Vanderbilt Commodores shot in their 90-71 win over Tennessee in Nashville last night. There's a reason the Dores scored 90 points -- the Volunteers fouled 29 times in 40 minutes. Vanderbilt's free throw rate -- a ratio of free throws to field goal attempts -- was a mind-boggling 84.3 percent. Of course, Vanderbilt actually had to make these free throws. They did, hitting 37 of those 43. (Exclamation points are also applicable here. Thirty-seven made free throws!) And that's almost all you need to know: Vanderbilt built a big lead early, protected the ball, got good looks, and got to the line so often my head is literally spinning even as I type this.

In any case, it's a great win for Vanderbilt -- both for the team's tournament chances and for its in-state bragging rights. Bruce Pearl has done an admirable job keeping Tennessee tourney-bound in the wake of the Tyler Smith New Year's Day fiasco. Tuesday night -- a chippy, ugly affair, punctuated by the constant clang of Tennessee's misses -- was not in that vein.

Everywhere else: Kentucky kept Alabama at bay for a relatively easy win at Rupp Arena; John Wall got his first double-double and DeMarcus Cousins got his seventh in his past seven games ... Providence had a legit chance to upset Georgetown Tuesday, leading 47-40 with 15 minutes remaining, but Georgetown rallied in time to take a nine point win in Rhode Island ... Texas couldn't win in Norman, but Texas Tech (barely) could ... Vermont and Boston played a barnburner, which Vermont won on a layup in the final 10 seconds ... Wichita State took another step back in the Missouri Valley, losing at the previously 0-13 Evansville ... and Wake Forest handled Boston College in Winston-Salem.

Saddle Up: In search of Kalin

February, 9, 2010
2/09/10
3:54
PM ET
Saddle Up is our nightly look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown. (In lieu of a video preview for tonight's game, which I had planned to do until a cold made me sound like Tom Waits on Saturday morning, here's an extra-beefy edition of Saddle Up).

No. 6 Purdue at No. 10 Michigan State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Kalin Lucas picked a bad time to be injured.

OK, obviously Lucas didn't decide to be injured. Obviously, he'd prefer to be on the floor at all times. But say the Ghost of Ankle Injuries Future visited Lucas in his sleep one night in October (hey, it could happen -- haven't you ever seen "A Muppet Christmas Carol"?) and told him he would have one ankle sprain this year, and that he could point to the Spartans' schedule and decide when it would be, I'm betting he wouldn't have picked this stretch of the Big Ten season.

A Lucas-less Michigan State team was forced to into an orange-colored cauldron on Saturday. Now the Spartans are staring down a crucial matchup with Big Ten rival Purdue. They're also looking at a potential three-game losing streak and a loss of their solo hold on the Big Ten's top spot.

It's not that Michigan State can't beat Purdue without Lucas, whose status will be a game-time decision. The Spartans are at home, which is always nice; heck, Indiana almost beat Purdue on the Hoosiers' home floor last week. And Michigan State showed some things without Lucas in their loss to the Illini -- namely, that they can still score, that they have decent, untapped depth and that Draymond Green is more versatile than you think. And Purdue doesn't exactly wow you with its guard play, at least not at the point guard spot, the one major hole in the Boilermakers' lineup.

But it will be tough if he's not able to play. The Spartans committed 20 turnovers at Illinois on Saturday, and it was obvious why: Kalin Lucas wasn't on the floor. Without him, the Spartans still got out in transition, but in the half court they frequently looked lost, settling on long jump shots from guards Chris Allen and Durrell Summers. When he's on the floor, Lucas gets a majority of the Spartans' possessions, and he's efficient with them. When he's not there, the Spartans are left to score by committee.

It won't help that the Boilermakers, after a three-game losing streak toward the beginning of the conference season, are beginning to hit their stride. Purdue has rattled off five straight wins -- including a win at Illinois and a tight home victory over Wisconsin -- and have looked impressive in doing so.

Purdue isn't a statistical powerhouse. Their defense is stalwart but not elite, and their offense overwhelms you with its efficiency. They're just sort of good at everything. They're smart shot selectors. They never turn the ball over. They force opponents into bad looks. They clean up their defensive boards. It's pretty simple stuff.

With or without Lucas, the Spartans have a chance to win if they force Purdue into outside shots. Again: It's simple, but true. The Boilermakers are not a good 3-point shooting team -- at 31.6 percent, they rank in the high 200's in the country in 3-point percentage -- nor is their offensive rebounding particularly impressive.

This is key. If Izzo can get his defenders to sink in a zone, make Purdue launch a few more 3s than Matt Painter would like, the Spartans should be able to turn long rebounds into transition layups. On the other hand, if Purdue is scoring in the paint, it's doubtful the Spartans will be able to hold onto the ball long enough against Purdue's frantic, turnover-inducing, man defense to stay afloat.

Bonus Saddle Up Purdue-MSU linkage!:

No. 12 Tennessee at No. 24 Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Sure, this matchup isn't quite as sexy as the Big Ten battle above, but it is still well worth your time.

On New Year's Day, it looked like Tennessee's hopes of a successful season were over. But look at the Vols now: 18-4 overall (with a win over Kansas to boot), 6-2 in the SEC and, barring a catastrophic collapse, a lock to make the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, Kevin Stallings' team has been quietly handling its SEC business. Saturday's loss at Georgia was a low point, sure, and Vandy is just barely above the tempo-free water mark, but they've shown themselves capable of handling the Volunteers before -- Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in Knoxville on Jan. 27. If that hot-shooting team shows up at Memorial Gym tonight, the Vols will have plenty to reckon with.

Everywhere else: Alabama will visit Kentucky and face the wrath of emerging monster DeMarcus Cousins ... Georgetown heads to Providence, apparently avoiding the countrywide snow fiasco, and will look to avoid a South Florida-esque letdown on the road ... The Illini head to the Kohl Center, where they're likely to find a stark departure from Saturday's jubilant festivities in Champaign ... VCU takes on George Mason; with a win, the Rams could get a share of first place in the CAA ... and two middling Big 12 teams will attempt to write their respective ships, as Texas Tech goes to Norman to face the Longhorn-killing Sooners.
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best basketball action. Try not to make it awkward.

No. 6 West Virginia 70, No. 21 Pittsburgh 51: Who wants to go play in Morgantown? Not me. Granted, I am not a college basketball team, so I don't have to worry about that. If I was an opposing team, though, I would officially see the angry fans -- the people who threw spare change onto the court (make it rain!) as Pitt rebounded and closed the deficit last night, prompting Bob Huggins to grab the microphone and tell fans "that's stupid" -- and I would get a little nervous. But the real cause for concern is the Mountaineers themselves. West Virginia is officially finding its stride. Huggins' group has won five straight over Big East foes in consistent and overpowering ways, especially on the offensive glass -- WVU grabbed 57.6 percent of its misses on offense last night, leading to a variety of second-chance buckets and putbacks, and that's the key right there. That's how West Virginia wins. They don't have to shoot the ball all that well. They just have to rebound. If you can stop them, you can win, but good luck: No one's figured it out yet.

Pittsburgh shouldn't be too discouraged by this result, which started OK and then got ugly after the half. (Speaking of ugly and true to its name, the Backyard Brawl included some mild brawl-like occurrences late in the game.) Why? Because the Panthers never really found their shot, and despite a high number of free throws and plenty of offensive rebounds of their own, the lack of shooting wasn't enough. It should correct itself in time. That might not make Jamie Dixon, whose team has now lost four of its last five, feel any better. But it's true.

No. 1 Kansas 72, Colorado 66: I barely previewed this game in Saddle Up, and that tiny mention was merely this: "New No. 1 Kansas will try to avoid the fate of last week's No. 1 when it hits the road for a meeting with a marginal conference opponent." Lesson learned: Don't sleep on marginal conference opponents at home. Of course I knew this already, but sometimes it takes a little reminder, and last night's thrilling back-and-forth in Boulder (my third favorite college town of all-time, and I've only been there for like three hours) was all that and more.

Part of me wants to say I knew Colorado had this in them -- the Buffs were pesky against Gonzaga and Arizona in Maui in November, after all. But I didn't. Rather, I expected Kansas to take control of the No. 1 seed and avoid the road pitfalls that have so frequently plagued other No. 1s this year. Oh well. The Jayhawks weren't at their finest, and Colorado deserves credit for finding a way to hang in despite not really beating Kansas in any particular phase of the game, but after Colorado missed its last-second opportunity in regulation, you had to figure Kansas would overpower the Buffaloes in overtime. So it did, and so it stays. But at least it was interesting on the way down.

South Florida 72, No. 8 Georgetown 64: "Y'all come watch Dominique Jones play!" That was the sentence screamed from Georgetown's court by -- who else? --Dominique Jones Wednesday night, just after Jones scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half to give South Florida its biggest win in program history. Um, you guys? Maybe we should listen to him. If you caught any glimpse of the game last night, or if you've seen Jones in the past, you know: Jones is an occasionally dominating college basketball player, a guy with skills to isolate the ball at the top of the key but the size outrebound and physically dominate smaller defenders. Check out the move he makes at the -0:15 mark in these highlights. Strength, size, speed and skill, all melded into one. Watch him play. He wasn't joking.

Everywhere else: Running out of words in a hurry, so let's go to the lightning round: UAB will have to wait to take full control of Conference USA, as Memphis topped the Blazers by 10 and pulled itself into a tie for the conference lead. ... Vanderbilt got a major late challenge from Mississippi State; Jarvis Varnado had another ho-hum nine-block effort. ... Northern Iowa hung on at home over Wichita State, avenging its earlier loss in Wichita and moving to 11-1 in the Missouri Valley. ... Evan Turner line watch: 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals (!!). ... Baylor cruised over Iowa State at home. ... Georgia State handed George Mason its second conference loss, moving Jim Larranaga's squad to 10-2 in the CAA and making a conference tournament win a must.

Saddle Up: Time for a brawl

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
3:45
PM ET
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Wednesday night's rundown.

No. 21 Pittsburgh at No. 6 West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN360: Aw, you guys. Stats LCC has a case of the bummers: "Two weeks ago, the matchup between West Virginia and Pittsburgh was shaping up to be one of the most highly anticipated meetings in this storied rivalry. A sudden string of losses by the Panthers dashed that prospect, but it likely won't diminish the atmosphere in Morgantown." Never fear, nameless Stats LLC writer. Sure, the Backyard Brawl won't be quite as brawl-y as it might have been for the Pittsburgh team that jumped to a 5-0 record in the Big East. (The difference in brawl escalation probably lies somewhere between brass knuckles and a trident.) Sure, Pittsburgh's 1-3 record in its last four games ruined the prospect of having two top-10 teams in a hated rivalry facing each other in ever-hostile Morgantown.

But Stats LCC, don't you see? This is still an awesome college basketball game. Pittsburgh is reeling, so what better time to get hot and steal a huge Big East road win than now? And West Virginia? The Mountaineers are coming off a controversial last-second win over Louisville, have lost two Big East games by a combined three -- yes, three -- points, and are developing the sort of edgy home atmosphere that should simultaneously outrage fans and scare opponents. (When your own student newspaper thinks you've gone too far, you've probably gone too far.) And, lest we forget, a win for Pitt means the Panthers leapfrog the Mountaineers and get right behind Syracuse and Villanova in the Big East race. (A panther leapfrogging a human? I am thoroughly enjoying this mental image.)

So don't fret, Stats LLC. This game might not be as cool as it would have been two weeks ago, but it's still an awesome Big East rivalry with plenty on the line. There's no reason to frown.

(OK, maybe one reason: The game's not actually on TV, but rather on ESPN360. Get your laptops ready. It's 2010, people. The power of the Internet compels you.)

UAB at Memphis, 8 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports: This might be the first game we've featured that's been on CBS College Sports, but that's because few CBS CS games have had this sort of import. Sure, Memphis is in the midst of what appears to be a very short rebuilding, but the Tigers are still a solid Conference USA team and tonight they face the biggest threat to their longstanding C-USA crown: UAB. Mike Davis has the Blazers playing better than at any time in his tenure. Elijah Millsap & Co. are 18-3 and 6-1 in the conference so far, but if they want to seize the title, even for one year, they'll have to go through the house that competitively priced shipping costs built. (Um, the FedEx Forum. No one?)

Mississippi State at No. 20 Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: If Kentucky continues to play how it did Tuesday night, the Cats are going to roll to an easy SEC title. But they're not without challengers. Kevin Stallings' ever-improving Vanderbilt team is one such challenger. The Commodores are a mere half-game back of Kentucky and, if they manage to survive their upcoming slate, could welcome UK to Nashville on Feb. 20 with the division title on the line. Meanwhile, Mississippi State still doesn't have Renardo Sidney, and it's not looking good. But the Bulldogs are worth watching merely for the defensive brilliance of Jarvis Varnado, a once-in-a-generation shot-blocking machine.

Everywhere else: New No. 1 Kansas will try to avoid the fate of last week's No. 1 when it hits the road for a meeting with a marginal conference opponent ... Georgetown gets a courtesy date with South Florida ahead of Saturday's big matchup with Villanova ... The surprising Temple Owls host Duquesne, a similarly surprising team but for different reasons ... and Penn State goes to Columbus, so make sure to have your Evan Turner scoresheet watch in full effect. It could get awesome.

Wednesday night observations

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
12:45
AM ET
Providence
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaBilal Dixon and Providence had reason to celebrate after an 81-66 win against UConn.
Something I didn’t think I would see: Providence ahead of Connecticut in the Big East standings. PC is 4-4, UConn is 3-4.

How about this quote from PC coach Keno Davis: “We can beat anybody in the country. We have enough talent, but we have to play extremely hard.’’ I’m not sure I’m buying that proclamation, but it’s good to know Davis has that much confidence in his crew.

UConn’s win over Texas was as impressive a W as we’ve seen this season. But I knew if Connecticut was an elite team the Huskies had to win a game on the road that they’re supposed to -- and they didn’t. It’s odd looking at the Big East standings and seeing UConn ranked No. 19 yet in 11th place in the league.

  • Not sure there was as impressive a road performance in the SEC (save Kentucky winning at Florida) as Vanderbilt’s win at Tennessee. The Commodores got spirited production out of Jermaine Beal (25 points) and held the Vols to 6-of-20 on 3s. Vandy goes into Kentucky on Saturday with a chance to actually build a two-game lead on the Cats. Huh?

  • No one should fault BYU for losing at New Mexico, 76-72. The Pit is and will be one of the toughest places in the country to play, and I can tell you from years covering the Lobos that there is no opponent that gets the place as amped as the Cougars. BYU remains the MWC favorite even with the loss to the Lobos. But UNM desperately needed the win to stay in the race.

  • Memphis coach Josh Pastner picked up a quality road W by winning at Marshall to keep the Tigers in the C-USA league race.

  • Villanova’s 18-1 record and 8-0 mark in the Big East after beating Notre Dame is as impressive as any in the country. But the Wildcats' schedule is back-loaded with road games at Syracuse, Georgetown and West Virginia that will be tough to tackle.

  • Duke won again at Cameron. I just don’t see the Blue Devils losing at home. So that’s eight ACC wins right there. The Devils have already won at Clemson. So that’s nine. Pick up at least two road wins out of BC, Miami or Virginia (don’t see UNC or Maryland) and the Blue Devils will likely win the league with 11 wins. That’s unless Maryland decides to string together a bunch of road wins.

  • Florida is winning the games it should at home now with a 79-63 win over Georgia to move to 4-2 and move closer to an NCAA berth after two NIT years.

  • Drexel snuffed out Northeastern’s win streak at 11 (which was the third-longest in the country) with an impressive 61-48 win on the road.

  • Hard to generate buzz for William & Mary now after the Tribe lost to James Madison by a deuce to fall to 6-4 in the CAA.

  • Hard not to cheer for Oklahoma State to beat Texas A&M on Wednesday, the ninth anniversary of the tragic plane crash that killed 10 people associated with the program. OSU beat the Aggies to move ahead of them in the standings at 4-2 (A&M is 3-3).

  • What has happened to LSU’s offense? The Tigers led Alabama at the break, but scored just 13 points in the second half. Tasmin Mitchell and Bo Spencer were a combined 4-of-18 in the 57-38 loss at Alabama. The defending SEC champs are now 0-6 in league play.

  • Believe it or not, Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins had an eight-point play in the Pride's 93-54 win over UNC Wilmington. He scored on a layup and was fouled. But it was ruled an intentional foul and then Wilmington’s Benny Moss got a technical for arguing. Jenkins hit all four free throws (two for the intentional and two for the technical) and then Hofstra got the ball because of the intentional foul and Jenkins scored off the inbound pass with a floater. In five seconds, the score went from 26-9 to 34-9. Wow.

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