Dallas Colleges: North Carolina Tar Heels
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas suffered its biggest loss of the season on the night it pulled off its biggest win.
Prior to the Longhorns' 85-67 victory over No. 23 North Carolina at the Frank Erwin Center, point guard Myck Kabongo was ruled ineligible for the season by the NCAA, barring an appeal, according to sources from within the Texas athletics department. The story was first reported by Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday night.
The loss of Kabongo put a serious dent in this young Texas team's chances of making a 16th consecutive NCAA tournament. But the win against the Tar Heels at least gives the 7-4 Longhorns some hope.
Playing with a true freshman point guard in Javan Felix and only freshmen and sophomores on the court, UT played the role of the aggressor, pushed the more talented and savvy Heels around, built a big lead and -- for the first time this season -- didn't crumble.
"There is process that every student-athlete goes through, and I can only tell you that process is not done. We are in the middle of that process," said Texas coach Rick Barnes of the Kabongo situation. "Every student-athlete is entitled to a process if something comes up, and that process is ongoing."
Kabongo has been under investigation for impermissible benefits concerning a workout that involved agent Rich Paul. According to sources, the penalty was so severe because Kabongo had been less than straightforward when the NCAA initially questioned him.
While Barnes refused to take further questions on Kabongo, North Carolina coach Roy Williams now has plenty of them about his team.
"It was like comedy of errors, except it wasn't very blankety-blank funny," Williams said.
The Tar Heels' defense refused to extend in the first half and allowed Texas to build a 19-point lead. That lead was aided by two straight surprising 3-pointers from Texas forward Jonathan Holmes. The sophomore had made only three shots from beyond the arc in his 10 previous games.
And North Carolina continued to back down for most of the night.
"They did a better job of pushing the pace and getting us back on our heels," Williams said. "It seems like they got every loose ball."
There were plenty of those to go around, as Carolina turned it over 18 times. Texas, typically not a solid transition team, scored 14 points off those turnovers.
"Coming into the game, coach Barnes preached to us to getting the ball out and getting back in transition, and that was our game plan along with rebounding -- and that was what we tried to do," Felix said.
"They outran a running team," is how Williams put it.
In fact, Texas struggled only when it went into half-court sets. Starting the second half, North Carolina started to value the basketball more and made more of an effort to keep the Texas offense in front of it. That, coupled with the aggressiveness of James Michael McAdoo (14 points, 9 rebounds) and Reggie Bullock (a career-high 13 rebounds), allowed UNC to cut the lead to four.
Given that Texas has been a team that has struggled down the stretch -- the Longhorns were outscored 13-2 down the stretch in a 65-63 loss to UCLA -- it appeared as if the tide had started to turn.
Until, that is, North Carolina neglected to communicate on defense and allowed Cameron Ridley to throw down an uncontested dunk to push the lead back to seven with 6 minutes, 35 seconds remaining.
"We were aggressive and moved the ball pretty well, and some guys knocked some shots down," Barnes said. "But this was a game we thought would be won in transition and on the boards."
Texas didn't win on the boards in the box score (North Carolina had 43 to the Horns' 40). But UT did win in second-chance points with 18, and in fast-break points with 14.
"We have had a couple of tough losses because we had not played as hard as we should," said Holmes, who finished with 15 points and 8 boards. "[Wednesday night], we came out and did what we had to do. We definitely set the bar high for the rest of the season."
Regardless of who might be with Texas for the rest of the season.
--HornsNation writer Max Olson contributed to this report
Overview: When last Texas found itself on the national stage, it was blowing an eight-point lead with 3 minutes, 43 seconds left against UCLA. Clearly this young Longhorns team -- without point guard Myck Kabongo due to NCAA suspension -- learned a little something in that Dec. 8 loss as it held off the Tar Heels on Wednesday night.
The victory comes as Texas is dealing with issues both on and off the floor. Coming into the game, the Horns were an uncustomary 6-4 in the nonconference. And on the day of the game, university officials had learned that Kabongo's ordeal with the NCAA would extend throughout the season barring an appeal, according to sources within the Texas athletic department and first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
The Tar Heels (8-3), meanwhile, are not in that great of shape either. Against Texas, the talent and playmaking was there, but the first-half hole they dug was just too deep. Texas led by as many as 19 in the first half. North Carolina cut it to four with under 8 minutes left in the game, but never managed to get any closer as UT quickly pushed the lead back to a comfortable 10 with less than 2 minutes left.
Turning point: With North Carolina slowly crawling back into the game and momentarily whittling the Texas lead to four, the Longhorns went inside with a pass from Sheldon McClellan to center Cameron Ridley, who turned and threw down UT's first dunk of the game. That pushed the Texas lead back to seven, 63-56, with 6:25 left. It also gave the Horns the lift to ward off a UNC comeback.
Key player: Texas forward Jonathan Holmes wasn't flashy in the second half, but his steady play in the first helped give his team a huge lead. The sophomore scored eight consecutive points during one stretch to put Texas up 15, 33-18. Six of those eight points were from behind the arc, a place from which Holmes is not accustomed to making shots. He finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds.
Key stat: Texas is without its top point guard and best defender in Kabongo, but that did not stop the Longhorn defense from creating 18 North Carolina turnovers, including 12 in the first half. Texas converted those turnovers into 14 points.
Miscellaneous: Texas is 2-2 against North Carolina over the past four seasons. ... North Carolina shot 31.3 percent. ... Reggie Bullock scored 18 points (tying him with Texas' McClellan for game-high honors). He also led in rebounds with 13. ... Texas had 18 second-chance points.
Next up: After two seesaw games with non-ranked opponents, the Tar Heels should have a relatively easy time with McNeese State at home Saturday before playing host to a resurgent UNLV program Dec. 29. Texas heads on the road for another top-25 opponent as it goes to No. 20 Michigan State for a game Saturday afternoon.
Wisconsin lost to No. 1 seed Syracuse after botching its final possession. Michigan State forgot how to score. Ohio State won the battle between two in-state schools. Florida continued its surge with a win over Marquette.
What will Day 2 bring?
Xavier (10) vs. Baylor (3), 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Things to know: Both teams have endured their fair share of criticism this year.
The fight seemed to take the wind out of a Xavier team that entered the year on numerous “Final Four dark horse” lists. Then, the scuffle happened and Xavier lost five of its next six.
But the Musketeers have begun the process of restoring their image. Tu Holloway has scored a combined 46 points in Xavier’s NCAA tourney victories over Lehigh and Notre Dame. This edgy, tough bunch will certainly put up a fight against a talented Baylor team, especially if Dezmine Wells can go.
Baylor has all of the tools to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. Some are even picking the Bears to upset Kentucky because they have the length and athleticism to match the Wildcats.
But the Bears have fallen short of their potential for most of the season. Perry Jones III, a possible lottery pick, has been inconsistent (nine points combined in two tourney victories). Scott Drew’s coaching decisions have been questioned.
Still, the Bears have a chance to reach their second Elite Eight in three years if they get past the Musketeers.
Look for Xavier to pressure the perimeter and try to neutralize Brady Heslip (9-for-12 from beyond the arc in Baylor's third-round win over Colorado). Kenny Frease will throw his weight around for buckets in the paint. Look for the Bears to continuously work their inside-outside game.
The journey: Xavier beat Notre Dame and Lehigh to reach the Sweet 16. Baylor defeated South Dakota State and Colorado.
Monitor his progress: Frease has scored in the single digits in four of his team’s last seven losses. The big man’s bulk will be vital for the Musketeers inside the paint.
Numbers to impress your friends: Heslip doesn’t have to dribble to score. He’s recorded his 14 field goals in the Big Dance via catch-and-shoot plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game’s most critical question: Will Frease make an impact against Baylor’s length and athleticism?
The matchup: Frease against Quincy Acy. Two talented big men who don’t mind contact. Could get scrappy.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Baylor has one of the most impressive assemblies in the field on paper. But Xavier has a tough crew, too. Might be game of the night.
North Carolina (1) vs. Ohio (13), 7:47 p.m ET, TBS
Things to know: Ohio wasn’t expected to reach this point. But junior D.J. Cooper has been a gem for the Bobcats. He has recorded 40 points and 12 assists in NCAA tourney wins over Michigan and South Florida.
Cooper might be the most important player in the remaining field. He’s scored or assisted on 56 percent of the team’s 71 points, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Looking for this year’s Steph Curry? Cooper has earned that tag.
Ohio is facing a North Carolina team that will likely compete without its starting point guard. Kendall Marshall had surgery on a broken wrist earlier this week. He suffered the injury in the team’s third-round win over Creighton. Coach Roy Williams said he has a “strong inclination” that Marshall will not play against Ohio.
The Tar Heels are still the superior group without him. John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes can lead the program to a Saturday matchup against the winner of NC State-Kansas.
The Tar Heels are ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings. They’ll certainly push the pace against the Bobcats.
Look for the Bobcats, however, to pressure new point guard Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement if he can’t go. The freshman has averaged just 4.3 minutes per game. Look for North Carolina to use its length and talent to overwhelm the Bobcats.
The journey: North Carolina defeated Vermont and Creighton to reach the Sweet 16. Ohio had to outplay Michigan and South Florida to reach the Sweet 16.
Monitor his progress: White might be the starting point guard for a North Carolina team that’s capable of reaching New Orleans, but he’s never played under these lights. Hard to know what to expect from the youngster. But he just became one of the most important players on the floor.
Numbers to impress your friends: Life without Marshall might not end well. The sophomore point guard has assisted on 41 percent of North Carolina’s points since the start of ACC play, per ESPN Stats & Info. North Carolina’s 38.4 points per game in the paint are the top mark among major-conference schools.
Game’s most critical question: How quickly will White adjust to his new role as starting point guard?
The matchup: Cooper versus White. Cooper is a veteran guard who’s put Ohio on the national radar with two great performances in his first two NCAA tournament games. White will have his hands full.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Ohio continues to surpass expectations. And North Carolina could crumble without Marshall.
Indiana (4) vs. Kentucky (1), 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
Things to know: Get your popcorn ready for this one.
On Dec. 10, Indiana beat Kentucky at Assembly Hall and changed the trajectory of its season. Christian Watford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Court-storming. Players standing atop the scorers’ table. Legendary.
A rematch, but both teams have matured since that game. Following that loss to Indiana, Kentucky didn’t lose again until the SEC tournament title game.
From Dec. 28 through Feb. 1, the Hoosiers went 5-6. But they’ve amassed a 10-2 record since that rocky sequence.
Cody Zeller’s transformation from impressive freshman to potential lottery pick helped the Hoosiers reach the Sweet 16. Zeller, ranked seventh in John Hollinger’s PER ratings (31.16), recorded 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 steals in his team’s second-round win over New Mexico State. He followed that up with 16 points and 13 rebounds against VCU.
With the assistance of Zeller’s development and a 43.7 percent clip from the 3-point line (No. 2 in the country), the Hoosiers possess the No. 4 offense in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.
But against Kentucky, it’s always a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” The Wildcats have the No. 2 offense in Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. They’re ninth in defensive efficiency.
They have Anthony Davis (14.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 4.6 bpg), too.
After that Indiana loss, the Wildcats stopped all arguments about the best team in America. They separated themselves from the field and entered the NCAA tournament as the favorites to win it all.
That hasn’t changed.
In this matchup, look for the Hoosiers to attack Davis again -- he picked up early fouls in the first game -- and hoist 3s early to stretch Kentucky’s defense. Look for the Wildcats to burst up the floor off misses and turn this into an up-and-down affair.
The journey: Indiana beat New Mexico State then dismissed VCU with clutch plays down the stretch. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky then overcame Royce White’s 23-point, nine-rebound effort to beat Iowa State.
Monitor his progress: The Wildcats are a different squad without Davis on the floor. The Wildcats were outscored by 12 points during the 16 minutes the team had to go without Davis because of foul trouble in the first Indiana-Kentucky game in Bloomington.
Numbers to impress your friends: Davis is one of the toughest defenders in recent history. Teams are perplexed as they try to find ways to score with Davis inside. But he’s not just a post defender. Davis has blocked 14 3-point attempts this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Game’s most critical question: If Davis picks up early fouls, can Kentucky still win?
The matchup: Davis versus Zeller. Must-see TV.
Don’t touch that remote because ... This is Indiana-Kentucky: The Rematch. It’s that simple.
North Carolina State (11) vs. Kansas (2), 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
Things to know: NC State lost four in a row in February. The Wolfpack were the last to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
But the Wolfpack revived their entire season with a surprising outing in Columbus last week. The 11-seed upset San Diego State in the second round. The Aztecs didn’t have answers for NC State’s size and athleticism. Then, the Wolfpack recovered from a 10-point deficit in the first half to beat Georgetown, a No. 3 seed.
It’s all coming together at the perfect time for Mark Gottfried’s team. C.J. Leslie, a player whose effort has been questioned in the past, is leading the charge.
But they’re going into an environment that will resemble a home game for the Jayhawks. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis will be packed with Kansas fans. And that’s just the start of NC State’s worries.
The Wolfpack have to deal with National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson (16 points and 13 rebounds in a second-round win over Detroit; 11 points and 13 rebounds in a third-round win over Purdue) and one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 5 in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings).
The Jayhawks were on the verge of suffering an upset late in the third round, but a Purdue turnover gave the squad the opportunity it needed to secure the win in the final minutes. Part of Kansas’ challenges thus far are tied to its subpar shooting. Its 26.3 field goal percentage outside the paint in its first two games was the worst mark entering the Sweet 16, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Look for NC State to push the pace and find Scott Wood (41.7 percent from beyond the arc this season) and Lorenzo Brown (3-for-5 from the 3-point line in the NCAA tourney) on the perimeter. Look for Kansas to feed Robinson and Jeff Withey and challenge NC State’s frontcourt.
The journey: Kansas beat Detroit in its first game and escaped Purdue in its third-round win. The Wolfpack defeated San Diego State and Georgetown to reach the Sweet 16.
Monitor his progress: Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 ppg) is one of the most explosive guards in the tourney. But he’s committed 16 turnovers in the team’s last five games. Similar mistakes in Friday’s game could give the Wolfpack the opening to pull off the upset.
Numbers to impress your friends: NC State has scored 58 points in the paint (38 against San Diego State and 20 against Georgetown).
Game’s most critical question: Will 7-footer Withey (11 points) show up?
The matchup: Leslie versus Robinson. This matchup between a pair of talented forwards will have a critical impact on the outcome of the game.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Kansas hasn’t looked great thus far. NC State has surpassed expectations. A third upset for the Wolfpack is possible.
Marquette at West Virginia (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): West Virginia has to win this game, right? The Mountaineers have lost six of their past eight games. The only wins were over lower-level teams (Providence and Pitt) on the road. Marquette has been on a tear of late and may have the Big East Player of the Year in Jae Crowder or Darius Johnson-Odom.
Vanderbilt at Kentucky (noon ET, CBS): Kentucky has three games left to finish off an undefeated SEC regular season. No offense to Georgia, but the Cats should take care of the Bulldogs. If Kentucky takes out Vandy, the only obstacle left is a game at Florida to end the regular season. If Kentucky can accomplish an unblemished mark, it would go down as one of the most impressive regular seasons in coach John Calipari’s career.
Iowa State at Kansas State (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Wins at Baylor and Missouri have changed the complexion of Kansas State’s season. The Wildcats have finally finished games by playing smart in the final possessions. Iowa State has a tough slate to finish the season with games at Kansas State and Missouri and then hosting Baylor. Not an easy road for a bubble team.
North Carolina at Virginia (4 p.m. ET, ESPN): UVa has had injury issues and hasn’t been able to find consistency against the league’s elite (Duke and North Carolina). But the Cavs have a shot to re-establish themselves. This could turn into an ACC Player of the Year-type game as Tyler Zeller of the Tar Heels matches up with Mike Scott of the Cavs. UVa must ensure that it controls the tempo to have a chance.
Mississippi State at Alabama (6 p.m. ET, ESPN): Mississippi State has stumbled down the stretch and has no momentum going into the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs have lost to the bottom of the SEC and now to Kentucky at the top. Meanwhile, Alabama has done a tremendous job, despite player suspensions, to be in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth. The win at Arkansas was one of the more impressive for the Tide this season.
George Mason at VCU (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2): George Mason was going to be in position to possibly catch Drexel and win the conference. But an overtime loss at Northeastern has pushed the Patriots into a second-place tie with VCU. The winner will get the No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament and potentially set up for a final matchup against Drexel.
Temple at Saint Joseph’s (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Temple has emerged as the class of the A-10. Saint Joe’s had some fleeting hopes of getting a bid, but the Hawks lost at home to Richmond and scored only 49 points in the process. This is a huge rivalry game but the toughness of the Owls should prevail.
Penn at Harvard (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3): If Harvard gets by Princeton on Friday night, a win against Penn could give the Crimson a share of the Ivy League title and a chance to clinch it outright the following Friday at Columbia. Harvard is trying to get to the NCAAs for the first time since 1946.
Syracuse at Connecticut (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Huskies have new life after Shabazz Napier’s 3-point heave went in to beat Villanova on Monday night. The Orange have been as good, if not better, on the road than at home -- other than at Notre Dame. Syracuse should dominate the bench scoring. The Huskies have a chance if Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi can win the post, and Napier and Ryan Boatright can get into the zone with floaters to score. UConn is in desperate mode to get this win.
Wisconsin at Ohio State (4 p.m. ET, CBS): The Badgers lost at Iowa on Thursday night and now have to go to Ohio State? Yikes. Iowa let Wisconsin back in the game, but then the Badgers couldn’t finish and lost by one. OSU, save the game against Michigan State, has been as dominant at home as any team in the country. The Badgers have to find a way to score and avoid the droughts that can decimate their chances of pulling off an upset like this one.
California at Colorado (5:30 p.m. ET, FSN): Colorado had a chance to make some noise down the stretch in the Pac-12, but losing at home to Stanford took some of the energy out of this game. The Buffaloes had overachieved to that point. Cal needs to get a sweep of the mountain area to win the Pac-12 regular-season title, assuming Washington doesn’t stumble.
Florida State at Miami (6 p.m. ET, ESPNU): The Seminoles lost their shot to win the ACC regular-season title by dropping a home game to Duke. Miami desperately needs this game to prove to the selection committee that it is tourney-worthy. This game will have ACC tournament seeding implications.
[Editor's note: Per usual, we encourage you to stay with the blog all day for on-site reports from our writers across the country and, later, our recaps of all the big-time Saturday night action, including Saint Mary's-Murray State and Ohio State-Michigan.]
Kansas State 57, No. 10 Baylor 56: I found myself defending Baylor quite a bit in recent days. Myron Medcalf and I have been pretty hard on the Bears at times this season, and for good reason -- this team should be much better than it is. Frankly, it should be dominant. But for all of the struggles and frustrations and close scrapes with obviously inferior teams, it was important to remember one thing: Two teams had beaten Baylor all season. One of them was Kansas. The other was Missouri. There's something to be said for that.
At least there was before Saturday. Kansas State went ahead and spoiled that line, toppling Baylor in Waco in an ugly, questionably officiated contest. Not that the Wildcats minded. For obvious reasons, this was the win of the season for Frank Martin's team. K-State has long been dogged in the bubble discussion by an inexplicably anemic RPI figure, one that threatened to derail a mediocre but otherwise tourney-worthy at-large résumé. The Wildcats needed a big win down the stretch to compensate for that RPI number. An escape from Baylor with a one-point margin, aesthetically displeasing though it may have been, is just what the doctor ordered.
As for the Bears, well, what's left to say? You know the drill by now: This team is as talented as any in the country. It is also every bit as suspect. For whatever reason -- growth, personality, sheepishness, your guess is as good as mine -- Perry Jones III continues to register games like this: 6 shots, 4 points, 4 rebounds, 5 fouls and zero (yes, zero) free throw attempts. In each of Baylor's past four losses, Jones posted single-digit scoring and rebounding efforts. We hate to be openly critical of a college kid, but for a player of Jones' talent, isn't that inexcusable? For a team as long and active as this one, why are the Bears so blasé on the boards, so mediocre on the defensive end? Why, after a 2010-11 season derailed by constant turnovers, haven't these guys learned to value the ball?
It's not like Baylor is having a bad season. (Though since starting 17-0 they are a disconcerting 5-5 in their past 10 games.) The standard defense in the first paragraph still, for all intents and purposes, makes sense. But it's impossible to watch this team and not know that the product on the floor is merely a fraction of what it could be. We only ever get hints. That's what's frustrating.
New Mexico 65, No. 11 UNLV 45: If you failed to notice what New Mexico did earlier this week (winning at San Diego State, moving to 7-2 and alone atop the Mountain West conference standings) and haven't seen just how good this team has been playing over the past three weeks (before Saturday, UNM had won six in a row and risen to No. 11 overall in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings) it's officially time to take note. The Lobos are rolling, kids -- and Saturday was no different.
The lopsided outcome wasn't a foregone conclusion from the opening tip, and UNLV was in solid shape in a typically frenzied Pit atmosphere for nearly 30 minutes. But with 12:15 remaining, the Lobos did what they do best: They locked down on the defensive end. At that point, the score was 36-36. Just four minutes later, after a handful of impressive plays by Tony Snell, Demetrius Walker and Drew Gordon, the Lobos led 48-36. UNLV scored just nine points the rest of the way.
This is where New Mexico really shines. For as good as UNLV and SDSU have been this season, the Lobos are the MWC's best defensive team. They rank No. 1 in the league (and No. 11 in the nation) in adjusted defensive efficiency, primarily thanks to really good first-shot defense. The Runnin' Rebels have been struggling lately -- this week's 101-97 loss at TCU was profoundly strange, and they're now just 5-6 on the road this season, with four of those coming to unranked teams. But they're still awfully talented, and their struggles today had as much to do with the Lobos' pressure as any self-inflicted cause.
In the game's final moments, as Walker poured in another bucket and Gordon topped off his beast-mode 27-point, 20-rebound performance (Gordon was just the eighth player in the past 10 seasons to drop a 20-20 game on a Top-25 team, and just the fifth to do so in regulation), CBS play-by-play man Tim Brando said the affair had "become a New Mexico coronation." He was absolutely right. For too long, the Lobos slipped slightly under the radar. Their gaudy efficiency numbers belied a team that, when you got right down to it, hadn't beaten a team better than Saint Louis all season. It was easy to cast doubt.
No more. In the past week, New Mexico has held Wyoming to 38 points, beaten San Diego State in Viejas Arena by 10, and coasted right by a very good UNLV team. Steve Alford has built a beast in Albuquerque. If you were sleeping on UNM before, it will be impossible to do so now.
Washington 79, Arizona 70:Both of these teams' at-large pictures remain in flux, and that didn't change much today. A win over Arizona won't put Washington in the tournament in any definite way; a loss to Washington won't drop Arizona off the bubble. This is life in the current Pac-12, a power-six league in name only. (PSINO? PINO? We'll work on it.) This league was 2-31 against the RPI top 50 in nonconference play and 0-15 against the top 25. Simply put, this conference offers zero opportunities for marquee wins. At this point, the best the at-large contenders can do is just keep winning.
On Senior Day, the Huskies did exactly that, dinging the defensively resurgent Wildcats in the process. Terrence Ross was fantastic, and his line -- 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 1 assist, 1 block -- was the stuff of fantasy basketball fever dreams. That's a pretty good example of why this Washington team has been so frustrating this season. With Ross and freshman guard Tony Wroten (not to mention Aziz N'Diaye and Abdul Gaddy and so on) this team has obvious Top-25 talent. But here it is, struggling to get in the field. The Huskies have been better in Pac-12 play and are 12-3 atop the standings, but as recently as last week were absolutely drubbed 82-57 at Oregon.
If this team makes a run in the NCAA tournament, I won't be the least bit surprised. A first-round loss wouldn't shock me, either. Everything is on the table here. But the Huskies have to get there first. With their final three games on the road, and opportunities for bad losses -- at Washington State, at USC, at UCLA -- any and all outcomes are on the table. Should be interesting.
No. 21 Florida State 76, NC State 62: This is not what NC State needed. OK, sure, Thursday night's loss at Duke -- wherein the Wolfpack coughed up a 20-point second-half lead -- was hard to swallow. I get that, and I empathize. But NC State still has much to accomplish in Mark Gottfried's first season, chief among it a possible NCAA tournament bid. And so Saturday's game could have gone two ways: Either NCSU would come out angry at Thursday's letdown and focused on fixing it, or the Wolfpack would be emotionally (and physically, on one day's rest) exhausted.
Turns out it was the latter. Gottfried's team committed 17 turnovers and it shot just 29 percent. (Some of that is FSU's lockdown defense, but still.) In doing so, the Pack saw a chance to get a quality résumé win slip away. Will NC State's tourney chances, already very much in doubt, do the same?
For the Seminoles, this win was their 10th in the ACC. In each of the past four years, Leonard Hamilton's team has won at least 10 league games. FSU has stamped its position as the third-best team in its conference as Hamilton has built a program with staying power at a school that has traditionally treated its basketball as an only occasionally worthwhile diversion from breathless updates about the next great football recruiting class. Really impressive.
Wichita State 91, Davidson 74: Davidson, with that December win over Kansas in its back pocket, desperately needed a win here if it wanted to hold on to any scant hope of an at-large look. Obviously, that's done now. Wichita State just keeps beating up on people. Forget the mid-major label -- there are few teams in the country, regardless of conference, playing as well as this team right now. How many? Five? Maybe six? If that?
Anyway, before we move on, let's pause and reflect on the insane performance Joe Ragland unleashed Saturday. He scored 30 points and grabbed seven boards at the guard position. Even better? His points came on 11-of-14 from the field. He shot 3-of-4 from 3 and 5-of-5 from the charity stripe. He was about as close to offensive perfection as a college basketball player can ever get. Bravo, sir.
Other observations from the afternoon action:
- After the big win, I thought it was pretty much impossible (or unpossible!) for Steve Alford's day to get any better. And then it did: San Diego State fell to lowly Air Force on Saturday, 58-56, thanks to an 18-of-52 mark from the field and -- even worse for this perimeter-oriented team -- a 3-of-16 mark from behind the line. The Aztecs got to the line with relative ease. But they went 17-of-25, and when you're shooting that poorly on the road, and you leave eight points on the board, look out.
- Following UConn's home loss to Marquette -- the Huskies' seventh loss in their past nine games -- guard Shabazz Napier, who has tried (and failed) all year to emerge as a bona fide leader of a UConn team that desperately needs just that, told reporters the following: "I hate to say it, but I have to question some of these guys' heart." Anyone who's seen Connecticut play this season has no choice but to agree. What a timid, lifeless bunch. That's the polar opposite of the Golden Eagles' scrappy style, and it showed all 40 minutes Saturday. (For colleague Andy Katz's dispatch from this game, click here)
- A win at Cleveland State doesn't quite look as great as it might have, say, three weeks ago, but no matter: Drexel's 20-point road victory was its 15th win in a row and 21st in its past 22 games. The committee may have a problem getting past the Dragons' cruddy performances in November (including the loss to Norfolk State), and those nonconference issues are part of the reason the CAA isn't getting much at-large love or even remotely passable RPI numbers for top teams like Drexel, VCU and George Mason. But 21-1 in 22 games? That's awfully hard to ignore.
- Speaking of mid-major teams with gaudy records that haven't earned much of a tourney look, how about Oral Roberts? The Golden Eagles held on to top Akron in their BracketBusters affair, moving to 25-5 overall in the process. ORU is 18-1 in the Summit League. If it wins out but loses in the conference tournament, can it get a bid? We'll see. Unlike those CAA squads, this team's RPI is certainly in the picture. The question is whether the committee can look past ORU's lack of quality wins (the victory at Xavier came just a few days after the Dec. 10 brawl against a skeletal, half-suspended Musketeers lineup) and ugly nonconference strength-of-schedule figure. ORU might want to play it safe and just go ahead and win the tournament. Why leave it to chance? Either way, this is an undeniably above-average team.
- Missouri is really good. Texas A&M is not. Our research group passed along two stats that rather tidily demonstrate as much: (1) This victory was Missouri's first win in College Station since 2001, and (2) Missouri's 56 percent shooting made the Tigers the first team to shoot better than 50 percent against A&M all season. Just a solid, workmanlike win from a really self-assured club. Fun to watch.
- DePaul is a little unlucky to be just 2-9 in Big East play after today's overtime loss to Louisville. It's not that the loss itself was particularly unlucky -- DePaul played well for 40 minutes, but the Cardinals were too much in OT -- it's just that this team's obvious improvements on the floor haven't quite shown up in its record. Such is life at a rebuilding project, I suppose.
- Nice win for Iona. The Gaels were probably a bit hard done by their BracketBusters matchup -- they needed a higher-profile game to really make a dent in the bubble picture -- but we can't fault the aesthetic quality of the end result. In other words, this was still a pretty awesome game. Iona won 90-84, and the replay is available on ESPN3. It's worth your while. Iona's offense was scorching hot: The Gaels went 33-of-53 from the field (62.3 percent) and 8-of-14 from beyond the arc, and had five players score 13 points or more. Point guard Scott Machado had 15 assists, which is nothing new; Machado's 9.9 assists per game lead the nation (his assist rate of 44.3 percent is the nation's third-highest; word to Tim Frazier!) and his brilliance is emblematic of this team in general. With Machado, MoMo Jones and Michael Glover, Iona might the most talented mid-major squad in the country. The only problem? The Gaels don't really defend. But if that changes even marginally in the coming weeks, look out. Points in bunches, and all that.
- Kentucky and North Carolina both easily handled their middling conference foes, and both looked great doing so. The Wildcats' win was their 50th in a row at home. John Calipari doesn't lose at Rupp Arena. That's just the way it goes.
- And then there's Binghamton. The nation's last winless team had its best remaining opportunity to notch a victory on the road at 5-23 Radford. Unfortunately, the Bearcats lost 64-59, and so the sad story of their brutal season rolls on. Binghamton's next two opponents (Vermont, Albany) are both much better than lowly Radford (though the Bearcats do get both games at home, so that's good), and their season finale at New Hampshire isn't a totally insurmountable challenge (though Pomeroy's predictive model gives the Bearcats just a 7 percent chance of winning). Bottom line? This team could very well go the entire length of its season without a win. Poor Binghamton. Can you say Bottom 10?
Iona at Loyola (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET): Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos was peeved that his squad was left out of the TV BracketBusters games. Well, this one is on TV and it’s a shot for the Greyhounds to let the rest of the country know that the more publicized Gaels aren’t the only team in the MAAC. The teams are tied atop the league. This should be the MAAC tournament final, with one of the two earning the bid in Springfield, Mass., next month.
Louisville at West Virginia (ESPN, noon ET): The Cardinals are rolling while the Mountaineers haven’t been the same since losing to Syracuse and failing to get that goaltending call on Jan. 28. If West Virginia doesn’t stop Louisville in transition, the Mountaineers are in serious trouble. But you have to expect WVU will get this win at home.
Virginia at North Carolina (ESPN3, 1 p.m. ET): The Cavaliers can disrupt the Tar Heels and control the tempo. The key will be how the Heels respond to their disheartening loss Wednesday to Duke. UNC is the more talented team, but are the Tar Heels mentally tough enough to bounce back and beat a disciplined Cavs squad?
Miami at Florida State (ESPN3, 1 p.m. ET): The Seminoles had to take care of business against the bottom of the ACC. But they didn’t for the second time when they were stunned at Boston College on Wednesday. Miami comes in on a roll after following up its win Sunday over Duke with a victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday. This could be one of the most evenly matched ACC games -- not involving Duke or Carolina -- the rest of the conference season.
Connecticut at Syracuse (1 p.m. ET): The Huskies need to show some pride and play well at Syracuse. Orange coach Jim Boeheim wasn’t at all pleased with his team’s effort Wednesday against Georgetown. UConn, meanwhile, is coming off a brutal performance Monday at Louisville. The Orange have more talent, depth and experience. UConn needs to create havoc on the defensive end to have a shot and Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi better play one of their best games to control the post.
Baylor at Missouri (ESPN3, 1:30 p.m. ET): The Bears got worked over by Kansas at home; Missouri is coming off a gritty victory at Oklahoma after beating Kansas in Columbia last Saturday. Separation has occurred in the Big 12, with Missouri and Kansas a game ahead of Baylor. The Bears had better find a way to defend. Missouri already proved it can win against a taller set. If Missouri wins, Baylor would not have beaten Mizzou or Kansas this season.
VCU at Old Dominion (2 p.m. ET): This should come as no surprise: VCU is on a roll and atop the CAA with Drexel and George Mason. ODU is a game behind after losing last week at Mason. If the Monarchs want a shot at the CAA title, they probably have to win this game. ODU gets one more shot at one of the leaders, hosting Drexel to end the season. All four are postseason teams, but only one might be in the NCAAs.
Wyoming at New Mexico (3:30 p.m. ET): The Lobos won where UNLV could not -- at Wyoming. New Mexico has quietly put together a potential MWC title season. UNM is tied with UNLV and a game behind San Diego State. This is another chance to stay in stride with the Rebels and Aztecs.
San Diego State at UNLV (4 p.m. ET): The Aztecs knocked off the Rebels in the final second Jan. 14 at Viejas Arena. Each has suffered a surprising road loss since, at Colorado State and Wyoming, respectively. Thomas & Mack will be rocking. The key will be if the Aztecs can again keep the Rebs off the backboards in key moments.
Wichita State at Creighton (ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET): The Bluejays are reeling, by their Missouri Valley standards, after losing two straight. Wichita State lost at home to Creighton on Dec. 31, and if the Shockers want to win the Valley regular-season title, they need to win this game. Don’t be surprised if this ends up being game two of three between these two Valley favorites. A meeting in St. Louis seems inevitable.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET): The Wildcats have reached the toughest part of their road schedule -- at Vandy, at Mississippi State and at Florida before the end of the regular season. The Commodores certainly have the talent, experience and some beef to deal with Kentucky. But can they finish against UK, or any elite team? Vandy isn’t going to win the SEC. But this is a huge confidence game for the NCAAs.
Xavier at Temple (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET): The Musketeers have been erratic. Temple hasn’t always been healthy. The Owls appear to be the front-runners in the A-10 -- at least at this point -- but X can upstage Temple with a victory in Philadelphia. This could be a decisive win for the Owls in their quest to win the league outright.
OMAHA, Neb. -- The games keep getting bigger for North Carolina, and Kent Emanuel keeps getting better.
The freshman left-hander pitched the first complete-game shutout at the College World Series in five years in a 3-0 victory that eliminated Texas on Monday.
Emanuel limited the Longhorns to four singles in his third win of the NCAA tournament and first career shutout.
The 19-year-old Emanuel showed plenty of maturity in methodically and coolly keeping the Longhorns off balance with changeups and curves when they were sitting on fastballs.
"Other than his left arm, that's his best trait, his demeanor," Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "You don't see a lot of emotion out of him. That's what you want when you're on the mound, especially on this stage."
North Carolina's offense, which couldn't get timely hits in an opening loss to Vanderbilt, produced enough to support Emanuel.
Jacob Stallings hit a two-run single in the third inning and Ben Bunting finished a four-hit day with an RBI double in the ninth for the Tar Heels (51-15), who play Vanderbilt or Florida on Wednesday.
Texas (49-19) went two games and out for the second time in 25 CWS appearances since 1966 and for the fourth time in its record 34 trips to Omaha. The last time was in 2000.
"We didn't come here to be the first team to leave," Texas shortstop Brandon Loy said. "You're never going to be satisfied, I don't think, unless you come out of here with a national championship. We did some amazing things with this team. It's tough to leave now."
Emanuel (9-1) walked one and struck out five. North Carolina's Robert Woodard pitched the last shutout here, blanking Clemson in 2006. The last freshman to do it was LSU's Brett Laxton in 1993 against Wichita State.
"It was a brilliantly pitched game by their pitcher," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "He was terrific. He got three pitches over. He used them in different count spots where he would lead guys off of changeups. He'd lead guys off with breaking balls. He'd lead guys off with fastballs and he had command throughout the game from beginning to end."
The Longhorns' offense struggled in their two CWS games, going three-up, three-down in 11 of 18 innings against Florida and North Carolina.
They twice ran themselves out of innings Monday, with Jonathan Walsh getting doubled off in the second and Mark Payton in the fourth.
"Any time we can end the inning on double play and get two for one is always big," Emanuel said. "That's just credit to our outfielders today. Those are two uncommon double plays, and I was fortunate to have two of them."
North Carolina fans, including basketball coach Roy Williams, began chanting "Heels, Heels, Heels" after Bunting's double in the top of the ninth, and they applauded as Emanuel emerged from his dugout to start the bottom half.
Fox never considered taking Emanuel out. Pitching coach Scott Forbes wouldn't let him anyway.
"We can tell when he's feeling it and he's throwing a lot of strikes," Fox said. "We wanted him to go back out there. Kent would have probably tried to strangle me anyway if I tried to take him out. I think he deserved to finish that game."
Emanuel needed only nine pitches to finish off the Longhorns, getting Tant Shepherd to pop out to first, Mark Payton to ground out and Brandon Loy to fly out to right.
The Tar Heels left a season-high 16 runners on base against Vanderbilt on Saturday, and they stranded runners at the corners in the first inning against Texas.
But Stallings came through with the bases loaded in the third, delivering a two-out single for a 2-0 lead.
"We thought it was going to be a game just like it was," Fox said. "That's typical of a lot of games we've won this year, not so much a complete-game shutout but just trying to scratch and claw and get a run or two here or there and try to hold the other team down and play defense."
Texas had been 8-1 in elimination games during the postseason, starting with the Big 12 tournament.
The Longhorns came to Omaha well-armed, but ace Taylor Jungmann gave them only 4 1/3 innings in the 8-4 loss to Florida and Monday's starter Cole Green got hit hard and lasted just two-plus innings.
Green (8-4) matched his shortest start of the season after having gone at least five innings in each of his 12 starts dating to March 27.
It was Green's second straight rough outing in Omaha. In 2009, he lasted one inning as the starter in the 11-4 championship-game loss to LSU.
"I think I was leaving the ball up early in the game," Green said. "I was just excited, the nerves were going."
After losing 8-4 to Florida in their first CWS game, the Longhorns, in the CWS for a record 34th time, must beat North Carolina in a win-or-go-home game Monday afternoon.
"We've been pretty good in elimination games," Texas coach Augie Garrido said, "and here we are again."
Texas (49-18) won three straight after losing their second game in regionals, and they beat Arizona State twice after dropping the first game of their super regional.
"We all know we played a below-average game, and they capitalized on it," Garrido said. "But it doesn't mean we have to lose our spirit or our confidence in each other and it doesn't have to mean we give up. We've been here before. We know we can win. This championship's been won out of the losers' bracket before. So we know it can be done."
1. OKLAHOMA44-15, 17-11 Big 12, 9-1 last 10
At their best: When Garrett Buechele is leading the offense, and their relievers carry them home. Third baseman Buechele is a true power hitter with amazing consistency. He can change a game with one swing, especially with the Sooners having several hitters who get on base. Oklahoma's starting pitching staff is OK for a tournament team, but they have three relievers in Erben, Rocha and Mayfield who can all pitch several innings to secure a win.
At their worst: They're no better than Cal. The Golden Bears can match up favorably with Oklahoma through the first two starters and also have a very deep hitting lineup. The Sooners didn't control their conference the way most No. 1 seeds did, as Texas was easily the best team in the conference (sweeping OU by 16-3 combined score). As it stands, however, they are the best team in a weak region. They should advance if they stay focused and get a boost from the home crowd.
Biggest strength: The Sooners' three right-handed relievers (Erben, Rocha and Mayfield) don't do anything unusual. None are strikeout machines, but all have low ERAs (4.10, 3.02, 2.03, respectively). It's like having a fresh starter, and they all can be counted on to stifle opposing batters.
Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (Regional)
2. CALIFORNIA29-23, 13-14 Pac 10, 2-8 last 10
At their best: Sporadically, when their offense is clicking. The Golden Bears were a bad team at the end of the year, as they were soundly swept by UCLA, Washington State and Stanford. But when you look at their quality wins, it's hard to know what to make of Cal. They swept Oregon State late in the year and took two of three games from Oregon last weekend. The Golden Bears can score runs, but they can't prevent runs vs. top teams like most top seeds can.
At their worst: In tough games. The Bears don't really have the necessary wins against a UCLA or Arizona State to be considered an elite team. They're above-average in most categories and played in a tough conference, and it resulted in a two seed. They could surprise, but it won't be because they dominated one aspect of every game. It will be because they limited mistakes and Oklahoma struggles.
Biggest strength: A versatile offense with eight hitters batting at least .300. Tony Renda leads the Golden Bears in average (.365), runs (52) and hits (76). Cal has four players with an on-base percentage in the .400s, but Chadd Krist and Mark Canha can also hit home runs (10 and 9, respectively). It take a great pitcher to silence Cal's bats.
Last NCAA appearance: 2008 (Regional)
3. NORTH CAROLINA36-20, 14-16 ACC, 7-3 last 10
At their best: The Tar Heels have looked really good, although they were swept by Virginia late in the season. They came up just short of qualifying for the ACC tournament because of early conference losses. North Carolina swept Virginia Tech, swept Wake Forest and took two of three at Clemson late in the season. They could be a threat to steal the region if a capable pitcher steps up in their second or third game.
At their worst: National powerhouses Virginia, Georgia Tech and Miami all swept North Carolina this season, but that's not indicative of the Tar Heels' individual talent. Thankfully, there isn't much to be intimidated about in the Norman Regional. Oklahoma is a better all-around team and Cal has a stronger offense, but North Carolina's 4.21 team ERA ranks in the top 25 nationally. Oklahoma isn't that much better (3.79, 16th nationally), and the teams could be even if Oklahoma uses too much relief talent in an early game.
Biggest strength: Starting pitcher Matt Harvey has a 3.10 ERA and has pitched two complete games. He might be the best pitcher in the region. But all hope will be lost if the Tar Heels can't get a win with him on the mound.
Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (CWS)
No. 4 ORAL ROBERTS35-25, 22-9 Summit, 8-2 last 10
At their best: The moment Nick Ballgod or Tyler Saladino make contact. The Golden Eagles have a wealth of hitters, and Ballgod and Saladino are the best. They will find a way to produce runs, but whether that means two runs or 10 depends on the opposing pitcher. Their run production was lower against competition from TCU, UCLA, Texas and Arkansas. But they beat the Longhorns, 3-2, showing they could be a tough out.
At their worst: ORU's pitchers have pedestrian ERAs and aren't a very good fielding team. But be assured, they'll go down swinging.
Biggest strength: Ballgod has one of the most ridiculous stat lines in the country: .396, 78 hits, 53 RBIs. But teammate Saladino can beat him: .381, 72 runs, 91 hits, 17 home runs, 73 RBIs, .678 slugging percentage and 16 of 18 stolen base attempts. They're the stuff of nightmares for an unprepared pitcher or cold reliever.
Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (Regional)
Pittman averaged 18.5 points and 11.0 rebounds as Texas moved to 10-0, winning all 10 games by double-digits. Pittman had 14 points and seven rebounds (five offensive) during last Tuesday’s home win against UT-Pan American. He followed it up with 23 points, 15 rebounds (12 offensive) and two blocks in Saturday’s victory against North Carolina.
His 12 offensive rebounds equaled the Tar Heels' team total. Pittman hit 14-of-23 (.609) field goals and 9-of-14 (.643) free throws in the two games.
Through the first 10 games, Pittman ranks second on the team in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (7.1) and leads the Longhorns in blocked shots (23). He leads the Big 12 Conference in field goal percentage (.734), hitting 58-of-79 field goals.
Just three days after dispatching North Carolina, Texas welcomes the Spartans at 6 p.m. at te Erwin Center. Catch it on ESPN2.
Texas and Carolina tip at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first basketball game played at Cowboys Stadium.
"I still think in December there’s not a lot to get excited about other than your improvement. That’s what we look at," Barnes said. "Obviously, we want to win games, that’s what we play them for, but when we leave that game or the next game, we will know whether or not we were able to play up to our potential as a team, so that’s what we base it on. We’re not going to get overly excited in December about too much of anything because, again, I can’t imagine even after a game Saturday or any game between now and probably some time in the middle of January, I hope we’re not even anywhere close to being as good as we can be."
But, innocent bystander Bill Self, coach of the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks, said strong showings against a perennial power now can go a long way to infusing a team with confidence, especially younger players such as Texas' key freshmen guards Avery Bradley, J'Covan Brown (who might be out with a sprained ankle) and guard/forward Jordan Hamilton.
"I do think you can look at certain games as turning points where it could either help you a lot or maybe go the other direction," Self said. "Although, I would think nine out of 10 times it’s probably a positive thing because you’ll get guys to play at a level higher than what they played because you never felt that adrenaline rush yet in certain games. I’m excited for my young guys to play in a game like that to see what they can do, but I think that will be a big game for the Longhorns."
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