Major Conference Tournaments Day 3
Playing their way out:
Northwestern – After Northwestern fell in OT to Minnesota, they paused to show all the sad Northwestern fans in the stands and all the long faces on the NU sideline. This was supposed to be Northwestern’s year, but once again the journey appears to have come up short. With super-scorer John Shurna graduating, it is fair to ask whether Northwestern will really have a better chance to make the NCAA tournament in future years. While I’m sure Carmody can put together another team that will make some threes and play competitive basketball, I’ve personally seen enough of this story. Dan Dakich actually described it well concerning the Illinois program. When a program loses momentum, you can’t necessarily quantify it, but you can feel it. And this felt like a momentum crushing loss for Northwestern. In the same way Bruce Weber is a good coach, who ultimately isn’t a good fit at Illinois, I feel like Carmody is a good coach, who isn’t really the answer at Northwestern. You can only watch so many times when Jared Sullinger makes a buzzer beater, or Minnesota knocks down wide open threes, before you realize Carmody’s defensive system is never good enough to win in the Big Ten. Northwestern may be a tough place to recruit and win, but a basketball team only has 5 players on the floor at once. It shouldn’t take a miracle runner at the end of regulation for the team to have hope of an NCAA tournament bid. And with Carmody, that seems to be what the team is banking on. As a Big Ten fan, tired of low-scoring games and perimeter-oriented-offenses, I also think a different style of play would serve the conference well. The Northwestern football team doesn’t hope to beat Wisconsin with a power running attack, so why should Northwestern try to beat Wisconsin with a turnover-free three-point-barrage. Bring in a coach with a different system, and see if there are better results.
Trying to play their way out:
Washington - If the Northwestern loss seemed more sentimental, the way the Washington Huskies lost was just brutal. With Washington down one with 18 seconds left, Pac-12 freshmen of the year Tony Wroten went to the line and missed two free throws. But Oregon St.’s Jared Cunningham missed two free throws on the other end so Washington still had a chance. And the Huskies got a gift as Cunningham foolishly reached in and fouled Wroten again. (Certainly fouling when up one with 8 seconds left had to be accidental, right?) But Wroten missed two more free throws, and that essentially sealed the loss. The Huskies ended the season with back-to-back losses to sub-100 RPI teams and with their best win coming against Oregon, there are a lot of people who are going to argue that they do not deserve to be in the NCAA tournament.
South Florida – Leading Notre Dame by three points with 38 seconds left, USF’s Victor Rudd Jr. committed a foolish turnover and compounded it by fouling Jerian Grant. After Grant made two free throws, Notre Dame still needed a foul or a steal. So of course USF’s Jawanza Poland beat the pressure defense, missed a lay-up (instead of running clock), and then missed the front end of the one-and-one. It was a comedy of errors, but it somehow seemed appropriate for USF. Rick Pitino said playing the Bulls is like getting a root canal. And with their terrible offense and incredible defense, sometimes watching their games feels like one too.
Mississippi St. – If it wasn’t clear in my comments on Matt Norlander’s podcast or in my preview of the week, I was not surprised to see Georgia “upset” Mississippi St in the opening round of the SEC tournament. Mississippi St. has lost 6 of their last 8, with 3 of those losses coming to teams with RPI’s over 100. In the old days of Last 10 and a 64 team field, Mississippi St. would not have made the cut. But under the new standard that evaluates the whole season equally, they may still make it.
Oregon – A lot of people felt Oregon could make the tournament with a run to the Pac-12 final. But an opening game loss to Colorado may end that possibility. Oregon trailed by 8 points with 7 minutes to go and went on a 10-0 run that seemed to give the Ducks the game, but a late put-back by Colorado’s Andre Roberson won the game for the Buffaloes.
Playing their way in:
Texas – In a tie game in the final minute, J’Covan Brown drove into the lane, made a basket, and drew the foul. Then Texas forced two Iowa St. turnovers, and the Longhorns picked up a much-needed win. The announcers said, “Texas is in the NCAA tournament now.” I wouldn’t quite go that far, because upsets can still happen that can shrink the bubble. But on a day when most teams were playing their way out, Texas picked up a very important quality win.
Games of the Day
1. Cincinnati over Georgetown in Double OT – Cincinnati came back from 11 down to take the lead late in regulation. Then Georgetown’s Otto Porter hit a jumper to send the game into OT. Then Georgetown’s Henry Sims made a lay-up just before the buzzer to send the game to a second OT. Then Cashmere Wright made a driving bank shot to win the game in the second OT. Now that’s a basketball game.
2. Marshall over Tulsa in Triple OT – Five Marshall players fouled out, but it didn’t matter. DeAndre Kane put Marshall on his back and would not be denied. Kane had 40 points in the game, and if this had been the NCAA tournament instead of the CUSA tournament, his heart and grit in OT would have been the stuff of legend. Kane looked thoroughly exhausted at the end of the second OT, but finally the team got some contributions from other players. Jamir Hanner (no relation) came off the bench and made an incredibly put-back dunk after a missed FT, Chris Martin came off the bench and hit a three, and despite those five players fouling out, Marshall won as a team on Thursday.
3. Southern Miss over East Carolina – East Carolina trailed by three with 30 seconds left. They missed a three and a put-back, but finally found an open Robert Sampson who buried a three pointer to send the game into OT. East Carolina made 15 threes in the game, but in the end Southern Miss had too much firepower. Southern Miss player (and Kentucky transfer) Darnell Dodson nailed a three in the extra session that gave USM the lead, and they rolled from there.
4. San Diego St. over Boise St. – Boise St.’s Thomas Bropleh made a lay-up with 27 seconds left to tie the game, but San Diego St.’s Jamaal Franklin hit a three pointer on the other end as time expired to give SDSU the victory.
5. Syracuse over Connecticut – There was a big game feel in the Garden for Syracuse vs UConn, and James Southerland bailed the Orange out with three huge jumpers late in the game. Sometimes you wonder whether depth is over-rated, but when a player like Southerland can step up in a close game like that, you realize having more scoring options is always valuable. After praising UConn’s Shabazz Napier yesterday, I once again found his shot-selection puzzling in this game.
Other Notes on Thursday
-Indiana senior Verdell Jones injured his leg and appears to be out for the season. For Tom Crean it was an emotional moment, not because of what Jones contributes on the court, but because Jones has been around for all the tough years at Indiana and deserved the chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
-Baylor debuted its Neon Yellow uniforms (which looked much better than Louisville’s Neon Red uniforms.) Brent Musburger described them as “electric”. Bob Knight called them “blinding”. The banter was more humorous than I can do justice.
-Louisville had 50 points at halftime against Marquette, but started the second half 2 of 19 from the field. Eventually another run of points gave them the victory.
-Illinois shot zero free throws in losing to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Bruce Weber’s teams have struggled at getting to the line over his tenure, so that somehow seemed fitting. This may very well be Illinois’ final game of the year. Given the NIT’s more narrow admittance standards in recent years, and the likelihood Iowa and Northwestern will go to the NIT, this may have been Bruce Weber’s final game.