If you aren’t fired up for the conference tournaments, all you need to do is read Dana O’Neil and Conor Nevins piece on the history of the Big East tournament. Conference tournaments are basketball’s hidden jewel.
Tuesday Session 1
BE 13-seed South Florida vs 12-seed Seton Hall, MWC 9 Nevada vs 8 Wyoming
South Florida is playing in its Mellow Yellow shorts. They certainly aren’t worse than the Adidas Zubaz look.
One amusing note in the first half. Seton Hall reverses the ball to Kyle Smyth who hits a wide-open three. How wide open was Smyth? All nine of the other players were on the right side of the key, while he was the only player on the left side of the key. It is pretty hard to fit nine players in that little space, but Smyth was literally the only player in the frame.
You can tell these teams are struggling offensively because the announcers are not hiding their feelings Mike Patrick, “The best thing you can say about the first half – it was close.”
Len Elmore trying to sell this as a compelling match-up, “Most teams don’t want to play defense for 35 seconds.”
Patrick, “How do you go 8 and a half minutes without scoring and still lead by 5?”
Finally, late in the game, when Seton Hall and USF were shooting 22% and 21% respectively from three point range and kept jacking up bad shots, Elmore reached the breaking point. “Why are we settling for threes fellas?”
I hate the graphic that says USF has so many points off turnovers. They don’t have nearly that many transition points. If you get a turnover, and then need 30 seconds of half-court offense to score, those aren’t points off turnovers.
The announcers point out that the fewest combined points scored in a Big East Tournament game is 87. With 5 minutes left in the game these teams have scored a combined 59 points. USF leads 32-27. Does anyone else miss Keno Davis?
Meanwhile, I would love to tell you what was happening in the MWC first round game, but it lacks TV coverage. I’ll steal a factoid that Doug Gottlieb shared with us on day 2. Last year’s the women’s Final Four in Denver created a floor with mountain’s etched in the gridwork. The Mountain West Conference loved the floor so much they bought it and shipped it to Vegas for their conference tournament.
Back to Madison Square Garden: With 2 minutes left, USF gets trapped in the backcourt and is not going to be able to beat the 10 second clock and avoid a back-court violation. But head coach Stan Heath wisely calls time out. The announcers rightfully complain that you shouldn’t get a new 10 second clock when you call a timeout. One possession later, Seton Hall again traps USF in the backcourt, and again a timeout bails the Bulls out.
Finally, Seton Hall cuts the lead to two points with 35 seconds left, applies additional pressure, and forces the turnover. USF steps out of bounds and Seton Hall has a chance for the tie or win. Fuquan Edwin drives for a lay-up and ties the game at 37. USF then gets three looks at a game-winning shot in the final seconds, but since this is South Florida, none of those shots fall.
Tied at 37-37, the 74 points in regulation would be the fewest ever in a Big East tournament game, but thankfully for these teams, they get 5 additional minutes of action. Seton Hall eventually pulls ahead, and Fuquan Edwin’s last two free throws ensure that this will not be the lowest scoring Big East tournament game of all time. The Pirates advance 46-42.
Meanwhile, in the untelevised game, Wyoming advances.
Tuesday Session 2
BE 11 Rutgers vs 14 DePaul
Sean McDonough, “We’ll be hard-pressed to match the excitement of the first game you saw tonight.” Amazingly Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery manage to keep a straight face.
And yet McDonough may be right. While the game has its moments, including dueling threes to end the first half, that momentarily give DePaul the lead before Rutgers takes it right back, DePaul’s defense just isn’t stout enough to hold up for 40 minutes.
Rutgers shoots 61% in the first half and leads by only 1. Normally, this is a bad sign. Teams rarely shoot that well all game. But this is not fool’s gold. Since the Scarlet Knights are getting so many easy paint looks, they shoot 61% in the second half too.
Here is a random stat for you: When DePaul has at least 1 regular season conference victory, they are winless in the Big East tournament. (DePaul’s only Big East tournament win came the year they didn’t win any conference games during the regular season.)
Before the end of the game Rutger’s Wally Judge makes it to 9 for 9 from the floor which ties a Big East tournament record for most made baskets in a game without a miss.
Wednesday Session 1
BE 8 Providence vs 9 Cincinnati
Does anything beat afternoon basketball?
Early in the game Mike Patrick noted Cincinnati’s offensive swoon in February. “Cincinnati’s uniforms are camouflaged, but its Cincinnati’s offense that has been wearing camouflage lately.”
There is no question Cincinnati has been playing worse lately, but I am again going to question the wisdom of the shooting split they show. Cincinnati shot 42% from the field in the first 22 games of the season and 35% in the last 9 games. Yes, but that’s true for 95% of the major conference teams. The early season includes some cupcakes that inflate everyone’s shooting percentages. Please only show the split for Big East games. It might only be 39% vs 35%, but it would be more informative.
Cincinnati takes a 26-8 lead before Providence storms back to make it 31-27. This is the story of both team’s seasons. Cincinnati was dominate early and struggled late, and Providence surged late, but Cincinnati is still the better team. And down the stretch the Bearcats put it away.
Wednesday Session 2
BE 5 Syracuse vs 12 Seton Hall, MWC 3 UNLV vs 6 Air Force, P12 9 Arizona St. vs 8 Stanford
Incredible shooting to start the Syracuse vs Seton Hall game. Seton Hall starts out 6 of 8 from three point range and Syracuse starts out 5 of 7 from three point range.
At one point they pan to the stands and show all sorts of Syracuse alumni. They show a very sharply dressed Pearl Washington, John Wallace, and Derrick Coleman. Then they show Harvey Grant. Hey wait, he’s not a Syracuse alum. He played for Oklahoma and Clemson. But his son Jerami Grant is playing in the game, so I guess we will let that slide.
Out to Vegas: Air Force vs UNLV is a very intriguing game on paper. Despite a number of losses, Air Force has 4 Top 50 wins and might be able to make it into the bubble conversation with a MWC tournament run. 2 minutes into the game, the MWC’s leading scorer, Air Force guard Michael Lyons injures his knee. This game just got a lot less interesting.
Back to MSG: Jokes about players impaling themselves on the hologram Big East graphic are trending on Twitter.
Despite a tie score at half-time, Syracuse starts to pull away in the second half. I have to hand it to Seton Hall graduate student (and Iona transfer) Kyle Smyth though – he is fighting like crazy. Not only did Smyth hit three 3’s to open the game, he draws a tough charge on CJ Fair in the paint. You can tell Smyth doesn’t want his career to end.
But you can also tell Syracuse is gaining confidence. The zone defense is getting better. What people don’t understand is that zone defense actually takes more energy than man-to-man defense if you want to play it well. And with Syracuse lacking confidence in recent games, it has been hurting their energy level. But the offensive outburst today seems to be making the Orange’s defense better. Syracuse eventually puts the game away.
Back in Vegas, the game is a laugher, but Doug Gottlieb and Steve Lappas make up for it with fantastic commentary. They spend much of the game dissecting Anthony Bennett’s NBA chances. Everyone agrees he is a fabulous athlete, and his lateral quickness, leaping ability, strength, and shooting touch at 6’7” should make him a solid NBA player. But he might not be a lottery pick because of his size. He needs to play a power forward spot in the pros, and 6’7” might not be tall enough.
Lappas asks whether Bennett spends too much time on the perimeter. I disagree. He’s shooting 37% on his threes and attempts only 2.6 perimeter shots per game. This isn’t a case of Baylor’s elite post players falling in love with jump shots.
Gottlieb questions his motor. Bennett has to be pulled from the game because he is out of breath. Gottlieb says some teams wonder if Bennett might have an asthma issue.
Lappas and Gottlieb also agree that Bennett is far too erratic. That might be true, but for such a young player, NBA teams will be drafting him based on potential, not production. And his production is still pretty darn good.
At some point Air Force’s Taylor Broekhuis gets hurt too. A graphic shows that Lyons and Broekhuis are out of the game. Gottlieb, “So Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, how did you like the play?”
I’d love to tell you what is happening in the Stanford vs Arizona St. game since both those teams are good enough to make a Pac-12 tournament run, and need to make a Pac-12 tournament run to have any NCAA tournament hope. But basically every cable company on the East Coast doesn’t carry the Pac-12 Network yet. Arizona St. wins in OT. Grr, that looks fun.
UNLV and Air Force isn’t nearly that close. At least we still have Lappas and Gottlieb. The announcers are talking about Air Force’s win over New Mexico last Saturday. Lappas, “Both teams made 15 threes in that game. Have you ever seen a game where a team made 15 threes and lost?” Gottlieb mentions the Norfolk St. vs Missouri game from the NCAA tournament last year. Hey great memory Doug, but I just looked it up. Missouri only made 13 threes in that loss.
Wednesday Session 3
MWC 7 Fresno St. vs 2 Colorado St., P12 12 Oregon St. vs 5 Colorado
CBS Sports Network has a great video intro for these MWC Tournament games using the song “Hall of Fame” by the Script. You cannot argue with the production values.
35 seconds into the game we see 5 players diving full out for the ball. This is college basketball.
The highlight may have come late in the second half when Fresno St.’s Kevin Foster fouled out. Foster was called for a charge after running into 3 Colorado St. defenders. But he only knocked 2 of the 3 of them over. Lappas, “He got his money’s worth. Wow, how can he be complaining about that call, he ran over 3 guys?” Gottlieb, “He only knocked 2 of them over, it’s a spare.”
Gottlieb also nailed the punchline of this game. “People are going to look at the box score and see that Colorado St. struggled against Fresno St. and think that they played poorly. But Dorian Green sat out with an ankle injury, Colton Iverson and Greg Smith had foul trouble, and this was actually a very gritty win.”
Meanwhile, across town Colorado’s Andre Roberson scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Roberson had missed the previous two games due to an illness but he was back in form in the win against Oregon St.
Wednesday Session 4
BE 7 Villanova vs 10 St. John’s, Big 12 8 West Virginia vs 9 Texas Tech, SEC 12 South Carolina vs 13 Mississippi St.
I am now watching three games at once on my computer using Watch ESPN.
Texas Tech somehow takes an early 14 point lead on West Virginia. Meanwhile Mississippi St. takes the lead on South Carolina. Since Texas Tech and Mississippi St. are avert-your-eyes horrible teams, I’m wondering whether Frank Martin or Bob Huggins has a bigger scowl on his face.
Back to MSG: You may be asking how St. John’s Chris Obekpa can score so few points. He is one of the top shot-blockers and you would think his athleticism would translate into a few more scoring opportunities. But with 7 minutes left in the first half Obekpa gets an open dunk under the basket and completely blows it. To say his offensive game is not polished is the understatement of the century.
St. John’s uses a lot of full court pressure, but Villanova mostly handles it, and eventually Villanova pulls away. I think Villanova was in the NCAA tournament even with a loss, but they are in for sure now.
Late in the game Jay Bilas mentions that St. John’s assistant Gene Keady still doesn’t know who he is. Keady referred to him as Bye-Las. I feel very bad for Gene Keady these days. His stint on the Big Ten Network was horrible, and he always looks old to me on Lavin’s bench. His comb-over is long gone now and seeing him just makes me sad.
West Virginia takes a late 2 point lead on Texas Tech and the announcer makes the most depressing pronouncement you can: “Texas Tech has played about as well as they can.” Uggh, if you play as well as you can and you are still losing to a team with a losing conference record, that’s not good.
But apparently Texas Tech can play a little better. They take a 1 point lead and have the ball with 45 seconds left. Unfortunately, not only do they miss a shot that would extend the lead, they foul on the rebound attempt. West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli pretends that Aaric Murray was the one who was fouled, but the refs are having none of it. I’m not feeling very confident in Kilicli’s free throw shooting after that move. And logically he only makes one of his two free throws.
Tie game, Texas Tech has the ball with a chance to win. And much like USF last night, they shoot early enough that they get three looks for the win in regulation. Unlike USF, the third shot, a put-back lay-up goes in with 0.4 seconds on the clock. Texas Tech wins!
Elsewhere, after cutting the lead to 4 points with 4 minutes left, South Carolina bows out with a whimper in their 12/13 game. Losing to Mississippi St. is about as embarrassing as it gets at this point considering that Mississippi St. only has 6 healthy scholarship players.
Wednesday Session 5
Pac12 7 USC vs 10 Utah, MWC 1 New Mexico vs 8 Wyoming, B12 7 Texas vs 10 TCU, BE 6 Notre Dame vs 11 Rutgers, SEC 11 Texas A&M vs 14 Auburn
Hmm, after 11 hours of action, nothing seems all that amusing anymore. Doug Gottlieb and Steve Lappas are arguing over who should be the MWC player of the year for the 3rd time today. For the second straight day, Sean McDonough tells the story about how Rutgers coach Mike Rice is a nicer person since his University-imposed suspension. And during the Texas game, they are debating whether the Longhorn’s loss to Chaminade in the Maui invitational should count for NIT consideration. The last two days haven’t exactly featured the best teams, but up until now, I’ve been able to ignore that. This commentary just drives it home.
It hurts that the only close game (USC vs Utah) isn’t on TV. I momentarily perk up when New Mexico goes 12 minutes without scoring a field goal, but the Lobos defense is so good, they still lead by 5. What is the record for shot-clock violations in one game? It feels like Wyoming is looking for that record.
Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M prevail in uninspired fashion.
Wednesday Session 6
MWC 5 Boise St. vs 4 San Diego St., Pac-12 11 Washington St. vs 6 Washington
And the day ends with a pair of dramatic comebacks. Washington leads by 62-47 with 8 minutes left, but Washington St. somehow scores 15 straight points to tie it up. And then Washington (thanks to a Desmonds Simmons bucket) wins the game anyway.
Meanwhile, San Diego St. is playing fantastic defense and Boise St. looks completely out-of-sync. But then San Diego St. makes a series of lackadaisical unforced turnovers on offense, and suddenly Boise St. is getting some easy transition baskets. San Diego St. is up 13, but a 14-0 run gives Boise St. the lead. Eventually San Diego St. gets enough stops to win it. Boise St.’s Derrick Marks ends the day a dreadful 4 of 21 from the floor. I still say Boise St. is in the NCAA tournament field, but it will be close.
Time for some sleep. Thursday remains the most under-rated day of college basketball on the entire calendar. If you love high profile teams playing win-or-go-home basketball, 7 of the top 8 conferences are in action with 56 major conference teams playing 28 games. That is the most marquee games of any day the rest of the season. If you like speculation, virtually every at-large bubble team will be in action. Bottom line: Thursday is going to be great.