You Can’t Make this Stuff Up

- During warmups for Saturday’s game at Georgetown, Villanova’s Jayvaughn Pinkston had his foot come down on a basketball causing him to twist his ankle. Pinkston has been on fire for Villanova, scoring 24 points in last weekend’s OT loss to Notre Dame. But this is the season where nothing goes right for the Wildcats, and his fluke injury was just the latest thing to contribute to a loss.

- After a dramatic win at West Virginia, Buzz Williams heard the West Virginia country music playing on the speakers and broke into a dance. The student section took it the wrong way and several fans had to be restrained by security. Williams apologized after the incident, but it was fairly obvious he just got caught up in the moment. Fortunately for Buzz, he may never have to play in Morgantown again since West Virginia is leaving the Big East.

- With Old Dominion trailing CAA leader Drexel by three points, ODU senior Kent Bazemore leaned into a Drexel defender and earned three free throw attempts with just 0.7 seconds on the clock. Bazemore made the first and second free throw, and then missed the third. It was perhaps the worst ending to senior day anyone could imagine.

- In a tie-game and the shot-clock running down in OT, Rutgers guard Jerome Seagers fell down under the basket. His defender saw him on the ground and went to help stop a driving Dane Miller. But Seagers got back up, ran to the corner, and hit the game-winning three.

- Playing against arch-rival Washington, Washington St.’s Abe Lodwick fouled out. WSU’s Patrick Simon entered the game with his team down two points and 30 seconds left in the game. Despite not having played a minute in the game, Simon happily took a corner three. The shot was an airball. And in the final seconds Simon took another three which rimmed-off. Um, if you haven’t played the whole game, maybe you shouldn’t take that shot. There might be a reason the other team is leaving you wide open with time running down. Washington’s win combined with California’s loss at Colorado gives the Huskies a half-game lead in the Pac-12.

Other Thoughts

- Virginia’s Mike Scott has been a popular ACC Player-of-the-Year candidate among the tempo free crowd. He has put up impressive numbers despite Virginia’s slow pace. But after he had a foul prone, 6 point performance (including some questionable shot-selection) in a loss to North Carolina, I think the popular vote is going to give the award to North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller. Virginia desperately needs Assane Sene to get healthy and get back in the middle if the Cavaliers have any hope of making some noise in the NCAA tournament. Scott is great, but he can’t defend the paint by himself and be the team’s leading scorer.

- Ohio St.’s Jared Sullinger also probably ended his Big Ten Player-of-the-Year chances in Sunday’s home loss to Wisconsin. More than Sullinger’s disappointing eight-point offensive outburst, the big disappointment was his defense in Sunday’s game. Sullinger twice lost Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren in the final minutes, letting Berggren get a wide open lay-up and the game-deciding three. It would be hard not to pick Draymond Green for the Big Ten POY award, but Cody Zeller deserves strong consideration for almost single-handedly transforming Indiana from a Big Ten cellar dweller to an elite team.

- What does it mean that Miami (FL) beat Florida St. on Sunday with Reggie Johnson suspended?  Part of the argument for putting the Hurricanes in the field was that they have played better since Johnson returned. Is the argument now that Miami is simply good enough on the merits?

- Buzz Williams suspended four players for half of Friday’s game for an undisclosed rules violation.  Marquette trailed by double digits at halftime but came back to win by a single point.  I think it is fair to say the half-game suspension was not a moment too long.

- Syracuse’s CJ Fair blocked a shot from Connecticut’s Roscoe Smith in the final seconds to seal a two point victory. But I thought the deciding play happened a few minutes earlier. After Connecticut had tied the game with 4 minutes left, UConn had a chance to take the lead and Shabazz Napier took a very questionable deep three. I realize the shot-clock was running down, but Connecticut’s comeback was driven largely by players taking the ball to the basket, and Napier’s shot seemed to ruin the momentum. UConn seems so much better with the ball in freshmen Ryan Boatright’s hands in pressure situations, rather than Napier.

- John Shurna made two free throw in the final seconds as Northwestern beat Penn St. As I noted earlier this year, beating Penn St. probably does not seem that impressive, but in recent history Penn St. has owned the Wildcats, and this went a long way towards keeping Northwestern’s NCAA hopes alive. In past seasons, Northwestern has always lost this type of game.

- Winning 46-45 may be ugly, but for a South Florida team that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in almost 20 years, Sunday’s win over Cincinnati had to be satisfying. After the game Stan Heath and Mick Cronin looked at each other as if to say “Good luck getting in!” The problem for Cincinnati is their poor non-conference strength-of-schedule. Every year the committee likes to make an example of someone and Cincinnati has to win some more games to avoid being that example. South Florida has a horrible non-conference resume, but I think people are down-grading them too much. USF had key players missing in virtually every non-conference game this year, and they deserve to be evaluated based on what they have done in the Big East.

- “How many passes was that?” Those words were uttered by Shon Morris on Sunday after Illinois’ DJ Richardson hit a shot-clock beating jumper.  Through the wonder of the DVR, I can tell you the answer is 14 passes. During Bruce Weber’s 2005 Final Four run that kind of passing was common (and a sequence against Northwestern made the 2005 highlight reel.) In 2012 the amazing thing is that Illinois could pass the ball 14 times without turning it over. Illinois ended a six-game losing streak with Sunday’s win over Iowa.

- I need to stop raving about Georgia freshmen Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope, but every time I turn on a game, he is making big plays. Caldwell-Pope has solid efficiency numbers despite taking 28% of the shots on a bad team, gets a ton of steals, and never turns the ball over. His three-point shot is plenty streaky right now, but as he showed in the upset of Florida, he can dominate even without knocking down perimeter jumpers.

- “Justin Westley shows us again why he is a 50% free throw shooter.” This line isn’t that funny, but there is something about the way Verne Lundquist delivered it that made me smile.

- Just when New Mexico had proven the margin-of-victory stats correct by taking a two game lead in the Mountain West Conference, they lost their second game in a row. There is now a three way-tie atop the MWC between UNLV, San Diego St., and New Mexico.

- Penn won at Harvard on Saturday and now both are tied in the loss column in the Ivy league. This may be the best Harvard team of all-time, but Harvard’s path to the NCAA tournament is not certain. If both teams win out (which would require Penn winning at Princeton), we could have a one-game playoff for the league’s automatic bid.

First Set of Printable Brackets

Conference Tournaments begin this week for many of the mid-major conferences.  Here are a few to keep an eye on:

MVC Tournament Printable Bracket, March 1-4

Unbelievably, the 10-team league ended up with a 5-way tie for third place. And this was a critical tie-breaker, as four of the five teams would get a bye in the MVC tournament and one would not. The Drake Bulldogs lost the tie-breaker and will have to play on Thursday. Here is the insane tie-breaker courtesy of the MVC’s website, and yes it actually came down to non-conference strength-of-schedule NCSS:

#3 Evansville 9-9 (5-3 in round robin; 1-1 vs. ILS), wins NCSS (UE is 171 in today’s RPI Report)
#4 Illinois State 9-9 (5-3 in round robin; 1-1 vs. UE), loses NCSS (ILS is 288 in today’s RPI Report)
#5 UNI 9-9 (4-4 in round robin)
#6 Missouri State 9-9 (3-5 in round robin, 2-0 vs. DU)
#7 Drake 9-9 (3-5 in round robin, 0-2 vs. MSU)

It was almost a six-way tie, but Indiana St. lost to Creighton by a single point on Saturday.  Fans of bubble teams should cheer for Creighton or Wichita St. to win the tournament. If someone else wins, the MVC could become a 3-bid league.

OVC Tournament Printable Bracket, Feb 29-Mar 3

The OVC has one of those staggered brackets designed to get Murray St. into the Big Dance without another loss.

WCC Tournament Printable Bracket, Feb 29-Mar 3, Mar 5

Of the first weekend of championship week, this is probably the most interesting tournament.  St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU are all good enough to make noise in March, but I’m not sure BYU should feel safe about its NCAA chances.  Also, don’t sleep on fourth seed Loyola Marymount. LMU has already won on the road at St. Mary’s and BYU.

Horizon League Tournament (No printable bracket currently, but see left side of page) Feb 28, Mar 2-3, Mar 6

Another form of staggered bracket, but this time it will not benefit Butler. Without the benefit of the double bye, Butler will need an impressive run to return to the NCAA tournament.

CAA Tournament Printable Bracket, March 2-5

Drexel and VCU are probably worthy of at-large consideration, but the CAA did so poorly in the non-conference season, I will be surprised if the CAA gets an at-large bid this year.

A-Sun Tournament Printable Bracket, Feb 29-Mar 3

I am doubtful any of the following conferences will earn an at-large bid.  It could happen, but instead I would say:  Cheer for Belmont if you love to see upsets in the NCAA tournament.

Summit League Tournament, Mar 3-6

Cheer for Oral Roberts if you love to see upsets too.

Southern Conference Tournament, March 2-5

Cheer for Davidson. Even though there is no Stephen Curry on this team, they did beat Kansas.

Sun Belt Tournament Printable Bracket, Mar 3-6

Cheer for Middle Tennessee because they crushed UCLA, (although they aren’t the only dangerous team in this league.)

MAAC Tournament, March 2-5

And cheer for Iona if you want to see Scott Machado and his nation leading assist totals.

Why The Regular Season is Brilliant

For everyone that attacks college basketball’s regular season, there are several reasons it is superior to the pro sports:

- There is never an incentive to tank games. For bad teams losing doesn’t lead to draft picks, winning leads recruits to believe the program is headed in the right direction.

- Furthermore, players always give a ton of effort at the end of the season. The best players are often seniors playing their final games, and they leave everything on the floor.

- Nothing is ever clinched. Kentucky can never clinch homecourt advantage and sit its starters. The Wildcats will face some uncertainty about receiving the #1 overall seed in the tournament until the last day, and they know they have to keep winning. And for everyone else there is even more uncertainty about where they will be seeded.

And Saturday at 4pm represented everything that is wonderful about college basketball’s regular season. Kansas and Missouri dueled in OT, with the winner likely receiving a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Texas and Texas Tech went to OT, with Texas knowing that a loss would likely end their NCAA dreams. Over the next 14 days, we’ll have games like these going on simultaneously across the country, and that’s what makes college basketball so brilliant.

Most people probably missed the Texas game because of the marquee Big 12 battle, but it was a comedy of errors down the stretch. With Texas up 2 with 20 seconds left, Texas’ Jonathon Holmes tripped and lost the ball out of bounds.  That allowed Texas Tech to tie the game. And then with Texas looking for a game-winning shot to go to OT, Longhorn Julien Lewis turned the ball over too. Not to be outdone, Texas Tech had some turnovers in OT.  With time running down and the game tied in OT, Tech’s Terran Pettway made a poor pass which led to a Texas lay-up.  And then on the ensuing inbounds Pettway was called for a travel which essentially sealed the win for the Longhorns. All of the players mentioned are freshmen, and I guess you can say that freshmen struggle in pressure situations.

Meanwhile, for the second time this season, Kansas vs Missouri lived up to the hype.  Both teams made numerous big shots, none bigger than Thomas Robinson’s bucket and one when trailing by three points in the final seconds. Kansas came back from 19 down to win and even the normally calm Bill Self screamed out an emphatic “Yeah!” after the one point victory.  My only complaint about the game is that foul trouble kept some of the better players on the bench for long stretches.  Would Kansas have really been down double digits at halftime if Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson were allowed to finish the half?  Would Missouri have really blown the big lead if they had been able to keep their top player on the court?  Perhaps we will get a third match-up in two weeks where we can find out.