Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

A Closer Look at Luke Maye: North Carolina’s Hero

One name: Luke Maye.

This isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about North Carolina basketball. However, it has been for the past 48 hours. Maye made the game-winning shot to send UNC to the Final Four, while simultaneously ending Kentucky’s season.

If you missed the last shot, you can watch it here. It’s well worth watching.

A quick recap: Kentucky comes down the court and Malik Monk hits a 3-pointer in Maye’s face to tie the game. Then Theo Pinson gets the ball up the court for UNC and pitches it to Maye for the last-second jumper. Rarely do you see two miraculous plays back-to-back like that, but it happened on Sunday.

There is normally discussion about Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks or Justin Jackson when talking about UNC. The avid watcher might recognize Kenny Williams or Theo Pinson as well, but not Luke Maye.

Maye madness

Luke Maye isn’t your standout player. The sophomore averaged four rebounds and 1.2 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season. He averaged 5.6 minutes per game as a freshman.

He might be average at the Division I level. However, he joined Christian Laettner and Scottie Reynolds on Sunday as the only players since 1985 to hit a game-winning shot to get into the Final Four. The kid even got a standing ovation at his 8 a.m. class on Monday.

Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

Luke Maye shoots the game-winner for the Tar Heels on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Comeback)

His best game prior to the tournament was against NC State on Feb 15 when he scored 13 points and made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor. In other words, he hasn’t been consistently “killing it” for the Tar Heels.

However, he has picked the right games to show up for. Maye had a season high of 16 points against Butler and a new season high of 17 against Kentucky.

He might seem like the most unexpected player to win it for the Tar Heels, but Coach Roy Williams had him in for a reason. He shoots 41 percent from 3-point land (the highest on the team). He has only attempted 39 on the season, but he has made those count. He also shoots the fourth highest field goal percentage on the team.

It’s no accident he was on the court. It also isn’t a miracle he made the shot. Nonetheless, he is still a hero.

the tar heels are right where they need to be

As a team, this moment is everything that North Carolina has been working for. Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer to tie the championship game last year, only for Kris Jenkins to come down and hit a buzzer beater to win it all for Villanova.

The Tar Heels are simply good at what they do. The are ranked first in rebounds per game (they pull down 43.7 per game). They also average 85 points per game (ninth overall) and dish out 18.2 assists per game (ranked third in Division I).

Roy Williams is confident in his team because they have the experience and the talent. This is their 20th Final Four, and they have all the reason to fight.

Isaiah Hicks was asked about their loss to Villanova last season, and he said: “We [were] four seconds away from that. Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you, that’s all the motivation you need. Of course nobody likes to lose, but that one, when you’re right there, all of us, we just need that second chance.”

Hicks and the rest of his teammates want that second chance. At this point, it is in their hands. Only Oregon stands in their way. The guys are playing some quality basketball and unexpected players like Luke Maye are peaking at the right time.

Catch all the action on April 1, 2017 at 8:49 PM ET on CBS.

 

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NCAA Tournament: Is South Carolina Winning a Fluke?

Is it a Fluke that South Carolina is Still Dancing?

Everyone is wondering how South Carolina made it to the Sweet 16. In fact, only five percent of brackets had them making it this far, and 2.1 percent of those people picked the Baylor-South Carolina matchup. Not many people expected them to get here. Honestly, this small percentage could just be loyal fans that picked them out of obligation.

In the first round, the Gamecocks defeated Marquette 93-73. In the second round they took care of Duke with a seven-point margin, beating the Blue Devils 88-81. Here are three reasons why it is not a fluke and how they’ll match up with Baylor.

1. Coach Frank Martin has done his Homework

Following the win on Sunday night Coach Frank Martin said he was impressed by his team’s fortitude.

“I am unbelievably proud of my guys and they have become mentally-tough as mentally-tough can be,” Martin said.

This team and their recent wins aren’t a byproduct of luck.

Coach Martin has put in his time. His philosophies on offense and defense have been developed over time. They were implemented at Kansas State University where he was Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2010 and have now carried over to South Carolina.

He preaches an early offense attack. This means that in order to have success in scoring, you have to run and run all the time, not just when you are up.

The other benefit of having a high-energy pace all the time, is that the defense has to foul in order to slow it down. As a result, the Gamecocks have shot 799 free throws this season and made 556 of them.

When asked about his defense, he commented on modeling it after past, legendary Duke teams. He knows that defense leads to his fast-paced offense. He stresses not letting the opposing team set up plays, because then you are already beat. Make the other team work for their points.

2. they are peaking at the right time

The Gamecocks finished off the regular season with back-to-back losses to Ole Miss and Alabama. They also went 4-6 on the last 10 games of the season. Now they are playing some of the best basketball that fans have seen all season.

Despite being down in the first half against Duke, the team rallied to score 65 points in the second half. South Carolina out rebounded the Blue Devils 37-34 and had 10 more shots overall. Duke turned over the ball 18 times while the Gamecocks limited themselves to 11 turnovers.

NCAA Tournament: Is South Carolina Winning a fluke?

P.J. Dozier brings the ball up the court for South Carolina (WLTX.com)

South Carolina wants it more. That was evident in their second half effort against Duke. Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Duane Notice also scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half. P.J. Dozier has also been giving good production for the Gamecocks and freshman Maik Kotsar struggled with Duke but added seven points against Marquette.

The Gamecocks are in fact playing some of the best defense in the country. As many coaches say, “defense propels the offensive end of the floor.”

Sindarius Thornwell has made this obvious as he scored 24 points in the second round against Duke while pulling down six rebounds. It’s the same story for Marquette as he scored 29 points while grabbing 11 rebounds and getting three steals.

If South Carolina can keep up the defensive prowess, than there isn’t any reason they can’t move on past Baylor.

3. Possible Home Court advantage

Anyone who says home-court advantage isn’t a factor, probably hasn’t played in a true home environment. Madison Square Garden is closer to South Carolina than Baylor and fan base is everything in a big game.

Let’s go back to Duke for example. The second round game was played in Greenville, South Carolina roughly two hours from the Gamecocks’ campus. In other words, it was practically a home game and that environment definitely didn’t help Duke.

South Carolina fans have every reason to be at this game. The program isn’t exactly known for its tournament history. Two years ago they didn’t make it to the NIT and last year they lost in the second round of the NIT. Coming into the weekend, South Carolina had not won a NCAA tournament game in 44 years.

Needless to say, South Carolina should have some serious backing in New York.

baylor matchup

Unfortunately South Carolina is a young team, as they have a lot of freshman. The past two games have proved that they can play on the big stage, but will the success continue for another game?

The Gamecocks have in fact taken it upon themselves to keep winning. Coach Martin told his players, “We are not responsible for the drought but we are responsible for this moment.”

His players can be the ones to keep making history.

This is compared to a Baylor team who has been in the spotlight all year long, and rightfully so. They have some very impressive guys but they have also had some scoring droughts.

Jake Trotter commented, “Superior talent allowed them to overcome such dry spells in their first two tournament games, but that won’t be easy moving forward.”

NCAA Tournament: Is South Carolina winning a fluke?

Johnathan Motley finishes a dunk for Baylor (Photo courtesy of Houston Chronicle)

Baylor’s lengthy zone can be intimidating and the combination of Johnathan Motley, Manu Lecomte and Jo-Laul Acuil Jr. is also reason for fear. However, South Carolina isn’t necessarily the underdog.

If Baylor can establish a good inside game to pair with their three-point shooting, they will be hard to stop. On the other hand, if Thornwell can have another game for himself with some help then South Carolina is equally as deadly.

Make sure you are watching 7:29pm ET on TBS to see all the action.

 

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NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Tournament Time: Who You Should Cheer For

As Dick Vitale would say, “It’s tournament time baby!” I don’t know who is more excited, the fans or the players. Even if your team didn’t make it to the dance, there is still a lot to cheer for.

I know the term bandwagon fan carries a lot of negative connotation, however for bragging rights, you want to be cheering for the right teams. Now fair warning, these might not be the teams that have the best statistics or record. Half of the battle is figuring out how the bracket is set up, which has a large impact on how teams do rather if it is admitted or not. Here are the teams to root for if yours didn’t make the cut.

The underdog: Middle Tennessee State

The beauty of tournament time is that anyone can win on any given day. Pay attention to the season statistics but also expect the unexpected when the final buzzer sounds.

Middle Tennessee State is that Cinderella team that could get out of the first round and surprise us all. The Blue Raiders are 20-1 in its last 21 games and they only have three underclassmen. So if they want it to happen, this is the year to do it.

Their team is ranked in the top 50 for overall defensive efficiency. All four of their losses this season have been relatively close and they only allow 63.3 points per game (ranked 21st). Let’s not forget MTSU beat Michigan State last year and could very well do the same to Minnesota.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Root For

Giddy Potts of Middle Tennessee State (DNJ.com)

Giddy Potts is leading the charge for his talented squad. Potts is averaging 15.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. What makes him special is his work effort and ability to score at all three levels consistently.

He was named MVP for their conference tournament after putting up 30 points against Marshall. Potts is the guy who will hit contested threes, but burn his opponent with a quick first step if they close out too hard.

Potts may be getting buckets, but he isn’t out on an island. He has the help of JaCorey Williams who is shooting 54.1 percent from the field right now.

Reggie Upshaw and Tyrik Dixon are also contributing large minutes and statistics for the Blue Raiders.

After beating Minnesota, the Blue Raiders will take on either Butler or Winthrop. Butler is a good tournament team and known for upsets in the past, but Middle Tennessee State has proven to be a tough team.

Keep an eye on notre dame

The Irish have proven to be a wholesome team over the duration of this season. They are coming off a close loss to Duke which should propel them throughout the tournament.

The key to success for Notre Dame is sharing the ball. They are 37th in the nation for assists, averaging 16 per game. They have strength at all positions and when they share the ball, they can’t be stopped.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame (Photo Credit to Zimbio.com)

If Bonzie Colson is having a game for himself, Notre Dame is just as good as any team in nation. Duke may have won the ACC tournament but Colson put up 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds in a stellar performance.

Colson isn’t putting on a one man show though. Matt Ferrell is a special point guard dishing out 5.5 assists per game and shooting 41.3 percent from behind the arc.

The Irish are killer from behind the arc because of Ferrell and a few other key players. Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem are shooting over 36 percent from three-point range. This will be tough to guard for their opponents.

The Irish often are over looked when it comes to tournament time. Last year they made it to the Elite 8 and lost to UNC. This year they have a better record coming out of regular season play and more experience.

Arizona deserves a lot more respect than they’re getting

All of the talk regarding the PAC-12 has been about UCLA mostly because of Lonzo Ball and his father’s interesting comments. Most recently LaVar Ball said he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan in his hay day and his son is better than Steph Curry. One could see why the press would jump on that. UCLA is also ranked 78th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to pre tourney data (kenpom.com) which is a weakness for sure.

However the real team to watch from the PAC-12 is Arizona. They just won the conference tournament, and beat Oregon and UCLA to do so. They likely won’t see any true competition until the Sweet Sixteen if they play to the best of their ability.

Right now it’s the combination of Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier that are making offense flow for the Wildcats. Markkanen is a freshman with the skills to play inside and out. Trier is basically doing it all from scoring and rebounding to distributing the ball. Both guys are shooting over 40% from behind the arc.

The team itself is highly efficient from three point and on offense in general. Their top five player of Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, Rawie Alkins, Dusan Ristic and Kadeem Allen are all shooting over 37% from three-point land. They are also all over 44% from the field. Not only that, they also allow only 65.4 points per game on the defensive end.

The west is a tough region but the Wildcats have the personnel to do some damage.

Iowa state could go far in the midwest

Lots of people are saying that Kansas has a cake walk to the National Championship game. Everyone seems to forget that Iowa State has gone 10-2 in its last 12 games including a road win against Kansas.

They beat Miami early on in the regular season. They only lost to Baylor by two early on, then beat them by three in late February. The Cyclones also beat Kansas in overtime in early February as previously mentioned. To sum up, they have the heart and the gumption to beat some high caliber competition.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Monte Morris flexes on the baseline after a big play (Photo Credits to YouTube)

The team itself is comprised of a bunch of guys who put up good numbers. They aren’t anything out of the ordinary, they just get the job done. Monte Morris leads the team with 16.3 points per game but the next few guys are all putting up anywhere from 12-16 points on average.

After a win over Nevada, they will likely see a very good Purdue team.

When it comes down to it, all the statistics in the world can only tell so much. March is the month of madness for a reason.

 

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Baylor and Kansas State: The Game You Need to Watch this Week

It is now March 7th and for college basketball fans, it’s like Christmas Eve. Fans all across the country are so excited anticipating the NCAA tournament, but there is one game in particular that should not be over looked. Kansas State and Baylor will go head-to-head on Thursday at 9pm ET in the Big 12 quarterfinal. Don’t miss it, I’ll tell you why.

past meetings

Kansas State has given the bears trouble all season. In their first meeting, the Wildcats had a two-point lead with ten minutes to go. However Baylor outscored them 32-21 from that point on. Another key factor was Johnathan Motley fouling out with 4:34 to go in the game, which definitely worked in the Wildcats’ favor. But not enough for the Wildcats to get the win.

In their second meeting Kansas State rallied to beat the Bears by two on their home home court in Waco, TX. They played some of the best first-half basketball that their coach had seen all year. The Wildcats shot 50% from the field and only had one turnover in the first 17:37 of the game. They held control for most of the game and outscored the Bears 26-22 in the paint.

The Bears tried to make a second half effort, and outscored Kansas State 32-19 in the second half. However when you put yourselves at a 15 point deficit at halftime, it’s hard to come back from that. Johnathan Motley also missed two shots towards the end to tie it.

What the bears have going for them

Baylor has quite a few names you want to know, if you don’t know them already. First Johnathan Motley who is averaging 17.5 points per game, 10 rebounds per game and it shooting 51.7% from the field. He has put on quite a show this season in big games. Most recently against West Virginia he put up 19 of his 23 points in the second half to get a nine point victory at home.

Next is Jo Laul-Acuil Jr. who is shooting 54.9% from the field which ranks fifth in the conference. He is a 7-0 junior averaging 9.2 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. But he is more than just statistics though. The kid knows how to play. In the Bears man defense, he parks it in the middle of the paint and deters anyone from getting too close to the hoop. On the offensive end, he has a nice touch around the rim to finish off any assists from Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte is former Miami Hurricane but he is doing big things for the Bears this year. As a junior he is averaging 4 assists per game (9th in the conference) as well as contributing 12.4 points per game. He also leads the team in overall assists with 115 and the senior Ishmail Wainright has a close 99. Both Lecomte and Wainright are great when it comes to distribution of the basketball.

As a team they have a big presence in the paint. Baylor leads the Big 12 as a team with 4.9 blocks per game and Jo Laul-Acuil Jr. single-handedly leads the Big 12 with 2.6 blocks per game. Their bread and butter is relying on defensive prowess to stop teams because they only average 75 points per game.

Kansas state has the right guys

The Wildcats are not short-staffed in any form. They have the right personnel to beat the Bears, and they have proven that in the regular season.

Wesley Iwundu looks to score (photo courtesy of collegian media group)

Wesley Iwundu is leading the way statistically averaging 12.6 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. But he can’t be mentioned without talking about D.J. Johnson and Barry Brown.

These are two exceptional players that you notice right away while watching the Wildcats play. Johnson is shooting 60.9% from the field, leading the Big 12 and a senior who doesn’t want his career to be over. Most recently he scored 19 against Texas Tech to keep their hopes of the NCAA tournament alive.

Barry Brown is a 6-3 sophomore averaging 2.4 steals per game (second in the conference). He’s a crafty guy who scored 15 against Texas to pull out a big win mid-February after losing six out of seven straight.

Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes also are big factors to the Wildcats’ success, so keep an eye on them too. Stokes especially who is averaging 4.3 assists per game.

Wednesday night’s matchup

What you can take from all the statistics, is that each team has respectable numbers in their given categories. When comparing the Bears and Wildcats side by side, they are identical in team statistics.

Each team has won one in the regular season, but Kansas State really needs this win for better consideration in the tournament. Baylor also could use the win to better their chances for a higher seed.

Now putting statistics aside, this will be a good game. It’s conference tournament time and everything is amped up. Seniors don’t want to be done, and players dream of going to the ‘ship. This will not be one you want to miss.

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North Carolina Controls its own Destiny

What a week of college hoops. Duke has found its groove with a big win over Virginia. Louisville barely beat Virginia Tech. Kansas beat Baylor by just two points and Pitt took one from Florida State.

Let me remind all college basketball fans, it is only Feb. 21st. This means the best is still yet to come. Lately all eyes have been on the ACC, and rightfully so.

The ACC should stand for Always (in) Constant Conversation, instead of Atlantic Coast Conference. College basketball is constantly talking about the competition in the ACC and I am going to jump on that bandwagon. This season if any, is proving why it’s one of the toughest conferences to play in. North Carolina sits at the top, but will they still be there in a few weeks?

acc current standings

TEAM CONF OVERALL
North Carolina 11-3 23-5
Louisville 10-4 22-5
Duke 10-4 22-5
Notre Dame 10-5 21-7
Florida State 9-5 21-6
Virginia 8-6 18-8
Miami 8-6 18-8
Syracuse 8-6 16-11
Virginia Tech 7-7 18-8
Georgia Tech 6-7 15-11
Wake Forest 6-9 15-12
Pittsburgh 4-10 15-12
Clemson 4-10 14-12
NC State 3-12 14-14
Boston College 2-12 9-18

As you can see, North Carolina is in first place, by a single win. Louisville and Duke hold second place, and Florida state dropped with its loss to Pitt over the weekend.

The Tar Heels have earned their top ranking position in the conference. They have consistently bounced back after losses to Kentucky and Georgia Tech early, and more recently Miami and Duke. With Baylor’s recent loss to Kansas, there has been talk of a #1 ranking for North Carolina. The best part is that they control their own destiny from here on out.

north carolina men’s basketball has a lot going for them

Justin Jackson has been outstanding from the beginning. His junior season is nothing short of NBA material and the scouts are noticing. Back in mid-December Jackson scored 34 points in a great effort against Kentucky, despite the loss. Now it’s February and Jackson is still improving and playing better than ever.

Against Virginia this weekend he scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. Jackson was cranking threes from 30+ feet without reservation. That is the kind of production and confidence you want from a leader.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Justin Jackson gets excited about a play (newsobserver.com)

When Jackson isn’t putting on a show, it’s usually time for Joel Berry II to shine. In a nail-biter against Clemson, Berry II put up 31 points in addition to Jackson’s 18 to clinch the win. In a close win over Pitt, Jackson scored 20 and Berry II added 19. Against Florida State Berry II continuously answered runs by the Seminoles and finished with 26 points, Jackson had 22.

They are the dynamic duo leading the team, but are often lost in the spot light of duos like Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox or Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart.

If those two aren’t scoring, they are dishing the ball to Kennedy Meeks in the post or Isaiah Hicks, who are number one and two in rebounding respectively.

Theo Pinson has also been adding some nice numbers the past few games, and starting for the Tar Heels. When the bench comes in, the Tar Heels still have success. Tony Bradley and Luke Maye contribute good minutes when UNC needs it.

Needless to say, as March is fast approaching the Tar Heels are getting better and have all the right pieces.

Who stands in their way

It might seem like the Tar Heels have a cake walk through the rest of the regular season. This is far from the truth. Justin Jackson and his team still have to play Louisville Wednesday, then take on Pitt and Virginia on the road and finish up with Duke at home.

The scary part for North Carolina is they have everything to lose and their opponents are going to bring the heat. It’s not that their opponents have nothing to lose, but North Carolina definitely has a big weight on their shoulders and target on their back.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Donovan Mitchell throws down a powerful dunk for Louisville (usatoday.com)

Louisville is first up on the four-game tour. The Cardinals are relatively equal with the Tar Heels in most statistical categories. However, UNC is significantly better at sharing the ball (averaging 18.3 assists per game) which leads to 92.3 points per game, which is also higher than Louisville.

Not to mention the Tar Heels also beat Virginia and Florida State whom Louisville lost to. The best part about college basketball is any team can be beaten on any given night, and this game is no exception.

The Tar Heels have the best for last, because Duke will be waiting on a silver platter for them March 4th. This final regular season game is everything that you want in a big game. A historic rivalry, senior night and two of top teams in the ACC going head to head.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the Tar Heels still have to take care of business in February before there can be talk about March.

tournament talk for north carolina

At least Dicky V has confidence in the Tar Heels. It is clear they have the offensive weapons and have played tough teams to prepare them for March.

The Tar Heels are very highly ranked on various offensive categories. They lead Division I in points per game and field goal percentage. They are third for assists per game and number one for rebounds per game in the nation. The statistics speak for themselves, this North Carolina team controls their own destiny in their ability to perform.

We can only wait and see how they decide to play and where they will be seated after the completion of regular season games.

 

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Is Gonzaga Really the Best Team in the Nation?

Gonzaga Basketball is rolling. They are now 24-0 with their latest win over Santa Clara. That’s right, no losses. In fact, they didn’t trail for 264 minutes of play (13 halves) during this season. ESPN staff writer C.L. Brown recently put out an article describing why Gonzaga is “proving to be a team worthy of its rank” which you can read here.

In the article, he gives all the statistics as to why Gonzaga is deserving of their high seat in college basketball. Brown remarks on their versatility, balance and experience. I agree with him on those three topics. However, what happens when this team meets the competition of Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon or Villanova?

What the Zags have going for them

The Zags have many positives going for them. They are skilled, experienced and have strong statistical production from many players.

Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga Men's Basketball

Nigel Williams-Goss takes the ball to the hoop (Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times)

Nigel Williams-Goss is the real deal. He is in the top five prospective players for the Wooden award and averages 15.6 points per game. In addition to points, he is adding 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. His stats just showcase his talent for distributing the ball to teammates and being able to get into the paint and finish.

Josh Perkins is shooting 44.1 percent from behind the arc. When Willams-Goss needs a kick out, he is there to make the three. All of Gonzaga’s players that average over 20 minutes per game are also shooting over 40 percent from the field. This includes the freshman Zach Collins and senior Przemek Karnowski, who both dominate in the post.

The Zags’ senior class has made it to the NCAA tournament each year. Last year, they lost to Syracuse by three in the sweet sixteen. Josh Perkins missed a runner at the end in the final seconds before Syracuse hit two free throws to secure the win. Gonzaga lost in the Elite Eight to Duke two years ago, which was just their third loss that season.

Gonzaga also averages 85.4 points per game and only allows 61.7 points per game. Needless to say, they are efficient on both the offensive and defensive ends. The Zags defense has also held many teams to very low shooting percentages from their pressure. Mark Few takes great pride in their defensive intensity, and how they close out on shooters and guard the paint.

why they won’t go far in the tournament

Sports Analyst Eric Rothman in regards to the game against BYU said “this was probably the toughest true road game for the Zags so far this season.” ESPN analyst Adrain Branch agreed with him. The fact that BYU (a non-ranked opponent) is the toughest road game thus far speaks volumes of the competition they are playing.

Their game looks flawless because they haven’t had the best competition. In clips from games against Pepperdine and BYU, their offense looks stellar because the defense is lacking. They might be able to feed the high post in two passes, but it’s because help side is nonexistent. Someone might credit that to Karnowski or Collins’ efficiency in the post, but that is for the viewer to decide.

This is not to degrade Williams-Goss or Coach Few. However, who have they really played this season? UCLA and Kentucky are averaging over 90 points per game. UCLA also shoots 53.5 percent from the field and play teams like Oregon, Kentucky and Arizona. Gonzaga doesn’t have any teams averaging figures that are stellar compared to the rest of the country.

The Zags also have their undefeated record working against them. They have a huge target on their back. While they might have experience in the tournament, this is a new year with new people and greater stakes.

Who will hand Gonzaga their first loss?

No. 18 Saint Mary’s might be the team to end the streak. According to ESPN’s BPI, the Zags only have a 45 percent chance of beating St. Mary’s and above 90 percent for the rest of the games this season.

The Zags have had trouble with St. Mary’s in the past. Last year Gonzaga lost to them twice in two very close games. The Gaels will also be looking for sweet revenge after the 23-point loss this season to the Bulldogs. If you have ever played sports, you know just how satisfying it is to beat a team, let alone an undefeated one.

Matchup wise, Saint Mary’s is ranked second in the nation for points allowed (56.6 per game). Their defense is what propels their offense and ultimately what wins its games.

The offense is pushed by junior Jock Landale, who is averaging 16.9 points per game. He scored 22 points against Pacific in a close victory and 14 against San Diego this weekend. Joe Rahon is a senior that contributes experience and big minutes. Over his two years at Saint Mary’s, he has averaged over thirty minutes because he impacts the game in all areas. Rahon is averaging 8.8 points per game 6.0 assists per game.

Gonzaga will have their work cut out for them. Their perfect season is within reach, but will they be able to take the heat when the going gets tough? Yes, they have versatility and experience, but how will it compare to ACC and Big East teams?

 

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Let’s Talk About Duke Basketball

Duke Basketball has had its fair share of trials and tribulations this season. Their team is not operating as it has in the past. A lot of people have lost respect for certain players and Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching style. The media have grabbed onto everything that has to do with Duke Blue Devil basketball.

How have the media and other outside forces limited Coach K’s ability to coach? Also, what will the tournament look like for Duke?

Krzyzweski said it himself:

“Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”

Clearly he has not seen five acting as one. If you haven’t heard, Krzyzewski recently forbid his players from wearing Duke basketball gear and from going into their locker room. It’s not the first time he has done this.

Duke basketball has been a dynasty of sorts for a long time now. The rivalry between the Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels has historical significance. Their program recruits top-performing players every single year. The Blue Devils are a well-respected team, but this season has done a lot to tamper with their reputation.

A large part of their tattered reputation is none other than Mr. Grayson Allen. Allen is one of the most scrappy shooting guards out there. He also is one of the dirtiest. His multiple tripping incidents and suspension hurt the team in more ways than most people could’ve predicted.

It hurt the team’s ability to work as a well-oiled machine. Duke is just trying to scrape by in the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of leading it like in years past.

is the media to blame?

With all of the discussion about Krzyzewski and Allen, how can one not turn to the media? Duke is just one example of how the media is ruining college basketball. I am not one to condemn the sports networks because I love listening to Dick Vitale hand out his “diaper dandies” and Jay Bilas give insight. However, these players are under an immense amount of pressure to perform. The constant spotlight is limiting the coach’s ability to coach.

Coach Krzyzewski is quoted saying:

“That’s what I do now: I lead and I teach. If we win basketball games from doing that, then that’s great, but I lead and teach.”

I recall something that my mom always told me growing up: “There is always more to the story and you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

It is very obvious advice, but there is a lot of truth to it. As college basketball fans, we really don’t know the whole story. Analysts like Seth Greenberg find Coach Krzyzewski’s ban on players “comical.” Many other analysts don’t agree with it or see the benefit.

Let me ask you to put yourself in Coach Krzyzewski’s shoes. Your team has players acting up and is losing to teams that they shouldn’t be losing to. He is doing is best to lead and teach. In his eyes, it is more than the losses.

Coach Krzyzewski only has a small frame of time to influence his players and he is trying to correct their actions as human beings and not just basketball players. The media tend to make these issues public and much larger than they need to be. Instead of these guys being basketball players, they become celebrities.

it is also about the young men

I am well aware that college basketball is a business. The ACC alone took in $403.1 million of overall revenue last year. In 2011, the NCAA also signed a four-year television and internet contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for March Madness for $10.8 billion.

Money is the name of the game to the outsider. As a college basketball player and fan, the importance and love of the sport will always prevail. Duke men’s basketball is a team of young guys that suit up to play in large arenas. Coach Krzyzewski is also trying to mold them into men.

For some of the guys, there is very little time. They will leave to go to professional teams and make a career from their talents. I believe that Coach Krzyzewski is still focused on what he proclaimed. He is focused on developing these guys into men that will be able to handle the NBA and life as an adult.

The truth is that a handful of these players will not be wearing the Duke jersey in a couple months. They will be moving on to the NBA. These players have a limited amount of time in the college basketball sphere. Especially those players that are apart of historically respected dynasties like Duke. In this short amount of time, it is the coach’s job to influence them on an off the court.

Looking forward for duke basketball

Despite all of the controversy, the tournament is taking place in March regardless. Luke Kennard has been the glue for the team this year. Typically the freshmen are the star of the show and lack the leadership that a major ball club requires. Kennard is defiling this stereotype and ultimately leading the Blue Devils as the youngest member of the team.

This season has been a rocky road, but the team itself has many great components. Kennard put on a performance in the second half against Virginia over the weekend. He created 75 percent of the Blue Devils’ offense and put up 30 of his 34 points in the second half. He also shot 10 for 10 from the field. Not to mention the three-pointer he made with 6.6 seconds left to win the game.

Kennard isn’t the only positive force for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen might have moralistic issues, but he still leads the team in assists with 3.9 per game. Amile Jefferson is shooting 61 percent from the field and pulls down 9.3 rebounds on average. Jayson Tatum is contributing 16.1 points per game as well.

Duke might not have a true point guard, but they have the talent to go far. It’s just a question if Coach Krzyzewski can get them to work together and not take the name on the front of their jersey for granted.

Duke is ranked ninth in the ACC and 21st in the country. They also haven’t lost by great margins, besides the Florida State game. Duke was in that game until halfway through the second half when Xavier Rathan-Mayes went off for 18 out of his 21 points in the second half. The Blue Devils lost to NC State by two points, Kansas by two points, and Louisville by nine. Last night they beat Notre Dame to improve their overall resume and they can still make a great tournament run.

Nonetheless, Coach Krzyzewski needs to be left to his team. It isn’t a matter of his correctness in disciplining the team and his players. It is a matter of if his coaching techniques and teaching is actually working. These guys need to be influenced and motivated outside of the media in order to play the game effectively.

 

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Why is no one talking about Florida State basketball?

Florida State basketball has put together an impressive tournament resume. The Seminoles are 18-2 and at the top of the ACC (tied with Notre Dame and North Carolina). The last time they made an appearance in the tournament was in 2012. If you recall, Jeremy Lin made his debut with the Knicks and #Linsanity was trending. Essentially, it was a long time ago.

With all the success the Seminoles are having, let’s delve into why Florida State isn’t being talked about.

The seniors have never made it to the dance

This senior class has consistently “missed it by that much” and they have yet to partake in the tournament. In 2012, the Seminoles lost to Cincinnati in the third round. After that class graduated, there hasn’t been much excitement.

This senior class made it to the NIT their freshman and junior years. I probably should not mention their sophomore year when they neglected to go further than the regular season.

However, that has been part of their success. They have a younger team and there are only two seniors on the team: Michael Ojo and Jarquez Smith. The older two are playing an average of 13 minutes a game. The young guys are the ones putting up big numbers to lead the charge against respectable ball clubs like Duke and Louisville.

Seminoles have Young personnel

Let’s start with Dwayne Bacon. Yes, his last name is Bacon, which automatically makes him special. The sophomore is averaging 17.4 points per game for the Seminoles and a few rebounds.

If young guns are going to be mentioned, then freshman Jonathan Isaac needs to get some credit. His specialty is shooting without question. The kid is shooting 54 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from three-point land, and 82.4 percent from the free throw line. Let’s not forget he is averaging 7.8 rebounds per game and 13.3 points per game. Those are a lot of stats, and good ones for a freshman.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes leads the team with 4.7 assists per game and provides some leadership on the court. Michael Ojo also adds experience on the court and contributed 10 points in the win over Louisville this past weekend.

In addition, Terrance Mann is a crafty guard who really does it all. He is shooting 60 percent from the field and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game (second on the team). He also uses his great ball-handling skills to take players to the rim.

Deep bench

Head coach Leonard Hamilton does it differently than most Division I college basketball teams. He rotates 12 players throughout the game and utilizes his bench well.

PJ Savoy of Floria State Seminoles (Photo Courtesy of Seminoles.com)

He has four players averaging over 20 minutes a game, but pulls other players into rotation. Jarquez Smith is averaging less minutes and points per game than in past years, but contributes more than just stats. He is a senior that provides composure on the court when Coach Hamilton needs it. Braian Angola-Rodas is also coming off the bench and adding decent minutes.

Earlier this year in their win over Notre Dame, the bench came up big to beat Notre Dame by three in the final minute.

Two of the Seminoles’ starters struggled throughout the game. Terrance Mann was held scoreless and Michael Ojo added just two points (the opening dunk). Sophomore PJ Savoy scored 12 points. Overall, the bench scored 39 points (just under half of their points) in the victory.

tournament hopes and what is to come

The tournament is within reach for the Seminoles for the first time in awhile. The upperclassmen have ownership on their lack of performance in the past. The young guys are adapting well to the pace of college basketball and knocking off good teams in the process.

Florida State has notable wins, but they still have a tough schedule ahead. They are 6-1 in conference play right now, but the second time around is always tougher. Notre Dame will be looking for revenge after a close loss. Duke will also be hungry for a win after losing to the Seminoles by a margin of 16 points when Rathan-Mayes scored 21 points.

Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Miami will not be easy games either. Regardless, Florida State has set themselves up well to make a tournament appearance this year and possibly make a run. They have the young guys to make it happen if they can keep getting quality wins until March (which is still asking a lot, but manageable).

 

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The Big Ten is No Longer “Big”

Week after week there is talk about the No. 1 team in the nation (Villanova this week), the Big East, the ACC, and Grayson Allen. No one is talking about the Big Ten. There is a reason for that.

Maryland leads the conference with a 4-1 record, ranked No. 25 in the country. The Terrapins might be 16-2 overall, but they haven’t played one ranked team this year. They also have yet to play Wisconsin, Purdue or Minnesota. One might remember that Maryland is relatively new to the Big Ten Conference along with Rutgers, who is 0-6 in conference play. Minnesota has recently dropped out of the top 25 ranking after losing to Michigan State this past week. Wisconsin is sitting at No. 17 and Purdue is ranked No. 21. Neither team holds the top spot in the conference.

(Photo courtesy of impact89fm.org)

The Big Ten simply is not the hard-hitting, nitty-gritty conference that it used to be. There is not a single team that dominates. Any team could lose on any given day, which sounds like March Madness. However, it isn’t the exhilarating type of March Madness where teams are upsetting high-ranked ball clubs. It is a lot of average teams beating and losing to mediocre teams, with respect to the rest of the nation.

For a girl who grew up watching Drew Neitzel shoot threes consistently with both hands, and heard about Isiah Thomas and his two years at Indiana, it is obvious that the Big Ten isn’t what it used to be. All of the teams have at least one loss in conference play and teams are struggling to get wins on the road.

The only true press that the Big Ten is receiving currently is from select standout players in the Midseason top 25 ranking for the Wooden Award this year. Those few are Melo Trimble (Maryland), Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin), and Caleb Swanigan (Purdue). Now this article is not to denounce the Big Ten but rather to breakdown the conference and its struggles this year.

What happened to the hoosiers?

Indiana is one of those teams that could make a great tournament run, but will the Hoosiers even make it to the tournament?

The Hoosiers started off the season with a four-point victory over Kansas. Then the team proceeded to lay an egg at IPFW in its fourth game of the season. They also beat North Carolina, but lost to Butler.

If their season continues at this pace, it will be the season that “missed it by that much.” Losing has been more of a theme this year than Tom Crean ever thought possible. The Hoosiers lost to Butler by five, Nebraska by four, Wisconsin by seven and Maryland by three. They are that close.

Indiana is typically a team that gets by. The past two years they have made it to the tournament and last year they made it to the Sweet 16. They have scorers and they have a great coach. They just need to finish.

Sparty on or Sparty off?

The Spartans are sitting near the top of the conference despite losing key players Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Deyonta Davis to the draft last year.

Freshman Miles Bridges (ncaabasketball.com)

The freshmen are clicking at the perfect time. Miles Bridges is coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him for the end of the preseason and beginning of conference play. Nick Ward is contributing 6.5 rebounds per game and has been named Big Ten freshman of the week twice. Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are maturing into great role players for the Spartans, which will be key in March.

This might sound like a lot of positive conversation, but let’s not forget some key losses this season. The Spartans lost to Northeastern, Baylor, Duke, Penn State, Kentucky and Arizona. More recently, Michigan State got the job done against No. 24 ranked Minnesota, but lost to Ohio State on Sunday. This puts them at 4-2 in conference play with a tough week ahead.

Wisconsin is now the consistent leader

Wisconsin is just about the only team that has been consistently competing over the last few years. This year itself has not been stellar, yet the Badgers find themselves on a 16-game home winning streak.

The Badgers are similar to West Virginia in the way that they have multiple players averaging good numbers and are balanced in their scoring. Sophomore Ethan Happ is a 6’10” forward pulling down 9.2 rebounds per game and shooting 62.3 percent from the field. Everyone else on the team is shooting good percentages, but nothing stellar for Division I basketball.

They also only allow 60.2 points per game (ninth in the country). It is the Badgers’ defense that keeps them in games. The seniors also demand an intensity from each other and their standout sophomore Happ. Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter know what it means to get wins and make a run in the tournament. They made it to the Sweet 16 last year before losing to Notre Dame and the National Championship in 2015 (but lost to Duke). They are a good ball club, but to compare them to UCLA, Oregon, or Villanova is another story.

Purdue

The Boilermakers got a win over Wisconsin, but have losses to Iowa and Minnesota. Sophomore Caleb Swanigan is ranked first in the country in rebounds per game, pulling down 12.6 on average. This was key against Wisconsin when Swanigan had 18 points and 13 rebounds to secure the win. The let down is they turned around and took a five point loss to Iowa soon after, despite being ahead by nine at the half.

Caleb Swanigan of Purdue (News-Sentential.com)

This has been the trend for all of conference play thus far in the Big Ten. A team might come out and get a key win, but then come out flat the next game. There is no domination and as a fan, it’s been a tough year to watch so far.

The Boilermakers do have a couple things going for them. They start mostly juniors with the exception of Swanigan. Next year they will be a year smarter and more experienced, which can’t hurt. Purdue also lost to Villanova by only three points at the beginning of the season. They have hope.

 

What does this mean?

Some people might chalk it up to rebuilding years. Others might say some coaches need to make an exit. As someone who has grown up respecting Thad Matta, Matt Painter, Tom Izzo and Tom Crean, I hope the latter is not the truth.

The Big Ten will bounce back. For all my fellow Big Ten fans, there is hope and March isn’t here quite yet. The tournament will see fewer Big Ten teams this year, but no one can predict what they might do.

 

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Baylor vs. West Virginia: Best Matchup of Week 10?

Game time is at 7PM ET tonight on ESPN2 and this is not a game you’ll want to miss. However, before we can discuss the matchup between No. 1 Baylor and No. 10 West Virginia tonight, there needs to be some discussion about Villanova.

Perfect Season Out of reach for Villanova

Last week I discussed the tough week that the Wildcats would have to endure, and if they would still come out on top (Who Will Stop Villanova?). If you haven’t heard, Butler put an end to Wildcats’ perfect season.

Villanova did what was expected, as they limited Kelan Martin to 12 points. However, Andrew Chrabascz put up 13 points, and freshman Kamar Baldwin added 10 points.

But it was really the senior, Kethan Savage, that came up big for the Bulldogs. Savage (laughing at the irony of his name) scored 13 points, five of which were on a critical, late run in the second half.

The Wildcats were their own worst enemy. Mikal Bridges played 28 minutes but neglected to make a field goal, and he is averaging 9.7 points on the season. Everyone has their bad games, but Bridges shoots at 58.9% (the highest field goal percentage on the team). Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart were a combined 7-22 from the field despite Jalen Brunson going off for 23 points.

Baylor vs West Virginia

Jalen Brunson of Villanova (USA TODAY)

Villanova will still be a top contender for the national title. They defeated Marquette pretty handily with a 93-81 victory. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart were back to their point-machine selves. Jenkins added a season high 23 points, Hart chipped in 19, and Mikal Bridges had a quick turnaround from Butler. Bridges scored 15 points and the Wildcats overall shot 65.3% from the field and 60.9% from behind the arc. Yes, you read that right. Villanova shot the lights out.

Big East action continues this week, as the Wildcats take on Xavier at home and travel to St. John’s this Saturday.

Number one falls, next man up

Villanova no longer has a perfect record, but the Bears do. Baylor is one of the two unbeaten teams left in Division I college basketball. Respect, am I right?

It has not been a cake walk for the Bears. Louisville, Xavier, and Oregon are just a few of the teams that Baylor had to get past to be where they are now. They are also one of the few teams to reach the number one ranking, despite not being ranked in the preseason.

How do they do it?

Let’s talk about the junior class. Johnathan Motley, Manu Lecomte, Al Freeman, Jo Laul-Acuil Jr., Terry Maston, and Nuni Amot are all juniors. They are also the top six scorers for the Bears based on point averages. This combination of juniors allows Baylor to be as successful as they are. Without them, who knows where they would be? The best part is, it means Baylor will have this experienced class next year as seniors. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.

Baylor vs West Virginia

Johnathan Motley, a forward for Baylor University (baylorlariat.com)

Motley pulls down 9.4 rebounds per game and Lecomte can distribute the ball well (averaging 4.9 assists per game). Jo Laul-Acuil Jr. defends the paint like any 7’0” center should. He has 52 blocks this season.

It is not just about the juniors though. Senior Ishmail Wainright is a leader on the team, vocally and with experience. He also leads the team in steals, averaging 1.7 per game and 25 on the season. He has a defensive prowess that one should watch out for.

The question is: Will the Bears remain at the number one spot as they take on West Virginia this week at their place?

West virginia has what it takes

This game is very similar to the Villanova/Butler matchup this past week. Once again the top team in the nation on a large win streak is headed to scrappy team’s home court.

West Virginia is unique to most top-ranked teams in the nation. They don’t have a single standout player. They are are deep and have production from many players.

When comparing all of the statistics, Baylor and West Virginia are pretty evenly matched. Except for one category, points per game. The Mountaineers are averaging 90.1 points per game, but Baylor only averages 77.1. West Virginia is also coming off a close overtime loss to Texas Tech, which will only propel them for this game.

They also have the personnel to get the job done and fans to back them up. WVU’s Coliseum supports 14,000 people and it will be loud tonight. Coach Bob Huggins has a team that sits down and defends. Their full court pressure has bothered a lot of teams and allowed them to go on important runs in games. They have many offensive weapons including sophomore Esa Ahmad, Junior Jevon Carter, Junior Daxter Miles Jr., and senior Nathan Adrian to name a few.

In order for West Virginia to pull off the upset against the Bears, they have to come out with energy. Sounds simple, but it could be a make or break factor to the game. Once they get the lead, they can’t let the Bears hang around like they let TCU do this past week.

 

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