Unmasking contenders and pretenders of college basketball

As college basketball enters the final week of regular season play, teams on the bubble are scrambling to enhance their resumes and prove to the selection committee that they are worthy of a Tournament bid. Meanwhile, teams at the top of their respective conference are simply focused on winning out and capturing a Conference Tournament championship title.

Conference tournament week is simply a preview to the utter madness of the NCAA Tournament, but how reliable is it in showing the fans which teams are real contenders and pretenders?

Let’s look at last year for example. Heading into the Tournament, no team in the nation was as hot as Duke. The Blue Devils steamrolled their way to an ACC Conference Tournament title and were viewed as heavy favorites by fans to make a Final Four. However, Coach K’s squad bowed out of the Tournament after a shocking upset at the hands of a South Carolina team that looked dead in the water after losing its first game in the SEC Tournament against Alabama.

The moral of story is that while Conference Tournaments create a lot of headlines before the NCAA Tournament, it is not a fool proof way to understand which teams are true contenders heading into the the big dance. Let’s unmask the real contenders and pretenders of the college basketball universe as the regular season comes to a conclusion.

CONTENDER: VILLANOVA

Coach Jay Wright’s crew silenced the doubters in their 95-79 demolition of Big East rival Xavier. Xavier Coach Chris Mack assigned his best defender in Naji Marshall to shadow Jalen Brunson from start to finish. He dared other Wildcats to step up and beat them instead. The end result was the best team in the Big East flexing its offensive muscle power.

Projected lottery pick Mikal Bridges burned the Musketeer defense all night, loading the box score with 25 points on 66.67 percent shooting. Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo stepped up and showcased his ability to run the offense. DiVincenzo nearly recorded a triple double with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

While Brunson is the unquestioned star of this team, DiVincenzo’s consistent offensive production may be the X-factor for Villanova in their quest to return to the Final Four. In Villanova’s 76-71 loss to Providence, DiVincenzo struggled from the field, only connecting on 30 percent of his shots, scoring six points and turning the ball over three times.

After Phil Booth fractured his right hand earlier in the season, Wright had to force freshman Collin Gillespie into more game action earlier than he would have preferred. Gillespie’s production and efficiency have seen exceptional improvement over the past week. In Villanova’s past four games, Gillespie has averaged 9.25 points while shooting 65 percent.

If Villanova can limit turnovers, they accumulated 19 in their loss to Providence, and receive consistent scoring production from DiVincenzo and Gillespie, expect to see the Wildcats make some noise come mid-March.

PRETENDER: XAVIER

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Trevon Blueitt and Xavier have encountered a number of lucky breaks this season (Logan Bowles/USA Today Sports).

Xavier has accumulated numerous victories over quadrant one and two opponents throughout the season. However, their play has been incredibly inconsistent throughout the season as they have struggled against lower quality opponents throughout the season. In Xavier’s 96-91 overtime victory over Georgetown, the Musketeers required a four-point play with under 20 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.

Coach Chris Mack’s squad required help from the officials in their 72-71 win at Creighton. Sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin was fouled attempting a shot with 0.3 seconds remaining. There was contact on the play, but the call was questionable given the context of the play.

To add to this, KenPom ranks Xavier as the fourth luckiest team in the nation with a score of +.129.

Xavier’s offense has been synonymous of a roller coaster ride all season. The Musketeers are heavily reliant on senior forward Trevon Blueitt to provide consistent, high volume production. However, Blueitt has been prone to shooting slumps and inefficiencies. In their 72-71 victory over Creighton, Blueitt was shut down all game, only scoring six points on 33.3 percent shooting. This was a game Creighton should have won and they provided a blueprint to take down Mack’s team.

Xavier’s porous defense could prove to be their downfall come March though. In their biggest game of the season, Xavier allowed Villanova to shoot 60.3 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three point range. This stems from poor defensive close-outs and communication on switching.

CONTENDER: Texas Tech

Coach Chris Beard has Red Raider nation buzzing with optimism. Texas Tech as the opportunity to not only capture its first Big 12 regular season title in school history, but also make some noise once mid-March comes around.

Tech sports one of the most dominant defenses in the nation. Ranked third in adjusted defense by KenPom, Beard has completely altered the culture and playing style of this Red Raider team. Beard prefers to utilize a pack line defense, but also focuses on crisp player rotation and communication. This forces opponents into poor shot selection and passing decisions.

Their offense runs through star point guard Keenan Evans. Evans is averaging 18.2 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. In Tech’s 59-57 loss to Baylor, Evans was sidelined the entire second half with a toe injury. The Red Raiders’ defense kept them in the game, but they had no offensive flow at the end of the game without Evans to handle the rock. Evans is listed as day-to-day, which should be a relief for Tech fans as their match-up with Kansas is on the horizon.

Evans has the defense and the team make-up in place to take on a role similar Kemba Walker this March and lead the surprising Red Raiders to the promised land.

PRETENDER: KANSAS

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Kansas needs Devonte’ Graham to stay hot if they want to go far in March (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World).

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has moved Kansas back up to a No. 1 seed after the Jayhawks defeated West Virginia 77-69 at Allen Fieldhouse. However, Coach Bill Self’s crew required a 19-3 run to end the game to take down West Virginia. There were times during this game where Kansas did not look like they belonged on the same court as their Big 12 counterpart, as West Virginia dictated pace and dominated the offensive end of the court.

This Kansas team lacks the explosive offensive firepower that Coach Bill Self is used to having. The senior tandem of Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk lead the Jayhawks in scoring this season with 17.4 and 15.3 per game respectively. However, much of this scoring is reliant upon outside shooting, in particular the three ball. This ability allows Kansas to pick apart a zone defense, as shown by their 76-60 win over Syracuse.

However, when the three ball is not falling, the Jayhawks’ offense can fall prone to stagnation. Mykhailiuk struggles in taking defenders off the dribble, Graham is a volume scorer who only shoots at 39.8 percent and Udoka Azubuike has difficulty handling double teams down low.

If Kansas falls into a shooting slump against a team that plays strong defense, they could find themselves packing up and heading home early in March.

 

Featured image by Charles Fox/Philly Inquirer).

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

Big East Conference basketball

Big East bottom feeders show signs of life

As college basketball inches closer towards postseason play, the Big East may be the most intriguing conference in the nation. Villanova has dropped two of its last three games, allowing Xavier to increase its lead. However, two teams sitting in the cellar of the conference have put the remaining conference members on notice with their play as of late.

St. John’s, previously winless in Big East play, has won its last four games. They knocked off then-No. 4 Duke and then-No. 1 Villanova in back-to-back games before defeating Marquette and squeaking past DePaul. Coach Chris Mullin has his team flying high and playing with a high level of confidence.

Meanwhile, the Georgetown Hoyas pushed No. 4 Xavier to its limit in a crushing 96-91 overtime loss. The Hoyas failed to close out the Providence Friars in a 73-69 loss due to a controversial foul call with under five seconds to play. Coach Patrick Ewing’s squad responded with convincing victories over Seton Hall and Butler.

The recent increase of competitiveness in St. John’s and Georgetown certainly raises the parity of play in the Big East down the stretch. The race to avoid falling into the seventh seed and face the prospect of playing St. John’s in the opening round of the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden has opposing coaches nervous. Let’s examine the factors that have allowed both of these teams to secure noticeable upsets of late.

St. John’s: Dominant Guard Play

Big East Conference basketball

Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds silences Villanova. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

During the resurgence of St. John’s, sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds has been unstoppable. During the Red Storm’s four-game winning streak, Ponds has averaged 32.3 points, five assists and 2.3 steals per game.

After sophomore guard Marcus Lovett was ruled out for the season with a left knee injury, Mullin called on Ponds to carry the load even more so than before.

Ponds has always been a talented scorer off the dribble, but he has worked to involve his teammates more during this stretch. To couple this, Ponds has notched up his defensive intensity, harassing opposing guards all night.

Mullin typically rolls out a six-man rotation each game. As a result, Ponds has played all 40 minutes in every game during the Johnnies’ four-game winning streak. Fans of the Red Storm have to be slightly concerned about Ponds developing fatigue come postseason play as his playing rate is not sustainable.

Georgetown: A Big One-Two Punch

Big East Conference basketball

Junior forward Marcus Derrickson celebrates after nailing a game-winning three against Seton Hall. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

Back in November of 2017, Ewing told the media that if Georgetown was going to remain competitive come Big East play, they needed a big season from junior center Jessie Govan. Govan, while having some ups and downs in Big East play, has largely lived up to the hype. Govan has been a reliable rock in the Hoyas offense, averaging 16.7 points while shooting 50.2 percent and grabbing 10 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

However, the player who has brought Georgetown to the next level this season has not been Govan, but junior forward Marcus Derrickson. Derrickson has been the go-to player in the clutch all season, nailing two game-winning 3-pointers from NBA range against St. John’s and Seton Hall. Derrickson served as the offensive catalyst in Georgetown’s 87-83 upset at Butler, scoring 27 points while shooting 84.6 percent.

Govan and Derrickson arguably form the most formidable one-two punch on the block in the Big East. Georgetown has had difficulty in some games properly utilizing both of them as opponents have effectively doubled both big men, forcing the Hoyas into turnovers.

However, Ewing has seen more production from his guards, in particular graduate transfer Trey Dickerson, who scored 18 points off the bench against Butler. This newfound scoring threat has forced opponents off the double, allowing Derrickson and Govan to feast on single coverage.

St. John’s: Scoring by Committee

Outside of Ponds, Mullin lacks a consistent scoring option, which could prove problematic come postseason play. However, the Red Storm have survived by getting key contributions from different players night in and night out based on matchups.

In its 81-77 win over Duke, St. John’s saw senior guard Bashir Ahmed and junior forward Tariq Owens score 19 and 17 points respectively. Ponds and Owens capitalized on Duke’s porous interior defense while Ahmed shot 75 percent from 3-point range.

However, in St. John’s upset win at Villanova, Owens and Ahmed remained relatively quiet on the offensive end. Instead, sophomore guard Justin Simon poured in 16 points along with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

While effective, this playing style can be dangerous at times. In St. John’s 86-78 victory over Marquette, the Red Storm required a herculean effort from Ponds to escape with a win. Ponds accounted for more than half of their points with 44. The only other player to reach double-digit scoring for Mullin’s crew was Simon, who scored 16 again. This shows that if opponents are able to limit scoring production outside of Ponds, the Johnnies will have difficulty creating offense in the half-court.

Georgetown: The Kids are Growing Up

Looking beyond Govan and Derrickson, the key to this Hoyas team might be freshmen Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair. Pickett was Ewing’s prized recruit this past season after backing out from his commitment to Ole Miss. Early in the season, both freshmen struggled with shot selection and limiting turnovers.

As the season has progressed, both freshmen have progressively increased their level of play. Blair sparked the Hoyas offense in Georgetown’s overtime loss against Xavier, scoring 19 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. Blair only turned the ball over twice in this contest.

Pickett has become more comfortable utilizing his 6-foot-7 frame to shoot over defenders and alter shots on defense. Pickett scored 18 points and blocked two shots in Georgetown’s 83-80 win over Seton Hall.

While Ewing has seen encouraging steps of growth from both players, Blair and Pickett are still freshmen, which means that struggles will not magically disappear. Blair’s shot has seemingly been flat the past two outings, resulting in him forcing shots outside and taking contested attempts off of wild drives to the hoop.

Pickett still has difficulty taking defenders off of the dribble, which is something that Butler took advantage of. Pickett ended up turning the ball over five times in that contest.

 

Featured image by Wendell Cruz/Finish First Photos.

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

The secret to Ohio State’s stunning turnaround

Jubilation enveloped Ohio State Head Coach Chris Holtmann after his No. 14 ranked team shocked No. 3 Purdue on their home court. Behind a double-double from junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes snapped Purdue’s 19 game winning streak with a 64-63 upset victory. This upset vaulted OSU into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Purdue.

Not many pundits would have predicted that at this point in the season that the Buckeyes would have the top seed in the Big Ten tournament in their sights. Holtmann, in his first season as Head Coach of the Buckeyes, has completely altered the culture of the locker room. Let’s examine how he did it.

Comeback Kids

Ohio State has played with fire throughout Big Ten Conference play, winning four games where they have trailed by double digits. Ohio State faced a 14 point deficit with 10:17 remaining in the second half against Purdue. In the game prior versus Illinois, Holtmann’s squad dug themselves into a 15 point hole at the 10:51 mark in the first half.

Stagnant and careless ball movement tends to be the primary culprit of these slow starts. In Ohio State’s 75-67 win over Illinois, the Buckeyes committed a total of 15 turnovers with junior point guard C.J. Jackson and Bates-Diop accounting for 10 of them. In their upset over Purdue, OSU committed seven turnovers in the first half as they struggled to find their footing early.

Holtmann deserves credit for keeping his team engaged and optimistic, even when they face early or late deficits. Instead, through creative in-game adjustments, such as riding a small line-up late in the second half against Purdue, have allowed OSU to catch opponent off guard and get back into games.

Plethora of Play-makers

Jae’Sean Tate celebrates a big play (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America).

Ohio State’s success has not been a product of luck. Holtmann has been able to create both offensive and defensive schemes that bring out the best in his players. Bates-Diop has transformed into a Wooden Award candidate under Holtmann’s teaching and mentorship. Bates-Diop averages 20.2 points at 50.9 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

Standing at 6-foot-7 and 235-pounds, Bates-Diop’s versatility allows Holtmann increased line-up flexibility. Bates-Diop has a steady mid-range jumper, quick handles and the physicality to burn defenders in the post.

Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and play on the block. Tate, however, is not a volume scorer. He focuses on efficiency and making the smart basketball play. He averages 12.7 points on 54.8 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

The engine of Ohio State’s offense is C.J. Jackson. Jackson, a pass first point guard, is an all-around impressive player who can step up and help his team in a variety of ways. He averages 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, showing his overall versatility as a player.

Heart of a Fighter

Ohio State had no business winning at Purdue. They were without senior Kam Williams who has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. Kaleb Wesson found himself in foul trouble early and only saw 12 minutes of action. Purdue was riding a 19 game winning streak and appeared unbeatable and destined for the number one seed in the Big Ten tournament. In the end though, none of that mattered.

Holtmann and his team rallied around each other and fought through the adversity. On a night where offense came at a premium, Holtmann rolled out a small line-up and the Buckeyes came roaring back behind an aggressive man-to-man defensive scheme. A team that did not believe in each other and in their coach would have quit and accepted it was not their night.

The 2017-2018 Bueckeyes have a different mentality though. They do not back down, regardless of the score or situation. This team personifies the personality and beliefs of Holtmann. After resurrecting a lifeless Butler program, Holtmann left a secure job to take on the daunting task of rebuilding Ohio State’s basketball program. He never shied away from the challenge, instead tackling it head on. And that is exactly what his team has done all season.

 

Featured image by Joe Maiorana/USA Today Sports

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and college basketball articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

49ers lock up Jimmy Garoppolo on record-breaking deal

The 49ers have locked up Garoppolo with a five-year, $137.5 million contract, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. This is the largest contract on an average-per-year basis.

After witnessing QB Jimmy Garoppolo lead the 49ers to five straight wins to conclude the 2017 season, GM John Lynch knew he found his franchise QB.

Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates a touchdown during the 2017 season (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Garoppolo was originally shipped out to San Francisco, who surrendered a 2018 second round draft pick, in a trade with the New England Patriots in October 2017. Garoppolo was in the final year of his rookie contract at the time.

While Garoppolo has only started a total of seven games, two for New England and five for San Francisco, he remains undefeated. Garoppolo energized a 49er team that seemed destined for a top-five draft pick, leading them to a 5-0 record to conclude the season. This includes two fourth quarter comeback victories against the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans in 15-14 and 25-23 wins respectively.

During that stretch, Garoppolo completed 67.4 percent of his passing attempts for 1,560 yards. He threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions while maintaining a 96.2 QB Rating. Per NFL Network, Garoppolo has steered his team to more average points per game, 28.3, than any other QB in the NFL in the past 25 seasons, aside from his mentor, Tom Brady who has 28.3 as well.

 

 

Featured image by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and college basketball articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

 

 

 

Is Texas Tech the favorite to win the Big 12?

In a devastating weekend of college basketball, No. 7 Texas Tech saw the chips fall in its favor. After demolishing TCU 83-71 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates, the Red Raiders watched as first place Kansas suffered a defeat at home to Oklahoma State. This loss vaulted Texas Tech into a first place tie with Kansas, with Texas Tech owning the tiebreaker having defeated Kansas earlier in the season.

Coach Chris Beard has completely changed the culture of Texas Tech Basketball, working to install a level of toughness, intensity and energy that opponents would have difficulty matching. This change in attitude has led to the Red Raiders becoming a popular underdog story this season. Now, with highly anticipated showdowns against Kansas, Oklahoma and at West Virginia on the horizon, can this Texas Tech team complete the season with a Big 12 regular season title?

DEfensive Attitude

Perhaps the most stunning turnaround for this program has been on the defensive side of the ball. Beard’s squad ranks 11th in field goal percentage defense, 16th in turnovers forced per game and eighth in scoring defense. Add this to the fact that they rank third in overall adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.

Beard’s style of defense is slightly different from other top teams in the nation. Texas Tech does not simply rely on a singular style, such as West Virignia’s full court trap pressure, game in and game out. Beard is notorious for altering his schemes to attack his opponent’s weaknesses.

Regardless of its defensive scheme, the Red Raiders have a knack for forcing turnovers. This allows star point guard Keenan Evans to get out on the fast break and create easy offensive opportunities for Texas Tech. Evans, a ball dominant scoring point guard, can take over games early if he can find his offensive rhythm. Creating turnovers gives Evans increased chances at finding his groove quickly in games.

The Most Underrated Player in the Nation

Evans is the engine and the conductor of this Texas Tech team on both sides of the ball. Beard’s team went through a stretch this season where it struggled to score in the half court. Evans would consistently bail the Red Raiders out of poor possessions with his play-making ability. Evans has averaged 18.6 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game so far this season.

Keenan Evans nails a buzzer beating shot to down Texas 73-71 in overtime (Brad Tollefson/AP Photo).

As mentioned above, Evans has the skill-set to take over any game against any opponent on offense. Against Texas, a team that Tech had previously lost to this season, Evans poured in 38 points, including the game winning step back jumper, on 69.2 percent shooting from the field. Of Tech’s 73 points in that game, Evans accounted for 52 percent of them.

College basketball fans are familiar with how valuable it is come postseason play to have a star who has this skill. UConn fans will recall how Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier seemingly willed their squad’s to national championships. However, both of these teams were coupled with a strong supporting cast, similar to that of Texas Tech, that was committed to playing defense.

Paint Problem

A common theme emerges from all four of Texas Tech’s losses this season: their inability to score and defend the paint against long, physical big men. In its 75-65 loss to Oklahoma, forward Khadeem Lattin controlled the paint from start to finish. Lattin ended up with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. Similarly, in its 67-58 loss to Texas earlier this season, center Mo Bamba rained in 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

Beard understands that the strength of his offense is attacking the rim, not relying on the three ball. Tech shoots 35.2 percent from three collectively. If big men Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton, the only registered forwards on the team, cannot prove to be able to spread the floor by making defenders respect their mid-range jump shot, Beard’s guards will have difficulty finishing drives at the rim. Rim protecting centers will shade toward the rim, anticipating the drive by Evans and co.

Verdict

Beard has molded this roster into a defensive machine capable of shutting down the nation’s most potent offenses any given night. With star point guard Kennan Evans playing lights out, Texas Tech has the momentum necessary to bring home a Big 12 title. However, Odiose must step up in a rematch with Lattin coming up on the calendar as every remaining game matters in a race as close as this one.

Featured image by John Weast/Getty Images North America

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and college basketball articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

Auburn ready to silence doubters

The No. 11 Auburn Tigers have not captured a victory at the Pavilion in nearly ten years. After a strong second half from junior guard Bryce Brown, the Tigers stormed out of Oxford, Mississippi with a 79-70 comeback win over rival Ole Miss. Coach Bruce Pearl’s team now sits at 8-1 in SEC conference play, holding a two game lead over second place Kentucky. Let’s take a look at why the Tigers have defied expectations this season, and why they are equipped to continue to defy doubters come March.

 

Second Half Dominance

 

Mustapha Heron soars in for a basket (Crystal LoGiudice/Associated Press).

A common theme for Pearl’s Tigers this season has been breaking away from inferior competition in the second half of games. In Auburn’s 79-65 victory over Georgia, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 40-26 lead at halftime, holding Auburn to 25 percent shooting from the field. Pearl, as he has done all season, engineered the necessary adjustments on both offense and defense during the break. This led to an offensive explosion by the Tigers, with Brown pouring in 25 of his 28 points in the second half and sophomore guard Mustapha Heron adding 14 points.

Auburn has scored 50 points in the second half eight times this season with five of them coming against SEC opponents. Pearl has credited his players for having the willpower and resiliency to close out games. Brown has consistently shown the ability to turn on a second gear on both ends of the floor at will this season. Auburn has the unique blend of calmness, intensity and belief in one another which allows them to climb out of significant deficits in any situation and slam the door on any comeback it faces.

 

Nine Man Rotation

Unlike some of the other top contenders in the nation, Pearl has the ability to roll out a nine man rotation every game. This depth allows Pearl to create mismatches against any line-up. All nine players average at least 13 minutes per game and this allows Pearl to wear down opponents as each game progresses. It also allows Auburn to ramp up the on and off ball pressure on defense, understanding that they can withstand foul trouble to any certain player.

 

Come postseason play, teams that roll out primarily six or seven man rotations feel the effect of tired legs. Pearl is unafraid to ride the players who produce for him on a game-by-game basis. This depth provides Pearl with versatility in both creating game plans and adjusting match-ups mid-game.

 

The Emergence of Bryce Brown 

 

 

Bryce Brown silences the crowd (Samantha Baker/AP Photo)

After Auburn suspended both Austin Wiley, a former five-star recruit, and Danjel Purifoy indefinitely for their potential involvement in a federal court investigation against former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person. Most pundits wrote off Pearl’s squad as both Wiley and Purifoy were potential starters for Auburn this season. In order to have a successful season, Pearl needed one of his upperclassmen to step up and lead his team.

Brown has averaged 16.6 points per game, more than double than his average last season. He has been lethal from behind the arc as well, shooting 40.3 percent from three point range this season. In addition to his dominance of the stat sheet, Brown has been the heart and soul of this Tiger team, sparking second half runs with his play-making ability on and off the ball.

 

Defense Wins Championships

Perhaps Pearl’s most impressive accomplishment on the season is the turnaround of Auburn’s defense. According to KenPom rankings, Auburn’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 25th in the nation. Pearl’s defense is predicated on heavy on ball pressure with the intention of forcing turnovers. This style of play allows Auburn to rattle its opponents while slowly burning out their energy.

This is where Auburn’s depth plays to its advantage. Pearl can utilize all nine of his rotational players to maintain this intensity for all 40 minutes of playing time. He can continually send in fresh legs to stabilize the pressure as Auburn’s opponents slowly burn out.

Verdict

Auburn has defied expectations all season long by taking care of business against inferior opposition. However, with games against Kentucky, Alabama, and at Florida remaining, the Tigers must figure out how to consistently show up for all 40 minutes. Pearl’s squad has a chance to solidify a number two seed in the big dance if they continue to manhandle SEC competition. Based on the way the Tigers have rallied around each other this season, anything is possible.

 

Featured image by Rogelio V. Solis/AP

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and college basketball articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

West Virginia blows another second half lead

No. 15 West Virginia entered its highly anticipated showdown against Kentucky desperately needing a victory. Head Coach Bob Huggins went back to what the Mountaineers do best: apply pressure defense.

In the first half, West Virginia jumped all over a sluggish Kentucky team. The Mountaineers forced 11 turnovers and shot approximately 58 percent from three point range. Kentucky did not appear to belong on the same floor as West Virginia.

Then the second half came and Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats saved their season. Kentucky rode freshman forward Kevin Knox’s season high 34 points to an impressive 83-76 comeback win on the road. Kentucky outscored West Virginia by 22 points in the second half in a stunning turnaround that saw Huggins’s crew blow yet another second half lead.

West Virginia is now stuck in a brutal stretch which has seen them lose four of their last five games, squandering double-digit leads in three of those games.

Inconsistent Half-Court Offense

Freshman Teddy Allen has endured an up-and-down debut season for the Mountaineers (Photo by Kevin Kinder/BlueGoldNews.com).

Every coach knows how West Virginia wants to play each game. Huggins is going to implement his aggressive full-court press and force opposing teams to turn the ball over at a high rate. This allows guards Jevon Carter and Dexter Miles to utilize the fast break to score easy baskets and avoid the half court offense.

However, in order to successfully apply this pressure, West Virginia needs to score. This has proven problematic in their recent stretch as Huggins’s offense has been prone to lengthy cold streaks. West Virginia only shot 32.4 percent from the field in the second half against Kentucky and, as a result, was only able to press four times. This allowed Kentucky to set up its half court defense and force WVU into uncomfortable offensive situations

Press Virginia

 The staple of any Bob Huggins coached team is his press defense, predicated on hard traps, communication and rotational timing. Obviously, as stated above, the primary goal of this aggressive defensive style is to force turnovers.

This playing style allows Carter and Miles to dictate the pace of play. West Virginia’s dynamic defense wears its opponents down physically and mentally. It is especially difficult for freshmen-dominated teams such as Kentucky to survive a team such as WVU, as breaking this pressure requires composure and communication. However, strong on-ball defense and rebounding will prevent West Virginia from obtaining desired open looks from three and second chance opportunities it thrives on.

Paging Teddy Allen

Freshman forward Teddy Allen has been a pleasant surprise for Huggins, providing a critical offensive spark early in the season. Allen proved he could play at this level with a breakout game in West Virginia’s 89-76 win over Oklahoma, scoring 20 points shooting 81.8 percent from the field.

However, Allen quickly fell out of favor with Huggins due to issues with his attitude. Huggins did not cite any off-court incidents, but simply said Allen needed to mature. Huggins has taken on the reputation of a no-nonsense head coach who will not play to a single player’s wants and desires over what is best for the team. However, with the Mountaineers mired in their recent slump offensively, it might be time for Huggins to give Allen a second chance.

Verdict

A simple solution for the struggling Mountaineers is to increase offensive efficiency. That is easier said than done, of course. The Mountaineers have the talent to not only win the Big 12 Tournament, but also make a Final Four run. But until Huggins can solve West Virginia’s offensive issues, fans should not trust “Press Virginia” as a legitimate title contender come postseason play.

Featured image by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and college basketball articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”

Booth’s Injury To Test No. 1 Villanova’s Depth

In a year defined by wild upsets and stunning inconsistencies from blue blood programs, No. 1 Villanova has provided college basketball fans a refreshing breath of consistency and reliability. They sit in first place in the Big East with a 6-1 record and a 19-1 overall record, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Butler on the road.

Villanova has flashed dominance in a team-oriented offense predicated on ball movement and offensive rebounding while hounding opponents with a pressure heavy defense. Villanova has swept away any concerns coming into the season about depth and lack of star power with the departures of former Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

 

Booth’s Injury

Villanova will be put to the test in the final weeks of the season as junior guard and team captain Phil Booth broke his right hand against Providence and will be sidelined indefinitely. The magnitude of this loss cannot be overstated.

 

Booth, a starter for Wright’s squad, averaged a career high of 28.2 minutes per game and 11.6 points per game while shooting at 49 percent. Booth’s true value to this Villanova team goes beyond the statistics and the box scores though. A member of the 2016 National Championship team, he has grown into a vocal leader both in the locker room and on the court. Booth’s hounding on-ball defense and sharp three point shooting, averaging 43 percent on the season, will be sorely missed.

Coming into the season, the main knock on the current No. 1 team was their lack of depth. Wright has been conscious of this weakness by relying primarily on an eight man rotation with only six players averaging over twenty minutes per game. Opposing teams have been unable to exploit this flaw as Villanova, even though Wright prefers to implement an aggressive full court press thorughout the game.

Villanova’s players have been able to play through foul trouble due to their discipline on both sides of the court and sound decision making. However, Wright is now faced with a new challenge: overcoming a significant injury to a starting player on a team short bench and championship aspirations.

 

Starting Production

Wright’s concern will not lie with his starting line-up. Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo was arguably the nation’s most skilled and reliable sixth man and will seamlessly transition to a starting role.

 

Eric Paschall has elevated his offensive production during Big East Conference play (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Junior guard, Jalen Brunson, will look to elevate his game to another level after the loss of Booth. Already in the conversation for the Wooden Award, Brunson will now face even more pressure to lead this Wildcat squad. Regardless of how talented Booth is, Brunson is the heart and soul of this team. Brunson is the engine of the offense, averaging 18.8 points per game shooting 56.2 percent while dishing out 5.2 assists per game. His toughness and efficient style of play personifies Villanova and this team will go as far as he can carry them.

 

The key member of the starting five that will need to raise his grade of play is junior forward Eric Paschall. Paschall’s intensity and production has skyrocketed as of late as shown by his performance in Villanova’s 89-69 victory over Providence. Paschall went 6-9 from the field pouring in 17 points while accumulating five assists, four steals and three blocks.

Paschall is the jack-of-all trades player that Wright values so much. His selfless playing style and willingness to accept any role offers Wright the opportunity to instill numerous different game plans. If Villanova hopes to continue its consistency, Paschall needs to maintain his production on both ends of the court.

 

Bench Concerns

Villanova’s bench is where Wright’s worries will come into play. In order to maximize bench production, Wright must strategically utilize freshman froward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and freshman guard Collin Gillespie.

 

Wright ought to slowly integrate Gillespie into the rotation rather than throwing him in and asking him to run the offense. Wright faced a similar situation with DiVincenzo last season and the increased playing time paid off dividends as DiVincenzo developed into a consistent dual threat for Wright.

Unfortunately for Wright, Villanova is entering the second half of conference play and he does not have much time. Gillespie is going to have to grow and learn from his mistakes quickly if Villanova hopes to adapt to the loss of Booth.

Another aspect of Villanova’s game that Wright should focus on improving is fouling. At the moment, the Wildcats rank 34th in the nation in personal fouling, averaging 15.9 per game. While this mark is a testament to Villanova’s discipline as a team, Wright needs to understand the risk of continuing to play his trademarked pressure defense. Teams are going to focus on attempting to force the Wildcats to fall into foul trouble early, ensuring that Wright has to rely on his bench early and often.

Verdict

All in all, No. 1 Villanova has the tools to overcome Booth’s broken right hand. However, to maintain its championship aspirations, Wright will have to adjust his play style slightly in some games and go into his bench more than often than usual. His starters will need to push themselves and discover the balance of aggression and security on defense. With this in mind, expect Villanova to continue to outwork their opponents and capture a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Featured image by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and college basketball articles from other great TGH writers along with Dan!

“From Our Haus to Yours”