March, 4, 2015
What we're reading while we think about trying something different with our hair. Submit links via Twitter.
- Inside the Hall's Alex Bozich offers up five takeaways from Indiana's disconcerting 77-63 home loss to Iowa. The Hoosiers lacked urgency, Alex writes, against a team that "didn't even need to play its best game to beat the Hoosiers handily in Assembly Hall. ... Most projections still have the Hoosiers in, but on the current trajectory, an appearance in the big dance would likely be short lived. Indiana hasn’t put together solid, back-to-back performance in over a month and it’s unrealistic to believe that will change. Saturday’s game with Michigan State presents Indiana with a chance to stop the negative momentum and close out the regular season with a strong performance. Or it could be more of what happened against Iowa, which would signal that this team doesn’t have much fight left in it. As I wrote on Twitter last night, it’s one thing to play well and get beat. The type of performance Indiana had against Iowa, however, is inexcusable." Most disconcerting, at least for the long-term state of the program: Assembly Hall's sudden swath of empty seats.
- Everywhere but Bloomington, Tuesday made for a fantastic night of college hoops. Kentucky nearly succumbed to -- and then consummately handled -- a more-than-game Georgia team on the road, reaching a 30-0 record in the process. Then, at 9 p.m. ET, Kansas (missing Perry Ellis) outlasted a gritty Mountaineers team (missing a bunch of key pieces), one that nonetheless pushed the Jayhawks to overtime on the road. The Lawrence Journal-World's Gary Bedore put together a comprehensive gamer from a win that earned KU its outright Big 12 title, their 11th-straight (outright or shared). Bill Self all but called it one of the greatest wins of his career: “I would say that’s as good a win as we ever had here,” Self stated. “We’ve not had a better win here for higher stakes than what that was. You can’t get anything going and the kids figure out a way to do it. It’s pretty special to sit there and see those guys pull it off. We found a way to do it.” Meanwhile, the weirdest stat in college basketball lived to fight another day.
- March is an amazing month. It's also a profoundly surreal one, if you happen to cover this sport for a living. For starters, there are the waves of casual fans who suddenly pay attention to your work (which is awesome) and waves of casual fans who suddenly pay attention to your work and think they understand it better than you do, and tell you so (which is less awesome). Then there are the emails. Oh, the emails. No product is too obscure, or too unrelated to basketball, to land in our inbox with some sort of NCAA tournament tie-in. Apps! Experts! Something something basketball! Already this month, we received a pitch from some diet start-up about how stressing over your favorite team's games leads you to eat more unhealthy foods, or something. It's insane. Which is a long way of saying we typically look askance at marketing-driven NCAA tournament-related links this time of year … but this TicketCity state-by-state host site breakdown was pretty cool.
- Beware the bid thieves.
- ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf honors the 25th anniversary of Loyola Marymount great Hank Gathers' death with a feature on the impact Gathers' sudden passing had on his family and friends.
March, 4, 2015
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com
ATHENS, Georgia -- After Kentucky freshman Karl-Anthony Towns picked up his fourth foul with 5:50 to go in Tuesday night's 72-64 victory over Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum, Wildcats coach John Calipari gave him an earful when he reached the bench.
Calipari was upset that Towns was trying to do too much. Instead of kicking the ball out to a wide-open guard on the perimeter, Towns tried to back down Georgia senior Marcus Thornton and score. Instead, Towns was whistled for his fourth foul and turned the ball over.
"Don't be a hero," Calipari told him on the bench. "Don't try to make a hero play. Why are you doing it?"
At the time, the No. 1 Wildcats were trailing the Bulldogs 60-56 in what might have been their most difficult game of the season. With four fouls, Towns wasn't sure when his next opportunity would come -- and the Wildcats certainly needed him on the floor because they were struggling to stop Thornton and Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic.
"I just went to the bench and kept thinking I had to be ready if my number was called again," Towns said. "Fortunately, it was."
The Wildcats went to Towns, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound forward, as much as they could after he returned to the floor with 3:25 left. After Kentucky tied the score at 62 on Aaron Harrison's jumper, Towns scored the game's next five points to make it a 67-62 Kentucky lead with 2:07 to go.
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS/Getty ImagesKarl-Anthony Towns had a game-high 19 points as Kentucky recovered from a nine-point deficit in the second half to beat Georgia.
"He's so good he doesn't have to do crazy stuff," Calipari said. "On the bench, I told him he better figure it out because we can't have this going forward."
Towns added two foul shots with 33.4 seconds left and finished with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting with seven rebounds. On a night when national player of the year candidate Willie Cauley-Stein was limited to four points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, Towns more than picked up the slack.
"We had to do some stuff to get Karl the ball in the post, and Karl did well," Calipari said. "I've got enough confidence in him to go to him to shoot free throws. That's how much I think of him. We know he has the courage and has the skill and ability. That's what we did: We went to him late."
The Wildcats improved to 30-0 and can finish the regular season with a perfect record if they defeat Florida on senior day at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
After trailing in less than 13 percent of the minutes in their first 29 games this season, the Wildcats were in for a dogfight against Georgia. After the score was tied at the half, the Bulldogs led by as many as nine points in the second half.
"We needed a game like this," Towns said. "The recent games, we've been playing so well. We needed a game where we weren't playing our best and had to fight through it. We'll have tough times in the [NCAA] tournament. We needed this."
It might have been a little too close, though, for the thousands of UK fans who filled most of the upper deck and other areas of Stegeman Coliseum. After the Bulldogs tied the game at 43 with 13:13 left, they scored on six straight possessions to open up a 56-47 lead.
With about nine minutes to go, Kentucky's unbeaten streak seemed to be in serious jeopardy. But then, Wildcats guard Andrew Harrison made a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 56-50. Towns took over from there, and the Bulldogs didn't score for more than five minutes as UK broke the game open.
"They just never fold under pressure," Georgia guard Kenny Gaines said. "When we were up a significant amount, they just stayed calm, collected and made the proper plays. They got the job done."
During a timeout with about seven minutes to go, Towns implored his teammates to try to get three stops in a row.
Harrison told the Wildcats to try and get five consecutive. They ended up making seven straight stops during Georgia's long scoring drought, although the Bulldogs helped by missing the front end of three one-and-one foul shots.
"We played hard, we played very well, but we didn't play perfect," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "And they are so dang good that you almost have to play perfect, and that's not realistic. Certainly, we would have liked to have made a few more free throws, but we didn't get there a lot. We would have liked to have shot the 3 better, but you're not going to play perfect against that kind of team."
The Wildcats were far from perfect on Tuesday night, but once again, they were better than the other team on the court.
"They're good," Calipari said of the Bulldogs. "They're an NCAA tournament team. For us, it's one of the teams we'd play in the tournament."
One down, with one more to go in the regular season, and then the SEC and NCAA tournaments. The quest for perfection is far from over.
"Going into the postseason, that's when everybody is undefeated," Harrison said. "We'll have to start from there."
March, 3, 2015
What we're reading while we close in on the final weeks of Bubble Watch. Submit links via Twitter.
- "At various times in Kansas's run, the Big 12 has been the best or second-best conference in the country. (Per Ken Pomeroy, that's the case again this year; the Big 12 ranks behind only the Big 10 in overall strength.) At various times in Self's tenure, his competition has recruited and rostered the likes of Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Acie Law, Tristan Thompson, James Anderson, Tony Allen, and D.J Augustin -- and that's literally just the NBA guys that first came to mind. I'm sure there are countless more worthy of inclusion, including future lottery picks like Perry Jones III, or stars like Jacob Pullen, or Missouri's unique lightning-in-a-bottle squad this season. Despite all that, Self has managed to recruit the Jayhawks as well as any coach who came before him. In many years, he's had an embarrassment of talented riches. The sheer fact that Thomas Robinson came off the bench last season should tell you that much. But even in seasons in which Self lost scores of former stars -- like in 2011, when he lost Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins, or this season, when he lost two-thirds of his starting backcourt and both starting forwards to graduation and/or the NBA draft, and lost two incoming freshmen to partial qualifier status in the offseason -- he's managed to get the Jayhawks to the top of the league anyway. There might have been some NCAA tournament upsets along the way, and some have been more dramatic than others, but in the biggest sample sizes, against some of the best college hoops talent of the past decade, Self's Kansas program has prevailed. It's a ridiculous, mind-blowing run of success, and we don't talk about it enough." If you'll forgive us the self-quote, that's us, writing all the way back on Feb. 27, 2012, after Kansas coach Bill Self had led his program to its eighth-straight Big 12 regular-season title. Fast-forward three years, and Kansas is astride its league like a colossus. Iowa State's win against Oklahoma on Monday night guaranteed the Jayhawks at least a share of their 11th-straight conference title. Eleven straight! In the Big 12! That the 11th came in one of the best and most punishing editions of the league in decades is just icing on Self's already ridiculous cake. We don't like to quote our old writing. (We hate reading anything we've written, period.) But three years later, it's all still happening. Kansas is still insane. Update the details all you want, but what more is there to say?
- On Monday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive weighed in on the terrible, no-good, very-bad idea of freshman ineligibility, and it should speak to the general widespread nature of the nonsense that Slive's wariness, coming from perhaps the most powerful commissioner in college sports, felt like a desperately needed dose of real talk: "To put a blanket over these student-athletes with a year on the bench doesn't address those individual needs to incentivize academic progress. Many students do come to college prepared both academically and athletically ready to compete in the classroom and in competition, and to penalize those students with a universal policy may create unintended consequences not beneficial to many student-athletes. A lot of thought and preparation went into the new initial eligibility rules that go into effect in 2016. It is more appropriate to implement these new regulations and understand their impact before applying additional eligibility restrictions that may be more cosmetic than effective. If this proposal is about student-athletes turning professional, we need to be careful not to create rules for a few that penalize the many. The universe of student-athletes who leave early for professional sports is very small compared to the numbers that participate in football and men's basketball. And just because a student-athlete enters professional sports does not mean he or she has totally abandoned their academic pursuits."
- John Gasaway's constantly informative Tuesday Truths is back again, and this time John leads with a little ACC history, as it pertains to the indefatigatable Virginia Cavaliers: "Look at it this way: 32-3 certainly bears comparison with the two best seasons registered by the Cavaliers in the Ralph Sampson era (25-3). And speaking in more recent terms, the Hoos have posted two of the better individual seasons achieved by any ACC team in the seven seasons since Messrs. Lawson and Hansbrough won a title for North Carolina. ... Keep in mind this current rotation includes just one senior (Darion Atkins). It’s fair to say the stylistic debate over Virginia (which I personally suspect is largely though not entirely a kiddie pool diversion for casual fans -- see the matrix) has blinded us to the historical gorilla in the room. If Duke or UNC were doing this there would be coffee table books. Bennett’s handiwork as yet lacks the imprimatur of third-weekend NCAA tournament success, I get that. Still, factoring in the strength of competition at the top of the conference and the program’s prior history, what’s been achieved in Charlottesville the last two seasons is already somewhat extraordinary."
- Is this finally Villanova's year?
- Washington Post editor Mike Hume delivers an interesting way to visualize the NCAA tournament bubble, and offers a black-and-white historical way to view current teams' chances of making the field. (Hint: RPI above 70? Fuhggeddaboutit.)
March, 3, 2015
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
March, 3, 2015
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com
Change the channel. Nothing to see here, right?
Did you grab the remote when Iowa State, loser of two in a row entering Monday’s matchup against Oklahoma, was down by 16 points with 3:06 to play in the first half against Oklahoma? Or when the Cyclones were down 19 points after Buddy Hield connected on a 3-pointer with 1:54 to go before the break?
Maybe the Fighting Hoibergs’ 21-point deficit 59 seconds into the second half was the final straw for you.
It seemed as if Iowa State had fumbled its opportunity to earn a Big 12 championship with back-to-back losses to Baylor and Kansas State. That feeling carried over Monday, when the Cyclones scored only 18 points in the first half -- at home.
But just as the Cyclones appeared to squander a chance to shine on their home floor, everything changed. A barrage of shots fueled a 32-11 run that ignited Hilton Coliseum and ended with an improbable 77-70 victory over the Sooners. The win also gave Kansas at least a share of its 11th consecutive Big 12 championship. The Jayhawks can win the title outright with a victory over West Virginia on Tuesday or Oklahoma in their season finale.
The Cyclones should be proud of their fortitude. Their 21-point second-half comeback matched Iowa State’s greatest post-halftime rally. They went from finished to alive.
That’s a common theme this time of year. It certainly was on Monday night.
Want to prove something to the NCAA selection committee? Want to feel secure on Selection Sunday and avoid an offseason of regrets?
Fight for it. That's what Texas did.
Eric Gay/Associated PressIsaiah Taylor and Texas were fighting for their NCAA tournament lives Monday against Baylor.
The Longhorns literally brawled for their postseason future on Monday night.
With nearly two minutes remaining in overtime of a matchup that Rick Barnes’ squad had to win to maintain its tenuous spot in the NCAA tournament picture, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor and Baylor forward Royce O'Neale fought for a loose ball. The skirmish led to seven ejections: Four Longhorns and three Bears.
That tussle was unnecessary and silly. But it was an extension -- albeit extreme -- of the passion that flowed throughout the matchup.
Texas finally played with the vigor of a program that realized how desperate its circumstances had become. It moved from preseason talk about a Final Four trip and a Big 12 title to a four-game losing streak and a must-win home game against Baylor.
That must-win didn't look very winnable when Johnathan Motley gave Baylor a 10-point lead at 48-38 after he hit a jump shot with 6:41 to play. The Longhorns’ struggles had seemingly cost them another key win.
But the Longhorns launched a wild run that led to overtime, where Texas scored a crucial 61-59 victory.
A team with a 7-10 record in conference play, a 3-11 record against the RPI’s top 50, and a 6-12 record against the RPI’s top 100 isn't guaranteed a thing, but had it lost in Austin and missed its shot to grab a quality victory at home, Texas would have found itself in a more troubling situation.
The Longhorns are far from safe, but that rally against Baylor was the life raft that the program needed.
Virginia doesn’t need any sort of life vest. The Cavaliers are still winning without All-American candidate Justin Anderson. The selection committee will seed the Virginia team that it expects to see in the NCAA tournament, so the Cavaliers should be in great shape if Anderson returns for the Big Dance.
The only team that has defeated the Cavs was a Duke team that got hot against Virginia late.
The Cavs haven’t slowed down or played like a team that believes it has a No. 1 seed locked up, though. They’re not taking any chances.
Virginia scored just two points in the first 13:54 of its matchup at Syracuse on Monday, a truly ugly start. But the Cavaliers then scored 21 points in the next 6:06 and 30 more points in the first 15 minutes of the second half of a 59-47 victory for Tony Bennett’s program.
It was a stunning reversal after a messy start.
Virginia could have quit and made excuses after Anderson was sidelined with a hand injury. Instead, it continues to fight.
In March, that’s the only way to operate.
March, 2, 2015
What we're reading while Kevin Pelton elegantly hammers home the difference between using stats and using the right stats. Submit links via Twitter.
- SI.com's Seth Davis checks in with a good, extended summary of the many aesthetic issues plaguing modern college basketball: decreases in pace and scoring, way too many timeouts and stoppages, clogged-in lanes and overcoached systems. Seth's piece is valuable not because it outlines these issues -- you're probably aware of them already; we were proposing similar changes in 2012, and the discussion has grown especially loud this season -- but because it diagnoses the structural, legislative reasons why common-sense solutions feel so intractable: "Marinate on that for a moment: Just one out of the 12 men on the rules committee works for a school in a Power 5 conference. No wonder the game is stuck in reverse. Though the people who serve on the rules committee are no doubt earnest and diligent, they are naturally protective of their own interests. A slower, rougher game benefits teams with lesser talent. [Rick] Byrd, for example, says he likes the shot clock where it is because 'I don't think you can really run your offense in 30 seconds,' even though most of the planet seems to be able to do just that. And what do you do if you're a coach whose players aren't quick and tall enough to prevent the gazelles at Kansas and North Carolina from driving through the lane and finishing at the rim? You manipulate the rulebook so it's easier to push a driver, bump a cutter, shove a post player or draw a charge. There is a place for upsets, of course, but they should happen because underdogs executed better, not because they were allowed to grab their speedier opponents. [...] It makes even less sense that the men's and women's rules committee have traditionally worked in close consultation, even though they operate under a different set of rules. In the past, if the women objected strongly to a change the men's committee had proposed, that idea was often tabled. It is critical, then, that the committee be restructured."
- Meanwhile, Mike Brey told the ACC conference call that a 30-second shot clock is "coming," perhaps as early as next season. It's a start.
- You should be listening to Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg's ESPNU College Basketball Podcast already, but if you aren't, today's a pretty good day to start: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan told the gents that he expects injured point guard Traevon Jackson to be back in the month of March, though his participation in the Big Ten tournament remains in doubt: "Hopefully for the Big Ten and just if it's not the Big Ten, then the NCAA tournament," Ryan said. "I just hope he gets to play again with his teammates and put the uniform on and get out there and be a part of it, no matter what happens. I know he doesn't want to finish his college career without playing another game or more. He's rehabbing and doing his best and the medical people will clear him when he's ready, hopefully it's soon."
- Kansas coach Bill Self doesn't have an update on the status of freshman forward Cliff Alexander, who was held out of Saturday's home win against Texas thanks to a potential "issue" involving his eligibility: "We found out about it Saturday and there have only been a couple hours of work hours since then, so obviously there's no update on that situation," Self said. "I would think we're not going to give a day-to-day update. We'll just wait. Whenever we know something we'll let you [media] know, but as of now there's no new timeline. Everything's just the same. We're just trying to get as much stuff done as we possibly can to hopefully expedite it so we can have -- best-case scenario [have] Cliff back soon. That's where it's at." And so the Jayhawks have to wait for the NCAA, which is a little bit like taking a number in line at your local DMV. You might be done in five minutes. You might be there all afternoon. Who knows?
- Dana O'Neil returns with another edition of Four Corners, this time examining the players with the talent and potential to pull a Shabazz Napier, and hegemonically dominate the month of March.
March, 2, 2015
By Jeff Goodman | ESPN.com
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesEastern Washington guard Tyler Harvey is averaging 22.8 points per game this season.The nation’s leading scorer didn’t field a single scholarship offer. For Tyler Harvey, that wasn't just Division I offers.
“No Division II or Division III schools wanted me, either,” said Eastern Washington’s junior guard, who is now the nation's leading scorer at 22.8 points per contest.
Harvey was a scrawny 150-pounder and an undersized shooting guard from Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, California, outside of Los Angeles. His slight frame -- and the fact that he opted for family time in the summers over AAU basketball -- had left Harvey way off the recruiting radar. His father, veteran Division I referee Frank Harvey, had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of interest in his son by college coaches.
Then, in November 2010, came a chance meeting in Spokane, Washington. Frank Harvey was returning from officiating a San Diego State-Gonzaga game when he ran into Jim Hayford, the head coach of the Whitworth University Pirates, a team then ranked No. 1 in Division III. The pair had known each other for years, from the days when Frank was working NAIA games and Hayford was an assistant at Azusa Pacific. Harvey did what any proud father would do and performed his best sales pitch. It worked -- Hayford later made a trip to evaluate the younger Harvey in California's state tournament.
“He was so skinny,” Hayford said. “He looked like a long-distance runner for the Kenyan national team. He was awkward and needed to grow into his height.”
But Harvey could shoot it, and that was the type of player Hayford had thrived with at Whitworth. He made it clear he wanted Harvey, and after a visit to the school and virtually no other interest elsewhere, Whitworth was the way Harvey was leaning.
Days later, in March 2011, Hayford got the head job at Eastern Washington. Harvey was left in limbo, wondering whether his dream of playing college basketball was history.
“I’d probably just be a regular student somewhere or would have tried to walk-on to one of the local D-I schools like Long Beach State,” Harvey said.
But Hayford needed players at EWU, and knew Harvey could do at least one thing: make shots.
Hayford met with the Harvey family, and made an offer to Tyler: Come to Cheney, Washington, pay your own way as a walk-on, and sit out your freshman season as a redshirt while trying to develop your body.
“I’d never heard of Cheney or Eastern Washington,” Harvey said. “But it didn’t matter.”
An afterthought, Harvey was redshirted his first season at Eastern Washington. He was a non-factor for most of his redshirt freshman season of 2011-12. But that changed on Feb. 9 at Northern Arizona.
In the second half, with EWU down double digits, Harvey entered and hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, finishing with 14 points in just 10 minutes and leading the Eagles to a 77-74 overtime victory.
“The rest is history,” Frank Harvey said with a laugh.
“I would have played him earlier in his freshman year, but I had some poor coaching on other areas of the team to work on first,” Hayford joked. “Since then, Tyler has thankfully made me look much smarter.”
Harvey parlayed a strong finish to his freshman year into a 21.8 PPG sophomore season, one in which he ranked in the top 13 nationally in scoring, 3-pointers, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage.
That this season was going to be different came early, on Nov. 24 against Indiana, where Harvey dropped 25 points and Eastern Washington (21-8 overall, 12-4 Big Sky) ended the Hoosiers’ 43-game winning streak against nonconference opponents.
Harvey has had rough patches, missing three February games with a thigh injury and going just 12-for-48 from 3-point range in the games since he returned.
“Tyler is an outstanding shooter with unlimited range and has no conscience,” said Weber State coach Randy Rahe, who coached Portland Trailblazers star Damien Lillard in college. “He is one of the best, tough shot-makers we have played against in recent years.”
Harvey is unfazed by the attention. He had no idea he was leading the country in scoring when Hayford informed him in January. He didn't have a clue NBA scouts had been making their way to the small town of a little more than 10,000. Harvey wasn’t a silver-spoon recruit, and that’s why he still doesn’t take anything for granted.
“Such a blessing,” Tyler added. “I never dreamed of doing anything like this."
There's another elephant in the room, one that was welcomed in thanks to Harvey's success both on the floor and in the classroom. He graduates this spring. So he could take a shot at the NBA draft or could even transfer to another school and play immediately due to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.
“He could pick his school,” Hayford admitted.
But don’t be surprised if Harvey spurns the big boys when they come calling.
“There’s no reason to leave this place,” Harvey said. “And the only guy who ever believed in me and gave me a chance.”