NCAAB: Thursday's Rewind
NCAAB: Thursday's Rewind
The Gold Sheet
Shooting from all ends of the court as we review Thursday night college hoop action...
Unlike Wednesday night, in which many of the games hardly resembled basketball (with scores such as 38-33, 46-38, and 46-41, we’re still not sure what we were watching on Wednesday), it at least looked like real basketball being played on Thursday night. Even Wisconsin’s battle vs. Indiana, which threatened to be as ugly as anything we witnessed on Wednesday, turned into just another normal grinder, not a declaration that we were witnessing some other sport.
Plenty of winners and losers on Thursday night, too, so let’s get to the list.
WINNER: Michigan... Acknowledged to be on the outside of the NCAA bubble entering last night’s game vs, Minnesota, the Wolverines knew that short of winning the Big Ten Tournament, their only path to the Big Dance had to begin with a win over the Gophers. And that’s exactly what John Beilein’s crew did in a 74-62 triumph at Crisler Arena. Zack Novak made a career-best six three-pointers as the Wolverines stormed to a 40-25 lead and never looked back. It marked Michigan’s first back-to-back wins since January and squared the Wolverines’ Big Ten mark at 7-7. With earlier wins over UCLA and Duke, and “good losses” vs. the same Blue Devils and then top-ranked UConn in non-league play, Michigan’s NCAA profile doesn’t look so bad. We doubt this is a year the Committee takes a Big Ten rep that’s sub-.500 in league play, so the fact the Wolverines are back level in conference play is a positive development.
LOSER: Minnesota... For every winner there must be a loser, so the end result last night in Ann Arbor might have been as damaging to Minnesota as it was positive for Michigan. The fact is that the Gophers are in a steep descent, now losing 6 of their last 9, and the Selection Committee always frowns upon bubble teams fading at the end of the campaign. Suddenly, the Gophers can’t find any consistent scoring, and their defense has been weakening, and those seven consecutive weeks in the rankings seem a long, long time ago. The upcoming schedule isn’t easy, with a slew of NCAA-hungry opponents (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan again). If the Gophers don’t win three of those four, their only path to the Big Dance will probably be to win the Big Ten Tourney.
WINNER: UCLA... The Bruins were suddenly on the ropes after getting swept last weekend in the cactus state by Arizona State and Arizona, and looking particularly poor in the process vs. the Wildcats. Moreover, Ben Howland’s crew had fallen a game-and-a-half behind Washington in the Pac-10 standings. But Thursday night’s 85-76 win over the dangerous Huskies not only avenged a loss in Seattle last month but gave the Bruins renewed hope that they can still secure their fourth straight Pac-10 regular-season crown and claim a protected seed in the Big Dance (and likely sub-regional assignment out west, probably in Portland).
LOSER: Xavier... What’s up with the Musketeers? The X has now lost three straight on the road in the A-10 after last night’s 65-60 setback at Charlotte. Losses at Duquesne and Dayton preceded Thursday’s setback, which had HC Sean Miller so upset that he bypassed the postgame press conference. Instead, Miller issued a terse statement. “We are not playing well right now,” said the coach. “We need to fix some things and it starts with practice tomorrow.” Sounds like a lot of fun for the Musketeers, eh? Ongoing problems in the backcourt continue to concern Miller, who has moved soph Dante Jackson back into the starting PG role and is now bringing frosh Terrell Holloway off the bench. The X has had recurring turnover problems, as the young PGs have had problems with consistency and dealing with pressure defense tactics.
LOSER: Stanford... Do you think for just a moment that Stanford might be kicking itself? Not only because the Cardinal lost for the second time this season to Oregon State Thursday night, but because what would have figured to have been the Tree’s dream coach, Craig Robinson, was instead weaving his sideline magic from the other side of the scorer’s bench with the Beavers. Rewind to last April, when Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby was dragging his feet on a contract extension for HC Trent Johnson. While that was going on, Oregon State, in the market for a new coach, brought in Robinson (who also happens to be Barack Obama’s brother-in-law) from Brown to take over the moribund OSU program. Johnson then suddenly departed for LSU, leaving Bowlsby to search for a new coach, who turned out to be Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins. Ten months later, Robinson’s OSU has beaten Stanford twice and sits ahead of the Cardinal in the Pac-10 standings, unbelievable since the Beavers were 0-18 in Pac-10 play last season and Stanford advanced as far as the Sweet Sixteen. My oh my, how things can change in a few months!
WINNER: Oregon State... As mentioned, the Beavers completed a season sweep over Stanford last night at Corvallis, 66-54, and the reputation of Robinson continues to grow. And what an entree’ he is going to have into the home of potential recruits, and their parents, who might be a little excited that their son has a chance to play for the president’s brother-in-law! Moreover, Robinson is proving he can coach (after all, he resurrected a downtrodden Brown program the past few years), with his modified Princeton-style offense and sticky 1-3-1 zone defense bothering Pac-10 opponents. No wonder Stanford is thinking, “Why couldn’t it have happened to us?”
WINNER: Western Kentucky... The Big Dance Selection Committee is unlikely to go more than 1-deep in the Sun Belt, but that doesn’t mean the conference race isn’t an interesting one. Three teams (WKU, UALR, and Troy) seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the loop, and last night West leading UALR hosted the Hilltoppers in a late-season showdown and perhaps a preview of the conference tourney finale. And it was WKU, with Orlando Mendez-Valdez pumping home 20 points, that won impressively over the host Trojans, 78-69. The Tops thus regain a half-game lead in the Eastern half of the loop thanks to Troy’s upset loss at Florida International. And staying in first in the East means avoiding having to face West leader UALR until the finals of the conference tourney, to be held in Hot Springs, AR March 8-10.
Thursday Player of the Night: Rob Diggs, George Washington...Diggs has certainly lived through some peaks and valleys with the GW program the past few years. And unfortunately it’s been mostly the latter this season with the Colonials, who have endured a brutal rebuilding campaign for HC Karl Hobbs, who dismissed four players earlier in the season. GW is also on course to miss the A-10 Tourney (which takes only 12 of the loop’s 14 teams). With little to cheer about, at least Diggs continues to battle, as the 6-8 sr. F put forth one of his best efforts of the year last night, hitting 11 of 15 from the floor en route to scoring 26 points and gathering 8 rebounds in GW’s 90-62 romp past St. Bonaventure. It’s also worth noting that Diggs hit 1 of 3 triples on a night in which GW made an astounding 10 of 12 beyond the arc (83%!). About all Diggs didn’t do vs. the Bonnies was block a shot, so he enters the weekend still four short of tying Yinka Dare for third place on the school’s all-time block list.