Weekend Headlines: Punched tickets, free throws and Gonzaga
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2013 22:03
The Kansas Jayhawks won their ninth-straight Big 12 regular-season title over the weekend, an act that is becoming more of a regularity than Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight being made a fool of. And speaking of recurring themes, Syracuse produced yet another box score that sent many enthusiasts to the hospital complaining of nausea.
Elsewhere, Duke steamrolled UNC at the Dean Dome, Michigan’s two best players choked against Indiana and five schools booked their trip to the Big Dance by winning their conference tournament. Out west, No. 1 Gonzaga overcame a shoddy first half versus Loyola Marymount and won their 30th game of the season.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because the column is called “Weekend Headlines.” If you were too busy getting dunked on by DeAndre Jordan or fighting the Canadian national team in the World Baseball Classic, then I’m here for you. If you did watch some college hoops on Saturday or Sunday but, like Yankee fans, you wish to live in the past, you’ve come to the right place.
This is March. Bubbles are bursting, buzzers are being beaten and the madness is apparent. The best part: It’s about to get even wilder with the NCAA Tournament forthcoming. Before it does get wilder, and before the last real Big East Tournament gets underway tonight, let’s get it rolling with Weekend Headlines.
Get Your Tickets to the Dance
Five teams down, 63 to go (as of Sunday night). Congratulations to Liberty, Harvard, Creighton, Belmont and Florida Gulf Coast for earning automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament and representing small schools everywhere.
With the exception of the Harvard Crimson, who won the Ivy League by a full two games over fellow brainiac Princeton, the other four schools had to navigate through their league brackets in order to secure spots in the NCAAs. Liberty, best known of late for being Seth Curry’s initial collegiate home, will be the second team in NCAA Tournament history with 20 losses.
Creighton has a top-5 player nationally in Doug McDermott, while Ohio Valley Conference champion Belmont has a pretty good one themselves in Ian Clark (and, as we learned Saturday, Kerron Johnson is pretty darn good too). As for the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast, don’t count them off quite yet. FGCU upset Miami back in November, so why can’t they be the reason that you once again throw your bracket out before the first weekend?
Waive Bye, Bye, Bye to Your Bye, Bye, Bye
OK, so before anyone derides me for using ‘N Sync lyrics as one of the weekend headlines, save the wisecracks for someone else. Someone like Trey Burke, for instance, or even his Michigan backcourt mate Tim Hardaway Jr. Yes, both guys are phenomenal, and you will not find a bigger Burke supporter than yours truly, but the Cundiff-like choking they exhibited in the final moments against Indiana on Sunday is solely unacceptable.
Up four points with the ball and under one minute left, Michigan had its eyes set on beating the Hoosiers and winning a share of the Big Ten regular season conference title. Indiana had to foul in order to extend the game, so they hacked Hardaway first with 38 seconds left. Hardaway missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and to make matters worse Cody Zeller drained two freebies on the ensuing IU possession.
Zeller’s two points (he had 25 for the game to go along with 10 rebounds) made it a one-point game (71-70 Michigan), and the Hoosiers decided to make Trey Burke the next choking victim. Burke, a 78 percent free-throw shooter on the year, copied Hardaway by also failing to hit the first shot of the 1-and-1. It was once again Cody Zeller who made the Wolverines pay, this time laying the ball in the hoop off a pass from point guard Yogi Ferrell to give IU a 72-71 lead with 13 seconds left. After Burke and big man Jordan Morgan each missed potential game-winning layups, reality began to set in as the buzzer sounded in Ann Arbor.
What is that reality, you ponder? For one, the reality is that Michigan made just 1-of-4 free throws in the final minute, something they really cannot afford to do if they want to advance in March. Also, the Wolverines had no answer for Cody Zeller, who scored his team’s last six points and chipped in with 4 of a jaw-dropping 19 offensive rebounds for Indiana. Lastly, Michigan will limp into the postseason via four losses in their last eight games, and the team that was once No. 1 nationally didn’t even finish in the top-4 of the Big Ten (no first-round bye, hence the ‘N Sync lyrics). That means the Wolverines have to play Penn State (12-seed in B1G) on Thursday, while heavyweights Indiana and Michigan State and overachievers Ohio State and Wisconsin get to rest their legs and hydrate.
We’re Number One?
Gonzaga looked like the farthest thing from a top-ranked squad early on Saturday in their semifinal matchup against Loyola Marymount, who ended up winning more games in the West Coast Conference Tournament (three) than they did in 16 WCC regular-season games (one). The Zags led by just one point at half, and it was not until then that point guard Kevin Pangos took over. Pangos scored 11 of his 14 points after the break and, aided by steady senior Elias Harris’s 21 points and eight rebounds, the Bulldogs opened the floodgates and eventually won by 18. Because it was the first time Gonzaga took the court ranked No. 1 in program history, a skittish start is somewhat understandable. Hopefully, however, Coach Mark Few realizes that the Loyola Marymounts of the world are a piece of cake compared to NCAA Tournament foes.
Big 12: A Kansas State of Mind
One thing college hoops lacks is a Bill Self Coaching Award, which would be presented to the coach who was the best at developing role players into stars and giving the expression “doing more with less” an entirely new meaning. The problem is, Kansas coach Bill Self would win that award. Every. Single. Year.