Posted on: January 14, 2012 4:46 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 4:53 pm

FSU delivers epic, dominating home upset of UNC

By Matt Norlander

This was about as grand of a that-came-out-of-nowhere blowout as you could expect in college basketball. Indeed, Florida State was at home, but home games cannot account for curb-stompings like this, not when FSU’s best prior win to this was against Virginia Tech earlier this week — and Tech isn’t a tournament team. You want the next-best in line on FSU’s resume? I’ll let you pick. UMass, Loyola Marymount, Auburn.

Deividas Dulkys had the game of his life in what could amount to one of the most surprising results of this season. (AP)

Yeah, that’s what Leonard Hamilton’s group had proven so far this season. Then the ’Noles came out and power-washed North Carolina to death, 90-57. As of this post's publishing, there are still co-eds cluttered about the floor at the Donald L. Tucker Center after the monsoon of a court-storm. Few had Florida State winning. Not even Tim Tebow had FSU by 33 points.

Florida State, which is offensively challenged in a lot of ways, averages 70 points per game, or at least it did before today. It went against so many of the terrible, slow, frustrating offensive principles it's played badly for up until now. So many facets to this beatdown weren’t foreseeable. In fact, I think it will go down as one of the five most surprising results of the season — because I don’t think UNC loses another game by double digits the rest of the way and I'm still not sure, come mid-March, FSU is an NCAA tournament team.

Among the game's best/surprising storylines, consider the biggest performance, which came from FSU senior guard Deividas Dulkys, who (averaging six points per game) was playing some of the worst basketball of his career heading into this one. He was 5-for-29 from deep in his last nine games. He scored 32 points in that run. He had 32 today! He was 8-of-10 from 3-point range and paced Florida State to an offensive performance that, sorry, won’t be duplicated this season by the Seminoles.  

A great job overall by Hamilton’s club, who in one game immediately altered its reputation, earning yet another huge win on its home floor. In the past five years, FSU’s had five wins against highly ranked teams in Tallahassee. They certainly know how to get up for the biggest games.

But they’d never been so good against a team so “great” before. God, I still can’t believe the quit I saw in North Carolina. I tried to lead with FSU because when you beat the third-ranked team at home, I think so much credit should go to the team that whoops and doesn't let up. FSU has ways to go to solidify itself in the at-large discussion, but you can’t knock on the door any harder to get into that room than the way FSU did today.

But UNC's the bigger story nationally, naturally. Its lack of toughness and abundance of carelessness was the most glaring factor to this game. For all the surprise and trend-bucking that took place, North Carolina’s lack of will was, forget out of character, it was out of species. The Heels didn’t fight back. How many loose-ball battles did FSU win? At least 10 by my unofficial eye count. UNC merely trailed by eight at the half, then decided to slow their chase once Florida State had a few more shots fall and took a few more rebounds and turned them into points.

There will be some controversy due to Roy Williams getting all of his coaches and players who were on the bench into the locker room with about 15 seconds remaining, but that's not what we should be discussing. First of all, the idea was Hamilton's, so the incoming rush of warm, teenage bodies didn't pin down UNC's team for 10 minutes. Secondly, Williams is a smart, smart man. He really is. He's one of the best at distracting the discussion from a team loss to something more trivial. When UNC got pounced by UNLV in November, the conversation was as much about Williams' anger over UNC fans selling their seats behind the bench as it was about the Heels taking an early surprising loss.

Let's not make it about that. Let's make it about a team seen as a title-contender getting outscored by 33 points. Championship-winning teams do not get beat by 33 points. Right now, UNC isn't a championship team. It wants to be one, it can be one, but it looked unlike anything I'd seen before from a Williams-coached team this afternoon.

Posted on: December 24, 2011 11:17 am

Xavier now 0-3 since the Cincy brawl

By Matt Norlander

Has anything gone right for Xavier since around 1:50 p.m. on Dec. 10? In the dead of the night, while you were sleeping and getting in as much rest before your Christmas Eve festivities, the Musketeers got knocked off in overtime, 84-82, by 6-5 Hawaii. Prior to last night, Hawaii hadn't beat a team ranked higher than 297 in KenPom's system. Xavier was once 8-0 and looking Final Four-caliber. Now does anyone have any idea what's happening?

It's bizarre. Only Dezmine Wells was missing from last night's game for X, still serving his four-game suspension for his involvement in the brouhaha with Cincinnati. Tu Holloway scored 26, Mark Lyons had 18. X was better on the boards, forced more turnovers and hit nine 3s to Hawaii's four. But it still lost. It still can't correct itself in the wake of college basketball's ugliest moment this season.

I've said before I would try my best to never schedule my team between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26 due to the holidays and all distraction/homesickness that comes with it, but Xavier's problems have little to do with being preoccupied by Christmas -- they'll be playing on Dec. 25 as is, only in the lowest-tiered bracket of the Diamond Head Classic. The game will be against 3-6 Southern Illinois. This is a tournament Xavier should have won; it's really something to see how everything's changed in the past two weeks.

This team is spiraling down right now, obviously. It's a turn of events no one saw coming. The power of punches and the side effects have led to three straight losses and certainly damaged this time psychologically. The last time the program lost three in a row was early in the 2004-05 season, which was Sean Miller's first year as Muskies head man.

Can you get healthy off of Southern Illinois? I don't know, but Gonzaga comes next, on New Year's Eve, and the Bulldogs will be ready and awaiting the challenge -- if it ends up being that. The good news is X gets that game at home.

I can't call it karma -- Cincy was just as at fault for the fight, and it's averaged 96 points in four straight wins since the brawl -- but in no way did I think Xavier would fall apart like this. You didn't, either. Seasons can get away from teams fast in college basketball. We've seen many examples of promising starts spin out into NIT bids. I don't think Xavier's hurtling toward that inferior tournament, but I do think a team that claimed to be proud, brash, unwilling to back down to anyone has looked rattled and intimidated for the past two weeks.

"Zip 'em up" was first a Xavier tough-guy motto. Then it became a point of criticism. Now it's a mocking call.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 12, 2011 11:18 am

Kaboom goes the bar: Fan reaction of IU's win

By Matt Norlander

Everyone's posting this video, and we will too. Indiana beats Kentucky, Indiana bar goes wild.

Never gets old. Never. I particularly love the reinforced cheers upon the replays of Watford's shot falling true. By the way, check photo No. 2 in this gallery. That's just a sweet shot. Also, Eamonn Brennan posted a video from outside the bar, Nick's, which is featured in the video below. The streets were occupied heavily by ecstastic, drunk and delirious IU fans, who finally found themselves a reason to be outwardly proud of their basketball team.

It's a great Monday in Bloomington.

IU Upsets KY - Celebration at Nick's English Hut from Tarun Gangwani on Vimeo.

Posted on: December 10, 2011 7:43 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2011 8:31 pm

Indiana's win worthy of Crean celebration

By Jeff Goodman

Tom Crean can celebrate however he wants after this one. He could be yelling and screaming buck naked in the lobby of Assembly Hall and it would be fine with me (OK, I take that one back).

I mocked the Indiana coach last season after he went bananas in the lobby of Assembly Hall following a home victory over Illinois. However, Saturday's victory against top-ranked Kentucky? Well, that's worthy of a full-pledged party well into the night for Crean and the Hoosiers.

This may wind up becoming a defining moment for the Indiana program in the Crean Era - one that had some fans and many around the country questioning whether the Hoosiers would be nationally relevant again.

Kentucky was more talented at every single position on the court, but Indiana took control of the game in the second half, and after blowing a 10-point lead, got a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Christian Watford for the 73-72 upset.

The Hoosiers showed mental resolve.

This Hoosiers team has officially turned the corner. They hadn't really beaten anyone of note until now (Butler and N.C State don't quite count), but should make their way into the Top 25 for the first time since Kelvin Sampson was running things and making illegal phone calls in Bloomington.

It was nice to see Assembly Hall rocking again because the fans in Bloomington are rabid - and are deserving of success. Indiana doesn't blow you away, but now Crean has enough talent and experience to compete with the big boys.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, however, and start proclaiming the Hoosiers as a clear-cut NCAA tournament team. The Hoosiers aren't going to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title. They remain undefeated, but still need to fare well in Big Ten play to ensure themselves of dancing come March.

Watford doesn't always show up, but it was Kentucky's Terrence Jones who played the role of the magician on Saturday, doing his best disappearing act with just four points and a lone rebound in the contest. Watford went for 20 points in the victory while freshman Cody Zeller, Will Sheehey, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls all played well.

Crean has had a rough go thus far in his tenure, finishing near the bottom of the league each of his three seasons. Recruiting has certainly picked up in the past year or so and Cream got over one hurdle when he took down Butler's Brad Stevens last month. But this one was far more important.

Crean knocked off the No. 1 team in the land. The almighty John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats.

If that's not worthy of a party, I'm not sure what is.

Posted on: March 11, 2011 4:31 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 6:38 pm

Dayton does in top seed Xavier in A-10 quarters

Posted by Matt Norlander

When you're the top seed, these days, the urgency just isn't there.

Xavier, which looked so good throughout the regular season, going 15-1 in the Atlantic 10, was done in by an underachieving Dayton squad Friday afternoon in Atlantic City. The Muskies will be docked a seeding, but overall, you can't be too worried about them.

If any upset didn't feel like it, it was certainly this one. The Flyers blew a 17-point lead in the second half, and had this gone to overtime, it feels as though Xavier would've pulled an Ohio State. Instead, Tu Holloway can't get off a good shot at the end, and the Flyers fly on 68-67.

We're familiar with Dayton. In fact, this group, led by college basketball's other predominant Chris Wright, was supposed to be the best team in the conference this season. Yeah, not so much. But now, with this win, we can open up our minds to the possibility that the Flyers can and will chase down an A-10 title.

Again: conference tournaments are fantastic. A second life and second chance for teams with ability that often far exceeds desire and ambition.

What's interesting about this, from the Xavier perspective: It puts the Musketeers right where they want to be, in a way. Yep, just cruising along under everyone's radar, probably going to get a five seed and be underrated, yet again. But the Sweet 16 is what Xavier calls home.

A thin team that's definitely overshot its ceiling (Chris Mack was incredibly underrated in what he did this year without a handful of scholarship players) now gets a few extra days to rest and strap it on.

The A-10 could benefit here, because if anyone else aside from the Temple/Richmond tandem takes it, that's a bid snatched away from an undeserving bubble team elsewhere.

Photo: AP
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Category: NCAAB
Tags: Dayton, upsets, Xavier
Posted on: January 12, 2011 11:37 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2011 12:20 am

Undefeated no more: Duke goes down

Posted by Matt Norlander

We've been spared the conversation, thankfully.

That cheap, made-for-talk-radio and easy-fodder-for-columns topic that would've flooded the airwaves and Internet and newspaper pages had Duke made it to February, flawless: Can the Blue Devils go undefeated?

No, they can't. And they never could. Especially after the team's chances dipped significantly in the wake of Kyrie Irving's toe injury, causing the phenomenal freshman point guard to sit out indefinitely. Tonight, his presence was sorely missed.

Tonight — the first evening college basketball really got to itself now that college football season is over — Florida State gave the general public something terrific: an upset over American's most well-known college basketball team. It was terrific. It was an ugly game (just how Florida State wanted it), but Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles ended the Blue Devils' undefeated campaign with 66-61 grinder of a game in Tallahassee.

It's the fourth win over a No. 1-ranked team in FSU history; three of those victories have come against Duke, at home; the 'Noles pulled off upsets in 2002 and 2006.

How'd it happen? Well, in a way, the Blue Devils sort of just showed up and accepted their fate. I'm not saying they didn't try, but they looked off all night. They lacked fire and certainly lacked toughness and hustle (gasp!) at times. There was a lot of sloppy play — 30 total turnovers — and amid that mess Duke tried to shoot the 3 in order to win.

Of course that's a tactic which has become a Duke staple for more than a decade now ... but against FSU, it wasn't the way to go. Mike Krzyzewksi's boys shot 11 for 35 from beyond the arc (accounting for 57 percent of the Devils' shot selection), attempting to win by playing around Florida State's biggest strength: interior defense. Nobody is better at swatting shots than the Seminoles, and few teams are better, all-around, from a defensive standpoint.

Down the stretch Duke kept it close but the Seminoles stood tall, which was refreshing to see from a team that recenty lost to Auburn, the worst BCS team, by a mile, out there. While Duke was heaving 23-footers, Florida State went 5 for 6 from the foul line in the final minute of play. Some issues for Duke have surfaced (Mason Plumlee, pick up that white courtesy phone, please), but those are things for another post. I am ashamed to say I hedged on the possibility of this happening when I wrote this piece on FSU a couple weeks back. But before the game tonight, I almost went there!

Finally, it's time to play "Let's! Get! Obvious!" by stating: Going undefeated is just so hard to do. Harder to do in college basketball than college or pro football. Duke was the latest elite team to show us why.

Now we wait on Ohio State, San Diego State, Kansas and Syracuse to give us their demonstrations as further proof.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
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