Posted on: February 25, 2011 7:02 am

The Morning Drive: Centenary breaks through

Posted by Jeff Borzello

There were no 52-point performances or buzzer-beaters in bubble games, but Thursday had some highlights. Three teams clinched regular-season titles, while another one clinched at least a share of the league championship. Bubble teams won, bubble teams lost. There were upsets and close finishes. What more can you ask for? Reach me on Twitter: @jeffborzello

Standing Ovation: Centenary went into last night with an 0-28 record, losers of 33 straight games. The Gentlemen would have been the first 0-30 team in college basketball. Somehow, though, they shot 62.5 percent from the field and defeated Western Illinois, 73-60. Maxx Nakwaasah scored 24 points to lead Centenary, who will be dropping to Division-III next season.

Top Performer: Arizona had a chance to give itself some breathing room atop the Pac-10 heading into the weekend, but Nikola Vucevic had other ideas. The USC big man had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Trojans to a 65-57 win at home. He was 9-for-17 from the field, as well as 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. Defensively, he helped hold All-American Derrick Williams to just eight points.

Round of Applause: Four teams clinched NIT automatic bids last night, although I’m sure they will be more excited if they win the conference tournament. It started with Florida Atlantic defeating Troy to clinch the Sun Belt; then George Mason had a closer-than-expected win over Northeastern to win the Colonial; and Long Beach State followed that up with a win over Cal Poly to win the Big West. In the Big South, Coastal Carolina clinched the title with Liberty losing at Winthrop.

Stepping Up: Gonzaga was left for dead a few weeks ago, but it is now one game from getting a share of the WCC title after going on the road and beating Saint Mary’s in overtime. Expect the loser of the WCC Tournament to be right on the cut line come Selection Sunday. Last night, Sam Dower came through for the Bulldogs, hitting his first seven field-goal attempts and finishing with 21 points.

Stat-Sheet Stuffer: Charleston was another team that didn’t capitalize on its opportunity to clinch a regular-season title on Thursday. Appalachian State’s Donald Sims had a say in that. Sims put up 32 points on six 3-pointers, also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out six assists. The Mountaineers knocked off Charleston, 85-70.

Yawn: Just like Jimmer Fredette putting up another 30-point performance, it’s become expected that Oakland’s Keith Benson will put up gaudy scoring and rebounding stats. He did just that against UMKC last night, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds, also adding three blocks on the defensive end.

Dishing it out: Montana took one step closer to a Big Sky title last night, going on the road and beating Portland State by one, 85-84. Will Cherry led the way for the Grizzlies, scoring 24 points and racking up 10 assists (with only one turnover). He knocked down two 3-pointers and also grabbed three rebounds. More importantly, Cherry iced the game from the free-throw line in the final seconds.

In a Losing Effort: It wasn’t a losing effort, but I have no clue what Washington Adventist is, so I’m counting Longwood’s win as a de facto loss. With that said, center Antwan Carter put up some huge digits. The Longwood big man went 14-for-20 from the field en route to a 33-point, 20-rebound night. Five of his boards were on the offensive glass, and he was 5-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Filling it up: Normally when a player who has scored in double-figures just 10 times all season explodes for 34 points, it’s because he got hot from 3-point land. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Terence Grier dropped 34 in a win at Sacred Heart, snapping the Knights’ 11-game losing streak. Grier hit four 3-pointers and two free-throws – the other 10 field-goals came from inside the arc. Not bad for a 6-foot guard.

Dub-Dubbing: In a battle for second-place in the Summit, Oral Roberts completely dominated IUPUI, getting a 92-74 win. It was the Golden Eagles’ seventh straight win heading into the finale. The leader for ORU was Steven Roundtree, who was 10-for-12 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds, six coming on the offensive end.

Backyard Brawl: An injury to back-up big man Talib Zanna didn’t slow down Pittsburgh, as the Panthers emerged victorious in the Backyard Brawl, downing West West Virginia by 13. Brad Wanamaker had 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to lead the Panthers. As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers dropped to 8-7 in the Big East – they could end up finishing 10th in the league.

Bonus Basketball: Marquette faced a must-win situation heading into Connecticut last night, and the Golden Eagles finally came out of a close game with a win. Darius Johnson-Odom scored nine of his 17 points in overtime to lead Marquette to a 74-67 win over the Huskies, who were playing without Jim Calhoun on the sidelines. Kemba Walker had 27 points, but struggled mightily late in the game.

Set the DVR: Don’t set your DVR tonight. Do non-basketball things. But if you must, make sure Harvard and Princeton keep winning.

Numbers Don’t Lie:

  • Pittsburgh has now won 25 games in six straight seasons.
  • Derrick Williams’ eight-point performance was the first time he was held in single-digits this season.
  • Florida’s six-game SEC winning streak is its longest since 2007.
  • Kemba Walker is the first player since Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor to score 600 points in a season. He has 622 points. 

Notes and Notables:

  • Florida picked up its ninth top-50 win of the year, holding off Georgia at home, 71-62. Chandler Parsons had 16 points, while Kenny Boynton dropped 18. Georgia sits squarely on the bubble.
  • Old Dominion just needs to avoid bad losses in order to get an at-large bid, and the Monarchs handled their business on Thursday, beating James Madison on the road, 75-59. 
  • Penn State has very slim hopes for an at-large bid, but the Nittany Lions got back to .500 in the Big Ten with a 14-point road win at Northwestern.
  • Morehead State vs. Murray State was supposed to be one of the better mid-major games of the year, but Murray had a 17-2 run to begin the second half and never looked back. The Racers clinch the top-seed in the OVC Tournament.
  • With Milwaukee beating Cleveland State and Valparaiso losing, there is now a three-team tie for first-place in the Horizon, with Valpo one game back. If Milwaukee wins this weekend, it will get the No. 1 seed and a double-bye.

Photo: US Presswire (Adam Woods)

Posted on: February 25, 2011 1:48 am
Edited on: February 25, 2011 10:13 am

Marquette gets W, but must put together a streak

Posted by Matt Norlander

HARTFORD, Conn. — Marquette will get out of February with back-to-back wins.

Taking two in a row hasn't been easy for the Golden Eagles this season. The last time Buzz Williams' team did it was Jan. 5, a two-game winning streak after it knocked off West Virginia at home and Rutgers at the RAC. That's hardly an impressive double dip of Ws in the eyes of the Selection Committee.

Needing a worthwhile win in the worst of ways Thursday night, the Golden Eagles went into the XL Center and got one, dramatically and unexpectedly, given Marquette's pattern of recent behavior, taking down Connecticut in overtime, 74-67. Now Marquette, after beating mediocre Seton Hall at home last Saturday, finally knows again what it feels like to win two in a row. It's small, but it's a winning streak. And it's got to continue, for there are no more statement games left in the Golden Eagles' regular season — only pitfalls amid a brief trek through a transparent minefield.

Golden Eagles Forward Jimmy Butler sported a smile and welcomed a pelting of questions from a small pool of reporters outside the Marquette locker room in the wake of the win. He was honest and casual about his team's improved tournament chances — however slim the improvement may be.

"I have no idea," Butler said. "I don't know what it takes to get into the tournament; I hear you've got to win 10 games in the Big East. So we're on our way to that, and we're now worrying about Providence next."

Butler and his teammates are motivated by things beyond what's rumored to be a water mark for Big Dance inclusion. Again, with gusto: For as nice and needed a victory as this was, a streak must put compiled for posterity's sake. Williams' team is looking at Providence and Cincinnati at home in the next week before finishing up at Seton Hall on March 5. Then the Big East tournament comes, and surely a win or two over shoo-in tournament teams needs to happen for the 17-11 Golden Eagles to feel secure entering Selection Sunday on March 12.

"This is a start. This is a start to win out," Marquette forward Jae Crowder (above) said. "We need to win out to be ready for the Big East tournament."

After struggling this season with close games (Marquette's record prior to Thursday night in games decided by less than five points: 3-6), the Golden Eagles won the first one that was forced to be decided in 45 minutes. UConn had 28 offensive rebounds ... and yet shot a miserable 36 percent from the field.

"I don't know if I've ever seen that before, to be honest with you," UConn assistant George Blaney said. Blaney was subbing, as he's done on many occasions, for head coach Jim Calhoun, who tended to his family in New Hampshire in the wake of the death of his sister-in-law.

The UConn assistant was echoed by his counterpart, who didn't try to qualify with logic or reason why his team pulled out a tough, close win on the road against a tournament team — something it hasn't shown it can do to this point.

"I don't know that there's necessarily any way statistically you can explain how we won," Williams said. "We couldn't make a shot. They got every 50-50 ball in the second half. They absolutely hammered us on the offensive glass. But our guys hung in there."

Marquette was able to put itself into the conversation of making the tournament once again (if it did, we could be looking at 11 Big East teams going, a new record by a margin of two) because of the clutch late play of one guy (Golden Eagle Darius Johnson-Odom) and the lack of it from another (Connecticut's Kemba Walker). Johnson-Odom had 17 points, 11 of which came in the final seconds of regulation and in overtime.

"It was me trying to force the issue too much," Walker said.

Blaney said the team was "commanding" Walker do it by himself.

Walker had two turnovers in regulation and forced about seven bad shots down the stretch. He's a Player of the Year candidate no more. Jae Crowder said he and his teammates anticipated Walker to try and take the responsibility when the Huskies trailed 34-23 at the half.

"We knew — we knew — especially at halftime we talked about it, that he was going to try and take over at some point," Crowder said. "We didn't know when that point was going to be, but he would try to ... jack up a lot of balls."

Crowder had a couple of really important rebounds in the second half, ironic because UConn grabbed 54 percent of its missed shots. Coming off the bench, Crowder had a team-high 11 of the 43 Marquette snares.

"As you can see, the shooting percentages were down in both halves," Crowder said of his group's overall 37.1-percent effort from the field. "We had to play great defense because the shots weren't falling."

Crowder, Butler, Johnson-Odom, they all were of one mind when it came to the final three games of the schedule: being mentally strong and putting off thoughts of the Big East tournament, which looms large over their team's tournament chances, is of the utmost importance. But the mind wanders, naturally. If Marquette were to lose to Providence or Seton Hall, the impact of the UConn win would most likely dwindle in the eyes of the Selection Committee.

"We're aware of that," Crowder said. "This is what can start it for us. It must."

The head coach does not and will not pretend to gauge where his team stands. 

"I don't know what the appropriate response is (to winning) because I think that college basketball has come ... there's so many people who are covering, and everybody has an opinion," Williams said. "You can really get lost in the numbers of it — the bubble and the teams. ... We had to be consumed with tonight's game, not relative to winning or losing [and] how it impacts us two weeks from now."

But the impact can and must start with what happened Thursday night. A winning streak began, and it can't end any time soon if Marquette wants to join more than half of its conference brethren in the NCAA tournament, which begins less than three weeks from now.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 13, 2011 10:45 am
Posted on: January 25, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2011 12:11 pm

Introducing: Line 'Em Up, a résumé examination


Posted by Matt Norlander

We’re debuting a new weekly feature today. The title I’m not so nuts about (it won over “Rivaling Résumés”), but the objective should be pretty fun. Call it a twist on bubble watching, only it’s not just that. Every Tuesday I’ll be taking teams and stacking their ledgers against each other. Sometimes it will be to debate and determine at-large inclusion into The Tournament; sometimes it will be about seeding. To start, we’ll take two pairs this Tuesday, looking at two teams firmly on the bubble, and two more you might be surprised are closer in seeding than expected at first glance.

Battle on the bubble: Duquesne vs. Oklahoma State

Duquesne has come out of nowhere, streaking with an eight-game winning streak, to be tied atop the Atlantic 10 with Xavier (both are 5-0). It’s the best start for this program in decades, so why not give them the inaugural treatment with this feature? The Dukes have a 36 ranking in KenPom world and 46 in the Sagarin universe (both objective, beautiful places to live, despite a lack of sand and constantly warm weather). Full disclaimer: I have not seen Duquesne play yet this season. There’s a strong chance you’re in my company.

With that out of the way, let’s look at what the team’s accomplished. The losses are all OK, save for the road one at Robert Morris; that did come in the Dukes’ second game of the season, the first one against a D-I opponent. As we move further and further away from the RMU loss, its meaning does diminish. Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia and George Mason (two OTs) are the others who’ve picked off the Dukes. Not embarrassing whatsoever, considering George Mason is a top-40 KenPom team. Win-wise, home vs. Temple on Jan. 15 is the only thing to hang outside the window for the Dukes.

Okie State is 14-5 and has a 73 KenPom ranking, 58 in Sagarin. Same number of losses, but the opponents are a little worse, collectively, and the teams who did fell OSU are worsening the Pokes’ reputation by the day. Losing to Texas A&M is fine and dandy, and even the Virginia Tech loss on Nov. 26 has improved with age. But Baylor, Colorado and Gonzaga are tailspinning and pulling Oklahoma State into the spiral with them.

Missouri State, who is atop the Missouri Valley, and Kansas State, those are the two wins Travis Ford’s team can be proud about right now. A win against Texas tomorrow would easily catapult Oklahoma State past Duquesne.

The pick: Oklahoma State, but it’s way close. The strength-of-schedule probably is what does it (OSU: 59; Duquesne: 127). The good news for Duquesne is the still-undefeated conference record and the fact it turns teams over at a higher rate than anyone else in the country. Chances are this team won’t be vaporizing its chances any time soon. Plus, if the Dukes finish with two losses, maybe three, in the A10, this won’t be a debate.

Who should be seeded higher: Georgia vs. Marquette

Both teams are safely in the field as of now, by my count. What’s intriguing about this pairing is how familiar you likely are with one team compared to the other. Marquette’s on national television with regularity; Georgia is not. Georgia hasn’t been for some time. Now, the Bulldogs get a game tonight on ESPN against helter-skelter Florida, and if they win, we could be looking at a 7-seed for them. Marquette gets a home game against Connecticut, which, as Andy Glockner notes this week, is now 1-seed-worthy.

So what types of seeds are we looking at for these teams? As of this moment:

Georgia, 9-seed. Wins over Colorado and UAB, two teams that will likely be irrelevant by late February, are paying off right now in bubble-watch ways. (This field is so damn weak.) The Bulldogs have the 89th-toughest schedule, according to Sagarin, which doesn’t matchup to Marquette’s No. 31. However, the Golden Eagles are a benefactor of the Big East. Georgia lost in double-OT to Notre Dame, looking better by proxy after what the Irish did last night. But let’s get right to it: beating Kentucky Jan. 8 is what gives Mark Fox’s team a lift right now. The sweep over the Mississippi schools is another trump card, but UK is the primary scalp on Georgia’s shoulder.

Marquette, 11-seed. The Eagles are below .500 in close games again, with a 2-6 record in tilts decided by five points or less. Does this sort of information get factored into seeding? It should. Marquette is 2-6 against the Sagarin top 50 and did zip outside the conference. Not one good win, unfortunately. That puts them below the dreaded 8/9 game in this year’s field as of now. Beating Notre Dame, since Georgia didn’t, is why I lined these two teams up. Will that win eventually look better than Georgia’s over Kentucky? Will be interesting to see, because the Big East is so deep, and UK will probably stay atop the SEC, per usual, bloating the significant of Georgia’s win. Buzz Williams’ team needs to win close ones, especially on the road, to climb up the seeding ladder.

Photos: AP
Posted on: January 24, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2011 1:53 pm

Three teams that need a big week

Posted by MATT JONES


No team has a bigger week upcoming than the Golden Eagles, who will host UConn and then Syracuse in Milwaukee, before heading on the road next week to Villanova. Marquette sits currently at 13-7 and 4-3 in the Big East, and is firmly on the NCAA bubble going into the heart of Big East play. The problem for Buzz Williams’ team is that it currently holds only one victory over a ranked team (Notre Dame) and its chances to score quality wins early in the year have all ended in defeats.

A late loss at Vanderbilt and a total collapse against Louisville (in which Marquette blew an 18 point lead with 5:44 remaining) have left the Golden Eagles with a resume that needs at least one more signature win for comfort. As Virginia Tech fans can surely attest, a team can’t simply beat all of the bad teams on its schedule, while losing to every team with NCAA Tournament hopes, and expect to make the Big Dance. But this week’s games against the Huskies and Orange provide a chance to get a top ten victory to offset the games Marquette has let slip away. Buzz Williams probably can’t expect to pull off both upsets, but getting at least one is crucial.


The Buffaloes likely had the worst last week of any of the potential NCAA bubble teams, losing two winnable road games at Nebraska and Oklahoma. The losses leave the Buffaloes at 14-6 and come on the heels of two signature wins against Missouri and Kansas State that had created some momentum around the program. This week, Colorado will play a suddenly shaky Kansas team in Boulder and then go on the road to Waco to play Baylor.

Both games will be difficult and at the beginning of the season, neither would have been likely considered a place to steal a resume win. But after dropping two games that an NCAA bubble team must win, the Buffaloes need to offset those losses by stealing at least one of these two. The rest of Colorado’s schedule only gets more difficult and thus if this week brings two more losses in a row, the likelihood of a rare March dance in Boulder becomes much slimmer.

St. John’s

Steve Lavin’s team has to find a way to stop the bleeding. After losing a crucial game at home to Cincinnati on Saturday, the margin for error to get the Red Storm in the NCAA Tournament is shrinking. This week provides two chances for Lavin to get a third quality win for its March resume as the Storm play at Georgetown and then host Duke. St. John’s sits 14-7 overall and 4-4 in the Big East at this point, but the end of the schedule provides the opportunity for some easy wins against the likes of Rutgers, Seton Hall, Depaul and South Florida. Thus getting one more top-level victory might be enough to propel Lavin’s group to 20 wins and a likely NCAA berth. The Storm has already beaten Georgetown once this season and any win over Duke is sure to get noticed nationally. With what is to come in the rest of the season, the magic number for St. John's this week is one.

Photo: AP

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 11, 2011 9:27 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 9:30 am

Marquette takes care of business to get big W

Posted by Matt Norlander

Last night was mostly about the end of college football's season, but we did have Notre Dame-Marquette to watch before it was decided who would take all the Tostitos.

And Marquette won. Easily. I don't fault you for clicking away long before it went final, or perhaps not even watching at all. But know this: a huge win for the Golden Eagles, getting the team to 3-1 in the Big East by way of the 79-57 outcome, the third-largest margin of victory in the long rivalry between these two programs.

It's not shaping up, no, it's already shaped up to be like this in the conference. Marquette, a team most would consider a good-but-middle-of-the-pack group is out in front in the Big East race. There's value to that. That's how life's lived there. Some teams with more impressive non-con resumes will find themselves behind schools that manage to grind out a double-digit win total this year.

Golden Eagles fans know how many heartbreaking, last-minute losses this team has endured in the past two years. Blowout wins over highly ranked clubs like the Irish are akin to finding Tostitos in the desert. (OK, I'm done with the Tostitos talk.)

(No. I'm not.)

Dwight Buycks' five 3-pointers went a long way to dropping Notre Dame to 3-2. As a team, Marquette was 12 for 17 from deep. It can't keep that up, but it's got to be comforting to know the possibility for another unleashing is there. What's funny -- Marquette's one of the 20 best two-point shooting teams in the country.

Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom: guys who you may not know but collectively make Marquette one of the fun teams to watch in all the sport. Perhaps it's because they keep you guessing. Rare is the MU game that's not enthralling in some sort of way.

Which is why last night's laugher was all the more surprising, yet welcome, in the state of Wisconsin. For the record, the Irish's three losses have all come by double digits. Just something to store away ... for now.

But Marquette, which is 12-5 and doesn't have a "bad" loss in the books, got its best win of the year last night. We've got a long way to go, but that type of decisive W could be what cements MU into the Tournament field come late February, when other teams with a bevy of losses can't claim a win as good as this one.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Marquette
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