The Court Report: Wofford Terriers are 24-4, and could be better than Steph Curry’s Elite Eight Davidson team
Matt Norlander's tour around college hoops also has a look at Gonzaga's history-making run and a catchup with Dan Hurley
On Monday afternoon, Wofford coach Mike Young was getting ready to watch film with his guys. Then their phones started dinging and buzzing. "Swishing," he called it.
"Would you guys turn those damn things off?" Young said.
Turns out, congratulations were in order: No. 24 Wofford had just entered the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history.
"Well, they can swish all they'd like," Young joked by phone with me this week. "It's an incredible feeling, an incredible accomplishment for our team, for the college. This place is on fire."
The last time a Southern Conference team was as good and dangerous as this year's Wofford Terriers, a lanky kid named Curry took Davidson to the Elite Eight.
At 24-4 and fresh off a sweep of talented Furman, Wofford has become one of the best stories in college basketball. Young, who's been at the school for three decades, can hardly believe it. He celebrated Monday night by having a few beers and eating shrimp and grits with his school president.
"We haven't lost since Dec. 19 for God's sake," Young said. "I didn't think we'd be where we are."
"We haven't lost since Dec. 19 for God's sake."Wofford coach Mike Young
Not bad for one Division I's smallest schools (Wofford's enrollment hovers around just 1,600). The Terriers are knocking on the door of tourney-lock status, which is unthinkable for a SoCon squad. The league has an interesting history -- in its infancy in the 1920s, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Kentucky were members -- but it's seldom in a spot where a school can earn a single-digit seed. In the latest bracketology outlook from Jerry Palm, Wofford's sitting pretty as a 9 seed.
If Wofford wins out, a 6 seed isn't unreasonable.
That would match a conference record. The SoCon's only had three single-digit seeds in its history. In 1979, Appalachian State was a 6 in that 40-team tournament. In 1993, Chattanooga was a 9, and in 1999, College of Charleston earned an 8.
The strength of this year's SoCon has boosted Wofford's numbers across the board. The league is ranked No. 10 out of 32 conferences in KenPom's power rankings, by far its best ever. Wofford is 20th in the NET rankings and 25th in KenPom. All of its losses have come in Quadrant 1.
"It's off the charts high," Young said of how good the SoCon's become. "We're 16-0 and this isn't a typical year in our league. This league is a bear. It's a flipping monster."
Wofford's managed to go 6-0 against Furman, East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro, the three of which rank in the top 65 of the NET, have a combined 68-19 record and own only one loss in league play, total, to teams not named Wofford, Furman, ETSU and UNC Greensboro. Incredible.
Wofford plays at Chattanooga on Thursday, then at Samford on Saturday to wrap up the regular-season slate. It seems almost certain that the Terriers only need one more W to secure a bid at this point. (The SoCon tournament runs March 8-11). If this team rings a bell, well, the Terriers have become a known mid-major in recent seasons for two reasons: 1) Wofford won at North Carolina in 2017; 2) Wofford's made the NCAAs four times since 2010. Young said the road upset of UNC last season has unquestionably had carryover effect to the success of this year's team. The program is 45-17 and counting since the start of 2017-18.
"They've had the look," Young said about this year's group and responding to a dejecting upset loss in last season's SoCon tourney to UNC Greensboro.
But things could soon get bigger and better than ever before. The Terriers boast four players players who shoot 40 percent or better from 3, including potential future NBAer, senior Fletcher Magee. Magee's averaging 20.2 points and has a stable of talented teammates around him.
"It doesn't happen because you want it to, it happens because you work your ass off," Young said of Magee's pro trajectory and how that's dovetailed with Wofford's historic season.
This is the No. 3-shooting team from 3-point range (41.3 percent) in college basketball. Young also said they truly go 10 deep. When I prodded him and asked if he'd really run 10 guys out in the pressurized environment of an NCAA Tournament game, he responded emphatically.
"Damn right I am," Young said, adding: "We're more electric defensively. I am convinced, watching us play here over the past month, six weeks, we'll wear on you as time goes down."
The only other team undefeated in league play aside from Wofford is Gonzaga. And the last time a team went undefeated in the SoCon? Yep. You probably guessed it: Davidson in 2007-08. The Elite Eight team with Steph Curry.
Wofford's good enough to duplicate the feat. Know them now, because you'll be seeing, hearing and reading a lot more about them in March.
Gonzaga on brink of historic dominance
We have never seen a team in the modern metric era of college basketball be as authoritative over its conference the way Gonzaga has been this season. The 27-2 Zags are 14-0 in league play and have just two WCC games left. Remember, the dropped from 18 to 16 games this season, essentially, to appease/help Gonzaga. Mark Few wanted better résumé opportunities in nonconference play since the WCC can act as a hindrance to the Bulldogs' annual seeding hopes.
Ken Pomeroy has periodically been reminding his Twitter followers just how fabulous this Gonzaga tear through its intra-league slate is. From a margin-of-victory standpoint, it's now two games away from being historic.
Gonzaga's won seven games by at least 40 points this season, which is the best in men's D-I since 2000-01 (Duke).
What's amazing about all of this: I spoke with Few recently and he swears the WCC is better this season than what it's been in recent years. The metrics support this theory.
The Bulldogs can borderline-seal a No. 1 seed and make history in the process with two more blowout wins in the next three days: at Pacific, at Saint Mary's.The second is unlikely to be a demolishing, however; projections have Gonzaga only winning by single digits.
Dan Hurley expected his first year at UConn to be rough
I was on hand at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, on Sunday afternoon for Cincinnati-UConn. The underrated, 23-4 Bearcats pulled out a 64-60 win, sealing the victory thanks to a 3 by Cane Broome with 11 seconds to go. (Broome, who grew up in greater Hartford and wasn't recruited by the Huskies or any big-time programs, attended Sacred Heart before transferring to play for Mick Cronin.)
The loss dropped UConn to 13-14, putting Huskies coach Dan Hurley under .500 for the first time since his second season at Rhode Island in 2014. I spoke with Hurley about his team and the bumpy ride over the past few months.
"The thing that helps me is I've done this before," he said. "I haven't done it at a place like this, where you've got the media, the history, the dark cloud of , but I'm right where I want to be. I've got my team competing, fighting. Help is on the way."
Fact is, Kevin Ollie did not leave a good situation on the table at UConn. The school will almost certainly miss the NCAA Tournament this season, marking the third straight year the Big Dance will not have the Huskies. Connecticut hasn't gone two years -- let alone three -- without a bid since 1989.
Hurley is facing the toughest construction job of his career, but he's a rebuilder, no doubt. He loves the big fix. If you eliminate his first-season records, Hurley's career coaching mark is 137-60, which amounts to a .695 win percentage. The Huskies are slogging through the back end of a tough AAC schedule. Plus, UConn shooting guard Alterique Gilbert is at about 80 percent of his potential, mostly due to rust, Hurley said. Jalen Adams, who has been the prized talent at the school the past four years, is still out (MCL sprain) and it's not known if he'll make it back by the end of the season.
"We're learning how to compete, we're learning how to fight, we're developing character, we're building a culture," Hurley said. "It's exactly where I thought we'd be in year one. You know what happens for me in year one. Things will get better."
There's a lot that needs to be overhauled with this program, though. For starters, the XL Center -- which is UConn's part-time home venue in addition to Storrs' on-campus Gampel Pavilion -- needs yet another facelift. Renovations from earlier this decade helped the venue and the city of Hartford land first-round hosting duties for this year's NCAA Tournament, but the 45-year-old building is still showing its age in a lot of ways. (I'm sort of surprised it got a tournament site, given how much work the bowels of the arena still need.)
If UConn wants to annually be atop the American Athletic Conference -- or try to get back into the Big East -- the XL Center is going to need tens of millions of dollars put into it to make it appealing again. It lacks suites, a video ribbon board, modern amenities, etc. Plus, UConn never gets to practice in the arena before games, or at all, because minor league hockey needs it for its practices and games.
It will be interesting to see how much Hurley can do locally to raise big money and get the city of Hartford to buy in on changing the XL Center -- amid other things that will boost/help the program. Aside from the local logistics, Hurley sees the program on a three-year path back to national relevance.
"Eventually we'll explode onto the scene and it'll be UConn again," he said.
That's exactly why he was hired: to get the Huskies back to perennial top-20 status.
Have a question, curiosity or complaint? Do @ me. Lob your question my way on Twitter.
Marquette winning out would mean the Golden Eagles would enter Selection Sunday as a 30-4 team. There is no doubt in my mind that they'd be a lock for a 2 seed if that happened. Three of their four losses are Quad 1 -- and MU already has eight top-tier victories.
Bad-loss opportunities lurk like proximity mines for so many teams. Let's eliminate those from the discussion, though. Right now, I think these teams should get at-large bids out of traditional mid-major leagues if they fail to win their league title: Nevada, Buffalo, Wofford, Belmont. Liberty if it doesn't lose again until the Atlantic Sun title game.
It's a valid question. And if Kentucky winds up as a 2, I can't wait to see what the committee opts to do here. Big Blue Nation has an advantage regardless of venue, but it will be a de facto home game in the Elite Eight if Kentucky as a 2 is playing against any team that might get there as a 1. The other factor is if Tennessee plays its way back to a 1 seed. It would have advantage over UK in that scenario, and Kentucky would be shipped to a different region because they wouldn't put the top two teams from the same league on the 1 and 2 line in the same region.
The Wolf Pack would have to lose four of their five remaining games to have this be under real consideration. That obviously won't happen. If it did, Nevada would be in big trouble.
- The LSU-Kentucky no-goaltend-call ending from Feb. 12 made a lot of noise around college basketball. I've spoken with a few folks in the know who anticipate that when the rules committee meets this May, it will be heavily discussed (as it was two years ago, before being shot down) that goaltending calls become reviewable plays in the final minute of a game.
- Trivia time: Only one conference features all of its teams above .500. If I gave you four guesses, do you think you could get it? The answer is at the bottom.
- Virginia Tech has won at least 10 league games four years straight for the first time since the late 1950s/early 1960s. I don't know if Buzz Williams will be in Blacksburg for another five weeks or for another 15 years, but it's obvious the school and he made the right decision when they latched up in 2014.
- The ACC boasts three of the top five teams in the AP poll for the 41st time in conference history, the most recent instance coming in 2004-05 (No. 2 UNC, No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Wake Forest in March of that year).
- A shoutout to Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who won his 800th career game last Thursday. Byrd is one of just five active coaches to sit above 800 wins in men's college basketball. The others are easy guesses: Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins and Roy Williams. Byrd is 12th all-time in victories in men's college hoops.
- I feel like I need to make this clear so people understand: Baylor is 18-9 with a 9-5 Big 12 mark. The Bears have been down to seven scholarship players (eight if you count a walk-on who was given one) for multiple games this season. They don't have their best player (Tristan Clark) and have seen point guard Makai Mason miss five games. Probably Scott Drew's greatest coaching job.
- A round of applause for one of the best players in Minnesota history, Jordan Murphy. He's got 1,241 career rebounds, which is second all time in the Big Ten to Ohio State great Jerry Lucas' 1,411 snags. He's been, on the whole, a top-10 big man in college basketball the past two seasons.
- As for the Big 12, Texas Tech's 91-62 win over Kansas on Saturday was the worst defeat, by margin, for the Jayhawks in 19 years.
- Drake is 21-8. It's just the sixth time in program history the school has won 20 games in a season. Darren DeVries has done a marvelous job in his first season.
- ANSWER: The only conference with all of its teams above .500: the Big East.
Imagine being a college student, a Division I athlete, and suffering a stroke. That's what happened to Howard Washington of Syracuse. Below, he describes what he went through, in public, when it came. Video via the Post-Standard of Syracuse.
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