Roosevelt Jones' buzzer-beater lifts Butler, Louisville falters
Fast Break (Cont.)
Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until Roosevelt Jones decides it is. Yes, the Butler did it, but that's not all that got done in college hoops last week. Lots of the noteworthy stuff happened out west -- a high-scoring Bronco, some low-scoring Aztecs, and a band of purple Huskies who suffered a setback. We will listen to a coach from the desert whose team is generating some serious dry heat. Come bask in the glow of this week's edition of the Fast Break.
Everybody in Fifth Third Arena knew who was going to take the last shot. The fans knew it, the announcers knew, the players and coaches knew it. Most of all, Sean Kilpatrick knew it. With the clock winding down in overtime of Cincinnati's game against Marquette, Kilpatrick weaved around three defenders and converted a left-handed layup over a fourth to give the Bearcats a dramatic 71-69 victory. Kilpatrick scored a career-high 36 points in the game, which was especially impressive considering Cincinnati was playing without starting point guard Cashmere Wright, who was sidelined by a sprained right knee. Kilpatrick had come into the game mired in a nasty shooting slump, but he was 5-for-14 from three-point range and 11-of-23 overall. He also had 18 points, six rebounds and three assists in a 75-70 win at DePaul last Wednesday.
The Bobby Plumps have now provided us with three spine-tingling moments this season -- and it's still January. There was Rotnei Clarke's fallaway 30-footer to beat Marquette in Maui. There was walk-on Alex Barlow's spinning layup in overtime to knock off top-ranked Indiana. Now, we have Roosevelt Jones's steal-and-floater (or should I say, push-steal-and-floater) that sunk Gonzaga on Saturday night in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Aside from the dramatic finish, there were three impressive things to know about Butler's week. First, the Bulldogs played without leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, who is out with a neck injury. Second, they also beat Richmond last Wednesday, which was actually the more important game because it came inside the league. And finally, there was Brad Stevens's instant-classic reaction to the Jones game-winner. Or should I say, his non-reaction. If you haven't locked in on what Stevens did, check it out now. There's a reason why some mid-major programs are flashes in the pan, while others like Butler and Gonzaga achieve sustained success.
If a guy is going to play two-guard and make just 13 percent of his three-point attempts, he better excel in all the other areas of the game. That's what Cotton does. Yes, he shot 0-for-10 in the Shockers' win over Creighton, but he also had eight rebounds (including three offensive) and played tough defense on Doug McDermott, the Bluejays' 6-8 All-America forward. McDermott finished with 25 points, but he did not score in the final two minutes while the game was being decided. Cotton also made the game's most important defensive play when he jumped at Bluejays forward Ethan Wragge without fouling on Wragge's three-point attempt with six seconds to play that would have tied the game. Cotton also had seven points, seven assists and two rebounds in Wichita State's win over Illinois State on Wednesday night. That's some sticky stuff right there.
They sure don't make freshmen like they used to. Dotson and Artis have started in the backcourt for the Ducks all season, yet you would never know how inexperienced they are. Playing a road game against a ranked conference opponent on national television, Dotson and Artis showed maturity well beyond their years, combining for 25 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, three steals and three turnovers in a 76-67 win over UCLA. The duo also combined for 26 points in a win at USC last Thursday. The most amazing thing about these two has been their consistency. The 6-5 Dotson, who was the more heralded of the two coming out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, excels at creating his shot, old-school style. He leads the Ducks in scoring at 11.0 points per game and has made 48 percent of his shots. Artis, a 6-1 point guard from Oakland, is averaging 10.3 points per game, but he has failed to score in double figures just four times.
Foster is a classic example of a player who is both a great shooter and a great scorer. He did plenty of both last week in the Broncos' road wins over Pepperdine and San Francisco, scoring a combined 56 points on 20-for-32 shooting. He was 12-of-21 from three-point range in the wins as well. On the season, Foster is averaging 20.2 points on 35.4 percent three-point shooting, but he is not just a scorer. He had 10 rebounds against San Francisco and four assists and three steals against Pepperdine.
There were plenty of great wins to choose from last week, but the Orange got the nod because of whom they beat, where they beat 'em, and whom they were missing. Louisville had been playing stellar basketball en route to becoming the No. 1 team in the country, and the Cardinals have proved to be very hard to beat at the KFC Yum! Center. And of course, Syracuse is still without senior forward James Southerland, its second-leading scorer, who has been declared indefinitely ineligible. Yet, Syracuse beat Louisville thanks to a superb ham-and-egg effort from its backcourt of Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. Triche, a 6-4 senior, had 18 of his 23 points in the first half, while Carter-Williams scored nine of the team's final 11 points and sealed the win with a steal and go-ahead dunk with 23 seconds to play. Syracuse also got yet another nice lift off the bench from 6-8 freshman forward Jerami Grant, who chipped in 10 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench.
The Badgers beat the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall just seven weeks after they lost at home to Virginia. What happened between those two games only Bo Ryan knows, but that was a very confident team that scored their 11th consecutive win over their Big Ten rivals. The main thing the Badgers did against the Hoosiers was show their age. Ryan put out a starting lineup that featured three seniors and a junior. But it is the lone sophomore, Traevon Jackson, who has improved the most since that Virginia game. Having been thrust into a starting role to replace the injured Josh Gasser, Jackson had 11 points, three rebounds and two assists in the win at Indiana. He had a miserable outing four days later in a loss at Iowa (three points on 1-for-10 shooting), but Jackson showed that when he plays up to his potential, Wisconsin can beat anyone, anywhere.
The Huskies had a mediocre nonconference season, so when they started off 4-0 in the Pac-12, including 3-0 on the road, it gave some hope that they might be an NCAA tournament team. So it's hard to understand how they could lose at home to a Utah team that had lost all five of its league games. As usual, Washington's problem was a matador defense that created just four steals and allowed the Utes to shoot 60 percent from the floor.
It's one thing for a team like Clemson or Tennessee to be anemic on offense. But when it's the nation's 15th-ranked team, you know that someone must have crossed the streams. The Aztecs mustered just nine points in the first half of their 58-45 road loss to the Cowboys on Saturday. At least they cracked the 40-point mark. I wish I could say the same for Florida State, which scored just 36 points in a 20-point loss at Virginia.
Larry Eustachy's club came into the season with high expectations, for good reason. The Rams returned three starters from the team that went to the NCAA tournament; they added Colton Iverson, a 6-10 transfer from Minneota; and they have a starting lineup that includes five seniors. The only thing they lacked was a signature win -- until Saturday night, when they defeated UNLV at home, 66-61, behind a season-high 24 points from 6-foot-2 senior guard Dorian Green. The win improved the Rams' record to 2-1 in the Mountain West and 15-3 overall. Colorado State also earned respect last weekend when it took San Diego State to overtime on the road before losing, 79-72. Since this is the Mountain West, there is no rest for the flavorful: Colorado State plays at first-place New Mexico on Wednesday night.
Kansas at Kansas State, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
The Jayhawks' dominance in the Little Apple has prompted their fans to dub Bramlage Coliseum "Allen Fieldhouse West," or the "Hawktagon of Doom." Given the way KU has played of late, you might assume the Jayhawks are ripe to be plucked. But there's a lot of history working against that assumption.
Duke at Miami, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Both of these teams are missing a critical senior starter -- Duke's Ryan Kelly, and Miami's Reggie Johnson. The Hurricanes are undefeated in the ACC and have been knocking at the door of the Top 25 all season. A win here would allow them to bust through.
UCLA at Arizona, Thursday, 9 p.m.
The Bruins' hot streak was doused in embarrassing fashion last weekend by Oregon. The McKale Center is not an ideal place to get warm again.
New Mexico at San Diego State, Saturday, 4 p.m.
The Aztecs have suddenly found themselves with a 2-2 record in the Mountain West after losses last week to UNLV and Wyoming. Now they get the top team in the conference on their own home floor. If they can't take advantage, it could damage their confidence.
Michigan State at Indiana, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Spartans don't look real pretty, but they sure do find ways to win. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers need a win here at home to prove they belong among the nation's elite. Tom Crean used to be Tom Izzo's assistant at Michigan State, so that always makes for a fun storyline.
SI.com: You had a nice win at Arizona State on Saturday. So now you're 16-1 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12. I imagine you're pleased?
Sean Miller: I looked this morning, and I saw we've played the fourth-hardest schedule in the country. We're very, very proud of that. One of the things that we're excited about is we have a number of first-year players in key roles. Against Arizona State, a number of our freshmen stepped up defensively. So we have maybe a higher ceiling than some other teams because we still have a lot of room to improve.
SI.com: Several of your wins have been very close. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Miller: Well, we've won 'em. I think that gives your team confidence moving forward. I watched Butler against Gonzaga. That steal was not just a reflection of that moment, it's a variety of things that give teams and players the confidence that when they get in that situation, they've done it before and they can be successful. You have to have some good fortune, but you also have to have players who can make plays. Sometimes, what looks like luck from the outside is really just a very talented player making a great play.
SI.com: One of those close wins came over Colorado after the refs overturned a banked-in three-pointer that would have won it for them. Was the shot good?
Miller: (laughs) It was no good because that was the ruling. We were willing to live with the results. It went our way. I think in all of our coaches lives, we go back to years gone by, sometimes things go against you, and once in a while they benefit you.
SI.com: Mark Lyons transferred from Xavier to Arizona partly because he wanted to play point guard. Yet, he's really a scoring guard playing the point. How are you managing his game right now?
Miller: He had the opportunity to play the point at other places, too. His final three schools were Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona. The advantage we had was because of our familiarity. I recruited him to Xavier as far back as the 11th grade. My final year at Xavier, he played for us as a partial qualifier. I look at the way the quarterback position has become a different entity in college football and even the NFL. As a coach, the number one thing you ask is, what are the strengths of a player? Mark has an incredible knack for scoring and getting fouled. That's very much a positive. What we've worked hard on is all the other things that come with the position, like how to run your team emotionally, stay in control. He's really done extremely well. Where we are with him and where we would be without him are two different places.
SI.com: How much do you spend time with Lute Olson, and what has that been like?
Miller: He's in a really good place. He's remarried, and they have a really incredible relationship. He's incredibly supportive. We've had several reunions. I think he has missed one home game in four years. He'll send me congratulatory texts once in a while. He'll show up at practice a handful of times a year, especially early in the season, because he's curious to see the new players. He feels strongly about making sure that you recruit good people as well as good players. He looks at his program at Arizona as being built on character and talent. That's something that once in a while, in your quest to get talent you can forget how important that is.
SI.com: Your brother Archie is in his second year as the head coach at Dayton. Would you guys ever consider setting up a game to play each other?
Miller: No. I talk to him all the time, but that would be a disaster. Part of the health of our relationship is that we're in this together. To play each other at this point would probably go against that. If we did, it would probably be in a tournament, but in terms of the regular season, I wouldn't want to put my parents through it.
SI.com: This may surprise you, but I only just realized that you were the guy who threw the pass to Jerome Lane at Pittsburgh on the play where he shattered the backboard. Do you get asked about that a lot?
Miller: All the time, because they show the clip, and I'm a coach so inevitably someone will recognize that it was me. The 25th anniversary of that is next Saturday, so I just got interviewed for a special on it. Looking back, at the time you didn't realize it was going to be as big as it is today. It was the old Big East, Big Monday. There wasn't nearly as much competition. If you were going to watch a college basketball that night, you were going to watch that game. It was surreal. Jerome was quite a college player, so for him to do it was more meaningful. It took about an hour for them to fix it, so we sat in the locker room. It was hard to believe it happened. Back then, they had breakaway rims but only in the back. Now I think they have the breakaways on all three sides, so that will never happen again, in my opinion.
SI.com: I see all these NFL teams hiring college football coaches, yet for some reason college basketball coaches have been stereotyped as guys who can't make it in the NBA. You seem to me to be someone who would be a great NBA coach. Is that something you would ever consider?
Miller: I haven't thought a lot about it. My mindset has always been to coach at the level you played at. When you try to take that next jump, having not done that [as a player], that's something that could be very uncomfortable. One thing I have realized by being around certain coaches in the NBA, Larry Brown being a great example. He'd say one of the things that has hurt college coaches going to the NBA is they've taken bad jobs. In the NBA, there are a few organizations that regardless will always be good. So when a college coach has an opportunity to go to one of those great organizations, he can be successful.
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Michigan (4)
2. Syracuse (6)
3. Duke (3)
4. Louisville (1)
5. Kansas (2)
6. Arizona (9)
7. Florida (17)
8. Butler (12)
9. Gonzaga (7)
10. Indiana (5)
11. Minnesota (8)
12. Creighton (10)
13. Kansas State (15)
14. New Mexico (14)
15. Michigan State (15)
16. Oregon (24)
17. UNLV (22)
18. Wichita State (NR)
19. N.C. State (16)
20. VCU (25)
21. Wisconsin (NR)
22. Ohio State (13)
23. San Diego State (11)
24. Ole Miss (NR)
25. UCLA (23)
Dropped out: Missouri (14), UConn (19), Notre Dame (20)
Each voter does their rankings a little differently. For me, it always comes down to the question of whether I should order teams based on where I think they stand, or do I let results dictate my ballot? In other words, I might think Team A is better than Team B, but if I have Team B ranked ahead and it doesn't lose, I am normally reluctant to switch things up.
For this week, at least, I decided to break off the shackles and not let my recent ballots handcuff me. So I stepped back and asked myself who was most deserving of being the number one team right now. I kept coming back to Michigan, even though the Wolverines were ranked behind Kansas and Duke on my ballot last week.
Not only did Michigan look extremely impressive while beating a top 10 team in Minnesota on the road, the Wolverines also looked real good in losing at Ohio State last weekend. They trailed the Buckeyes by 21 points with six minutes remaining in the first half. That means over the final 26 minutes, they out-scored Ohio State 45-27. I don't know that Michigan is necessarily the "best" team in America -- I don't know that there is, in fact, a single "best" team -- but it has played the best, and therefore got my nod for the top spot.
Kansas, meanwhile, looked awful in squeaking by a Texas team that had just gotten waxed by 20 at Iowa State. That's why the Jayhawks moved down three spots even though they were second on my ballot last week and didn't lose.
As I've said often, I gave an inordinate amount of weight to road wins, so I rewarded Syracuse, Arizona, UNLV, Oregon and Wisconsin. Those wins meant more to me than the subsequent road losses suffered by UNLV and Wisconsin (at Colorado State and Iowa, respectively).
I don't think there's any team about which I've reversed my opinion more than UConn. I put the Huskies at No. 19 last week because they won at Notre Dame. But Notre Dame has been awful since then, losing at St. John's by four and then barely beating Rutgers at home by three. Combine that with UConn's loss at unranked Pittsburgh on Saturday, and you see why I took them off my ballot. Don't worry, UConn fans, I'll probably have them in the top 10 next week.
Meanwhile, I realize Missouri is playing without its best player, Laurence Bowers, but that is no excuse for the way the team has played since then. It's one thing to lose a couple, it's quite another to get shellacked by Ole Miss and Florida by a combined 46 points. Any way you want to look at it, that is not a top 25 team.