'Nova boosts résumé, Cards show issues; afternoon roundup
Welcome to the Saturday afternoon roundup file, the Missing Persons Edition. Injuries, suspensions, lineup decisions and flat-out bad performances dotted the landscape in the early games. Let's run through the most notable events:
Villanova 75, No. 3 Syracuse 71 (OT)
There's a lot to discuss in this one on both sides, so let's bullet-point it, starting with the victors:
• The Wildcats have made a Bob Beamon-esque leap into the NCAA Tournament picture, notching wins over No. 1 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse in the space of five days. Mix in wins over bubble hopefuls like Purdue and Saint Joseph's and we'll see where this goes, but those two wins will be marquee flags that many other teams won't have come March.
• Mouph Yarou was a beast and Darrun Hilliard exploded for a career-high 25 points. James Bell pitched in all over the floor and Ryan Arcidiacono made the late game-tying three after a rough shooting afternoon. For a team that has been really subpar offensively all season, these are very solid developments.
• Syracuse is not the same team without James Southerland, on either end of the floor. They don't have a knockdown perimeter shooter now and, as seen down the stretch, his absence hurts defensively. After Baye Keita fouled out, Syracuse played three guards in their zone and Brandon Triche looked lost playing the baseline. Triche did what he could to carry the Orange offensively, but Michael Carter-Williams had a terrible offensive game and there weren't enough other sources of offense, although Jerami Grant's emergence has been a plus.
• The Orange totally butchered the end of regulation, when they were up three. First, Carter-Williams missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to keep it a one-possession game. Then, after Villanova called timeout with 0:13 left, Syracuse allowed the Wildcats to take a semi-open three, allowed Yarou to grab an offensive rebound, didn't foul him immediately, allowed a kickout to the corner, didn't close out the shot properly and allowed Arcidiacono to step through and make the game-tying leaning three. The Orange they compounded it by not using a timeout and inbounding the ball a few feet to Carter-Williams, who was left heaving a 70-footer at the buzzer.
I have more than 900 fewer wins than Jim Boeheim, but that sequence was atrocious. If you want to argue not fouling before the first three, it's marginal with 10 seconds left, but you have to at least make the look tougher than it was. Everything after that was really suboptimal from a win-expectancy standpoint, and the Orange paid the price in overtime. Not having the awareness to foul Yarou was the backbreaking mistake. The zone had collapsed and the kickout was available.
Georgetown 53, No. 5 Louisville 51
Rick Pitino elected to bring Russ Smith off the bench, an interesting gambit for a team that continues to struggle for consistent offense and for which Smith takes such an enormous percentage of shots when he's on the floor. He entered the game after about four minutes, so it wasn't an enormous actual strategy shift, but the message and mentality shift was intriguing.
Both teams' offenses bogging down at times in a mix of turnovers, bad shots and late-clock forces. Louisville's late-game offensive possessions were very questionable, even after they were given a gift of a held ball call after Russ Smith had to force a jumper deep into the shot clock.
This was a big win for Georgetown without suspended forward Greg Whittington. After a really sloppy start to his game, Otto Porter delivered some of what the NBA scouts came to see, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds and some big plays late. Peyton Siva, once again in foul trouble, had about as invisible game from a senior standout point guard as you will see: 0 points (on two shots), one assist, three turnovers.
Bigger picture for Louisville, the Cards are displaying some red flags on both ends of the floor in terms of being a serious contender to win the national title. The lack of a consistent go-to scorer and the high-risk, turnover-fueled defense leave the Cards more vulnerable than you would like in a knockout tournament. One bad shooting game or one game that's tightly whistled against a good opponent, and a solid Cards team could end up getting sent home. There's still time to improve, but concerns are there.
In other action...
Duke 84, Maryland 64
The Blue Devils bounced back from the Miami Massacre behind Rasheed Sulaimon, who made his first six threes on the way to a 25-point outing. Mason Plumlee outplayed Alex Len. The Blue Devils only committed four turnovers for the contest and shot 11-22 from the arc.
Quick takeaways: Good rebound performance for the Blue Devils, but they're not the same team without Ryan Kelly. Amile Jefferson is coming along, but doesn't provide the same type of offensive presence as Kelly's ability as a stretch 4. The Devils have time to adjust if Kelly's injury keeps him out, but it will be interesting to see if the thinner, more traditional frontcourt would cap their upside.
Maryland is that soccer team that's "too good to get relegated," but it happens from time to time. Ask Newcastle. The Terps have now whiffed on the three premium road chances in ACC play. The only two top-100 games they have left are home to UNC and Duke. They have one top-75 win: home over NC State. This is not a good at-large profile at the moment. At Florida State on Wednesday is huge now.
Eastern Michigan 42, Northern Illinois 25
What is this game doing in here? Well, the Huskies set an all-time shot-clock era record with four first-half points, tied the any-half record with those four points and set the all-time worst field goal percentage record after shooting 8-for-61 for the game (13.1 percent). Over a stretch of 24:33 over both halves, Northern Illinois missed 36 straight field goal attempts. The Huskies also missed their first 32 three-point attempts of the game before making their final attempt to avoid the record for most missed threes in a game without a make, as well. The record remains 0-for-24.
Wisconsin 45, Minnesota 44
Compared to EMU-NIU, this was like 1991 UNLV playing, but it was an important game that went the Badgers' way when Traemon Jackson got a friendly bounce on a jumper with two seconds left. It's also unclear whether he actually got the shot off before a shot-clock violation, but it counted. Somehow, Wisconsin fouled Trevor Mbakwe on a long inbounds pass and Mbakwe went to the bench holding his hand. Bo Ryan chose Rodney Williams (0-5 FG for the game) to shoot the free throws and he backrimmed the second one, allowing the Badgers to hold on.
Quick takeaways: Andre Hollins did what he could, tallying a Sisyphean 20 points in a game that only had 89 total between the two teams. The Gophers are suddenly 3-4 in Big Ten play and not the complete NCAA tournament lock they appeared to be two weeks ago. Tubby Smith's Minnesota teams have a lengthy habit of strong nonconference starts and conference fades, although there have been some injury and transfer issues involved. Let's see where this one goes, although I still think they'll be OK.
This wasn't a vintage Wisconsin performance, even if the scoreline provides some joke material about their preferred pace. It was a very valuable win, though, after two straight losses and a trip to Ohio State on tap next.
Iowa State 73, Kansas State 67
The Wildcats had five offensive rebounds. Iowa State guard Will Clyburn had five offensive rebounds. The Cyclones toughed their way to a 22-9 free throw attempt advantage and even clanking 12 of those, had enough to win. Clyburn went for 24 points and a game-tying high of 10 rebounds. K-State shot 51 percent from the floor on the road, and it wasn't enough.
Quick takeaways: A lot of people are waiting on Bruce Weber's group to fade, but this week isn't the best evidence for those folks. They battled Kansas at home before falling short, and Ames isn't an easy place at all to come. The Wildcats played decently enough, they just got beat. The two teams will meet again Feb. 9 in Manhattan. Both teams are now 4-2 in the Big 12 and angling for NCAA bids.