Tag:Matt Norlander
Posted on: March 7, 2012 4:12 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:23 pm

WVU blows lead, is officially out of the Big East

Huggins' team led most of the way, but after Kevin Jones didn't get shots near the end, UConn stole it. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — West Virginia’s Big East membership ends with a whimper and an ill-attempted fall-away shot by Paul Williamson.



Meanwhile, UConn Big East tournament storyline gets another injection and dollop of hype thanks to the Mountaineers’ inability to close out a 63-54 lead with 3:40 to go during Wednesday afternoon’s conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers, a .500 team in the Big East this season that hasn’t beaten a surefire NCAA tournament club since Jan. 21 (Cincinnati), made things more complicated upon their swift exit out of the league.

So, why was Williamson in the game, and why was he even shooting the ball with seconds ticking away in overtime? The rarely used man was inserted after the best beard in college basketball and the man attached to it, Deniz Kilicli, fouled out with 4:20 to go in regulation. Huggins opted to use a few different lineups once Kilicli was unavailable. Trailing 71-67, the entertaining, gruff coach had seen enough of his young team and its unreliable guards give the game away. So up went Williamson’s shot on a play Huggins refrained from expounding upon afterward. The ball met the side of the backboard, and it was in that moment that many inside the Garden looked at each other and asked, “Who is that?”

With the shot failing, it signaled West Virginia’s biggest problem and the only reason that it lost this game. Where was Kevin Jones? He’s the guy Bob Huggins is ticked off about not winning the league’s Player of the Year award (Jones came in second to Marquette’s Jae Crowder). Because Jones was hounded by future NBA lottery pick Andre Drummond — a bright moment for the UConn freshman in a game that saw him miss a field goal as if he was putting from 30 feet out — the young Mountaineers got tunnel vision and backed their way into overtime against No. 9 UConn.

Once in overtime, West Virginia didn’t make a field goal. Oh-for-11. The team couldn’t find Jones and Jones couldn’t get open. He didn’t attempt a shot in the final 7:15 of regulation.

“I feel a little bit of disbelief, disappointment,” Jones said. “We didn’t make the correct decisions at the end. I think it was a little bit that they had Andre Drummond on me. Some of my teammates weren’t able to find me. UConn made the correct plays at the end of the game.”

Was this an emotional ending for Huggins? Uh, no, at least not outwardly. When one reporter addressed him and the players in the postgame press conference, Huggins was either lost in the riveting stat sheet or just flat out ignoring the question. He lifted his head up when the room was silent after the question was completed, as if he’d been called on in class and got caught daydreaming.

Jones answer the question. Eventually, Huggins did talk when another was asked.

“It’s been a good run,” he said of West Virginia’s 17-year stay in the Big East. “We’ve enjoyed it — most of it, anyway. There’s nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”

That was all Huggins had to say about it. And as for Williamson’s involvement, I asked him how the play broke down. He responded, “He made a hard shot.”

Made? What? I don’t even know. Maybe he misheard. What's evident now and has been the case for most of this season and the majority of his career: Huggins is ticked. He should be, because this team’s been inconsistent and a frustrating one for him to coach this season. If not for Jones, WVU isn’t even in the NIT.

“He (Jones) was playing with a bunch of freshman that don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing,” Huggins said. “And they don’t mean to, but to do what this guy’s done … with seven freshmen and a junior college transfer who didn’t play … we couldn’t ask him [and senior Truck Bryant] to do any more. You hope that your freshmen get better and start to understand a little bit better. You can’t give them the ball at the end and knowing full well it’s hard to guard him at the foul line.”

As for the mandatory are-they-in question, I think WVU is headed to the First Four, or just barely dodge it with an 11 seed. They've got enough inventory to clear the 10-or-so teams fighting to squeeze in. Here is Huggins’ defense of WVU's resume:

 “We’ve played more games against top 100 than anybody in the country. We’ve played more games against top 50 teams. We’ve done more things than they’ve asked us to do, except win a couple of games,” Huggins said.

It's that last part that always catches up with teams.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:00 pm

NEC title game preview: Colonials vs. Blackbirds

We've got a repeat of the 2011 title game. Same teams, same location. Same result? If Long Island-Brooklyn wins, then yes. The Blackbirds ended a nearly 20-year NCAA tournament drought last season in a dramatic 85-82 overtime win. But Robert Morris has become the class of this league in the past half-decade.

Under Mike Rice, and now Andy Toole, the team is consistently in the top three of the NEC and always a threat to go to the NCAAs. It won the league in 2008, 2009 and 2010, going to the NCAA tournament those latter two years. The fact RMU is back again is a surprise for only this reason -- it's playing without its best player. Toole suspended Karon Abraham before the season started for violating team rules. It wasn't a five- or 10-game suspension. No, Toole told his guy he had to miss an entire year. And Abraham's taken it in stride. The team -- even more so. The team is 24-9; last year, it was 18-14.

Long Island-Brooklyn was the league's best this season, though. It is the No. 1, through and through, even if No. 2 Wagner wasn't far behind, the Blackbirds have the most talent. It went 16-2 in the league (Wagner was 15-3, RMU 13-5) and has the Player of the Year in Julian Boyd. Boyd's a joy to watch, as he's really versatile and could end up getting a shot in the NBA. What you'll want to watch: the tempo battle. LIU-Brooklyn averages 75 possessions per game, which is extremely high. It's third in the nation, in fact. RMU averages a full 10 possessions fewer per game.

The Colonials will want to drain the clock and keep it conversational in the half-court. Last year, it lost that battle for most of the game, and thus ended up losing. The teams met once this season, a 75-66 RMU win. If Boyd and Jamal Olasewere and LIU-Brooklyn point guard Jason Brickman play to their ceiling, the Blackbirds should somewhat comfortably win the rematch. If it's close, the Colonials' Verdell Jones will be the one involved. He leads the team in scoring (16.6 points per game) and is multi-dimensional on the offensive end.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:00 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 1:23 pm

Podcast: Selection Sunday draws near

This is where I am right now. Good things are happening. Basketball is fun! (AP)

By Matt Norlander

No time to do a formal timestamping of topics today. Just know that I had to record this podcast with Goodman in his hotel room, and that Parrish still killed me over the Power Pyramid. We largely keep it to conference tournaments and Selection Sunday prognostication. Enjoy!

And again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast -- whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. 

MP3: click here to download the episode
Popout player: to pop out this podcast in a separate window

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:27 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 12:41 pm

Wednesday Big East lookahead

Wednesday feels the like real start of the Big East tournament. Before the league went to allowing 16 teams into the field a few years ago, the league championship always began on Wednesday. Now the better teams are playing and subsequently the matchups are more enticing/watchable. After a brutal Tuesday that featured four blowouts, here's what Wednesday's table setting looks like.


Connecticut (8) vs. West Virgina (9): Who needs it more? Since the Huskies have been inconsistent and unable to win three games in a row in 2012, Wednesday's game presents that opportunity. Many believe UConn's sputtered its way into the NCAAs regardless, but this victory would lock it up. And if that happened, how do we evaluate WVU? The Mountaineers don't have a lot of good wins on their schedule. If they lost here, are they in trouble? When you look at WVU, you see the microcosm of this year's Big East. Decent team, but nothing too amazing, and overall you're left questioning just how legitimate it is.

Georgetown (5) vs. Pittsburgh (13): Anyone else thinking Pittsburgh takes this? Georgetown's a good team, a sturdy team, but also a very beatable team. The Hoyas have been under the radar for most of the year after getting in that massive brawl in China last August. If the Hoyas win, you might see another story or two about that crop up and how it "brought the team closer together." Could be true, but playing in March has little residual effect from something in August, right? Pitt looked very good Tuesday night in its no-bones-about-it win over St. John's. Wouldn't it be so Big East tournament-like if the Panthers not only won this game, but made a run to the semis? I could see it happening.

Louisville (7) vs. Seton Hall (10): The 7 p.m. Wednesday night tip has a lot of drama behind it. Rick Pitino was Kevin Willard's mentor/boss for a decade. Now Willard and his team needs a clinching win over Louisville to ensure itself of a bid. Getting it in this spot will be tough -- but maybe not as tough as it seems, purely from a basketball standpoint. The Pirates' Jordan Theodore is the best guard on the floor, and Louisville has dropped three of its past five. Earlier this season, the Cardinals beat the Pirates, 60-51.

South Florida (6) vs. Villanova (14): Now this is interesting if you consider: What if South Florida loses? It won 12 Big East games, but it did it against the statistically weakest schedule in the league. It lacks a lot of good wins. If it loses its first Big East tournament game? We'll have a very interesting test case on our hands. No Big East team with 12 wins has ever been left out of the NCAAs. And even though Villanova is down this season, I still trust Jay Wright's team to handle itself and give full effort at this time of the year.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 8:59 am

Wakeup Call: Other tournament fields released

The leaders of the Big East ring in the Tuesday bell at the NYSE. (Big East)

By Matt Norlander
and Jeff Borzello

★ Parrish's Knucklehead Rule wins again. Jelan Kendrick is suspended for the SEC tournament.

★ Virginia freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon is out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

★ Duke announced forward Ryan Kelly would miss the ACC tournament after suffering a right foot sprain.

★ The much-anticipated annual Glue Guy Team from Seth Davis.

★ This high school buzzer-beater video of Bullitt East High School in Kentucky has EVERYTHING. I've watched it five times.

★ We will see this debate more this season, with several favorites bowing out early. But do we really need conference tournaments?

★ Damn. That's a good job, Andy Katz. Checking in with one of the surviving members of Harvard's 1946 NCAA tournament team.

★ And Jeff Eisenberg got the Western Kentucky coach on the horn Tuesday night after the team amazingly earned its auto bid.

★ According to reports, the Pac-12 is likely moving its conference tournament to Las Vegas next season. The Mountain West, WCC and WAC are already there.

★ Want to know how your school can improve its APR? Here are a few ideas.

★ In case you missed it, the NCAA will reveal its official 1-68 S-Curve after the selections are announced.

★ USA Basketball announced the 10 players that will represent it in the Nike Hoop Summit.

★ The NCAA is still deciding between four venues for the next year’s East Regional.

★ Villanova, Purdue, Alabama and Oregon State will headline next season's 2K Sports Classic in New York City.

CBE Classic announced its four host schools for next season would be Kansas, Saint Louis, Texas A&M and Washington State. Those four will meet Nov. 19-20 in Kansas City.

★ West Virginia vs. Michigan will headline the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center next December.
► Didn't you hear? Naters gonna Nate, so Wolters and the Jackrabbits are in the NCAAs. Here's how he does.

♬ I'll be listening to this on my way subway ride over to Madison Square Garden this morning.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:36 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:40 pm

Tiny Dancers: South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Just five seasons into their Division I existence, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits have made their first NCAA tournament.

Oh, it is glorious. How do you not love a name like Jackrabbits? College basketball is better because one day long ago a bunch of men and women came together and agreed upon such a moniker.

South Dakota State fought to an ugly overtime win in the Summit final Tuesday night over Western Illinois, another program that was trying to get into its first NCAA tournament. But South Dakota State gets there, and if they're rewarded with a decent seed and a shaky major-conference team, this could be an under-the-radar upset pick. The Jackrabbits went into Washington a week before Christmas and killed the Huskies, 92-73. Nate Wolters is a big point guard with a varied, reliable skill set -- that faulted him in the title game -- is capable of jacking up 35 like it's his business. He was just 5-of-22 for 14 points in the Summit final, though, and a repeat performance of that in the NCAAs means SDSU will be one and done.

And how about this: The appearance for South Dakota State means there is only state, Maine, that is yet to have a school be repped in the NCAA tournament at some point during the history of the event.

Player to know: Nate Wolters. And after I was roundly mocked by my colleagues at CBSSports.com for wanting to include Jackrabbits junior guard Nate Wolters on our Top 100 Players list in October, I have been avenged! And they are ruing that day! Rue it, Jeff Goodman! Wolters is exactly the kind of player who can make a nation fall in love with one performance. He's the team's point guard, but he accounts for so much of the offense.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-7 overall, 15-3 in Summit League
  • Most recent tournament appearance: N/A
  • We’re thinking: 14 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 49
  • Sagarin ranking: 59
  • RPI: 50
  • Best wins: at Washington, vs. Oral Roberts
  • Worst losses: at North Dakota, at South Dakota
  • Notable stat: The Jackrabbits aren't that fast (in fact, at 66 possessions per game, they're about average), but they do take care of the ball very well, and that's because of Wolters. Turning it over at a 15.7 percent rate, SDSU is No. 4 in the nation in protecting itself from offensive mistakes. 

-- Matt Norlander

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:17 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:23 pm

Hall gets needed win -- is 20 enough?

Jordan Theodore had 13 assists, one shy of the Big East record, Tuesday night. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — With a no-doubt-about-it 79-47 win over No. 15 Providence, did Seton Hall ensure itself of an NCAA tournament appearance Tuesday night?

The decision gave the Pirates their first 20-win season in eight years and only the third one in the past 19. This meant a lot to the program and a lot to Pirates head coach Kevin Willard, who probably won’t have a team with this much talent next season. So that means getting to 20 wins in 2013 will be more of a challenge than it was in 2012, and we now know how grueling this achievement turned into. The time is now to make an appearance in the NCAAs and advance the program forward for its second-year coach.  

If Seton Hall wants history on its side, it’s got it. In 152 occurrences when Big East teams have won 20 games in a season, 147 of those have earned a dance ticket. 

Almost nearly as impressive as the win was the way Seton Hall shed its DePaul hangover. The Pirates were embarrassed in their season finale 86-58 against the Blue Demons. The loss put the team’s postseason tournaments in doubt; lots of bubble teams have bad losses, but did any from a major conference has a loss as bad as that one? If so, I want to see evidence you found.

So on Tuesday night, fresh off that lashing by DePaul, Seton Hall opened up the game with a scoreless first five minutes. Uh-oh? No, no. After trailing 9-0, the Pirates put up 2.26 points per minute and made the game a laugher by halftime, when they led 36-23.

"Our total body of work is pretty darn good," Willard said. "I think I have two of the better seniors in the country. That last two games before this game, we played a real tough rival (Rutgers), Senior Night, who needed a win. And then the other night at DePaul they played real well and we just struggled. The overall body of work I think is pretty good.”

Jordan Theodore’s body of work Tuesday night stood out from everyone. The Seton Hall senior point guard had 13 assists, one shy of the Big East tournament record. He looked good making all those passes and committing only one turnover. If his team was that good consistently, well heck, we know the Pirates would be playing for a seed instead of a bid — and they wouldn’t be doing it in the opening round of the Big East bracket.

"To be honest, I have talked about the NCAA all season, but before this game, it wasn’t on my mind," Theodore said. "The only thing I was worried about was leading my team and coming in here and getting a win."

That’s believable, if for no other reason that Theodore’s performance. Then again, how couldn’t he and fellow senior Herb Pope have urgency in a game like this? How couldn't he have the circumstances factor in? The Selection Committee was watching, and the magnifying glass is in their hands with every possession now.

"I hope they seen that the Pirates is not the team that was at DePaul," Theodore said.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Seton Hall, so much so I’m not sure the mood swings and losing streaks have affected others like the Pirates, who continually are trying to crawl out of the Big East’s basement. It's not only a schedule the team's trying to beat, it's a culture, a reputatoin. Willard’s had help along the way. Two fellow league coaches, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Rick Pitino of Louisville, have been therapists throughout, even when those coaches’ teams have failed them many times this year.

"I’m a little different in this league, from the fact that I worked with Mick Cronin. We vacation together every summer," Willard said, while I lifted my head from typing this quote with a response of shock and confusion.

Willard added that he talked to Pitino and Cronin every week for much of this season, especially recently. Pitino is his mentor, a guy Willard worked with for a decade, so the willing ear was relieving.

"He was great this year, when we were struggling … he called me twice during that stretch, which is unheard of in this league," Willard said.

On Wednesday, Willard gets to coach against Pitino. That will be tough, a little awkward, and the ideal latest challenge for his team, which would be securely in the field if it gets one more win. The Cardinals and Pirates played once this season, on Jan. 28. Louisville won, 60-51. Twenty wins may be enough, but No. 21 could be the hardest for more reasons than Willard wants to think about.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 4:52 pm

What-to-know tourney previews: Mountain West

The Mountain West shrank to eight teams this season, but with that downsize, the league actually became one of the best in the country. There's an argument to be made about the MWC vs. the ACC. After all, both could end up with four teams in the NCAAs. And even though most will side that the ACC is the better league, there's no doubt the MWC usurps the uninspiring Pac-12. The conference went 88-27 in the non-conference, putting it up there with every other league in terms of winning percentage. None of the teams entered conference play under .500.

And here's a little advance notice: the MWC will be even better next season. We'll save that talk for the summer and fall, though.

This year, the conference has three teams that can reach the second weekend, meaning it could win more than four tournament games for the first time in more than a decade. It's going to be the third consecutive year the MWC sends at least three to the NCAAs, too.

Last year's tournament was the Jimmer show. Although BYU's gone, don't expect this year's bracket to be any less entertaining. Let's get to the quarterfinal tilts and assess the possibilities in the coming days.

The carousel has turned for the top three teams in the Mountain West. Is SDSU the true best team? (US Presswire)


San Diego State (1) vs. Boise State (8): The Aztecs are one of the most surprising teams of 2011-12, considering the group lost so, so much of its production from last season. Remember, this was a team that was a No. 2 seed -- its highest ever in the NCAA -- in 2011. This could've been a rebuilding year, but instead sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin was the league's best player and guided SDSU to a 24-6 record. He averages 16.7 points per game. But here's the hitch: as far as this matchup is concerned, Boise State is a tough out for the Aztecs, who only earned a two-point home win over the Broncos in February. It'll be a fist fight, but SDSU should move on.

Colorado State (4) vs. TCU (5): The Rams make for the most intriguing MWC team because they're not in the field yet, though a lot of bracketologists disagree on their place within the bubble and overall seed list. Some have them in with room to spare, while others clearly have them out, even needing an MWC final appearance to justify inclusion. The Rams have been bad on the road, so they can't help themselves any more here, but getting another win against the top three, which they beat once, all at home, is paramount. Against upstart TCU, Colorado State split the season series. I think the Rams are definitely out with a loss here. Pierce Hornung is the most reliable scorer in the conference, and he'll be huge for CSU.

New Mexico (2) vs. Air Force (7): Not much to discuss here. New Mexico absolutely dominated Air Force in both meetings this year, winning by an average of 34.5. This shouldn't be trouble, and could set up a very entertaining semifinal with ...

UNLV (3) vs. Wyoming (6): The Runnin' Rebels. You want to know about the MWC's depth? Vegas is the three seed, but I also think this team goes further in the NCAAs than SDSU or UNM. The Rebs beat UNC in November, the team's biggest W, but it's a long way from November now. UNLV and Wyoming split the season series, so there's pause there -- again, the league is deep -- but Vegas is so much faster than Wyoming. Plus, the tournament is held in Las Vegas, so is there a mild edge? History says no, as UNLV hasn't patterned out to any sort of advantage. In a given year, though, it could be a factor. Is this one of those?

-- Matt Norlander

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com