It’s March 1st! Happy Madness month to all of my fellow college basketball junkies. My first blog post of this glorious month will be dedicated to some recent losses by big programs. I ask the question: “was this loss a red flag for bigger problems for the team?” Or, is this just the sign of a season lagging on? Losses are inevitable, which makes Kentucky’s run (and WIchita State’s last year) so magical. Let’s delve into it.
Utah loss to Arizona: Red Flag
Some context here: Coach Larry Krystkowiak had a team that won just six games total four years ago. I say this loss is a red flag for a team that now has aspirations of making a Final Four run. Arizona went into the Huntsman Center and beat Utah Saturday night. What concerns me is the volume of three-pointers Utah took to stay in this game. They shot 22 threes and still lost 63-57. Utah freshman center Jacob Peltl has received a lot of complements this season, and rightfully so. However, he was outplayed by Kaleb Tarzcewski. Tarzcewski had been averaging nine points a game, a modest total for the expectations he receives. In this game he scored 13 on 7-9 shooting. Peltl also fouled out of this game. Delon Wright’s play this season has been amazing. However, with 1:09 left in this game Brandon Taylor missed a three pointer. Wright never touched the ball in that most crucial offensive possession. Yes, T.J. McConnell is a good defender, but you have to find a way to get your best player the ball late. If Utah wants to be a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I believe they have to beat Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament. So far this season they’ve been swept by the Wildcats. There’s a huge difference between being a 4 seed and playing 13’s such as Stephen F. Austin, Murray State, Valparaiso or LA Tech or being a 3 seed and playing 14’s like Central Michigan or William & Mary. The latter are teams lucky to win a conference tournament. Those 13’s are a “who’s who” of Mid-Major powers.
SMU loss to UCONN: Season just lags
This is a game where I wish so-called pundits would refuse to use the term “upset.” SMU was not “upset” by UCONN, especially not in Connecticut. SMU has put itself in a position it was not in last season. The Mustangs are firmly slotted in the 21st ranking nationally. They’ve scored some key out-of-conference victories, scheduled a challenging out-of-conference lineup, and are looking at an NCAA Tournament berth. UCONN, however, has sorely underachieved. NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, had struggled to find his niche in the UCONN offense. Not this game. Purvis scored a season high 28 points. UCONN won a game at home that desperate teams win at home. And, until someone dethrones them, the UCONN Huskies are still national champions. I would not be surprised if UCONN runs the table to win the American championship tournament. This game against SMU is just what happens during a lengthy college basketball season. SMU out-rebounded and committed less turnovers than UCONN. The Mustangs propensity to sag off of the 3-point line on defense continues, however. They gave up 9-20 long range shooting. Nothing shocking here.
Texas at Kansas loss: Red Flag
No, it is not surprising that a team outside of the top 25 loses to an 8th ranked KU team. But, come on. How long are we going to wait for it to “click” for this Longhorn team? Kansas was playing without the services of big bodied freshman, Cliff Alexander in this one. Naturally, you’d think that’d bolster the Longhorns already stacked height advantage. But the Texas offense is tired-looking. Isaiah Taylor dribbles down court. Two down screens are set to try and get Myles Turner the ball. That normally fails. The ball is either reversed to a second or third wing. If he gets it, that player looks for beefy Cameron Ridley. In the end, Isaiah Taylor normally penetrates to try and create. He took 15 shots this game, which was by far the team’s most. Given the outcome, this formula clearly is not working. In this four game losing streak, Taylor has taken 22% of the team’s shots (51 of 227).
VCU loses to Dayton: Season just lags
Oh, the season has especially lagged for the VCU Rams. It seems like a year ago they lost Briante Weber, the emotional leader of that renown full-court press. VCU has recovered gracefully from this season-ending injury. Sophomore JeQuan Lewis has served the point guard position well since Weber’s absence. He is averaging 13 points since. The guys who need to continue stepping up on offense are Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson. They shot a combined 7 of 20 for just 20 points Saturday. Still, this Dayton Flyer bunch is one of the more resilient teams in the nation. Last year they made the Elite 8 as an 11 seed. This year they are fighting through adversity with three players excused. This A10 outcome is just another excusable result of a lengthy season with many ups and downs. And, for the time being, I think that this game allows for at least three A10 teams in the big dance. These two and Temple can make it.