Peter Hooley Tweets To His Angel after hitting game-winning shot

March Madness is magical, but never as miraculous as it was at the SEFCU Arena in Albany, New York on Saturday. The American East leading Great Danes led at first, but then trailed most of the second half. Peter Hooley came off of the bench as he had been doing during a second half of the season.  You see, he missed 8 games mid-season to be with his ailing mother in his native Australia.  She suffered from cancer and passed away.  Hooley returned to be with his teammates in mid-February.

Suddenly Hooley, one of the Dane’s most reliable upper-class leaders, was not only readjusting to life without his mother, but also working to return to the rigors and rhythm of a demanding D1 season.

On Saturday Hooley came off the bench as he’d been doing since returning to Albany. Albany trailed at home 41-33 with 6:11 left in the American East Conference Championship game.

The Great Danes came chasing back into the game. With 17 seconds left, Hooley fouled a Stony Brook player, sending him to the free throw line.  One of two shots were made and UAlbany got the ball back down by two points.

Albany’s guards had difficultly with a couple hurried screens and the ball fell into Hooley’s hands.  Five seconds remained.  A shot went up and five players in the paints reached, but the ball was slap rapidly to Hooley.  Hooley set his feet and shot up a prayer from about 25 feet.  The prayer was answered and jubilation exploded in his hometown.  Hooley’s sister Emma continued sending tweets at 2:30 a.m. Hahndorf, South Australia time.

Suspect Spreads Saturday Season Finale

Here is the last regular season set of picks.   Matty D is 41-24 on the season.

Track the footprint of the season predictions by searching #SuspectSpreadsSaturday on Twitter.

Take the team on the left.

Auburn +23 vs. Kentucky
Purdue +9 vs. Wisconsin
Temple +3.5 vs.  SMU
Davidson -3 vs. VCU
Wyoming +7 vs. San Diego St.

Players putting their fingerprints on March Madness already

A.J. Jacobson –  North Dakota State – Freshman Forward 
Jacobson is the future of Bison basketball, but for now is the best-kept secret in Mid-Major March Madness participants.  The kid from Fargo really helped set the tone in North Dakota State’s Summit championship game against South Dakota State.  He made a three, a jump-shot, then another three all in the first six minutes.  It’s cliche, but he’s a 3/4 man who can “stretch the floor.”  Jacobson missed four games in December with a knee injury. However, he is playing his best basketball at the right time, scoring double-digits in the past eight games now.

Taurean Prince – Baylor – Junior Forward 
Prince fits the mold of lanky stretch-everything athlete that coach Scott Drew has now routinely brought to Waco, Texas.  Prince averages 14 points per game, but half of his last eight have been 20-plus.  In the quarterfinal against West Virginia, Prince beat the Mountaineers at their game.  He got into passing lanes with those long arms and started transition of his own.  If this guy can play with this same fluidness in mid-March, we could see Baylor in the Sweet 16.

Demarcus Daniels – North Florida – Junior Forward
This guy Daniels is the defensive player of the year in the Atlantic Sun Conference.  But he came off the bench to score 22 points in the championship game and looked damn good doing so.  He is 6’7″, can bang and finish, plus he got to the free throw line.  Daniels knocked down all six of his free throws.  I liked his active hands on both offense and defense.  In the NCAA Tournament, when teams like the element of surprise in spontaneously going zone defense,  it’s helpful to have a pivot forward who can face up and make good decisions around the free throw line.  North Florida is long and has great pedigree coming out of a now-respectable Atlantic Sun (see Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast).  The cool thing is that Daniels is the 5th-highest scorer on the team and the other guys above him are all in double figures.

D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State – Freshman Guard 
Okay, North Dakota and North Florida made a cameo.  It’s time to throw some red meat to the base of college basketball fans hungry for a Final Four star.  I don’t like Ohio State to even make the Sweet 16, but Russell is playing so well right now, that a Kemba Walker-like run is not out of the question.  He has catapulted from a nice NBA pick 1-2 years from now to an absolutely sure-fire top 5 overall pick this spring.  What I like watching is how he trusts his teammates.  Russell has been tossing sweet post feeds to guys like Jae’Sean Tate.  In the absence of Marc Loving (Toledo star and McDonald’s All-American) becoming what Russell is now, some other underclassman have had to fill that vacuum of scoring necessity.  Russell is also a lefty, which always appears more difficult to guard.  His quick release reminds me of Chris Lofton, who was an amazing shooter for the Tennessee Volunteers about 6 years ago.  However, Russell’s tools to finish at the rim, penetrate, and distribute will make him the first backcourt player selected in the league.

Sir’Dominic Pointer – St. John’s – Senior Guard 
#SirDom should be trending this March.  It’s only right based on the way he’s playing.  Like the question of whether his hair will be neatly corn-rowed or wildly afro’ed, his game is unpredictable.  Pointer can pop a mid-range jump shot.  He leaps over defenders who don’t expect his attack at the rack.  The one thing he can’t do:  shoot threes.  Pointer has only made 2 three pointers out of 22 taken on the season (0.91%).  His defense is more important to the team than his offense.  When his defensive pressure leads to transition, he, Harrison and Jordan can gain dangerous momentum.  St. John can be special.  He struggled against Providence, which cost them a crucial game.  If the NCAA Gods are forgiving and the Johnnies make the tournament, I predict a street ball attack unlike anyone else in the nation can offer.

Suspect Spreads Saturday: March Officially Here.

If you don’t know about my track record, check the hashtag #SuspectSpreadsSaturday.

Take the teams on the left.

St. John’s +12 vs. Villanova
*Indiana -1 vs. Michigan State
LSU +5.5 @ Arkansas
*Temple -4 vs *UCONN
*UMASS +6 vs. *George Washington
UNC -1.5 vs. Duke

*Must win situations (barring competing in respective conference championship game) for those teams to even be considered for reaching the NCAA Tournament.

Congrats Kansas Jayhawks on 11th Straight Big 12 Championship

Are you kidding me?

In an age where most programs can’t keep talented players for two years, Kansas goes 11 straight seasons with sole possession of the regular season title in the Big 12.

KU basketball wins big 12

And, might I add, the Big 12 is by far the most tournament-ready conference.

Compare, for argument’s sake, the 3rd-5th place Big 10 teams versus that of the Big 12.  Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor are top 20 teams with experience and clearcut identities.  Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State, on the other hand, are a one-game-losing-streak away from being bounced from the top 25.  Alleged tournament teams like Indiana and Michigan State are taking turns letting teams get critical late-season wins on their court.

But, I digress.

On Tuesday night Kansas showed the grit of a true tournament-ready team.  Freshman manchild Cliff Alexander missed another game for the Jayhawks.  Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks leading scorer, missed the second half with a knee injury.  Still, Jamari Traylor, Devonte’ Graham, Kelly Oubre and others fought back from an 18 point deficit.

My Bob Cousy Award winner for the best point guard in the nation, Frank Mason III, stepped up like a senior leader yet again.  Note, he is a sophomore.  Mason scored 8 points in the overtime period.  When KU was down two possessions with 45 seconds remaining, he had the presence of mind to take the ball right to the rims and score.

I haven’t been the biggest fan of KU throughout the season because of Brannon Greene and Wayne Selden Jr’s inconsistency on the offensive end.  I need to chill on that because these guys got it done tonight and answered a lot of challenges in a year when Texas, Iowa State or Oklahoma were the vogue picks to knock them off their (traditional) block.

KU basketball wins big 12_3

Red Flags versus “the Season just Lags”

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.

Isaiah Taylor out of control shot courtesy college basketball eye test dot com

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).

Myles Turner might get fed the ball more on his next team (in the NBA).

Myles Turner might get fed the ball more on his next team (in the NBA).

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.