An (almost) all-hoops Monday. We hit Creighton’s struggles, Nebraska’s upcoming road and Omaha Central’s signature performance. But let’s start with the bigger picture of college basketball.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s too much dribbling, not enough passing. And all the great players leave after one year. And the regular season doesn’t matter. You’re right. I won’t argue those points. But while you’re waxing nostalgic on the ’80s and ’90s, while you’re standing on your soapbox calling for less pick-and-roll and more give-and-go, you’re missing a heckuva season.
Look at the last nine days.
Saturday, Feb. 2: Miami, the biggest surprise of the season, beats North Carolina State on a last-second tip-in. Hours later, in one of the best sporting environments you’ll ever see, No. 3 Indiana shoots 52 percent and beats No. 1 Michigan.
Tuesday: That same Michigan team goes toe-to-toe with bitter rival Ohio State for 45 minutes. Tim Hardaway Jr. hits four 3s in a span of three minutes in the second half. Aaron Craft plays inspiring defense on Trey Burke. It comes down to a controversial no-call in OT. Michigan wins.
Wednesday: Kansas scores four points in the first 15 minutes at TCU, one of the worst major-conference teams in the country. Four! There will be far prettier games, but perhaps none more stunning. Afterward, Bill Self delivers a post-game rant Jim Mora would be proud of, comparing his team to the James Naismith teams that lost to Topeka YMCA.
Thursday: Illinois, in desperate need of a big win to salvage its NCAA hopes, rallies from eight down with 3 minutes left, beating Indiana with a buzzer beater from the last place you’d expect — right under the basket. You didn’t have to be an Illini fan to jump off your couch.
Saturday: Remember Hardaway? He hits a 3 at Wisconsin with 2.4 seconds left to give Michigan a 3-point win. Wait. Ben Brust trumps him with a running 40-footer at the buzzer. You didn’t have to be a Badger fan to shout. Wisconsin wins in OT.
Nine hours later and a few hundred miles down the road, Chane Behanan hits a free throw with 50 seconds left to give Louisville a 56-48 lead at Notre Dame. What happens next is completely absurd:
:44: Irish guard Jerian Grant hits a 3.
:42: Louisville hits two free throws.
:36: Grant hits another 3.
:33: Louisville hits two free throws.
:28: Grants hits ANOTHER 3
When Louisville misses a pair of free throws with 27 seconds left, Grant takes the ball down the court and — instead of pulling up for another 3 — drives for an old-fashioned 3-point play to tie the game.
In a span of 29 seconds, he scores 12 points. Then the game really gets crazy. It goes five OTs. 3 hours and 36 minutes. There are more points scored AFTER the 1-minute mark of regulation than there were before it. Notre Dame’s star player in overtime — the one who scores 17 points — isn’t Grant, it’s a kid who DIDN’T PLAY in regulation.
You can’t make this stuff up. Now the team that played three thrillers in eight days and most deserves a breather — Michigan — travels to the Breslin Center Tuesday night to meet Michigan State, which leads the Big Ten at 9-2.
Anything less than this finish will be a disappointment.
>> Start 17-1. Rise to 10th in the coaches poll. Now, three weeks later, Creighton is 20-5 and unranked. Sound familiar?
Last year on this date — Feb. 11 — Wichita State came to the CenturyLink Center and smacked Creighton 89-68. It was a total embarrassment. The Jays had started 21-2, rising to 12th in the coaches poll. Suddenly, just 10 days later, they were 21-5 and worrying about making the NCAA tournament.
Of course, they rebounded and ran off eight straight wins before Selection Sunday. Can they do it again? The road looks more perilous this time.
Since its shooting exhibition against Missouri State, Creighton has hit only 21-for-72 from 3-point range — 29.2 percent.
It’s crazy to complain about shooting too many 3s when you’re the best long-range shooting team in the country (43.2 percent). But inevitably, you’re going to have bad nights. And when Creighton is missing shots, it doesn’t know how else to score. There’s no Antoine Young to break a cold spell by getting into the paint and getting a layup.
Last year, 35 percent of Creighton’s shots were 3-point attempts. This year, it’s 40 percent. Florida (41.3 percent) is the only ranked team with a higher 3-point rate.
For every field-goal attempt, the Jays attempt .315 free throws — that’s 275th nationally. Last year, they were 125th at .38.
They’re more perimeter-reliant, which means their highs will be higher and their lows will be lower.
Ideally, somebody other than Doug McDermott would step up offensively — preferably someone whose name rhymes with Skechenique. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen. It’s late in the year, everyone’s legs are a little tired and jump shots aren’t going in.
Creighton’s best answer may be to get a little rest and shoot its way out of the slump.
>> CU doesn’t need to worry about the NCAA tournament bubble. Not yet anyway. An at-large berth is always a moving target — it depends what everybody else does. But I would guess five more wins comfortably gets them into the tournament.
If that’s 4-2 in the regular season and one win in St. Louis, so be it. If it’s 3-3 to close the regular season and two wins in St. Louis, that works, too.
The more pressing matter is the Valley crown. CU, Indiana State and Wichita State are tied at 9-4. The Shockers seem to be the least likely to finish the year on top. Not only have they struggled lately, they must travel to Omaha and Terre Haute.
So let’s compare CU to Indiana State: Both get Wichita at home. Both go to Evansville and Bradley.
Creighton’s other home game (Southern Illinois) is a bit easier than Indiana State’s (Drake). But its other road game (at Northern Iowa) is harder than the Sycamores’ date at Missouri State.
The key game may be UNI Wednesday night. It’s traditionally a tough place to play. Creighton goes in with zero momentum. Lose that one and Creighton might be looking up at Indiana State the rest of the way. Win, and I still like the Jays’ chances.
>> The problem with being a mid-major is the lack of opportunities for big wins. But there’s a huge benefit, too. Creighton doesn’t have to play Indiana and Michigan State in a span of four days. That’s Tim Miles’ task this week.
The Huskers are about as prepared as they could be coming off an open date last week and an easy win over Penn State. It wasn’t what Jim Delany envisioned when he dreamed of Big Ten expansion 25 years ago. (Name the last time you saw a team make only 15 field goals and win by 14 points?) But it’s a W.
Nebraska needed it, because things are about to get rough again. The remaining schedule goes like: at IU, Michigan State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Illinois, Minnesota, at Iowa. Yikes.
The over/under is one more win (likely Iowa or Minnesota). Get two or more and Miles deserves a few votes for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
>> What did we learn from Omaha Central’s victory over Oak Hill Saturday night? One, the Eagles are a different team when they’re hungry. They’ve clearly played their best this year against national competition. Two, they’re a different team with a healthy Tra-Deon Hollins.
I highlighted Hollins’ importance after Central lost to Papio and Omaha South without him. According to observers Saturday night, he played at a high-major Division I level. Akoy Agau and Tre’shawn Thurman (next year) will land the big scholarship offers. But Hollins and K.J. Scott may be better high school players.
>> It’s too bad that classic Nebraska high school teams didn’t get the same chance Central got this year.
How cool would it have been to see the ’63 Omaha Tech team battle Brooklyn’s Power Memorial, featuring Lew Alcindor (and Danny Nee)? Or to watch Andre Woolridge and Benson go against Jason Kidd’s St. Joseph Notre Dame team in 1992 — if I remember right, the two did meet on the AAU circuit.
Nebraska is certainly no hoops hotbed, but as Central showed, maybe our best players and teams would’ve stacked up far better than anyone realized.
>> From the files of “where are they now?”, how ’bout Christian Standhardinger. The 6-8 German didn’t pan out at Nebraska (or Doc Sadler didn’t develop him, depending on your point of view), but he’s lighting up the Big West.
During Hawaii’s current five-game winning streak, Standhardinger is averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds. He’s shooting a LeBron-like 62 percent from the field. His season numbers (16 and 8) aren’t bad, either. Any way Tim Miles can persuade him to transfer back to Lincoln?
>> I raved about college basketball, but there was something from last week that drove me nuts. Something coaches need to address ASAP: Stop letting your lead guard settle for low-percentage 3s in the final seconds of a tie game.
Good grief, it’s OK to drive to the goal. It’s OK to initiate the offense before the clock hits 4 seconds. All these buzzer-beaters have made the players obsessed with hitting the hardest shot possible just as the horn goes off. Either that, or they’re paralyzed by the fear of turning the ball over.
>> Who deserves to be No. 1? Depends on your point of view. Do you reserve No. 1 for the team with the best overall resume? That would be Duke. Without Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils are undefeated. But Kelly is out. And right now, Duke clearly isn’t playing the best.
If you think No. 1 should go to the team performing at the highest level over the past month or so, then Miami should be No. 1. The ‘Canes are spotless in ACC play and throttled Duke.
Neither of those teams faces competition like the Big Ten, so maybe you believe No. 1 is Indiana. I could’ve made a strong argument for Arizona, which has a pair of marquee wins — Florida and Miami. But the Wildcats lost to Cal at home Sunday.
It’s a mess and in the big picture, it doesn’t mean a darned thing. The real conclusion from all the chaos is how completely unpredictable the NCAA tournament will be.
>> When I profiled Shawn Eichorst last month, I talked to several Miami fans and boosters. He wasn’t around long enough to accomplish much, they said. But they did approve of the one high-profile hire Eichorst made — basketball coach Jim Larranaga. A month from Selection Sunday, Larranaga has Miami in the national title conversation. And Eichorst is looking smarter every day.
>> Terry Joseph as recruiting coordinator? Barney Cotton as tight ends coach? Wouldn’t be the first time Bo Pelini shared something with a recruit before making it public. If Bo does take Barney off the O-line, what are fans going to email about?
>> SI features Andrew Wiggins, the top high-school player in the world.
>> Six months later, the Paterno family issued a response to the Freeh Report. It does nothing to clear Joe Pa’s name from the Sandusky scandal.
>> Is football on the verge of a sabermetric revolution? I love these kinds of stories.
>> Finally, the NCAA did something right. Today it announced that Bruce Rasmussen, one of the smartest basketball guys in the country, is joining the NCAA tournament selection committee, starting in 2013-14. Rumor has it, Ras demanded a seat at the table after Creighton received an 8 seed last March.