NEW TGS HOOPS...WEEKEND COLLEGE HOOPS WINNERS & LOSERS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
As we will occasionally do with our Monday TGS Hoops issues, a quick review of the previous weekend's action will often be in order, specifically seeking the "winners" and "losers" from developments over the past few days.
Some of the more notable "movers" from this past weekend are noted below...
WINNER: CLEMSON...It's time to officially put Clemson on the Big Dance "bubble watch" after yet another rousing win Saturday, this one over Miami-Florida. It's doubtful any team in the country has run off a stretch of wins as impressive as the Tigers' four in a row vs. Syracuse, Louisville, Duke, and the Canes. The last three of those were at home, but even that comes with a different twist, as Clemson is playing its home games this season 40 miles from campus at Greenville (in the near-16,000-seat Bon Secours Wellness Arena) while Littlejohn Coliseum undergoes renovation. The Tigers continue to play their traditional tough defense for HC Brad Brownell, while versatile 6-7 jr. F Jaron Blossomgame (16.1 ppg) is making a habit of delivering in the clutch, scoring 25 in the win over Miami.
LOSER: DUKE...Not too soon to hit the panic button at Durham after the Blue Devils went down to their second straight defeat, this one 95-91 at home vs. Notre Dame and Coach K's onetime assistant Mike Brey. Of course, when we're talking about Duke, it's in relation to winning the national title, something the current edition appears a long way from in its current state. Which is lacking in depth at the point and in the post, the latter hammered home again when the Fighting Irish attacked the rim with impunity on Saturday. To make a run in March, Duke absolutely needs 6-9 Amile Jefferson (10.3 ppg & 9.3 rpg), Coach K's best post defender and rebounder, to return from a foot injury that has kept him out of action since mid-December. There is little chance the Blue Devils can make even a spirited defense of their national title unless Jefferson returns, with 7-footer Marshall Plumlee too plodding and 6-9 frosh Brandon Ingram too spindly to provide the dimensions of Jefferson.
WINNER: VIRGINIA TECH...Sticking with our ACC theme this weekend, it's also time to start taking the Hokies seriously after another win (this one at Georgia Tech) on Saturday. A victory over the Yellow Jackets shouldn't be newsworthy (especially a 1-point win), but any win on the conference road is a good win, especially since VPI hadn't won on the ACC trail since 2013. And VPI has already developed a fortress at Cassell Coliseum, where NC State, Virginia, and Wake Forest have fallen thus far in conference play. Now at 12-6, VPI can begin to think seriously about the postseason, with even a Big Dance bid no longer far-fetched. Moreover, it underlines the quick progress made in Blacksburg by 2nd-year HC Buzz Williams, who previously steered Marquette deep into March and is already making a significant impact with the Hokies. Buzz's team has been getting hero performances from several different players of late, with Maryland transfer G Seth Allen (13.3 ppg) sinking the winning FT with three seconds left on Sunday after 6-5 soph G Justin Bibbs scored 32 in the previous triumph over Wake Forest. Meanwhile, South Florida transfer F Zach LeDay (team-best 15.6 ppg) continues to display remarkable consistency, scoring between 18 and 22 points in his last four games.
LOSER: BYU...On Thursday, the Cougars scored a rousing 69-68 win at Gonzaga that seemed to confirm their move into the bubble mix and suggested that HC Dave Rose could to lead another Provo edition into the Big Dance. That, however, was before a shock 84-81 loss on Saturday against a Portland side that had been fading with four straight losses. As usual, defensive issues would haunt BYU, as the Pilots canned ten triples and featured three 20-point scorers, led by underrated G Alec Wintering's 22 points. The Cougars still have time to shoot themselves into the Selection Sunday discussion with Wake Forest transfer G Chase Fischer (18.3 ppg) leading another balanced attack, but the loss at Chiles Center could prove a real albatross into March for BYU.
WINNER: UNLV and interim HC Todd Simon...Last week the Rebels were a smoldering mess, having lost their first three Mountain West games, which prompted the dismissal of HC Dave Rice, who was under increasingly heavy fire from the booster base. Standards are still high at UNLV, and Rice, despite a solid winning record in four-plus seasons, had seen win totals drop each year as it became apparent he was out of his depth. Promoted in Rice's place was 35-year-old assistant Todd Simon, formerly coach at the local, high-profile Findlay Prep and rumored to be favored for the interim position by significant boosters (including "Mr. Findlay Prep" himself, local car dealer Cliff Findlay) instead of other Rice aides Max Good (a former interim UNLV coach and also HC at Loyola Marymount) and Stacey Augmon, a longtime NBA player and former star Rebel player from the best Jerry Tarkanian years. But in just two games, Simon has done what Rice could not, that being unleashing the UNLV running game with full-court pressure defense. The results have been home romps over New Mexico and Air Force. Which might not mean much, but at least there is hope the current season can be salvaged at the Thomas & Mack Center while all sorts of names (Steve Lavin, Rick Pitino, etc.) are mentioned as possible successors. But under Simon, at least the Runnin' Rebels are runnin' again.
WINNER: SETON HALL...Right when we were about to dismiss the Pirates after losses to Villanova and Creighton, they dug in their heels and scored a stunning 81-72 win at 12th-ranked Providence on Saturday, providing hope for HC Kevin Willard that the Hall is not going to fade in conference play as it has done often in the Big East portion of its schedule in many recent seasons. Willard made a subtle lineup switch on Saturday, putting UMass transfer G Derrick Gordon in the starting lineup while high-scoring soph G Khadeen Carrington would come off the bench in a sixth-man role. The changes would benefit both, as Gordon scored 15 points and the lefty Carrington, still with 27 minutes of court time, scored a game-high 22. Several other hurdles await in Big East play, but for the moment, the Hall appears intent on at worst staying on the Big Dance bubble into March.
LOSER: MICHIGAN STATE...The Spartans are not about to play their way out of the big Dance or anything similar. But any chances of staying on the top line in one of the regions in March took a double torpedo-hit this past week with a home loss to Iowa (in a revenge game for the Spartans, no less) and then a disturbing 77-76 Sunday setback at Wisconsin against a Badger team that had been struggling for interim HC Greg Gard, seeking to have the interim tag removed from his label in Madison. It was Gard's biggest win, but also the latest suggestion that all might not be well in East Lansing, where defensive issues are suddenly a problem. The recent return of star G Denzel Valentine from a knee injury has not provided the expected spark, and some Big Ten observers are wondering if this MSU team is going to prove the reverse of most Tom Izzo editions that are known to start slow before picking up steam. Thus far, these Spartans are doing things completely opposite, surging to the top in the rankings much sooner than expected, but suddenly having lost three of six.
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