Mar 24, 2012, 11:34 PM EST
People are incorrect when they say that it was the play of Kemba Walker that carried UConn from the first day of the Big East tournament to 11 consecutive wins and, eventually, an NCAA Championship.
Kemba was sensational, don’t get me wrong. But he was sensational all season long. He went for 42 points in the second game of the regular season. He scored 90 points as the Huskies ran through the Maui Invitational in the third week of the regular season. There was the triple-double he had against New Hampshire, the game-winners he hit against Villanova and Texas, the 31 points and 10 assists he had against Georgetown.
You get the point.
As good as Kemba was, it was the emergence of Jeremy Lamb as a secondary scorer, Alex Oriakhi as a dominant rebounder and Shabazz Napier as a capable ball-handler that allowed Jim Calhoun to make a run to his third national title.
If we’re going to take anything out of UConn’s run, it’s that simply relying on a star is not enough to get a team to the Final Four. It’s the production of the supporting cast — both expected and unexpected — that is the difference between hanging a Final Four banner and heading home after the tournament’s first weekend.
You needn’t look any further than Saturday night’s Elite Eight action to see it.
Louisville has one of the weirdest roster compositions you’re ever going to come across.
The Cardinal’s two most important players — Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva — happen to be the fifth- and sixth-leading scorers on the team, respectively. Their two leading scorers — Kyle Kuric and Russ Smith — have gotten more attention this season for the shots they’ve missed than the shots they’ve made.
Perhaps the least-talked about member of Louisville’s team is Chane Behanan, the undersized power forward whose physical, blue-collar presence in the paint is the perfect compliment to Dieng’s ability as a shot-blocker. Behanan, who averages 9.3 ppg and 7.4 rpg, has made a name for himself thanks to his ability to finish around the rim, often times with a powerful dunk in traffic. But he’s far from what you would consider a big-time scoring threat; he scored 17 or more points just three times this season heading into Saturday.
But against the Gators, Behanan did just that, finishing with 17 points and seven boards.
It was more than the number of points he scored, however. It was when he scored them. With the Gators up 11 and less than nine minutes left in the game, Behanan reeled off seven straight points in less than two minutes to get the Cards back within six. With three minutes left in the game — and with Siva on the bench with five fouls — Behanan hit a short jumper in the lane that tied the score for the first time since the 10 minute mark of the first half. With 1:12 left in the game, Behanan hit another short jumper that gave Louisville a 69-68 lead.
Florida wouldn’t score again, and Louisville would advance to the Final Four with a 72-68 win.
“Really wanted the ball, really played terrific down the stretch when we needed him,” Pitino said of Behanan. “Very surprising for a freshman.”
It was more than just Behanan’s offense that changed the course of this game, however. Florida torched Louisville’s zone in the first half, to the tune of 8-for-11 shooting from three. Rick Pitino switched to a man-to-man defense in the second half, but Florida began to expose the mismatches by using whoever Gorgui Dieng was guarding in a pick-and-roll.
So down the stretch, Pitino had Behanan and Dieng essentially rotate the big man they were guarding, with Dieng protecting the rim and Behanan switching onto whoever set the screen. It was his ability to defend those ball-screens that led to Louisville’s 18-3 run over the final eight minutes of the game.
Lenzelle Smith, Jr., has been one of the most enigmatic players on the Buckeye roster this season.
Smith had reached double figures just once this season when he exploded for 28 points in a 17-point win over Indiana in January. Three games later, Smith had 17 points in a 15-point win over Michigan. In between those two offensive explosions? Smith had a total of two points.
Two points. In two games.
So heading into this tournament, it really wasn’t a secret that Smith was able to score in bunches. What was unknown, however, was when he was actually going to show up. On the nights that Smith does show up, he makes Ohio State such a different basketball team. We all know about Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, but with the youth on the rest of the roster and the inconsistency of William Buford this season, finding another source of points has been vital.
On Saturday, Smith was that guy. He finished with 18 points in Ohio State’s 77-70 win over No. 1 seed Syracuse, scoring 16 of those 18 points in the second. Included in that stretch were arguably Ohio State’s two biggest shots of the night. With just under 12 minutes left in the second half, Syracuse had whittled a 10 point lead down to three when Smith buried a 3-pointer. Four minutes later, Syracuse had gotten the lead down to a single point when Smith hit his third triple of the second half.
The Orange would never have the ball with a chance to take the lead the rest of the game.
I guess at this point it would probably be prudent to remind you that Smith knocked heads with Brandon Triche hard enough to split over his right eyebrow, which required three stitches to stop the bleeding.
Smith had hit 25 threes in a row during Ohio State’s shootaround on Saturday, but it took a while to convince head coach Thad Matta that shooting touch had carried over to the game.
“[Smith] had lost his man on defense and given up a three and then came down and threw kind of a wild pass that almost got picked off,” Matta said, “and I was literally saying he doesn’t have it at the moment, let’s get him out and we’ll talk to him.”
“Then he bangs a three, and I’m like, he’s back.”
Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas combined for 33 points and 16 boards against Syracuse, while Aaron Craft provided his typical, petrifyingly tough on-ball defense.
Gorgui Dieng was only credited with one block while adding eight points and six boards, but he controlled the paint in the second half against Florida. Peyton Siva, before he fouled out, finished with nine points, eight assists and just a single turnover. Russ Smith chipped in with 19.
Chane Behanan and Lenzelle Smith weren’t alone on Saturday night. But they were the difference makers.
And they are just as much the reason the Buckeyes and the Cardinals are still playing as anyone.
Dec 6, 2013, 1:23 AM EST
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Providence 50, Rhode Island 49 I bet you didn’t realize the Ocean State had a hoops rivalry like this, did you? The Rams and the Friars did battle on Thursday night in a game that turned into a dogfight pretty quickly. How emotional was it? At one point, Ed Cooley and…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:15 PM EST
Seton Hall established a season high for points in a game on Thursday night in their 92-81 win over LIU Brooklyn, with Brian Oliver knocking down eight three-pointers and scoring a game-high 26 points to lead the way offensively. In total four Pirates scored in double figures, but the win may have come at a…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:30 PM EST
In a thrilling game down in Richmond, Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams outlasted a tough Eastern Kentucky team in overtime, beating the Colonels 71-68. Treveon Graham led four players in double-figures with 15 points and Rob Brandenburg knocked down four threes, including a huge three to kick off the overtime period. That would be the only…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:01 PM EST
With Phil Pressey leaving school after his junior season for the NBA, Missouri had an important question to answer entering the 2013-14 season: who will grab the reins and lead the team from the point guard position? And with the team boasting an 8-0 record after beating West Virginia 80-71 on Thursday night, it’s become…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:51 PM EST
Throughout the history of collegiate athletics there have been instances of schools moving from one conference to another, only to return to their original conference shortly thereafter. This had not happened in the recent wave of conference realignment, but that changed on Thursday as Oral Roberts announced that it will return to the Summit League…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:11 PM EST
With the graduation of key contributors Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith from last season’s CAA regular season champion squad, Northeastern junior guard Quincy Ford was expected to be a major contributor for the Huskies. But after playing in the team’s first two games of the season a back injury has sidelined Ford, and on Thursday…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:55 PM EST
Normally when the discussion of someone being “posterized” takes place, there’s usually no doubt that a player was dunked on. But this video is a bit different, as it’s a compilation of three impressive dunks by Ohio State wing Sam Thompson in the Buckeyes’ 76-60 win over Maryland on Wednesday night. All three were alley-oops,…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:55 PM EST
After playing just over six minutes per game as a redshirt freshman, Duke forward Alex Murphy saw the task of earning more minutes become even tougher in 2013-14. With Rodney Hood eligible after having to sit out a season per NCAA transfer rules and freshman Jabari Parker arriving on campus, there weren’t going to be…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:53 PM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: West Virginia at Missouri, 7:00 p.m. ET The Big 12/SEC Challenge kicks off tonight, headlined by the Mountaineers treking down to Columbia to take on former Big 12 member Missouri. While there isn’t exactly a Final Four contender taking the court, this will be an intriguing game to watch simply because…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:17 PM EST
On Thursday morning, Anali Okoloji was suspended by George Mason for conduct unbecoming of a George Mason student-athlete. It stems from an incident in Wednesday’s game against South Florida. Okoloji felt he was fouled at one end of the floor and then, after a foul was called against him, he half-stepped, half-kicked South Florida point…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:02 PM EST
The North Carolina basketball team was just a bit fired up after last night’s win over No. 1 Michigan at the Breslin Center? How fired up? Just look at Joel James: Now take a peak at this pictures from J.D. Lyon, the team’s photographer, who posted these pictures on twitter:
Dec 5, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
Today marks the 35th anniversary of Dick Vitale’s first broadcast as a color-commentator for ESPN, and in a video that the network released today, we get a chance to see Vitale’s first pregame intro. A couple things stand out: – In his first broadcast, Vitale still managed to drop some nicknames. “The Kiddie Corps, T’n’T,…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:25 AM EST
Arizona State had a rough weekend out in Southern California for the Wooden Legacy tournament. They went 1-2 in their three games, which included a 28-point loss to Creighton and a 60-57 loss to ACC cellar-dweller Miami. Making matters worse is that Jahii Carson managed to hurt his ankle in the process. He played through…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:39 AM EST
BYU’s basketball team has found a unique way to promote games this season: by choosing terrifically awful love songs and convincing some of the team’s most recognizable faces to lip-sync them in ridiculous ways. Here, you’ll see Tyler Haws and Erik Mika joined by Skyler Halford and Luke Worthington singing “Because of You” by 98…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:11 AM EST
Vin Parise from CollegeBasketballTalk caught up with Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley and Providence head coach Ed Cooley. The Friars and Rams square off tonight in the Battle of the Ocean State. *Ed Cooley – Providence CBT: Let’s first talk about your Sunday night loss to Kentucky. Cooley: I though we played well in…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:30 AM EST
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Drexel 85, Cleveland State 82 (3OT) Frantz Massenat led the Dragons with 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and as a team Drexel converted 14 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points. Cleveland State’s Jon Harris scored 27 points to lead the way for the Vikings, with 24 of those points…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:21 AM EST
No. 1 Michigan State’s inconsistency final came back to bite them. The Spartans shot 35.9% from the field and 7-for-24 from three as they got dropped by North Carolina, 79-65, at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night. Michigan State had erased an 18-4 deficit, tying things up at the half, but the Tar Heels used…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:19 AM EST
During the preseason there were more than a few people who believed that Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles had the pieces needed to be one of the more improved teams in college basketball. With al five starters back from last season’s 16-17 squad, led by guard Olivier Hanlan and forward Ryan Anderson, there was both…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:39 PM EST
At this point in the season it seems safe to say that North Carolina has just one consistent perimeter shooter in sophomore point guard Marcus Paige. Entering Wednesday’s game at No. 1 Michigan State, Paige was responsible for 18 of the Tar Heels’ 21 made three-pointers. And with Paige also being their best overall perimeter…
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