College Hoops Tuesday Recap: Wildcats Survive Starkville

February 17th, 2010
It was accepted well before Tuesday night's game that Kentucky would encounter a hostile environment in Starkville. In the days leading up to the game Mississippi State students called DeMarcus Cousins repeatedly, some using the time to make humorous statements while others went well beyond the line that separates fun and terribly poor taste. But what was supposed to be a showdown between Cousins and Jarvis Varnado did not play out as such, especially in the second half and overtime as the senior fell victim to foul trouble. Cousins went for 19 points and 14 rebounds while John Wall (18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and Patrick Patterson (19 points, 10 rebounds) chipped in for an 81-75 overtime victory.

Patterson's baseline jumper with 39 seconds remaining tied the game to send it to overtime, where the Wildcats made the plays required to lock down their tenth SEC win of the season. But the finish wasn't without contention, leading to some angry Bulldog fans throwing things onto the court. From the time that MSU held a 67-60 lead with three minutes left in regulation, ten fouls were called on the home team while the Wildcats weren't called for one. And when you're lacking depth due to Varnado already having fouled out and Ravern Johnson being suspended for the game the game becomes even more of an uphill battle. Would Johnson have been the difference? One more body would have helped but when your best player accounts for ten points and five rebounds in 23 minutes it's hard to say that a suspended player was the reason for the loss.

"As a coach and a player, all you can ask is to leave everything you have between the lines," remarked head coach Rick Stansbury. "We overcame so many obstacles. You look back on this game. We did it without Jarvis Varnado most of the second half. We did that without Jarvis and Ravern Johnson, our two leading scorers (quote courtesy of Mississippi State University)." Coach then noted that they had four "empty possessions" to help the Wildcats tie the game late in regulation. But for a team with a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 229 the saying that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades rings alarmingly true right now. The Wildcats now move on to face Vanderbilt in Nashville and a win there would likely cement them as a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament barring a collapse. And given what they showed on Tuesday night it's hard to see John Calipari's team falling like that.

Three Key Happenings

1. Malcolm Delaney leads Virginia Tech to a comeback win over Wake Forest. Speaking of teams with a bad non-conference strength of schedule ranking, Virginia Tech was in need of a win Tuesday night over Wake Forest. The Hokies have a non-conference SOS of 344 (there are 347 teams at the Division I level), so while Tuesday's game wasn't a must-win it was pretty close. And Seth Greenberg's group came through, doing a better job of guarding Al-Farouq Aminu while Malcolm Delaney got hot on the other end in an 87-83 comeback victory. Delaney, who finished with 31 points, sparked a 20-8 run that erased an eleven-point Demon Deacon lead and Dorenzo Hudson (21 points) also made big plays on the offensive end of the floor.

But had the Hokies not slowed down Aminu they would be in far more trouble going into their game at Duke. Farouq scored 21 points in the first half on 7-12 shooting from the field but scored just four points in the second half (1-3 FG), ultimately deciding the outcome despite Wake's overall improvement from the field in the second half. Virginia Tech shot 51.6% from the field in the second half and finished with a 47-38 edge on the boards, doing a better job of not just running their offense but also grabbing offensive boards (19). With three of their last five on the road the Hokies have their destiny in their own hands, and that includes a possible ACC regular season title. But they needed Tuesday's win to get the ball rolling. Mission accomplished.

2. Baylor has the look of a team that could win some games in March. Scott Drew's Bears hosted a team in Texas Tech who had a lot of work to do in order to merit NCAA Tournament consideration. But that level of "desperation" was no match for Baylor, who went on a prolonged 39-16 run to essentially put the game away. It took LaceDarius Dunn nearly fifteen minutes to score his first points of the game but once he got going the Red Raiders had no answer as he finished with a game-high 30 points. Ekpe Udoh added 13 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks in the win and as a team Baylor shot 54.1% from the floor. But with the Bears reaching the 20-win plateau for the third consecutive season is this the year in which they can make some noise in the NCAA Tournament?

The answer could be yes if their current 5-1 stretch is a sign of things to come. In Udoh they've got a defensive force in the paint who can also score while the backcourt of Dunn and Tweety Carter is among the best in the Big 12 as well as the nation. But the difference this season is the improved shot selection and willingness to pass up a decent shot for an even better one. Against the Red Raiders Baylor finished with 22 assists on their 33 made field goals, and they've finished with an assist percentage of over 45% in eight of their eleven conference games this season. By comparison they did that just five times in league games (including the Big 12 Tournament) back in 2007-08, which was their last trip to the Big Dance. Good be a sign of good things to come.

3. The school with the best chance to end the NYC-area NCAA drought is...Stony Brook. No team from the New York metropolitan area has been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006 when Iona and Seton Hall were a part of the field (neither lasted long either, bowing out in the first round). Yet for all the talk of the Pirates possibly making a run down the stretch and Princeton's 6-1 start in the Ivy League (can't forget Iona sitting in second place in the MAAC) none of those teams may have the best shot at ending the skid. For that distinction look no further than Stony Brook, who just last season avoided playing in the opening round of the America East Tournament for the first time as a member. Now Steve Pikiell's squad leads the league with an 11-2 mark, winning at UMBC on Tuesday night.

The Seawolves, who were led by senior Muhammad El-Amin in scoring with 26 points, have won eight straight and hold a one-game lead over Vermont with three league games remaining. The Seawolves and Catamounts get together on Long Island on February 24th, sandwiched in between games at Albany and New Hampshire (both lost to the Seawolves by six earlier in the season). Could this team go from struggling to reach double figures in wins to winning a conference title? It's more than possible thanks to El-Amin, point guard Bryan Dougher (14 points), Chris Martin (17 points) and Tommy Brenton (10 points, 11 rebounds).

Top Three Games

1. Kentucky 81, Mississippi State 75 (OT) See above.

2. Virginia Tech 87, Wake Forest 83 See above.

3. Michigan 80, Iowa 78 (OT) The Wolverines came back from five points down with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation to knock off the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. DeShawn Sims led the Wolverines with 27 while Manny Harris finished three assists short of a triple-double (20 pts, 10 reb, 7 ast). Aaron Fuller led the Hawkeyes with 30 points and 13 rebounds.

Three Notable Performances

1. F Aaron Fuller (Iowa) and G Manny Harris (Michigan) Both were outstanding in a game the Wolverines won in overtime, with Fuller going for 30 and 13 while Harris posted the line of 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

2. G Malcolm Delaney (Virginia Tech) 31 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the Hokies' win over Wake Forest.

3. G Charles Jenkins (Hofstra) Jenkins scored 30 points and added seven rebounds and four assists in the Pride's 82-69 win at Delaware.