The ACC has unquestionably supplanted the Big 12 as the toughest league in college basketball this season, but while the two conferences continue to share billing on ESPN’s Big Monday package, the former continues to serve as a warm-up to the latter considering the regularly memorable games the Big 12 provides on this night.
While Louisville and Syracuse played a not-always-pretty overtime game that nonetheless went down to the wire in regulation before the Cardinals finally prevailed, Kansas and West Virginia rendered that as an undercard with another classic Monday night finish. And, as it seems to so often, the Jayhawks came out with the upper hand.
Improbably, Kansas rallied from a 14-point deficit with three minutes left to force overtime, and then carried that momentum to an 84-80 win. The Jayhawks did so in a game where they looked flat-out cooked, and the win put them well on track to a 13th straight Big 12 title.
Faced with a frantic full court press against it in the final minutes, West Virginia ironically looked like a team that had never faced a press. The Jayhawks forced four turnovers and numerous other forms of sloppiness, and KU’s stars took advantage, with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham and Josh Jackson all posting big plays late, including Graham hitting a trio of three-pointers late in regulation and in the extra session.
West Virginia played a terrific game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse for 37 minutes, clearly the better team in a tough road environment, so much so that Kansas fans were leaving early (and Dick Vitale rightly called them out for it). This one will hurt. For KU, though, it’s just more of the same from a program that continues to find ways to win.
Also on Monday:
The NCAA made the announcement that it is again going to continue to treat the NIT as more guinea pig than legitimate basketball tournament and will use experimental rules again this year. The main rule flips will be a reset of fouls halfway through the first half with a four-foul limit before two free throws are shot, plus stripping the shot clock down to 20 seconds when the ball is inbounded in the frontcourt.
Once again, the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee’s incessant and tone deaf desire to tinker shines through, and the legitimacy of the NIT is collateral damage, as this event continues to be treated like a worthless exhibition. Heaven forbid teams play in this event under the same rules they’ve played under, you know, the entire season.
The NCAA release suggested the committee wants to try resetting fouls while still keeping the “uniqueness” of halves, not understanding that the cosmetic designation of halves isn’t some sacred untouchable to fans nearly as much as the subtleties to the game that halves currently contribute (ex. the 1-and-1 for free throws making players earn a second shot for up to three times, which adds to the intrigue). And for whatever reason, the committee also seems to think college basketball still needs more scoring, even as scoring this year is higher than it’s been in over 20 years.
The only ones pining for college basketball to become a replica of the NBA are big shots at ESPN, and college coaches influenced by big shots at ESPN. Most college fans don’t want it, and the rules committee would be wise to get a clue on this before it’s too late. It’s time for leaders in this sport to get over their NBA/international rules idolatry complex, recognize many like the sport just the way it is, and stop messing around with it.
- Badly needing a win Monday night was Texas Tech, and the Red Raiders got it with a comeback 84-78 win over Baylor. Niem Stevenson is emerging as a key player for Tech, and he scored 21 in this one. Chris Beard’s team still has a lot of work to do because of a non-conference schedule that did not grade out well (in other words, the exact opposite of last year’s TT team) but opportunities always abound in the Big 12.
- Monmouth used a huge second half to win going away at Siena 102-82. Justin Robinson scored 40 points, and while the Hawks are not as good as a year ago, ironically they’ve been more dominant in the MAAC, now with a 12-game winning streak.
- A wild night in the Sun Belt saw all three tri-leaders (Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State) lose, allowing Texas-Arlington to slide from fourth to first with a 71-55 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. Furthermore, five teams are now within a game of first with Texas State just a game behind UTA following its 62-58 win over Arkansas State, and Coastal Carolina is just half a game back of them in sixth after a 65-64 win over Georgia State. Wild.
- Texas Southern was upset by Jackson State 71-62, and with Alcorn State’s 70-58 win at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Braves are suddenly just one-half game behind TSU for the top spot in the SWAC.
- Virginia Tech’s win over Virginia on Sunday came at a price, as it was revealed forward Chris Clarke tore an ACL in the game and will miss the rest of the season. Clarke was leading the Hokies in rebounding and steals and was second in assists and fourth in scoring. Undoubtedly he’ll be a loss, though Tech has enough balance to weather it.
Tonight’s Menu: It’s a night with a dearth of good matchups.
- Start it early by seeing if VCU needs another brilliant escape at the end to get by Saint Joseph’s at home. (6 p.m. Eastern, CBSSN).
- Kentucky looks to avenge an earlier loss to Tennessee (7 p.m., ESPN). Seldom has a team with a 14-11 record in mid-February played a game that was essentially a free shot for their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes, but as bad as the group of bubble teams is right now, that’s what this is for the Vols.
- Wake Forest is on the road at Clemson in a game that is critical for both teams’ NCAA hopes, and another sign of how ugly the bubble is right now.
- We’re very curious to see how Virginia Tech does at Pittsburgh (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Gobblers are coming off an exhilarating but certainly draining win over Virginia on Sunday, now play again on the road two days later against what passes as a lighter touch in the ACC this year.
- Toledo is at Akron. The Zips are 11-1 in the MAC, while the Rockets at 6-6 personify a league where NINE teams are currently between 7-5 and 5-7.
- High Point is on the road against Big South co-leader Liberty, with the Flames looking for their 11th win in 12 games.
- Shaky as Michigan State has seemed, the Spartans have a very real chance to win for the fourth time in five games when they host Ohio State (9 p.m., ESPN).
- Come to think of it, maybe the game of the night is in the Mountain West of all places, where current league-leader Boise State goes to New Mexico, which is just 1 1/2 games out of first place (10 p.m., CBSSN).
Happy Valentine’s Day.