Wichita State finishes perfect regular season, more Saturday afternoon hoops
No. 2 Wichita State 68, Missouri State 45: Call a Zack Morris “Time Out!” on the conversation about exactly what seed the Shockers deserve in the NCAA Tournament and take a second to enjoy college basketball’s first perfect regular season in 10 years. Wichita State joined Saint Joseph’s (2004), UNLV (1991) and 23 other teams to finish the regular season unbeaten. Seven of those teams won the NCAA Tournament, the most recent being Indiana in 1976.
The Shockers, who made the Final Four last year as a No. 9 seed, won Saturday’s game in similar fashion to many of the other wins they’ve had this season. With balanced scoring and solid defensive effort, Wichita State buried Missouri State thanks in part to double-digit scoring each from Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Darius Carter.
The strength of schedule is shaky – the Shockers’ best non-conference wins are Saint Louis, Tennessee, BYU and Tulsa, respectively, according to KenPom – and the Valley is down as a whole this year especially with Creighton off to the Big East. But that doesn’t really matter. Chances are if Wichita State wins the Missouri Valley tournament, it’ll get a No. 1 seed. History is on its side. The committee won’t really ignore that giant zero in the loss column.
This matchup against the Bears was a lot more relaxing than the last meeting in which Wichita State played its closest game of the season, a 72-69 overtime win. Over this 31-game run, the Shockers have won by an average of 15.45 points per game.
The Shockers still have a long road ahead of them, but a perfect regular season is already theirs, and that's no small feat. In early January, Shockers coach Greg Marshall told Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg the following:
“I've always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we're not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We're thinking about our next meal."
Wichita State is probably already pretty full, but there’s always room for dessert.
No. 21 Memphis 72, No. 7 Louisville 66: The Louisville-Memphis rivalry got a brief but needed jumpstart this year, and with the Cardinals off to the ACC next year, maybe it won't get anther reboot for a while. At least the two teams gave fans something to remember, with the Tigers capturing a season sweep after a spirited sprint in the final minutes of the game.
The Cardinals overcame a six-point halftime deficit to take an eight-point lead late in the game, but Memphis stormed back with an 11-0 run to go up 68-65 with 1:36 to play. The Tigers snapped Louisville's seven-game winning streak and bounced back nicely from a head-scratching loss to Houston. Michael Dixon led the way for Memphis with 18 points (9-of-9 on free throws), while Austin Nichols, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford combined to score 40.
Russ Smith (19 points, five rebounds, five assists) was limited by foul trouble in the second half, but Cardinals teammate Montrezl Harrell picked up the slack with 25 points and 12 rebounds, good for his eighth double-double of the season. He also had this slam:
Louisville might be a bit more vulnerable overall than it was in last year's national championship season, but the Cardinals still have the makeup of a team poised to go far in March.
Memphis, on the other hand, continues to be one of the more befuddling teams in college basketball. It does everything well but nothing great, has plenty of talent, and there are a few solid wins (and very few bad losses) on the schedule. But Josh Pastner never can be quite sure which version of the Tigers he'll get from game to game – or even from half to half. That's enough to make even the youthful Pastner go gray a bit earlier than he wants.
UConn 51, No. 11 Cincinnati 45: The box score for this one is borderline #NSFW, and not in a good way. Cincinnati couldn’t get its offense going for a large portion of the second half (the team mustered just four points through about 12 minutes). Even though the Bearcats stayed in the ballgame with solid defense, their scoring woes were too steep a hill to climb.
Shabazz Napier had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies, who improved to 23-6 (11-5 AAC) on the year. UConn took advantage of 20 Cincy turnovers (Bearcats guard Sean Kilpatrick had seven of them) despite shooting just 31.3 percent (3-of-14 from beyond the arc) on the day.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin did everything in his power to get his guys back in it mentally, including a bombastic exchange with referee Teddy Valentine that somehow didn’t result in a technical foul.
This is one time where you just go ahead and tape over the game film with a Scandal rerun or something and pretend like it never happened. Dayton 86, UMass 79: This was a game the Flyers desperately had to have for their NCAA Tournament hopes. With a quality win over the Minutemen, Dayton now has two big games left -- Saint Louis and Richmond -- before the A-10 tournament. Winning both would probably get them in; split and the Flyers will need a strong performance in the conference tourney and some of the other bubble teams around them to stumble.