Kansas State, Seton Hall boost resumes; more Snap Judgments
Here's a look at a few notable contests from an eventful Tuesday in college hoops:
Rodney McGruder led the Wildcats with 24 points and Thomas Gibson came off the bench to add 13 as Kansas State completed its sweep of Missouri. After beating Baylor on the road on Saturday, the Wildcats are no longer in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament and could end up as a trendy pick to make a run in the Big Dance. The Wildcats were simply too much in the paint for a smaller Missouri team to handle, leading by as many as 16 points. Missouri made a run in the second half, cutting that lead to three on a Kim English triple late in the second half, but McGruder answered with a 3-pointer of his own and the Tigers never really threatened again.
As well as Kansas State played, this game wasn't all about the Wildcats. Missouri simply picked the wrong night to play poorly. It got manhandled inside, which wouldn't have been a huge problem if its own perimeter defense wasn't so bad. Kansas State routinely penetrated off the dribble, which opened up passing lanes for perimeter jumpers and dump-offs to the big guys inside. On the offensive end of the floor, Phil Pressey played one of his worst games of the season. He committed six of Missouri's 10 turnovers and took a number of ill-advised treys off the dribble. Those mental mistakes killed the Tiger's momentum on a number of different occasions.
The biggest storyline to come out of this game will be whether or not Missouri is as good as its record indicates. The Tigers are good, but at this level, matchups make the battle, and Kansas State simply matched up well with the Tigers. The Wildcats are bigger and more aggressive, and when Missouri's threes weren't dropping and the perimeter defense was as soft as it was tonight, the Tigers were susceptible.
The downside? Missouri's trip to Lawrence to face Kansas on Saturday will no longer be for sole possession of first place in the Big 12.
Seton Hall is now 8-8 in Big East play. So long as they avoid stumbling in their last two games -- a home date with in-state rival Rutgers and a trip to Chicago to take on DePaul -- the Pirates should feel pretty comfortable about their chances of making the dance. When you beat a team as good as Georgetown as solidly as Seton Hall did on Tuesday night, it's difficult to assign credit to one performance. That said, Jordan Theodore gave the Pirates precisely what they needed on this night. He finished with 29 points and five assists, making a number of big shots as the Pirates used a second-half surge to turn a seven-point halftime lead into a blowout win.
This isn't necessarily a bad loss for Georgetown. Seton Hall is a good basketball team and very tough at home, a dangerous combination when you face a team playing for its tournament life. It doesn't help matters when your starters shoot a combined 10-28 from the floor. The Hoyas have become known for strong starts and poor finishes, but I'll chalk this game up to a having a bad night at the wrong time.
The second half was a different story. Kentucky can be absolutely relentless on the defensive end of the floor, and it showed in the second half as the 'Cats slowly started to chip away at the Mississippi State lead. After an injury to Rodney Hood allowed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to switch onto Bost, Mississippi State's offense completely bogged down. Kentucky got a couple of big threes from Doron Lamb and Darius Miller and started coming up with second chance points and loose balls, and the rest is history.
I've said it all season long: Kentucky is susceptible to teams that can beat them up in the paint, but when they play their best game, they are going to be a very, very difficult team to beat. Tonight proved that correct.
Kendall Marshall's performance deserves to be noted. He finished with 22 points and 13 assists while shooting 7-8 from the field and 4-5 from downtown. Oh, and he didn't commit a turnover. That ain't bad.
At this point, your heart has to break for the Wildcats. This loss drops them to 6-9 in Big Ten play and, for the time being, out of the tournament picture. They'll likely stay there unless they can land a win over Ohio State in Welsh-Ryan Arena next week. It's an incredibly tough loss for a team that has had their fair share of them this season. It's the second time they've lost to Michigan in overtime. They also have three more league losses by less than five points. If one or two of those games go the other way, Northwestern would be in decent position to earn its first berth in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, it looks like the Wildcats will be headed back to the NIT.