It’s an all-roundball hump day. We’ll cover everything from Durant and Steph to St. Cecilia and Winnebago. But we better start with Creighton.
The Jays’ defense has improved dramatically in 2015-16, rising all the way to the top 50 nationally in points per possession. Greg McDermott has needed every stop he could get because — strangely — Creighton’s “Let it fly” mantra has failed.
If someone had told me two months ago that the Jays would be dead-last in 3-point percentage in Big East play and top four in the standings, I would’ve laughed ‘em out of the gym.
Creighton’s defense has stepped up and saved this season. Until last night, that is. The Jays held Butler to 37 percent shooting in the first half last night. The opening 10 minutes of the second half weren’t exactly perfect, but not terrible. Then the floodgates opened.
In the final 10 minutes, the Bulldogs scored 30 points on 18 possessions. During one stretch, the Jays went eight possessions without a defensive stop. Austin Etherington, who averages 2.4 points per game, erupted for 14 after halftime. I thought Creighton looked a step slow, maybe a little tired.
Getting the weekend off will help. Getting Marquette and St. John’s at home will help even more. But this season looks like it’ll be defined by those back-to-back road games to finish (Providence and Xavier). The Jays gotta steal one if they wanna preserve hope for an at-large bid.
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Somebody has to win, right?!?
Nebraska's chances are weakest. Two years ago, it rolled into Assembly Hall and grabbed a critical victory. Say what you want about beating Michigan State and Wisconsin that season, but NU's win at Indiana was the most underrated of that miracle NCAA Tournament run.
Things have changed quite a bit. Tom Crean has a heckuva team (at least in Bloomington, where the Hoosiers are undefeated). Tim Miles is missing his leader, Shavon Shields, and somebody has to defend Thomas Bryant.
This is the toughest game remaining on the schedule for the Huskers. It might get ugly.
>> I will admit, I didn’t think much of Mike Daum when I saw him at the state tournament in 2013. The 6-foot-9 Kimball standout spent more time around the 3-point arc than he did in the paint. Division I talent? I didn’t see it.
Three years later, the South Dakota State redshirt freshman is going bonkers in the Summit.
Look at his efficiency in conference play:
He’s averaging 17.3 points on 9.3 field-goal attempts in 23.3 minutes per game. That’s crazy. He’s shooting 59 percent from the floor and averaging 6.8 rebounds. In four consecutive games, Daum’s points have doubled his field-goal attempts.
Daum can still stroke it. He’s 14-for-28 from 3-point range in Summit play. But he’s getting to the foul line six times a game, too.
You recruit everybody hoping they’re gonna be great, SDSU coach Scott Nagy told me. But he didn’t anticipate Daum being this efficient or this prolific. The irony? Just a year ago, Nagy worried if the kid belonged at a lower level.
“Last year, the season started and we weren’t sure he’d ever play for us," Nagy said. "He wasn’t that good in the post. He wasn’t very physical. He wasn’t rebounding the ball. We knew we had to redshirt him.
"He did a good job. He lost his baby fat. He got way better as a shooter. He loves the gym. He’s gotten a lot better in the post, which makes it tough to switch. He’s a very tough matchup.”
The concern with Daum is defense. Can he defend the pick and roll? Can he rebound? He doesn’t have great quickness, so those will always be issues. But he’s going to put up massive offensive numbers the next four years.
>> Duke-Carolina tonight in Chapel Hill.
Since the Tar Heels’ national championship in 2009, AKA the end of the Hansbrough era, Duke has won 10 of 13 against Carolina. All the pressure tonight is on the Heels.
Here’s a different kind of preview for you: Brice Johnson, Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder, is dating a Duke women’s basketball player. I’m sure that goes over real well in the Nerd Tents outside Cameron Indoor Stadium.
>> Liz Merrill with a great story on Jason McElwain, the autistic high schooler who, a decade ago, scored 20 points in four minutes. What happened to him?
>> Georges Niang is one of my favorite college basketball players. The Iowa State senior already has an old man’s game. (When he’s 35, he’s gonna be such a pain in the butt at the YMCA). He gives an entertaining Q & A to Jeff Goodman.
>> OK, I’m breaking my all-roundball hump day for one story. David Boren spoke to The Oklahoman about the Big 12's critical next few months.
I can only imagine how rival administrators feel about the OU president, who’s insistent on adding two teams. Trouble is, there just aren’t any obvious candidates. UConn is a long, long way from Texas and Oklahoma — and does nothing for you in football. So what about Cincinnati? The Bearcats would make a natural partner for West Virginia. Or Central Florida? (That would certainly change Scott Frost’s life).
If the Big 12 wants to make a splash in football, it’ll add BYU and Boise State. But can you imagine a league that stretches from Morgantown to Boise? Football is one thing, but how is the volleyball team or baseball team going to handle that trip? I think it’s going to be a tough sell for Boren.
>> Kevin Durant to the Warriors? It’s gaining traction. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for Golden State, which has assembled a perfect supporting cast for the Splash Bros. You’re gonna give that up to sign another elite scorer? You only play with one basketball.
>> High school basketball fans, I spent Saturday night in Grand Island watching some awesome inter-class games: Aurora-Neumann, St. Cecilia-Sidney, Seward-GICC, Winnebago-Gothenburg, Riverside-Clearwater/Orchard and Amherst-BDS.
The cumulative scoreboard: Big Schools 3, Small Schools 3.
Those showdowns illustrated once again that good basketball is good basketball and it doesn’t matter what class you’re in (especially if you’re below Class A). I’ve spent some time this week brainstorming if/how the NSAA should change its classification system, especially in basketball. I’ll have more thoughts on it next week, but I invite your suggestions at email@example.com.
Is six classes too many? If so, what should the system look like?
>> NET will release its “Bago Boys” documentary March 3 at 7:45 p.m. I covered Winnebago’s state championship run last season, culminating with a scintillating state tournament, so I’m especially excited about this. Here’s a preview.
>> Email from Jim about my Monday Chatter, in which I called out “purists” who don’t like today’s NBA:
“I think the complainers are missing what they mean by fundamentals. It is not shooting and dribbling, most players these days nail that. The 'problem' if you consider it a problem, is a lack of basketball IQ. ...
"With the advent of more and more athletic players the game has become more of a drive and dish versus a 'traditional' game of actually running an offense that relies on set plays. Because of this you’re seeing players not developing what the old timers consider fundamentals (I don’t consider myself an old-timer yet, I’m just a basketball snob) like recognizing when you’re double-teamed someone is open versus throwing up a prayer and expecting to get bailed out with a foul call.”
>> Finally, a note on Nick Bahe, who was scheduled to undergo surgery today to remove a tumor from his thymus gland. Sometimes I wonder how many people would’ve missed out if Bahe had chosen to go into banking (no offense, bankers!).
Bahe’s athletic pedigree makes him an excellent sports analyst. How many sports-talk hosts played basketball at two major Division I schools, started at quarterback for a state championship football team and have multiple relatives and close friends who played football at Nebraska? He's substantive and savvy. But that’s not what makes Nick Nick.
God has granted him the ability to make people smile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a grocery store parking lot waiting for a radio segment to end, laughing almost to the point of tears as he explores a '90s sitcom metaphor. When I finally walk into Hy-Vee, strangers wonder why I’m still grinning. There are hundreds of listeners just like me throughout Omaha.
Nick Bahe, whether it’s on Fox Sports 1 or on “Game Time” for 1620, breathes energy and life into a microphone. It is a gift. I pray that he’ll return soon and distribute that gift for many, many years to come.