Panthers Surviving Without Gibbs

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Panthers one of several teams dealing with injuries.

Panthers one of several teams dealing with injuries.

By Ken Davis

Injuries are a part of any college basketball season, but the magnifying glass comes out when top teams lose players in February. This is the time of year when coaches find themselves walking the high wire, listening to medical advice and making decisions about shutting down players — then hoping their key guys can heal and return for postseason play.

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon last week demonstrated again the qualities that make him such an outstanding coach. The Panthers remain on track to win the Big East Conference after defeating West Virginia and Villanova — both on the road — without guard Ashton Gibbs, Pitt’s leading scorer and team leader.

That’s very impressive, but don’t expect Dixon to brag. The success of Pitt’s program under Dixon is built on a philosophy of maintaining a smooth ride. There’s never any panic, the bumps in the road are absorbed without concern, and Dixon simply tells his team to “keep doing what we’re doing.”

In an extremely hostile environment for a rivalry game, Pitt got 21 points from Brad Wanamaker and 15 from Nasir Robinson to defeat Villanova 57-54. The Wildcats struggled to score against Pitt, making just three baskets in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

“That’s what we do. We defend, and we do it for 40 minutes,” Dixon said.

Gibbs injured his left knee against Cincinnati on Feb. 5 and is supposed to miss between 10 days and two weeks with the MCL problem. Pitt plays at home against South Florida on Wednesday and then travels to St. John’s on Saturday. Those two big road wins last week will give Dixon some flexibility. If Gibbs isn’t ready to return against the Red Storm, he would have five more days to rest before the Panthers have their rematch with West Virginia.

Villanova was without guard Corey Stokes against Pitt. Stokes had been slowed in recent weeks by a sprain of his big toe and a nagging hamstring injury. The toe problem, now referred to as turf toe, cut down on his time against Rutgers in the previous game. Saturday night, he entered Villanova’s Pavilion wearing a protective boot on his left foot.

Jay Wright’s team has lost four of six, and the Wildcats need a healthy Stokes (14.6 ppg) down the stretch. Villanova has games remaining against Syracuse and St. John’s before closing out the regular season with a rematch at Pitt.

Kansas is at rival Kansas State Monday night and will be without sophomore forward Thomas Robinson, who had surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear. The Jayhawks defeated Iowa State easily Saturday without Robinson, but he has been one of the most productive sixth men in the nation.

Kansas coach Bill Self has remarkable depth on this team, but freshman combo guard Josh Selby has missed the last three games because of a stress reaction in his right foot. Selby has been upgraded to “questionable” for the K-State game. “He did practice [Sunday] and moved pretty well,” Self told the Lawrence Journal World.

Senior Brady Morningstar has stepped in and done a tremendous job on both ends of the floor. Some have speculated the Jayhawks are better without Selby because he tries to go too fast and commits turnovers at times. You can bet Self is willing to play without Selby and Robinson as long as it takes for them to get healthy and ready for March Madness.

Florida State’s season took an unfortunate turn Saturday when Chris Singleton fractured his right foot. The Seminoles’ top scorer and rebounder, as well as one of the nation’s top defenders, is scheduled to have surgery Monday with the hope he can return before the end of the season. The Seminoles defeated Virginia, 63-56, improving their record 18-7 overall and 8-3 in the ACC. With that enormous win over Duke on Jan. 12, FSU appears headed to the NCAA Tournament. Leonard Hamilton will have to find others to pick up the slack with Singleton’s 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds missing from action. Xavier Gibson, who recently returned from injury, and Bernard James will be asked to step it up.

It’s not just the coaches and fans watching to see how teams react to injuries. The NCAA Tournament selection committee will be paying attention, too. When the committee convenes in Indianapolis in March it will have team performances broken down with all the injury updates.

Of course the most interesting injury situation continues to play out at Duke. Freshman phenom Kyrie Irving hasn’t played since suffering turf toe on Dec. 4. His cast came off recently. Coach Mike Krzyzewski keeps saying Irving likely won’t play again this season.

Something in my gut tells me Irving is going to work hard enough to return. It’s just a hunch. But if there’s one player who could alter March completely, it’s Kyrie Irving. Stay tuned.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
It was the most dramatic performance of the season. Jordan Taylor put Wisconsin on his back and ignited an unthinkable rally against No. 1 Ohio State Saturday. Taylor scored eight straight points to spark a 15-0 run, and the Badgers worked their Kohl Center magic once again with a 71-67 victory over Ohio State, handing the Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Wisconsin appeared defeated, trailing by 15 points. Not in Taylor’s mind. He scored 21 of his 27 in the second half. “He made all the difference in the world,” Wisconsin teammate Jon Leuer said. Just like that, Division I basketball got the message there would be no perfect team this season. The Indiana 1975-76 squad can rest easy again. Those Hoosiers were the last team to go through a season without a loss.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Tim Hardaway Jr. helped Michigan to a 2-0 week with his first career double-double, against Northwestern, and a career-high 26 points against Indiana. Hardaway averaged 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two assists in the two games. He also shot 63.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range. Against Northwestern, he finished with 17 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Feb. 14

West Virginia at Syracuse
Looks as if it will be a bumpy ride to the finish line for Syracuse. The Orange lost for the sixth time in eight games Saturday when Louisville held off a late surge for a 73-69 victory. West Virginia is actually ahead of Syracuse in the Big East standings.

Kansas at Kansas State
The Jayhawks won the first meeting 90-66 in Lawrence. Kansas is the No. 1 team in the nation — expect the crowd at Bramlage Coliseum to work itself into a frenzy before tipoff.

Tuesday, Feb. 15

Mississippi State at Kentucky
Kentucky has been fine at home but can’t win conference games on the road. Both teams are 5-5- in the SEC.

George Mason at VCU
The Colonial is staging another incredible conference race this season. George Mason is first at 13-3. VCU is second at 12-3. Old Dominion and Hofstra are right behind at 11-4.

Wednesday, Feb. 16

Vanderbilt at Georgia
Florida (9-2) has taken control of the SEC East, but Vandy and Georgia are tied for second at 6-4. A road win would be huge for the Commodores.

Oklahoma State at Texas
Texas remains undefeated in the Big 12 with a 10-0 mark — including that win over Kansas.

Georgetown at Connecticut
Georgetown has won eight straight. The Hoyas have battled back and put themselves in the running for second place in the Big East. UConn needs a win over a ranked team.

Wisconsin at Purdue
The Badgers have to stay focused after that Ohio State victory. Purdue is coming off a big road win at Illinois. The winner of this one will be looking strong in the Big Ten race.

Thursday, Feb. 17

Minnesota at Penn State
February has been a cruel month to both of these teams. Are NCAA hopes running out?

Alabama at LSU
The Tide appear to be rolling to the championship of the SEC West. Winning a road game in the division would be huge for Anthony Grant’s team.

Friday, Feb. 18

Connecticut at Louisville
Last time these two met, Peyton Siva was the man in a double-overtime 79-78 victory for the Cards at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies have been struggling ever since.

VCU at Wichita State
It's BracketBusters time.

Saturday, Feb. 19

Pittsburgh at St. John’s
The Red Storm welcome another top ranked team to Madison Square Garden. So far, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke and UConn have all fallen to Steve Lavin’s team in the Big Apple. Can Dwight Hardy and Co. do it again?

Washington at Arizona
Sean Miller has worked his magic with the Wildcats. This time, Arizona will be looking to avenge an 85-68 loss at Washington on Jan. 20. That’s Arizona’s only loss since Jan 2.

Notre Dame at West Virginia
The Irish have won seven straight and have an entire week to get ready for this trip to Morgantown. Ben Hansbrough has evolved into Mike Brey’s main man at Notre Dame.

Illinois at Michigan State
Two of the most disappointing teams in the nation meet in East Lansing trying to find some momentum before March. The two have combined for a mind-boggling 19 losses.

George Mason at Northern Iowa
Turn off that funny George Mason Internet video long enough to catch this great matchup from the BracketBusters.

Utah State at Saint Mary’s
It’s another BracketBusters special. Utah State leads the WAC, and Saint Mary’s is on the way to ruling the West Coast.

Sunday, Feb. 20

Cleveland State at Old Dominion
The Horizon meets the Colonial in more BracketBusters action.

Ohio State at Purdue
Part II of Purdue’s huge week. The Buckeyes get a chance to regroup at home on Tuesday against Michigan State. Then it’s back on the road for a dangerous game against the Boilermakers.

THEY SAID IT

“We got a good, old piece of humble pie, so we’re back hungry. This team wants to get back and practice tonight — unfortunately, we can’t due to NCAA rules.” — Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, after experiencing his first defeat as a college player, Saturday at Wisconsin.

“There’s so many people trying to get closer and closer. It’s like suffocating. It’s fun to celebrate.” — Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer after the Kohl Center stormed the floor following the victory over Ohio State.

“I want to be No. 1. I want to have that chip on our shoulder every time we go out. I want to be the one that gets everybody’s best shot because I believe we can take it.” — Kansas forward Marcus Morris, after Ohio State lost and the No. 2 Jayhawks crushed Iowa State 89-66 on Saturday.

“I don’t want to be No. 1. Enjoy No. 3 and keep climbing that mountain.” — Texas forward Jordan Hamilton, after Texas defeated Baylor 69-60. Texas is the only team to defeat Kansas this season.

“The Philly guys played like Philly guys.” — Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, referring to Philadelphia natives Brad Wanamaker and Nasir Robinson after they combined for 36 points to lift the Panthers to a 57-54 victory at Villanova.

“We missed on both guys, no doubt. They proved it tonight.” — Villanova coach Jay Wright, sharing his thoughts on Wanamaker and Robinson.

NOTES

Mother Knows Best
If John Jenkins keeps listening to his mother, Vanderbilt might have a special season in the works. Jenkins received a text message from his mother before Saturday’s game against Kentucky in Nashville. She told him he needed to score at least 25 points. He did that and more, knocking down six 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 32 points, and Vanderbilt knocked off Kentucky 81-77. Jenkins did that despite a sprained right shoulder. But before getting treatment after the game, he made sure to get in touch with his mother. “She said, ‘Mama knows best,’ after I hugged her. I said, ‘You do. You definitely do.’” The win over Kentucky completed a three-game home stand sweep for the Commodores (18-6 overall, 6-4 SEC). Vanderbilt hit 20-of-39 3-point attempts in its last two wins.

Big Storm
There was some funny dialogue in Storrs, Conn., Sunday night after UConn defeated Providence 75-57. To the surprised of everyone, sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel led the Huskies with career highs of 25 points and eight rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing was his career-high 31 minutes. Coombs-McDaniel is accustomed to getting coach Jim Calhoun’s hook after any mistake he makes on the floor. “I’m trying to describe our relationship — storm?” Calhoun said. “Stormy is a good word.” Coombs-McDaniel agreed, but said it has been for the good. “Sulking didn’t do any good so I’m striving to continue to play and get better and get some minutes on the court.”

Pirates Step Up
When Kevin Willard was hired to coach at Seton Hall last spring, he knew restoring the image of the program involved more than just winning games. Unfortunately, behavioral issues don’t go away overnight. Senior guards Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were dismissed Saturday “due to violation of team rules and an ongoing pattern of conduct unbecoming of a representative of Seton Hall athletics,” according to a statement released from the school. The dismissals may have triggered memories of all the incidents that led to the firing of coach Bobby Gonzalez last year, but the Pirates went out and won their fifth Big East game with a 69-64 decision over Rutgers. In the victory, Jeremy Hazell scored 19 points and became the fourth player in Seton Hall history to reach the 2,000-career point plateau.

Smith on Fire
Nolan Smith of Duke would have been Player of the Week if Jordan Taylor hadn’t performed so well in such a big game. Smith has been on a tear for the Blue Devils, and he rescued his teammates in the second half against North Carolina Wednesday night. Smith scored 22 of his career-high 34 points after halftime and the Blue Devils rallied from 43-29 down to a 79-73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was Smith’s third 30-point game of the season and fifth straight with at least 20 points.

Marcus the Man
Marcus Morris certainly isn’t an unknown, but the Kansas junior doesn’t get mentioned much in the National Player of the Tear discussion. That’s because Kansas has so much depth and so much balance. Morris averages 16.9 points, seven rebounds and shoots 34.5 percent from 3-point range. But his overall field goal percentage is 60.9 percent, and in his last six games he is shooting an amazing 68 percent (36-of-53).

More Madness
Most exciting news of the week: Thanks to the new NCAA Tournament television contract, it sounds as if the viewing experience will be even better starting this year. The Associated Press reported that the deal with CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV “will allow for more staggered starts of games, so all those buzzer-beaters aren’t happening at the same time.” Terrific.

Stat Stuffer
Stat line of the week: If you don’t know the name Norris Cole, it’s time to get acquainted. Cole scored 41 points and grabbed 20 rebounds to carry Cleveland State to an 86-76 victory over Youngstown State Saturday. Oh yeah, Cole also had nine assists. If you hadn’t heard of Cole before, then you don’t know he is 6 foot 2. Yeah, 6-2. He averages 21.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and shoots 36.1 percent from three-point range. He’s a senior from Dayton, Ohio. Check him out. The last 40-20 game in Division I was recorded by Blake Griffin of Oklahoma on Feb. 14, 2009. Griffin had 40 and 23 against Texas Tech.


Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).

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