My favorite part of the last week of the regular season is not the best rivalries. It is not the regular season conference title races. It is not bubble teams scrapping out wins to save their season. It’s senior day. Every school has one at some point this week. It’s such an underrated part of the game. Because of the game’s shift to focusing on star freshmen, being able to say you’re a four-year senior has lost a lot of its luster. I still think it’s one of the most impressive things to do. Sure, they aren’t necessarily the most talented guys. But they really earned their spot. And in the end, they’re rewarded for it. So many great moments come from individual schools’ senior days. Here are some we’ve already seen:
- Eron Harris, lost for the season due to an injured knee, checked into Michigan State’s game against Wisconsin in the final seconds, knee brace and all, and kissed the floor as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
- Indiana’s Collin Hartman, who hasn’t played a minute this season due to injury, said a few words to the crowd at Assembly Hall before dropping to his knee and proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend. It was like a movie. She said yes, of course.
- At Drake, center Jacob Enevold was surprised by his parents, who flew all the way from Denmark to partake in the senior day celebration.
- At Kansas, Bill Self gave his son, senior walk-on Tyler Self, his first career start at Phogg Allen Field House, as well as the opportunity to Frank Mason to tearfully walk off the floor one last time to a cheering crowd.
- Like Self, Mark Few started his 5th year senior walk-on Rem Bakamus for the first time in their game against BYU. Ironically, in a game the Zags lost, Bakamus’s +/- was +7.
Senior day is so great because it’s an emotional day for the seniors to play one last game in a place they’ll carry with them forever, as well as for fans to thank their favorite players for (usually) four years of service. Maybe I’m a sentimental guy, but I always look forward to this week for that very reason. I got pretty off track here, so let’s just answer some questions before I start crying.
“Thoughts on the foul call at the end of the TCU-West Virginia game? And did it all but end TCU’s tournament hopes?” – Ben Auten
I’ve re-watched the video from the end of this game so many times. And let me tell you, I am upset. It isn’t a good call. I do think Jaylen Fisher leaned into Daxter Miles Jr. a little bit, yeah. But seriously? You’re going to call them with (roughly) 5 seconds left to let free throws decide the game? That’s a no call if I’ve ever seen one. It didn’t appear that Fisher drastically disrupted Miles Jr.’s path to the basket, Fisher slightly jumped into him, but there wasn’t enough har contact for a foul. It was a great game, so it’s unfortunate the officials took it out of the players’ hands. That being said, I don’t think this ended TCU’s hopes for the NCAA Tournament. It certainly didn’t help, an a win would’ve looked awesome on a pretty bare resume, but the Big 12 is a deep league and there will be opportunities to capitalize on in the conference tournament. Probably need to be at least 21-12 to get in with their resume (one that features no bad losses, but no really good wins either).
“What do you think the reason is for Illinois’ most recent success? How do you predict they’ll finish out the year?” – Ryan Hartman
My original thinking as for the cause of the Illini’s success was the fact that they use #roadkill in their tweets regarding a win. That seems like a pretty intimidating and degrading thing for opponents. As I investigated deeper into the matter, I realized there was also something else. They’ve been shooting the 3 more consistently recently, which is a plus for a team that can sometimes be offensively challenged. But defense wins championships, and a big part of Illinois’s recent success has actually been their defending of the perimeter, not their own success from behind it. Over the past five games, their opponents have been shooting 31% from the arc. The Illini are 4-1 in those games. The loss? Penn State shot 43.8%, and won by 13. Coincidence? No. As for the remainder of the season, I expect the Illini to split their last two games (home vs. Michigan State and road vs. Rutgers). That should get them around the 8 or 9 seed in the B1G tourney and a first round bye. In order to make the tournament, they’d have to get pretty deep in the conference tournament to solidify a bid. They’ll end up playing a top seed within a game, and I’m not sure if they have it in them. Personally, I think Illinois misses the Big Dance and that might make John Groce #roadkill.
“Who was the more shocking upset- Butler sweeping Villanova or BYU taking down #1 Gonzaga?” – Jackson Borman
If the question was “more impressive,” the answer is a bit cloudier. Beating a top team is no easy task, beating them twice is, well, twice as hard as beating them once, I suppose. But more shocking, I think the answer is pretty obviously Gonzaga. Butler is a great team and a tough matchup for Villanova. Regardless of the outcome, I think it was expected to be a great game. Butler pulling out the W on Saturday is surprising, but not jaw-dropping. But BYU, who was 20.5-point underdogs going into Spokane and giving the Zags their only loss of the year (thus far) is a pretty mind-blowing result. Especially considering the Gonzaga jumped out to a 18-2 lead barely five minutes into the game. Truly wild. It took a perfect game from Ivan Drago – excuse me, Eric Mika – but they pulled it out. BYU has now won in Spokane for the past three years, which is shocking in itself. An undefeated Gonzaga team would have been a fun story on Selection Sunday, but I think a close game situation like this one will benefit Mark Few in preparation for the tournament. Which leads me to my next question…
“Gonzaga still worthy of a #1 seed?” – Trevor Deimel
YES. It’s a necessary question to ask, so thank you Trevor, but it is a very clear answer: yes, they are. Since the Selection Committee typically values the RPI, let’s look at some numbers. The Zags were 9th in RPI before their only loss, and dropped to 12th after it. Before I start to defend their schedule, I will admit that I can’t really. Yeah, they play in a weak conference and can only schedule so many quality non-conference opponents. So yes, they don’t get as many opportunities as other schools in power conferences to earn marquee wins. But when they do, they don’t disappoint. They’re 4-0 against the top 25 in RPI, 10-1 against the top 100. For comparison, North Carolina, a team that many would like to replace Gonzaga on the 1-seed line, is 4-2 against the top 25, and 14-5 against the top 100. Louisville is 3-6 against top 25, and 13-6 against top 100 teams. Kansas and Villanova are 17-3 and 16-3 against top 100, respectively. Pretty similar territory to the Zags, right? They will both be 1-seeds. Gonzaga should also be a 1-seed. Question for you: where are tournament games played? Neutral sites? Yes. Gonzaga’s three best wins came on neutral sites against Arizona, Florida, and Iowa State. Those are Elite 8 caliber matchups. Gonzaga also beat their opponents by double-digits in each of their 17 conference wins. To put the icing on the cake, the Zags still hold them top spot in KenPom, which uses adjusted numbers to balance out the strength of opponents. They’re 6th overall in adjusted offensive efficiency, and 3rd on the defensive end. The numbers are there. This is a 1-seed type of team.
“What’s your dream Final Four match-up?”—@navycorpsman08
What a loaded question. There are 68 teams that will make the NCAA Tournament. There are only about 20 of them that have a legitimate shot at the Final Four. But, obviously, only four of them will make it. Then there can only be two in a single matchup. There are probably 15 matchups I want to see based purely on fun storylines. The most purely basketball-driven matchup I want to see is UCLA-Louisville. It’s arguably the best offense in the country against arguably the best defense. UCLA shoots the heck out of the 3-ball, and Louisville is pretty darn good at defending it too. I’ve written before about how much I love the Cardinals’ ability to run multiple defensive sets, but I think UCLA has the athleticism and personnel to be able to counter whatever Louisville throws at them. On the other end of the court, Louisville’s offense can hit a cold spell every once in a while, but may benefit from UCLA’s…below average defense. To give credit where it’s due, the Bruins have been buckling down more on the defensive end the last few games (e.g., a big comeback against Oregon on February 9th). Neither team has a very deep bench either, so it’ll be a battle of stamina. I could’ve written 19 or so different versions of this paragraph. I really could have. Probably more. But this specific matchup, at least in my opinion, has the best balance of great teams and drastically different styles of play. Plus, there’s a very real chance we see these teams meeting up in Phoenix, and it would be a game I would very much look forward to.
Photos via USA Today Sports, AP Photo, and the Spokesman Review