Articles By David Fox
As the calendar turns to February, Kentucky stands alone.
The Wildcats are the only undefeated team remaining after Virginia’s 69-63 loss to Duke on Saturday, allowing Kentucky to enter rare territory.
In the last 10 seasons, only five teams have been undefeated for the first AP poll in February. They are: 2015 Kentucky, 2014 Wichita State and Syracuse, 2011 Ohio State and 2008 Memphis.
While Kentucky’s feat is notable, the Wildcats’ final game of January — a 70-55 home win over Alabama — was another performance that’s becoming routine for a team that’s towering over the rest of its conference.
For entertainment value, we have to go to the ACC. The 15-team league has been full of drama, no more so than this week.
Duke, a team that seemed to be flirting with disaster (by Duke standards), suddenly regrouped in the final five minutes to beat undefeated Virginia. The Blue Devils, days after dismissing a key veteran, were on the verge of falling to 4-4 in the ACC before rallying to topple an unbeaten team on the road.
In other games this week, Louisville came back from down 18 in the second half to aid a North Carolina collapse. A Pittsburgh team that just to lowly Virginia Tech beat a 20-win Notre Dame squad that has had the magic touch in the last two minutes. And NC State, a team that’s been no stranger to late-game disappointments, mustered a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired in overtime to avoid a potential devastating loss to Georgia Tech.
What the ACC will give us in March is anyone’s guess, but the league is giving us a memorable January and February.
1. Duke was magnificent in winning time
Magnificent, flawless, resilient — whatever word you want to put on Duke’s final five minutes against Virginia, it’s probably appropriate. Virginia did to Duke what it does to every opponent — shut down action around the basket on defense and wear down opponents with a methodical offense. In the final 5:08, though, Duke cracked the code. After Duke’s Justise Winslow was called for a flagrant foul for grabbing at the leg of Justin Anderson at the baseline, the Blue Devils outscored Virginia 22-9 for a 69-63 win. What really made the difference was Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones from beyond the arc. Duke missed its first nine 3-point shots before making six of its final eight, including the dagger from the freshman Jones. The win comes at a critical time in the season for Duke, after losing in the final seconds against Notre Dame, losing in lopsided fashion to NC State and Miami in the last seven games and dismissing junior wing Rasheed Sulaimon. A team that can rally like this on the road against an undefeated team is going to be scary in March.
2. Virginia was mighty impressive, too
This was a huge moment for Duke but also a game that Virginia could have won. That said, don’t jump off the Virginia bandwagon yet. The Blue Devils had to empty the tool box to beat the Cavaliers on the road. Duke suddenly got hot from 3 late and mixed up defensive looks to throw Virginia’s methodical offense off balance. Before the final moments, Virginia played one of its finest games of the season. The Cavs held Jahlil Okafor in check for most of the game as the stud freshman finished with as many field goals as turnovers (five). Virginia itself shot only 3-of-13 from 3, but grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. If this is the kind of effort and ability it takes to beat Virginia, watch out.
3. Wisconsin is in March form ... without its starting point guard
This much is certain: The last team Iowa wants to see in the Big Ten tournament is Wisconsin. In two games against the Hawkeyes since Jan. 20, Wisconsin has won 82-50 in Madison and 74-63 in Iowa City. Iowa has trouble guarding just about anyone, but especially the Badgers. And it’s not just Iowa that should fear Bucky. Wisconsin is averaging 1.38 points per possession during its last four games, remarkable considering that the Badgers are without starting point guard Traveon Jackson. Wisconsin is also averaging 2.2 assists per turnover in four full games without Jackson, who is out with a broken foot. Perhaps Wisconsin is just an awful matchup for Iowa this season, but Wisconsin is going to be a matchup problem for almost any team when the Badgers are finally healthy. Case in point...
5. North Carolina’s collapse is Louisville’s gain
The Tar Heels wasted a perfect opportunity to move to the top of the ACC standings with an epic collapse in a 78-68 overtime loss at Louisville. The Tar Heels led comfortably for most of the matchup and led 57-53 with eight minutes to go. Then, Carolina fell apart after the 7:18 TV timeout. The Heels went 0-of-7 from the field with three turnovers to finish regulation and 3-of-5 from the field with two turnovers and 2-of-6 from the free throw line in overtime for a 14-point swing in less than 12 minutes. For Louisville, though, this was a critical win, giving the Cardinals their first top-30 RPI victory of the season.
6. Notre Dame ran out of miracles
During the last two weeks, Notre Dame has been the king of wild finishes. The Irish overcame a four-point deficit in the final minute to beat NC State, and on Wednesday, Jerian Grant recovered his own turnover to hit a wild shot with a second left on the shot clock to help beat Duke. Against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame ran out of good fortune. Notre Dame trailed Pittsburgh for most of Saturday’s game before Grant recovered from an ineffective start to score Notre Dame’s final nine points, including the go-ahead free throw. On the ensuing possession, Pitt’s James Robinson hit the game-winning jumper with 13 seconds left and picked up the game-clinching steal to hand Notre Dame only its third loss of the season. The wild finish capped a week in which a Pitt team that lost to Virginia Tech turned around to beat a team that just defeated Duke.
7. A new leader in the Missouri Valley?
Northern Iowa was ready for its moment. With a 19-2 start and top-20 AP ranking, the Panthers’ season had been building to this matchup with Wichita State. Northern Iowa savored it with a 70-54 rout of the Shockers in which the Panthers led for the final 28:34. Wichita State had won 29 regular season MVC games in a row, but the Shockers were no match for senior forward Seth Tuttle, who scored a career-high 29 points. The 3-point line summed up the game effectively. Both teams made five 3-pointers. Northern Iowa needed seven shots to do it. Wichita State needed 24. The Panthers and Shockers are tied at 9-1 for the MVC lead. They’ll meet again in Wichita on Feb. 28 for the regular-season finale.
8. Florida is not done yet
Florida’s margin of error to reach the NCAA Tournament is razor-thin, but give the Gators credit for getting back into the discussion. Anything but the NIT looked like a dream a week ago when Florida had dropped three in a row to fall to 10-9. The Gators bounced back this week to beat Alabama on the road and Arkansas at home, both top 50 teams on KenPom. Florida will have double-digit losses — the worst so far to RPI No. 132 Florida State on the road — but the wins this week will be key resume-builders. Florida needed every second to get to this point, too. After a 2-for-9 game from the floor, Michael Frazier rose to occasion to hit the game-tying and game-winning free throws with 1.9 seconds left to beat Arkansas 57-56. The star of the day, though, was Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 16 points, four assists, four offensive rebounds and a pair of highlight-reel buckets.
9. VCU suffered a devastating loss
VCU took its first Atlantic 10 defeat of the season, falling to Richmond 64-55 at home, but the Rams suffered a bigger loss. Senior guard Briante Weber suffered a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus against Richmond, ending his brilliant career. Weber was the leader of VCU’s havoc defense for four years. His 374 career steals was 11 short of the all-time NCAA record held by John Linehan of Providence. He’s a team leader and the face of VCU’s signature style. Few teams will suffer a more crippling injury this season.
10. Texas’ time has come and gone
The Longhorns were still ranked in the top 25 for some reason last week. Clearly, pollsters’ habits are hard to break. That should change. At this point, it’s impossible to ignore Texas’ struggles. The Longhorns lost 83-60 to Baylor in another lopsided game that’s become commonplace for Texas in conference play. The Longhorns aren’t a good defensive team, but they don’t help their case with inefficient games like this. For some reason, Texas took 26 3-point shots (making only five) and got only seven buckets from centers Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner. Texas had 70 shots from the field and scored only 60 points. At this point, the 14-7 Longhorns are one of the nation’s most disappointing teams.
• Seton Hall has recovered from a 1-4 swoon in the Big East and will be well-positioned for the second half of the conference season. After defeating Marquette on the road on Wednesday, Seton Hall defeated Xavier 90-82 to move to 5-4 in the league. Most important was the return of freshman Isaiah Whitehead. After missing nine games with a foot injury, Whitehead came off the bench to score 18 points in 23 minutes.
• It’s still tough to buy into Villanova as a top national contender. Twelve days after losing to Georgetown by 20, the Wildcats were shredded in the first half against DePaul. Nova regrouped in the second half to win 68-55, but that’s too many absentee performances for what’s supposed to be the top team in the Big East.
• St. John’s has been hanging by a thread in recent weeks, so give the Red Storm credit for beating a hot Providence team 75-66 and holding LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn to five points each in the first half. If St. John’s (now 3-5 in the Big East) can get through Butler, Creighton and DePaul, the Red Storm will have a critical stretch ahead of them through the end of February.
• Bruce Pearl made his return to Knoxville, but his Auburn team lost 71-63 to Tennessee. The competitive game was a clear sign that Pearl’s program is going to get better. Donnie Tyndall, whose tenure is in the shadow of an NCAA investigation from his days at Southern Miss, needed this win to end a two-game losing streak to stay relevant in the SEC.
• The best individual stat line of the weekend couldn’t salvage a bad loss. LSU’s Anthony Mickey had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a 73-67 loss to Mississippi State.
• We’ll say this: NC State games this season are always exciting to the end, no matter the opponent and no matter the result.
Strange times are afoot in the ACC.
The Tobacco Road power structure in the league may still command ratings and attention, but it hasn’t yielded a league regular season or tournament championship since 2012.
The reigning champion Virginia is in prime position to extend that drought for another year.
Duke, coming off a loss to Notre Dame, now sits in a tie for sixth in the conference at 4-3 in the league. Meanwhile, Virginia sits alone atop the standings at 7-0 in the conference and 19-0 overall.
Unbalanced scheduling has played a part in conference standings looking a little out of whack compared to the rankings, but the Cavaliers place as the top team in the league is undeniable.
One of two undefeated teams in the country, Virginia is one of the season’s great stories. Despite a lack of McDonald’s All-Americans and NBA Draft lottery talent, Virginia is a Final Four contender that expects to go toe-to-toe against the more heralded Duke team that visits Charlottesville on Saturday evening.
Duke at Virginia
Site: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
Time: Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern
What’s on the line for Duke
The Blue Devils need to re-establish themselves as national contender. Duke is 3-3 since its 14-0 start, leaving the Blue Devils looking awfully vulnerable. Guards at NC State, Miami and Notre Dame have thrived against Duke in the last three weeks, and St. John’s, too, gave Duke trouble for most of Sunday’s game. A team that once looked like it could contend for the national title is suddenly facing a handful of adversity from on-court play to personnel changes. Beating Virginia on the road would immediately re-establish Duke’s bona fides.
What’s on the line for Virginia
If Virginia can defeat Duke, the Cavaliers would have a legitimate claim as the current power in the ACC. Virginia won the ACC regular season a year ago and defeated Duke for the conference tournament title. Virginia isn’t the draw for the casual fan like Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse, but it’s tough to argue against a team that keeps winning. During the last two seasons, Virginia is 23-2 in the ACC with the only losses coming on the road in overtime to Maryland and on the road by four against Duke.
You’ll tune in to watch: How Duke attacks Virginia’s defense
Virginia and Kentucky are an easy 1-2 as the best defensive teams in the country. The Cavaliers do their work by giving opponents precious few possessions and few great shots. Virginia is second in the nation in defensive field goal percentage from two-point range (26.9 percent) and effective field goal rate. And on top of that, Virginia keeps teams off the offensive glass. So the question for Duke is how to score on the pack-line defense. Getting the ball to Jahlil Okafor in the post may be tough, even for a freshman point guard as outstanding Tyus Jones. Duke will need Quinn Cook (39.6 percent from 3) and Justise Winslow, who may be busting out of his slump, to knock down jumpers.
Pivotal player: Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson may end up the ACC player of the year, a remarkable feat considering he averages only 13.9 points per game. Here’s why: he’s ridiculously efficient and he’s Virginia’s MVP. Anderson is shooting 48.4 percent from 2-point range and 51.9 percent from 3 (on 81 attempts). And only a week after an aberrant 0-of-8 day from the floor against Boston College, Anderson carried the Cavs late in the second half of the come-from-behind win over Virginia Tech on Sunday.
Biggest question: What impact will Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal have?
Dismissals of key players at this stage of the season are no small matter. Rahseed Sulaimon’s role had dwindled over the years, but his 7.5 points per game and defense isn’t a negligible loss for the Blue Devils. Krzyzewski, by coach-dismissing-a-player standards, didn’t mince words. Sulaimon “repeatedly struggled” to live up to the standards of the program. His performance indicates Duke will miss him, but the comments indicate he may have been a detriment to chemistry. What will we see Saturday?
David Fox: Duke 65-62
Mitch Light: Virginia 68-60
Jake Rose: Virginia 67-61
One perk of the Super Bowl taking over the airwaves all day Sunday is a mega-Saturday of college basketball.
Nearly every key game of the weekend — with the exception of Michigan-Michigan State — will be crammed into one day Saturday.
No conference will be more in the spotlight than the ACC as four of the top five teams face each other, starting with North Carolina-Louisville in the afternoon followed by the game of the week when Duke visits Virginia.
Jan. 31-Feb. 1 College Basketball Weekend Preview
All times Eastern
Providence at St. John’s
Saturday, noon, FOX
St. John’s looked to be trending upward at the end of December with an 11-1 start that included wins over Minnesota and at Syracuse. Since then, St. John’s is 2-5 in the Big East, the latest loss a 77-74 loss to a Creighton team that had started 0-8 in the league play. St. John’s needs to get its act together and fast, particularly on the defensive end. That’s going to be tough against a hot Providence team that features guard Kris Dunn, who recorded a triple double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) on Thursday against DePaul.
Pick: Providence 77-68
Wisconsin at Iowa
Saturday, noon, ESPN
Iowa has lost two in a row and three of five in Big Ten play. To turn their fortunes, the Hawkeyes must beat a team that defeated them 82-50 on Jan. 20. And they might have to do it without big man Aaron White, who is questionable with a stinger in his shoulder and neck. Wisconsin, since a loss to Rutgers with a depleted roster, has regrouped with Bronson Koenig filling in at point guard for Traevon Jackson. Koenig has averaged 12.3 points with seven assists and two turnovers in his last three games as the starter.
Pick: Wisconsin 72-51
Arkansas at Florida
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
Arkansas continues to be an inconsistent team on the road. The Razorbacks engineered a comeback against Georgia in Athens earlier this season, but the Hogs have also lost to Tennessee and Clemson on the road and needed free throws to escape Missouri. Florida is an 11-9 team and even has Billy Donovan doubting if the Gators are NCAA Tournament material. Still, the Gators ended a three-game losing streak by beating Alabama and former Florida assistant Anthony Grant 52-50 on the road on Tuesday. If things are turning around for Florida, a good showing against Arkansas would be a good place to start. The last time the Gators played in Gainesville, they lost by 18 to LSU.
Pick: Florida 63-58
North Carolina at Louisville
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
The last time these two teams faced each other Jan. 10, North Carolina engineered a comeback from down 13 in the second half to beat the Cardinals 72-71. Things will be tougher this time around for the Tar Heels, whose depth has taken a hit due to injuries to guard Joel Berry and forward Theo Pinson. That might not yield for a great matchup on the road against Terry Rozier, 24.5 points per game last week, and Chris Jones, 22.5 points per game last week.
Pick: Louisville 75-68
Wichita State at Northern Iowa
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Wichita State hasn’t lost to a current Missouri Valley team since a 59-56 defeat to Evansville on Feb. 27, 2013. Northern Iowa, though, may be the first legitimate threat to the Shockers’ Valley dominance since Doug McDermott and Creighton left the league. The Panthers are 8-1 in the league and haven’t lost since Jan. 1. Northern Iowa is second in the MVC in offensive and defensive efficiency — second only to Wichita State in both categories.
Pick: Wichita State 65-60
Texas at Baylor
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
At one point, Texas looked like it could be a Big 12 contender, especially with a healthy Isaiah Taylor at point guard. The Longhorns, though, have come unraveled with four losses in the last six in the Big 12. Texas has been a mess in the defensive end, allowing three Big 12 teams to average more than a point per possession. On Tuesday, Iowa State averaged 1.27 points per possession and shot nearly 55 percent from the field in an 89-86 win over the Longhorns. Baylor’s not that much better a defensive team, ranking ninth league games in effective field goal rate on defense.
Pick: Baylor 76-70
Duke at Virginia
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
This is the game of the year in the ACC and the only matchup between the Blue Devils and Cavaliers at least until the ACC tournament. All the celebration surrounding Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win has obscured that his team is 3-3 since starting 14-0. Moreover, Duke dismissed veteran Rasheed Sulaimon on Thursday. His conduct may have been a detriment, but his presence as a defender will be missed for a team that has given up an average of 84.7 points per game in its losses. Virginia, of course, doesn’t have to approach 90 points to beat even a team like Duke. The Cavaliers have been tested in recent weeks against Notre Dame, Boston College and Virginia Tech on the road, but Virginia has been able to stay undefeated with efficient play in both ends of the court in the final minutes.
Pick: Virginia 64-59
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
For some reason, the AP poll and KenPom rankings hold Oklahoma in high regard. The Sooners needed a home date with Texas Tech to stop a 1-4 skid in the league. The 81-36 win over the Red Raiders was impressive, even if they are the worst team in the league. If Oklahoma can defeat Oklahoma State on the road, maybe there will be more reason for confidence in the Sooners. The Cowboys — a two-player team for most of the season — is coming off a win over Baylor in which the Pokes showed impressive balanced. Four players scored in double figures, taking some of the heat off Phil Forte and Le’Bryan Nash.
Pick: Oklahoma 64-60
Memphis at Gonzaga
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
This game might not be all that competitive as one of the most balanced offensive teams in the country faces one of the most flawed. Still, Gonzaga doesn’t get face many name teams once it gets into its West Coast Conference schedule. A road trip to Saint Mary’s and a home date with BYU may be tougher games for Gonzaga than Memphis, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on the Bulldogs facing a top 100 RPI team at this stage of the season.
Pick: Gonzaga 80-61
Michigan at Michigan State
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
It’s too early to start thinking of Michigan as an NCAA Tournament team. Caris LeVert isn’t coming back, and those losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan will be anchors for their resume. Still, the Wolverines took Wisconsin to overtime and beat Nebraska 58-44. The next two weeks for the Wolverines will be brutal, starting with a road trip to East Lansing. The Spartans are stumbling, too, and need a nice showing against Michigan to build confidence.
Pick: Michigan State 68-64
The popular trend of the football offseason will be the rebound of the Big Ten.
Ohio State won the national championship, and Jim Harbaugh is bringing hope to Michigan. Penn State is on the rise, and Michigan State and Wisconsin hope to maintain stability.
Here’s another one to add to the Big Ten’s brag sheet: No matter what, the Big Ten will have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the second consecutive season.
For the first time in Super Bowl history, two quarterbacks from the Big Ten will start for both teams. Certainly, a single conference has produced both Super Bowl starting quarterbacks before with Fran Tarkenton/Ken Stabler and Peyton Manning/Rex Grossman representing the SEC and and John Elway/Chris Chandler representing the Pac-10, but the meeting of Michigan’s Tom Brady and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson is a first for the Big Ten.
Overall, this is a nice year for Big Ten representation in the Super Bowl. Six Wisconsin players are on Super Bowl rosters, more than any other school. Rutgers has four players on Super Bowl rosters, as many as Alabama, UCLA and Texas A&M and more than USC, Texas, Florida or Florida State.
No conference produced more players on this year's Super Bowl rosters — the active and reserve — than the Big Ten with 27, followed by the Pac-12 with 25 and SEC with 22.
Once again, Athlon Sports looked at each college and high school of players on active Super Bowl rosters and injured reserve and mapped each point.
Here’s a look at what we found.
The maps are interactive. Zoom in and out to check different areas and find names of each player. The Patriots are marked in red, and the Seahawks are marked in green.
Where the Patriots and Seahawks went to college
• After Wisconsin’s six players on Super Bowl rosters, six schools landed four players on Super Bowl rosters — Alabama, Michigan, Oregon, Rutgers, Texas A&M and UCLA.
• Seven schools produced three players on Super Bowl rosters: Cal, Illinois, LSU, Oregon, Purdue, TCU and USC.
• Three power conferences have separated themselves with the Big Ten (27), Pac-12 (25 and SEC (22) setting pace over the other leagues in their current alignments. The ACC (12) as less than half of the representation of the Pac-12, and the Big 12 (nine) has only two more than Conference USA and Mountain West (six each).
• While the Big Ten cornered the market on quarterbacks, the Pac-12 produced most of the rest of the offensive skill position star power — Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski, Cal’s Marshawn Lynch and Shane Vereen, Stanford’s Doug Baldwin, Washington’s Jermaine Kearse.
Where the Patriots and Seahawks went to high school
• The big three states for football are simply a big one in this Super Bowl. The Patriots and Seahawks have a combined 25 players from the state of California, just one fewer than Texas (15) and Florida (nine) combined.
• A bit of a surprise — the fourth-most represented state is Illinois with eight, including Patriots starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich (New Lenox Lincoln-Way Central) and starting tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (Bloomington Central Catholic).
• The most productive single region for the Super Bowl, by a wide margin, was the Los Angeles metro area. Southern California graduates include: Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and Patriots cornerback Patrick Chung and center Ryan Wendell.
• Compton (Calif.) Dominguez is the only school with two players in the Super Bowl with Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman and reserve safety Jeron Johnson.
• Five players in the Super Bowl did not play high school football in the lower 48, including Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer (Nuess, Germany), Seahawks center Max Unger (Hawaii), tight end Luke Willson (Ontario), punter Jon Ryan (Regina, Saskatchewan) and defensive tackle Jesse Williams (Brisbane, Australia).
NASHVILLE — No result would have been more typical of LSU basketball than losing at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Earlier in the week, the Tigers defeated Florida with surprising ease, ending the Gators’ 20-game home winning streak with a 79-61 win.
This season, the Tigers have been capable of this sort of thing during the last two seasons of Johnny Jones’ tenure but sustaining momentum has not been the strong suit of this particular group of Tigers.
LSU built an 11-2 record in the non-conference, including a 74-73 win at West Virginia ... only to open SEC play with an overtime loss to rebuilding Missouri.
The Tigers bounced back to beat NCAA contenders Georgia and Ole Miss ... only to blow and 11-point lead at home to lose to Texas A&M.
The trend for LSU would have been to follow up the statement win over Florida with a loss to a Vanderbilt team that had defeated just one SEC opponent this season.
Any team looking to be taken seriously as an NCAA contender couldn’t afford three slip ups like this in the first 16 days of SEC play.
“We knew we had to get this win somehow,” LSU freshman guard Jalyn Patterson said.
A win at Vanderbilt won’t make or break LSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but Jones has a team that’s keeping itself in contention.
The Tigers started the week as one of seven SEC in the top 50 of the RPI, as one of five SEC teams in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket projection, and as one of four SEC teams in Jerry Palm’s.
Like many SEC teams, LSU seems to be teetering one way or another, from a team that’s potentially second only to Kentucky in the SEC to a team that’s going to land in the NIT. Sometimes in the course of a few possessions.
Against Vanderbilt, LSU trailed for almost the entire second half before rallying in the final 3:39. The momentum continued with two quick baskets and a lead to start overtime only to be undone by two passes out of bounds to the same spot on the court.
And earlier in the game, LSU drew three quick fouls from Damian Jones, Vanderbilt’s top player who ended up playing only eight minutes in the first half.
LSU responded to that bit of good fortune with a five-point halftime deficit.
“We got Damian in early foul trouble we felt we should have kept going to the basket and getting easy layups,” forward Jordan Mickey said. “We didn’t make some shots and we didn’t get some calls. We should have taken advantage of that but we didn’t.”
On paper, LSU’s back-to-back SEC wins on the road — at two of the league’s toughest venues — would seem to be a positive. But those sorts of developments show why Jones will be sweating the NCAA Tournament all the way to the end.
Jones has a team that will turn the ball over 19 times and allow Vanderbilt role players Luke Kornet and Wade Baldwin IV to score a combined 40 points.
But he also has a team that will take two charges in the final minutes, as Martin did, and deflect a pass just enough to get a stop on the defensive end, as Tim Quarterman did on Vanderbilt’s final possession.
“They’re continuing to grow up,” Jones said. “It’s not perfect for us, and we certainly have a long way to go. We’re making some strides.”
A year ago, LSU started the season 9-2 but finished on an 11-13 skid. A team good enough to beat Kentucky on Jan. 28 couldn’t win back-to-back games come February. Nowhere were LSU’s consistency woes more apparent than away from Baton Rouge where the Tigers went 2-7 in SEC road games.
Even a year later, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise LSU is as inconsistent as it is.
The Tigers tantalize with two NBA prospects in the frontcourt in Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Guard play, essential to making runs in conference play and in March, has been spotty.
Before the season, LSU jettisoned point guard Anthony Hickey, who transferred to Oklahoma State, and replaced him with well-traveled junior college transfer Josh Gray. Gray hasn’t been the perfect fix, either. He turns the ball over 3.5 times per game (compared to 4.8 assists).
Getting the ball consistently to LSU's talented big men has been a two-year long struggle.
At the start of Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt, another deficiency was clear — 3-point shooting. The Commodores had little reason to respect LSU’s perimeter game, which started 1-of-7 from 3-point range. That allowed Vanderbilt to clog the lane and hold LSU to 11-of-26 from 2-point range.
LSU didn’t really heat up until its emerging guards — Quarterman and Patterson — did in the second half against Vanderbilt. The sophomore Quarterman is averaging 14.2 points per game in SEC play after averaging 2.5 points per game all of last season. Junior guard Keith Hornsby, a transfer from UNC Asheville, is averaging 17.5 points per game on the road where LSU has defeated West Virginia, Ole Miss, Florida and Vanderbilt.
When all the pieces are in place, LSU has the outside game to keep opposing teams honest in the defensive end.
“Our post guys realize what a great nucleus they have around them and our perimeter guys understand what kind of impact our post guys can have,” Jones said. “We’re sharing the basketball. “
And maybe now, all the pieces are starting to come together for a program on the cusp of making noise in the SEC and the national stage.
After starting SEC play with four road games in the first six, this is when LSU should start racking up wins and tidying up its NCAA resume. LSU's next four games are against South Carolina, Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama with only a trip to Starkville coming on the road.
LSU still has 12 SEC games to figure out if its NCAA Tournament material or not. And after that, the Tigers expect to add five-star prospects Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney.
Will the two stud freshmen join a program starting to deliver on its promise or a program reeling from another disappointing season?
“We were better than what we showed,” Mickey said. “But that’s in the past.”
In case you missed it, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made a bit of news in college basketball this weekend.
Coach K’s 1,000th win was the headline of the college basketball week, but what might have been missed was Duke’s role in another trend.
The Blue Devils were one of four ranked teams to overcome a 10-point deficit on the road. Virginia did it against Virginia Tech. So did Northern Iowa did it against Illinois State.
The most dramatic, though, occurred into the evening hours. Trailing 71-67, Notre Dame had a win probability of six percent with 34 seconds remaining against NC State, according to KenPom.com. Notre Dame sealed the 81-78 win over the Wolfpack on a Jerian Grant block in overtime.
And it wasn’t just ranked teams on the road. At home, Maryland overcame an 11-point deficit against Northwestern to win 68-67 in another painful loss for the Wildcats.
Here what else you might have missed in college basketball during the weekend.
1. Duke’s players got swept up into 1,000-win fever, too
The way Duke started against St. John’s looked something like a slugger sitting on 499 career home runs. The Blue Devils seemed to be tight as they tried to help Mike Krzyzewski hit his milestone 1,000th win. And St. John’s, to their credit, was not eager to be in the record book as the 1,000th loss at the hands of Coach K. St. John’s led by 10 with 8:35 to go and shot 54.8 percent from the floor in the first half to add a little drama to Krzyzewski’s potential landmark win. Then Duke’s emotion took over. The Blue Devils ended the game on a 26-7 run for the 77-68 win. During the decisive run to finish the game, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook were as emotional as they had been all season. In a tough matchup with St. John’s big man Chris Obekpa, Okafor finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds on 10 shots and had the three-point play to put Duke within 1. Jones finished with 22 points and six assists while going 10-of-10 from the line. And Cook hit the 3-pointer to give Duke the lead for good with 5:42 remaining. For a group lauded for its maturity, this explosion of emotion made the difference.
2a. Tyler Ulis is Kentucky’s best playmaker
In almost every Kentucky game this season, one part of the conversation always drifts to Tyler Ulis. As in, Kentucky’s offense is at its best when Ulis is running the point. Nowhere was that clear more than Saturday, especially near the end of the first half of a 58–43 win at South Carolina. In his two shifts in the first half, Kentucky had seven field goals. Five came off Ulis assists. A sixth was a Ulis layup off his own steal. Kentucky outscored South Carolina 31–15 with the freshman from Illinois in the game and was otherwise outscored 28–27 with him on the bench. Ulis hasn’t started all year but has been indispensable as the first guard off the bench. The question remains if that will change as Kentucky gets closer to the postseason.
2b. But don’t forget about Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison
Two of the biggest beneficiaries of Ulis were Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison, who combined for 31 points and no turnovers against the Gamecocks. With his consistent outside shot, Booker will be particularly key come NCAA Tournament time. Booker is now 13-of-22 from 3-point range in SEC play. Meanwhile, Aaron Harrison is 16-of-39.
3. About Kansas not winning the Big 12...
Not long ago, Kansas seemed to be leaving the window open for another team to win the Big 12. That seems less likely with each passing week. Kansas, now 5–1 in the league, had one of its best performances of the season in a 75–62 win at Texas on Saturday. The Longhorns are known for their imposing collection of big men, but the Kansas duo of Perry Wallace and Cliff Alexander combined to score 29 points and grab 14 rebounds. Meanwhile, Kansas guard Brannen Green knocked down 4-of-5 3-pointers for 14 points off the bench. The Jayhawks are once again the favorites to win the Big 12.
4. Frank Kaminsky is stating his case for Player of the Year
Michigan did all it could to come within five points of upsetting Big Ten favorite Wisconsin. It was a remarkable effort for Michigan — without top player Caris LeVert — to even take the Badgers to overtime in a 69–64 loss. But Wisconsin has Frank Kaminsky, who was a force around the basket against the overmatched Wolverines. Kaminsky scored 22 points, giving him at least 20 points in three of his last four Big Ten games. He’s scored at least 16 points in every league game. Just as impressive, the 7-footer has twice had six assists and no turnovers in a league game this season.
5. D’Angelo Russell will make a run at National Freshman of the Year
Beating out Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, for National Freshman of the Year will be tough, but Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell is making a compelling case. Russell silenced a red-hot Indiana team with 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in an 82–70 win over the Hoosiers, a team that two weeks ago held Russell to 3-of-15 from the field. Since that first game against Indiana, Russell is averaging 25.8 points, 6.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds.
6. North Carolina’s depth will be worth monitoring
With forward Theo Pinson (foot) and guard Joel Barry (groin) sidelined, the Tar Heels are down two bench players. In the first game without both of them — Barry missed the previous three games — North Carolina had to sweat out a 78–74 win at home over a mediocre Florida State team. Kennedy Meeks, J.P. Tokoto, Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige all played at least 30 minutes, and the bench offered a total of six points. The Heels had a quick turnaround against Syracuse on Monday and will face Louisville (Saturday) and Virginia (next Monday) in the next week.
7. No panic button for Iowa State ... yet
The Big 12 is a grind this season, so who can blame any team taking a bit of a mental break against the only league team not ranked in the top 100 by KenPom.com. That may be what happened when Iowa State lost 78–73 to Texas Tech on Saturday. The Cyclones couldn’t hit a shot from outside (6-of-31 from 3-point range) and trailed by as much as 19 in the first half. One big issue, though: The 3-point drought is ongoing for Bryce DeJean-Jones, who is 3-of-19 from long range in Big 12 play. Iowa State has some great wins, but we can’t forget this team has losses to South Carolina and Texas Tech.
8. Baylor is gaining confidence
Oklahoma can’t find a way to win these days, but Baylor has had its own troubles putting teams away in recent weeks. That’s why the Bears have to feel pretty good about its 69–58 win over the Sooners over the weekend. Baylor, which had lost close games with Kansas and Kansas State and nearly coughed one up against Iowa State, outscored the Sooners 23–13 down the stretch to improve to 3–3 in the rugged Big 12.
9. Kansas State is going to be an interesting case
Kansas State might not have an NCAA Tournament résumé, but the Wildcats are going to make the Big 12 race interesting. The Wildcats were one of the most disappointing teams in the country during the non-conference season, failing to record even one signature win and losing to teams like Texas Southern and Long Beach State. Now, Bruce Weber’s team is 5–2 in the league after a 63–53 win over Oklahoma State.
10. Freshmen key for surging Georgetown
Villanova was the prohibitive favorite to win the Big East heading into conference play, but Georgetown has emerged as arguably the best team in the league. On Saturday, the Hoyas beat Marquette 95–85 in overtime to improve to 6–2 in the Big East. Credit part of the Hoyas’ success to freshmen Isaac Copeland and Tre Campbell, who combined for 31 points in the win over Marquette. Copeland, in particular, has been a key cog in the win streak, with 17 points against both Villanova and Marquette. And Campbell, who played only 19 minutes in the previous three games, scored 14 points in 28 minutes against Marquette.
• Virginia did it again. Seems like every week Virginia is on the verge of its first loss of the season, but every week the Cavaliers clamp down in the final 10 minutes. This time, it was against Virginia Tech. The Cavs trailed by 10 in the second half but finished the game on a 17-4 run for a 50-47 win. Justin Anderson led the way with 10 points and an assist during the final decisive minutes.
• Entering the weekend, Tennessee was on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament discussion. Tennessee had won three SEC games in a row and had a 4-5 record against the KenPom top 100. Then Texas A&M came to town. Tennessee’s small lineup couldn’t solve Texas A&M on the interior as the Vols shot only 9-of-23 from 2-point range. That said, let’s not overlook Texas A&M’s progress. The Aggies have won four SEC games in a row, including road wins at LSU and Tennessee.
• UCLA was swept by the Oregon schools, which actually happened more recently than one might think. The Bruins lost to Oregon and Oregon State in the same week in 2012, the last time UCLA missed the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks and Beavers shot a combined 15-of-29 from 3-point range against UCLA.
• We said this last week, but Syracuse only confirmed it Saturday: The Orange are in big trouble, losing at home to Miami for the first time since 2001. Without Chris McCullough, Syracuse is down to a six-man rotation — four players logged 40 minutes against Miami — with the meat of ACC schedule coming up.
• What’s gone wrong at Oklahoma? The Sooners were once ranked as high as No. 7 on KenPom and No. 15 in the AP poll. Since then, OU has lost four of five and dropped to 12-7 overall after a 69-58 loss to Baylor. Three of these losses have been on the road, and the schedule should lighten up in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see where OU goes from here.
• Are we seeing a little life in Nebraska? The Cornhuskers defeated Michigan State 79-77 for their fourth win in five games. It might be too little, too late for Nebraska’s NCAA hopes, but this is also the same time Nebraska went on a hot streak last season.
• Arkansas’ NCAA hopes survived a close call with 7-12 Missouri. The Razorbacks needed two free throws in the final 3.3 seconds to beat Mizzou 61-60. The flat performance against a bad team has to be a concern about a team whose road performance has kept the Hogs out of the Tournament in recent years.
• Harvard was a preseason top 25 team and considered one of the top mid-majors in the country. Now, the Crimson may have a hard time winning the Ivy and getting into the Tournament. Harvard lost 70-61 at home to Dartmouth, a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 1998-99. Harvard already lost to Boston College and Holy Cross this season.
The headline of the week in college hoops will be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bid for 1,000 career wins. He’ll try to hit that landmark on the road, making Duke’s game at St. John’s a part of the theme of the weekend.
A number of top teams are looking for key wins on the road, many of which to re-establish their bona fides as conference contenders or national contenders.
Kentucky’s undefeated record wouldn’t seem to be in danger against a cold South Carolina team, but this game may be personal after the Wildcats were embarrassed in Columbia a year ago.
Kansas and Oklahoma, on paper, are Big 12 contenders, but they’ve taken losses in the last week and will look to pick up key wins in the state of Texas.
Meanwhile, teams like Indiana and LSU are facing key show-me moments on the road after building momentum through the week.
College Basketball Weekly Preview and Picks
All times Eastern
Indiana at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS)
Surprise, surprise: Indiana is tied for the Big Ten lead. The season started with Tom Crean’s job in question after a rash of off-court issues and then a home loss to Eastern Washington. The Hoosiers have won four in the row in the Big Ten, and they’re doing it with the most explosive team in the league. In the last four games, Indiana is averaging 1.18 points per possession in the process. A 69-66 win at home over Ohio State started this streak; Another win would further solidify IU as a Big Ten contender.
Prediction: Ohio State 70-67
Duke at St. John’s (Sunday, 2 p.m., FOX)
With the next three games on the road, Mike Krzyzewski likely won’t be able to win No. 1,000 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Madison Square Garden, though, feels like the next best place. Duke is back on track with a pair of lopsided wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh erasing memories of back-to-back losses more than a week ago. St. John’s has cooled since a nice start to the season, but a Red Storm team with guard Rysheed Jordan flourishing will give Duke something to think about.
Prediction: Duke 75-68
Seton Hall at Butler (Sunday, Fox Sports Net, 3 p.m.)
What happened to Seton Hall? The Pirates entered the top 25 after a win over Villanova and a 12-2 start and then promptly went on to lose three of four, including back-to-back games at home. Maybe a trip to Butler will help Seton hall refocus, but the Pirates already lost 79-75 in overtime at home to the Bulldogs on Jan. 13. The difference in this game may be from the 3-point line. Butler is shooting 33.3 percent from 3 in conference games while Seton Hall is holding league opponents to 24.1 percent, the best figure in the Big East.
Prediction: Butler 71-64
Louisville at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Should this game even have a 3-point line? Duke underscored Louisville’s season-long struggles from long range about a week ago, but Pittsburgh isn’t much better. The Cardinals are shooting 30 percent from 3 in ACC play while Pitt is shooting 26.9 percent. The Panthers, though, seem to acknowledge this weakness by taking only 24 percent of their shots from 3.
Prediction: Louisville 76-64
Notre Dame at NC State (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Here is NC State’s season since Dec. 12: W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L. The trend says NC State is in for a victory over a solid Notre Dame team. The Irish, though, have one of the best offensive teams in the country, ranking No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. This is a flexible group that went small to beat Miami in the second half last week and then had 6-10 center Zach Auguste go for 16 points against Virginia Tech on Thursday.
Prediction: Notre Dame 75-70
Even Mike Krzyzewski’s records are made to be broken. The Duke coach will be the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win mark, but he won’t be the last.
One Division I coach is right on his heels. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, the only other major college basketball coach well over the 900-win mark, could join him next season.
Assessing the next crop of potential 1,000-win coaches is no easy task and in many ways puts Krzyzewski’s (and eventually Boeheim’s) feat into further perspective.
Simply put, any coach looking to hit 1,000 should probably get his first head coaching job around age 30 and plan to coach until he’s around 70, probably both, and most important, be at the top of his game for most of four decades.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Wins entering 2014-15: 948 in 38 seasons (24.9 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 2
Notes: Boeheim, who already has the record for wins at a single program, would be the odds-on favorite to match Krzyzewski’s 1,000 wins. He sits at 14-5 right now, meaning he could hit 1,000 wins in 2016-17.
Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Wins entering 2014-15: 740 in 32 seasons (23.1 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 11.2
Notes: Huggins’ pace has had a few hiccups. First, he missed one season in between his departure at Cincinnati and his arrival at Kansas State in 2006. More recent, Huggins also slipped below 20 wins for three consecutive seasons before this year. That said, he could still get to 1,000 by his early 70s.
Roy Williams, North Carolina
Wins entering 2014-15: 724 in 26 seasons (27.8 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 9.9
Notes: In terms of games, Williams is among the fastest coaches to landmark wins — 700, 600, 500, 400 and 300. That’s part of the benefit of coaching at Kansas and North Carolina. Williams, though, didn’t become a head coach until he was 38, meaning he may have to coach into his mid-70s to hit the 1,000 mark.
Rick Pitino, Louisville
Wins entering 2014-15: 629 in 29 seasons (21.7 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 17.1
Notes: Pitino may need to coach until he’s 80 to reach the 1,000-win plateau. Of course, he could have reached it sooner if not for six non-consecutive seasons in the NBA. Michigan’s John Beilein (626 wins at age 61) never left the college game, but he is on a similar pace.
John Calipari, Kentucky
Wins entering 2014-15: 555 wins in 22 seasons (25.2 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 17.7
Notes: As long as he’s at Kentucky, Calipari will have a chance at 1,000 wins. Take that projection of 17.7 years from the start of this season with a grain of salt. Calipari has averaged 32 wins per year since 2005-06 at Memphis. Keep up that pace and he could be to 1,000 wins around age 70.
Billy Donovan, Florida
Wins entering 2014-15: 486 in 20 seasons (24.3 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 21.1
Notes: Donovan started his career with the nickname of “Billy the Kid,” taking the Marshall job at age 28, the same age Krzyzewski was when he started at Army. Donovan will hit 500 wins before he turns 50, something even Krzyzewski can’t say.
Bill Self, Kansas
Wins entering 2014-15: 532 in 21 seasons (25.3 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 18.5
Notes: Another coach with a ton of wins at a relatively young age at a place where he’s going to build his win total. Kansas has won fewer than 30 games just once since 2009, so Self is ahead of that 18-season pace to 1,000.
Thad Matta, Ohio State
Wins entering 2014-15: 377 in 14 seasons (26.9 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 23.1
Notes: The low-key Matta may be a dark horse in this race, but that 27-wins-per-season average can’t be ignored. He’s also remarkably consistent. He’s never won fewer than 20 games in a season and has won more than 30 games three times.
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Wins entering 2014-15: 403 in 15 seasons (26.9 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 22.1
Notes: At first, Few seemed like the perfect coach who could challenge for 1,000 wins — young(ish), wildly successful already and at a place where he could reel off seasons with 27 wins or more until the end of his career. But Few also was in his late 30s when he took over at Gonzaga, meaning age will catch up to him before 1,000 wins.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Wins entering 2014-15: 166 in six seasons (27.7 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: N/A
Notes: We include Stevens as a hypothetical. Taking over at Butler at age 30 and racing to two 30-win seasons and two Final Fours in his first four seasons put him on a torrid pace. Should he ever return to the college game, he’ll probably take over a plum job, helping him pick up where he left off. But the if and when of such a scenario is uncertain.
Shaka Smart, VCU
Wins entering 2014-15: 137 in five seasons (27.4 per season)
Seasons to 1,000-wins at current pace: 31.5
Notes: A lot can happen in 30 years, but Smart is one of the only realistic coaches who could approach 1,000 wins on Kzyzewski’s timetable of 67 years old. See you in 2046?
Sean Miller, Arizona
Wins entering 2014-15: 249 in 10 seasons (24.9 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 30.1
Notes: This one is a little surprising. Miller is young and successful. He’s at a power program and even better days seem to be in his future with the foundation he’s built at Arizona. He’ll probably better his career average over the next few seasons — he won 17 games in his first year at Xavier and 16 in his first year at Arizona — but he also started his first coaching gig at 36.
Rick Byrd, Belmont
Wins entering 2014-15: 689 in 33 seasons (20.8 per season)
Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 15
Notes: Here’s a reminder that non-Division I wins will count in at least a section of the NCAA record book. Byrd reached the 700-win club this season at Belmont, a program that was in the NAIA when he started. The transition means Byrd went seven consecutive seasons without posting 20 wins. Belmont has averaged 24 wins since 2005-06, meaning Byrd could get to 1,000 wins two seasons earlier.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is one step away from yet another milestone in his career after notching career win No. 999 on Monday with a 79-65 win over Pittsburgh.
Entering the season, no coach in Division I men’s basketball had won more games than Krzyzewski, but the record will have a different meaning when Krzyzewski reaches win No. 1,000.
His first attempt at 1,000 career wins will come Sunday when Duke visits St. John’s.
Krzyzewski isn’t everyone’s favorite figure in the sport, that’s for certain. But every other coach in the men’s game will be chasing him to reach the 1,000-win mark, and only a few will be able to catch him.
Anyone can look up championships, Final Fours and All-Americans to go with Krzyzewski’s career win total. A few of the numbers tell a more interesting story. For the first decade of his career, Krzyzewski could have been dismissed as average and Duke as an also-ran in the ACC. By 2015, his career is the envy of every coach in college basketball.
Career games for Krzyzewski. Krzyzewski remains No. 2 on the list of career games coached in Division I. He’ll catch up to Mount St. Mary’s Jim Phelan (1,354 games from 1955-2003) sometime next season.
Career ACC wins for Krzyzewski. While Krzyzewski is chasing the 1,000 win milestone, he’s also chasing Dean Smith’s career record for ACC wins (422), a mark he will certainly break.
Active coaches who have fewer career wins than Krzyzewski has ACC wins. Krzyzewski entered the season with 417 career ACC wins. That figure alone would put him at No. 40 on the total career wins list among active coaches. At the start of the season, Krzyzewski had more ACC wins than coaches like Jay Wright, Mark Few and Thad Matta had career wins.
Career wins for Philadelphia University’s Herb Magee. Krzyzewski won’t be the only NCAA men’s coach with 1,000 career wins for long. Magee at Division II Philadelphia actually started the season ahead of Krzyzewski on the career wins list at 985 victories. At 10-5 this season, Magee sits at 996-397 for his career.
Career wins record when Krzyzewski started coaching. Krzyzewski took his first head coaching job at Army at age 28. At that time, Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp was the career wins leader with 876 victories from 1931-72.
Career wins for former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. The Volunteers legend is the only collegiate basketball coach (for now) with 1,000 career wins.
ACC programs with fewer total wins than Krzyzewski. Two of Duke’s ACC foes have yet to hit the 1,000-win mark — Florida State (996) and Miami (827).
Years at Duke Krzyzewski coached before his first winning ACC record. Krzyzewski didn’t arrive at Duke as some kind of savior. He was unpopular during his first three seasons at Durham. Krzyzewski went 20-36 in the ACC before posting an 8-6 league record in 1984-85. He didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament until his third season, when he went 7-7 in the league.
Final Four teams in the ACC during Krzyzewski’s first season. To get an idea of the hill Krzyzewski had to climb when he arrived at Duke, consider that Virginia and North Carolina both reached the Final Four in 1980-81. Virginia and Ralph Sampson lost in the national semifinal to a North Carolina team led by James Worthy and Sam Perkins. That Carolina team lost to Krzyzewski’s mentor, Bob Knight at Indiana. The coaching lineup in the eight-team ACC that year included Dean Smith at North Carolina, Jim Valvano at NC State, Lefty Driesell at Maryland and Terry Holland at Virginia.
Wins at Duke for the No. 2 coach on the Blue Devils’ all-time wins list. Eddie Cameron went 226-99 from 1929-44, but his name is just as synonymous with Duke as Krzyzewski’s.
Weeks Duke has been ranked since Krzyzewski took over. Duke has been ranked in 85.8 percent of AP polls since Krzyzewski started, even more remarkable considering Duke wasn’t ranked until Feb. 14 of his fourth season.
Krzyzewski’s record against former players and assistants. Eight former players and assistants have gone on to become college head coaches. Six of those are still active — Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, Buffalo’s Bobby Hurley, Northwestern’s Chris Collins, Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey. Quin Snyder, fired at Missouri in 2006, is the head coach for the Utah Jazz. Of all of them, only Brey has defeated his mentor, with a 79-77 win over Duke last season.
Football coaches at Duke since Krzyzewski began his tenure. Those eight coaches — Red Wilson, Steve Sloan, Steve Spurrier, Barry Wilson, Fred Goldsmith, Carl Franks, Ted Roof and David Cutcliffe — have a collective win percentage of 32.6 percent (130-270-2) and one ACC title since 1980.
Wins for Krzyzewski at Army from 1976-80. Krzyzewski remains fifth on Army’s all-time win list at 73-59 behind Leo Novak (126 wins, 1927-39), Bob Knight (102, 1966-71), Les Wothke (92, 1982-90) and Zach Spiker (79-89, 2010-present).
Krzyzewski’s record in his first 10 seasons. Krzyzewski posted an ordinary record during his first decade at Army and Duke, going 158-124. In his 11th season, Duke went 37-3 and reached the first Final Four of Krzyzewski’s career.
Schools with a winning record against Krzyzewski. Thanks to Krzyzewski’s time at Army, this is an interesting list. The 10 teams are: Arizona (5-3), Cal (2-1), Holy Cross (4-2), Iona (3-2), Kings College (1-0), Lafayette (4-1), Long Island (1-0), Louisville (4-2), Stanford (2-1) and Tennessee (2-1). Another interesting note: Duke defeated UConn and Wisconsin this season, allowing Krzyzewski to improve to .500 against both programs.
Wins for Krzyzewski over Maryland. Krzyzewski’s 55 wins over former ACC member Maryland are his most against any single opponent. That’s followed by: Georgia Tech (53), Clemson and Virginia (52 each) and NC State (51).
Wins for North Carolina over Krzyzewski. As one would expect, no program has handed Krzyzewski more losses than North Carolina. Krzyzewski still has the edge in wins at 40. The programs with the next most wins against Krzyzewski are Wake Forest and Maryland (24 each) and NC State (22).
Krzyzewski’s compensation in 2014, according to USA Today. That’s more than $1.5 million more paid out to Alabama’s Nick Saban. All to manage a roster of 12 players.
Games Krzyzewski has not coached at Duke since he was hired. While Krzyzewski recovered from back surgery, assistant Pete Gaudet, also his successor at Army, coached the final 19 games of 1994-95. Gaudet went 4-15 down the stretch for the only time since 1984 Duke missed the NCAA Tournament. The interim coach’s record is credited instead of Krzyzewski, allowing Coach K's career record look a little more pristine.
These can be dark times for the college football fan: The end of the college football season is a little more than a week old, spring practice is overrated and signing day is only for the truly hardcore.
Time to start thinking about what we’re really looking forward to when it comes to college football: Week 1 of 2015.
Many teams are playing their traditional warm up games in the first week of the season, but thanks to the proliferation of neutral site games, Week 1 of the college football season looks a bit like bowl season.
Games in Arlington, Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville dot the first week of the 2015 calendar, but there are plenty of campus site games awaiting us at the end of August.
Here’s what you’ll be pining for during those long summer months.
The first posting of this story inadvertently omitted Arizona State-Texas A&M. As a result, we now give you 11 games to await in Week 1.
|1||Sept. 5||Arlington, Texas|
Heisman finalists Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon are gone. So is Alabama quarterback Blake Sims. New eras begin with Jake Coker and Corey Clement.
|2||Sept. 5||South Bend, Ind.|
Texas will spend all offseason figuring out what went wrong with its offense. Notre Dame needs to pick a quarterback.
Bobby Petrino returns to Atlanta against a team where he served as offensive coordinator (and at one point hoped to be coach). Auburn’s offense vs. Louisville’s defense will be a nice matchup.
|4||Sept. 7||Blacksburg, Va.|
The Buckeyes will look to atone for their only loss of 2014, but we’ll all be wondering who plays quarterback.
Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen are familiar names ready to be season-long starting quarterbacks. Allen will face a veteran Sun Devils’ defense while Bercovici draws John Chavis’ debut as A&M coordinator.
|6||Sept. 5||Minneapolis, Minn.|
TCU-Minnesota turned out to be an important matchup in Year One of the playoff era and could be again as the Horned Frogs will be a preseason top-four team.
|7||Sept. 3||Salt Lake City|
Item No. 1 on the Jim Harbaugh checklist: Beat Utah. Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke couldn’t do it, and they faced the Utes in Ann Arbor.
|8||Sept. 3||Boise, Idaho|
Chris Petersen makes his return to Boise State after a year at Washington. Bryan Harsin, with a 12-2 season, a Mountain West title and a Fiesta Bowl win, is doing just fine, thank you.
|9||Sept. 5||Lincoln, Neb.|
The Mike Riley era gets an early test with BYU coming to town. And, hey, Taysom Hill will be back at quarterback for the Cougars.
Two teams that finished a combined 13-13 and couldn’t defend at all last season both need to show signs of immediate improvement.
A bowl rout and a young team has Tennessee fans optimistic for the first time in several years, but the Volunteers aren’t good enough yet to sleepwalk through a mathcup with Bowling Green.
If the theme of last week was Duke and Kentucky getting a dose of reality, this weekend was a chance for both to re-establish themselves as national favorites.
Both went on the road Saturday and delivered lopsided wins. Duke’s win, though, has to be considered the more important of the two. The Blue Devils faced an NCAA-caliber opponent and threw out its defensive gameplan for an 11-point.
Kentucky never lost last week, but as John Calipari noted, overtime games count as losses for this team. Overtime would not be necessary as Kentucky twice won in routs this week over Missouri and on the road against postseason contender Alabama.
Arizona’s only trip into the national consciousness in recent games was a loss to Oregon State, but the Wildcats too re-established their Pac-12 bona fides with an impressive performance against its only true challenger in the league.
Kansas only wishes it could say the same as Iowa State ran all over the Jayhawks to open the window on perhaps a non-Jayhawk team winning the Big 12.
That only scratches the surface of what we learned this weekend in college basketball, here’s what else we learned during the college basketball weekend.
1. Duke’s switch to zone ends slump
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t be on the verge of 1,000 wins if he weren’t willing to adjust on the fly. He already has a lineup led by three freshmen, and now he’s playing a zone defense. If a Duke team playing zone seems like desperation, it was. But it was also necessary. After giving up 87 points (NC State) and 90 points (Miami) to two teams with attacking guards, Duke abandoned its trademark man-to-man defense for a zone — at least for one game. The switch neutralized Louisville’s penetrating guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier and forced the Cardinals to take a bunch of jumpers, their biggest weakness. Louisville shot 4-of-25 from long range in a game that was rarely in doubt, and Duke cruised to a 63–52 win. Only Presbyterian (44 points) scored fewer against Duke this season.
2. Arizona isn’t stepping aside in the Pac-12 yet
With Utah obliterating its first four Pac-12 opponents and Arizona slipping up against Oregon State, the Wildcats’ status as Pac-12 favorite seemed up for grabs. Arizona reaffirmed its place in the league in resounding fashion with a 69–51 win over the Utes on Saturday. Wildcats point guard T.J. McConnell played one of the best games of his career, scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting with six assists. Most impressive was Arizona’s offensive performance against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Only three teams have averaged better than one point per possession against Utah this season and none better than Arizona’s 1.2.
3. Iowa State’s offense is mighty scary
Those who complain the college game is too slow and too low scoring should root for Iowa State. The Cyclones’ offensive game was on full display against the Big 12’s best Saturday night. Iowa State defeated Kansas 86–81 in Ames in a game that might open the window for a team not named Kansas to win the league. Iowa State destroyed Kansas in transition all night, outscoring KU 21–10 on the fast break. Iowa State wore out Kansas to such a degree that Bill Self had to burn his final timeout with 6:26 to go when Iowa State stretched its lead to 14. Point guard Monte Morris ran the offense in expert fashion (10 assists, two turnovers) and was one six Cyclones to score in double figures.
4. Virginia can survive an off game
Now is the time of year when the top teams are starting to be tested in conference play. Undefeated Virginia is not immune. The Cavaliers were down by five in the second half against Boston College, a team that hasn’t won an ACC game this season. Moreover, guard Justin Anderson, arguably the Cavaliers’ top player, was 0-for-8 from the field. But Virginia — like it did a week earlier against Notre Dame — played well when it mattered the most and pulled away for a 66–51 win.
5. Kentucky is fine
After back-to-back overtime challenges against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, Kentucky is back to being a dominating force again. The Wildcats clobbered Missouri and Alabama by a combined score of 156–85 last week, but the more meaningful result was against the Crimson Tide on the road. Kentucky did to Alabama what it did to so many opponents in November and December. The Wildcats shot 15-of-29 from 2-point range — they were a combined 23-of-76 against the Rebels and Aggies — and the Kentucky bench outscored the starters 37–33. Dakari Johnson, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis all scored in double figures off the bench. No starter scored more than nine.
6. Texas discovers its edge again
Can we believe again in Texas? After back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Longhorns lacked a top-50 win since defeating UConn on Nov. 30. Texas rectified that with a 77–50 rout of surprising West Virginia. The Longhorns’ frontcourt rediscovered its toughness, with Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner combining for 51 points. Texas had some trouble against WVU’s press, turning the ball over 19 times, but Rick Barnes has to be pleased that his team won with such ease.
7. Florida is flirting with the NIT
At this point it’s easy to forget Florida was a preseason top-10 team and viewed as a potential challenger to Kentucky in the SEC. If the Gators don’t figure things out, they’re going to play in the NIT for the first time since 2009. Florida lost at Georgia, 73–61, on Saturday afternoon, its seventh defeat of the season. The last time Florida had seven losses before February was 1997-98, Billy Donovan’s second season in Gainesville. Granted, Florida played a brutal non-conference schedule, and the Gators are replacing a core of players that reached four consecutive Elite Eights, but this team is just average at best. The Gators turned the ball over 19 times against Georgia and let the Bulldogs shoot 56.1 percent from the field.
8. LSU is underachieving ... again
LSU should be pushing for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009. Instead, the Tigers are racking up puzzling losses. The Tigers have two players in DraftExpress’ top 100 prospects (Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey). Only Kentucky has more in the SEC. Yet LSU has already lost to Old Dominion, Clemson and Missouri, and on Saturday the Tigers coughed up a 13-point second half lead at home to Texas A&M. The Tigers are far too talented to struggle with middle-of-the-pack SEC teams in Baton Rouge.
9. Syracuse is in real trouble...
Even with freshman Chris McCullough (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) Syracuse was a four-loss team that scraped by Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. In their second game without McCullough, Syracuse lost 66-53 to Clemson. Syracuse’s already-thin bench was non-existent against the Tigers, playing a total of 13 minutes and contributing and 0-of-6 line from the field. Syracuse is 13-5 now, but that mark is going to take a major hit down stretch when Syracuse plays Duke and Pittsburgh twice, plus North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and NC State. Right now, it’s tough to see Syracuse getting enough quality wins to get into the NCAA Tournament.
10. ...And so is Michigan
Losing to NJIT and Eastern Michigan in a span of four days in December is now the second worst thing to happen to Michigan this season. The Wolverines lost their best player, Caris LeVert, for the remainder of the season to a broken foot Saturday. LeVert was leading Michigan in scoring (14.9 ppg), rebounds (4.9 rpg), assists (3.7 apg) and steals (1.8 spg). The Wolverines sit at 4–2 in the Big Ten and have to wonder how many wins are left on the schedule with LeVert sidelined.
• Is it time to acknowledge Louisville’s ceiling? The Cardinals are 4-3 against the KenPom top 100, but those three losses are to Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. None of the wins (Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana and Western Kentucky) were against top 20 teams.
• Maryland isn’t going anywhere. The Terrapins announced their arrival in the Big Ten with a season sweep of Michigan State, first with a double overtime win in East Lansing and then a 75-59 win Saturday in College Park. Maryland still needs to prove it can perform consistently on the road in the Big Ten — one of the Terps’ two losses this season is to Illinois without Rayvonte Rice in Champaign — but Mark Turgeon’s team remains one of the major surprises of the season.
• Seven ranked teams in the Big 12, but unranked Kansas State (4-1) has a half-game lead in standings.
• The underrated Buddy Hield pulled Oklahoma out of its two-game funk in convincing fashion. The junior was 10-of-10 from the field (including four 3-pointers) for 27 points in an 82-65 rout of Oklahoma State.
• Notre Dame center Zach Auguste returned from a brief academic-related absence, but it hardly seemed to matter in a 75-70 win over Miami. Auguste played only nine minutes as Notre Dame went with a small lineup against the Hurricanes. Notre Dame hit seven of its final 12 3-point attempts after starting 2-of-16 from long range.
• Poor Luke Fischer. The Marquette center shoots nearly 77 percent from the field but missed an easy one that would have put the Eagles up late against Xavier. The Musketeers completed a wild comeback to beat Marquette 62-58, but let’s acknowledge the job Steve Wojciechowski has done in his first season. Marquette won’t go to the Tournament, but they’re fare more competitive than expected.
• Ohio State goes as freshman D’Angelo Russell goes. He scored 27 points in a 76-67 loss to Iowa, but it took him 22 shots from the field to get there. Russell is averaging 23.3 points per game and 54.8 percent shooting in Ohio State’s three Big Ten wins and 17.7 points per game and 32.1 percent shooting in Ohio State’s three conference losses.
• Frank Haith picked the right time to get out of Missouri and the right time to land at Tulsa. His junior-laden team is 5-0 in the American after defeated UConn and USF last week. If the Golden Hurricane can beat Memphis on Wednesday, the Golden Hurricane could be 10-0 in the league when it faces SMU on Feb. 7.
• Speaking of SMU, the Mustangs keep rolling despite allegations of academic improprieties from the NCAA. SMU defeated East Carolina 77-54 in its first game without Keith Frazier. SMU won’t face another top-100 team until Feb. 5 against Cincinnati.
• The fun stat line of the week: Louisiana Tech’s Alex Hamilton scored 30 points, largely because he hit 20 free throws on 23 attempts in a 75-68 win over Middle Tennessee.
A sitting head coach naming a new coordinator is generally a sign of something very good or very bad.
On the good side, a coach has to replace a coordinator who has done a good enough job to get his own head coaching gig or move into a more high-profile (and more lucrative) position.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer finds himself in this category, losing offensive coordinator Tom Herman to Houston. Same with Georgia coach Mark Richt, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Baylor coach Art Briles who lost coordinators to head coaching jobs.
On the bad side, a coordinator change is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong on one side of the ball (Auburn, North Carolina, Oklahoma) or a sign of some kind of internal strife (LSU, Utah).
Either way, a number of programs had to make coordinator changes even if they didn’t make major coaching changes.
Out: Jim Chaney, hired as Pittsburgh defensive coordinator
No matter the new coordinator, Arkansas’ offensive identity is well-established under Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks probably won’t stray much from an offense centered around a road-grading offensive line and run game. What will be missed, though, is Chaney’s deep experience in the SEC and NFL.
In: Will Muschamp, Florida head coach
Out: Ellis Johnson, fired
Auburn’s defense has been in need of an upgrade for a while. The Tigers haven’t allowed fewer than five yards per play since 2008. Muschamp’s 3-4 will deliver in a major way. For all of his struggles at Florida, defense was not one of them. The Gators finished fifth or better in the SEC in fewest yards per play each season during his tenure. In three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns ranked either first or second in the Big 12 in that category.
In: Kendal Briles, promoted
Out: Philip Montgomery, hired as Tulsa head coach
Art Briles replaced a coach who spent more than a decade at his side as offensive coordinator with his son. Kendal Briles has spent seven years on Baylor’s staff. He’s led Baylor’s productive receiver group and was the consensus Big 12 recruiter of the year in 2014. His first game as offensive coordinator resulted in 552 yards against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
In: Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, promoted
Out: Chad Morris, hired as SMU head coach
The Tigers are riding an unprecedented era of success with 42 wins the last four seasons. Morris’ up-tempo offense certainly has been a major component of that. Scott and Elliott are both internal hires who were in the Swinney system from the start (Scott has been on the staff the entire time; Elliott briefly left before returning four years ago).
In: Brian Schotteneheimer, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator
Out: Mike Bobo, hired as Colorado State head coach
Coordinators who run a traditional pro-style offense are in short supply these days, but even considering that, Georgia’s hire feels like a reach. Schottenheimer hasn’t coached in college since 2000. And as offensive coordinator with the Jets and Chargers, his ranked 20th or worse in total offense seven times in nine seasons and never higher than 11th.
In: Shannon Dawson, West Virginia offensive coordinator
Out: Neal Brown, hired as Troy head coach
Kentucky hires another coordinator from the Air Raid school, this time Dana Holgorsen’s coordinator at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were a little more balanced than one would expect (52 percent of their plays were on the ground), but they still managed to be one of 21 teams to top the 1,000-play threshold.
In: Kevin Steele, Alabama linebackers coach
Out: John Chavis, hired as Texas A&M defensive coordinator
LSU lost its well-respected SEC coordinator to a division rival and replaced him with Steele, who went 9-36 as as head coach at Baylor, was squeezed out of a coordinator position at Alabama and was fired at Clemson. Good thing LSU added Ed Orgeron, too, or else Tigers fans would be really unimpressed. Steele and Orgeron recruit like madmen, so LSU will continue to have great players on defense.
Michigan State defense
In: Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted
Out: Pat Narduzzi, hired as Pittsburgh head coach
With Narduzzi leaving for Pittsburgh, Mark Dantonio couldn’t hold onto his prized defensive coordinator any longer. Dantonio kept leadership in house, promoting Barnett from defensive backs coach and Tressel from linebackers coach. Barnett, a Michigan State alum considered a rising star in the profession, gets the assistant head coach title. The scheme probably won’t change with Barnett and Tressel firmly entrenched in Dantonio’s program, but Michigan State loses a bit of intensity with Narduzzi moving on.
Mississippi State defense
In: Manny Diaz, Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator
Out: Geoff Collins, hired as Florida defensive coordinator
Diaz’s career comes full circle as he returns to Mississippi State. Diaz was considered a rising star after one season in Starkville in 2010, but after a humbling tenure at Texas in which he was fired midseason in 2013, Diaz rebuilt his resume at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were second in Conference USA in total defense and led the league in rush defense and tackles for a loss.
In: Barry Odom, Memphis defensive coordinator
Out: Dave Steckel, hired as Missouri State head coach
Dave Steckel left after 13 years on the Mizzou staff, leaving Gary Pinkel to make the rare outside hire. Odom, though, isn’t totally new to the program. He played at Missouri and was on the staff in one capacity or another form 2003-11. Odom’s defense was a major cog in the turnaround at Memphis as the Tigers ranked in the top three in Conference USA/the American in total defense in each of his three seasons. In the three years prior, Memphis ranked 11th or 12th in Conference USA in that category.
North Carolina defense
In: Gene Chizik, former Auburn head coach
Out: Vic Koenning, fired
Chizik returns to coaching after two years out of the game since he was fired at Auburn. Before his up-and-down career as a head coach at Iowa State and Auburn, he was a well-respected defensive coordinator who coached three Thorpe Award winners at Texas and Auburn at one point. North Carolina, which allowed 40 points six times last season, needs a turnaround in a major way.
Ohio State offense
In: Ed Warinner, promoted
Out: Tom Herman, hired as Houston head coach
Herman’s days on the Ohio State staff were clearly numbered as he quickly became a head coaching candidate. Ohio State promoted from within with Warinner, who was responsible for a major turnaround on the offensive line in the last three seasons. Ohio State also added former Nebraska assistant Tim Beck to serve as co-coordinator.
In: Lincoln Riley, East Carolina offensive coordinator
Out: Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, fired
Firing the quarterback who won him his national championship must have been a tough decision for Bob Stoops, but the decision was necessary. In Lincoln Riley, a former Texas Tech assistant, Oklahoma goes back to the Air Raid concepts that helped Heupel lead the Sooners to the 2000 title. The OU offense had been cutting edge early in Stoops' tenure, but it has stagnated since Sam Bradford left.
Texas A&M defense
In: John Chavis, LSU defense
Out: Mark Snyder, fired
The Aggies’ hire of Chavis is brilliant for a couple of reasons. First, Texas A&M gets a good defense coordinator whom players love. Second, the Aggies strike a blow to a team whose defense (until 2014) had A&M’s number. Chavis had become frustrated with the lack of production of the LSU offense, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He won’t have the same frustrations in College Station.
Texas Tech defense
In: David Gibbs, Houston defensive coordinator
Out: Matt Wallerstedt, fired
This is not something that happens often: Gibbs worked for a head coach who was fired at Houston and moved into a better job. Here’s why: His defenses had 30 takeaways in 2014 (11th nationally) and 42 in 2013 (first). Texas Tech had 15 and 19 takeaways those same two seasons, respectively.
Utah offense and defense
Out: Dave Christensen and Kalani Sitake
The circumstances of Utah’s staff changes are far more interesting than the names involved. Neither coordinator left for positions far and away better than the ones they have. Defensive coordinator Kilani Sitake took the same position at Oregon State, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left to become offensive line coach at Texas A&M. Losing Sitake, Utah’s best recruiter and leader of a solid defense, is a major blow.
Vanderbilt offense and defense
In: Andy Ludwig, Wisconsin offensive coordinator
Out: Karl Dorrell and David Kotulski, fired
Second-year coach Derek Mason had to do something as Vanderbilt slid into irrelevance at an astonishing rate. Dorrell was an odd fit from the start, and Vanderbilt’s rotating cast at quarterback did him no favors. Ludwig has not been a fan favorite at some of his previous stops, and there have been many (he’s been OC at Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, Cal, San Diego State and Wisconsin since 1998). He may have taken so many lumps that he deserves the “underrated” tag. Meanwhile, Mason will call his own defense, a role in which he thrived at Stanford.
In: Alex Grinch, Missouri safeties coach
Out: Mike Breske, fired
Mike Leach adds another former Missouri assistant with Grinch joining former Tigers receivers coach Dave Yost in Pullman. Washington State was one of the Pac-12’s biggest disappointments, following a bowl season in 2013 with a 3-9 record and the No. 97 defense in the country. Grinch is a first-time coordinator who has paid his dues at Wyoming and New Hampshire before Mizzou.
Out: Shannon Dawson, hired as Kentucky offensive coordinator
There’s a reason Dawson left from West Virginia to take the same position at Kentucky: Dana Holgorsen calls his own plays, so it’s tough for a coach to establish his own reputation as an offensive coordinator with the Mountaineers.
If the basketball season can top last week’s action this weekend, we're in for a wild ride.
A week ago, Kentucky and Virginia flirted with their first losses of the season on Saturday. Duke delivered on Sunday. And again on Wednesday.
This week, Kentucky faces another SEC team that on paper is overmatched, but the matchup will be on the road in Tuscaloosa. Virginia again leaves Charlottesville for the weekend, this time to face Boston College. Meanwhile, Duke will try to end its modest losing streak with the most high-profile game of the weekend against Louisville in a rare early Saturday tip for a major game.
The top action of the day will continue into Saturday night with powerhouse matchups in the Pac-12 and Big 12. Utah will try to go from being an upstart from the favorite if the Utes can win at Arizona, and Kansas can further prove it is the favorite in the Big 12 (as usual) when it visits Iowa State.
Jan. 17-18 Week Preview and Predictions
All times Eastern
Duke at Louisville
Saturday, noon, ESPN
Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win will have to wait. At one point, Louisville seemed like a possible site for Coach K to become the second college coach to reach triple digits in wins (retired Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt is the other). Then, Duke started to crumble in losses to NC State and Miami. Those weren’t fluke losses, either, as the Wolfpack and Hurricanes both built significant secondhalf leads. Both teams were able to run with Duke and launched a ton of 3-pointers (20-of-36 combined). Louisville doesn’t push tempo and struggles from long range, but the Cardinals are one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Prediction: Duke 68-65
[Related: Full preview of Duke at Louisville]
Florida at Georgia
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
The SEC doesn’t have any great teams to challenge Kentucky, but the league has a handful of decent teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament. The league has seven top-50 teams on KenPom.com, six of them ranked between Nos. 21-50. Florida and Georgia are two of those teams, and neither have a ton of wiggle room to avoid the NIT. Both teams have been shorthanded in recent games (Jon Horford out for Florida and Juwan Parker and Yante Maten for Georgia).
Prediction: Georgia 64-61
Ohio State at Iowa
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
In a bit of a quirk in Big Ten scheduling, Ohio State and Iowa will play for the second time since the league opener on Dec. 30. Iowa won that matchup in Columbus 71-65. Iowa forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff scored 18 points apiece, but Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell had yet to hit is groove (13 points, 4-of-16 shooting). After an off game against Indiana, Russell had 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six assists in the Buckcyes’ win over Michigan on Tuesday.
Prediction: Iowa 68-64
Miami at Notre Dame
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Rest assured, Notre Dame won’t be caught off guard if Miami starts to run the floor and gives the Irish problems. Just since ACC play started, the Hurricanes took undefeated Virginia to double overtime and defeated Duke by 26. Putting Notre Dame on edge even more is the absence of starting center Zach Auguste, who has been suspended indefinitely due to an academic issue. After scoring 90 on a team with Jahlil Okafor, could they do the same against a team without its starting center.
Prediction: Notre Dame 74-68
Michigan State at Maryland
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
Yet another Big Ten rematch of a game that took place on Dec. 30. Maryland won that meeting 68-66 in East Lansing. Hopefully this game will be more entertaining — that was a 68-66 game decided in double overtime. The halftime score then was 17-14. Michigan State has been greatly improved since then, defeating Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern for a three-game win streak. Spartans point guard Travis Trice has 27 assists and three turnovers in Big Ten play so far. Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense has been largely dormant since Big Ten play started. The Terrapins are shooting 39.7 percent from 2-point range since conference play began.
Kentucky at Alabama
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
After two overtime escapes, Kentucky returned to form against woefully overmatched Missouri. The Wildcats defeated the Tigers 86-37 and outscored them 1.4 to 0.6 on a per possession basis. Still puzzling, though, is Kentucky’s mere 28-22 advantage in the paint (Texas A&M and Ole Miss both outscored Kentucky in the paint). Alabama is much better than Missouri (and probably better than A&M or Ole Miss), but the Crimson Tide shoot a mere 31 percent from 3-point range. That would seem to be a disqualifer for a team looking to pull an upset.
Prediction: Kentucky 72-54
West Virginia at Texas
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN
West Virginia is not going away. After an 86-65 trouncing of Oklahoma, the Mountaineers are 15-2 with those loses coming by a combined three points to LSU and Iowa State. The Longhorns can’t seem to find an offense even after point guard Isaiah Taylor, and now they’ll face West Virginia’s press. The Mountaineers led the nation in turnover rate after forcing 22 turnovers (16 off steals against the Sooners) on Tuesday.
Prediction: West Virginia 66-50
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma is in need of a win in Norman, especially with road trips to Kansas and Baylor on the horizon. Hopes were high for this Sooners team to contend in the league or for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but the last two games haven’t been kind. Kansas State’s Marcus Foster hit two clutch shots to beat OU, and then the Sooners ran into the West Virginia buzz saw. Oklahoma State is a solid team, but the Cowboys will only go as far as Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte will take them.
Prediction: Oklahoma 70-62
Utah at Arizona
Saturday, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
If Utah can defeat Arizona in Tucson, the Utes have to be considered a legitimate Pac-12 title contender and perhaps more. Utah already ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 on KenPom and has been one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Utes have defeated their first three Pac-12 opponents by an average of 24.5 points per game, but that’s against USC, UCLA, Colorado and Arizon State. This is a chance for a statement win. Arizona, meanwhile, needs to rebound from a head-scratching loss to Oregon State in which star freshman Stanley Johnson scored only seven points.
Prediction: Arizona 65-60
Kansas at Iowa State
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Watch out, Kansas is starting to play like the team we thought they’d be at the start of the season. Gone is the team that lost by 32 to Kentucky and by 25 to Temple. Freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, ineffective for stretches during the non-conference schedule, are starting to grow into their roles. A road trip to Ames will indicate if Kansas’ run of Big 12 titles is in any danger. The Cyclones are 2-2 in their last four games with each game decided by four points or less.
Prediction: Kansas 75-70
For better or worse, Oklahoma will not be a victim of what we’re going to call the Oklahoma Effect.
This is the trend in which a lopsided bowl win leads to a team facing unattainable expectations the following year.
Why the Oklahoma Effect? The Sooners finished 2013 with a 45-31 win over then-No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl behind the play of quarterback Trevor Knight.
OU’s win over the powerhouse Crimson Tide led to almost everyone putting the Sooners into their playoff projection for 2014. As it turns out, that bowl win was fool’s gold. Oklahoma finished 8-5 and was out of the mix by early October. The 2014 calendar year began with such optimism for Bob Stoops and ended with the worst season of his career in Norman.
And we’re not just picking on Oklahoma. This could have been the West Virginia Effect only two seasons ago. And another team before that.
Bowl results are weird. Maybe one of these days we’ll learn our lesson and view a bowl result with more even-handed judgement.
This is our attempt to temper expectations for teams that might start 2015 in the overrated category because of one bowl result.
The result: Defeated Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Why we might overrate Clemson: The Tigers were one of the great stories of bowl season as senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, a longtime backup who eventually lost his starting job to a freshman, completed 26-of-36 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Stoudt is gone, but the quarterback of the future is here in Deshaun Watson. The Tigers, though, enter 2015 missing a few key pieces. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is off to SMU, and six of the top eight leading tacklers, not least of which linemen Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, were seniors. The string of four consecutive 10-win seasons may be in jeopardy.
The result: Defeated Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl.
Why we might overrate Georgia: Rising sophomore Nick Chubb will be on the Heisman short list to start next season after a 266-yard effort against the Cardinals’ steady defense. Beyond Chubb, though, Georgia is starting over on offense with Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park entering a quarterback competition under a new offensive coordinator. The defense made major strides last season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but four key seniors depart the front seven. The SEC West crossover schedule against Alabama and Auburn won’t be very forgiving.
The result: Defeated Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl.
Why we might overrate Georgia Tech: Give the Yellow Jackets credit. They finished strong with wins over Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State. A two-point loss to Florida State was the Jackets’ only loss in the final seven games. Hopes will be high for returning quarterback Justin Thomas and a defense with only four senior starters at the end of the year. A major question will be the departure of standout offensive guard Shaq Mason and the top four running backs.
The result: Defeated Minnesota 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl.
Why we might overrate Missouri: Call this one a market correction. After two seasons of underestimating Missouri only to watch the Tigers win the SEC East, Mizzou is sure to get the benefit of the doubt in 2015. Missouri might burn that leap of faith. The Tigers’ pass rush is going to take a hit without end Markus Golden and tackle Matt Hoch, who played alongside both Golden and Michael Sam. Quarterback Maty Mauk never really developed last season, including a 12-of-19 performance for 97 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the bowl. His top four receivers in 2014 were all seniors, leaving Nate Brown’s five catches as the most among returning wide receivers.
The result: Defeated Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Why we might overrate Tennessee: To be clear, Tennessee is on an upward trajectory. The Volunteers won four of their last five, the only loss by eight to Missouri, and they’re a player again in SEC recruiting. It may be tempting, then, to look at Tennessee as a top 25 team or SEC East contender. The backfield of Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd will be the headline names for Tennessee, but let’s pump the brakes on Tennessee until the 2014 and 2015 signing classes rebuild the offensive and defensive lines.
Ohio State has won the first College Football Playoff national championship, and Athlon Sports college football writers Braden Gall and David Fox are here to break down how it happened and what it all means.
On the championship edition of the Cover 2, we discuss:
• What does Ohio State’s run to the championship as a No. 4 seed say about the new playoff era and what it means for future selection committees.
• Why Ohio State is built to make another run at a championship.
• Where Cardale Jones’ story places among the great storylines in college football and what we’re looking for next out of Ohio State’s embarrassment of riches at quarterback.
• Where Urban Meyer stands among college football coaches. Has he overtaken Nick Saban as the best in the game? We’re not sure, but we say he’s the most transformative coach of the era.
• Where does Marcus Mariota’s legacy stand with the great quarterbacks of the era.
Does he rank with with Vince Young and Tim Tebow?
Regular season college basketball is going to have a tough time pulling eyes away from the NFL and college football playoffs.
Credit the sport for making a good effort during the weekend.
Two undefeated teams, Kentucky and Virginia, played games down to the wire, including one in double overtime.
The hammer finally fell on an undefeated team when NC State upset Duke with surprising ease. The surprises continued into Sunday evening when Oregon State defeated Arizona for the Beavers’ first win over a top 10 team since 2000.
With shorthanded Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers, four of the AP top seven lost this week and two of the winners had to battle tooth and nail to stay undefeated.
Indeed, the second full weekend of conference play rewarded both the hardcore basketball fans and the channel-flippers.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Kentucky survives in overtime … twice
The Wildcats are 15–0 and will be favored in every game the rest of the way. Last week, though, proved that Kentucky will have a difficult time making it through the regular season without a loss. Days after an overtime home win over Ole Miss, Kentucky needed two OTs to beat Texas A&M, 70–64 — and the Aggies were playing without leading scorer Jalen Jones. Conventional wisdom suggests that Kentucky is only beatable if it’s not hitting shots from the 3-point line. We might need to change our thinking; against Ole Miss, the Wildcats connected on 11-of-20 from the arc yet still almost lost at home, and they went a respectable 9-of-28 from 3 in the win in College Station. Kentucky is still the best team in the nation and the favorite to win the national championship, but the first week of conference play was far more challenging than anyone could have imagined.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy probably had the best summation of where Kentucky is right now: “They're young," he told reporters. "They're going to have moments like that. They're going to be challenged. They're going to second-guess things. They're going to throw the ball away. ... They're going to get upset when the coach gets on them.”
2. Duke is vulnerable on the road
Most would agree that Duke boasts the second-best roster in the nation, but we must remind ourselves that the Blue Devils still start three freshmen. And like most teams that rely heavily on freshmen, this team will struggle to play well consistently on the road. Duke passed its first true road test of the season, beating an outstanding Wisconsin team in Madison in early December, but struggled to win at Wake Forest last Wednesday and then lost by 12 points at NC State on Sunday. After a home date with Miami on Tuesday, the Devils play four of their next five games on the road, including grueling trips to Louisville, Notre Dame and Virginia.
3. Virginia has the killer instinct
Playing with an identity is great. Virginia certainly has built one under Tony Bennett with a stifling defense and an efficient — if not overly exciting — offense. What shouldn’t be ignored is that the no-name Cavaliers are going to be tough to beat anytime, anywhere. Virginia had the most impressive win of the week, a 62–56 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend to stay undefeated. Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton got his shots, but the Cavs limited Jerian Grant to six points, his lowest total since Dec. 17, 2012. Notre Dame led by as many as eight in the second half, but Virginia took over late. In the final five minutes, Notre Dame was 3-of-10 from the field with a turnover. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers went 3-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. That’s how you win games on the road.
4. Marcus Paige is a battler...
Marcus Paige, a preseason All-American, has struggled as a junior. His scoring is down by more than four points per game, and his shooting percentage has plummeted from .440 to .366. Paige’s team, North Carolina, has also underachieved, carrying an 11–4 record into Saturday’s home game against Louisville. The Heels were on their way to a fifth loss — and a second straight defeat at home — before rallying from 13 down in the second half to edge Louisville in dramatic fashion. Paige, nursing a foot injury, delivered the decisive play, hitting a driving layup with 8.5 seconds remaining to give North Carolina the lead for good.
5. ...And so is Marcus Foster
A return to the NCAA Tournament is in doubt for disappointing Kansas State, but the Wildcats do have a bit of life left thanks to guard Marcus Foster. Against Oklahoma, the sophomore returned to the starting lineup after being banished to the bench in the previous two games. Starter or not, Foster certainly was the finisher. He hit the game-tying basket to force overtime and then hit the game-winning 3 with a man in his face to give the Wildcats a 66–63 victory. The win might be too little, too late for a team that has already lost seven games, but a road win over a good OU team could serve as a nice springboard for K-State.
6. Tinkle is the man in Corvallis
For the past half-dozen years, Oregon State basketball was relevant for one reason: Its coach, Craig Robinson, was the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama. Now, however, the Beavers are making headlines for their actual play on the court. First-year coach Wayne Tinkle inherited a program that lost its top five scorers from a team that went 16–16 in 2013-14. Tinkle coaxed a 9–3 record from this group in non-conference action and has followed up with a 2–1 start in league play. Sunday night, Oregon State recorded its biggest win in years, knocking off Pac-12 favorite Arizona 58–56 in Corvallis. The Beavers’ leading scorer is Gary Payton II, the son of the former OSU star and NBA Hall of Famer.
7. Texas needs Isaiah Taylor at full strength
Point guard Isaiah Taylor is back in the Texas lineup, but the Longhorns need him to return to form. Taylor, who missed 10 games with a wrist injury, returned in time for the Big 12 season. Having him on the floor clearly wasn’t a cure-all for Texas, which dropped games to Oklahoma (70–49) and Oklahoma State (69–58) last week. Taylor was a combined 7-of-25 from the field with eight assists and four turnovers in the two losses. The Big 12 offers few breaks, so Taylor’s progress will need to be quick. The good news, though, is that Texas doesn’t play again until Jan. 17 at home against West Virginia.
8. Iowa State escaped a dramatic week
The Cyclones’ 2–0 start in the Big 12 hasn’t been easy, but after a 64–60 loss to South Carolina in the final non-conference game of the year, Fred Hoiberg will take it. Iowa State’s first two conference games, wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia, both came down to the final possession. Admire Iowa State’s gumption to win late, but Hoiberg has to be concerned about his team’s inability to put teams away. The Cyclones led Oklahoma State by as many as 11 in the second half and twice led West Virginia by eight in the second half.
9. Michigan is figuring it out
Michigan limped into Big Ten play with a 7–5 record that included losses at home to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines, a combined 26 games over .500 in league play the previous three seasons, didn’t figure to be much of a threat in conference play. Well, it’s never a good idea to count out a John Beilein-coached team. The opening schedule hasn’t been overly taxing, but Michigan is 3–1 in the Big Ten after beating Minnesota on Saturday. We’re not quite ready to label this team a contender — the other wins are against Illinois and Penn State, and the loss came against Purdue — but Beilein has to be encouraged that his inexperienced team is finding ways to win games.
10. Indiana can play a little defense after all
It’s safe to say Indiana is not Kentucky or Virginia in the defensive end. The Hoosiers rank 175th nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com. That’s why Indiana’s result Saturday came as a bit of a surprise. The Hoosiers held on to beat Ohio State 69-66 to inch IU closer to being an NCAA Tournament team. Sophomore forward Troy Williams (15 points, 12 rebounds) and freshman James Blackmon (18 points) were fantastic, but don’t ignore the defensive adjustment. Ohio State started 4-of-9 from the field and shot 32.7 percent the rest of the way. Buckeyes star freshman D’Angelo Russell was off his game, shooting 3-of-15 from the field with 13 points.
• Rutgers is not a great basketball team. Wisconsin, when healthy, is a Final Four contender. How much should we read into even a shorthanded Wisconsin team losing at Rutgers? Frank Kaminsky missed the game with a concussion, and point guard Traveon Jackson missed most of the second half with a knee injury. If both are healthy, Wisconsin is fine, and benches should be short enough in the NCAA Tournament to ignore the Badgers’ nine bench points against Rutgers.
• What a rude awakening for Washington. The Huskies started 11-0 with wins over Oklahoma and San Diego State. The Huskies are 0-4 since, including three losses to teams outside of the KenPom top 100 (Stony Brook, Cal and Washington State).
• Maybe we should have remembered that Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte have played a ton of college basketball. Both of them scored 20 points in Oklahoma State’s win over Texas. They combined for another 40 points in the 63-61 loss to Iowa State on Tuesday. If Travis Ford can get the rest of the roster going, Oklahoma State could start to look awfully dangerous.
Athlon Sports executive editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Just like that, the 2014 college football season is over.
Weekends are about to feel pretty empty as the national champion has been crowned in Arlington to cap the first College Football Playoff.
Thirty-nine bowl games in 23 days has produced its share of highlights, disappointments and conversation starters for the 2015 season.
Even if the crowds turned out to be scant in some places, we all tuned in for the our regular holiday programming.
Sure, there are 39 winners and 39 losers (or technically 38 winners since the national champion won twice), but bowl season told a much more interesting story from temper tantrums to a brawl to fat guy touchdowns.
The SEC was turned on its head without a team playing for a title and most of the powerful West division licking its wounds. Oregon and Ohio State’s appearance in the national title game will redefine the discussion heading into 2015.
WINNER: The Playoff bonanza
This should come as no surprise, but people love the playoff. They really love the playoff. The Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State on ESPN grabbed the biggest audience in cable TV history at 28.2 million viewers ... until the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State’s win over Alabama drew 28.3 million viewers. These are numbers that beat an NFL Wild Card playoff the same weekend. A novel concept: More games that matter draws more viewers even as college football’s championship moves onto basic cable.
LOSER: The rest of the “New Year’s Six”
In the BCS era, the New Year’s Bowls had the holiday to themselves with the two teams in the championship game playing at least a week later. Having the playoff overlap with the traditional bowl games seemed to diminish the attention on the other major bowl games, especially the rest of the bowls attached to the playoff (the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton). Maybe it was the newness of the playoff that took eyes off the rest of the top games. Maybe it was three of them being played on New Year’s Eve instead of Jan. 1. Maybe it was TCU’s 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl in the first game that took the energy out of the rest of the day. At least competitive Cotton and Outback bowls — the latter is not part of the playoff — helped add some energy to the non-playoff bowls.
WINNER: A new offseason conference storyline
Florida State ended the SEC’s seven-year championship game run a year ago, and Ohio State ended the SEC’s run in the final two. When the conversation turns to the 2015 season, we’ll be talking about the return of Ohio State as one of the predominant national powers. The SEC’s not going to be out of the title game for long, but it’s nice to go into the offseason talking about something other than SEC predominance.
LOSER: Jan. 2
For several years, college football had bowl games after New Year’s Day, and not all of them were great matchups. The schedule, though, was especially jarring in the playoff era. Think about it: Fans went to bed one night watching a Sugar Bowl thriller and woke up to interim coaches at Houston and Pittsburgh playing in the Armed Forces Bowl, followed by a Tennessee rout of Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl.
WINNER: The SEC East
Three SEC East teams entered bowl season with six wins (Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina), and three entered the postseason after a loss to in-state rivals (Georgia, Florida and South Carolina). In other words, the division needed bowl season to save face even if they were playing in some of the SEC’s lesser bowl games. The division swept bowl season at 5-0. Granted, only two of those teams were ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings and neither in the top 20 (No. 21 Louisville and No. 25 Minnesota), but after a year in which the East’s champion lost at home to Indiana, any progress is a good sign.
LOSER: The SEC West
For most of the first two months of the season, the SEC West looked impenetrable. Which two SEC West teams would reach the playoff was a real question in October. First, this was not a mirage: The division sent all seven members to the postseason and went undefeated against non-conference opponents during the regular season, including wins over Wisconsin, West Virginia and Boise State. Yet by the end of New Year’s Day the only West teams left standing were the last two teams in the league (Arkansas and Texas A&M). Alabama, Auburn and LSU lost competitive games, but the Mississippi schools, both of which spent time in the top three this season, lost by a combined score of 91-37.
WINNER: The Pac-12
The most impressive conference from the first day of the season through the bowls may have been the Pac-12, at least as far as non-conference records go. The Pac-12 went 6-2 in bowl season, including 5-2 against the Power 5 conferences. That wrapped up a season in which the Pac-12 went 13-5 against the Power 5 and Notre Dame.
LOSER: Big Ten West teams not named Wisconsin
Good thing Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It was the only thing that prevented the postseason from being a total loss for the Big Ten’s weaker division. The tally for the West included an Illinois loss to Louisiana Tech, a defensive no-show and puzzling play calls from Nebraska against USC, and Minnesota’s 16-point loss to Missouri. They were all outdone by Iowa’s performance against Tennessee in which the Hawkeyes trailed 42-7 in the third quarter.
WINNER: TCU’s 2015 playoff hopes
The Horned Frogs had the biggest gripe about the postseason after dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final week, but TCU didn’t show it in a 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. In the long run, this might not be a bad thing. TCU outgained Ole Miss by 294 yards despite turning the ball over four times. That’s not a bad way to build legitimacy for a program that may be viewed in some circles as an outsider. Better yet, quarterback Trevone Boykin returns in 2015 as a senior.
LOSER: Texas’ offense
Whatever modest gains Texas made during the season on offense bottomed out in the Holiday Bowl against Arkansas. The Longhorns’ 59 total yards on 43 plays was one of the worst outputs in program history. Tyrone Swoopes managed only 25 yards of total offense, and in his last game of the regular season, he threw four interceptions against TCU. Charlie Strong’s program will enter 2015 with few answers.
WINNER: Arkansas’ bright future
The other side of Texas’ flop in the bowl was the overwhelming performance of Arkansas, which won as many games in Bret Bielema’s second season (seven) as it did in the previous two seasons under Bielema and John L. Smith. Arkansas returns quarterback Brandon Allen and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined rushing yards) and a defense that started more freshmen and sophomores at the end of the season than juniors and seniors.
LOSER: Bob Stoops’ summer
The remake of Oklahoma’s offense has already begun as the Sooners hired Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to replace Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Replacing Heupel, Stoops’ championship quarterback, is of particular note as Stoops tries to get his program back on track after a 40-6 embarrassment against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Oklahoma went 4-5 and didn’t beat a bowl team after Oct. 1 — and this was a team pegged as a playoff contender.
WINNER: Fat guys
Fat guy touchdowns are great. Fat guy touchdowns in big bowl games? Even better. LaQuan McGowan, whose Baylor profile begins with the word “enormous,” caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to put Baylor up 41-21 against Michigan State (Baylor wouldn’t score again in a loss to Michigan State). A day later, Oklahoma State’s 300-pound lineman James Castleman scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, but the real highlight was his 48-yard catch on third down.
LOSER: Jim L. Mora’s ‘tude
Who doesn’t like Kansas State coach Bill Snyder? Apparently not UCLA coach Jim L. Mora in the moments after an Alamo Bowl win over the Wildcats. Mora was huffy with Snyder in the postgame handshake after Kansas State jumped over the offensive line while UCLA was trying to take a knee in a 40-35 win.
WINNER: Quarterbacks getting head starts on 2015
Bowl season tends to be a good time for quarterbacks to build momentum into the next season, particularly those who didn’t start until late in their year. Malik Zaire traded snaps with Everett Golson in Notre Dame’s 31-28 win over LSU, but he finished 12-of-15 for 96 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 96 yards. West Virginia’s Skyler Howard completed 20-of-45 passes for 346 yards and three touchdown in a shootout loss to Texas A&M. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen, two freshmen who claimed starting jobs late in the year, further solidified their positions with bowl wins.
LOSER: Kirk Ferentz’s offseason
Ferentz is the ninth-highest paid coach in college football. Ferentz is not producing top-10 results. Not even close. Iowa was outclassed by a 6-6 Tennessee team down in Jacksonville for a third consecutive bowl loss for the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s record since 2010? 34-30 overall and 19-21 in the Big Ten.
WINNER: Bryan Harsin’s first season at Boise State
Maybe the departure of Chris Petersen isn’t the blow to Boise State’s program we once thought it was. Like his predecessor, Harsin started his tenure at Boise State with a win in the Fiesta Bowl marked by a little trickery. All Harsin did in his first season was win 12 games, win the Mountain West and knock off the Pac-12 South champion in a bowl game.
LOSER: Chris Petersen’s first season at Washington
Meanwhile, Petersen is off to a forgettable start in Seattle. His season began with a suspended quarterback and close calls with Hawaii and Eastern Washington and ended with a 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State. Washington, a team expected to contend in the Pac-12 North, finished 8-6. According to the Sagarin ratings, the best win was over No. 81 Oregon State.
WINNER: Frank Beamer’s winning record streak
The season didn’t go as planned for Virginia Tech, and Frank Beamer ended up watching the Military Bowl from the press box while recovering from throat surgery. The Hokies, though, sealed a 22nd consecutive winning season in with a 33-17 win over Cincinnati. Two of those last three seasons have just made it at 7-6.
LOSER: Prolific passers
The bowls produced six 400-yard passers. They went a combined 1-5. The only winner, Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, beat another 400-yard passer in Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush.
WINNER: Prolific runners
The top 10 runners in the bowls went a combined 10-0. Moreover, they gave us an idea of what we need to watch next season and probably a few names that will be in the Heisman race. Freshman Nick Chubb rushed for 266 yards against Louisville, giving him the fifth-best rushing season in Georgia history despite playing behind Todd Gurley for parts of the season. Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott finished his season with a flurry, highlighted by 230 yards against Alabama. And Paul Perkins showed there’s life at UCLA after Brett Hundley with 194 yards against Kansas State.
LOSER: Fresno State
The last time Fresno State won a bowl game, the WAC was still a viable conference and Ryan Mathews was in the Bulldogs' backfield. In 2014, Fresno State lost 30-6 to Rice for Fresno State’s sixth consecutive bowl loss. Only one of those, the 45-20 loss to USC in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, was to a Power 5 team. The last four losses have come by an average of 26.3 points.
WINNER: Conference USA
Realignment has picked apart Conference USA over the years, but the league responded with a 4-1 bowl record, including a win over the MAC champion (Marshall over Northern Illinois) and a Big Ten team (Louisiana Tech over Illinois). The lone loss was by 7-6 UTEP to a 10-4 Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.
Perhaps no team needed a coach or quarterback who can roll with the punches quite like Oregon.
While Ohio State has coped with injuries at the most visible position, Oregon has spent all season dealing with absences chipping away at its roster. The Ducks’ roster lost its first pieces in the preseason, and the trend continued into the week before the national championship game.
The failed drug test from wide receiver Darren Carrington means Oregon will be without four receivers and tight ends from its post-spring depth chart, not to mention 2013 starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone.
If Oregon looks like a team that doesn’t seem to be rattled by these key absences, pay attention to the demeanor of the two men at the Ducks’ key leadership positions at head coach and quarterback.
For sure, Ohio State has the same steady hand. So did Alabama, Florida State and any other team in contention for the semifinals at the end of the season.
As it does nearly everywhere else in its program, Oregon does this a little differently.
Mark Helfrich is unlike most coaches at power programs. He’s not a control freak like Nick Saban. He’s not someone who seems like he’ll burn out like Urban Meyer once did. Though he’s been repeatedly questioned about the fortitude of his team, he’s not as defensive as Jimbo Fisher has been at times this season.
And most important, he doesn’t share the kind of acerbic tone that marked his predecessor Chip Kelly.
He doesn’t have the tightly wound demeanor that seems to be a prerequisite to lead a national championship contender in 2015.
When a reporter asked Ohio State coach Urban Meyer how the Buckeyes’ would stop Oregon’s tempo offense, Helfrich interjected: “Be specific, please.” Earlier this season — in the controlled environment of a postgame press conference — a middle school student reporter explained that at his Catholic school there are three important things: “Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota.” Helfrich, of course, rolled with it.
Imagine Saban in such an exchange.
Helfrich is a normal guy in an abnormal profession. You wonder what it might take to tick this guy off.
But this can be deceiving.
"His personality has a tendency to hide how fierce a competitor he is,” said Jim Palazzolo, Helfrich’s college coach at NAIA Southern Oregon. “He just seems to be able to internalize that and maintain his sense of humor, his glibness. He’s very, very consistent.”
Consistency is the same hallmark of Helfrich’s quarterback and not just because Marcus Mariota completes nearly 70 percent of his passes and rarely throws an interception.
Mariota is nearly as prolific as his Heisman predecessors. His image, though, isn’t as easy to define. Whether by their sideline demeanors or outward leadership (or flirtations with controversy), the last four Heisman winners — Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton — all had a distinct personas.
They enjoyed being superstars. For Mariota, it seems like a bother. Before the Rose Bowl — to say nothing of Saturday’s championship media day — he seemed exhausted from the media circuit. After the season, he went from the awards ceremony in Orlando, to the Heisman ceremony and the Late Show with David Letterman in New York. After a break for Christmas in his home state of Hawaii, he went to three straight days in front of cameras for Rose Bowl prep.
He looked miserable.
“I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you I was looking forward to this being done,” Mariota said in his final media session before the semifinal win over Florida State.
On the field, Mariota was the same steady had he’d been all year, even though he lost his fastest receiver, Devon Allen, on the opening kickoff.
The stoicism is by design.
When he was the quarterback at the Saint Louis School in Honolulu, Mariota was the type who’d drop his head and unhook his chin strap after a bad play. Playing high school games under a Jumbotron, though, will give a young quarterback a quick lesson in body language.
“We played Aloha Stadium, so we had all the cameras,” said Darnell Arceneaux, Mariota’s high school coach who is now quarterbacks coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “We said, if you make a bad play or we have a three and out or the receiver drops it, the camera goes on two people, the head coach and the quarterback. When your teammates see you on that Jumbotron, that’s contagious.”
Arceneaux watched Mariota throw an interception against Florida State, not long after another would-be pick bounced off the hands of Seminoles safety Jalen Ramsey. Mariota never lost his cool.
“In that Rose Bowl, he throws that pick and you didn’t see that chin strap or that head go down,” Arceneaux said. “You saw a kid who let one get away and he worked through it.”
Indeed, Oregon has a coach-quarterback combination that’s not the norm for top contenders, not that it was ever unquestioned
Though he left Southern Oregon in 1995, Palazzolo never left the region. He’s a loan officer in Medford, Ore., and he heard the doubts about Helfric taking over Kelly’s program. Oregon had been on an upward trajectory ever since Rich Brooks led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl in 1994. Kelly took Oregon to its first national title game and made the Ducks a perennial contender.
Helfrich, an internal hire who might not have been a top candidate for any other top program in the country, was not viewed as the guy who would be able to lead the Ducks to the next step, a national championship.
“Chip was larger than life,” Palazzolo said. “He was progressive and new wave and his personality was distinct. That would be the nicest way to put it. There was a lot of speculation on who would replace Chip.”
The doubts persisted as Oregon finished 7-2 in the Pac-12 last season, losing a shot at the Pac-12 title with a 26-20 loss to Stanford and a rare loss to a major underdog in Arizona.
Did 2014 mark major growth for Helfrich as a coach? The results say that might be the case, but having Mariota healthy for an entire season doesn’t hurt. Still, players say Helfrich is a little more comfortable in his own shoes.
For all of his offensive wizardry, Kelly was distant. Helfrich’s softer hand is a welcome change.
“Not saying Coach Kelly didn't love his players, but Coach Helfrich’s door is always open," Mariota said. "He's always the guy that's asking how your family is doing, how you're doing.”
Oregon is a program without yelling, offensive coordinator Scott Frost says. He says players have more fun in the Oregon program
And maybe that’s the way it’s going to need to be done for some programs.
Coaches and players are pulled in more directions than ever before. With every misstep on and off the field documented, scrutiny is at an all-time high. Not every key player will be as — and this is not a bad thing — dull as Mariota.
The coach and quarterback who remains steady and rolls with the punches may be at an advantage.
“His personality lent itself to making that transition,” Palazzolo said. “The pressure was there, it was transparent. Somehow he was able to internalize all that stuff. I don’t think he felt like he was overcoming anything. He just had to put his own blueprint on this thing.”
This has been the week of close calls.
Since Jan. 3, Kentucky and Virginia have both needed an overtime game to preserve undefeated records. Duke needed a late rally against Wake Forest to preserve its unblemished record. And those are just the three remaining undefeated teams.
Ohio State, Iowa State and Kansas both needed some late heroics this week to pick up key conference wins.
That should be a clear sign that all the unpredictable results that come with conference play should be on the way in the coming weeks.
Kentucky, Virginia and Duke survived, but will be they be so lucky this weekend or next?
Jan. 10-11 Weekend Preview and Predictions
All times Eastern
Cincinnati at Connecticut
Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN2
The Bearcats remain an American Athletic Conference contender despite the absence of coach Mick Cronin, who is out for the remainder of the season due to health issues. Cincinnati are 4-1 without him, including a key win over presumptive AAC favorite SMU last week. Don’t expect anything pretty between two teams ranked in the top 25 of defensive efficiency and 86th and 96th in offensive efficiency on KenPom.
Prediction: UConn 52-47
Ohio State at Indiana
Saturday, noon, ESPN
If don’t already know D’Angelo Russell, maybe it’s time to fix that. The Ohio State guard is the best freshman north of Lexington and he’s quickly rounding into form. He’s shooting 21-of-46 and averaging 20.7 points per game in three Big Ten games so far. He could feast upon a bad defensive Indiana team. The Hoosiers could have the offense to keep up, but they’re a game removed from a a 50-point, 0.82 point-per-possession effort against Michigan State.
Prediction: Ohio State 78-66
Kentucky at Texas A&M
Saturday, 1 p.m. CBS
The Wildcats got their first real test of the season in an 89-86 win over Ole Miss in overtime at home. The impenetrable Kentucky defense allowed the Rebels to average 1.15 points per possession and shoot 47.6 percent from two-point range. On paper, the Wildcats shouldn’t have much trouble with an offensively- challenged Texas A&M team, but how Kentucky responds to a road trip after a home scare should be telling.
Prediction: Kentucky 67-52
Louisville at North Carolina
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
The Tar Heels’ momentum was halted with a 71-70 home loss to Notre Dame on Monday, and now North Carolina is in need of a signature moment this season. The Heels’ best wins are over UCLA and Florida in the Bahamas — that’s not going to cut it for an ACC contender. The Heels have been a surprisingly good defensive team this season, particularly defending the 3-point line (26.1 percent). Meanwhile, Louisville can’t find any consistency from long range.
Prediction: North Carolina 63-58
Baylor at TCU
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Maybe that football rivalry and the end-of-year playoff debate will add a little juice to the first basketball meeting of 2015. Putting that aside, this is a key game for surprising Baylor. The Bears started the season 11-1 but have since dropped their first two Big 12 games. That should be an uneasy feeling for a Baylor team that started hot last season before dropping eight of its first 10 conference games. At 13-2, TCU isn’t the easy out it once was in Big 12 play, but the Horned Frogs are having trouble staying competitive in the second half of two Big 12 games so far.
Prediction: Baylor 64-57
DePaul at Villanova
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Well, hello there, DePaul. The long-suffering Blue Demons should take a screen grab of those Big East standings as DePaul sits at 3-0 in the league. The Blue Devils’ next conference win, whenever it happens, will clinch their best Big East season since 2007-08. DePaul aren’t likely to beat Villanova, and it’s probable Oliver Purnell’s team is playing a bit over its head so far in conference play — DePaul lost six in a row just before league play began. Still, let’s take a moment to appreciate that DePaul is going to play meaningful basketball this season.
Prediction: Villanova 76-63
Texas at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPNU
A critical momentum game for both teams. Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor has been back for two games, but the Longhorns were embarrassed at home by Oklahoma on Monday. The Sooners beat Texas 70-49 and led by as much as 28 points in the second half. Oklahoma State’s rally at Iowa State on Tuesday fell short, and now the Cowboys will try to get a good showing at home before a two-game road trip against Kansas and Oklahoma.
Prediction: Texas 63-61
Virginia at Notre Dame
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Bet you didn’t expect this to be the game of the week or one of the most intriguing ACC games of the season. Undefeated Virginia visits South Bend for a showdown between high-scoring Notre Dame and the Cavaliers’ stifling defense. The Irish are coming off a game in which they scored a season-low 71 points — and won on the road at North Carolina. The Cavaliers have allowed more than 70 points in regulation once all season (Dec. 30 to Davidson).
Prediction: Virginia 68-65
Iowa State at West Virginia
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
After a loss to South Carolina and a close call at home with Oklahoma State, Iowa State is entering a key stretch against three consecutive KenPom top 20 teams, two of which on the road (at West Virginia, at Baylor, Kansas). In theory, Iowa State should be getting stronger with 6-9 Marquette transfer Jameel McKay joining the team in the last four games. Meanwhile, West Virginia is one bizarre finish — a 74-73 loss to LSU — from being undefeated. The Mountaineers’ full-court press will be a test for an Iowa State team that traditionally had one of the best offenses in the country under Fred Hoiberg.
Prediction: West Virginia 65-61
Duke at NC State
Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS
Maybe Wake Forest had a good game plan. Maybe Duke’s getting a little bored. Either way, the Blue Devils needed a late flurry from Quinn Cook to put away the Demon Deacons 73-65 on Wednesday. Freshman star Jahlil Okafor struggled with only 12 points and five turnovers in Duke’s third consecutive game against a sub-top-100 team. That trend is about to change against NC State and then Miami, Louisville and Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Duke 75-65
From three yards and a cloud of dust, as Woody Hayes might say, to three plays per minute.
Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but when Ohio State is in the conversation to be one of the fastest national champions in college football history, the message is clear: The hurry-up, no-huddle is as mainstream as can be.
If Oregon wins the national championship, the Ducks will be the most up-tempo team to win the national title since at least the BCS era.
That’s not a surprise to anyone who follows college football closely.
This, though, is the revelation: If Ohio State wins the national title, the Buckeyes might end up one of the fastest champions since the start of the BCS era, too.
Ohio State still has a way to go to catch up to Oregon in tempo, but the Ducks and Buckeyes are running track meets compared to national champions since 1998.
“(Tempo is) an advantage for the offense,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told reporters in Columbus earlier this week. “And if you don't take it, then that's fine. But even Alabama is moving in that direction, and is it full speed all the time? We're not, but certainly that gives us an advantage at times.”
Ohio State might not be the full-time tempo team like Oregon is, but either way, the Buckeyes or Ducks will be the first national champion since the BCS era to run 1,000 plays in a season. And that doesn’t have anything to do with playing a 15th game. Both easily crossed that threshold in the semifinals, their 14th game of the season.
Both teams average more than 72 plays per game — Oregon at 74.8 and Ohio State at 72.5. Only five BCS/AP champions in 16 years averaged more than 70 plays per game — 1999 Florida State (74.5), 2000 Oklahoma (71.9), 2004 USC, 2005 Texas (72.4) and 2007 LSU (71).*
*if that LSU team looks out of place, there’s a good reason for it. The “undefeated in regulation Tigers” played a total of six overtime periods in two games that season.
The plays per minute metric may be even more telling. Oregon averages nearly 2.8 plays per minute, which would be a BCS record by a wide margin.
Ohio State averages over 2.3 plays per minute. As it stands, the Buckeyes would be the fourth-fastest team to win a title since 1998.
|Pace of Play and National Championships|
|Year||Team||Games||Plays||Plays per Game||Plays per Minute|
*complete data unavailable
What’s that you say? Auburn-Oregon in 2010 was already the signal that tempo offense had arrived?
Maybe for Oregon. Even with Gus Malzahn running the offense, Auburn ran at a pace not that different from what came earlier in BCS championship history.
Under Chip Kelly, the Ducks averaged 78.8 plays per game and 2.9 plays per minute. Had the Ducks won that game, they would have been the most up-tempo champion by a mile.
Instead, Auburn won. And while Malzahn’s scheme and tempo set the tone for a new era in the SEC, that Tigers team was not as fast as either team in Dallas.
That Cam Newton-led Auburn team ran 67.7 plays per game, well below the 70-play threshold. The Tigers that season averaged 2.31 plays per minute, well behind Oregon’s pace this season and a smidgen behind Ohio State.
Perhaps that’s not the most startling of storylines until you examine where Ohio State and Urban Meyer started.
Meyer’s 2006 and 2008 championship teams at Florida were two of the four slowest champions of the BCS era in terms of plays per game. Ohio State’s 2002 title team ranks 11th of 17 champions in plays per game during that span.
“At Florida, there's a misunderstanding that we were a big tempo team,” Meyer said. “We weren't.”
All things change, and the tempo at Ohio State is among them. Meyer’s last two Buckeyes teams have averaged more than 71 plays per game and 2.28 plays per minute. As recently as 2008, Ohio State averaged 62.1 plays per game and fewer than two plays per minute.
In other words, the Buckeyes have gone from old school to new school in six seasons.
The irony is that Oregon isn’t running at its breakneck pace on every snap. The Ducks’ 2.76 plays per minute this season is their lowest since 2009.
Will this be the wave of the future? Oregon coach Mark Helfrich isn’t quite sure, though the change won’t come from the Ducks.
On Monday night in Arlington, one team’s national championship window might be opening while the other one might be closing.
First, don’t overreact. Both Oregon and Ohio State have proven their staying power on the big stage. The Ducks and Buckeyes will make College Football Playoff appearances in the years to come.
For Ohio State, the return trip might be a little sooner.
Of the 33 players who started at least one game for Ohio State this season, 13 of them came from the signing class of 2013. Six of those sophomores or redshirt freshmen started in the Sugar Bowl.
Contrast that with Oregon. True, the Ducks have a total of 14 freshmen, sophomores and redshirt freshmen who played regular snaps this season. But the Ducks are also relying heavily on the most veteran of veteran players.
Oregon started eight fifth-year seniors during the course of the season, including one who signed in the final class under Mike Bellotti two coaches ago. Six starters for Oregon in the Rose Bowl were fifth-year seniors.
There are many ways to build a national championship team, and few illustrate that better than Oregon and Ohio State in the title game this season. One is relying on young talent, the other on veterans. One is more likely to nab top-100 recruits, one has done a better job of developing three-star talent. And both tend to stay on their own sides of the Mississippi River to recruit.
Athlon Sports looked at every player who started a game for Oregon and Ohio State this season, giving us the 36 Ducks and 33 Buckeyes who have led the way for both teams to reach the final game of the 2014 college football season.
Here’s a look at how Oregon and Ohio State built contenders.
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Youth vs. Experience
|Signing Class||Ohio State (33 starters)||Oregon (36 starters)|
• On its face, Oregon’s 13 first- and second-year players would seem to put the Ducks on even footing with Ohio State’s 14 first- and second-year players. A deeper look proves otherwise. The Buckeyes’ last two signing classes produced standout defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and running back Ezekiel Elliott — not to mention injured quarterback J.T. Barrett. Oregon’s last two signing classes produced running back Royce Freeman, wide receiver Devon Allen and starting guard Cameron Hunt among others.
• There’s no doubt Ohio State is Urban Meyer’s team. Take a look at the last three signing classes for Ohio State. Two-thirds (22 of 33) of all the players to start a game this season signed under Urban Meyer.
• Oregon’s team is a little more evenly distributed by signing class, not a surprise since the program has seen little upheaval on the coaching staff despite Mark Helfrich taking over for Chip Kelly in 2013.
• The Ducks, though, have an abundance of fifth-year seniors. Oregon started six fifth-year seniors in the Rose Bowl: safety Erick Dargan, center Hroniss Grasu, cornerback Troy Hill, wide receiver Keanon Lowe, linebacker Tony Washington and offensive guard Hamani Stevens. Stevens will be the oldest player in the game. He signed at Oregon in 2008 before leaving for a two-year religious mission.
Where are the five-star recruits?
|Star Ranking*||Ohio State||Oregon|
*according to 247Sports Composite
• Both teams pull their share of top recruits, so it’s a bit of a shock to see only a combined five five-star prospects getting significant snaps for Oregon and Ohio State. Maybe that has something to do with the lack of the recruiting-mad SEC in the title game.
• That said, all of the five-star prospects in this game are playing major roles: Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and linebacker Curtis Grant are all starters. Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead is a starter. The lone exception is running back Thomas Tyner, who led Oregon in rushing in the Rose Bowl.
• Another unexpected twist: The best recruit for either team in the last five recruiting cycles isn’t on the roster. Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence, the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012, was declared permanently ineligible earlier this season amid positive drug tests. Meanwhile, the most decorated player in the game, Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, was a three-star prospect.
• Oregon did an exceptional job of locating and developing three-star talent. Besides Mariota, Oregon’s best three offensive linemen (Grasu, Stevens and Jake Fisher) were three-star prospects as were the Ducks’ three starting linebackers.
• And let’s not paint with too broad a brush: Ohio State unearthed some good three stars itself in linebacker Darron Lee and quarterback Cardale Jones.
• Between the two of them, Oregon and Ohio State started only two junior college prospects all season and only one of them (Oregon linebacker Joe Walker) started in the semifinals. Ohio State signed two players out of high school but needed to wait for them to return from a prep school. They were worth the wait — the prep school Buckeyes were Cardale Jones and wide receiver Michael Thomas.
From coast to coast
|High Schools by State|
|Ohio (22)||California (16)|
|Oregon (6)||Florida (2)|
|Arizona (4)||Texas (2)|
|Hawaii (2)||Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey (1 each)|
|California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Virginia (1 each)|
• Few surprises here. Ohio State grabbed a majority of its key players from in-state with 22 Ohioans starting games for the Buckeyes this season. No other state pulled more than two. Oregon pulled 15 starters from the state of California, primarily from the Los Angeles metro area.
• Ohio State has one starter who went to high school in the West in Michael Thomas of Woodland Hills, Calif. Ohio State recruited him twice, once from his California high school and once from prep school in Virginia. Oregon, meanwhile, has four key players it recruited from a Big Ten state.
• The hometown crowd might not be too fired up about this: The game will feature more players from the state of Hawaii than the state of Texas. Oregon has two starters from Honolulu in Mariota and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Ohio State started two players from Texas this season — quarterback J.T. Barrett and receiver Dontre Wilson.
LOS ANGELES — If there was a time this season to give up on Oregon playing for a national championship, odds are the Ducks’ offensive line was involved.
First, left tackle Tyler Johnstone, an NFL draft prospect, was lost for the season to a torn ACL before the season ever started. Oregon moved veteran Jake Fisher from right to left tackle, but optimism for that move was short-lived.
Then, Fisher went down with a leg injury after three games. So did reserve Andre Yruretagoyena. Oregon responded with its two worst games of the season, giving up seven sacks in a narrow win over Washington State and five sacks in a loss to Arizona.
Oddly enough, the loss seemed to enhance Oregon’s chances for the playoff once Fisher returned to the lineup. When Fisher was healthy, Oregon was unstoppable. It didn’t hurt that Arizona finished the regular season with 10 wins and a Pac-12 South title.
In Pasadena, though, there was reason for doubt again. Veteran center Hroniss Grasu had missed three final three games of the regular season. He, too, recovered in time.
Grasu and Fisher were both in fine form for the Rose Bowl, a game in which Oregon neutralized a Florida State defensive front stocked with pro potential.
“It's been patchwork all year,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said from Rose Bowl preparation. “Guys that were called on that didn't expect to play have done a great job.”
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Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards were reasons the Seminoles won the eye test in Pasadena. The final eye test, though, was in Oregon’s favor.
Goldman and Edwards were non-factors in the Playoff semifinal. Against the Ducks’ line, the duo didn’t have a single tackle, forced fumble or tipped pass.
In other words, they were absent from the final stat sheet. Marcus Mariota was never sacked, and the Ducks rushed for a total of 301 yards and five touchdowns. Oregon didn’t even move backward on a run play until backup quarterback Jeff Luckie was in the game in the fourth quarter.
Now, all the Oregon offensive line has to do for the Ducks to win the national championship is post similar results against one of the best defensive lines in the nation.
Florida State front has pro prospects, for certain, but Ohio State’s line is better. This is a group that had three sacks against Alabama’s Blake Sims and contributed to three interceptions in the semifinal. A game before that, it held Melvin Gordon to 76 yards and no runs of longer than 13 yards in the Big Ten title game.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may be the top player on either team, but no collection of players may be more impressive than Ohio State’s defensive front.
One of the key matchups in the game will be between defensive end Joey Bosa, a unanimous All-America selection, against Fisher, who was slated to spend the season at right tackle until August.
This kind of a matchup isn’t likely to faze Fisher.
“Jake is a dog,” running back/wide receiver Byron Marshall said. “He doesn't take nothing from nobody, and I can appreciate that about him. If he gets pissed off, then it's good. Honestly, I like him mad. He gets to talking out there, and you can just see in his eyes that he's just ready.”
Oddly enough, Fisher, from Traverse City, Mich., committed to Michigan before the Wolverines fired coach Rich Rodriguez. Fisher now has a chance to beat Michigan State and Ohio State in the same season — but for Oregon.
While Fisher will continue to receive most of the accolades for Oregon’s offensive line thanks to the team’s performance when he’s in the lineup, he’s not the only difference-maker here.
A four-year starter and three-time All-Pac-12 selection, Grasu is one of the nation’s top centers. And although he missed the final three games of the regular season, he returned to pave through Goldman and the Semionles’ front line. Guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt are on a streak of 39 consecutive starts combined. When Grasu was out, Stevens was the one who moved from left guard to center.
And even tough Fisher’s injury exposed Oregon at the time, it provided freshman Tyrell Crosby with valuable experience. He’s started the last five games at right tackle. That includes no sacks allowed against Arizona or Florida State, a long way from his early starts against Washington State at Arizona.
“He was a freshman and trying to pick up the tempo of a college game,” Marshall said. “We were able to get that experience, help control the line that much more, and just helped us bust runs.”
What started as a patchwork is now a strength, perhaps enough of one to lead Oregon to its first national championship.
“Early on, when they were thrown in, they've had struggles, but those guys have really matured and developed as the year's gone along,” Frost said. “We've got more guys healthy right now than we've had almost the entire season.”
Sometimes, it’s nice to be proven wrong.
No one wants to watch a coach lose a job, but it’s a fact of life in college basketball that programs are paying for performance. Fail to perform a few years in a row and someone will pay the price, usually the head coach.
And most of the of the time, the trajectory of a program and a coach’s job is clear. Too many NITs, too many missed postseasons and the writing is on the wall for the coach’s last shot to save himself and his career.
That’s why it’s so remarkable to watch a coach turn a program, to watch a fired coach walking walk right into a contract extension. The pressure must be enormous and the buy-in may be tenuous.
But it happens again and again. Check any hot seat list from any given year and there’s likely a coach there who kept his job. For example, who at the start of last season though Rick Barnes was on his last legs at Texas?
A loss to Oklahoma on Monday notwithstanding, Barnes is doing just fine at Texas in 2014-15.
Who could be this year’s version of Rick Barnes? Here are a few candidates who might make the turn from coach in trouble to coach of the year this season.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
All signs pointed to a mess of a season for Mark Turgeon, who entered the Big Ten losing five members of last year’s rotation to transfers. Instead, the Terrapins are at or near the top of the heap at No. 2 behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Maryland started 14-1 with wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Minnesota. The only loss is to Virginia. The Terps' offense has caught up to the defense with the highest offensive efficiency (31st) on KenPom in Turgeon’s four seasons at Maryland. Moreover, he’s done this with only eight games from Dez Wells. Four-star freshman guard Melo Trimble is averaging 16.2 points per game, and guard/forward Jake Layman has emerged as a 55 percent shooter, up from 40 percent last season.
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Ford was pointed to a no-win scenario in 2014-15. The Cowboys were already coming off a season that came unraveled despite the presence of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Oklahoma State is 11-2, one game off from last year’s mark of 12-1 at this point. Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are still here, and Anthony Hickey’s career has been revived after his transfer from LSU. Some of those wins don’t look as good as they normally would (Memphis, Missouri, Kansas State), and there are plenty of questions on how the Pokes will perform in a deep Big 12 again. Still, Ford appeared to be headed to another long season. The Cowboys at least will be competitive.
Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Lavin has had trouble matching the NCAA appearance in 2011. Granted, not all of that record the last three seasons is due to his coaching. In the two years since he returned from a bout with prostate cancer, St. John’s is 18-18 in the Big East with two NIT appearances. Could the Johnnies be pulling out of that slump? They started 11-1 with a wins over Syracuse and Minnesota and the lone loss coming to Gonzaga. St. John’s is 0-2 in the Big East and may start with a third consecutive loss to Villanova on Tuesday. It’s worth noting, however, that a four-point loss to Butler came without second-leading scorer Rysheed Jordan.
Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
A former Rick Pitino aide, Willard looked like he had Seton Hall on the road to relevance with an NIT appearance in his second season in 2012. That came crashing down with 3-15 Big East mark in 2013 and a 6-12 mark last year. Willard’s fifth season with the Pirates may shape up to be his best and not entirely due to the arrival of highly touted freshman Isaiah Whitehead, though he's a big part of it. Seton Hall is 12-2 with a pair of wins over St. John’s and Villanova to start Big East play. Both have come without Whitehead, who missed the last three games with a stress fracture in his right foot. The Pirates have cracked the top 20 in the AP poll for the first time since 2001, Tommy Amaker’s final season.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Romar is a survivor, that’s for sure. He’s been at Washington for more than a decade and he’s rebuilt the the Huskies twice during his tenure. He may be on his away to another renaissance in Seattle after three consecutive years without an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Huskies started 11-0 with wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma. Nigel Williams-Goss remains one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, and Fresno State center Robert Upshaw solidified the interior defense with 4.6 blocks per game. The last three games spoiled an otherwise stellar start with an 0-2 start to Pac-12 play and a loss to Stony Brook. Still, no one expected much out of this Huskies team.
Trent Johnson, TCU
Johnson might not have been on the hot seat entering the season, given the uphill climb TCU has in the Big 12. Going 2-34 in the conference in the first two seasons, though, isn’t a great omen for job security. TCU started the season on a 13-game winning streak. The Horned Frogs did zero heavy lifting during that win streak. Six games were against sub-300 opponents compared to one against a top-100 opponent (Ole Miss). Still, TCU ranked 234th on KenPom last season and won only nine games. The Frogs will take it.
Still in limbo...
Tom Crean, Indiana
The scene in Indiana has calmed from a few months ago when a series of off-court incidents left Crean with a depleted roster. An NCAA Tournament bid isn’t completely out of the question as the Hoosiers have wins over SMU, Pittsburgh, Butler (on a neutral floor) and Nebraska (on the road) on the resume. Indiana is going to score a bunch, take a ton of 3s and not play a much defense. That’s a recipe to at least keep things interesting down the stretch.
Mike Anderson, Arkansas
Arkansas’ fate in the SEC will be intriguing as always. The Razorbacks are 11-2 but their best win is over SMU and the losses came to Iowa State in a blowout and Clemson. If the Razorbacks can’t win enough against teams not named Kentucky in the SEC to make the NCAA Tournament, Anderson will be in some trouble.
Anthony Grant, Alabama
The Crimson Tide might be feeling a bit better had Alabama found a way to hold a lead against Wichita State on Dec. 16. Instead, the Tide lost 53-52 and enter SEC play without a top 50 win. Unfortunately for Grant, once considered one of the up-and-comers in the sport, this situation is all too common.
Bowl season has a funny way of changing uninteresting September matchups into must-see TV.
That Western Michigan-Air Force game in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl might not have been on anyone’s radar on the second Saturday in September, but by virtue of being a bowl, the game deserves at least a bit of attention.
The Birmingham Bowl might be the opposite.
In September, East Carolina-Florida would be a compelling early season matchup — the offensive-minded American Athletic Conference upstart facing a defensively stout, yet vulnerable, SEC team.
As a bowl game in the no-man’s land between New Year’s Day and the championship game, though, it’s decidedly lower tier, and both teams share some of the blame.
Florida is between two coaching regimes. While interim coach D.J. Durkin leads Florida into the bowl, new coach Jim McElwain is filling his staff and looking to 2015. Two Gators have already declared for the NFL Draft.
Like Florida, East Carolina had an uneven season. The Pirates seemed destined for a major bowl spot back in September when they picked up two wins against ACC teams. Those dreams faded with back-to-back losses against Temple and Cincinnati on the road to start November. The Pirates added a 32-30 loss to UCF on a Hail Mary to wrap up the regular season.
If both teams play to their potential, though, this could be a compelling game. East Carolina has a reputation as a giant-killer against ACC teams, but the Pirates can’t say the same against the SEC. The game will pair ECU’s Air Raid against a solid Florida pass defense, highlighted by the matchup between receiver Justin Hardy and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
Florida should be out to set the tone for 2015 behind sophomore quarterback Treon Harris, who led the Gators’ late-season spurt.
East Carolina vs. Florida
Kickoff: Jan. 3, Noon ET
Spread: Florida by 7
East Carolina’s Key to Victory: Solve the Florida secondary
The bread-and-butter to the Pirates’ offense is easy to figure out: East Carolina comes from the Mike Leach/Air Raid school of offense. Using that approach, East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech (427 passing yards, three touchdowns) and North Carolina (446 yards, four touchdowns, one interceptions) in September. Consistency, though, was lacking. Quarterback Shane Carden still finished third in the nation in passing yards per game and in the top 30 in efficiency. Wide receiver Justin Hardy will finish his career with more receptions than anyone in college football history. ECU, though, will need to return to its early season form against a stout Florida secondary led by sophomore corner Vernon Hargreaves III. The Gators are one game removed from intercepting Jameis Winston four times and finishing fourth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense.
Florida’s Key to Victory: Keep the eye on the prize
The Gators will have all the excuses to snooze through the game in Birmingham. Florida will be playing under an interim coach while it waits for Jim McElwain to take over. Running back Matt Jones and defensive end Dante Fowler already have announced intentions to go to the NFL Draft. And the Gators will be facing their first non-power conference program in a bowl since facing Miami (Ohio) in the 1973 Tangerine Bowl. Florida should have a substantial talent edge — particularly on defense — but we’ve seen the script in a bowl game before. The last time Florida played in a bowl with an interim coach was 10 years ago after Ron Zook was fired. Charlie Strong led an uninterested team to the Peach Bowl where the Gators lost 27-10 to Miami.
East Carolina has earned a reputation as a spoiler the last two seasons, going 4-1 against ACC programs. The Pirates, though, haven’t defeated an SEC opponent since South Carolina in 1999, going 0-5 in that span. Florida would be ripe for the picking in the Birmingham Bowl. That said, East Carolina tailed off at the end of the season, losing three games in AAC play once it became the clubhouse leader for a major bowl appearance. For all of it struggles, Florida hit a stride on offense late in the season once the Gators changed quarterbacks from junior Jeff Driskel to freshman Treon Harris. Which edition of these two streaky teams shows up in Alabama will determine the course of the game.
Prediction: East Carolina 28, Florida 21
PASADENA, Calif. — Credit to Jameis Winston for being a true believer.
The Florida State quarterback kept talking about trying to mount a comeback in a game that finished 59-20, a game that featured a 34-0 run thanks to four turnovers in four possessions.
He described the game as “unfortunate.”
“We were never stopped at all,” Winston said. He talked about Florida State beating itself.
Sure, that’s confidence. And what else should Winston be expected to say after a loss like that?
It’s also lunacy.
Oregon is good. Oregon is national championship good. Oregon is championship good down to every last man, it seems.
A message for the Ducks' championship foe Ohio State: Don’t believe Winston. Nothing about a 59-20 rout was a fluke or some series of lucky bounces or even one player getting a lucky on broken coverage.
Oregon set Rose Bowl records for total yards (639) and scoring. The Ducks scored the most points against a Florida State team since 1985 when Auburn’s Bo Jackson was the one doing the damage.
And put in greater context, what the Ducks did to Florida State was more staggering.
This was a game in which Marcus Mariota threw an interception, something that happened only twice all season. He nearly threw two picks with one pass bouncing out of the hands of Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey.
Mariota wasn’t sharp early, but giving him a short field five times is begging for embarrassment. Oregon obliged Florida State's request.
Mariota completed 26-of-36 passes for 338 yards with two touchdowns all of it after his top deep threat left the game with a knee injury sustained on the opening kickoff.
Oregon's offense didn't sustain even a hiccup without Devon Allen.
A running back who didn’t play the last three games rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
A receiver who didn’t have a catch in four games this year caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
A tight end who caught four passes all year ended up catching six for 73 yards.
These sorts of things don’t happen by chance. They happen because Oregon has built a program with enough depth so that Thomas Tyner, Darren Carrington and Evan Baylis can contribute on the biggest stage on a moment's notice.
“Those guys did vital stuff without the ball, which was vital for our success,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “We had to win on the perimeter both in the run game and bubble game and all that stuff goes into it.”
And then there were the turnovers. Two fumbles were clawed out of the hands of Florida State running back Dalvin Cook. Others came on pressure of Winston.
And again, Oregon had an built-in excuse if the Ducks had major lapses defensively. Starting cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was lost to a torn ACL during practice back in Eugene. No doubt, it was a blow from a personnel perspective and leadership perspective.
Without their best defensive player, the Ducks gained five turnovers, scoring 34 total points off takeaways. Oregon’s lone squandered opportunity off a turnover was a blocked extra point.
That’s dominance. Winning a game under less than ideal circumstances is the sort of thing national champions do. Oregon did it by 39 points.
“We were just ready for the fight,” linebacker Tony Washington said. “And we came out on top.”