Articles By David Fox
This season will not be a repeat of J.J. Redick vs. Adam Morrison. Or Jimmer Fredette vs. Kemba Walker.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott is the clear frontrunner for national player of the year honors as one of the nation’s leading scorers for the leader in a major conference.
That’s a testament to McDermott’s season, but also a reflection of the rest of the field. This season has seen some great players, especially in the freshman ranks, but not all of them have been consistent enough to rival McDermott for postseason honors.
But let’s say McDermott was not in the race this season. Who would be the top contenders for the Naismith and Wooden awards? Our editoral staff answers.
Assuming Doug McDermott will win National Player of the Year honors, who would be No. 2 on your ballot?
Mitch Light: This was very difficult. I went with Jabari Parker because he does so much for Duke. The freshman from Chicago quickly emerged as the Blue Devils’ primary option, and he leads the team in scoring (19.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.5). Parker is Duke’s only consistent threat on the low block, and he is also a weapon on the perimeter due to his ability to handle the ball and shoot from 3-point range. Mike Krzyzewski’s team features some nice front-end talent but isn’t loaded with future NBA players and lacks depth. Parker’s presence makes Duke a threat to win the national title; without him, the Blue Devils would struggle to make the top 25.
David Fox: Good thing McDermott is a virtual lock for National Player of the Year because the rest of the race would be a jumble. I tend to favor players whose teams would be lost without them. That leads me to Sean Kilpatrick at Cincinnati. The Bearcats get perpetually overlooked because they play a soft non-conference schedule, and they’re generally a low-scoring, defensive-minded team. Without Kilpatrick, Cincinnati would be lucky to be in contention for the NIT.
Braden Gall: Obviously, there really isn’t a clear challenger to McDermott. Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim was my first thought but one could argue (although I wouldn’t) that he isn’t the most important player on his own team. Sean Kilpatrick and Shabazz Napier carry their teams offensively for Cincinnati and UConn, respectively, while Russ Smith plays a similar role for Louisville in the American Athletic Conference. That said, No. 2 on my ballot will come from the winner of the Syracuse-Duke game in Durham this weekend. If the Orange complete the sweep over Duke, my vote would go to C.J. Fair — aka, the best player on the best team in the nation. If Duke can continue to surge up the polls and beats Syracuse, my vote would go to Jabari Parker, a freshman who has been the team’s best player.
Syracuse and Wichita State remain undefeated. Doug McDermott scored a bunch. And Florida handled a couple of SEC teams.
On the surface, the last week was pretty typical as far as the 2013-14 season goes.
But behind all those things we’ve come to accept as automatic this season, there are a few interesting numbers to crunch.
Wichita State is the first to do something in a decade. Syracuse may hit a mark that coincides with the dawn of the Jim Boeheim era. And Florida did something it never has during the Billy Donovan era.
Those, of course, weren’t the only statistical notables. Nebraska and Memphis were on opposite sides of ending droughts this week among other numericals from the week in college basketball.
College Basketball Key Stats of the Week: Feb. 18
21. Teams to win their first 27 games
Wichita State’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament is going to be a hot debate if the Shockers get to Selection Sunday undefeated. After Saturday, they’re still in rarefied air by starting 27-0, the 21st team in NCAA history to do so. The last was a Jameer Nelson-led St. Joseph’s team in 2003-04. St. Joe’s streak ended at 27 games when the Red Hawks lost to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Wichita State has four more regular-season games before it even gets to the Missouri Valley Tournament. That 2003-04 St. Joe’s team, by the way, was a No. 1 seed and lost to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight.
70. Points per game for Syracuse
Scoring is up nation-wide, but the nation’s No. 1 has not contributed to that trend. Syracuse continued its 25-0 start despite never cracking 60 points in the last three games. Tempo-free and per possession statistics are the preferred measure these days, but it’s still jarring to see Syracuse averaging a mere 70 points per game. If the trend sticks, this will be the lowest-scoring Syracuse team since 1962-63. That team during Jim Boeheim's freshman season as a player averaged 62 points per game.
60. Creighton’s 3-point shooting rate against Villanova
Villanova did a better job of shutting down the 3-point line in the rematch against Creighton, but it still wasn't enough. The Bluejays still shot 9 of 15 from long range in Sunday’s 101-80 win to sweep Villanova. Led by Ethan Wragge nine 3s earlier this season, Creighton made 21 3-pointers in the first meeting on Jan. 20. In the two meetings, Creighton was 30 of 50 from long range against its only competition for the Big East crown.
33.1. Villanova’s 3-point percentage defense in its other 23 games
Creighton’s season sweep of Villanova has been so dominating, it has made the Wildcats’ defensive numbers look average. Teams not named Creighton are shooting 33.1 percent from 3 against the Wildcats. The same is true from the field at large: Creighton shot 60.4 percent in two games against Villanova. The Wildcats have held everyone else to 39.5 percent shooting.
2-0. Florida’s record in Knoxville and Lexington this season
Not a whole lot of teams win in Rupp Arena, especially since John Calipari took over. And for some reason, Tennessee had Florida’s number even when the Gators won back-to-back national championships. This week, Florida did something that the Gators hadn’t done during the Billy Donovan era or even the Lon Kruger era by winning road games at Kentucky and Tennessee in the same season. Florida hadn’t swept road games in Lexington and Knoxville since 1988, and in 2014, the Gators did it within four days.
29. Consecutive road games vs. top 10 teams Nebraska lost before Sunday
If Nebraska is going to make a late push for the NCAA Tournament, Sunday’s win over No. 9 Michigan State in East Lansing was a key development for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska defeated the Spartans 60-51 for only the Huskers’ fourth win over a top 10 team on the road in school history. Nebraska had lost 29 consecutive road games to top 10 opponents going back to a Feb. 22, 1997 win over No. 7 Iowa State.
42. Percentage of UConn’s field goals accounted for by Shabazz Napier
A case for the most indispensable player in the country may start with UConn’s Shabazz Napier. With 134 field goals and 137 assists this season, Napier played a direct role in 42 percent of the Huskies baskets this season. On Saturday, he even raised that average in an 86-81 overtime win over Memphis. Napier had 10 baskets and four assists to account for 58 percent of the Huskies’ field goals on Saturday.
0-2. Memphis’ record against UConn in the regular season
Memphis had no peer in the watered-down Conference USA lineup. That has changed in the American, even if the top teams in the league have a substantial edge over the bottom half. With UConn’s win in Memphis on Jan. 16 and in Storrs on Feb. 16, the Huskies are the first team to sweep Memphis during the regular season since Southern Miss did it in 2000-01. SMU and Cincinnati, the only other AAC teams to beat Memphis this season, could do the same in the last two games of the regular season.
296. Career blocks by Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski
More than a week ago, Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski quietly broke a 25-year-old Pac-12 record for blocks. Then came an eight-block night in the upset of Arizona on Friday. Bachynski will shatter the Pac-12 career block record set by Arizona’s Anthony Cook (278 blocks from 1985-89).
55. Minutes played by Canisius’ Billy Baron on Saturday
In this spot earlier this season, we noted that Providence’s Bryce Cotton averaged 46.2 minutes per game in conference play. Cotton has nothing on Billy Baron. The nation’s third-leading scorer played all 55 minutes in Saturday’s 92-88 win over Siena in triple overtime. Baron, naturally, filled the stat sheet with 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Not that this is going to assuage fans of our No. 12 team here, but the difference between the 12th coaching tandem in the Pac-12 and the fourth is razor thin.
Indeed, there’s a lot to like about the final Pac-12 coaching tandem on this list.
The Pac-12 coaching tandems for 2014 had a knack for balancing struggling basketball coaches (Ken Bone and Craig Robinson) with superb football coaches (Mike Leach and Mike Riley).
In other spots, there are known commodities as basketball coaches (Lorenzo Romar, Tad Boyle and Mike Montgomery) paired up with football coaches new to the Pac-12 level (Chris Petersen, Mike MacIntyre and Sonny Dykes).
The top two picks for coaching tandems were a little easier given our primary criteria in ranking the tandems: Balance.
To reiterate, we like a coaching tandem that keeps fans happy from the start of football season to the end of basketball season, from August to April. That made our top two picks clear in our eyes.
Football: Rich Rodriguez | Basketball: Sean Miller
Sean Miller’s last four NCAA Tournament appearances have resulted in either a Sweet 16 or an Elite Eight. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to the Final Four or better, especially as he’s returned Arizona to national powerhouse status. Rodriguez has made the most of his second chance in a major conference since his ill-fated tenure at Michigan. The Wildcats have back-to-back eight win seasons and back-to-back bowl wins in two seasons under RichRod.
Football: Jim L. Mora | Basketball: Steve Alford
With 19 wins in two seasons, UCLA football is a factor again in the Pac-12 even if the Bruins haven’t broken through for a conference title. Alford’s hire was greeted with skepticism, but the Bruins are in NCAA Tournament contention in his first season in Westwood. Expectations soon will be higher.
Football: David Shaw | Basketball: Johnny Dawkins
Shaw has established himself as the top football coach in the Pac-12, leading the Cardinal to back-to-back conference titles. Stanford is 34-7 with three BCS bids under Shaw with plenty of potential to continue given his recruiting success. Dawkins hasn’t matched the success of his predecessors Mike Montgomery or Trent Johnson, but Stanford basketball is finally back in NCAA Tournament contention after a six-year absence.
4. Arizona State
Football: Todd Graham | Basketball: Herb Sendek
Graham’s reputation as a job jumper will follow him around, but he can coach. The Sun Devils improved from 6-7 the year before he arrived to 8-5 his first season to 10-4 in his second. Sendek is a veteran coach who is probably earning himself more time after entering the season with his future in question. Arizona State is poised for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.
Football: Mark Helfrich | Basketball: Dana Altman
Helfrich went 11-2 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12 in his first season as a head coach. The next question is if he can sustain Oregon as a national power. Altman wasn’t the first choice for the basketball program, but he’s led the Ducks to a Sweet 16 berth in his third season. Sustainability will be worth watching for Altman as well. His program has been a haven for high-profile transfers, for better or worse.
Football: Chris Petersen | Basketball: Lorenzo Romar
Washington ended up being the school that could finally pry Petersen away from Boise State. Petersen’s predecessors Dan Hawkins and Dirk Koetter struggled once they left Boise though neither was as highly regarded as Petersen, who led Boise State to two undefeated seasons. Romar’s program has been up and down. He has three Sweet 16 appearances, three conference tournament championships and two regular season titles during his tenure.
Football: Mike MacIntyre | Basketball: Tad Boyle
Colorado has made two of the best coaching hires in recent seasons, and the Buffaloes needed them in a major way. Boyle has led Colorado to three consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in school history. A fourth and third consecutive NCAA appearance could be on the way despite a season-ending injury to Spencer Dinwiddie. The football program is counting on MacIntyre to replicate his reclamation project at San Jose State.
Football: Sonny Dykes | Basketball: Mike Montgomery
Montgomery is one of the top coaches in the Pac-12 — going back to his time at Stanford. Cal is rarely one of the top teams in the league, but the Bears have been consistently above average under Montgomery. That’s not easy at Cal. Football is starting from scratch under Dykes, who had a good track record at Louisiana Tech, but the Bears were a dreadful 1-11 in his first season in Berkeley.
9. Oregon State
Football: Mike Riley | Basketball: Craig Robinson
Riley generally has been an overachiever at Oregon State, leading the Beavers to 36 wins in four seasons from 2006-09. That said, Oregon State has had a losing conference record in three of the last four seasons. Basketball has made strides under Robinson, but the program hasn’t been able to get over the CBI hump. That’s not likely to change in his sixth season.
10. Washington State
Football: Mike Leach | Basketball: Ken Bone
Wazzu is creeping back toward relevance in football as Leach has installed his pass-oriented offense in Pullman. The transition might have been slower than expected, but a bowl appearance in his second season is a major improvement from where Washington State was only three seasons ago. With an overall losing record in five seasons, Bone may be near the end of his tenure with the basketball program.
Football: Steve Sarkisian | Basketball: Andy Enfield
USC athletics director Pat Haden didn’t have much of a grace period, having to make a number of key hires early in his tenure. He twice went young an energetic with Sarkisian and Enfield. One is a known commodity who was a former assistant who already had success at a Pac-12 school (Sarkisian). The other was an obscure name until he won two games in March (Enfield).
Football: Kyle Whittingham | Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak
In no other league would Utah be ranked last, but the Utes are still looking to be competitive in both sports. Whittingham has a Sugar Bowl victory on his resume, but the Utes are 9-18 in Pac-12 play in three seasons. Krystkowiak took over a mess of a program mired in player transfers. He’s laid the groundwork for a competitive team that could head to the NIT only two seasons after going 6-25.
Doug McDermott bobblehead day left Jay Wright’s head spinning again.
If there’s one thing we know about the Big East this season, it’s that Creighton has Villanova’s number. The first time around, the Bluejays launched 21 3-pointers against Villanova. The Wildcats shut down some of Creighton’s outside shooting, but they couldn’t contain McDermott, the Athlon Sports National Player of the Week.
The Creighton senior scored 39 points against Villanova to put the Bluejays up by a game in the win column in the Big East standings. McDermott scored Creighton’s first 11 points in the first four minutes as Creighton never trailed the traditional Big East power.
Related: 10 Things You Need to Know from the Basketball Weekend
National Player of the Week: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Dougie McBuckets continued to move up the all-time scoring list last week, passing Larry Bird on Sunday. McDermott matched a season high with 39 points against Villanova, completing a regular-season sweep against the Big East leaders. McDermott also scored 26 points in a 68-63 close call with Butler on Thursday. The senior shot 24 of 36 from the field for the week.
Related: 11 Doug McDermott Facts
National Freshman of the Week: Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
The Gamecocks are one of the worst teams in a lackluster SEC, but Thornwell is one of the key pieces as Frank Martin tries to turn things around in Columbia. Thornwell scored 22 points in a win over Alabama on Saturday and 19 in a win over Vanderbilt on Thursday afternoon. The guard also had 10 total rebounds and 10 total assists in South Carolina’s first back-to-back SEC wins since 2011.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Kerry Hammonds II, Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee has snuck into the mix for the Conference USA regular season title after dismantling league leader Southern Miss 81-64. Hammonds scored 26 points in the win over the Golden Eagles on Saturday, including six shots from 3-point range. Hammonds had 18 points in a win over Tulane earlier in the week.
Other top performers last week:
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
The Gators may have cleared the path to a perfect SEC season by conquering their toughest week of the season so far. Florida defeated Tennessee and Kentucky on the road for the first time in the same season since 1988. The Gators point guard led the way with 23 points in a 69-59 win at Kentucky and 21 points in a 67-58 win at Tennessee. The senior was 21 of 24 from the free throw line for the week with no turnovers.
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Napier continued his case for American Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors with a gargantuan effort against Memphis. Napier scored 34 points and added five rebounds, four assists and four steals in the 86-81 win over the Tigers in overtime Saturday.
Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis
The Billikens took a major step toward a second consecutive Atlantic 10 title thanks to Evans’ play in a key 64-62 win over VCU. Evans had 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Rams as the Billikens moved to 10-0 in the A-10. A year ago, Evans was one of the hottest players in the country late in the season as Saint Louis won the A-10 regular season and tournament titles.
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
The long-awaited breakout for McAdoo is here as the junior had 24 points and 12 rebounds in a 75-71 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday. McAdoo has been leading the way as North Carolina — a team noted for its bizarre losses early in the year — has discovered consistency. The Tar Heels have won six games in a row heading into busy week with the first meeting with Duke postponed to Feb. 20.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
The Badgers’ big man gave Wisconsin its fourth victory in a row in a 75-62 win at Michigan on Sunday. Kaminsky scored 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting against the Wolverines while adding 11 rebounds. On Thursday, Kaminsky added 17 points in a 78-70 win over Minnesota.
Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
Arizona finally ran into a defensive force that could match the Wildcats. The center Bachynski had eight blocks in a 69-66 double overtime upset of the No. 2 Wildcats on Friday night. Bachynski helped Arizona State in the offensive end with 13 points, led by 7 of 11 free throw shooting.
Jabari Brown, Missouri
The Tigers guard kept Missouri in NCAA contention this week with two key wins over Arkansas and Tennessee. Brown had 24 points in a 75-70 win over Tennessee on Saturday and 25 points in Thursday’s 86-85 win over Arkansas. Brown’s basket with 12.2 seconds left against the Razorbacks clinched the win.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
Christmas had the steal to set up C.J. Fair’s game-winning layup as Syracuse defeated NC State 56-55 to remain unbeaten. Christmas finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks in the win. In another close call with Pitt on Wednesday, Christmas had seven points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Javan Felix, Texas
With leading scorer Jonathan Holmes out for one game last week, Felix helped pick up the slack with 27 points in 30 minutes in a 87-68 win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday. When Holmes returned, Felix remained the go-to player with 18 points in a 88-71 win over West Virginia on Saturday. Felix shot 16 of 30 from the field for the week.
Kenny Chery, Baylor
The junior college transfer point guard kept Baylor in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot with a triple-double in the 87-73 double overtime win over Kansas State. Chery finished with 20 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds as Baylor fought back from a 10-point deficit with nine minutes to go. The triple-double was the sixth in Baylor history.
No league has changed its identity more in recent decades than the ACC.
What was once a regional league dominated by basketball powers, the ACC has looked to the outside to build a league that can match in football. Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech added to football prestige, and now Syracuse represents the ACC atop the basketball rankings.
In the last season, the program that has been able to succeed in both at a high level may be the most unlikely.
Duke’s success on the basketball court is expected under Mike Krzyzewski. Football, on the other hand, has been irrelevant for two decades. That’s changed under David Cutcliffe, who became the first Blue Devils coach to win 10 games in a season.
For the second consecutive season, Duke tops our coaching tandem ranking in the ACC.
In this ranking, we aimed to reward balance. In short, which school’s fanbase is most likely to be satisfied from September to March? A handful of schools may have an accomplished football coach while the basketball coach is looking to keep his job, or vice versa.
In evaluating coaches, we examined past performance, with more focus on current and recent results and future expectations. We also considered how good a fit a particular coach is for a particular school.
For the ACC, we are ranking the post-expansion lineup with Louisville taking the spot left by Maryland. We’ve also ranked Notre Dame, a full basketball member, in the ACC tandem rankings.
Football: David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
On the basketball side, Duke has a Hall of Fame coach with four national championships, two Olympic gold medals and more than 900 wins. On the other side, the Blue Devils have a coach who has reached bowl games in back-to-back seasons with the ACC’s worst program. Krzyzewski is four years removed from his most recent national title, but as usual, he’s in contention for another one this season. Meanwhile, Cutcliffe led Duke to 10 wins and the ACC title game last season. One interesting parallel for these coaches: Both had health scares that sidelined them for a year (Krzyzewski’s back in 1995 and Cutcliffe’s heart in 2005), but both coaches are at the top of their games.
Football: Bobby Petrino | Basketball: Rick Pitino
The Petrino/Pitino sound-alike duo is back in the Derby City. The first time around wasn’t so bad for Louisville. Petrino successfully guided the Cardinals into the Big East era with an Orange Bowl victory in his final season in 2006. Louisville is counting on Petrino to do the same as the Cards move into the ACC in 2014. Since 2009 alone, Pitino has led the basketball program to the 2013 national title, two Final Fours and three 30-win seasons. Certainly, it’s risky bringing Petrino — a career-long flight risk whose Arkansas tenure was bought down by ethical failings — back into the fold.
3. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Not long ago, Florida State’s basketball program arguably was more successful that its football program, especially given the expectation level for both. In four seasons, Jimbo Fisher has returned FSU football to national prominence after a 14-0 season, the national championship and a Heisman Trophy. Hamilton’s basketball program may land in the NIT for the second consecutive season, but that shouldn’t overshadow his tenure. Hamilton is the first FSU basketball coach to lead the Seminoles to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, four consecutive 20-win seasons and an ACC Tournament title.
4. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey
Notre Dame still has work to do in order to be among the national elite. Alabama exposed as much in the BCS championship game after the 2012 season. Still, a title game appearance is more than Kelly’s predecessors in South Bend. Dealt a curve ball with Everett Golson’s academic issues, Notre Dame still went 9-4 in 2013, Kelly’s eighth consecutive season with eight or more wins. Brey hasn’t been as fortunate this season with a key player, Jerian Grant, lost due to academics. Brey’s streak of seven consecutive 20-win seasons and four NCAA Tournament bids likely ends this season, but the track record suggests Brey’s program won’t be down for long.
5. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams
The coaches have more in common than a Chapel Hill zip code. Both would like their teams to operate at a fast pace, and neither has ever had a losing season as a head coach. Of course, Williams track record is more impressive with two national titles at North Carolina and a basketball Hall of Fame induction. Fedora’s 8-4 season in 2012 despite a bowl ban was impressive, but last season’s 7-6 performance, the third of Fedora’s career, was a let down.
Football: Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Few coaching tandems are more lopsided than the one that shares the Carrier Dome. After last season’s trip to the Final Four, Boeheim joked his program was due for one trip to the national semifinals each decade (he wasn’t wrong), but the Hall of Famer has a team capable of doing it again. In his first season in the ACC, Boeheim is building upon his win total with 25 consecutive wins to start 2013-14. The football coach, however, is why Syracuse’s tandem is ranked this low in the ACC. Shafer proved himself a perfectly capable coach in his first season, going 7-6 with a Texas Bowl victory.
Football: Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga
With the NCAA investigation related to the Nevin Shapiro scandal finished an another Penn State coaching search completed, Miami will look to continue its progress under Golden. The Hurricanes have increased their win total every season under Golden, but they remain a middling ACC program (10-6 the last two seasons).
Football: Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell
Swinney’s homespun rah-rah personality and his offensive coordinator seem to have made the Clemson football coach underrated — as if motivation and assistant hires aren’t part of the job. Clemson under Swinney is one of eight programs to win 10 games in each of the last three seasons. Meanwhile, he’s led the Tigers to their first top-10 finish since 1990 and first ACC title since 1991. After two lackluster seasons, Brownell has Clemson basketball in contention for its second NCAA Tournament bid in his four-year tenure.
Football: Paul Chryst | Basketball: Jamie Dixon
Dixon’s consistency — in results and his approach — remain impressive. He’s never won fewer than 22 games and has missed the NCAA Tournament only once in 11 seasons, all without a ton of McDonald’s All-Americans. After two bowl games and a 13-13 record in two seasons, Chryst’s greatest contribution to Pitt has been putting program on stable footing after a revolving door of three head coaches in two seasons.
10. Virginia Tech
Football: Frank Beamer | Basketball: James Johnson
Beamer has built his alma mater into a national power even if the Hokies have gone 15-11 overall and 9-7 in the ACC the last two seasons. The good feelings, though, end after football season as Johnson has struggled to get the Hokies out of the ACC cellar.
11. Boston College
Football: Steve Addazio | Basketball: Steve Donahue
Addazio supervised one of college football’s surprise teams last season as Boston College went 7-6 and produced a Heisman finalist. Donahue supervised one of basketball season’s disappointing teams as the veteran Eagles were out of postseason contention by the end of June.
12. NC State
Football: Dave Doeren | Basketball: Mark Gottfried
Gottfried’s results have been a little better than those of Herb Sendek at the end of his tenure and far better than those from the Sidney Lowe era. Doeren went winless in the ACC in his first season, but he did lead Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance two years ago.
13. Georgia Tech
Football: Paul Johnson | Basketball: Brian Gregory
Since the 2009 ACC title, Johnson is 28-25 overall and 19-13 in the ACC. Gregory has seen improvement in the basketball program, but the Yellow Jackets are still merely NIT-worthy at best.
Football: Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett
Bennett this season has Virginia doing things they haven’t done since Ralph Sampson played in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, London is 8-24 in ACC games in four seasons at Virginia.
15. Wake Forest
Football: Dave Clawson | Basketball: Jeff Bzdelik
Bzdelik has overcome a disastrous first season at Wake Forest in 2010-11 to build a more competitive program. An NCAA bid, however, remains a long way off. Clawson, who has head coaching stops at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, steps into some big shoes left by the affable Jim Grobe.
With all the talk of the NCAA Tournament, the bubble watch and which freshmen will be selected first in the NBA Draft, it’s too easy to forget that conference championships are important.
This weekend seemed to be a good time to reinforce that coaches and teams do put an emphasis on winning the league.
Florida moved a step closer to running the table in the SEC. Thanks to a signature win Sunday, the Big East may be won by a team in Omaha. And the Big Ten, by virtue of two home losses by conference leaders, is wide open again.
10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend
1. Florida looks title-worthy
Whether Kentucky or Tennessee is up or down, Florida doesn’t win at either on the road very often. Since 1999, the only Florida teams to win in Lexington ended up winning the national title. At the same time, the Gators have only won in Knoxville once since 2005. The trend changed this week. Florida hadn’t won in Lexington and Knoxville in the same season since 1988. The Gators this year did it within four days. The popular storyline Saturday night was that the Gators, who start four seniors, used their experience to wear down a freshman-laden Kentucky team. That much is true as Florida adjusted to Kentucky’s defense to shoot 60 percent in the second half of a 69-59 win. The Gators feasted on 13 Kentucky turnovers to outscore the Wildcats 14-7 on takeaways. But Florida is more than experience: Scottie Wilbekin picked apart Kentucky for 23 points, and Casey Prather owned the frontcourt, scoring 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
2. Creighton owns Villanova
Villanova is a good team. The Wildcats have defeated Kansas and Iowa in the non-conference. And they’re 10-0 against all but one team in the Big East. The outlier, though, is Creighton. The Bluejays have dominated Villanova this season, and the series sweep may lead to a team from Omaha winning the Big East. Creighton defeated Villanova 101-80 on Sunday to join a 96-68 win over the Wildcats in Philadelphia in Jan. 20. Doug McDermott has been outstanding in both games, scoring 39 on Sunday and 23 in the first meeting, but this isn’t a one-man show. Creighton averaged 1.42 points per possession against Villanova, a team that allows 0.925 otherwise this season. Creighton is 30 of 50 from 3-point range against Villanova. The Wildcats allow opponents to shoot 35.2 percent from 3 for the season.
3a. Syracuse has a pact with the devil ... or something
The Orange are 25-0, but the close calls of the last three weeks has to wear on Jim Boeheim. If anything, it’s provided for great drama. Saturday was the latest in the series of unlikely finishes for Syracuse. Freshman Tyler Ennis was uncharacteristically sloppy in the final seconds against NC State, but the Wolfpack was even more uneven in the 56-55 Syracuse win. NC State turned the ball over on its last two possessions, including a steal by the Orange’s Rakeem Christmas that set up C.J. Fair’s game-winning layup. This has been a trend for Syracuse: The month started with the 91-89 overtime win over Duke and continued with Ennis’ deep 3 to beat Pitt on Wednesday.
3b. Tyler Ennis is mortal
Though he’s only a freshman, Ennis has been the best player in the country with the ball in his hands in the final seconds. Though Syracuse won, Saturday night was the only time when Ennis showed any weakness late. The rookie fouled on a 3-pointer with 1:02 to go (NC State made all three free throws) and committed an offensive foul to turn the ball over as Syracuse attempted to take the lead with 15 seconds left. Ennis made up for it with the outlet pass to C.J. Fair off the Rakeem Christmas steal to seal the win.
4a. James Michael McAdoo is reaching his potential
While no one was looking, North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo became the player everyone thought he’d be. McAdoo led the way in a 75-71 win over Pittsburgh with 24 points and 12 rebounds — and remember, this is a Pitt team that twice gave Syracuse all kinds of trouble on the glass. North Carolina has found consistency, and McAdoo’s play is a major reason why. During North Carolina’s six-game winning streak, McAdoo is averaging 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds.
4b. Pittsburgh is awfully ordinary
The Panthers really needed this week to prove themselves. After narrow losses to Syracuse and North Carolina, Pittsburgh will go to the ACC Tournament with a nice record and no great wins. The Panthers are 0-6 against the RPI top 40, and thanks to a lackluster non-conference schedule, Pitt’s best win might be Stanford or NC State. Pittsburgh doesn’t have any NCAA resume-killing losses, but the Panthers aren’t going to have great seed.
5. Wisconsin is back to its early season form
The Badgers continued a four-game winning streak Saturday with arguably its most impressive win of the Big Ten season with a 75-62 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. Frank Kaminsky feasted on the Michigan frontcourt, scoring 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. On Thursday, Ben Brust was the star of the show with outside shooting, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 20 points in a win over Minnesota. More important, Wisconsin appears to have solved the defensive issues that contributed to the 1-5 slide from Jan. 14-Feb. 1.
6a. Michigan State dropped a dud
This was not a good weekend for the state of Michigan with the Wolverines and Spartans losing at home. It might not be fair to be too critical of a team in a first-place tie for the Big Ten lead, but Michigan State has reason to be in panic mode after a 60-51 loss at home to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are improved, and Michigan State remains the walking wounded. Keith Appling played only 19 minutes. Brendan Dawson is still out. But these aren’t the kinds of games aspiring Big Ten champions lose at home in mid-February. Michigan State was a mess on offense, shooting 12 of 26 from 2-point range and 5 of 24 from 3. The Spartans also got outworked by the upstart Huskers, something that’s becoming a trend. Not a good look for Tom Izzo’s team.
6b. Nebraska is inching toward the NCAA Tournament bubble
The Cornhuskers won’t make mock brackets this week, but they’re worth watching down the stretch. With a win at Michigan State, Nebraska has three RPI top 50 wins, the other two against Ohio State and Minnesota. The Huskers have three not-so-great losses (Penn State, Purdue and UAB) they need to overcome.
7. Indiana is doing something special and not in a good way
The Hoosiers lost 82-64 to Purdue on Saturday to move to 4-8 in the Big Ten, only a year after being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Barring a major turnaround, Indiana won’t return to the field in 2013. It’s not out of the ordinary for a former No. 1 seed, or even a defending national champion, to miss the Tournament the following year. Nine No. 1 seeds in the last 10 seasons missed the Tournament the next year, but Indiana is a non-factor in the Big Ten. Of the 16 No. 1 seeds since 1985 that missed Tournament the following year, Indiana will push 2012 Pittsburgh for the worst conference record. The Panthers went 5-13 in the Big East a year after after earning a No. 1 seed in 2011.
8. Arizona State’s not-so-secret weapon is Jordan Bachynski
No player out West is on a better hot streak that Arizona State’s 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski. Maybe we should have seen Friday night coming, when Bachynski had eight blocks in a 69-66 double overtime win over rival Arizona. Bachynski came a block and a rebound short of a triple-double with 26 points on Feb. 8 against Oregon. And before that, Bachynski had seven blocks in an overtime win over Oregon State. Bachynski has effectively overshadowed the high-scoring backcourt of Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall in the last two weeks as Arizona State has moved into strong NCAA Tournament contention.
9. Baylor has some fight left
Trailing by as much as 10 with nine minutes to go, Baylor fought back to beat Kansas State 87-73 in double overtime. The knock on the Bears has been losing games they should win, but they finally won a game they probably should have lost against the Wildcats. Kenny Chery led the way down the stretch in regulation and finished with a triple-double (20 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), and Brady Heslip hit the game-winning 3 — his only make in eight tries — to send the game to overtime.
10a. The best team no one is talking about is Saint Louis
The Billikens continue to be one of the best stories in the country as they took a major step to a second Atlantic 10 regular season title with a 64-62 win over VCU. Saint Louis is 10-0 in the league and its only losses are by single digits to Wisconsin and Wichita State. The Billikens did what they’ve been doing all season by shutting down the 3-point line, holding VCU to 2 of 16 from long range. Opponents are converting 26.7 percent of 3-point attempts against Saint Louis this season.
10b. VCU may not be busting brackets this season
Keep this one in your back pocket for your office pools: This version’s of VCU may not stack up with previous Shaka Smart teams. Even though this is a strong A-10 team, the Rams might not be a threat to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The havoc defense is there (17 forced turnovers vs. Saint Louis), but they’re not capitalizing in the offensive end this season.
• Missouri can relax a bit. Two games and two close calls probably saved Missouri’s NCAA Tournament hopes at least for a week. The Tigers defeated Arkansas 86-85 on Thursday when Jabari Brown scored on a drive to the basket with 12.2 seconds left. Two days later, Missouri defeated Tennessee 75-70.
• UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright combined for 55 points, 10 assists and six steals against Memphis. Although the Tigers shot nearly 55 percent from the floor, they had 18 turnovers and repeatedly sent UConn’s guards to the free throw line. Napier and Boatright each had more trips to the line (12) than Memphis did as a team (nine.)
• Maybe no player had a bigger swing than Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield last week: From 1 of 13 and 3 points in a loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday to 8 of 18 and 22 points in a win at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
• LSU continued to play its way into the NIT. With Saturday’s 81-70 loss at Arkansas, LSU has lost three of the last four, all to teams that aren’t going to the NCAA Tournament (Texas A&M and Georgia were the others).
• No bubble team wants a part of Georgia. The Bulldogs deal another blow to the SEC’s hopes of sending teams to the NCAA Tournament with a 61-60 win over Ole Miss. The Bulldogs have defeated Missouri, Arkansas, LSU and now the Rebels this season. Despite an 8-4 SEC record, Georgia lacks the non-conference resume to be an NCAA team itself.
• SMU’s stay in the polls will be short-lived. The Mustangs lost to a dreadful Temple team 71-64.
• UMass picked up a nice win by defeating George Washington 67-61 on Saturday. The Minutemen had lost four of their previous seven games.
• Middle Tennessee clobbered Southern Miss 81-64 to set up a three-team race atop Conference USA with MTSU, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech. The win, though, may end C-USA’s hopes of being a multi-bid league. Southern Miss was the only team in the league that had a chance at an at-large bid.
• Green Bay may be worth watching in the postseason. The Phoenix defeated the No. 2 team in the Horizon, Cleveland State, on the road 68-52. Green Bay is 20-5 and hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996.
Snow through the Southeast and mid-Atlantic derailed basketball schedules Wednesday and Thursday, pushing the first Duke-North Carolina matchup into the third week of February.
The weekend may make up for missed time.
Quality games highlight both days of the weekend, with key matchups atop the SEC and Big East spread across Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Florida rarely has been tested in SEC play, but even an inconsistent Kentucky team could be the Gators top hurdle in the league, especially with the game in Lexington.
And in the Big East, the first matchup between Creighton and Villanova — a 3-point fest for the Bluejays — suggested the Missouri Valley imports will be just fine in their new league. A Villanova win will put further distance between the Wildcats and Creighton in the standings while a Bluejays could signal a new leader in the league.
Those aren’t the only key road trips, of course. Pittsburgh needs to regroup from Wednesday’s heartbreaker against Syracuse or else risk sliding onto the bubble before the ACC Tournament. And Wichita State will again get another team’s best shot in another MVC road trip.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 14-16
All times Eastern.
Saturday’s Top Game:
Florida at Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
Just as John Calipari’s talented young team appeared to be making progress, the Wildcats limped to a 64-56 win over lowly Auburn. James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison combined to shoot 6 of 28 from the field against Auburn, but they did contribute on the defensive end. The stumbles in the offensive end of the court aren’t a great sign against a Florida team that is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Even if this isn’t the Kentucky team most expected to see at the start of the season, Florida needs a strong performance to solidify their national title contender status. The Gators haven’t faced a ranked team since a Dec. 17 win over Memphis.
Related: College Basketball Power Rankings Heading into the Weekend
Sunday’s Top Game:
Villanova at Creighton (5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Remember what happened the last time these teams met? Led by Ethan Wragge’s school-record nine 3-pointers, Creighton drilled Villanova, ranked No. 4 at the time, 96–68 in one of the most stunning results of the season. The Wildcats, who have not lost since, will be eager to exact some revenge, but that won’t be easy. Creighton has not lost at home since last February. Creighton is one game behind Villanova in the Big East standings. A season sweep would give the Bluejays an excellent chance to be the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
Pittsburgh at North Carolina (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Pittsburgh’s 20-5 record is starting to look awfully hollow. Tyler Ennis’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer robbed the Panthers a chance of pulling off one of the biggest wins of the season. Now, the Panthers’ last chance for their top win of the regular season is against the inconsistent Tar Heels. Pitt has only one RPI top 50 win (Stanford) and won’t face another certain NCAA Tournament team until the ACC Tourney. Behind Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina has found its stride with five consecutive wins, mostly against the second tier of the conference.
Related: 26 Teams on the NCAA Tournament Bubble
Best Coaching Matchup:
Wisconsin at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
A list of the top coaches in college basketball would have Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan’s John Beilein near the top. Shocking as it may be, Ryan has a 12-1 record against Beilein since both have been in the Big Ten. Worth watching will be the continued development of Michigan’s freshman point guard, Derrick Walton Jr., The rookie had 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against Ohio State, a key development for a Wolverines team looking to find scoring options beyond Nik Stauskas.
Memphis at Connecticut (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
UConn’s lack of size remains a major concern for the Huskies’ ability to advance in March, but it might not be too much of a liability at home against the guard-heavy Tigers. Memphis’ Joe Jackson and UConn’s Shabazz Napier are both productive veterans, but their shots can be streaky.
West Virginia at Texas (Saturday, 8 p.m., Longhorn Network)
West Virginia is making a late push to reach the NCAA Tournament, and Juwan Staten, a transfer from Dayton, has emerged as one of the top players in the league. Texas is still hanging around in the Big 12 race. The Longhorns are one game behind Kansas in the loss column, but they already have a win over the Jayhawks and still have one game remaining with KU.
Wichita State at Evansville (Sunday, 6 p.m., MVC TV)
Evansville is not a great team, but for some reason Wichita State trailed the Purple Aces by 15 at one point when these teams first met on Feb. 1 in Wichita. The Shockers still won 81-67. Wichita State allowed Southern Illinois to stick around for most of a 78-67 win on Wednesday as well. Are the Shockers losing their grip on an undefeated season?
VCU at Saint Louis (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Saint Louis might be the best team few people are watching closely. That’s certainly the case on the defensive end of the court where the Billikens rank third nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom. A major component of Saint Louis’ defense is the ability to shut down the 3-point line. Of course, VCU’s bread and butter is the pressure defense that leads the nation in forced turnover rate. VCU is 1.5 games behind Saint Louis for the A-10 lead.
Under-the-Radar Game of the Week:
UMass at George Washington (Saturday, 2 p.m., CSN Mid-Atlantic)
The Minutemen still have a good RPI at No. 21, but UMass did all of its best work against a solid non-conference schedule. UMass is 3-4 in its last seven, including Wednesday’s home loss to a 9-15 George Mason team. The Minutemen are desperate for a big win while George Washington is looking to re-establish itself in the Atlantic 10.
Other Key Games:
Arizona at Arizona State (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
In a rare Friday night game of merit, Arizona State hosts its in-state rival in a key game for its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Sun Devils are on the bubble, but they’ve defeated Colorado, Cal and Oregon in the last five games. One key to the game will be quick Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson against the Wildcats’ standout defense but also big man Jordan Bachynski against the short-handed Arizona frontcourt.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
All is not well in the basketball version of Bedlam. Oklahoma State’s problems are well-established, and Oklahoma has been in a 1-3 funk itself. The Sooners needed a late rally to make a 68-60 home loss to Texas Tech look more respectable.
NC State at Syracuse (Saturday, 3 p.m., ACC Network)
The Wolfpack started 1-4 in the ACC, but it will enter Saturday’s game in the Carrier Dome at 6-5. NC State is about to embark on a three-game road swing, and, obviously, this is the toughest game. Syracuse will look to limit T.J. Warren’s action near the rim. He’s a high-volume shooter, but he hits 57.7 percent of his shots from 2-point range.
Tennessee at Missouri (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Missouri’s NCAA chances have taken a hit thanks to a three-game losing streak that has left the Tigers with an overall record of 16–7 and a 4–6 mark in the SEC. It’s fair to say this is a must win for Mizzou, which does not play a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team the rest of the way. Tennessee might be on the good side of the bubble at this point, but the Vols sure could use a win or two away from Thompson Boling Arena.
Maryland at Duke (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
This will have little impact on the ACC standings, but it’s a significant game because it’s the last meeting between these two rivals before Maryland heads to the Big Ten next season. Duke has had the upper hand of late, but over the years Maryland has played the Blue Devils as well as any ACC team not named North Carolina. The Cameron Crazies will be ready.
Kansas State at Baylor (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Baylor continues to be one the most disappointing teams in the nation. The Bears, loaded with talent, dropped to 15–9 overall and 3–8 in the Big 12 with a loss at Oklahoma on Saturday. Kansas State, on the other hand, has overachieved. The Wildcats, who beat Kansas in overtime on Monday night, are in position to earn an NCAA Tournament invite for the fifth straight season.
Tyler Ennis made sure Wednesday there wouldn’t be a change atop the Athlon Sports power rankings this weekend.
His unlikely 35-footer as time expired to defeat Pittsburgh keeps Syracuse undefeated and at the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for another week.
This weekend, though, could reshuffle things. Besides Syracuse, the rest of our top five goes on the road this weekend. All of which have reason for concern. Arizona and Wichita State are looking to avoid letdowns while Villanova and Florida are playing perhaps their biggest games of the conference season.
Here’s how the rest of the college basketball landscape looks heading into the weekend.
Related: Previewing Florida-Kentucky and the rest of the weekend action
College Basketball Power Rankings: Feb. 14
All games Saturday unless noted.
1. Syracuse (24-0, 11-0 ACC)
This weekend: NC State
With a win over NC State, Syracuse will be the first team to start 25-0 since 2007-08 Memphis, a team led by Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Last week: 1
2. Arizona (23-1, 10-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Arizona State (Friday)
After the loss to Cal, Arizona has been just as stingy in the defensive end. The Wildcats held two of the top five scorers in the Pac-12 (Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson and Oregon’s Joseph Young) to 8 of 23 from the field and a combined 24 points. Jahii Carson is next.
Last week: 2
3. Florida (22-2, 11-0 SEC)
This weekend: at Kentucky
Averaging 18.7 points in his last three games, point guard Scottie Wilbekin is becoming the go-to player as the Gators angle for an SEC title and another deep run in the Tourney.
Last week: 3
Related: 26 Teams on the NCAA Tournament Bubble
4. Wichita State (26-0, 13-0 MVC)
This week: at Evansville (Sunday)
The last time the Shockers faced Evansville, they faced a 15-point deficit in the first half. Wichita State won by 14.
Last week: 5
5. Villanova (22-2, 10-1 Big East)
This weekend: at Creighton (Sunday)
Villanova hasn’t won the Big East regular season title since 2006. If the Wildcats can win in Omaha to split the season series with Creighton, the championship is in their grasp.
Last week: 6
6. Kansas (18-6, 9-2 Big 12)
This weekend: TCU
Freshman big man Joel Embiid has been hobbled the last three games with knee and back injuries. He could be held out this weekend, and let’s face it: TCU isn’t a bad game to miss.
Last week: 7
7. Duke (19-5, 8-3 ACC)
This weekend: Maryland
The Blue Devils will be well-rested after the North Carolina game was postponed. An upcoming three-game week, though, will include Georgia Tech (Feb. 18) and North Carolina (Feb. 20) on the road and Syracuse (Feb. 22) at home.
Last week: 12
8. Michigan State (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten)
This weekend: Nebraska (Sunday)
Thursday's 85-70 win over Northwestern gave Tom Izzo a chance to empty his bench — 14 players saw court time for the ailing Spartans.
Last week: 9
9. San Diego State (21-2, 10-1 MW)
This weekend: Air Force
The Aztecs finally met their match against a well-coached Wyoming team. San Diego State shot 5 of 21 from 3-point range in the loss in Laramie.
Last week: 4
10. Virginia (20-5, 11-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Clemson
Virginia at Clemson will feature two of the bottom four teams in the ACC in possessions per 40 minutes.
Last week: 15
11. Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: VCU
Jordair Jett, who had the game-winning shot in a scare against La Salle last week, is averaging 17.8 points, 5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in A-10 play.
Last week: 14
12. Iowa State (18-5, 6-5 Big 12)
This weekend: Texas Tech
West Virginia averaged 1.36 points per possession in a 102-77 win over the Cyclones. Iowa State normally allows 0.979 points per possession.
Last week: 13
13. Michigan (18-6, 10-2 Big Ten)
This weekend: Wisconsin (Sunday)
Teams are doing a better job of guarding Nik Stauskas. Fortunately for Michigan, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert have stepped up.
Last week: 8
14. Creighton (20-4, 10-2 Big East)
This weekend: Villanova (Sunday)
The Bluejays shot 56 percent from the free throw line in Madison Square Garden. Don’t expect a repeat in Omaha’s biggest game of the season Sunday.
Last week: 10
15. Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1 American)
This weekend: Houston
The key to beating Cincinnati? Force Sean Kilpatrick to take a ton of shots from the perimeter. Kilpatrick was 3 of 12 against SMU.
Last week: 11
16. Iowa (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Penn State
Iowa hasn’t won back-to-back games in nearly a month. That could change this weekend, but Penn State isn’t an easy out in Happy Valley.
Last week: 16
17. Kentucky (19-5, 9-2 SEC)
This weekend: Florida
John Calipari made his former assistant, Auburn coach Tony Barbee, look good in a 64-56 win over the Tigers.
Last week: 18
18. Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Michigan
The Badgers' perimeter defense was vastly improved in the rematch against Minnesota.
Last week: 23
19. Louisville (19-4, 8-2 American)
This weekend: at Temple (Friday)
This is not the Big East: Louisville is amid a five-game stretch against team that rank between 150-200 in KenPom.
Last week: 17
20. Memphis (19-5, 8-3 American)
This weekend: at UConn
The Tigers will hope their lackluster performance against UCF on Wednesday is due to play Gonzaga in the game before and looking ahead to UConn on Saturday.
Last week: 20
21. UConn (19-5, 7-4 American)
This weekend: Memphis
The Huskies defeated UCF and USF by a combined 63 points last week. The next three home games will be huge: Memphis, SMU and Cincinnati.
Last week: NR
22. Texas (18-5, 8-3 Big 12)
This weekend: West Virginia
The Longhorns will hope to have Jonathan Holmes (knee) back to face a red hot Mountaineers team.
Last week: 19
23. SMU (19-5, 8-3 American)
This weekend: at Rutgers
SMU basketball was ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1985. Football hasn’t been ranked since 1986.
Last week: NR
24. Ohio State (19-6, 6-6 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
LaQuinton Ross has the consistent scorer the Buckeyes have been lacking.
Last week: NR
25. UCLA (19-5, 8-3 Pac-12)
This weekend: Utah
Kyle Anderson has five double-doubles in his last six games — three with points and assists, two with points and rebounds.
Last week: 25
Even in the last few days, bubble season has taken an unexpected turn.
A week ago, a bubble watch would have had West Virginia and St. John’s on the outskirts of the NCAA Tournament. A few big wins later, and one of those teams is projected in our field.
By our count, 32 teams are “feeling good” for an at-large bid. Barring a major collapse, these teams should be in the NCAA Tournament field. With 22 teams accounting for automatic bids settled in conference tournaments, that leaves 14 spots for the bubble.
These are the teams in contention for those final spots along with projections for who is in or out of the field.
NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Feb. 12
All RPI figures from Monday’s official release
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia
Clemson (15-6, 6-5, RPI No. 64)
Most of the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament case rests on a 72-59 home win over Duke on Jan. 11. Clemson went 9-3 against a lackluster non-conference schedule, so the Tigers will need to start defeating some of the upper echelon ACC teams (Virginia on Feb. 15, Pittsburgh on March 8).
Florida State (14-10, 5-7, RPI No. 54)
After a 77-73 home loss to Miami, Florida State is sinking fast. Neutral court wins over UMass and VCU won’t be enough to overcome six losses in the last eight games.
NC State (16-8, 6-5, RPI No. 59)
NC State did not need a double overtime loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday. A road win over Tennessee is nice, but the Wolfpack also have to atone for a home loss to North Carolina Central. NC State will face Syracuse, Clemson and Pittsburgh on the road and North Carolina at home, giving the Wolfpack the most opportunities of any ACC bubble team to pick up ground before the conference tournament.
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, SMU, UConn
Feeling good: George Washington, Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Richmond (15-8, 5-3, RPI No. 45)
Wins over UMass and St. Joe’s at the end of January piqued interest in Richmond, a team that faced Florida, North Carolina and Minnesota in the non-conference schedule. The Spiders catch VCU and George Washington at home before the A-10 Tournament.
St. Joseph’s (16-7, 6-3, RPI No. 46)
The Hawks have played their way into consideration just since the start of February with home wins over UMass and VCU. A road trip against George Washington on March 5 could be critical for both teams as they enter the A 10 Tournament.
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas
Baylor (14-8, 2-9, RPI No. 61)
A team with a losing Big 12 record could make the field, but Baylor is pushing it. The Bears’ only two Big 12 wins are over league doormat TCU and an Oklahoma State team in a tailspin.
Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-7, RPI No. 35)
The Pokes had problems before Marcus Smart was suspended for three games. Losing their top player for Oklahoma and Baylor only hastens the Cowboys drift to the bubble. The Cowboys already lost their first game without Marcus Smart by a lopsided margin against a shorthanded Texas.
West Virginia (15-10, 7-5 RPI No. 74)
A 3-8 record in against the top 50 isn’t great, but the Mountaineers are on a roll, defeating Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State all since Jan. 28. The Mountaineers’ worst losses were to Virginia Tech (Nov. 12) and Purdue (Dec. 22). Bet they’d like to play both again.
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Georgetown (15-9, 6-6, RPI No. 57)
The Hoyas appeared to be sinking before a win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1 to give Georgetown three good neutral site wins (VCU and Kansas State are the others). An early season loss to Northeastern and a home loss to Seton Hall is a bad look, however.
Providence (16-9, 6-6, RPI No. 49)
The Friars reeled off five consecutive wins in January, including an 81-68 rout of Creighton, to get into the conversation. Road games, though, have halted the Friars progress since Jan. 30. Two winnable road games loom against Butler and Seton Hall.
St. John’s (15-9, 5-6, RPI No. 63)
Even with Sunday’s win over Creighton, St. John’s has work to do to erase the 0-5 start to conference play. That slump included a loss to DePaul, but that might not hurt as much as the non-conference schedule.
Xavier (17-7, 8-4, RPI No. 37)
The Musketeers lost three in a row after starting 5-1 in the league. Xavier may have the toughest stretch before the conference tournament with road trips to Georgetown and St. John’s and home dates with Creighton and Villanova.
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Indiana (14-9, 4-6, RPI No. 78)
A home loss to Northwestern and road losses to Nebraska and Illinois still overshadow the good things Indiana has done in Big Ten play.
Minnesota (16-8, 5-6, RPI No. 41)
True, Minnesota also lost to Northwestern and Nebraska, but the Hoosiers loaded up on teams ranked 200th or worse in the RPI in the non-conference schedule. The Gophers’ edge in the non-conference schedule, which included a game against Syracuse, accounts for the disparity in the RPI.
Feeling good: Wichita State
Indiana State (18-6, 9-3, RPI No. 55)
With Wichita State’s sweep of the Sycamores, the only way the Missouri Valley is a two-bid league is if the Shockers lose in the conference tournament.
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Arizona State (18-6, 7-4, RPI No. 40)
The Sun Devils picked up three critical bubble wins in the last five games with wins over Colorado, Cal and Oregon (only Cal was on the road). That run also included a road loss to Stanford. Saturday’s home date against a struggling Arizona team will be huge.
Cal (15-8, 6-4, RPI No. 51)
If a bubble team is going to go 1-4 in the middle of the conference season, the one win might as well be over previously undefeated Arizona.
Colorado (18-6, 7-4, RPI No. 25)
Losing Spencer Dinwiddie on Jan. 12 was a major blow, but the Buffaloes have started to show signs they can win without him. Granted, every win during this three-game streak was at home and two over over the Washington schools. This week’s road trips to UCLA and USC could be a turning point.
Oregon (15-8, 3-8, RPI No. 42)
At 3-8 in the Pac-12, Oregon has little room for error. A close call with Arizona and turning a 20-point deficit against Arizona State into a mere 2-point loss could signal a team starting to recover ... or it could be the last blow to a season that has fallen apart since the New Year.
Stanford (15-7, 6-4, RPI No. 44)
Road wins are important for bubble teams, and Stanford has them over UConn, Oregon and Cal. The rival Golden Bears returned the favor with a win in Palo Alto, but the Cardinal have no losses worse than Oregon State on the road.
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
LSU (15-7, 6-4, RPI No. 62)
Every good LSU win has been followed within a week by a momentum-sapping loss. A loss to Alabama followed the Missouri win. A loss at Georgia followed the Kentucky and Arkansas wins. Not a great look for a team with a home loss to Rhode Island already on the resume.
Missouri (16-7, 4-6, RPI No. 50)
Few teams are more pleased to see West Virginia surging as Missouri is. The Tigers are short on good wins with only one RPI top 50 victory (UCLA), but Missouri defeated West Virginia two days earlier. The Tigers' only SEC wins are over Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Ole Miss (16-8, 7-4, RPI No. 56)
The Rebels’ win over Missouri on Saturday was key to getting Ole Miss on the bubble. The next three games will be crucial. Georgia is a tough out in Athens, and then Kentucky and Florida visit Oxford.
Tennessee (15-9, 6-5, RPI No. 47)
The Volunteers have the most interesting non-conference resume of any SEC bubble team with a win over Virginia, a split with Xavier and losses to Wichita State, NC State and UTEP. Defeating fellow SEC bubble foes Ole Miss at home and LSU on the road could be a determining factor.
BYU (17-9, 9-4, RPI No. 43)
The Cougars’ best wins are over Texas on a neutral court and Stanford on the road, both of which seem much stronger than they were back in November. Three WCC losses to teams ranked 130th or worse in the RPI (Pepperdine, Portland, Loyola Marymount) are as bad as ever. Beating Gonzaga at home or in the WCC Tournament may be the only way in as an at-large.
Gonzaga (21-4, 11-1, RPI No. 21)
Mark Few’s team needed Saturday’s game at Memphis, but the that game slipped away. Even though the Bulldogs’ RPI is worthy, Gonzaga lacks the non-conference resume we usually see from the Bulldogs.
No one is going to confuse today’s game with Paul Westphal’s Loyola Marymount teams, but the tide may be turning.
Scoring had been creeping lower and lower in recent years, to a point where the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee hoped an emphasis on calling hand checking and reinterpreting the block/charge would open up the game.
The returns so far indicate scoring is up, in part because of more free throws and improved efficiency.
Meanwhile, teams and players are enjoying record-breaking offensive performances. The Big 12 scoring record was reset Saturday, more due to the inability of TCU to stop Melvin Ejim than any rule change. At the same time Duke is set to become one of the best offensive teams of the last decade by at least one metric.
This, unfortunately, was lost on anyone at the Oakland Zoo to take in Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh’s pillow fight Saturday.
College Basketball Key Stats of the Week: Feb. 11
71.68. Points per game, per team so far this season
Offense is back in college basketball. Scoring is up 4.04 points per team per game from last season, according to a statistical trend report from the NCAA. If the 71.68 points per game holds up by the end of the season, it will be the highest average since 1995-96. The tougher officiating on hand checks and arm bars seems to have done its job. Of the 4.04 additional points per game this season, 2.24 have come on free throws. Field goal shooting, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting rates all saw marginal improvements. More conference games, plus the postseason, may diminish the average numbers, but this is still a good sign for those who want to see the college game more wide open.
128.8. Duke’s nation-leading offensive efficiency rating on KenPom
Duke took over the No. 1 spot in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom with a rating of 128.8. As CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander noted, that figure will shatter the record for as long as Ken Pomeroy has been keeping his tempo-free statistics. These are the best offensive teams in Pomeroy’s ratings since 2003:
|KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Leaders Since 2002-03|
|2013-14 Duke||128.8||Jabari Parker|
|2004-05 Wake Forest||124.0||Chris Paul|
|2011-12 Missouri||123.9||Phil Pressey|
|2013-14 Creighton||123.8||Doug McDermott|
|2010-11 Ohio State||123.3||Jared Sullinger|
|2008-09 North Carolina|
|2004-05 North Carolina||121.9||Sean May|
|2006-07 Florida||121.5||Joakim Noah|
|2013-14 Michigan||121.4||Nik Stauskas|
|2011-12 Kentucky||121.3||Anthony Davis|
5. Players to have 45 points and 15 rebounds in a game since 1997-98
Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim pulled off one of the most rare performances in college basketball when he scored 48 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a win over TCU. He’s only the fifth player since 1997-98 to hit 45 points and 15 rebounds since 1997-98 and the first since 2005-06. Here are the others, according to data on bbstate.com:
2013-14: Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), 48 points and 18 rebounds vs. TCU
2005-06: Brion Rush (Grambling), 53 points and 16 rebounds vs. Southern
2003-04: Alex Loughton (Old Dominion), 45 points and 15 rebounds vs. Charlotte
2002-03: David West (Xavier), 47 points and 18 rebounds vs. Dayton
1997-98: Lee Nailon (TCU), 46 points and 16 rebounds vs. Hawaii
6. Points by Ejim in his next game
TCU allowed Ejim to score at will. Two days later, West Virginia shut down Ejim for only six points on 1 of 9 shooting. The Mountaineers defeated Iowa State 102-77 as Ejim was forced to take more shots from the outside, including four 3-pointers.
3. Wins for Kansas State over Kansas in Manhattan since 1983
As lopsided an in-state rivalry as any, Kansas State scored a rare victory by defeating Kansas 85-82 in overtime Monday. Kansas State overcame cramping and minor injuries to key players, not to mention coughing up a nine-point lead with 1:47 to go in regulation, to beat the Jayhawks in overtime. Since 1983, Kansas State has only three wins — in 2008, 2011 and 2014 — at home against Kansas.
46. Losing streak against Division I foes ended by Grambling
Since the end of the 2011-12 season, Grambling State’s lone win was over Division II Central Baptist College on Dec. 16. The Tigers ended their 46-game losing streak to fellow Division I opponents Monday with a 95-80 win over Alcorn State.
1. Field goal in 10 minutes of overtime in Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh
If scoring is up, no one told Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Panthers and Hokies set perhaps the season standard for offensive futility in a game involving two major teams. The two teams were tied at 48 at the end of regulation, and Pitt needed only one field goal among two overtimes to seal the win. Lamar Patterson had a layup in the first 20 seconds of the second overtime for the only basket in both extra frames.
93. Points per 100 possessions for Creighton against St. John’s this season
Even though they’ve split the series, St. John’s has Creighton’s number this season. The Bluejays average 93 points per 100 possessions against the Red Storm this season, well below their season average of 118. Creighton has been held to less than a point per possession three times this season, and St. John’s was on the other end of two of those games. Of course, it didn’t help when Creighton went 14 of 25 from the free throw line in a 70-65 loss Sunday.
941. Career assists for LIU Brooklyn’s Jason Brickman
Doug McDermott isn’t the only player ascending in the record book this season. LIU Brooklyn’s Jason Brickman passed Oregon State’s Gary Payton for 11th on the all-time assist list with 941 in his career. If Brickman keeps up his 9.9 assists per game pace for the remainder of the regular season, he’ll have 1,000 assists at the time of the Northeast Conference Tournament for a figure that would place him fourth all time and 76 behind record holder Bobby Hurley of Duke. Expect Brickman, who plays on a 7-16 team, to get more notoriety in the media this week: The next two assist leaders Brickman will pass are CBS analysts Doug Gottlieb (947 assists) and Greg Anthony (950).
3,645 Total points for Iowa’s father-son duo of Roy Marble and Roy Devyn Marble
Roy Devyn Marble’s 25 points against Michigan led a landmark win this season for Iowa, but it also helped Marble and his father move up the list of father-son duos in college basketball. As Terry Hersom of the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal notes, the Marbles moved into seventh place with a chance to move all the way up to fourth among father/son duos.
|Highest Scoring Father/Son Duos|
|5,024||Dell Curry, Virginia Tech (2,389)||Stephen Curry, Davidson (2,685)|
|4,568||Steve Burtt Sr., Iona (2,534)||Steve Burtt, Jr., Iona (2,034)|
|4,490||Dell Curry, Virginia Tech (2,389)||Seth Curry, Liberty/Duke (2,101)|
|3,883||Jimmy Walker, Providence (2,034)||Jalen Rose, Michigan (1,788)|
|3,675||Pete Maravich, LSU (3,671)||Josh Maravich, LSU (4)|
|3,671||Pete Maravich, LSU (3,671)||Jaeson Maravich, Alabama (0)|
|3,653||Rick Barry, Miami (2,988)||Jon Barry, Pacific/Ga. Tech (1,555)|
|3,645||Roy Marble, Iowa (2,116)||Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa (1,529)|
29. Years since SMU was last in the AP poll
After defeating Cincinnati on Saturday, SMU checked in at No. 23 in the Associated Press poll Monday. The ranking is the first for SMU basketball since March 5, 1985 when the Mustangs were ranked 20th under coach Dave Bliss (yes, that Dave Bliss). SMU was ranked as high as No. 2 that season before losing to Loyola (Ill.) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Worth keeping in mind SMU football hasn’t been ranked since 1986.
5. American Athletic Conference teams ranked this week
The polls may carry less weight in college basketball than in football, but still, who could have guessed that the American Athletic Conference would have the same amount of top 25 teams as the Big Ten as of Feb. 10? The AAC has five ranked teams this week: No. 10 Cincinnati, No. 13 Louisville, No. 20 Memphis, No. 23 SMU and No. 24 UConn. That’s more than the Big East and the SEC combined.
At the end of January, Iowa State appeared to be falling back to earth after a 14-game wining streak to start the season.
After a 2-4 swoon, the Cyclones may be playing some of their best basketball of the season thanks in part to the play of Melvin Ejim.
Ejim set a Big 12 record with 48 points in an 84-69 win over TCU on Saturday, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors. By adding 18 rebounds, Ejim joined Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley as the only three players to have 40 points and 15 boards in a game in Big 12 history.
Before Ejim’s breakout performance against TCU — admittedly the worst team in the Big 12 — the Cyclones senior had 22 points and 13 rebounds in a 98-97 triple overtime win over Oklahoma State. His double-double helped Iowa State end an 18-game losing streak in Stillwater.
Athlon Sports National Weekly Awards
National Player of the Week: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Ejim delivered perhaps the finest single-game performance in the history of the Big 12 conference. Iowa State’s senior forward scored a league-record 48 points (on 20-of-24 shooting) and added a career-high 18 rebounds to key Iowa State’s 84–69 win over TCU. Ejim bested the previous mark of 44 points, set by two Kansas State players — Michael Beasley in 2008 and Denis Clemente in 2009.
National Freshman of the Week: Marcus Foster, Kansas State
A lightly recruited guard from Wichita Falls, Texas, Foster scored a career-high 34 points — the most by a Kansas State freshman since Michael Beasley had 39 in March 2008 — to lead the Wildcats to a 74–57 win over Texas. Foster converted 13-of-16 from the field (including 5-of-8 from 3-point range) and has now scored 20-plus points in three of his last four games.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
Jett scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half — highlighted by a bucket with four seconds remaining to break a 63–63 tie — to lead Saint Louis to a two-point win at La Salle. The Billikens, who have won 16 straight games overall, are 9–0 in the Atlantic 10.
Other Top Performers:
T.J. Warren, NC State
Warren scored 27 points (nearly half of his team’s total) and grabbed seven rebounds in NC State’s 56–55 win at Miami — the Pack’s first road win in ACC play this season. Warren, a sophomore forward, has averaged 23.8 points in his last six games.
Seth Allen, Maryland
Allen poured in a career-high 32 points, including 21 in the second half, as Maryland beat Florida State 83–71 in College Park. A sophomore point guard, Allen missed the first 12 games of the season with a foot injury.
Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
Here’s a word you don’t often associate with Henderson — efficient. But that is the type of performance Ole Miss received from its shot-happy senior guard. Henderson scored 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting (8-of-15 from 3-point range) to lift the Rebels to a 91–88 win over visiting Missouri. Ole Miss has sole possession of third place in the SEC with a 7–3 record in league play.
Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech
Crockett was the forgotten star of a game that will unfortunately be remembered for Marcus Smart’s confrontation with a Texas Tech fan. Crockett, a senior forward, tied season highs in points (21) and rebounds (12) to lead the Red Raiders to a 65–61 win over Oklahoma State. Tech, under first-year coach Tubby Smith, improved to 4–6 in the Big 12. Last season, the Red Raiders went 3–15 in the league.
Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker bounced back from a subpar performance in Duke’s overtime loss at Syracuse to average 25 points and 12 rebounds as the Blue Devils coasted past Wake Forest and Boston College last week. The freshman from Chicago was brilliant Saturday at Boston College, setting a career high in both points (29) and rebounds (16) in the Blue Devils’ 21-point win.
Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
Banchynski scored a career-high 26 points, but it was his work on the defensive end that secured the Sun Devils’ 74–72 win over Oregon. The 7-2 center blocked nine shots, including Joseph Young’s layup at the buzzer, to help Arizona State to its fifth win in the last six games. On Thursday, Banchynski had 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks in an overtime win over Oregon State.
Kadeem Jack, Rutgers
Jack and the Scarlet Knights bounced back from a miserable performance at Memphis on Tuesday to beat South Florida 79–69 on the road Saturday night. Jack, a junior forward, led the way with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line.
Xavier Johnson, Colorado
Johnson averaged 23.5 points and 9.5 rebounds as Colorado swept a pair of games from Washington State and Washington last week. In a 91–65 win over Washington, Johnson had a career-high 27 points and was one of three CU players to score at least 20 points (Josh Scott had 21 and Asia Booker had 20).
Let’s face it: There aren’t many reasons college basketball would dominate the SportsCenter conversation these days. Even with the Super Bowl over, there’s the NBA and the Winter Olympics to dominate coverage.
Then, Marcus Smart shoved a fan in the final seconds of a loss to Texas Tech. The weekend could have been spent celebrating Iowa’s first major win of the season, Melvin Ejim’s record breaking day at Iowa State or Marcus Foster’s one-man wrecking ball performance against Texas.
Instead, Smart’s outburst will dominate the news cycle. Was the fan out of control? Did Smart’s intensity get the best of him? The answer is probably yes to both. In any event, a player whose intangibles were above reproach to start the season are now in question.
That wasn’t even the only unfortunate interaction between fans and players this week.
More on the Smart situation is available elsewhere on Athlon Sports. Here’s the remainder of the major news this week in college basketball.
10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend
1. Oklahoma State’s season takes another bad turn
Losing to Texas Tech for four consecutive losses and five in the last six games is bad enough for Oklahoma State’s season. The three-game suspension for Marcus Smart related to the shoving incident is the latest blow to a team that’s limping through the Big 12 season. Michael Cobbins is out for the remainder of the season, Stevie Clark has been dismissed, and without Smart, Oklahoma State is down to a six-man rotation without its best player.
2a. Iowa finally got its big win
Two things we knew about Iowa when Saturday started: The Hawkeyes can demolish the teams they’re supposed to beat and they can’t close against teams closer to their league. That changed a bit Saturday was Iowa defeated Michigan 85-67 to end an 0-5 start against the RPI top 20. Sure, the game was at home against a team that’s slumping, and Iowa never really had to play in crunch time. Still, it’s good to see this Final Four sleeper team make a statement against one of the top teams in the Big Ten.
2b. Roy Devyn Marble should be near the top of the Big Ten player of the year discussion
Marble was dominant against Michigan, especially in the first half. The senior finished with 26 points, all but four before halftime. He torched Michigan from 3-point range, hitting 6 of 10 shots from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, he drew the defensive assignment on Nik Stauskas. Michigan’s star guard was limited to only six shots from the field and 10 points.
2c. Teams have figured out how to defend Nik Stauskas
Stauskas at one point was the MVP of the Big Ten back when he scored 19 points a win at Michigan State on Jan. 25. The last three games, though, have been a problem. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Iowa’s Marble have been able to keep him in check as Stauskas is 5 of 15 from the field in the last three games. Michigan has been able to take a Big Ten lead without Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines clearly can’t absorb a slump from Stauskas.
3. Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim had perhaps the best game of the year
We’ve long been fans of Melvin Ejim around here, but Saturday was something new. Ejim scored a Big 12 record 48 points in the 84-69 win over TCU, a total that was also the best so far this season. He added 18 rebounds to put him in a class with Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant. More than the totals, Ejim was ridiculously efficient, going 20 of 24 from the field. TCU had no answer for him around the basket, but Ejim also hit two 3-pointers.
4a. Marshall Henderson did Marshall Henderson things
The Ole Miss shooting guard has been quiet in terms of his off-court persona, but he can still be just as prolific a 3-point shooter. Henderson scored 29 points on 8 of 15 3-point shots against Missouri, including two in the second half that held the Tigers’ rally at bay. The 91-88 win keeps Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament discussion despite road losses to Tennessee and Kentucky in the last two weeks.
4b. Missouri is in trouble
Whoever is the No. 3 team in the SEC after Florida and Kentucky, it’s not Missouri. The Tigers have lost three in a row to fall to 4-6 in the SEC and haven’t defeated a top-50 RPI team since Dec. 7 against UCLA.
5. Marcus Foster demolished Texas
Before Melvin Ejim pushed 50 points later in the day, Kansas State's Marcus Foster was the player of the day in the Big 12. The freshman scored 34 points to halt Texas’ hot streak and to pick up a key 74-57 win for the Wildcats. Foster was the star of the day with 13 field goals to Texas’ 18 as a team, but Kansas State may have played its best all-around game of the year. The Wildcats had 13 steals and held Texas to 32.7 percent shooting to halt a 1-3 streak.
6. Wichita State should get to Arch Madness undefeated
For weeks, Wichita State’s two-game road swing against Indiana State and Northern Iowa appeared to be the primary barrier to being undefeated for the Missouri Valley Tournament. The Shockers conquered both without much trouble defeating Indiana State 65-58 on Wednesday and Northern Iowa 82-73 on Saturday. The Shockers won’t face another RPI top 150 team until it faces No. 102 Missouri State in the regular season finale at home on March 1.
7. The team of the week was SMU
SMU basketball is a thing in 2013-14. The Mustangs had been building for Big East, and now American Athletic Conference, inclusion for a few seasons. Now, that work, the hire of coach Larry Brown and arena upgrades have come to fruition. SMU had been an NCAA contender for several weeks, but Saturday’s 76-55 win over No. 7 Cincinnati signaled that something more may be on the horizon. Entering this season, SMU hadn’t defeated a ranked team since 2003, but the Mustangs have defeated three in 2013-14.
8. Gonzaga missed its golden opportunity
Memphis’ 60-54 win over Gonzaga is the Tigers’ best win as far as the RPI is concerned (it’s Memphis’ third-best win according to KenPom). Make no mistake, Gonzaga needed this far more than Memphis. In crunch time, Gonzaga flopped. The Bulldogs took a 9-point lead with 5:15 to go, but hit one field goal thereafter. Memphis outscored the Zags 17-2 over the final 4:51 for the win. Gonzaga is 21-4, but no lock for an NCAA at-large bid. The Bulldogs’ only top 50 win is over BYU at home. Memphis was only the third top 50 team Gonzaga faced all year, and the West Coast Conference isn’t going to help the strength of schedule the rest of the way.
9. North Carolina, Kentucky overcame slow starts to win games they should win anyway
North Carolina and Kentucky have had their problems with consistency this season, so let’s give credit where it’s due. The Tar Heels fell behind by 9 at Notre Dame in the first half, but made easy work of the Irish the rest of the way in a 73-62 win. Kentucky was tied on the road against lowly Mississippi State at the 7:34 mark of the first half before pulling away for a 69-59 win. It’s nice for both to pull away for comfortable wins, but these early lapses — plus perimeter shooting — aren’t great signs for either teams’ postseason hopes.
10. Adreian Payne returned this week, but Michigan State still isn’t back to full strength
Tom Izzo had plenty of faith Saturday in Adreian Payne, who returned Tuesday from a nagging foot injury. Down 3 in the final 15 seconds against Wisconsin, Michigan State came out of a timeout and called for Payne to come off a screen to hit a 3-pointer. Payne hit the shot to tie the game with 12 seconds left. Wisconsin answered with just as gutsy a shot as Treveon Jackson scored on a mid-range jumper for the Badgers 60-58 win. The story, though, is Payne who finished with 24 points. The game still reinforced that the Spartans aren’t playing at full strength as Keith Appling missed his second consecutive game with a wrist injury. Branden Dawson’s return is still weeks away.
• St. John's is making up for lost time. One of the nation's biggest disappointments around January, the Red Storm defeated Creighton 70-65 on Sunday night for its sixth win in seven games. Look closer, and this emergence has been on the horizon. The last three losses have been by 2, by 2 in double overtime and by 3 on the road against Creighton. St. John's is back on the bubble.
• Pittsburgh lost credibility in a win. Pittsburgh needed two overtimes to beat Virginia Tech (8-15 overall, 1-10 ACC) on Saturday. The Panthers’ 62-57 win was one of the most unwatchable games involving a ranked team as Virginia Tech failed to hit a field goal in the final 13:07 — yet Pitt still needed two overtimes to put this team away. Lamar Patterson was dreadful, hitting only 1 of 9 shots against the Hokies.
• The Ducks are done. A team that started 13-0 will be hard-pressed to make the NCAA Tournament after Saturday. The Ducks fell to 3-8 in Pac-12 play in a 74-72 loss to Arizona State. The final score was close, but the Ducks fell behind by 20 early.
• Oklahoma got a win it needed to have by defeating Baylor 88-72. Isaiah Cousins, the Sooners’ fifth-leading scorer, finished with 21 points after a second-half surge. Before Saturday, Oklahoma had lost back-to-back road games to Iowa State and West Virginia.
• Minnesota ended a losing streak of its own, three games, with a 66-60 win over Indiana.
• Xavier ended a three-game losing streak by defeating Providence 59-53 to keep the Musketeers in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament spot. After a standout January, Providence has slid back to earth with three losses in the last four games.
• Arkansas finally picked up a quality conference road win with a 77-75 win over Vanderbilt. Before Saturday, the Razorbacks’ only SEC road wins under Mike Anderson were against Auburn.
• Georgetown won a game in which it shot 1 of 12 from 3-point range by defeating Butler 71-63.
In an interview before the season, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart said Texas Tech was his least favorite opposing arena.
“The atmosphere just isn’t there,” he said.
On Saturday, the atmosphere at Texas Tech was too much.
Smart, a preseason All-American and one of the top prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft, shoved a fan in the final seconds of Oklahoma State’s 65-61 loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock.
As he fouled Texas Tech’s Jaye Crockett on a fast break layup attempt, Smart fell to the floor behind the basket. As he got up, Smart reacted to a man in the front row behind the baseline, shoving Texas Tech spectator Jeff Orr.
Less than 24 hours later, the Big 12 suspended Smart three games, and Smart issued an apology. Smart's return will be Feb. 22 during a home game against this same Texas Tech team.
In a statement released by Texas Tech, Orr volunteered not to attend Texas Tech basketball games, home or away, for the remainder of the season. Orr also iindicates he called Smart a "piece of crap." Texas Tech also released a video with inconclusive audio.
A Cowboy Radio Network analyst told the Tulsa (Okla.) World he heard Smart tell Oklahoma State coaches that a fan called Smart a racial slur. In a Sunday afternoon news confernece, neither Smart nor Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford provided details on what the spectator said.
"I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies to Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Men's Basketball program," Orr said in the statement. "My actions last night were inappropriate and do not reflect myself or Texas Tech - a university I love dearly. I regret calling Mr. Smart a 'piece of crap' but I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind."
What’s clear is that no party comes out of this with any way to save face:
• Smart committed one of the most egregious acts an athlete can commit by physically confronting a spectator. The incident comes only games after Smart apologized on Twitter for losing his composure after a loss to West Virginia.
• The Big 12 officials assessed a technical foul on Smart but didn’t eject him, saying the rule book doesn’t provide for a disqualification for a player-fan confrontation.
• The Oklahoma State staff allowed Smart to linger on the court and on the bench despite only 6.2 seconds remaining in a game that had been decided. When Smart finally left the floor, the game had ended and Texas Tech fans were rushing the court. A incident could have escalated quickly.
• Orr’s conduct at games came under scrutiny following the incident.
The next step will be a suspension handed down by the Big 12 and Oklahoma State, probably both. The Cowboys have eight games remaining before the conference tournament.
The suspension, though, may end up being a footnote to how the incident shapes Smart’s reputation from now on.
Anyone who follows college basketball knows Smart as the player who came up from extreme poverty, who is one of the game’s great leaders and who shocked everyone by making a calculated risk to skip the NBA Draft.
Smart knew what he was getting into by returning to school — delaying his first NBA contract by a year and risking a drop in the draft. He often talked of the reward of returning and spending another year as a college student.
Smart also has to know he won’t escape this incident. College basketball is a niche game until the NCAA Tournament. Now, scores of fans know Smart as for this ugly confrontation first and the rest of Smart’s background second, if at all.
Entering this season, Smart's greatest assets were his maturity, leadership and intangibles. All that is in question.
Now, Oklahoma State’s season has spiraled out of control. An injury to Michael Cobbins hurt depth in the frontcourt. Smart’s backup, Stevie Clark, was kicked off the team after his second legal incident of the season. A team that was expected to contend for the Big 12 title has slipped to 4-6 and almost certainly will slide even further while Smart is suspended.
Smart himself has struggled. He had one of the nation’s most dominant performances of any player early in the year against Memphis. The last few weeks had been forgettable until Saturday. His reputation for flopping has been criticized. After a dismal game against West Virginia, Smart stormed off the court in a huff.
Smart returned to school to compete for a championship and dismissed criticism that he should have taken his shot at the NBA Draft.
“I bet on myself,” Smart told Athlon Sports in a preseason interview. “I know what I can do. I believe in my ability.”
The Cover 2 makes its return after a brief hiatus to talk all the big-picture news from Signing Day.
Braden Gall and David Fox explain why Alabama’s day was almost non-news and why Tennessee and Kentucky turned out to be the big winners.
Charlie Strong at Texas gave us a reason to look into recruiting in the state of Texas and whether his words about the virtues of being a “gadget program” have merit. Has Strong already fallen too far behind Coach Cool at Texas A&M?
Then, we talk about the most interesting long-term recruiting trend whether it’s USC vs. UCLA or Ohio State pulling away from the rest of the Big Ten.
If you're looking for a few stories referenced in this podcast, here is Travis Brown's survey of high school coaches for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, plus our Signing Day winners and losers and our consensus rankings.
The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.
Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615 on Twitter or email [email protected].
After last week, maybe college basketball needs a bit of a breather for the weekend.
Syracuse’s overtime win over Duke was the game of the year, but Saturday and Sunday also wrecked the top 25 with seven ranked teams losing to unranked foes.
This week, only two games will feature two ranked teams (Michigan-Iowa and Gonzaga-Memphis). On one hand, the weekend will lack a true No. 1 matchup, but the potential for chaos is still high.
Creighton, Texas, North Carolina and Oregon all face critical road trips while teams like Iowa and Gonzaga are getting into desperation mode for season-defining wins.
Navigating this week in basketball won’t be as easy as pointing you to Syracuse and Duke, but there’s plenty here to appreciate as the regular season enters its stretch run.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 8-9
Game of the Week:
Michigan at Iowa (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Big Ten has become a two-team race with Iowa dropping to 6-4 in the league with a Tuesday loss to Ohio State at home. The Hawkeyes have only one RPI top 25 win — over Ohio State in Columbus. Iowa has been tabbed as a potential NCAA sleeper with the Hawkeyes’ standout offense and flawless ability to take a care of business against lesser teams. Fran McCaffery’s team, though, needs to show it can beat an upper-tier Big Ten team if it’s to be taken seriously in the second weekend of the Tourney. Michigan rebounded from its first conference loss of the season last week against Indiana to take care of Nebraska 79-50 in Ann Arbor. Big Ten Player of the Year contender Nik Stauskas, though, has been in a slump, shooting 2 of 9 from the field for 15 points in the last two games.
Great Non-Conference Game:
Gonzaga at Memphis (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
This will be a key game for NCAA seeding, particularly for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ at-large resume is lacking a big wins, and this will be the last chance for the Zags to acquire one. Only one West Coast Conference team, BYU, is in the RPI top 40. The two teams in Memphis will be evenly matched, particularly at point guard where Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos will face the Tigers’ Joe Jackson in a meeting of two underrated veterans.
Creighton at St. John’s (Sunday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Welcome to Madison Square Garden, Doug McDermott. The National Player of the Year contender will play his first game in New York against a hot St. John’s team with the talent to get on a late-season roll and make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm’s only loss in the last five games came by three at Creighton on a McDermott 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Creighton is 8–1 in the Big East and leads the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency in conference games.
Tricky Road Trip:
North Carolina at Notre Dame (Saturday, noon, ACC Network)
The Tar Heels have recovered from a disastrous start in ACC play and once again appear to be a team capable of winning some games in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame has struggled to remain relevant in the ACC without Jerian Grant, who was lost for the season due to academics. Mike Brey’s team is very tough to beat at home — the Irish knocked off Duke in South Bend on Jan. 4 — but Carolina has the decided edge in talent.
Bubble Watch (East Coast Edition):
Providence at Xavier (Saturday, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Providence and Xavier are among a pack of teams fighting for third place — behind Creighton and Villanova — in the new-look Big East. Both teams feature star power, with Bryce Cotton leading the way for Providence and Semaj Christon continuing to shine at Xavier. The Musketeers, though, have been in a funk. Xavier has lost three in a row, starting with an 81-72 loss to Providence on the road. The Friars built momentum in January, but they’ve lost two of the last three to NIT-caliber team like Marquette and St. John’s. The loser of this game will be in some trouble.
Bubble Watch (West Coast Edition):
Oregon at Arizona State (Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
This is a key game between two middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 teams who figure to be fighting for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Arizona State rebounded from a slow start in league play and is now 5–4 with a three-game homestand looming. Oregon stopped the bleeding with a win over USC at home on Saturday, but the Ducks have not played well since the end of December. Arizona State’s dynamic point guard Jahii Carson will look to exploit an Oregon team that has struggled to guard anyone since conference play began. Carson is averaging 22.8 points per game in his last five.
Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
Baylor has been in a must-win situation for weeks now. The Bears are 2-7 in the Big 12, but they stopped a five-game losing streak with a surprising — and potentially season-saving — win at Oklahoma State last Saturday. This team has enough talent to work its way back into the NCAA Tournament picture. Oklahoma needs a victory in its own way after dropping back-to-back road games to Iowa State and West Virginia. The Sooners return to Norman against a team they defeated 66-64 on Jan. 18.
Best Potential for Fireworks:
Missouri at Ole Miss (Saturday, 5 p.m., SEC Network)
Two of the nation’s most feared 3-point shooters will be on display in Oxford this weekend when Marshall Henderson and the Rebels host Jabari Brown and Mizzou. Henderson’s overall shooting percentage is down from last season, but he’s been more accurate from 3-point range despite attempting more shots per game. Brown, the SEC’s leading scorer (20.1 ppg), is shooting 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Other Key Games:
Texas at Kansas State (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas went from being a nice story in the Big 12 to garnering national attention last week when the Longhorns smashed Kansas 81-69 in Austin. The Longhorns have defeated Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and KU in the last five games. Not bad for a team picked to finish anywhere from eighth to 10th in the Big 12 in the preseason. The Wildcats’ small frontcourt may have trouble with Texas big men Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes.
Cincinnati at SMU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
It’s gone largely unnoticed, but Cincinnati is off to a 10–0 start in the new American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats, who already have wins at Memphis and Louisville, will be tested on Saturday at suddenly relevant SMU. The Mustangs, under the guidance of Larry Brown, improved to 6–3 in the American with a resounding win over Memphis last weekend. SMU is closing in on its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993.
Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
Wichita State’s likelihood of getting to the Missouri Valley Tournament undefeated took another step when the Shockers defeated Indiana State 65-58 in Terre Haute for their toughest road trip of the conference season. Northern Iowa is traditionally a tough opponent in the Valley, but the Panthers are 11-12 and 5-6 in the league. Wichita State likely won’t play a top 100 team in KenPom again unless it catches the Sycamores in the MVC Tournament.
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Both teams hope they’re starting to return to form. Michigan State saw big man Adreian Payne return to the lineup Thursday against Penn State. Wisconsin ended its 1-5 stretch with a 75-63 win over Illinois on the road on Tuesday. Even in the win, the Badgers still let an opposing guard as Rayvonte Rice score 24 points in 30 minutes.
Athlon Sports' Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Determining the top spot this week was easy. Arizona lost. Syracuse won its biggest game of the season. And that’s that.
The rest of the rankings, though, remain difficult to determine. Wichita State, San Diego State and Florida are slicing through their schedules, continuing to move up by attrition.
The top teams in the Big Ten lost last week with Michigan falling to Indiana and Michigan State falling to Georgetown. Meanwhile, teams like Cincinnati and Virginia continued to make us believers with major victories in the last week.
All in all it's an exercise in momentum. One loss isn't enough to drop too far, but teams in cold snaps like Oklahoma State and Wisconsin are getting close to making us forget about all they did earlier in the season.
Here’s where everyone stands entering the weekend:
Related: College Basketball Weekend Preview
College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Feb. 7
1. Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 ACC)
This weekend: Clemson (Sunday)
Trevor Cooney tied a school record with nine 3-pointers in Monday’s win over Notre Dame. That’s also as many treys as he had in the previous five games combined.
Last week: 2
2. Arizona (22-1, 9-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: Oregon State (Sunday)
The Wildcats have been walking a tightrope in the last two weeks. Arizona has to be thankful to have escaped at 3-1 after another close call with Oregon on Thursday.
Last week: 1
3. Florida (20-2, 9-0 SEC)
This weekend: Alabama
How balanced is Florida? No single player accounts for 20 percent of the Gators’ scoring in conference games.
Last week: 3
4. San Diego State (20-1, 9-0 MW)
This weekend: Nevada
The Aztecs dodged their first loss since Nov. 14 when they overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Boise State. With the game-winning assist, Xavier Thames continues to state his case as an All-American.
Last week: 5
5. Wichita State (24-0, 11-0 MVC)
This weekend: at Northern Iowa
After defeating Indiana State on Wednesday, Wichita State won’t face another RPI top 100 team until it hosts Missouri State on the last day of the regular season.
Last week: 9
6. Villanova (20-2, 8-1 Big East)
This weekend: Seton Hall
Since a cold start to Big East play, James Bell is averaging 21.3 points in his last six games.
Last week: 8
7. Kansas (17-5, 8-1 Big 12)
This weekend: West Virginia
Naadir Tharpe in three games from Jan. 20-Feb. 1: 6 of 14 from the field, 21 points. Naadir Tharpe against Baylor on Thursday: 9 of 13, 22 points.
Last week: 4
8. Michigan (17-5, 9-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Iowa
On Sunday, Indiana was the first opponent since Charlotte on Nov. 24 to hold Michigan to less than a point per possession. The Wolverines responded with 1.2 points per possession against Nebraska.
Last week: 6
9. Michigan State (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Wisconsin
Adreian Payne returned Thursday in the win over Penn State, but now Michigan State is down Keith Appling.
Last week: 7
10. Creighton (18-3, 8-1 Big East)
This weekend: at St. John’s (Sunday)
The Bluejays score 40.4 percent of their points from the 3-pointer.
Last week: 10
11. Cincinnati (22-2, 11-0 American)
This weekend: at SMU
Sean Kilpatrick has averaged 25.3 points per game in the last four games as Cincy is running away with the AAC.
Last week: 14
12. Duke (18-5, 7-3 ACC)
This weekend: at Boston College
Mike Krzyzewski is showing more faith in Rasheed Sulaimon. The sophomore had 19 points and five assists against Wake Forest and 16 points and six assists against Syracuse.
Last week: 11
13. Iowa State (17-4, 5-4 Big 12)
This weekend: TCU
The next week or so will give Iowa State a chance to climb the Big 12 standings against TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
Last week: 20
14. Saint Louis (21-2, 8-0 A-10)
This week: at La Salle
The Billikens need to get through La Salle to set up the Atlantic 10 game of the year against VCU in a week.
Last week: 15
15. Virginia (18-5, 9-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Georgia Tech
Virginia’s bench outscored Boston College’s reserves 39-10 on Wednesday night.
Last week: 15
16. Iowa (17-6, 6-4 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan
The Hawkeyes fell out of Big Ten race due to inability to close out big games.
Last week: 12
17. Louisville (19-4, 8-2 American)
This weekend: Off
The Cardinals still have time to work out issues with an off week followed by Temple, Rutgers and USF.
Last week: 16
18. Kentucky (17-5, 7-2 SEC)
This weekend: at Mississippi State
Welcome back, Willie Cauley-Stein. The sophomore big man had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks Tuesday against Ole Miss.
Last week: 19
19. Texas (18-4, 7-2 Big 12)
This weekend: at Kansas State
The Longhorns are second in the Big 12 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.
Last week: NR
20. Memphis (17-5,7-3 American)
This weekend: Gonzaga
Six Tigers scored in double figures in 101-69 rout of Rutgers on Tuesday.
Last week: 22
21. Oklahoma (17-6, 6-4 Big 12)
This weekend: Baylor
Iowa State and West Virginia shredded the Sooners’ defense in the last two games.
Last week: 13
22. Oklahoma State (16-6, 4-5 Big 12)
This weekend: at Texas Tech
The Cowboys are 4-5 without Michael Cobbins this season and 3-3 without Stevie Clark. Neither will return this season.
Last week: 17
23. Wisconsin (18-5, 5-5 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan State (Sunday)
The Badgers last three Big Ten wins are over Illinois twice and once against Purdue.
Last week: 18
24. Gonzaga (21-3, 11-0 WCC)
This weekend: at Memphis
Even if the Bulldogs are down this season, they don’t have a true challenger in the West Coast Conference. Saturday will be huge for the resume.
Last week: NR
25. UCLA (17-5, 6-3 Pac-12)
This weekend: at USC
The Bruins strung together three nice wins (Stanford, Cal, Oregon) only to lose at Oregon State.
Last week: 24
Dropped out: No. 21 UConn, No. 23 Pittsburgh
What’s the fun in pinpointing that Doug McDermott is a strong contender for Big East Player of the Year? That’s a little obvious considering he’s the nation’s second leading scorer.
Of course, McDermott isn’t the only clear-cut player angling to be his league’s top player this season. The favorites for conference players of the year are more or less clear in many leagues.
Conference tournaments are roughly six weeks away, so we’re here to say the field for conference players of the year shouldn’t be set.
Granted, players like McDermott at Creighton, C.J. Fair at Syracuse, Jabari Parker at Duke and Nik Stauskas at Michigan are plenty deserving, but others are worth watching for top honors. These players maybe aren’t on the top teams, or they’re poised for great stretch runs, or they’ve only recently gone on hot streaks in league play.
Dark Horses for Conference Player of the Year honors
The Favorites: Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Jabari Parker (Duke)
Dark Horse: Rodney Hood, Duke
If Hood converts his dunk against Syracuse or goes to the free throw line on a Rakeem Christmas foul on Saturday, maybe Hood is up there with the leaders. Either way, he’s still getting less fanfare thanks to playing with perhaps the nation’s best freshman in Jabari Parker. Hood is second on the Blue Devils at 16.9 points per game, but leads them in scoring in conference games (16.4 ppg).
Dark Horse II: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Brogdon was 0 for 5 from the floor and scoreless in an embarrassing 87-52 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 30, but since then, he’s been Virginia’s most consistent player. Brogdon, who missed all of last season while recovering from foot surgery, has been more productive than teammate Joe Harris since conference play began. The sophomore guard is averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists since league play began.
Dark Horse III: Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Patterson is second only to T.J. Warren in scoring in conference games at 18.8 points per game, but the Panthers don’t have any wins over top teams in the league like Syracuse, Duke and Virginia. That may be enough of a knock on Patterson to keep him off a few ballots despite an outstanding season.
The Favorites: Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Shabazz Napier (Connecticut) and Russ Smith (Louisville)
Dark Horse: Markus Kennedy, SMU
The NCAA gets flak for being cold to athletes at times. Not for Markus Kennedy, though. Kennedy was able to surprise his mother in Philadelphia with a visit Saturday before the sergeant in the Air Force was deployed to Kuwait. SMU obtained a waiver from the NCAA to pay for the flight, but not until after Kennedy was 10 for 10 from the floor with 21 points and 15 rebounds in a key win over Memphis. Kennedy has five double-doubles in American Athletic Conference play for a team that should make its first NCAA Tournament in 21 years.
The Favorites: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
Dark Horse: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Is Ejim even the best candidate on his own team? That’s debatable. DeAndre Kane is putting up 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and six assists per game. Before Iowa State’s brief swoon in conference play, Kane was an All-America contender. Ejim, though, has been a rock in a frontcourt who has helped lift the Cyclones out of their recent slump. Ejim scored 44 total points and added 29 total rebounds in a sweep of the Oklahoma schools in a span of three days to lift his average to 18.8 points and eight rebounds in conference play.
Dark Horse II: Juwan Staten, West Virginia
If the Mountaineers were closer to playing in the NCAA Tournament, Staten would get more of a run for league player of the year. Still, West Virginia has improved from a tough out to a team able to beat teams with better postseason resumes (Baylor and Kansas State). The Dayton transfer is averaging 20.4 points per game in league play.
The Favorite: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
Dark Horse: Bryce Cotton, Providence
This is the league race with the least amount of suspense. McDermott could cap his stellar career as the National Player of the Year. Big East Player of the Year seems to be a given. In any other year, though, Cotton likely would be the guy. The Friars veteran is fourth in the Big East in usage rate, not a surprise considering he averages 21.3 points, 5.8 assists and 39.5 minutes per game. In a head-to-head matchup, Cotton scored 23 points to McDermott's 21 in the Friars' win on Jan. 18
The Favorites: Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Nik Stauskas (Michigan)
Dark Horse: Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
The Hawkeyes need to knock off one of the top teams in the league when the country is watching. Still, Iowa rarely plays down to its competition, and the Hawkeyes have no let downs on the schedule so far. Give credit to the veteran Marble, who averages 17 points per game in league play.
Dark Horse II: Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Another great player on a team that’s going to the NIT. The sophomore Petteway remade himself during his redshirt season after transferring from Texas Tech, and now the 6-6, 209-pound guard averages 18.2 points per game. His emergence came Jan. 26 with a 35-point performance against Minnesota.
The Favorite: Nick Johnson (Arizona)
Dark Horse: Chasson Randle, Stanford
Back from a sophomore slump, Randle is carrying Stanford to a potential Tournament bid. His shooting percentage has gone from below 40 percent last season to 48.1 all while the Cardinal has played most of the season without point guard Aaron Bright. Stanford still needs a few more key wins to feel good about a bid, but Randle is leading the way at 18.8 points per game.
Dark Horse II: Justin Cobbs, Cal
Cobbs’ season isn’t all that different from last year. He’s still averaging more than 15 points per game, and his efficiency numbers from the floor haven’t changed dramatically. But Cobbs is the go-to player this season after playing as the running mate to Allen Crabbe as a junior. Cobbs’ game-winning shot against Arizona, though, makes him a contender.
The Favorites: Jabari Brown (Missouri), Casey Prather (Florida) and Julius Randle (Kentucky)
Dark Horse: Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes is the only SEC player averaging a double-double in conference play, but McRae may be the most valuable down the stretch. McRae scored 34 against Arkansas and 26 in a critical win against fellow bubble-dweller Ole Miss. A year ago, McRae went on a streak of eight consecutive games with at least 15 points — including five in a row with at least 20 — down the stretch. After Wednesday's loss to Vanderbilt, Tennessee may need another stretch like that to make the NCAA Tournament.
This is the stage of the season where every coach starts to dread the unexpected.
More or less, we know what to expect from top teams around the country. Of course, there will be upsets and surprises, but for the most part we can count on the good teams to more often than not put a consistent team on the court.
Just take Cincinnati, even if this isn't a team that’s not many people’s idea of a title contender. But the Bearcats have been consistent in at least one way by putting the same five players on the court for every game.
Not every team is as lucky as Cincinnati. Injuries and personnel changes have impacted Oklahoma State and Arizona in ways that could derail their major goals for the season.
From the undefeated teams, to the teams dealing with curve balls and teams that just got a little lucky, here are the key stats of the week.
College Basketball Key Stats of the Week: Feb. 5
24. Teams since 1976 to be undefeated in time for the first polls of February.
Arizona’s loss to Cal means the Wildcats won’t join the elite group to make it to this point of the season with an unblemished record. With Syracuse and Wichita State undefeated at the time of the first AP poll of February, the Orange and Shockers have joined a group of 22 other teams since Indiana’s undefeated team in 1975-76 to be unbeaten at this point. Here’s how the other 22 fared.
1. Starting lineup used by Cincinnati this season.
The Bearcats are 10-0 in the American but still have their share of detractors. That’s not without good reason: Cincinnati’s non-conference schedule is ranked 315th on KenPom. But Cincinnati has wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville, so that has to count for something. What’s most remarkable for Mick Cronin’s team aside from Sean Kilpatrick’s scoring is that Cronin has used only one starting lineup in 23 games this season. Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, Tutus Rubles, Shaquille Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn have started every game this season.
64.6. Free throw percentage against Ohio State in the last two games.
Not that Ohio State has had anything to do with it, but the last two opponents’ struggles at the free throw line have helped the Buckeyes reverse their fortune. Wisconsin went 19 of 29, and Iowa went 12 of 19 from the line as the Buckeyes ended their slump with a pair of wins. To put those numbers in perspective, the 64.6 free throw percentage by Wisconsin and Iowa in the last two games would rank 325th nationally over the course of the season. And if you think home cooking is a factor here, consider that Ohio State was on the road for both dismal free throw shooting performances.
511. Minutes of experience lost by Oklahoma State without Michael Cobbins and Stevie Clark.
The Cowboys have a definite big four in Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, but the Pokes’ depth has been decimated in recent weeks with a season-ending injury to forward Michael Cobbins in late December and the dismissal of backup point guard Stevie Clark on Monday. They were only the seventh- and eighth-leading scorers, but their absence has been felt mightily. Combined, they played 511 minutes this season. The rest of the roster behind Cobbins and Clark has played 302 minutes.
8. Percentage points Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops without Brandon Ashley.
The loss of starting forward Brandon Ashely is a major hit for Arizona, which has played three consecutive less-than-dominant games. The last of which to Cal resulted in the Wildcats’ first loss of the season and last game with Brandon Ashley. As SI’s Luke Winn points out, Arizona will miss Ashley’s play around the rim. The senior shot 55 percent on 2-pointers this season. Take away his production and Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops from 51.2 percent to 50.4. That might not seem like a lot, but it was already middle of the road in the Pac-12. Without Ashley, Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops from fifth in the league to ninth.
1,403. Points lost in the AP poll by Wisconsin since Jan. 13.
Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State ensured that one team would end a slump and another would continued. The Buckeyes’ 59-58 win means the Badgers are still searching for answers. In less than a month, Wisconsin was ranked third in the nation with 1,482 points in the AP poll on Jan. 13. Five losses in six games later, and Wisconsin is unranked with only 79 points in the voting.
719. Points gained in the AP poll by Texas since Jan. 13.
Wisconsin’s fall in part has been mirrored by the rise of Texas. The Longhorns didn’t appear on a single AP ballot in the Jan. 13 poll. After winning six games in a row and four consecutive against ranked teams capped by Saturday’s 81-69 win over Kansas. The Longhorns are now ranked 15th.
2. Teams to defeat four ranked teams in consecutive games this season.
On Jan. 20, Kansas did something that hadn’t been done since 1997 by winning defeating four consecutive ranked teams in four games. Texas needed only two weeks to match the feat. The Longhorns defeated No. 8 Iowa State, No. 22 Kansas State, No. 24 Baylor and No. 6 Kansas to match the Jayhawks four-for-four streak earlier this year.
461. Career record for 3-pointers set by Oakland’s Travis Bader.
On Sunday, Oakland’s Travis Bader surpassed J.J. Redick for the most career 3-pointers. Redick left Duke with 457 3-pointers during his career. Bader hit 5 of 7 against Milwaukee, giving him 461 for his career. Just for fun: Marshall Henderson is averaging nearly 4 3-pointers per game in 54 games at Ole Miss. If he averaged that over the 128 games Bader has played at Oakland, Henderson would have 510 3s.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Syracuse’s undefeated start won’t be games like Saturday, when the Orange defeated Duke in overtime in a wild atmosphere at the Carrier Dome.
Instead, the end for Syracuse’s winning streak may be games like Monday. All the emotion from two days earlier had left the building as Syracuse got the best shot from a capable Notre Dame team. Save for 3-point sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, the entire Syracuse roster had an off night in the 61-55 win.
Wichita State will have its own challenge this week with road games against the second place team in the Missouri Valley (Indiana State on Wednesday) and another road trip to a team tied for third (Northern Iowa on Saturday).
Going undefeated is near impossible in college basketball. No team has made it to Selection Sunday undefeated since UNLV in 1990-91 before the Runnin’ Rebels lost in the Final Four to Duke.
Since Indiana finished the 1975-76 season undefeated, 24 teams have been unbeaten at the time of the first Associated Press poll in February.
Making this season more rare is the double of Syracuse and Wichita State unblemished to start the month. Since Indiana ran the table, two teams have been unblemished at this stage of the season only four times before 2013-14.
The last time two teams started February undefeated, a Jameer Nelson-led St. Joseph’s team and Stanford were both 18-0 at this stage of the season.
What can Syracuse and Wichita State expect for the remainder of the season? In all likelihood, a loss. The Shockers have the easier schedule, but they also haven’t won the Missouri Valley Tournament since 1987.
Here are a few other notables looking back at the teams undefeated at this stage of the season:
• In the last decade only three of the six teams that started February undefeated stayed that way into March. The best winning streaks to start the season since 2003-04 are as follows:
2004-05 Illinois (29-0, ended March 6 at Ohio State)
2003-04 St. Joseph’s (27-0, ended March 11 by Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament)
2003-04 Stanford (26-0, ended March 6 at Washington)
2007-08 Memphis (26-0, ended Feb. 23 by Tennessee)
2010-11 Ohio State (24-0, ended Feb. 21 at Wisconsin)
2011-12 Murray State (23-0, ended Feb. 9 by Tennessee State)
• Since Indiana went undefeated in 1975-76, only one other team undefeated at the start of February won the national title (2001-02 Duke), three others reached the title game (2007-08 Memphis, 2004-05 Illinois and 1978-79 Indiana State), and three topped out in the Final Four (1995-96 UMass, 1990-91 UNLV, 1980-81 Virginia)
• Jim Boeheim has been here before as his 1999-2000 Syracuse team started 19-0 before losing on Feb. 5 to Seton Hall. Among the coaches who also have twice reached the first week of February undefeated since 1975-76 include John Calipari at UMass and Memphis, Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV and Ray Meyer at DePaul.
• The names of players who have been undefeated at this point of the season is staggering: Larry Bird at Indiana State, Ralph Sampson III at Virginia, Michael Jordan at North Carolina and Christian Laettner at Duke.
|Undefeated in the first week of February since 1975-76|
|Wichita State (23-0)|
|2011-12||Murray State (23-0)||31-2||Round of 32 (lost to Marquette)|
|2010-11||Ohio State (21-0)||34-3||Sweet 16 (Ohio State)|
|2007-08||Memphis (21-0)||38-2||National runner up (Kansas)|
|2004-05||Illinois (23-0)||37-2||National runner up (North Carolina)|
|2003-04||Stanford (18-0)||30-2||Round of 32 (Alabama)|
|St. Joseph's (18-0)||30-2||Elite Eight (Oklahoma State)|
|1999-2000||Syracuse (20-0)||26-6||Sweet 16 (Michigan State)|
|1996-97||Kansas (22-0)||34-2||Sweet 16 (Arizona)|
|1995-96||UMass (21-0)||35-2||Final Four (Kentucky)|
|1991-92||Duke (17-0)||34-2||National champion|
|Oklahoma State (20-0)||28-8||Sweet 16 (Michigan)|
|1990-91||UNLV (18-0)||34-1||Final Four (Duke)|
|1987-88||BYU (15-0)||26-6||Round of 32 (Louisville)|
|1983-84||North Carolina (20-0)||28-3||Sweet 16 (Indiana)|
|DePaul (17-0)||27-3||Sweet 16 (Wake Forest)|
|1982-83||UNLV (18-0)||28-3||Round of 32 (Utah)|
|1981-82||Missouri (18-0)||27-4||Sweet 16 (Houston)|
|1980-81||Oregon State (17-0)||26-2||Round of 32 (Kansas State)|
|Virginia (18-0)||29-4||Final Four (North Carolina)|
|1979-80||DePaul (19-0)||26-2||Round of 32 (UCLA)|
|1978-79||Indiana State (20-0)||33-1||National runner up (Michigan State)|
|1976-77||San Francisco (21-0)||29-2||First round (UNLV)|
|1975-76||Indiana (18-0)||32-0||National champion|
Jim Boeheim called the win over Duke one of the best games he’d coached at the Carrier Dome. ESPN’s Dick Vitale called it one of the best games he’d ever called.
The only question: Why did it take so long for such a game to occur?
Syracuse and Duke lived up to its promise of two national title-contending teams meeting for the first time in 16 years, but it was only a slice of a chaotic basketball weekend.
Seven ranked teams lost to unranked foes on Saturday and Sunday. Five top-10 teams lost, not least of which was one of three remaining undefeated teams (Arizona) and one of the flavors of the week (Michigan).
That leaves Syracuse and Wichita State as the only undefeated teams in the country as the calendar turns to March.
The next question is how long these winning streaks can last. Both Pittsburgh and Duke pushed Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The Orange will play both on the road in February.
What appears to be the toughest road stretch for Wichita State begins this week with a trip to Indiana State on Wednesday and another to Northern Iowa on Saturday.
The 10 Most Important Things in College Basketball this Week
1a. We want more of what Syracuse and Duke delivered
Few regular season games can match what occurred at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Syracuse’s 91-89 win in overtime over Duke will stand with any NCAA Tournament game in 2014 as the highlight of the year. Two 900-win coaches went back and forth strategically, the stars performed, and unsung heroes made their impacts. If this is what an expanded ACC — with Louisville joining next season, mind you — we’ll take it.
1b. C.J. Fair and the Syracuse frontcourt delivered
Perhaps an outsized amount of attention has been given to Syracuse’s fantastic freshman point guard. True, Tyler Ennis came up with a key basket at the end and nine assists in the win over Duke, but this was the C.J. Fair show for a good bit. The veteran forward showed off his ability to score from any spot inside the arc, finishing 12 of 20 for 28 points. Jerami Grant added 24, including a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line. And Rakeem Christmas defended Rodney Hood on a potential dunk to take a lead with 14.3 remaining. Christmas could have been called for a foul, but the call never came, keeping Syracuse ahead.
1c. Duke is national title worthy
The Blue Devils had their lapses in ACC play, but there was enough Saturday to show Duke has the pieces for a title run. Jabari Parker was in foul trouble, but the Blue Devils kept coming back against undefeated team on the road. Most encouraging was the play of role players like Amile Jefferson with six offensive rebounds, Tyler Thornton with three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half and Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins combining for 30 points.
2a. Arizona is about to get tested twice over
Arizona’s first loss of the season seemed imminent in retrospect. On Wednesday, the Wildcats needed all 40 minutes to pull away for a 10-point win over Utah before a defensive stand and a late 3 from Nick Johnson finally put away Stanford. Saturday's late-night loss to Cal wasn’t so much a shocking loss for Arizona as much as it was a culmination of three consecutive less-than-dominant games. The bigger news is the season-ending injury to starting forward Brandon Ashley, who averages 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. The Wildcats can insert freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) or go with a three-guard lineup. Either way, this is will be a major adjustment for a team that has gotten this far without a major incident.
2b. This shot from Justin Cobbs:
3a. Rick Barnes has gone from hot seat to possible national coach of the year
After years of letdowns, Texas is basking in being one of the nation’s true surprise teams, a development that took one more giant step with a 81-69 win over Kansas in Austin. Rick Barnes may not win national coach of the year, but he should be in the discussion. Texas, the same team that lost to Houston in the CBI last season, has defeated four ranked teams in four games.
3b. Texas beat up Kansas up front
The most impressive part of Texas’ win? The way the Longhorns outworked Kansas around the basket. Forward Jonathan Holmes finished with 22 points and three blocks while center Cameron Ridley, a McDonald’s All-American who once appeared to be a bust, had 10 rebounds and four blocks. Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins entered the game on a two-game hot streak before finishing 2 of 12 from the field.
4a. Kentucky woke up, but there’s still reason to be worried.
Kentucky came back from a disconcerting loss to LSU to beat Missouri 84-79. That’s a good road win over one of the few NCAA contenders in the the SEC, but there’s still plenty here for John Calipari to nitpick. Kentucky still struggled to defend guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson as most SEC teams do. The Tigers duo combined for 21 of 34 shots and 61 points. Missouri got little outside of that pairing, however. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s four best freshmen combined for 73 points and showed a good spark after the LSU loss.
4b. Hello, Jabari Brown
5. Ohio State has stopped the bleeding while Wisconsin is still in a tailspin
The Buckeyes and Badgers started a combined 31-0 and went 1-9 thereafter. Someone had to win Saturday, and Ohio State waited until the final possession to seal the 59-58 win. The Buckeyes moved starter Shannon Scott to a more familiar role as the top guy of the bench. He and his replacement in the starting lineup, Sam Thompson, combined for only 11 points, but Ohio State was more aggressive in the offensive end. Wisconsin, though, struggled to find a shot for the second consecutive game, finishing 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
6. Yogi Ferrell is keeping things interesting for Indiana
Ferrell was one of the most impactful players of the weekend. He scored 27 points and guarded Nik Stauskas, who scored only six, in Indiana’s 63-52. It’s been tempting to write off the Hoosiers this season after losses to Nebraska on the road and Northwestern at home in recent weeks, but Indiana is still in the thick of the NCAA at-large conversation thanks to wins over Wisconsin and Michigan.
7. Michigan State needs Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson in the worst way
The Spartans perhaps stretched their roster as far as it could go without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Michigan State lost 64-60 to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden on Saturday in what might be the Spartans’ last game without Payne. Dawson’s return is weeks away, but Payne could rejoin the team against Penn State on Thursday after missing seven games. The Hoyas had lost five in a row.
8a. Baylor ended its funk in unlikely fashion
Baylor’s collapse ended (Scott Drew hopes) at a time no one could have envisioned. Baylor visited Stillwater with altered travel plays due to weather and no Kenny Chery due to injury. Even without its point guard, Baylor defeated Oklahoma State 76-70 for the Bears’ second Big 12 win. Gary Franklin had 11 points and five assists subbing for Chery, but Brady Heslip’s long-range scoring was the story of the day as Heslip hit six 3s in a 20-point performance.
8b. What’s wrong with Phil Forte and Marcus Smart?
Smart got his seven assists, but he has not been the Big 12 player of the year contender in recent games. Smart has been brutal from 3-point range in recent games, shooting 3 of 28 from beyond the arc in the last four games. The real question is why a 29.7-percent 3-point shooter is taking seven 3s against Baylor. Sharpshooter Phil Forte also was in a funk, going 0 of 4 from the floor. Oklahoma State hasn’t really been the same since forward Michael Cobbins was lost for the season, and now Stevie Clark is in trouble again. The freshman point guard was arrested for the second time this season during the weekend.
9. Virginia is legitimately in the race for the ACC title
The Cavaliers defeated Pittsburgh 48-45 on the road Sunday to put the Cavaliers in second place in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers don’t have the national notoriety of some of the teams in their league, but they’re right in the ACC race. Virginia is 7-1, already had its meeting with Duke and catches Syracuse at home. The sub-50 point total isn’t appealing, but the Cavs deserve credit for winning on an off night for Joe Harris (4 of 12, 11 points). Malcolm Brogdon was the hero again.
10. Larry Brown is going to the NCAA Tournament
SMU responded from its setback against USF to beat a ranked Memphis team 87-72 on Saturday, a major statement win for a team seeking to beef up its NCAA Tournament resume. As long as the Mustangs don’t collapse down the stretch, SMU can use these two top-50 wins (Connecticut is the other) for an at-large bid. SMU hasn’t been to the Tournament since 1993, and coach Larry Brown hasn’t been since leading Kansas to the 1988 title.
• Give credit to North Carolina freshman Kennedy Meeks playing a role in the Tar Heels quest for consistency. He had 20 rebounds in 39 minutes in the last two games as North Carolina has won four of five.
• While you were getting ready for Super Bowl festivities, UCLA lost 71-67 to Oregon State. Arizona has its questions coming out of the Cal loss, but UCLA continues to be one of a handful of Pac-12 teams without the ability to consistently defeated the lower-tier teams in the league.
• Point guard DeAndre Kane was the early frontrunner for Big 12 player of the year, but Iowa State forwards Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim have played a lead role in pulling Iowa State out of its funk. Niang had 27 points and Ejim had 22 points and 16 boards in the 81-75 win over Oklahoma on Saturday
• Chris Collins should be in the Big Ten Coach of the Year discussion even if his team won’t play in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern defeated Minnesota (minus Andre Hollins) 55-54 for back-to-back Big Ten road wins. The Wildcats are 5-5 in the league including wins over Wisconsin and Indiana on the road.
• Not a great look for Xavier: The Musketeers lost 68-60 at home to Seton Hall for its second consecutive loss. Xavier can’t afford many of those kinds of losses.
• Florida State’s stock has plummeted since starting 12-4. The Seminoles’ 53-49 home loss to Clemson was their fourth in five games.
• West Virginia is probably NIT-bound, but the Mountaineers had a nice week with a win at Baylor and a 10-point win over Kansas State. West Virginia needs all the momentum it can get. The schedule down the stretch is brutal.
The race for the national freshman of the year has been in flux for most of the season, which is great news for lists like these.
Jabari Parker started on a hot streak before Aaron Gordon took center stage in a head-to-head matchup between Duke and Arizona. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have both looked like Kansas’ best freshman at certain times. And the rest of the Big 12 — Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma — have provided candidates for the most underrated freshman of the season.
This week has a new No. 1 rookie after we picked Embiid seven days ago. This week, we’re going with Parker for the freshman trending upward thanks to three consecutive double-doubles for a team that’s entering its biggest showdown of conference play.
That game against Syracuse could change things up again thanks to the Orange point guard Tyler Ennis. But Kansas’ rookies can’t be ignored in a tough road trip against Texas and the Longhorns’ freshman Isaiah Taylor.
The Freshman 15: Jan. 31
1. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker is in fine form as the Blue Devils visit the Carrier Dome on Saturday with three consecutive double-doubles. The forward also set a Duke freshman record with 12 20-point games this season after a 21-point effort against Pittsburgh.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Has Wiggins reached the turning point of the season? The Oklahoma State game was not a shining performance from the rookie, but since then, he’s twice set career highs. The 27 points against TCU may be easy to overlook but not 29 points and seven rebounds against Iowa State on Wednesday. He was 18 of 29 from the field this week.
3. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid’s per game numbers since Jan. 11 are impressive enough (13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds), but he is averaging 20.8 points and 13 rebounds per 40 minutes.
4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis is third in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play (2.9) and second in assists (5.4) and steals (2.0).
5. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Arizona’s close call against Stanford on Wednesday was not helped by a five-point performance by Gordon in one of the few off games of the season. Gordon shot 5 of 23 from the field last week.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle struggled on both sides of the court just like everyone for Kentucky in the 87-82 loss to LSU on Tuesday. Defenses are collapsing on Randle, but he’s still averaging 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds.
7. James Young, Kentucky
Young was one of the few Wildcats making shots in the loss to LSU, hitting 8 of 18 from the field for 23 points. His shot hasn’t been consistent all season, but he’s shot 51.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in the last three games.
8. Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
The point guard of one of the nation’s surprise teams, Woodard had 18 points and only two turnovers in his matchup against Marcus Smart for Oklahoma’s signature win of the season.
9. Isaiah Taylor, Texas
Taylor broke out with 27 points in the 74-60 win over Baylor on Saturday, the Longhorns third consecutive win over a ranked team (though Baylor won’t be ranked for much longer).
10. Jordan Mickey, LSU
The Tigers’ top freshman has helped LSU make a push onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in recent games, averaging 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in his last four games.
11. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh grabbed only three rebounds in the loss to Nebraska on Thursday, but that followed three consecutive double-digit game. Vonleh, however, remains a limited threat in the offensive end.
12. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
The Huskies won’t go to the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Pac-12 tourney, but Williams-Goss is having an outstanding season at point guard for Lorenzo Romar. He’s filled up the stat sheet with 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists while breaking out for 32 points against Oregon State on Saturday.
13. Derrick Walton, Michigan
Walton has come into his own in recent games as Michigan's point guard, highlighted by 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in the signature win at Michigan State on Saturday.
14. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Foster had his worst game of the season on Tuesday with 2 points on 1-of-8 shooting against Texas Tech, but he’s still averaging 12.9 points in Big 12 games.
15. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Portis has returned to form in recent games even if Arkansas has not. The power forward had 16 points and seven rebounds against Missouri and 18 points and nine rebounds against Auburn in the last two games.
Take a break from Super Bowl preparations Saturday — and Sunday — to watch a little college basketball. Trust us.
While last weekend was short on top matchups, this week promises plenty of key storylines on heading into the biggest sports day of the year.
The showdown between Duke and Syracuse is the top game of the week as the Blue Devils appear to have solved some of their defensive shortcomings just in time for their first trip to the Carrier Dome.
The meeting will be the first between Jim Boehiem and Mike Krzyzewski since the 1998 NCAA Tournament when Duke defeated Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Since then, the two coaches have combined for three national championships and reached the 900-win marks at their respective schools.
In other games, top contenders face tricky road matchups against surprise teams. Kansas faces Texas in Austin as the Longhorns have been one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12. Arizona dodged Stanford on Wednesday, but its trip to the Bay Area will continue against a Cal team that is in NCAA Tournament contention.
Related: This week's NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 1-2
Game of the Week:
Duke at Syracuse (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Blue Devils have the outside shooting to attack the Orange’s zone defense, ranking fifth nationally 3-point efficiency (41.4 percent). Meanwhile, Duke’s recently reacquired ability to defend will be tested. The Blue Devils held Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson to 4 of 14 shooting on Monday, but defending forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will be another challenge. Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis didn’t have his best game of the season in the road scare Wednesday against Wake Forest, but this should still be a showdown between two of the nation’s top freshmen in Ennis and Jabari Parker.
Related: College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings
Baylor at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
It’s time to panic in Waco. The Bears, who beat a Colorado (with Spencer Dinwiddie) and Kentucky in non-conference action, dropped to 1–6 in the Big 12 with Tuesday’s home loss to West Virginia. This team is too good to be sinking to an NIT bid. Baylor has been nothing short of inept since conference play started. Oklahoma State’s situation isn’t as dire as Baylor’s, but the Cowboys have lost two of their last three games and struggled to beat West Virginia at home.
Arizona at Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Arizona’s undefeated start, now at 21 games, has been tested in the last two games. The Wildcats’ 10-point win over Utah on Sunday was more hotly contested than the final score indicated. On Wednesday, Arizona held Stanford to one field goals in the final 9:30 to escape Palo Alto with a win. Cal has lost three in a row, but Mike Montgomery’s team is solid on both sides of the court and has some nice veteran leadership in the form of senior guard Justin Cobbs and senior big man Richard Solomon. It would not be wise to pick against Arizona, but don’t be shocked if this game goes down to the wire.
Tricky Road Trip:
Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Texas continues to be one of the nation’s biggest surprises. The Longhorns lost their top four scorers from the worst team of the Rick Barnes era, yet somehow find themselves among the upper echelon of the Big 12 with a 5–2 mark in league play. Kansas, of course, remains the team to beat. The Jayhawks, loaded with elite talent, are 6–0 in the Big 12 and appear to be getting better every game. Andrew Wiggins, the subject of lofty expectations to start the season, has set career highs in the last two games with 27 points against TCU and 29 against Iowa State.
Virginia at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Both teams are darlings in the advanced analytics world with Pitt ranked 12th in KenPom and Virginia one step behind. That’s with good reason. Both teams play sound basketball on both ends of the court, and with the exception of Virginia early in the season, neither loses games to inferior competition. That said, neither team has taken down a upper-echelon team this season.
Best Individual Matchup:
Oklahoma at Iowa State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler, a Gonzaga transfer, may be one of the top rebounders in the country. After a 17-board game against Oklahoma State on Monday, Spangler is averaging 13.5 rebounds in his last six games. The rematch will pit Spangler against Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim for the second time this season.
Odd Non-Conference Game:
Michigan State vs. Georgetown (Saturday in New York, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Michigan State steps out of Big Ten play for a trip to Madison Square Garden to play a Georgetown team that has lost five games in row. The Hoyas, thought by many to be a legitimate Big East title contender, slipped to 3–6 in the league with a loss at home to Villanova on Monday night. When healthy, Michigan State is arguably the best team in the country. The Spartans, however, have not been healthy in weeks. The game is part of a basketball showcase the day before the Super Bowl, including Marquette at St. John’s and the Miami Heat at the New York Knicks.
Other Games to Watch:
Ohio State at Wisconsin (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Ohio State and Wisconsin don’t lose on the same day very often, much less both both at home to Penn State and Northwestern. The two teams were among the last undefeated teams in the country, but Wisconsin has lost four of five while Ohio State has lost five of six. Wisconsin has had a hard time defending guards on the perimeter including Minnesota’s Drew Mathieu and Northwestern’s Drew Crawford. Ohio State, meanwhile, has been a mess on offense since conference play began.
Kentucky at Missouri (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Kentucky’s season hit a low point this week with a listless performance Tuesday against LSU. The Wildcats had no answer for Tigers big man Johnny O’Bryant, who scored 29 points. Missouri isn’t built the same way, but guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson are among the most prolific scorers in the SEC. Missouri’s season hasn’t gone as well as the Tigers would have hoped, but the are coming off a win at Arkansas.
Memphis at SMU (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Larry Brown has worked wonders in his second season at SMU, putting the Mustangs into NCAA Tournament contention. The 78-71 loss to USF on Tuesday was a notable setback, though, meaning the Mustangs need to reassert themselves against a top American Athletic Conference team. This visit from Memphis on Saturday figures to be the most anticipated home game for the program in decades. The Tigers have been inconsistent, but Josh Pastner’s team has all the right pieces — talented young players, veteran leadership, solid guard play and quality big men.
Michigan at Indiana (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Michigan is fresh off one of the best eight-day stretches in school history. The Wolverines sandwiched wins at Wisconsin and Michigan State around a win at home against Iowa. This team is 7–0 in the Big Ten — and has done it without preseason All-American Mitch McGary. Indiana, treading water in the tough Big Ten, has a win over Wisconsin (at home) on its résumé, but the Hoosiers sure could use another quality victory to impress the selection committee.
The number of undefeated teams remaining in college basketball has remained steady at three since Jan. 14.
Saturday may be the single day that’s most likely to change.
Granted, the three undefeated teams — Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State — are all likely to be favored this weekend. But the weekend will still be tricky for at least two of them.
Arizona has been flirting with its first upset in the last two games, and now visits a well-coached Cal team. Syracuse will face the best team of any of the unbeatens, though, when Duke makes its first trip to the Carrier Dome. Wichita State is the least likely to lose this weekend against an Evansville team with a losing record. The Shockers’ biggest tests will come next week.
Arizona and Syracuse may be staying put at Nos. 1-2 heading into the weekend, but there’s been movement elsewhere.
Related: This week's NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Jan. 31
1. Arizona (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Cal
The second half against Stanford showcased the best of Arizona this season: Stifling defense and a big shot from Nick Johnson.
Last week: 1
2. Syracuse (20-0, 7-0 ACC)
This weekend: Duke
The Orange have played three of the last four games on the road, but the Carrier Dome crowd gets back-to-back marquee games against Pittsburgh and Duke
Last week: 2
Related: Duke-Syracuse highlights weekend
3. Florida (18-2, 7-0 SEC)
This weekend: Texas A&M
The Gators finally got a resolution from the NCAA on stud freshman Chris Walker, but he won’t be able to play until Tuesday against Missouri.
Last week: 4
4. Kansas (16-4, 7-0 Big 12)
This weekend: at Texas
Andrew Wiggins has set career highs in back-to-back games, but don’t forget about Naadir Tharpe, who had 12 points and 12 assists against Iowa State on Nov. 29.
Last week: 5
5. San Diego State (18-1, 7-0 Mountain West)
This weekend: Colorado State
The Aztecs haven’t lost since Nov. 14, but offensive efficiency remains in question. San Diego State ranks 302nd nationally in effective field goal percentage.
Last week: 6
6. Michigan (16-4, 8-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Indiana (Sunday)
Going by the numbers, Michigan’s offense is better this season than it was with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. a year ago.
Last week: 14
7. Michigan State (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: vs. Georgetown (New York)
The Spartans’ loss to Michigan on Saturday was as deflating as any defeat, so give a ton of credit to Michigan State recovering for an overtime road win over Iowa on Tuesday.
Last week: 3
8. Villanova (18-2, 7-1 Big East)
This weekend: at Temple
In most seasons, a three-game road trip against Marquette, Georgetown and Temple would be tough. Not this season. The Wildcats can sweep the whole thing.
Last week: 8
9. Wichita State (22-0, 9-0 Missouri Valley)
This weekend: Evansville
The Shockers haven’t been challenged since Missouri State took them to overtime on Jan. 11. Will that change next week at Indiana State and at Northern Iowa?
Last week: 7
10. Creighton (18-3, 8-1 Big East)
This weekend: DePaul (Friday)
Doug McDermott’s historic season continued with a game-winning 25-footer and season-high 39 points against St. John’s on Tuesday.
Last week: 11
11. Duke (17-4, 6-2 ACC)
This weekend: at Syracuse
Recent lineup change has Quinn Cook coming off the bench along with Andre Dawkins.
Last week: 16
12. Iowa (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
The Hawkeyes are as sound a team in the country, but Iowa is 0-5 against RPI top 25 teams.
Last week: 12
13. Oklahoma (17-4, 6-2 Big 12)
This weekend: at Iowa State
The Sooners’ entire starting five averages double-digit scoring.
Last week: NR
14. Cincinnati (20-2, 9-0 American)
This weekend: USF (Sunday)
The Bearcats had a light non-conference schedule, so the Bearcats have made the most of wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville.
Last week: 20
15. Saint Louis (19-2, 6-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: George Mason
The Billikens are 21-1 in their last 22 Atlantic 10 games including the league tournament.
Last week: 13
16. Louisville (17-4, 6-2 American)
This weekend: UCF
Point guards Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had miserable games Thursday in a loss to Cincinnati.
Last week: 10
17. Oklahoma State (16-4, 4-3 Big 12)
This weekend: Baylor
The Cowboys are 1-3 in Big 12 road games. They’ll be happy to return to Stillwater for back-to-back games to start February.
Last week: 9
18. Wisconsin (17-4, 4-4 Big Ten)
This weekend: Ohio State
The Badgers got burned by another top guard in Drew Crawford in the Northwestern loss, and Badgers players not named Ben Brust shot 8 of 39 against the Wildcats.
Last week: 17
19. Kentucky (15-5, 5-2 SEC)
This weekend: at Missouri
Kentucky played little defense in an 87-82 loss to LSU. The Wildcats need to rebound in a hurry.
Last week: 19
20. Iowa State (15-4, 3-4 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma
The Cyclones tested Kansas in Lawrence on Wednesday but came up short in an 92-81 loss.
Last week: 18
21. UConn (17-4, 5-3 American)
This weekend: Off
It’s nearly February and Shabazz Napier still leads the Huskies in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
Last week: 21
22. Memphis (16-4, 6-2 American)
This weekend: at SMU
Only 30 teams take a lower rate of 3-point shots among all their attempts from the field than Memphis’ 26.2 percent.
Last week: 22
23. Pittsburgh (18-3, 6-2 ACC)
This weekend: Virginia (Sunday)
Talented forwards Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna will be tested against a stout defensive team in Virginia.
Last week: 15
24. UCLA (17-4, 6-2 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Oregon State
Many teams have tried, but the Bruins have proven they are the second-best team in a solid Pac-12.
Last week: NR
25. Virginia (16-5, 7-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Pittsburgh (Sunday)
Malcolm Brogdon has been one of the breakout players in ACC play, averaging 15.1 points per game in the last eight.
Last week: 25
Dropped out: No. 23 UMass, No. 24 Minnesota
Beyond the quarterbacks, Tennessee and Wisconsin have their fair share of rooting interests in the Super Bowl.
Led by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, no school will have more of their former players in the Super Bowl than the Volunteers. Manning and three others play for Denver.
Wisconsin isn’t far behind with four players in the Super Bowl. Wilson is one of three Badgers on the Seahawks 53-man roster heading into Sunday.
Beyond the colleges for the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, certain corners of the state of California will be watching their own favorite sons. The state of California produced 22 players on Super Bowl rosters, as many as the next two states combined.
Athlon Sports mapped the 53-man rosters for both the Seahawks and the Broncos by college and high school. Here’s what we found:
The maps are interactive. Zoom in and out to check different areas and find names of each player. The Broncos are marked in orange, and the Seahawks are marked in green.
Where the Super Bowl players went to college
• Gary Andersen may be the coach with more reasons to brag than others. On the one hand, he can sell the four Super Bowl players at his current stop at Wisconsin, including running back Montee Ball for the Broncos and linebacker O’Brien Schofield, defensive back Chris Maragos and Wilson for the Seahawks.
Andersen, a first-year coach in 2013, can’t really play up player development for those four, but he can for linebacker Bobby Wagner and running back Robert Turbin, two Seahawks who played for Andersen at Utah State.
• After Tennessee (five) and Wisconsin (four), some of the usual suspects have three players in the Super Bowl: Florida, Georgia, Stanford, Texas and USC.
Among the surprises with three apiece include Kentucky (linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard and tight end Jacob Tamme), San Diego State (running back Ronnie Hillman, linebacker Heath Farwell and long snapper Aaron Brewer) and Texas Tech (wide receiver Wes Welker and guards Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez).
• NC State has up to four players in the Super Bowl, assuming you count Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback graduated from NC State before transferring to Wisconsin. The other NC State products in the Super Bowl are linebacker Nate Irving, defensive end J.R. Sweezy and kicker Steven Hauschka.
• Schools conspicuously absent from the Super Bowl include rivals Ohio State and Michigan.
• The SEC rules again: The league’s current lineup produced 22 players in the Super Bowl from 10 different schools. Only Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are absent.
After the SEC’s 22, the Pac-12 checked in with 16 and the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten with 11 each.
Where the Super Bowl players went to high school
A tip of the hat to Dallas Jackson of NationalHSFootball.com for his charts of each players' high school details. Check his site for where each player ranked as a recruit:
Denver Broncos | Seattle Seahawks
• California led all home states with 22 players taking up 106 roster spots. The Golden State’s high total isn’t that surprising. However, that California’s total equalled that of Texas (12) and Florida (10) is surprising considering all three are considered on equal footing in recruiting.
The next most represented states were Georgia (eight) and Virginia (six).
• Two high schools will have two players each in the Super Bowl: Norfolk (Va.) Maury claims graduates Kam Chancellor, a Seattle defensive back, and Vinston Painter, a Broncos offensive tackle. Both went to college at Virginia Tech.
Colony High in Ontario, Calif., produced Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Denver cornerback Omar Bolden.
The ceiling for the 2013-14 Kentucky team continues to be a moving target.
Before the season, Kentucky's fantastic freshmen had Big Blue Nation thinking national championship and quietly talking about running the table.
The gaudy record was put in doubt by the third game of the season with a loss to Michigan State. That the Spartans were a veteran team also ranked in the top three raised few red flags. Then came losses to Baylor and North Carolina, talented but inconsistent squads. The 73-66 win over Louisville on Dec. 28 seemed to be a turning point, at least until SEC play started.
Then came the SEC speed bumps. Arkansas was a fluky game in officiating, lost on a last-second putback. Few teams win in Fayetteville, anyway.
Losing at LSU on Tuesday isn’t totally embarrassing on paper, but Kentucky never led, rarely defended and often looked disinterested. In short, it was a game that could be a harbinger of things to come or a wake-up call.
No, Kentucky’s not on the NCAA Tournament bubble quite yet, but the Wildcats have only two RPI top-50 wins and four losses to teams ranked between No. 51-100. Kentucky has hardly looked the part of a team capable of winning four to six NCAA Tournament games in a row.
So what’s gone wrong and how worried should Kentucky fans be with six weeks to Selection Sunday?
What’s Gone Wrong at Kentucky?
Kentucky doesn’t always do that team thing
Only a few weeks ago, John Calipari reiterated that his team is full of freshmen who at this time last year were the centerpiece of their teams. Against college veterans, one freshman can’t win a game on his own. That’s valid — Kansas had a learning curve with its young roster, and Duke’s Jabari Parker had his own adjustment period after storming out of the gates. But it’s nearly February, and Kentucky’s rookies don’t always look like they enjoy playing together. This is a cliche argument, but instances like this only reinforce the lack of chemistry. For example:
(h/t @DrewFranklinKSR of KentuckySportsRadio.com).
The “What are you doing?” factor
Kentucky’s fate likely was sealed in the 87-82 loss to LSU in the final seconds even after three Aaron Harrison 3-point baskets helped cut a 10-point deficit to five. But with 11 seconds left, Kentucky never fouled, allowing LSU to dribble the clock out. ESPN color commentator Dan Dakich was exasperated. “What are you doing?” Dakich asked in disbelief. Before the late-game blunder, Dakich also was critical of Kentucky’s effort, saying “LSU is competing and Kentucky is just playing.” The statement summed up the loss all too well. Not that Calipari would disagree: “I'm still having to coach too much,” he said after the Texas A&M win on Jan. 21. “Having to get on guys too much.”
Point guard play is lacking
Andrew Harrison was the top-ranked point guard in the 2013 signing class, but he’s hardly looked the part this season. Harrison had one assist and four turnovers against LSU. He’s averaging four assists per game in SEC play, good for fourth in the league, but Harrison hasn't been a facilitator. The passing problem isn’t isolated to Harrison, though. It’s team-wide. “Whenever they got the ball, they tried to shoot it,” Calipari said after the win over Georgia on Saturday. “If they couldn't shoot it, they tried a little bit more to shoot it, and then one more thing to try to shoot it, and if they couldn't shoot it they passed it.” Kentucky is 12th in SEC conference games in assists per field goal at 46.3 according to KenPom.com.
Kentucky can get destroyed on the interior
Against LSU, Kentucky had no answer for big man Johnny O’Bryant (29 points on 12 of 20 shooting) whether the Wildcats tried Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle or Dakari Johnson. The problem wasn't limited to Kentucky’s defensive end or this game. LSU blocked 11 shots, the most against Kentucky during the Calipari era. And 10 days earlier, Tennessee grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against the Wildcats.
Julius Randle can’t take over
In three SEC games, Randle has been held to 10 points or fewer. That Randle still averages 16.1 points per game is somewhat remarkable given the way teams gang up on him defensively. The triple-teaming of Randle and physical play is partly a function of the supporting cast. The Harrisons and James Young haven’t always made teams pay for focusing so much on Randle.
The Big Question: Can Kentucky find out what’s right?
The 2014 Kentucky team will hope for a repeat of 2011. That season, the Wildcats went 10-6 in the SEC, with all the losses coming on the road. Once Kentucky got on neutral courts, the Wildcats won the SEC Tournament and reached the Final Four. And while Kentucky this season never expected to start February with five losses, the other four defeats aren’t nearly as bad as LSU. But where are the big statements? The win over Louisville remains the high point of Kentucky’s season, but what’s the next-best moment on which the Wildcats can brag? Putting away Tennessee in the second half in Lexington? Look at the resume: Louisville and Tennessee may be the only wins over NCAA at-large bid teams on the schedule. Kentucky’s problems are more related to effort, chemistry and decision-making rather than personnel. That may be a doomsday scenario for the Wildcats.