Articles By David Fox
Throughout the final months of the college basketball season, Athlon Sports will take a quick snapshot of key movers in the potential NCAA field. Who's moving up? Who's moving down? Who's on the bubble and who's off? What can we expect in the coming days from these teams.
We start with Kentucky, which has followed up its national title season with a year of postseason uncertainty. The Wildcats defeated Ole Miss 87-74 on the road for their best win of the season, which is good news for UK’s Tourney hopes.
|By the numbers|
Record: 14-6, 5-2 SEC
Strength of schedule: 52
Best wins: No. 39 Ole Miss, No. 63 Maryland
Worst losses: No. 78 Texas A&M, No. 62 Alabama
Reasons for optimism
In the numbers game: Kentucky lacked a top-60 win until Tuesday night, when the Wildcats picked up an 87-74 road win over Ole Miss. The Wildcats’ victory was a good two-fer: Defeating an opponent in the top 40 of the RPI and doing so on the road. Although it’s been a disappointing season for Kentucky, the Wildcats have few bad losses. An 83-71 home loss to Texas A&M is the worst mark on Kentucky’s NCAA resume, now that the Wildcats have picked up a top-40 win.
In the real game: Kentucky’s talented, for sure, but it’s been a long wait for a group of potential first-round NBA draft picks to put it together. Freshman Nerlens Noel is having a standout defensive season. Meanwhile, sophomore Kyle Wiltjer has been an unexpected spark on offense. He scored 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting against Ole Miss and has averaged 16.4 points in his last five games.
Reasons for concern
This remains a young team that is a week removed from a 59-55 loss to Alabama. The Wildcats are 13th in the SEC in turnover margin in conference games, thanks to forcing the fewest turnovers in the league (9.7 per game). The SEC will offer more opportunities for bad losses than good wins in the remainder of the schedule. The margin of error is slim.
Related: A new No. 1 in our weekly power rankings
Kentucky is probably in the field as of today, but the Wildcats need to mind the schedule for the remainder of the season. Facing RPI No. 7 Florida twice in the final eight regular season games is probably good news for a team anchored by freshmen. Otherwise, Florida and No. 28 Missouri are the only top-75 the Wildcats will face in the regular season. In comparison, Kentucky will face two teams ranked 200th or worse (Auburn and Mississippi State) and three more ranked 100th or worse (South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Georgia).
A light week of college basketball, relatively speaking, should come to a thrilling end.
Michigan at Indiana has the potential to be one of the best games of the season, with both teams in the top three, with rosters containing Player of the Year candidates and with both playing some of the best basketball in the country on the offensive end of the floor.
And that’s the finale on Saturday. The undercard is a matchup between Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson, who has quickly become a lightning rod in the SEC, going on the road against the best team in the league.
Elsewhere, the week is a little short on great matchups. The Big 12 will be worth watching, however. Baylor and Oklahoma are in Tournament contention, but both teams need to pick up some wins to convince skeptics.
All times Eastern.
Related: Key stats from last week
JAN. 30 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET UPDATE
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Michigan at Indiana (Saturday, 9 p.m, ESPN)
If only the actual game lives up to the hype: The top two teams in the nation’s top conference, have made returns to national title-winning status. For now, though, the Big Ten is on the line. Michigan hasn’t won an outright conference title since 1985-86. Indiana hasn’t won one in 20 years. Another subplot is the matchup between Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Indiana’s emerging player of the year candidate Victor Oladipo. And from an NCAA Tournament perspective, the winner of this game could be on track for a No. 1 seed.
Related: Michigan takes top spot in power rankings
ALL EYES ON: Baylor
Oklahoma (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
at Iowa State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2)
Baylor’s 5-1 in the Big 12. Missed it? That’s because the Bears have played few teams of note in the league other than a 61-44 loss to Kansas. Baylor has defeated Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and TCU (twice) on the way to second place in the Big 12. Now, the Bears face three consecutive NCAA contenders, with two on the road. Time to find out where Baylor’s ceiling might be.
UNDER PRESSURE: Oklahoma
at Baylor (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
We know Oklahoma is better in its second year under Lon Kruger. We know the Sooners are in the NCAA Tournament mix. But we also know the Sooners aren’t good enough to defeat stingy defensive teams like Kansas State and Kansas on the road. The Sooners will find out of those road woes extend to Waco on Wednesday. And Saturday will match the top two scorers in Big 12 games - Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder (18.7 points per game) and Oklahoma’s Romero Osby (18 ppg).
at Notre Dame (Wednesday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Providence (Sunday, noon, Big East syndication)
Villanova may have done enough in one week to erase three losses (Alabama, Columbia, La Salle and Temple) in November and December. The Wildcats defeated top-five Louisville and Syracuse at home last week to return to NCAA contention. Now, Nova goes on the road to Notre Dame. The Wildcats like to get to the free throw line, so facing a tough opponent who does a good job of protecting its home court will be interesting. Villanova scores 28.3 percent of its points from free throw line, a stat that leads the nation.
at Florida State (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication)
Wake Forest (Saturday, 2 p.m., ACC syndication)
Early this month, Maryland was a mystery team because it played few quality opponents other than Kentucky in the opener. Now, there’s little mystery: Maryland’s not ready for ACC contention. The Terrapins have lost four of their last six, but they found room to defeat NC State 51-50 during that span. Maryland desperately needs better play in the backcourt: The Terps are last in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio and turnover margin in conference games.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH: Ohio at Akron (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPNU)
Akron gained a little notoriety this week with its to wear jerseys with the Zips' Twitter handle on the back as part of Social Media Night, but this game should stand on its own as a key mid-major contest with or without gimmicks. Both teams are 6-0 in the MAC. Led by NCAA Tournament-tested guard D.J. Cooper, Ohio faces a bigger Akron team that’s played well on the offensive and defensive glass this year.
Iowa State at Oklahoma State (Wednesday, 8 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Oklahoma State may be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Cowboys have to pick up better conference wins than TCU (9-11), Texas Tech (9-9), an West Virginia (9-11).
New Mexico at Wyoming (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ROOT Sports)
Wyoming hasn’t been the same since Luke Martinez ran into off-court trouble and ended up suspended. The Cowboys are 3-4 since then, but they can still guard. New Mexico is coming off a 34-point effort against San Diego State.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
James Southerland has been gone for a few weeks. Now center Dajuan Coleman is out for four weeks due to knee surgery. Numbers are dwindling for Syracuse.
Miami at NC State (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Fun fact: Miami defeated Florida State and Duke by a combined 51 points last week. The Hurricanes scored 51 points in their loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the second game of the season.
Ole Miss at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Marshall Henderson against the best team in the SEC, in front of rowdy fans on the road -- we’re in.
UNLV at Boise State (Saturday, 9 p.m., Time Warner Cable Sports Net)
UNLV is looking for its talented lineup to find consistency. Meanwhile, NCAA Tournament hopeful Boise State has lost three of four.
Marquette at Louisville (Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Marquette is quietly sitting atop the Big East standings with Syracuse, but no one seems to consider the Golden Eagles a major player in the league. Vander Blue averages 17.1 points per game in the Big East after a 30-point outburst against USF.
Wisconsin at Illinois (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Illinois is in trouble after a hot start. A home game against a stingy defensive team is a tall task and maybe a must-win.
With nearly 350 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
21, 7 and 6: Victor Oladipo’s stat line against Michigan State
The idea of Victor Oladipo being Indiana’s most important player would have been ludicrous at the start of the season. The same statement seemed bold in November and December. Now, it may be perfectly clear that Oladipo, not Cody Zeller, is the Hoosiers’ most logical pick for Big Ten Player of the Year. In the 75-70 win over Michigan State on Sunday, Oladipo was a true stat-sheet stuffer with 21 points, seven rebounds (four on offense), six steals and three blocks. Another worthy stat out of that game: Michigan State was 5 of 6 from the free throw line, the Spartans’ fewest attempts since a loss to Michigan on Jan. 17, 2012. Indiana, on the other hand, was 13 of 20 from the free throw line.
91: Points NC State scored on North Carolina, most since 2002
NC State picked up a key win for its psyche on a couple of fronts by defeating North Carolina 91-83 on Saturday. The victory over the Tar Heels eased the sting of two losses (Maryland and Wake Forest) in three games since the win over Duke on Jan. 12. Beyond that, the Wolfpack ended a streak of futility in the series with North Carolina. NC State’s 91 points against the Tar Heels was the most it had scored against North Carolina since a 98-76 win on Feb. 24, 2002. The Wolfpack, who led by as much as 28 in the second half, ended a 13-game losing streak to the Heels. Coupled with the victory over Duke, NC State defeated each of its Tobacco Road rivals in the same season for the first time since 2002-03. The Wolfpack still must face both on the road this season -- Duke on Feb. 7 and North Carolina on Feb. 23.
2: Top-five wins for Villanova
Villanova started the season with lopsided losses to Alabama, Columbia and Temple by early December, but the Wildcats could be in NCAA Tournament contention after defeating Louisville 73-64 on Tuesday and Syracuse 75-71 in overtime Saturday. Most remarkable about Villanova’s week was the Wildcats’ work against two of the best guards in the Big East. Louisville’s Russ Smith went 2-of-13 from the field against ‘Nova. Later, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams had four assists against the Wildcats, his fewest since the opener against San Diego State. Carter-Williams also went 4-of-17 from the field.
61: Years since La Salle beat ranked teams in consecutive games
Between Villanova and La Salle going a combined 4-0 against ranked teams, this was not a bad week for Philadelphia teams. La Salle defeated No. 9 Butler 54-53 on Wednesday and No. 19 VCU 69-61 on Saturday. The back-to-back wins over ranked teams was the first for La Salle since the Explorers defeated three top-25 teams in a row in the 1952 NIT.
38.7: Louisville’s shooting percentage during its losing streak
Less than two weeks ago, Louisville was mentioned as one of the nation’s top teams capable of making another run to the Final Four. Now, the Cardinals are in a tailspin with three consecutive losses. Louisville’s offense has become increasingly erratic, as the Cardinals made 38.7 percent of their shots from the field (63 of 163) in the last three games. Before the losing streak, Louisville converted 45.7 percent of its shots from the field. More worrisome for Rick Pitino, his team is getting progressively worse: Louisville shot 40.7 percent against Syracuse, 39.7 percent against Villanova and 34.8 percent against Georgetown on Saturday.
4: Ranked teams that went 0-2 last week
Louisville wasn’t alone in its struggles last week, but the No. 5 Cardinals were the highest ranked team to lost both of its games. Four teams in the Associated Press top 25 went 0-2 this week: No. 11 Kansas State lost to Kansas and Iowa State, No. 12 Minnesota lost to Northwestern and Wisconsin as part of a four-game losing streak, and No. 19 VCU lost to Richmond and La Salle. K-State's 59-55 home loss to No. 3 Kansas on Monday was the only one of the eight previously noted losses to come to a ranked team.
4: Points scored in the first half by Northern Illinois
Pertinent question for DeKalb, Ill.: How is Jordan Lynch’s jump shot? Northern Illinois set new marks for futility by scoring four points in the first half against Eastern Michigan. Four. And that’s just the start. The Huskies’ four points broke their own Division I record for fewest points in half during the shot clock era set earlier this season with five points against Dayton on Dec. 1. Northern Illinois tied the mark for fewest field goals in a half by going 1 of 31, including 0 for 17 from three-point range. At least Northern Illinois’ sports information department found the silver lining.
34: Points scored by New Mexico against San Diego State
Northern Illinois wasn’t alone in its offensive ineffectiveness, at least. New Mexico lost 55-34 to San Diego State on Saturday, scoring its fewest points of the shot-clock era. The Lobos also shot 25 percent (11 of 44) from the field, their lowest rate since at least 1965.
8: Offensive rebounds for Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski
Arizona State dominated the paint in the Sun Devils' 78-60 win over UCLA, but the most important number may have been Jordan Bachynski’s performance on the offensive glass. His eight offensive rebounds matched UCLA’s team total and exceeded Bachynski’s defensive rebound total against the Bruins (seven). In addition to six blocks and 22 points, Bachynski was one of three Sun Devils to pick up 11 or more rebounds. Arizona State also outscored UCLA 46-26 in the paint.
24.3: Points per game in SEC road games for Marshall Henderson
Ole Miss fans may call their star guard passionate. Fans of other teams will Marshall Henderson a cocky, brash trash-talker -- if they’re being nice. Henderson, a junior college transfer, has turned the fortunes of Ole Miss, who are 6-0 in the SEC and on track to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Andy Kennedy. But Henderson is the most disliked player in opposing gyms, and we assume that’s the way he likes it. After scoring 15 points, including the game-winning free throws at Auburn, Henderson popped his jersey in front the Tigers student section after the 63-61 victory. Averaging 24.3 points in conference road games, Henderson has relished the boos in opposing SEC gyms, but the Rebels are 3-0 in such games. Left on Henderson’s road schedule: Florida on Saturday, Missouri, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU.
24, 9: Points and assists by Rotnei Clarke in his return against Temple
Butler split its two games without leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, defeating Gonzaga and losing to La Salle. In Clarke’s first game back since his frightening neck injury, the guard scored 24 points with nine assists. He did most of his damage from the free throw line (13 of 14) while going 4 of 14 from the field and 3 of 10 from three-point range in the 83-71 win over Temple.
Perhaps the best sign of the Big Ten’s depth this season is the revolving door of teams as the flavor of the week.
Indiana started the season as the preseason No. 1. Then, Illinois won the Maui Invitational and started 12-0. After that, Minnesota teased us with a 15-1 start, culminating in a rout of Illinois on the road. And all the while Michigan has spent most of the season knocking on the door of the No. 1 spot in the polls.
Now, Michigan State has a turn. Tom Izzo's Spartans lead the Big Ten at 6-1, one win ahead of Indiana and two ahead of Michigan. Every other Big Ten team has at least two conference losses.
One of these teams can take a sense of control in the Big Ten on Sunday. Indiana is looking for a more complete showing than what the Hoosiers have displayed in recent weeks. After the loss to Wisconsin at Assembly Hall, Indiana had fits in the second half with Northwestern. On Thursday, the Hoosiers defeated Penn State soundly, but Cody Zeller had his worst game of the year.
Meanwhile, Michigan State has show a knack for winning the close games. The Spartans may have lucked out against Ohio State thanks to an ill-advised final shot from Buckeyes guard Shannon Scott, but Michigan State came back to grind through a 49-47 win at Wisconsin.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Michigan State at Indiana
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
Michigan State probable starters
G Keith Appling (6-1/190, Jr.)
G Gary Harris (6-4/205, Fr.)
G Branden Dawson (6-6/230, So.)
C Derrick Nix (6-9/270, Sr.)
C Adreian Payne (6-10/240, Jr.)
Indiana probable starters
G Yogi Ferrell (6-0/178, Fr.)
G Jordan Hulls (6-0/182, Sr.)
G Victor Oladipo (6-5/214, Jr.)
F Christian Watford (6-9/232, Sr.)
C Cody Zeller (7-0/240, So.)
Game-defining matchup: Adreian Payne vs Cody Zeller
Zeller is coming off his worst game of the season, in which he went 0 for 4 from the field in 21 minutes against Penn State. The Indiana center should bounce back, but he’ll run into a tough matchup against Payne. The Spartans big man has had a breakout season and watched his own four-game hot streak come to an end the last time out against Wisconsin. If he can run the floor with Zeller and cause problems around the basket, Michigan State will be in good shape.
Player we’re watching: Keith Appling
The Spartans’ point guard hit a handful of key shots on the way to 19 points in the ugly 49-47 win over Wisconsin on Tuesday. After struggling for a bit, he’s had a good two-game stretch in close games against the Badgers and Ohio State. He’s 12 of 30 from the field in the last two games.
Stat that matters: Indiana’s free throw opportunities
The Hoosiers’ 73-percent rate from the free throw line isn’t among the top 50 in the country, but Indiana gets its fair share of points from the line. Part of that is because the tempo Indiana likes to run, but also because of the pressure the Hoosiers put on the defense. Indiana is fouled on 30.2 percent of possessions, a rate that leads the Big Ten. Not surprisingly, nearly a quarter of the Hoosiers’ scoring (24.7 percent) comes from the line, a stat that also leads the league.
How Michigan State can win: Slow the game down
Wisconsin frustrated Indiana by slowing the pace in the Hoosiers’ 64-59 loss on Jan. 15. Michigan State is much more adept at playing the grinding, low-scoring game than Indiana -- the Spartans defeated Wisconsin 49-47 and Ohio State 59-56 in the last week. Limiting the nation’s top-scoring team in transition will be a key to victory.
How Indiana can win: Win the backcourt matchup
Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell is coming off his best game of the season (it was against Penn State, so don’t get too excited). Will Sheehey appears to have broken out of a slump. And Victor Oladipo has played well against Michigan State in the past. Those are good trends for Indiana against Michigan State, especially if Indiana can limit production from Appling and Branden Dawson, who combined for 37 of the Spartans’ 49 points against Wisconsin.
Prediction: Indiana 80, Michigan State 75
Related: NCAA Tournament projections and bubble watch
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
Louisville at Georgetown (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Georgetown was sharp offensively in a surprisingly easy win at Notre Dame on Monday night, but the Hoyas have had trouble scoring with consistency for much of the season. Louisville is one of the nation’s elite defensive teams — easy baskets will be tough to come by for Otto Porter and the rest of JT3’s club, even at home.
Maryland at Duke (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Poor shooting (39.4 percent) has doomed Maryland through the first three weeks of the ACC season, and Duke is coming off a 4-of-23 performance from the three-point line in the lopsided loss to Miami. The Blue Devils are 2-4 the last two seasons without Ryan Kelly in the lineup.
Kansas State at Iowa State (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Iowa State took Kansas to overtime on Jan. 9 and won three in a row thereafter. But then the Cyclones delivered a puzzling loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Kansas State, despite a loss to Kansas, should remain in the Big 12 race all season because the Wildcats defend very well and get after it on the glass.
Minnesota at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The Golden Gophers are on a three-game losing streak after getting beat up on the glass in a surprising loss to Northwestern. Now, the Gophers visit Madison, where Minnesota won only once in its last 15 games. With back-to-back losses to Iowa and Michigan State after the upset of Indiana, Wisconsin also needs a win to keep itself afloat in the Big Ten.
Oklahoma at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
We’re not ready to call Oklahoma a legitimate contender in the Big 12, but the Sooners are 4–1 in the league after Monday’s win over Texas. Lon Kruger clearly has this program on the right path. Kansas features one of the nation’s top freshmen in guard Ben McLemore and an elite shot-blocker in center Jeff Withey. This is a very tough task for the Sooners.
New Mexico at San Diego State (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
San Diego State shot a combined 43-of-126 (34.1 percent) overall and 5-of-37 from three (13.5 percent) in recent losses to UNLV at home and at Wyoming. That, obviously, has to improve. New Mexico is the only team without a loss in Mountain West play while every other MWC team has two or more league losses.
Temple at Butler (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Without Rotnei Clarke, Butler has had two thrilling finishes against Gonzaga (a win) and La Salle (a loss). Clarke is hopeful to return against the Owls after a frightening neck injury on Jan. 12. Temple guard Khaliff Wyatt is averaging 24.8 points in his last four games.
North Carolina at NC State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
After an 0–2 start in the ACC, North Carolina won at Florida State, blew out Maryland at home and handle Georgia Tech on the road. UNC still struggles to shoot the ball from the 3-point line and doesn’t get to the foul line enough, but the Heels are good enough to be a threat in the ACC. Since defeating Duke, NC State has lost two of its last three, including a defense-optional loss to Wake Forest.
Florida State at Miami (Sunday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
This is one of the biggest weeks in years for Miami basketball. The Hurricanes are the only unbeaten team (5–0) in the ACC after the rout of Duke. Rival Florida State is searching for answers on the offensive end of the floor after scoring only 36 points in a 20-point loss at Virginia last weekend.
Michigan at Illinois (Sunday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Illinois won its first 12 games under new coach John Groce, but the Fighting Illini went 3–5 over their next seven games. Illinois is far too reliant on the 3-point shot to enjoy sustained success throughout the entire season. Michigan is more balanced on offense, but the Wolverines still don’t do a great job of getting to the foul line. Only 15.8 percent of their scoring comes from the line, which ranks 333rd in the nation.
Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Even on Super Bowl Sunday, the SEC is king.
The SEC is represented more than any other conference on the Super Bowl rosters with 17 players for the Ravens and 49ers playing their final collegiate season in the SEC. That does not include three more players who played their college ball for SEC newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M when both schools were members of the Big 12.
SEC fans bragging about the league’s top-to-bottom balance will find that displayed in Super Bowl XLVII. Other schools sent more alums to the Super Bowl, but no league will be as uniformly represented in the Superdome.
Twelve of the SEC’s 14 teams are represented on Super Bowl rosters with only Kentucky and Vanderbilt missing. Even Ole Miss with linebacker Patrick Willis and offensive tackle Michael Oher made a strong showing. Only the Big Ten is as uniformly represented in the Super Bowl with 10 of 12 teams sending players to New Orleans (Minnesota and Northwestern are the exception).
From conferences and schools to draftees and free agents, here’s how Baltimore and San Francisco were built on the way to the Super Bowl:
Unless otherwise noted, we are working off active 53-man rosters, not including practice squads or injured reserve.
|Most represented schools on Super Bowl XLVII rosters|
|4: Marshall, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, Utah|
|2: Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Rutgers, Texas Tech, Virginia, Washburn|
The one place the Miami college football dynasty continues is in the Super Bowl. Five former Hurricanes will play in Super Bowl XLVII, and they’re not just players taking up space. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are future Hall of Famers anchoring the Ravens’ defense, and Frank Gore led the 49ers in rushing. The Ravens’ Bryant McKinnie was a starting offensive tackle in the league for 10 seasons before this year. 49ers linebacker Tavares Gooden is not a starter, but he owns the distinction of playing for both teams.
Related: Five reasons the Ravens will win the Super Bowl
Five schools sent four players to the Super Bowl. Three of those aren’t a total surprise: Ohio State, Oregon and Texas. Joining those power programs with four players on Super Bowl rosters are Utah (nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu, linebacker Paul Kruger and wide receiver David Reed for the Ravens and quarterback Alex Smith for the 49ers) and Marshall (safety Omar Brown and linebacker Albert McClellan for the Ravens and wide receiver Randy Moss and safety C.J. Spillman for the 49ers).
19 schools sent two players to the Super Bowl, and one of them is more obscure than Delaware, which contributed Baltimore starting quarterback Joe Flacco and rookie lineman Gino Gradkowski. Washburn University, a Division II program in Topeka, Kan., has two former players in the Super Bowl. Former Ichabod Cary Williams is a starting cornerback for Baltimore while Michael Wilhoite is a backup linebacker for San Francisco.
Related: 15 greatest plays in Super Bowl history
According to USA Today, Nebraska has the longest streak of sending a player to the Super Bowl. A Cornhusker has played for the NFL title for 20 consecutive years. Baltimore punter Sam Koch represents Nebraska this season.
Among notable schools not represented in the Super Bowl: Oklahoma and USC, not even on the practice squads.
Every current SEC school except Kentucky and Vanderbilt will be represented in the Super Bowl. Every current Big Ten school except Minnesota and Northwestern made an appearance on the active rosters for the Super Bowl.
The only Football Bowl Subdivision conference to be shut out of the Super Bowl is the Sun Belt.
Of the six major conferences, the Big 12 and Big East will have fewer than half their membership absent from the Super Bowl. Only four of the 10 Big 12 schools are represented (Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech). Only three Big East schools are represented (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Rutgers).
Here's the breakdown of the Super Bowl rosters by conference. We've included the count both by a team's conferene alignment during a given player's final season and by each team's current conference alignment.
|CONFERENCE||By alignment in player's final season||By current alignment|
HOW THE ROSTERS WERE BUILT
Both teams are similar in how they’ve assembled the roster in the Super Bowl. Baltimore drafted 30 members of its 53-man roster while San Francisco drafted 29. The 49ers haul includes nine first-round picks.
|HOW ACQUIRED||Baltimore||San Francisco|
|Draft - first round||6||9|
|Draft - second round||7||2|
|Draft - third round||3||4|
|Draft - fourth round||3||3|
|Draft - fifth round||5||1|
|Draft - sixth round||4||5|
|Draft - seventh round||2||5|
|Undrafted free agent||9||5|
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
As the college basketball season nears the end of the first month of the new year, the standings still reveal a handful of surprises.
Instead of Arizona and UCLA, Oregon is atop the Pac-12. Ole Miss is undefeated in the SEC, though the Rebels have yet to run into the Florida steamroller. Meanwhile, Miami is the only team unscathed in ACC play.
The Hurricanes will have perfection tested this week when they play host to Duke, and on the other side of the country, UCLA and Arizona will try to reclaim a pice of Pac-12 dominance when the two meet at the McKale Center.
Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the postseason.
All times Eastern.
JAN. 23 BRACKET UPDATE
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
UCLA at Arizona (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
Just about every preseason source had either UCLA or Arizona as the top team in the Pac-12 (Athlon picked Arizona). Five games into the conference season, and both are chasing Oregon. Arizona bounced back from its loss to the Ducks to defeat Arizona State 71-54 on the road. Meanwhile, UCLA will need more from freshman Jordan Adams, who didn’t have a field goal against Oregon on Saturday.
Related: Key stats from last week in college basketball
ALL EYES ON: Miami
Duke (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Florida State (Sunday, 6 p.m, ESPNU)
Back in December, it seemed a broken thumb for Reggie Johnson would be a major detriment to Miami’s NCAA Tournament hopes. After losing two of their first three without Johnson, Miami has reeled off five consecutive wins, including a 4-0 start in the ACC. A strong showing against Duke -- Miami already has a win in Chapel Hill as well -- would add to Miami’s legitimacy in the ACC even if Duke is shorthanded without Ryan Kelly. In facing Florida State (10-7, 2-2 ACC), Miami will look to avoid a letdown no matter the result against the Blue Devils.
Related: Duke retains top spot in power rankings
UNDER PRESSURE: San Diego State
at Nevada (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
The Mountain West contenders have started to beat each other up, and none has more bruises than San Diego State. Before last week, the Aztecs had gone 14-2 with one loss in an aircraft carrier game in the opener against Syracuse and a one-point loss to Arizona in Hawaii. Then came back-to-back MWC losses. San Diego State lost 82-75 at home to UNLV and then had only four field goals and nine points in the first half of a 58-45 loss at Wyoming. The Aztecs should get past Nevada with little difficulty, but they’ll be tough to take seriously as an MWC contender if they lose at home to New Mexico on Saturday.
at Villanova (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPNU)
Syracuse reasserted its spots as one of the nation’s top five five teams last week by defeated Louisville on the road and then grinding out a win over Cincinnati on a quick turnaround Monday afternoon. The Orange this without one of their most most valuable players in James Southerland. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams has proven he’s capable of carrying Syracuse to a Big East title.
Michigan (Sunday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The season is in danger of going into a downward spiral for Illinois, which has lost three in a row and started 1-4 in the Big Ten. A 68-54 loss to Northwestern on Thursday was particularly alarming. A swing against Michigan on Saturday, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota between now and Feb.1 0 could bury Illinois in its bid for the NCAA Tournament.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH:
Lehigh at Bucknell (Wednesday, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
What a game this could have been if not for a broken foot for Lehigh’s star guard C.J. McCollum. Lehigh averaged 79.4 points per game with McCollum and 67.3 points in the last three without him (not including a win over Division III Muhlenberg). Lehigh is still 3-0 in the Patriot League, but so is Bucknell, who gave Missouri a scare earlier this month.
Colorado State at New Mexico (Wednesday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Rams have a bit of staying power. Dorian Green came out of nowhere to score 24 points in win over UNLV last week.
Wyoming at UNLV (Thursday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Offcourt problems have been an issue in Laramie, but Wyoming may still be a factor after defeating San Diego State 58-45. The Aztecs helped Wyoming by scoring nine points in the first half.
BYU at Gonzaga (Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2)
Perhaps the two teams can swap sob stories of being on the wrong end of miracle game-winners -- BYU against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga against Butler.
Maryland at Duke (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Maryland has lost three of its last four but defeated NC State 51-50 last week. The Terrapins might not be able to win in Cameron, but can’t they show they’re a Tournament team?
Minnesota at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe is averaging 15 points and 10.3 rebounds in the last three games.
Oklahoma at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
We’re starting to hear talk of Ben McLemore having one of the top seasons in Kansas history. Catch him while you can.
UCLA at Arizona State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
The Sun Devils gave Arizona fits until freshman scorer Jahii Carson got into foul trouble.
Temple at Butler (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
A run down of the teams Temple and Butler have defeated this year: Indiana, Gonzaga, Syracuse. The Owls have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde act, though, by losing at home to St. Bonaventure on Saturday.
North Carolina at NC State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Since defeating Duke, NC State lost to Maryland and slogged through a win over Clemson.
Michigan State at Indiana (Sunday, noon, CBS)
Michigan State’s win over Ohio State on Saturday reminded us not to leave out the Spartans when talking about the Big Ten’s dominance. Tom Izzo and his former assistant Tom Crean split last year’s season series.
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
60. An arbitrary stat for the Butler’s buzzer beater against Gonzaga
What kind of stat should we choose for Roosevelt Jones’ buzzer-beating floater to defeat Gonzaga 64-62? How about No. 1, for the best game of the season so far? Or 3.5 as in seconds remaining when Jones stole David Stockton’s inbound pass when Gonzaga, led by 2? Or two, as in the top-15 teams (according to kenpom.com) Butler has defeated this season (Indiana and Gonzaga)? Or five, as in total points for the Gonzaga starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos (12.1 ppg), Gary Bell Jr. (8.8 ppg), and Mike Hart (2.2 ppg)? Let’s go with 60, which is on the low end of an adult’s normal pulse rate at rest. Take a closer look at the video from the game-winning shot, find Butler coach Brad Stevens, and take his pulse:
26.8: Florida’s margin of victory in SEC games
The Gators defeated Missouri 83-52 on Saturday, giving the Gators another SEC rout. Florida is defeating conference opponents by an average of 26.8 points per game, the best scoring margin for any team in its conference this season. Only two other teams are defeating conference opponents by more than 20 points per game: Belmont by 22.1 points in the Ohio Valley and Southern by 20.4 in the SWAC.
6-to-10: Phil Pressey’s assist-to-turnover ratio against Florida
Missouri point guard Phil Pressey entered Saturday with a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, but he came close to flipping that against a top defensive team in Florida. Pressey had six assists and a career-high 10 turnovers agains the Gators. He also struggled from the field, going 1 of 7 with two points.
11: Points by Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams in the final 7:22 against Louisville
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams was nearly a goat against Louisville. Through 32 minutes or so, he had eight turnovers, the last one off a Russ Smith steal to put Louisville up 62-57. Carter-Williams more than atoned for that by scoring 11 of Syracuse’s final 13 points and assisting on a Jerami Grant layup in the final 7:22. Carter-Williams had a steal of Peyton Siva and a dunk for the go-ahead basket and then a steal in a scrum under the basket to seal Syracuse’s 70-68 road win.
5.8: Points per game for Peyton Siva in his last four against Syracuse
Peyton Siva is one of the nation's top point guards, just not against Syracuse. The Cardinals senior has averaged 5.8 points per game against Syracuse in four games in the last two seasons. Louisville's 70-68 loss to Syracuse was Siva’s worst performance against the Orange since he became a full-time player. Siva scored 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting and 1-of-7 from three point range.
5-0: Oregon’s best conference start since 1973-74
Oregon, picked seventh in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, is off to a 5-0 start in the league, its best since 1973-74. The Ducks aren’t doing it cheaply either. They defeated UCLA 76-67 on the road Saturday more than a week after handing previously undefeated Arizona a 70-66 loss. Oregon will hope this 5-0 start is better than the one in the Pac-8 in 1973-74: The Ducks finished that season 15-11 overall and 9-5 in the conference.
17: Combined points for Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams against Oregon
UCLA was off to an inauspicious start when coach Ben Howland didn’t start Shabazz Muhammad as punishment for being late to practice. UCLA’s two star freshmen can score 17 points on their own on a given night — Muhammad averages 18.4 points per game, Jordan Adams 15.6. But against Oregon, Muhammad scored 10 points in 28 minutes. Adams struggled even more by scoring only seven points, all on free throws. He went 0 for 6 from the field.
17 and 13: Points and rebounds by Wichita State’s Carl Hall against Creighton
The return of Carl Hall from a broken thumb turned out to be the equivalent of a trade-deadline deal for Wichita State. Hall, who missed seven games from Dec. 20 to Jan. 13, scored 17 points and 13 rebounds in the 67-64 win over Creighton to give the Shockers the Missouri Valley lead. Hall is a former MVC defensive player of the year and Wichita State’s best low-post scorer.
50. Percentage of Ohio State’s scoring that came from Deshaun Thomas on Saturday
Perhaps belaboring the point, Ohio State does not have a second scorer to complement Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7 matchup headache scored 28 points against the Spartans. Other Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas scored 28 points against the Spartans in Ohio State’s 59-56 loss. Thomas was 10 of 20 from the field against Michigan State, while seven other Buckeyes combined to go 9 of 27. On the game’s final play, Ohio State guard Shannon Scott, rather than getting the ball to Thomas, took a 3-pointer expecting to be fouled. The foul never came, and the off-balance, awkward shot hit the side of the backboard.
165: Games since Air Force scored 90 points against a Division I foe
In a huge week for statements in the Mountain West, even Air Force made news. The Falcons defeated NCAA Tournament contender Boise State 91-80, topping 90 points against a Division I opponent in 165 games. The last time was a 94-68 win over Wake Forest on Nov. 29, 2006. Air Force’s coach at the time was Jeff Bzdelik, who is now the coach at Wake Forest. At 10-6, Air Force will look to top 16 wins for the first time since 2006-07.
The last time Louisville faced Syracuse, the Cardinals weren’t in great shape. Syracuse’s 58-49 win to end the regular season handed Louisville its eighth Big East loss and fourth loss in six games on March 3. Syracuse, meanwhile, won its 30th game of the season.
Louisville didn’t lose again until the Final Four to eventual national champion Kentucky. Since the Syracuse loss last season, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have thrived on both sides of the court as the Cardinals have gone 24-2 since then.
It was a clear turning point for Louisville, but Syracuse is doing OK, too: The Orange reached the Elite Eight and started 16-1 this season.
While Louisville returns most of the cast that defeated Syracuse at the end of the regular season, the Orange brings some personnel making its first run through the Big East -- and personnel that will be worth watching in their first major road trip of the season.
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, one of the major surprises of the season, will face Louisville’s press for the first time. And the roster is looking for a new scorer with James Southerland ineligible.
A game against this week’s No. 1 team will be a good time to confirm Syracuse’s spot among the elite, with or without Southland.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Syracuse at Louisville
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: KFC Yum! Center
Syracuse probable starters
G Michael Carter-Williams (6-6/185, So.)
G Brandon Triche (6-4/205, Jr.)
F C.J. Fair (6-8/215, Jr.)
F Rakeem Christmas (6-9/242, So.)
C DaJuan Coleman (6-9/288, Fr.)
Louisville probable starters
G Peyton Siva (6-0/185, Sr.)
G Russ Smith (6-0/165, Jr.)
G/F Wayne Blackshear (6-5/230, So.)
F Chane Behanan (6-6/250, So.)
C Gorgui Dieng (6-11/245, Jr.)
Game-defining matchup: Michael Carter-Williams vs. Russ Smith
Louisville’s Russ Smith is one of the nation’s most frustrating defenders, and he may be charged with disrupting the nation’s top assist man. Carter-Williams has cooled a bit since his hot start (but the numbers remain pretty good at six assists per game in the last three). He’s also shooting 10 of 38 from the field in the last three games. Smith will look to bottle up Carter-Williams and limit his playmaking ability, especially with Southerland out.
Player we’re watching: C.J. Fair
The Syracuse forward has been the team MVP the last two games, topping 20 points against Villanova and Providence to help fill the void left by Southerland. Fair is also 16 of 18 from the free-throw line in the last two games. Will that continue against a better team in Louisville?
Stat that matters: 20 bench points for Syracuse against Villanova
Southerland was one of Syracuse’s best scorers even if he didn’t start. Who will fill the role of Southerland’s 13.6 points per game and 5.2 rebounds. In the 72-61 win over Villanova, Syracuse got 20 points from its bench. Jerami Grant led the way with 13. But again, Villanova is no Louisville.
How Syracuse can win: Backcourt emerges more fearless
Brandon Triche can hit the big shot. Carter-Williams, clearly, is a major catalyst. But the Syracuse backcourt will need to be at its best against Smith and Peyton Siva and their ability to force turnovers. Beyond ball handling, Syracuse will need to be much better from the perimeter after the Orange are 11 of 52 (21.2 percent) from the three-point line in the last three games.
How Louisville can win: Cardinals counter Syracuse’s size in the frontcourt
Syracuse has been great on the offensive glass this season, grabbing 42 percent of offensive rebounds to lead the Big East. Louisville hasn’t been shabby, either, as the Cardinals rank in the top four in the Big East in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Gorgui Dieng, especially, has been effective on the glass since returning from injury. He has 14.3 rebounds per game in his last four.
Louisville 72, Syracuse 67
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
The stats suggest Pittsburgh is a top-20 caliber team — the Panthers are ranked ninth nationally by KenPom.com — but Jamie Dixon’s club has been given us reasons to be skeptical. The Panthers opened Big East play with a 2–3 record, including home losses to Cincinnati and Marquette and a defeat at Rutgers. UConn is playing spirited ball under first-year coach Kevin Ollie, but the Huskies lack the talent up front to be a factor in the Big East title race.
Maryland at North Carolina (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
The Terrapins recovered after losing back-to-back games to Florida State and Miami by defeating NC State 51-50 on Wednesday. North Carolina also ended a two-game losing streak last weekend. One team will have momentum on its side after this game, the other will be looking for answers.
Missouri at Florida (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
This is a key game between two teams that should remain in the hunt for the SEC title. Missouri hopes to regain the services of big man Laurence Bowers, who missed the Ole Miss game with a sprained MCL. The Gators have been banged up as well with Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Casey Prather facing injuries. All but Prather played against Texas A&M on Thursday.
Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS regional)
Texas is off to its worst start of the Rick Barnes era. The Longhorns dropped to 8–8 overall and 0–3 in the Big 12 with a 20-point loss at Iowa State last weekend. To avoid an 0–4 start in the league — which hasn’t happened since Tom Penders’ final season in 1998 — Texas must find a way to knock off the mighty Jayhawks. Kansas, which beat Baylor on Monday night, is 15–1 and well on its way to its ninth straight Big 12 championship.
Arizona at Arizona State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
After flirting with disaster several times this season, Arizona finally suffered its first defeat — by four points at Oregon. The Wildcats will be challenged by a much-improved Arizona State team that is 3–1 in the Pac-12. Redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson has been terrific for Herb Sendek. The Arizona native is averaging 17.1 points and 5.2 assists.
Creighton at Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Creighton is 4–0 in true road games, with wins at Cal, Nebraska, Illinois State and Missouri State. Wichita State, which lost three double-digit scorers from last year’s 27-win team, is NCAA Tournament-worthy once again. Senior forward Carl Hall, the Shockers’ top rebounder (7.6 rpg) and second-leading scorer (13.9 ppg), returned Wednesday after missing seven games with a thumb injury. He scored two points in 23 minutes off the bench.
Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Arizona still might be the team to beat in the Pac-12, but Oregon and UCLA are playing very well as conference play heats up. The Ducks, who handed Arizona its first loss of the season, are 14–2 overall and 3–0 in the league. UCLA has bounced back from a tough start and won nine straight games. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad has scored 20-plus points in five of his last eight games.
Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Kansas State is thriving with first-year coach Bruce Weber. The veteran Wildcats struggle to score at times, but they are solid on defense and crash the boards. Oklahoma, as expected, continues to improve under respected coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners would love to pick up a résumé-building road win.
Ohio State at Michigan State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State has nearly a week off to recover from its emotional win over Michigan on Sunday. The Buckeyes don’t have a ton of offensive weapons, but their No. 1 option, senior forward Deshaun Thomas, is an explosive scorer. Michigan State is 3–1 in the Big Ten, but we still don’t know too much about this team. This will be a tough test for Tom Izzo’s club.
Marquette at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Cincinnati raced out to a 12–0 record this season but has struggled a bit of late, especially at home. The Bearcats have lost three straight at Fifth Third Arena, including two in league play. Marquette won its first three Big East games by the slimmest of margins. The Golden Eagles have overtime wins over UConn and Pittsburgh and beat Georgetown by one point at home.
UNLV at Colorado State (Saturday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
UNLV hopes to flex its muscles in the Mountain West race after defeating San Diego State 82-75 on Wednesday. The Rebels shot 56.8 percent (29 of 51) from inside the three-point line against the Aztecs while outrebounding San Diego State 41-28. Colorado State is an NCAA contender with a good frontline of Colton Iverson (a Minnesota transfer) and Pierce Hornung.
Gonzaga at Butler (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
This is great matchup between two programs outside the power conferences that have found a way to win consistently. Gonzaga is an elite offensive team that can beat you from the perimeter or the paint. Butler will not be at full strength due to Rotnei Clarke’s injury. The senior sharpshooter suffered a neck injury in last week’s win at Dayton. Brad Stevens will have to be at his very best to put Butler in position to win this game — even at home.
Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
One of the critiques of the 2012-13 college basketball season has been a lack of eye-popping players vying for player of the year awards. Think of Player of the Year performances and competitions in recent years by Anthony Davis, Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Tyler Hansbrough and Michael Beasley.
Adding to the confusion, the top prospect for the NBA Draft is unsettled, too.
That’s made selecting the midseason All-America team that much tougher. Just take a look at the point guards: We have Trey Burke on the first team, Phil Pressey on the second and Michael Carter-Williams on the third. That order could be re-shuffled a week from now.
In Part Two of our midseason report, we picked our midseason All-Americans, our midseason All-Freshman team and midseason All-Breakout team. We’ve also revised our Final Four and conference championship picks for the season’s stretch run.
College Basketball Midseason Report: Part 1 - Surprises and disappointments
MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICA FIRST TEAM
G Trey Burke, Michigan (6-0/190, So.)
Sunday’s loss to Ohio State and Burke’s 4-of-13 performance from the field, the sophomore has been the nation’s top point guard this season, averaging 18 points and 7.1 assists per game. Burke has improved his shooting percentage from 43.3 percent to 52.
G Ben McLemore, Kansas (6-5/194, RFr.)
McLemore was worth the wait for Kansas. The Jayhawks knew he’d be a key player in 2012-13, but they may not have anticipated McLemore making a run at All-America and Big 12 Player of the Year honors. McLemore’s also making a bid to be Kansas’ best freshman since Danny Manning in 1988. Manning averaged 14.6 points that season. McLemore averages 16.4.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton (6-8/225, Jr.)
McDermott is tied with Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, who is sidelined with a broken foot, for the national lead in points per minute (0.77). In his final season at Creighton, McDermott has improved his long-range shooting and free-throw shooting, all while taking more attempts of both.
F Anthony Bennett, UNLV (6-8/240, Fr.)
Bennett was a big-time recruit who raised the expectations for UNLV’s season with an announcement late in the recruiting process to join the Rebels. But few expected Bennett to be UNLV’s top player and a candidate for the top freshman in the nation. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and he’s had a double-double in seven of the last 10 games.
F Mason Plumlee, Duke (6-10/235, Sr.)
Yet another senior who has taken a major step in his final year, Plumlee has set career highs in almost all categories. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 11.4 rebounds. But what’s most impressive is a boost in shooting (from 57 percent to 62) and free throws (from 53 percent to 65).
Related: Key stats from the week include Michigan, Duke
MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICA SECOND TEAM
G Phil Pressey, Missouri (5-11/175, Jr.)
Dazzling passer had 19 assists against UCLA, 11 against Illinois and 13 against Alabama in his last five games.
G Russ Smith, Louisville (6-0/165, Jr.)
High-risk, high-reward guard has been rewarding the Cardinals on both ends of the floor this season.
G Brandon Paul, Illinois (6-4/200, Sr.)
He’s a shooting slump now, but he’s been the focal point of Illinois’ surprise season.
F Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (6-7/215, Jr.)
Now in the spotlight for the Buckeyes, Thomas leads the Big Ten at 20.3 points per game.
C Cody Zeller, Indiana (7-0/240, So.)
A testament to the Hoosiers’ balance, Indiana doesn’t need him to be a national player of the year. He’s still averaging 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.
THIRD TEAM MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICANS
G Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse (6-6/185, So.)
First-year full-timer fell off his 10 assists per game pace but still leads nation by wide margin at 9.4 assists per game.
G Victor Oladipo, Indiana (6-5/214, Jr.)
He could make the case he’s Indiana’s MVP. Oladipo leads the nation in effective field goal percentage (which gives weight to made three-pointers) and is second in true shooting percentage (which measures two- and three-point field goals and free throws).
G Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (6-5/205, Jr.)
Still topping 17 points per game, Franklin has improved from 7.9 rebounds per game to 10.3 and from 1.5 assists per game to 3.5.
F Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (6-9/246, Sr.)
Only three players have had more than Cooley’s 10 double-doubles this season.
C Jeff Withey, Kansas (7-0/235, Sr.)
His 4.8 blocks per game are impressive, but how about four blocks for every personal foul. The second best in that category averages three blocks per foul.
MIDSEASON ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (6-4/225)
G Jahii Carson, Arizona State (5-10/175)
G Ben McLemore, Kansas (6-5/194)
F Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (6-6/225)
F Anthony Bennett, UNLV (6-8/240)
MIDSEASON ALL-BREAKOUT TEAM
G Quinn Cook, Duke (6-1/175, So.)
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota (6-1/200, So.)
G Tyler Haws, BYU (6-5/200, So.)
F Otto Porter, Georgetown (6-8/205, So.)
C Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga (7-0/238, Jr.)
ATHLON PRESEASON AND MIDSEASON PICKS
|Championship picks||Athlon Preseason||David Fox||Mitch Light|
|America East||Vermont||Vermont||Stony Brook|
|Big Sky||Montana||Weber State||Weber State|
|Big South||Charleston Southern||Charleston Southern||Charleston Southern|
|Big West||Long Beach State||Long Beach State||Long Beach State|
|MEAC||Savannah State||Norfolk State||NC Central|
|Mountain West||San Diego State||UNLV||UNLV|
|Ohio Valley||Murray State||Murray State||Belmont|
|Southland||Oral Roberts||Stephen F. Austin||Stephen F. Austin|
|Summit||South Dakota State||North Dakota State||South Dakota State|
|Sun Belt||Middle Tennessee||Middle Tennessee||Middle Tennessee|
|WAC||Utah State||Utah State||Utah State|
If you listen closely, you can almost hear the whispers: Bracketology, bubble watch, resumes, seeding, RPI.
The college basketball season is halfway through January and the conference races are starting to be determined. Though most conferences have only made a dent into league play, we have a pretty good idea of which leagues are going to have a ton of bids (Big Ten) and which are not (SEC).
While it’s too early to call too many teams NCAA Tournament locks, many programs have an idea of what their goals might be: A conference title, a high seed or a spot in the field.
Take this week for example: Louisville and Syracuse have one loss each and will be in contention for a No. 1 seed and the final Big East title in the league’s current incarnation. Jim Boehiem's team, though, will be shorthanded against the No. 1 Cardinals.
Elsewhere, the race in the Mountain West will become much more interesting this week with a series of four games involving the league’s six contenders.
At the same time, a team like Maryland is trying to avoid a disastrous start in ACC play after two losses. The Terrapins face NC State and North Carolina this week.
Midseason Report Part 1: Surprises and disappointments
Midseason Report Part 2: All-Americans and championship picks
Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the postseason.
All times Eastern.
JAN. 16 BRACKET UPDATE
Athlon Sports College
Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 16
1. Duke (15-1)
2. Louisville (16-1)
3. Michigan (16-1)
4. Kansas (15-1)
5. Syracuse (16-1)
6. Indiana (15-2)
7. Minnesota (15-2)
8. Arizona (15-1)
9. Gonzaga (16-1)
10. NC State (14-2)
11. Kansas State (13-2)
12. Florida (12-2)
13. San Diego State (14-2)
14. Butler (14-2)
15. Ohio State (13-3)
16. Missouri (12-3)
17. Creighton (17-1)
18. VCU (14-3)
19. Michigan State (14-3)
20. UCLA (14-3)
21. Marquette (12-3)
22. Oregon (14-2)
23. Connecticut (12-3)
24. New Mexico (14-2)
25. Wisconsin (13-4)
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Syracuse at Louisville (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The Orange have been walking the tight rope in Big East play at times. Syracuse shot 36.5 percent from the floor at USF, went 3 of 21 from three-point range and needed to rally against Providence and played close with Villanova until the final 10 minutes. Now with James Southerland ineligible, the margin of error is a little slimmer. Louisville struggled, too, earlier this week against Connecticut but went 17 of 28 from the field in the second half while holding the Huskies to 7 of 27 from the floor after the break in the 73-58 win. This could be an important game for seeding purposes.
ALL EYES ON: The Mountain West
New Mexico at Boise State (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ROOT Sports)
UNLV at San Diego State (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
UNLV at Colorado State (Saturday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
San Diego State at Wyoming (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Time Warner Cable SportsNet)
All six of the Mountain West’s NCAA contenders will face one of the others this week. UNLV has the most to gain this week by facing two potential NCAA teams on the road (San Diego State coughed up an 18-point halftime lead Saturday but defeated Colorado State in overtime). UNLV has lost its last two road games to North Carolina and New Mexico. This would be a good time for the Rebels to show they can win outside of Vegas. Meanwhile, Wyoming may have the most to lose. The Cowboys’ 14-0 start was ended with a loss to Boise State a week ago, and now Wyoming may be without Luke Martinez (14.5 points per game) for a while.
UNDER PRESSURE: Maryland
NC State (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
at North Carolina (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Maryland had the look of a Tournament team as of the first week of January, but the Terrapins’ postseason resume could be in peril after next week. The Terps lost back-to-back games to Florida State and Miami last week, showing that its 13-1 record may have been a mirage. This week, Maryland faces an NC State team coming off a win over Duke then a reeling North Carolina team in Chapel Hill. Maryland didn’t score many good wins in the non-conference schedule, so the Terrapins cannot afford a potential four-game ACC losing streak to NCAA Tournament contenders.
RISING: Ohio State
at Michigan State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Who else soured on Ohio State after the Buckeyes’ 74-55 loss to Illinois on Jan. 5? Time to rethink that. The Buckeyes have bounced back nicely by making easy work of Purdue on the road and then handing Michigan its first loss of the season. Against the Wolverines, Ohio State led by as much as 21 but needed Michigan to go cold from three-point range to prevent a collapse.
SINKING: Oklahoma State
Texas Tech (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Here's how things have changed for the Cowboys: They defeated Tennessee 63-45 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off when we thought that was a decent win and lost 82-71 at Virginia Tech when it didn’t look like an awful loss. At least Oklahoma State still has a win over NC State on the resume. The Cowboys have lost three of their last four (Gonzaga, Kansas State and Oklahoma). With Texas Tech on Saturday, Oklahoma State won’t have a chance to save face against a postseason contender until Monday at Baylor.
MID-MAJORS TO WATCH: Creighton and Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
The top two teams in the Missouri Valley meet up Saturday in a game that could be an important resume-builder should one team need a resume boost. Wichita State is coming off a loss to Evansville, but the Shockers will have Carl Hall (13.9 points, 7.6 rebounds in 10 games) back from a broken thumb. Creighton’s Doug McDermott will have a chance to boost his Player of the Year stock in front of a national television audience as well.
Pittsburgh at Villanova (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Is Pitt a Tournament team? The Panthers have lost three of four to Cincinnati, Rutgers and Marquette, but defeated Georgetown 73-45 on the road.
Saint Mary’s at BYU (Wednesday, 11 p.m., ESPNU)
BYU is outscoring opponents by 24 points per game during a six-game win streak, including a 4-0 start in West Coast Conference play.
Michigan at Minnesota (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Both teams trailed by big margins early in their last games (Michigan to Ohio State, Minnesota to Indiana) only to see second-half rallies fall short. Will either team have a hangover this week?
Florida at Texas A&M (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
The Aggies’ Elston Turner scored 40 points on Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Florida is holding opponents to 52 points per game.
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
Don’t tell UConn it can’t play in the postseason. The Huskies have been a tough out for New Mexico, NC State, Marquette and Louisville.
Missouri at Florida (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The SEC will feature more bubble watch games than must-see games. Make sure you catch one of the few games between Tourney locks.
Arizona at Arizona State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network)
Thanks to freshman Jahii Carson (17.3 points per game). Arizona State is on the Tourney bubble. Defeating Arizona would go a long way for the 14-3 Sun Devils.
Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The two schools have started a combined 7-0 in Pac-12 play. Few would have picked this game having first-place implications for the league back in November.
Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Lon Kruger, a former Kansas State coach, is working his rebuilding magic again. The Sooners are in the Tournament conversation after a convincing Oklahoma State win.
Marquette at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
The Bearcats’ 12-0 start hit a skid with losses to New Mexico (by one), St. John’s (by one) and Notre Dame (by six). Marquette can win the close game with two wins in overtime (UConn and Pitt) and another in an ugly one-point game (Georgetown).
Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Are the Hawkeyes a Tournament team? Tough to buy a team that could fall to 1-4 in the Big Ten and 0-3 in conference home games with a loss to Wisconsin.
Gonzaga at Butler (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Butler’s chances to defeat Gonzaga look slim without Rotnei Clarke. Still, don’t underestimate Brad Stevens.
The college basketball season is rolling along as we’ve reached the halfway point to the Final Four.
If this week’s debate for the No. 1 team is any indication, the competition for the national title will be hotly contested. The top two teams in the polls -- undefeated Duke and Michigan -- lost during the weekend, opening the door for Louisville and Rick Pitino to be the Associated Press No. 1 team Monday. Five teams total, including Indiana, Duke, Kansas and Michigan, received first-place votes in the AP poll.
The season has had its share of surprises, including the lack of a clear top team in mid-January. Contrast that with last season: For the second half of the season in 2011-12, Kentucky was a near-unanimous No. 1 all the way to the title game.
This season has already proven to be more volatile, which lends itself to a wide range of surprises and disappointments.
Here are our picks for midseason surprises and disappointments in the first half of the basketball season and five key questions for the stretch run.
Related: Key college basketball stats from Jan. 7-13
FIVE MIDSEASON SURPRISES
Big Ten depth
In the preseason, Athlon projected six teams to reach the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten, and that may be conservative. Four Big Ten teams are among Ken Pomeroy’s top 10 (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State), two more are in the top 20 (Wisconsin and Michigan State) and two more contenders (Iowa and Illinois) are in the top 50. If the last week was any indication -- with Ohio State handing Michigan its first loss, Wisconsin upsettiting Illinois, Indiana holding off a Minnesota rally in the second half, the Gophers trouncing Illinois -- the league will be anything but predictable. And just think: If Penn State’s Tim Frazier and Northwestern’s Drew Crawford remained healthy, the league would have even fewer easy outs.
Athlon projected the Ducks to finish ninth in the Pac-12 and miss the postseason. Granted, that was prior to Arsalan Kazemi’s transfer (8.2 points, 9.4 rebounds) and the emergence of freshman Damyean Dotson (Dominic Artis was considered the jewel of the signing class). At 14-2 and 3-0 in the Pac-12, Oregon is on pace for an NCAA Tournament bid after handing Arizona its first loss of the season Thursday.
At one point, the dismissal of Chrishawn Hopkins appeared to be a major blow to Butler’s first season in the Atlantic 10. Without Hopkins, Butler is still in the thick of a crowded A-10 race. The Bulldogs have won 11 in a row, including the upset of then-No. 1 Indiana on Dec. 15. The most difficult test this season may be a upcoming stretch from Jan. 19-31: Gonzaga, at La Salle, Temple, at Saint Louis.
Wyoming and Boise State
Our projections had four Mountain West teams in the NCAA Tournament, and all four remain on that course -- UNLV, San Diego State, Colorado State and New Mexico. But the rise of Wyoming and Boise State could give the MWC as many as six NCAA Tournament teams. Wyoming went 6-8 in the league last season but was undefeated until Wednesday. The 14-game win streak was broken by a shorthanded Boise State team, which also defeated Creighton. Boise State suspended four players for the Wyoming game, including tops scorer Derrick Marks. Three of the suspended players will return to face New Mexico on Wednesday. Wyoming has an issue of its own with Luke Martinez (14.5 ppg) injured and then suspended after a bar brawl.
Adding junior college transfers can be a tricky practice in college basketball. Not all of them go on to be Marquette’s Jae Crowder, who was the Big East player of the year after transferring from junior college two seasons earlier. Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson may do the same in the SEC. He’s leading the league in scoring at 18.2 points per game and has helped make the Rebels an NCAA Tournament contender.
FIVE MIDSEASON DISAPPOINTMENTS
Kentucky’s drop-off is the most obvious disappointment in the SEC, but the down year is league-wide. As a whole, the SEC ranks eighth in the conference RPI, right in between the Atlantic 10 and the Missouri Valley. The bottom of the league is more dreadful than was projected, but that’s not the most worrisome aspect of the league. After Florida and Missouri, the SEC has few NCAA Tournament contenders. After Saturday’s 83-71 loss to Texas A&M at home, Kentucky has the look of a bubble team. And teams like Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas -- all of whom were projected as Tournament teams -- look like anything but through the first weeks of the conference season.
The Tar Heels’ season is proof not even powerhouse programs can simply restock after losing four first-round draft picks. Despite a handful of McDonald’s All-Americans returning, North Carolina is limping into ACC play -- a win over Florida State on Saturday prevented the Tar Heels from starting 0-3 in the league. Roy Williams has a handful of challenges on his hands: James Michael McAdoo has not become the gamebreaker he was expected to be, though he’s still averaging 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Williams’ team collapsed late in its first two ACC losses, and the lineup has been in flux. A Tournament bid is not certain.
Rick Barnes has coached in the NCAA Tournament every season since 1996, going back to his second year at Clemson. That streak is in danger of ending this season. Texas lost 82-62 to Iowa State on Saturday, giving the Longhorns their second 20-point loss of the season. Keep in mind: Texas hadn’t lost a game by 20 points since 2005-06. Off to an 0-3 start in the Big 12 and with Kansas on Saturday, Texas might not be able to save its season by the time Myck Kabongo is eligible on Feb. 13.
Colonial Athletic Association
With VCU off to the Atlantic 10, the Colonial was poised for a dip, but few saw this coming. No CAA team has a record better than 9-7 (Northeastern and George Mason). League contenders Old Dominion (2-14) and Drexel (5-11) are having their worst seasons in several years. The Colonial is ranked 25th in league RPI, only one spot ahead of the Atlantic Sun and two spots ahead of the MEAC.
Before the season started, we wondered what kind of season North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, a projected NBA lottery pick, could have in the Sun Belt. The answer: Not all that different from a year ago. Mitchell is averaging 14.6 points and nine rebounds -- he averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in 2011-12. His efficiency numbers have plummeted from shooting 56.7 percent last season to 46.1 percent this year, and North Texas is struggling to remain competitive. Under first-year coach Tony Benford, the Mean Green are 7-11 overall and 2-5 in the Sun Belt and Mitchell's draft stock is sliding.
KEY QUESTIONS FOR THE SECOND HALF
Will Kentucky put it together?
Without a signature win, Kentucky was already on shaky footing going into last week. Then the Wildcats gave up 40 points to Elston Turner in an 83-71 home loss to Texas A&M, a team that lost to Southern on Dec. 22. Kentucky is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament only a year removed from the national title. John Calipari’s young team will need to put together a win streak in the coming weeks against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama and LSU to stay on the right side of the bubble.
How will any team win on the road in the Big Ten?
Here are the teams that have lost Big Ten conference games at home: Illinois, Iowa (twice), Nebraska, Northwestern (twice), Nebraska, Penn State (twice) and Purdue. Not a lot of Tournament teams in that group other than Illinois and perhaps Iowa.
How will Duke win without Ryan Kelly?
Duke is 1-3 in the last two seasons without Ryan Kelly, who missed his first game of the season with a foot injury in Saturday’s loss to NC State. Duke will need to find some way to replace the 6-foot-11 senior who will be out “indefinitely.” Amile Jefferson may have been the best fill-in (10 points in 12 minutes) before he fouled out against NC State. Duke’s injury problems could be further magnified if Seth Curry is playing through pain as the guard did late against the Wolfpack.
How will Syracuse adjust to the absence of James Southerland?
Syracuse defeated Villanova 72-61 in its first game without James Southerland, but it was an uneven performance at home. More concerning is that Syracuse may be without Southerland for Louisville (Saturday) and Cincinnati (Monday). The Orange’s third-leading scorer has been declared ineligible, and his return in is in question. The forward is a matchup problem with his ability to shoot from outside and a key spark off the bench.
How many bids will the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and West Coast Conference receive?
Someone has to fill the spots in the NCAA Tournament, but will the committee opt for more questionable teams in the ACC, Pac-12 and SEC or more teams in the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and West Coast Conference, all of which are deeper than they’ve been in recent seasons. Ole Miss or Boise State? Miami or Charlotte? Wyoming or Arizona State? This is going to be a good year for those blind resumes.
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
4: Undefeated teams to fall since Wednesday
The fraternity of undefeated teams collapsed in a span of five days: Wyoming lost 63-61 to Boise State on Wednesday, Arizona lost 70-66 to Oregon on Thursday, Duke lost 84-76 to NC State on Saturday, and Michigan lost 56-53 to Ohio State on Sunday. With the exception of Wyoming, all suffered their first losses on the road.
7: Consecutive missed three-pointers from Michigan down the stretch
Michigan trailed by as many as 21 to Ohio State, but the Wolverines eroded the Buckeyes' lead throughout the second half until Glenn Robinson III hit a three-pointer in the final six minutes to tie the game at 46. That, however, was too good to last. Michigan missed its next seven three-pointers before, including a potential go-ahead shot from Trey Burke in the final 14 seconds that rimmed out. Michigan finished the game 6 of 20 from three-point range.
40: Points by Elston Turner against Kentucky in Rupp Arena
Johnny Manziel isn’t the only Aggie lighting up defending national champions in front of their own fans. Texas A&M guard Elston Turner scored 40 points on Kentucky at Rupp Arena in the Aggies’ 83-71 win. The outburst for Turner, whose previous career high was 26 points, handed John Calipari his first home SEC loss as Kentucky’s coach. Turner became the third opponent to score 40 points at Rupp Arena joining Navy’s David Robinson in 1987 and LSU’s Chris Jackson in 1990.
1-3: Duke’s record the last two seasons without Ryan Kelly
Other Duke players may receive more headlines, but Ryan Kelly has a case to be the Blue Devils most valuable player. Duke is 1-3 without its 6-foot-11 senior since the end of last season, the latest an 84-76 loss to NC State on Saturday with Kelly on the bench with a foot injury. The Wolfpack frontcourt flourished without Kelly in the lineup: C.J. Leslie finished with 25 points and six rebounds, Richard Howell had 16 points and 18 boards. Duke’s lineup was further depleted as forward Amile Jefferson and guards Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook fouled out. Seth Curry, who hit key shots to keep Duke within striking distance in the second half suffered an ankle injury late in the game. Kelly’s return is uncertain, but Duke needs him back quickly. Last season without Kelly, Duke lost to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals and to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament.
10: Starters scoring in double figures in Indiana’s 88-81 win over Minnesota
A strange sight for a game settled in regulation: Every starter in Indiana’s 88-81 win over Minnesota scored at least 11 points. The Hoosiers starting lineup alone went 27 of 45 from the field: Victor Oladipo (20 points, 8 of 10), Jordan Hulls (19 points, 4 of 8), Cody Zeller (18 points, 6 of 8), Christian Watford (15 points, 4 of 11) and Yogi Ferrell (13 points, 5 of 8). The Hoosiers’ bench, though, was a non-factor, going 0 of 8 from the floor with three points. The Gophers’ scorers, led by Andre Hollins’ 25 points, chipped away at a 23-point halftime deficit before coming up short.
41: Rebounds for North Carolina against Florida State
The Tar Heels avoided an 0-3 start in the ACC by dominating the glass in a 77-72 win over Florida State on Saturday. North Carolina grabbed 41 rebounds to Florida State’s 19, taking control on both sides of the court. The Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive rebounds on their 31 missed field goals and 22 defensive rebounds on Florida State’s 26 missed field goals.
104: Big 12 games since Texas lost by 20 in a conference game
The Longhorns’ woes this season continued with an 82-62 loss at Iowa State on Saturday, Texas’ first 20-point loss in a Big 12 game since losing 81-60 to Oklahoma State on Feb. 10, 2006. Saturday’s loss to the Cyclones was Texas’ second 20-point loss of the season, joining a 64-41 defeat to Georgetown on Dec. 4. That 2005-06 Texas team also had two 20-point losses that season (a 31-point loss to Duke was the other), but that Longhorns team won 30 games and reached the Elite Eight. That seems unlikely for the 2012-13 squad, which is off to an 0-3 start in the Big 12.
5 of 38: Illinois from three-point range in two losses last week
Why have things gone sour for Illinois in the last week? The quick answer is three-point shooting. Illinois went 5 of 38 (13.2 percent) from long range in the 84-67 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday (3 of 24) and the 74-51 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday (2 of 14). Before the two losses, Illinois had been making 36.5 percent of its three-point shots.
The major question the ACC keeps coming up: Will anyone challenge Duke this season? At least on Saturday, the discussion is back to where we started.
NC State was the league’s preseason favorite (Athlon picked the Wolfpack second in the ACC), but two losses by Nov. 27 caused the conversation to move to North Carolina, Maryland, Florida State and even Miami without any of them looking the part.
So all eyes move back to NC State, which has won nine games since its loss at undefeated Michigan 79-72 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Even that loss was an encouraging sign for a team that looked out for sorts in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where NC State lost by 20 to Oklahoma State.
Since then, the Wolfpack have solidified their lineup, balancing the veterans and freshmen, and lead the nation in shooting percentage (53 percent from the floor).
Behind national player of the year contender Mason Plumlee, Duke, though, keeps rolling. The Blue Devils are 15-0 and ranked No. 1 in the polls.
Before it claims ACC supremacy, Duke has its own set of challenges, including the absence of forward Ryan Kelly and its first true road game. Duke has defeated Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Louisville, Temple and Davidson at neutral sites and Ohio State in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the resume lacks a win in an opponent’s gym.
That can change Saturday in Raleigh.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Duke at NC State
When: Saturday, noon Eastern
Where: Raleigh, N.C., PNC Arena (cap. 19,700)
Duke probable starters
G Quinn Cook (6-1/175, So.)
G Seth Curry (6-2/285, Sr.)
G Rasheed Sulaimon (6-4/185, Fr.)
F Josh Hairston (6-7.240, Jr.)
F Mason Plumlee (6-10/235, Sr.)
NC State probable starters
G Lorenzo Brown (6-3/195, Jr.)
G Scott Wood (6-6/169, Sr.)
G Rodney Purvis (6-3/195, Fr.)
F C.J. Leslie (6-9/200, Sr.)
F Richard Howell (6-8/257, Sr.)
Game-defining matchup: Mason Plumlee vs. Richard Howell
This is a matchup of Duke’s best player and player of the year candidate against NC State’s top rebounder and tone-setter. The matchup down low could go a long way to determining the outcome. Howell’s effort is unquestioned, but he needs to stay on the floor to keep Plumlee in check. He needs to avoid the foul trouble that shows up from time to time.
Player we’re watching: Quinn Cook
Cook’s development has been one the keys to Duke’s success this season, but he’s had quite the swing in the last week. Against Wake Forest, he missed all of 11 of his shots from the floor while added 14 assists to one turnover. Against Clemson on Tuesday, Duke gave him the green light to shoot despite his futility from the field against Wake. He responded with a career-high 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
Stat that matters: Scott Wood’s 3-point shooting
NC State is 14-0 in the last two seasons when guard Scott Wood converts four 3-point shots. That’s going to be tough to do against Duke. The Blue Devils have allowed only three players all season -- Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson, Elon’s Sebastian Koch and Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster -- to convert four or more shots beyond the arc. Duke has limited four teams to fewer than four 3-pointers in a game (Louisville, Delaware, Cornell and Clemson).
How Duke can win: Overcome Ryan Kelly’s absence
In three games Ryan Kelly missed at the end of last season, Duke squeaked by Virginia Tech and then lost to Florida State in the ACC tournament and 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils will have to overcome his absence again as Kelly is out with a right foot injury. Duke will miss his scoring (13.4 points per game), his versatility, his defense and some of the little things he did, such as inbounding against the press. Duke will turn to Josh Hairston (11.3 minutes per game), Amile Jefferson (8.8) and Alex Murphy (5.6) to fill Kelly’s shoes.
How NC State can win: Manage a complete effort
Even with Kelly hurt, NC State can’t play as if Duke is considerably shorthanded (though the Blue Devils may be). The Wolfpack can ill-afford foul trouble from Howell, a scoreless night from T.J. Warren (as he had against Georgia Tech on Wednesday) or some of the poor chemistry and rhythm that plagued NC State early this season.
NC State 68, Duke 65
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern.
Minnesota at Indiana
(Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
Minnesota has won 11 in a row, including a nice 84-67 win at Illinois on Wednesday. This is an intriguing stretch for the Gophers, who visit Bloomington on Saturday and face Michigan on Jan. 17. Trevor Mbakwe is heating up at the right time before facing the Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller.
Marquette at Pittsburgh
(Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
Pittsburgh recovered from its 0-2 Big East start with a 73-45 drubbing of Georgetown on the road. The Panthers forced more Georgetown turnovers (16) than it allowed field goals (13). Marquette hits the road for its first league away game after two close calls in Milwaukee: Marquette defeated UConn in overtime and the Hoyas by one point in Milwaukee.
Villanova at Syracuse
(Saturday, noon, Big East syndication)
Villanova started 4-4, including losses to Alabama, Columbia and La Salle, but the Wildcats have reeled off seven consecutive wins. Upsetting Syracuse at the Carrier Dome may be too much to ask of Jay Wright’s team, but it’s a storyline worth watching.
Connecticut at Notre Dame (Saturday, 2 p.m., Big East syndication)
The Huskies are showing fight under new coach Kevin Ollie, but they lack the firepower on the front line to challenge Notre Dame, especially in South Bend. Jack Cooley is averaging 15.2 points and 11.2 rebounds. The Irish have only one loss, in overtime to Saint Joseph’s.
UCLA at Colorado (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
This is far from a storied Pac-12 rivalry, but the Bruins’ trip to Boulder could be one of the better games in the league this season. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad has topped 20 points in five of his last seven games as the Bruins have recovered from a slow start. It’s gut check time for Colorado, which allowed a collapse against Arizona turn into a second loss to Arizona State.
North Carolina at Florida State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Here’s something you don’t see often from a Leonard Hamilton team: Florida State has been better — at least statistically — offensively than defensively this season. The Seminoles are heating up as conference play begins, defeating Maryland 65-62 on the road behind Okaro White’s 15 consecutive points. North Carolina, meanwhile, is in disarray. Roy Williams doesn't have the high-squad he usually has as the Tar Heels have lost their first two ACC games, scoring 52 on Virginia and
Illinois at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network)
This will be a difficult road test for John Groce’s club. The Fighting Illini depend heavily on the 3-point shot, but that went cold against Minnesota on Wednesday (3 of 24). Wisconsin gives up fewer 3s than any team in the Big Ten.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2)
This is the type of game Oklahoma State will need to win finish near the top of the Big 12. The Cowboys lost back-to-back games to Gonzaga and Kansas State before rebounding Wednesday against TCU. Oklahoma looks like a bubble team, so this kind of game can go a long way for Lon Kruger’s Sooners. OU is improved, but the Cowboys feature the more talented roster.
BYU at Santa Clara (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ROOT Sports)
Santa Clara is one of the most improved teams in the nation. The Broncos, ravaged by injuries, won only eight games last season. They should finish near the top of the West Coast Conference this season. BYU guard Tyler Haws is averaging 27 points over his last four games, inclduing a 42-point outburst against Virginia Tech.
Saint Louis at Temple (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
After starting 3-3, Saint Louis has won eight in a row, including a 60-46 victory over New Mexico. The return of Kwamain Mitchell could make the Billikens a contender in the Atlantic 10. Temple handed Syracuse its only loss last season and gave Kansas fits by slowing the tempo, but the Owls have lost to Canisius from the MAAC and an 8-6 Xavier team.
Missouri at Ole Miss (Saturday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication)
Mizzou’s first-ever SEC road game is at the cozy Tad Pad in Oxford. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, the league’s leading scorer (18.2 ppg), will be the focus of the Tigers’ defense, but Murphy Holloway is also a talented scorer for the Rebs. Ole Miss was last seen scoring 92 points on defensive-minded Tennessee in Knoxville.
Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
This is a sneaky-good game in the very tough Mountain West. Colorado State, under first-year coach Larry Eustachy, has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. San Diego State is clearly a league contender. As he showed earlier this week, Aztecs guard Jamaal Franklin can dunk a little.
Michigan at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS)
Michigan has been one of the most impressive teams in the nation to date, but the Wolverines have yet to be tested in a true road game. Ohio State will provide that test, but the Buckeyes might not have enough scoring to keep up with John Beilein’s balanced attack.
Maryland at Miami (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Two teams that have endured setbacks of late: Miami with a thumb injury to Reggie Johnson and Maryland with its loss to Florida State on Wednesday. The Hurricanes have proven they can win even without their big man, but Terrapins 7-foot-1 center Alex Len will be a new challenge.
Arizona State at Oregon (Sunday, 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Both teams are led in scoring by freshmen — Oregon’s Damyean Dotson and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson. Carson’s numbers are better, but Dotson has the supporting cast that handed Arizona its first loss of the season Thursday.
Athlon managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.
The opening of three key SEC jobs this season -- Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee -- sparked debate within the Athlon office, and, it seems, through rabid SEC fans.
Which job is the most desirable?
It’s a loaded question, for sure. Tradition, resources, commitment, recruiting base, competition level and other perks and challenges all come into play.
Two years ago, we ranked every coaching job in the country in our preseason annual. Much has changed since then, not least of which conference affiliations.
We attempted to revisit the topic of ranking coaching jobs this year. We asked: Which jobs would have the greatest likelihood of yielding success within the next five years for the average coach?
Here are our rankings of the programs in this year’s coaching carousel. We’ll continue the exercise as more jobs open, but here’s the first look, with the three major SEC jobs near the top but behind a late-opening vacancy in Eugene, Ore.
Last three coaches: Chip Kelly (46-7), Mike Bellotti (116-55), Rich Brooks (91-109-4)
New coach: Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator
Pros: Starting with Rich Brooks' tenure, Oregon has completed a gradual rise from a moribund program in the Pac-8 to a national power. The Ducks have carved out a niche as one of the most innovative programs in the country, from cutting edge offense, to posh facilities and creative uniform combinations. Though Oregon isn’t a great state for recruiting talent, the Ducks have been able to pick up elite prospects from California while unearthing gems from Texas.
Cons: The cloud of an NCAA investigation into the Ducks’ relationship with recruiting scout Willie Lyles looms over the program. Oregon built itself into a perennial top-25 team in the early 2000s but didn’t arrive as a national title contender until USC was on probation. If USC (or UCLA, for that matter) return to form, what does that mean for the Ducks’ title prospects?
Last three coaches: Derek Dooley (15-21), Lane Kiffin (7-6), Phillip Fulmer (151-52-1)
New coach: Butch Jones, Cincinnati coach
Pros: Tennessee is in the second tier of SEC jobs after Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, but that’s still good enough to be one of the top 15 or 20 jobs in the country. The program’s been down, but it’s in better shape than when Derek Dooley took over, even if the on-field results didn’t show it. Three coaches in three seasons rocked the program’s stability, as did the defections from the 2009 signing class, many of whom would have been seniors this season. Despite rough times, the commitment from the administration and fans remains. The SEC East is still tough, but not as brutal as the West right now. The right coach could elevate the program in a hurry.
Cons: The new coach will have to deal with not being Jon Gruden, the candidate a vocal portion of the fanbase considered the Volunteers’ savior. Tennessee’s not a great state for high school talent, so the Vols have to beat Georgia and South Carolina for recruits on their home turf. Even Vanderbilt has become more of a factor in recruiting in recent seasons. Tennessee may not be in the SEC West, but its permanent crossover game is with Alabama, making the road to Atlanta that much tougher.
Last three coaches: John L. Smith (4-8), Bobby Petrino (37-14), Houston Nutt (75-48)
New coach: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin coach
Pros: Arkansas was right in the mix for SEC titles with Alabama and LSU until scandal cost Petrino his job. Razorbacks fans have long believed that is the rightful place for the Hogs, but history doesn’t say the same. Before Petrino, Arkansas had only one top-15 finish since 1989. Still, Arkansas is the biggest show in the state, and Petrino proved it can contend for a national title with the right coach.
Cons: The SEC West is brutal with Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M operating at full strength. Arkansas must recruit Texas if it’s going to be an SEC contender. That task became more difficult since Texas A&M joined the league and enjoyed quick success.
Last three coaches: Gene Chizik (33-19), Tommy Tuberville (85-40), Terry Bowden (47-17-1)
New coach: Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State coach
Pros: Like most of the SEC jobs, Auburn is one with plenty of commitment and resources (read: money), a rabid fanbase ... and outsized expectations. The Tigers should be able to recruit in Alabama and Georgia as always, and Auburn can win and win big, too. The Tigers are two years removed from a national title, and have had five winning conference seasons in four different decades. In the SEC, only Georgia can say the same.
Cons: See the names of the last three coaches? All went undefeated. All ended up fired. Every SEC job has its pressures, but the job at Auburn seems to find some dramatic conclusion. Going toe-to-toe with Nick Saban hasn’t made the job any easier.
Last three coaches: Bret Bielema (68-24), Barry Alvarez (117-74-1), Don Morton (6-27)
New coach: Gary Andersen, Utah State coach
Pros: With three consecutive Rose Bowls, it’s never been better at Madison, but perhaps there was a feeling Wisconsin had topped out. For all the Badgers’ success, they’re a tiny step behind Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and an unsanctioned Penn State in prestige. The commitment is there and the athletic director, Alvarez, knows better than any what it takes to win at Wisconsin.
Cons: The Badgers don’t have the best recruiting base in Wisconsin, but they hit for a high average in scooping up the state’s top talent. The Badgers won their recent division title with help from NCAA sanctions at Ohio State and Penn State. With the Buckeyes and Michigan returning to elite levels, Wisconsin may have a tougher time reaching the Rose Bowl or better. Also, getting recruits from warmer climates always will be a challenge.
Last three coaches: Jeff Tedford (82-57), Tom Holmoe (16-39), Steve Mariucci (6-6)
New coach: Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech coach
Pros: Cal’s not the moribund program it was when Jeff Tedford took over. Even with sub-standard facilities, Tedford managed to bring in NFL-caliber talent. The long-awaited upgrades of the athletic center and Memorial Stadium have finally come to fruition. A public school with new facilities in a great location in California make this an attractive job.
Cons: The Bears just fired their all-time wins leader, so mid-level bowl games aren’t going to cut it anymore in Berkeley. The competition is as tough as its been in several years as rival Stanford and Oregon are among the national elite, UCLA is on the rise and sanctions have expired at USC. Cal can be a winner, but it may never be a consistent national power like USC or Oregon.
7. NC State
Last three coaches: Tom O’Brien (40-35), Chuck Amato (49-37), Mike O’Cain (41-40)
New coach: Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois coach
Pros: With a strong recruiting base in state and some of best facilities in the ACC (upgraded during the Amato era), it’s a surprise the Wolfpack have not been more successful. Doeren will walk into a winnable league even amid expansion. No ACC team has finished in the top 10 since 2009, and rival North Carolina is under NCAA sanctions. And NC State has already proven it can beat Florida State.
Cons: That strong recruiting base? Well, not much of it is going to NC State. Only a handful are even staying in state. And even if the ACC is winnable, NC State faces the tougher ACC division with Florida State and Clemson (and soon Louisville) in the Atlantic. Doeren will have to fight all the problems associated with a program being long-time underachiever.
8. Texas Tech
Last three coaches: Tommy Tuberville (20-17), Mike Leach (84-43), Spike Dykes (82-67-1)
New coach: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M offensive coordinator
Pros: Texas Tech can be a consistent winner, no matter the coach. The Red Raiders have had only one losing season in the last 20 years. Mike Leach helped cultivated a unique identity for the Red Raiders as one of the the first major-conference homes for a pass-happy spread offense. As with any program in Texas, Tech will have a leg up in recruiting.
Cons: Speaking of recruiting, simply being in Texas is not a cure-all. Most of the state’s top prospects aren’t in West Texas. Like the rest of the Big 12, Texas Tech must win recruiting battles in Houston and Dallas to be successful. While Tech has a solid tradition of going to bowl games, conference titles have not been part of the mix. The Red Raiders have not won a share of a conference title since 1976, though Tech tied for a Big 12 South title with two other national title contenders in 2008.
Last three coaches: Butch Jones (23-14), Brian Kelly (34-6), Mark Dantonio (18-17)
New coach: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech coach
Pros: One of the top jobs remaining in the Big East, Cincinnati won at least a share of the conference title in four of the last five seasons. Ohio is a good state to recruit, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is a quality metro area. The Bearcats also have been able to successfully recruit the Southeast. The track record of recent coaches proves, for better or worse, it can be a good stepping stone job.
Cons: With Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse leaving the Big East, Cincinnati is near the top of the list of teams left out of conference expansion. Though Cincinnati is the No. 2 football program in the state, it’s a distant No. 2 to Ohio State. The Bearcats rarely will beat out the Buckeyes or other Big Ten squads for top Ohio talent. Facilities have improved over the years, but Nippert Stadium likely will one of the smallest venues in major college football.
Last two coaches: Skip Holtz (16-21), Jim Leavitt (95-57)
New coach: Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky coach
Pros: USF is going to lose more recruiting battles than it wins with Florida, Florida State and Miami, but the Big East can be won even on scraps from the Big Three in the Sunshine State. Heck, Louisville and West Virginia followed that strategy. A big public school in one of the three best recruiting states in the country shouldn’t struggle for talent. Even if the program has struggled to get over the hump, the chatter is that the Bulls job is a desirable one.
Cons: The Big East won’t be a major draw, and making matters worse, rival UCF is now a conference neighbor. In a depleted Big East, USF should be a strong contender to be the top ranked team in the “Group of Five” in BCS 2.0. But, then again, we often said USF “should” be a contender in the Big East, too.
Last three coaches: Jon Embree (4-21), Dan Hawkins (19-39), Gary Barnett (49-38)
New coach: Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State coach
Pros: Colorado has had pockets of success, with three different coaches winning at last 10 games since the 1990 national title. The state usually has a handful of top-flight prospects as well. The days of Colorado competing for a national title may be over, but with time, the Buffaloes could be a bowl contender again.
Cons: The program is a major rebuilding job as it was evident the Buffaloes lacked the talent to compete in the Pac-12. Colorado fired Embree after just two seasons, and athletic director Mike Bohn curiously detailed the various problems with the job, including “the erosion of the fan base and ... ticket sales.”
Last three coaches: Danny Hope (22-27), Joe Tiller (87-62), Jim Colletto (20-43-3)
New coach: Darrell Hazell, Kent State coach
Pros: Purdue went on a nice run under Joe Tiller, but the Boilermakers’ last Rose Bowl appearance was after the 2000 season. It may take a coach with a unique system -- as Tiller’s passing attack was in the late ‘90s and early 2000s -- to win big here.
Cons: Purdue is what it is. It won’t be the best job in the Big Ten, but it won’t be the worst, either. Indiana’s not a great state for football recruiting, but it’s a big public school with a solid fan base. A good coach can win here, but repeating Tiller’s run and his longevity might be tough.
Last three coaches: Joker Phillips (13-24), Rich Brooks (39-47), Guy Morriss (9-14)
New coach: Mark Stoops, Florida State defensive coordinator
Pros: Any SEC job has to be a good one, right? That’s true to an extent. A coach who can win in the SEC is usually in good shape career-wise. The expectations are just different at Kentucky. Winning seven or eight games and going 3-5 in the SEC is doable, and that’s good enough for UK.
Cons: The Wildcats may never have the talent or depth of division foes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or Tennessee. They’ll have to win on ingenuity, either with an unorthodox scheme or unearthing enough recruits to compete. The coach here also will need to be prepared to be a distant second fiddle to basketball. And Louisville’s move to the ACC will be a curveball. The Cardinals and Wildcats fight over what few in-state prospect the Bluegrass State has. Louisville’s momentum and move out of the Big East may make the Cards more attractive.
Last three coaches: Doug Marrone (25-25), Greg Robinson (10-37), Paul Pasqualoni (107-59-1)
New coach: Scott Shafer, Syracuse defensive coordinator
Pros: The job is in much better shape than when Marrone took over after the disastrous Greg Robinson tenure. After years of languishing near the bottom of the Big East, Syracuse claimed a share of the conference title and defeated the league’s last two BCS participants. The program has great tradition, though nearly all of it before today’s recruits were born.
Cons: The move to the ACC is a positive, but Louisville and Pittsburgh can say the same. Beyond that, Rutgers may be the biggest winner in conference realignment with its move to the Big Ten. Syracuse must fight for the limited pool of top recruits in the Northeast, most of which live in New Jersey.
15. Boston College
Last three coaches: Frank Spaziani (22-29), Jeff Jagodzinski (20-8), Tom O’Brien (75-45)
New coach: Steve Addazio, Temple coach
Pros: Despite all the drawbacks for Boston College, the Eagles were consistent under Tom O’Brien and Jeff Jagodzinski thanks to their ability to locate and develop quarterback and offensive line talent. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC, Boston College won’t be on an island in the ACC anymore.
Cons: Lackluster fan interest, high academic standards and a locale more focused on the Patriots and Celtics make this one of the toughest jobs in the major conferences. Recruiting from the Northeast to compete with Florida State, Clemson and the Carolina schools is a tall order as well.
16. Southern Miss
Last three coaches: Ellis Johnson (0-12), Larry Fedora (34-19), Jeff Bower (118-84-1)
New coach: Todd Monken, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator
Pros: Mississippi’s a good state for talent, even in the lower tiers that fall to Conference USA. Before the winless season, Southern Miss had 18 consecutive winning seasons.
Cons: So far, Southern Miss has not received the call to the Big East while Conference USA foes Houston, SMU, UCF and Tulane all did. Perhaps that knocks the Eagles down a peg in the eyes of recruits.
17. Northern Illinois
Last three coaches: Dave Doeren (23-4), Jerry Kill (23-16), Joe Novak (63-76)
New coach: Rod Carey, Northern Illinois offensive coordinator
Pros: Do you think a trip to the Orange Bowl might help recruiting? Far from a one-year wonder, the Huskies have won at least 11 games in three consecutive seasons under two coaches. As one of the MAC’s homes for flashy offense, it’s going to be an attractive spot for recruits.
Cons: For a MAC team, not many. The last two coaches landed major conference jobs in three seasons or fewer.
18. Louisiana Tech
Last three coaches: Sonny Dykes (22-15), Derek Dooley (17-20), Jack Bicknell (43-52)
New coach: Skip Holtz, former USF coach
Pros: Louisiana Tech sits on a good recruiting base in Louisiana, though the Bulldogs have rarely pulled enough recruits to keep them consistently competitive. The program will move into Conference USA, which is a better geographic fit than being the Eastern-most program in the WAC and Big West over the years.
Cons: Ruston is a bit off the beaten path in Northern Louisiana. And thanks to the administration’s decision to decline a bowl bid this season, no Louisiana Tech coach since 1978 has gone to multiple bowl games.
Last three coaches: Chris Ault (233-109-1), Chris Tormey (16-31), Jeff Tisdel (23-22)
New coach: Brian Polian, Texas A&M special teams coordinator/tight ends coach
Pros: Nevada is enjoying its most successful period in program history with eight consecutive bowl games and a 13-1 season in 2010. The program has a certain cachet as offensive innovators as the program was the first to run the Pistol formation under Ault in 2005.
Cons: Ault is the only coach to win consistently at Nevada, leading the program on three separate stints. He’s a College Football Hall of Famer and the most important figure in team history, so Polian will be following a legend. The program operates at a lower budget than most of its Mountain West rivals and doesn’t sit on a great recruiting base.
Last three coaches: Steve Addazio (13-11), Al Golden (27-34), Bobby Wallace (19-71)
New coach: Matt Rhule, New York Giants assistant
Pros: This is not your father’s Temple program. The Owls were once so bad, the Big East kicked them out. They’re back in the league, but that may say as much about the Big East as Temple. Still, Al Golden gave the program steady footing starting in 2008. The roster is rebuilding, but winning in the Big East isn’t as tough as it was in Temple’s first go-round in the league. The new coach will hope for a trickle-down effect from scholarship limits at Penn State.
Cons: Golden was a program builder, and Addazio was the high-energy, tough coach Temple needed to keep momentum. So finding the right personality to keep it going will be tough. The Owls’ dreadful history isn’t that far in the past, either.
Last two coaches: Mario Cristobal (27-47), Don Strock (24-38)
New coach: Ron Turner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach
Pros: FIU is a job on the rise, thanks to Cristobal’s clean-up job. The talent level is better and the academics are in order. Meanwhile, FIU sits on a great talent base where even the second- and third-level prospects can compete. A move to Conference USA is also in the future.
Cons: The second- and third-tier South Florida recruits don’t necessarily fall to FIU and the like. The Golden Panthers are still a distant No. 2 to Miami in fan support (and even further down the line if you count pro sports and Florida and Florida State). There’s also skepticism about an athletic department that fired a Miami native who reached back-to-back bowl games in 2010-11 and turned down Big East opportunities just a year ago.
22. Western Michigan
Last three coaches: Bill Cubit (51-47), Gary Darnell (46-46), Al Molde (62-47-2)
New coach: P.J. Fleck, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant
Pros: Western Michigan never had a truly awful season under Cubit but never won the MAC, either. There’s little reason Western Michigan can’t have a quick turnaround as Central Michigan, Toledo, Kent State and Northern Illinois have had in recent years.
Cons: The road to the MAC title game will be tough with division foes Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State all playing at high levels.
23. Arkansas State
Last three coaches: Gus Malzahn (9-3), Hugh Freeze (10-3), Steve Roberts (45-63)
New coach: Bryan Harsin, Texas offensive coordinator
Pros: A middling Sun Belt program has been elevated with back-to-back conference championships under two coaches. The right coach should be able to keep the momentum.
Cons: Arkansas doesn’t have the talent depth of other Sun Belt schools in Louisiana and Alabama. Arkansas State remains in the league despite FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee and North Texas getting the call to Conference USA. Being the fourth coach in four seasons in Jonesboro also brings its challenges.
24. Western Kentucky
Last three coaches: Willie Taggart (16-20), David Elson (39-44), Jack Harbaugh (91-68)
New coach: Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas coach
Pros: Western Kentucky had a successful history in Division I-AA, which gives it an edge over startups programs at the Sun Belt/Conference USA level. The Hilltoppers also remain a candidate to move up to C-USA.
Cons: Taggart elevated the program to Sun Belt contender in the last two seasons, but it remains to be see if the program can sustain its success at the FBS level.
Last three coaches: Mike Price (48-61), Gary Nord (14-34), Charlie Bailey (19-53-1)
New coach: Sean Kugler, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach
Pros: Not a whole lot. UTEP has had seven consecutive losing seasons since Mike Price went 16-10 in his first two years.
Cons: UTEP can claim the Texas recruiting base, but Houston and Dallas aren’t exactly a stone’s throw from El Paso.
26. San Jose State
Last three coaches: Mike MacIntyre (16-21), Dick Tomey (25-35), Fitz Hill (14-33)
New coach: Ron Caragher, San Diego coach
Pros: The Spartans are moving to the Mountain West next season and have access to a good recruiting base in California.
Cons: San Jose State is way down the line of programs scooping up California talent and has been traditionally one of the worst programs in the FBS, despite MacIntyre’s 10-2 effort.
27. Kent State
Last three coaches: Darrell Hazell (16-9), Doug Martin (29-53), Dean Pees (17-51)
New coach: Paul Haynes, Arkansas defensive coordinator
Pros: Hazell proved the program could be elevated to the top of the MAC. The program has momentum and a strong Ohio recruiting base.
Cons: Despite this season’s success, Kent State has reached only two bowl games in its history. The other was in 1972 under legendary Washington coach Don James. Sliding back into mediocrity is a strong possibility here.
28. Utah State
Last three coaches: Gary Andersen (26-24), Brent Guy (9-38), Mick Dennehy (19-37)
New coach: Matt Wells, Utah State offensive coordinator
Pros: With back-to-back bowl appearances and 18 wins season in the last two seasons, Utah State has more momentum than ever in its history. For the first time, there’s a commitment to winning in Logan. Once lumped with Idaho and New Mexico State as the toughest jobs out West, Utah State will move to the Mountain West, giving the job more appeal.
Cons: This is not a program with a deep tradition of winning, though Andersen and John L. Smith have won with the Aggies. Recruiting always will be a difficulty as will the challenge of being the third most prominent program in the state after Utah and BYU.
29. Georgia State
Last coach: Bill Curry (10-23)
New coach: Trent Miles, Indiana State
Pros: The infant program will join the Sun Belt in 2013, and there are worse places to recruit than Atlanta.
Cons: Playing in front of sparse crowds in the Georgia Dome only reinforces the of the program is starting from scratch.
30. New Mexico State
Last three coaches: DeWayne Walker (10-40), Hal Mumme (11-38), Tony Samuel (34-57)
New coach: Doug Martin, offensive coordinator (interim)
Pros: Few. It’s a warmer climate than fellow WAC castoff Idaho.
Cons: The Aggies haven’t been to a bowl game since 1960 and have had only two winning seasons since 1992. New Mexico State is without a conference affiliation and can’t even claim in-state bragging rights as Bob Davie has started turning New Mexico around.
Last three coaches: Robb Akey (20-50), Dennis Erickson (4-8), Nick Holt (5-18)
New coach: Paul Petrino, Arkansas offensive coordinator
Pros: Idaho is an FBS head coaching job.
Cons: No conference affiliation. No recruiting base. No tradition. Off-the-field headaches. How does that sound?
The 2012-13 bowl season ended with 35 winners and 35 losers, but not all victories and defeats are created equal.
Alabama and Nick Saban were the biggest winners, claiming a title and cementing the Crimson Tide as the most dominant program in the nation’s most dominant conference. Eddie Lacy and the Tide’s offensive line may have walked away as the biggest winners in terms of pro prospects. The loser in that scenario, though, was Heisman finalist Manti Te’o.
Bowl season provided short-term victories for a handful programs, but also a swing of the pendulum into a successful 2013. Other teams, coaches and players, however, ended up with new headaches after the postseason.
Here’s a rundown of the biggest winners and losers from the 2013 bowl season.
Nick Saban’s legacy
With three BCS titles in four seasons at Alabama and a fourth title in nine years overall, Saban is moving into the discussion of great all-time coaches. Bear Bryant has six titles. Frank Leahy has four. But those came before reduced scholarship limits, the BCS and the rise of the SEC as the preeminent conference. With the Alabama recruiting machine operating at full capacity, the question is how long this dynasty will last.
Related: Can Alabama repeat?
The Alabama running back isn’t Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram, but few players raised their stock more in the final two games of the season. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia in the SEC championship game and 140 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame. No one would blame the junior if he takes advantage and moves on to the NFL Draft. And no one would take pity on the Tide, who have T.J. Yeldon waiting in the wings.
Related: Championship game photo gallery
Altogether, not a bad six weeks for Louisville. The Cardinals announced their move to the ACC, won the Big East, retained coach Charlie Strong despite overtures from Tennessee, and defeated two-touchdown favorite Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fought through injuries to defeat Rutgers on the last day of the regular season and then carved up an elite Florida offense in the bowl game. He’ll be on the Heisman short list in 2013. To boot, the Cardinals landed a commitment from U.S. Army All-American receiver James Quick.
No one had a bigger single play than when Clowney ran untouched through the Michigan offensive line and trucked running back Vincent Smith for an eight-yard loss and a forced fumble. If a defensive player is going to have a Heisman moment, this was it. A first-down call on a chain measurement erroneously gave Michigan, leading by one at the time, a first down to set up Clowney's play. South Carolina scored a go-ahead touchdown nine seconds later.
The Ducks didn’t get to play for the national title, but they may be set up for another run after a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Chip Kelly’s interest in the NFL was well-established, but for the second consecutive season Kelly opted to stay in Eugene. He’ll return to a top-five team.
How will Johnny Manziel handle being “Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel?” Pretty well, apparently. The redshirt freshman picked up where he left off at the end of the season to pass for 287 yards and rush for 229 with four total touchdowns against Oklahoma. Heisman winners used to be snakebit in bowl games, but Manziel became the fourth consecutive winner to win in the postseason thanks to his third game with at least 500 yards of total offense this season.
The Bulldogs came within five yards of facing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, but they didn’t appear to be deflated in a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capitol One Bowl. Georgia could have folded when it gave up 17 unanswered points to trail in the third quarter, but Aaron Murray led an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. Murray and running back Todd Gurley will open 2013 against Clemson.
If there were any lingering doubts about where David Shaw stands among Pac-12 coaches, he eliminated in them in with a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Since 2009, Stanford lost Toby Gerhart (a Heisman runner-up), Andrew Luck (the No. 1 overall draft pick and two-time Heisman runner-up) and coach Jim Harbaugh. Yet the Cardinal have three top-10 finishes to show for it. Shaw has his starting quarterback and enough pieces on defense returning to make another run in 2013.
Nine wins? An appearance in the postseason top 25? At Vanderbilt? The Commodores capped a seven-game win streak with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Music City Bowl to finish ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Vanderbilt hadn’t finished a season ranked since 1948 and hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915. Next up: Playing a bowl game outside of the state of Tennessee for the first time since 1982.
The lone team helping the Big Ten save face on New Year’s Day, Northwestern earned its first bowl win with a 34-20 win over Mississippi State. It wasn’t pretty as Northwestern’s three turnovers were offset but Mississippi State’s four, but the Wildcats were elated to end the bowl drought. Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemian will all be back for more in 2013.
Clemson started the season with a win over an SEC team in Atlanta and ended the year in the same fashion with a 25-24 upset of LSU. Tajh Boyd led the Tigers to three fourth-quarter scoring drives against a top-10 defense for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Boyd scored the biggest bowl win for the ACC, but more important, he erased memories of last year’s Orange Bowl collapse.
After losing five games by a combined 13 points, Michigan State finally caught some breaks and found a deficit -- down 16 at halftime -- it could overcome with its paltry offense. The season ended the way it started, with Le’Veon Bell the horse (145 yards on 32 carries) in a 17-16 win over TCU.
The Rebels played in front of a partisan crowd at Birmingham’s Legion Field and gave the win-starved Ole Miss fans what they came to see: A 38-17 win over Pittsburgh. Bo Wallace and the Rebels offense didn’t miss a beat despite losing running back Jeff Scott early.
A coveted running back prospect out of high school, the Oregon transfer enters 2013 on a hot streak for Baylor. With 138 rushing yards against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards and six touchdowns in his final six games. Not to be outdone, the Baylor defense enjoyed its own renaissance by holding UCLA to 34 rushing yards.
Related: Ranking the BCS champions
BCS games plus the Cotton Bowl
The bowl excitement ended early in the evening on New Year’s Day when Stanford defeated Wisconsin 20-14. After that, the major bowl games were settled early with Florida State (Orange), Louisville (Sugar), Oregon (Fiesta), Texas A&M (Cotton) and Alabama (BCS championship) cruised to double-digit victories.
Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame defense
Alabama’s offensive line pushed around the Notre Dame front seven all day, clearing the way for the Tide’s 265 rushing yards. The numbers were astonishing: Notre Dame allowed nine offensive touchdowns during the regular season only to give up six to Alabama. The Irish never allowed a touchdown drive of 80 yards all season until Alabama had four. But the face on Notre Dame’s title-game performance was the ineffectiveness of Manti Te’o who missed a handful of tackles.
Related: What's next for Notre Dame?
Kiffin’s USC team didn’t show up in big games all season, was 90 minutes late for the “Sheriff’s Posse Dinner” with their Sun Bowl hosts and Georgia Tech and then managed only seven points against a 7-7 Georgia Tech team whose defense surrendered at least 40 points to Miami, Middle Tennessee, Clemson, BYU, North Carolina and Georgia. USC became the first team in the AP poll era to star the season No. 1 and finish with six losses and the first preseason No. 1 to finish unranked since 1964 Ole Miss.
For a moment, the Big Ten flirted with a comeback in bowl season as Michigan led South Carolina in the Outback and Nebraska led Georgia in the Capitol One. Then it all fell apart as the Wolverines and Cornhuskers lost their early New Year’s Day games and Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten finished 2-5 in the postseason and was swept in the Rose, Capitol One and Outback bowls for a 1-8 record in those games the last three years. Granted, the outcomes may have been different if Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, but that’s not going to reverse the perception of the Big Ten as an inferior league.
Not many athletic directors could step in as their football team’s interim coach for the Rose Bowl, but not many ADs have won in Pasadena before. The novelty wore off as Alvarez’s Badgers lost 20-14 to Stanford to give the coach his first Rose Bowl blemish after three wins in the game.
Snowy conditions at Yankee Stadium aren’t exactly ideal conditions for West Virginia’s offense. Neither is taking the field with a defense that gives up 369 rushing yards in Doug Marrone’s sendoff at Syracuse.
The Tigers coughed a fourth-quarter lead to Clemson and then started hemorrhaging early entries to the NFL Draft. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing all declared for the draft. The losses are not insignificant.
|ACC||4-2, 1-0 BCS|
|Big 12||4-5, 0-1 BCS|
|Big East||3-2, 1-0 BCS|
|Big Ten||2-5, 0-1 BCS|
|MAC||2-5, 0-1 BCS|
|Pac-12||4-4, 2-0 BCS|
|SEC||6-3, 2-0 BCS|
|Ind.||1-2, 0-1 BCS|
A banner year for the MAC fizzled in bowl season, even if you disregard Northern Illinois’ unsurprising 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Toledo and Ball State, teams that finished with nine wins apiece, lost their bowl games by a combined score of 79-32. Kent State, which was a double overtime loss away from NIU’s Orange Bowl slot, lost 17-13 to Arkansas State as the MAC finished 2-5 in the postseason. At least Ohio defeated ULM 45-14 in a matchup of September darlings.
Pat HIll lost four of his last five bowl games with Fresno State. The bowl curse seems to continue with Tim DeRuyter. Fresno’s 43-10 loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl was one of the most unexpected results of bowl season with the Bulldogs bringing Derek Carr, Robbie Rouse and a standout pass defense to Aloha Stadium. But Hawaii loves SMU coach June Jones, who won his second Hawaii Bowl as the Mustangs coach.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
This game was supposed to be a blowout and it delivered with Oklahoma State’s 58-14 win over Purdue. And this was a New Year’s Day game, folks.
Nevada gave up two touchdowns in 46 seconds to lose to Arizona, San Diego State gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter to lose to former MWC member BYU, and Air Force and Fresno State lost in upsets. If there’s any silver lining to the MWC’s 1-4, it’s that the lone bowl winner, Boise State, won’t be going to the Big East after all.
Did Louisiana Tech stay home for bowl season because it was unwilling to face in-state rival ULM? Were the Bulldogs a casualty of the Independence Bowl’s timetable and Northern Illinois’ BCS bid throwing things into confusion? Does it matter? A 9-3 team with the nation’s No. 1 offense was absent from the postseason, a missed opportunity for viewers and the Bulldogs’ players. That coach Sonny Dykes left for another job (Cal) wasn’t a huge shock. But Louisiana Tech replaced him with Skip Holtz in a hire that could best be described as adequate.
Non-conference schedules are all but wrapped up, meaning we’re starting to have a good idea of the college basketball teams playing for prime slots in the NCAA Tournament, those looking to avoid the NIT and those grasping for, well, anything.
Athlon Sports’ first bracket projections for the 2013 field will be released in the coming weeks, but we’re already deep into key contests for conference titles, NCAA seeding and bubble teams.
Chief among the key games with Tournament implications this week is Duke's road trip to NC State. Mike Krzyzewski's team will be on its way to another high seed in the tournament unless someone in the ACC can step up to challenge the Blue Devils. Riding a hot streak, NC State may end up being that team. The Wolfpack will have a chance to showcase its improvement since November when it plays host to Duke on Saturday.
Here’s our look at the rest of the week and how it could impact the 68 bracket slots in March.
All times Eastern.
Related: 7 key college hoops stats from last week
JAN. 9 BRACKET UPDATE
|Athlon College Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 9|
1. Duke (15-0)
2. Michigan (15-0)
3. Louisville (13-1)
4. Indiana (13-1)
5. Kansas (12-1)
6. Arizona (14-0)
7. Minnesota (14-1)
8. Syracuse (14-1)
9. Missouri (12-2)
10. Illinois (14-2)
11. Gonzaga (15-1)
12. Kansas State (12-2)
13. Florida (10-2)
14. San Diego State (12-2)
15. Butler (12-2)
16. Ohio State (12-3)
17. Notre Dame (14-1)
18. NC State (12-2)
19. Creighton (15-1)
20. Wichita State (14-1)
21. Michigan State (12-3)
22. VCU (12-3)
23. UCLA (12-3)
24. Oklahoma State (10-3)
25. Wyoming (13-0)
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Duke at NC State (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
The question posed since November still doesn’t have a clear answer: Who in the ACC is going to challenge Duke? NC State has won nine in a row since a 79-82 loss to Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but the Wolfpack are coming off an uneven performance in a 78-73 win over Boston College. Duke is playing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament but hasn’t played in a true road game this season.
ALL EYES ON: Minnesota
at Illinois (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network)
at Indiana (Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
The Gophers’ 76-63 win over Michigan State on New Year’s Eve was eye-opening, but Minnesota can make even more noise against two of the Big Ten’s best on the road. Even a split on this road swing would be a good sign for a Gophers program that has gone 20-3 since last March. Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins have carried Minnesota at various times during that stretch But keep in mind: Potential All-American Trevor Mbakwe has started only three games this season.
UNDER PRESSURE: Colorado
USC (Thursday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
UCLA (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The real shame in the Buffaloes’ 92-83 overtime loss to Arizona is that it didn’t need to come down to a buzzer-beater being waved off at the end of regulation. Colorado led by as much as 16 in the second half before coughing up the lead. The Buffaloes (10-4, 0-2 Pac-12) then turned around to lose at Arizona State in its next game. Colorado should defeat USC on Thursday, and UCLA will give the Buffs a chance at a big conference victory. Losing three of the first four Pac-12 games -- or worse, an 0-4 start to conference play -- would be a major setback for Tad Boyle’s team.
East Carolina (Wednesday, 8 p.m.)
at UAB (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble this week in its Conference USA opener, so we’re looking closer at Friday’s 85-80 win over Tennessee. C-USA won’t give the Tigers any opportunities for resume-building wins, but Memphis salvaged a top-100 victory against Tennessee. Now, Memphis needs the Volunteers to become an NCAA contender. Before defeating the Vols in Knoxville, Memphis’ best win was over Northern Iowa.
SINKING: North Carolina
Miami (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
at Florida State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Who knows which North Carolina team is going to show up this week? The Tar Heels defeated UNLV 79-73 on Dec. 29 in a game that looked like a turning point for a team still looking to gel. Then North Carolina lost 61-52 Sunday to Virginia, a team that’s 0-3 against the Colonial Athletic Association this season. This week’s opponents will give North Carolina a chance to turn itself around or create more problems for its postseason hopes: Miami proved it can win without Reggie Johnson last week, and Florida State is, like North Carolina, an enigma.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH: Saint Louis
UMass (Thursday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
at Temple (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
The Atlantic 10 is crowded at the top in part because of an eight-game winning streak by Saint Louis. The Billikens keep getting stronger as Kwamain Mitchell returned following foot surgery. Even as Mitchell worked himself into game shape, Saint Louis defeated New Mexico 60-46 on Dec. 31. Saint Louis will face NCAA contenders UMass and Temple, which already defeated Syracuse and put a scare into Kansas.
Ole Miss at Tennessee (Wednesday, 8 p.m., SEC syndication).
The SEC pecking order is Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and then the winner of this game.
Florida State at Maryland (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication).
Maryland begins a critical stretch to prove its mettle: Florida State, at Miami, NC State, at North Carolina.
UNLV at New Mexico (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
UNLV has three road wins this season -- none in as difficult a venue as The Pit.
Michigan State at Iowa (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2).
Iowa may be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Hawkeyes have to start picking up key wins.
Arizona at Oregon (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2).
Arizona has been lucky lately. Will the luck run out against a quality Ducks team in Eugene?
Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2).
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk is an emerging star. A win in Spokane would be a nice addition to the Gaels’ Tourney resume.
Marquette at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPNU).
Pitt lost its first two Big East games. The Panthers need to showed they may be on the right track with a 73-45 drubbing of Georgetown.
Illinois at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Illinois scored a big win at home over Ohio State. Now goes to one of the Big Ten’s toughest venues.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2).
The Cowboys need to get back to early season form. Oklahoma State has lost back-to-back games to Gonzaga and Kansas State.
Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
Colorado State is a quiet 13-2. The Rams have chance to make a statement in the Mountain West during their trip to San Diego.
Michigan at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS).
The Buckeyes are going in the wrong direction with losses to the best teams they’ve faced (Duke, Kansas, Illinois). Michigan is just as good as those previous three teams.
Maryland at Miami (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU).
With Reggie Johnson out, the Terrapins’ Alex Len might be poised for a big day.
Alabama may be reveling in its second consecutive national championship, but college football fans everywhere else are turning their attention to recruiting and spring practice.
Those are just appetizers to the date everyone is really anticipating: The countdown for the 2013 season has begun. This is what you have to look forward to when the season reboots at the end of August.
All games on Saturday, Aug. 31 unless noted. Not all 2013 schedules are complete, so the following list is of games scheduled as of Jan. 7.
1. Georgia at Clemson
How much does a bowl victory mean? Both teams are about to find out. Georgia and Clemson entered 2012 off deflating bowl losses -- the Bulldogs in triple overtime against Michigan State, the Tigers in a rout to West Virginia. Both teams will enter 2013 after pulling out wins in their respective bowl games in the fourth quarter. With quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd announcing their returns for 2013, this should be an offensive showcase between top-10 teams and Heisman contenders.
2. LSU vs. TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
The exodus of LSU defenders has begun with defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon and linebacker Kevin Minter among those leaving early for the NFL. The Tigers haven’t struggled to replace defensive talent before, but all those roster spots won't be filled easily. LSU will face a TCU team in its backyard to open 2013. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin showed flashes of his potential when he unexpectedly became the starter in October. LSU’s Zach Mettenbrger had a nice finish to 2012, too.
3. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Don’t expect a major drop-off from Alabama, who checked in at No. 1 in our early top 25 for 2013. A.J. McCarron is back as the leader of an offense that will feature Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. On defense, the Crimson Tide should have another top-notch squad again, but the offensive line could be a concern in relative terms. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is awaiting a draft decision from quarterback Logan Thomas, who started 2012 as a top prospect before his season fizzled on the field.
4. North Carolina at South Carolina (Aug. 29, Thursday)
The Tar Heels will be bowl eligible in 2013 unless the ongoing academic scandal changes the situation in Chapel Hill. Will it be a great game with Giovani Bernard and a handful of defensive starters gone from North Carolina? Perhaps not, but it will be the first key game in a Heisman campaign for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
5. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (in Houston)
Oklahoma State named freshman Wes Lunt its starting quarterback at the conclusion of spring practice. After a handful of injuries, Mike Gundy learned he had three QBs capable of winning Big 12 games in Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. All are eligible to return. Mississippi State ended the season on a 1-5 skid, but the starting backfield of Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins will be seniors.
6. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Doormats no more, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt get a prime opening weekend slot. The Commodores won 27-26 in Oxford on Nov. 19 as part of a seven-game win streak to cap the season. Both programs are riding waves of energy after winning their bowl games by a combined score of 76-41.
7. ULM at Oklahoma
Oklahoma moves on without Landry Jones, likely making Blake Bell the full-time starter. OU will find out if the Belldozer can strike as much fear into defenses on first and 10 from his 20-yard line as he does from the goal line. ULM’s Kolton Browning returns after opening 2012 with an upset of Arkansas and coming within eight total points of doing the same to Auburn and Baylor.
8. Ohio at Louisville
Few teams will enter 2013 with more positive mojo than Louisville. The Cardinals made easy work of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman-contending quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leads a glut of returning juniors and seniors. And coach Charlie Strong is staying put after overtures for Tennessee. Ohio, who defeated Penn State to open 2012, will be no pushover as quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship return.
9. Northwestern at Cal
Northwestern opens the season riding a bowl win, something the Wildcats haven’t done since the 1949 opener. First-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes will get the Bears’ offense moving soon enough, but Northwestern will have the edge in Berkeley with Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemien back.
10. Boise State at Washington
If you feel like you just watched this game, that’s because you did. Boise State defeated Washington 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, handing the Huskies two crushing losses to end the season along with an overtime loss to rival Washington State.
Others of note:
Northern Illinois at Iowa. The Huskies’ Jordan Lynch should top 173 yards of total offense this time around.
Temple at Notre Dame. From unranked to the national title game in 2012, Notre Dame will open 2013 with expectations.
Penn State vs. Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.). No more Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges or Matt McGloin. Things are going to get tough at Penn State, but at least coach Bill O’Brien is back.
Toledo at Florida. The Gators ended the season on a down note in the Sugar Bowl and open 2013 against a team they should put away. Emphasis on should put away.
Rutgers at Fresno State (Thursday, Aug. 29). The Scarlet Knights’ defense loses some key cogs. Fresno State is still trying to figure out how it lost 43-10 to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl
This wasn’t supposed to be the year for Alabama. Seems foolish, now doesn’t it?
The Crimson Tide returned only four defensive starters from the 2011 title squad. A Heisman finalist, Trent Richardson, left for the NFL.
A year later, a dominant defense and run game sealed a second consecutive Tide championship.
Alabama may be automatic now, fielding a defense whose only weakness is Johnny Manziel. Alabama made easy work of Notre Dame 42-14 to win its third BCS championship in four seasons, holding No. 1 teams scoreless in title games for nearly nine quarters going back to the win over LSU a year ago.
Nick Saban’s fourth national title (including one championship at LSU) was the second most lopsided championship in BCS history after USC’s 55-19 win over Oklahoma for the 2004 title.
Notre Dame ranked fourth in the country in rush defense at 92.4 yards per game. Eddie Lacy topped that on his own. The Irish never allowed a team to march 80 yards for a touchdown. Alabama did it four times, including a 97-yard touchdown drive.
Alabama sealed its spot as the king of college football early with three touchdowns in the first 15:04, earning the first back-to-back BCS championships and first consecutive national titles since USC won the Associated Press championship in 2003 and the BCS title in 2004.
RAPID REACTION: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
Player of the game: Eddie Lacy.
This spot could easily belong to Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, who pushed around the Notre Dame defensive line all night. But Lacy put in plenty of work on his own, swatting away 248-pound defensive linemen, spinning through defenders and bullying his way through Notre Dame’s vaunted run D. He finished with 140 yards on 20 carries with a 20-yard TD run and 11-yard TD catch.
Turning point. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception.
It would be too easy to say the turning point was when Alabama took the field, though the final score indicated as much. Instead, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception of Everett Golson early in the third quarter was the end for Notre Dame. As Notre Dame built momentum on offense in the third quarter, Golson took a shot down the sideline to DaVaris Daniels. Cornerback Dee Milliner tipped the ball away when Clinton-Dix swooped in to intercept the pass inside the 5-yard line. Alabama capitalized with a 97-yard touchdown drive to take a 35-0 lead.
Unsung hero: Amari Cooper.
With a run game and defense like Alabama had Monday, the Tide didn’t need an overwhelming effort from the passing game. They got it anyway. Alabama’s freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper turned in clutch catches for a six-reception, 105-yard, two-touchdown night. In one of the few miscues for Alabama, Cooper failed to lay out for a diving catch on a deep pass for a potential touchdown from A.J. McCarron. The Tide quarterback finished 20 of 28 for 264 yards with four touchdown passes.
Needed more: Manti Te’o.
The Notre Dame defense missed tackles all evening, and Te’o wasn’t the only culprit. But the Irish needed more out of their Maxwell Award-winning linebacker. He was invisible for most of the night, and when he did show up, it was for the wrong reasons. Te’o whiffed on a handful of tackles, most glaringly late in the second quarter on a potential stop in the backfield on T.J. Yeldon, a freshman. The Alabama running back still had a seven-yard gain. Alabama finished with 265 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
Questionable call: Kick catch interference in the first quarter.
With the way Alabama took control all evening, the penalty that negated an Alabama fumble deep in its own territory may not have made a difference in the grand scheme. But a Notre Dame scoring chance to answer Alabama’s 7-0 lead may have slowed the Tide for a moment. Christion Jones fumbled a punt, recovered by Notre Dame, but officials ruled kick catch interference even though an Irish player never made contact with Jones. Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of officials and a former SEC coordinator of officials, told the ESPN broadcast crew the call was correct as Jones did not have room to make the fair catch.
Stat that matters: Third down conversions.
This may say it all: Notre Dame started 0-for-5 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth while Alabama started 6-of-8. Notre Dame finished 2-of-8 on third down, Alabama 8-of-13.
Three snap judgements:
Saban’s run is one for the ages. Teams have been dominant over stretches of time, most recently USC. But Alabama’s run may the most impressive we’ve seen in several decades. Three national titles in four years at Alabama matches Nebraska’s run from 1994-97 and Notre Dame’s from 1946-49. Throw in the 2003 title at LSU, Saban has four titles in nine years.
With or without Eddie Lacy, Alabama’s loaded at the skill positions. Lacy’s been the team MVP of championship season against Georgia and Notre Dame, which may push him to declare for the NFL Draft. If he leaves, Alabama still has freshmen T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper working with rising senior A.J. McCarron. If there’s a question mark it could be offensive line, which will lose Barrett Jones and Warmack. Fluker and Kouandjio are also draft eligible.
Notre Dame can’t let this loss define the Irish. Plain and simple, Notre Dame was outclassed Monday, but the Irish can’t let this rout spill into next season. Brian Kelly’s team reached the national title stage ahead of schedule, but Golson and many key cogs on the defense return in 2013.
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
2: Possessions keeping Arizona undefeated last week
Arizona is one of four remaining undefeated teams remaining -- Duke, Michigan and Wyoming are the others -- but the Wildcats needed a little luck to remain unbeaten last week. On Thursday, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Colorado’s Sabatino Chen was waved off after video review. Arizona, which trailed by as much as eight with 1:44 left, dominated overtime against the Buffaloes in overtime on the way to a 92-83 win. But Colorado is an NCAA Tournament contender; Arizona’s opponent on Saturday was not. Utah (8-6, 0-2 Pac-12) gave the Wildcats all they handle in a 60-57 loss. The Utes’ final 3-point shot bounced off the rim, the backboard and then the rim again for another close call for Arizona. Before last week, the signature wins for Sean Miller's team over San Diego State and Florida came by one point each.
25, 14 and 4: Mike Muscala’s line against Missouri
File this note away when you fill out your brackets in March: Bucknell forward Mike Muscala had 25 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in a 66-64 loss at Missouri. Bucknell led until the final 3:37 before Missouri put the Bison away in the final seconds. Muscala, who arrived in Lewisburg, Pa., via Roseville, Minn., is a 6-foot-11, 239-pound forward who’s going to cause someone problems in the Tournament if Bucknell wins the Patriot League. Muscala’s day was just enough to overshadow Tigers guard Phil Pressey, who had a career-high 26 points.
4: Ns in Nnanna Egwu’s first name
A tip of the hat to Egwu, one of Illinois’ major difference-makers in a 74-55 win over Ohio State on Saturday. After losing two of three and with a brutal Big Ten slate ahead, Illinois needed to signal its staying power on the national stage. The victory over the No. 8 Buckeyes did that and more. The 6-foot-11 Egwu had the best game for any Illinois frontcourt player this season by scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds, three on the offensive glass. A perimeter-oriented team, Illinois was 20 of 31 (64.5 percent) from inside the 3-point line. Before Saturday’s win, Illinois had been shooting 48.6 percent from inside the arc. Even with the new inside game, Illinois still got 19 points from Brandon Paul and 8 of 27 shots from 3-point range.
7 of 29: Shooting from the field by Buckeyes not named Deshaun Thomas or Aaron Craft
Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes’ ongoing difficulty in finding someone other than Deshaun Thomas to carry the load was evident in the 75-55 loss to Illinois. The Ohio State supporting cast (read: anyone other than Thomas or Aaron Craft) went 7 of 29 from the field, scoring 20 points. Thomas (24 points) and Craft (11) went 13 of 31 from the field. Lenzelle Smith Jr. was the only player to hit more than one field goal against the Illini.
50: Fateful number for Georgetown
Though not the most tantalizing team to watch, Georgetown is pretty good when the Hoyas or their opponent are under the 50-point mark. That changed Saturday when the Hoyas found a team that could flourish in an ugly game when Marquette defeated Georgetown 49-47. Before Saturday, Georgetown had been 4-0 when holding a team to fewer than 50 points; no surprise there. Before the loss to Marquette, Georgetown was 2-0 when scoring fewer than 50 points.
26: 3-pointers attempted by Pittsburgh against Rutgers
After a 12-1 start, Pittsburgh has lost its first two Big East games, including a 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Saturday. A major reason for the loss was an uncharacteristic boldness to shoot from long range. Pittsburgh has little business rolling the dice from beyond the 3-point line, but the Panthers attempted 26 shots from 3-point range against the Scarlet Knights. That’s nearly double Pitt’s average per game this season (13.4). Pittsburgh hit eight of its 26 attempts which as many 3-pointers as the Panthers had hit in its previous five games combined. That includes and 0-for-10 effort in the 70-61 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 31.
0 for 11, 14 assists: Quinn Cook’s stat line against Wake Forest
The statline from the Duke point guard in the 80-62 win over Wake Forest on Saturday may make Missouri’s Phil Pressey blush. Cook missed all 11 of his shots from the floor and never got to the free throw line, but he managed to pickup 14 assists to one turnover against the Demon Deacons, the worst team in the ACC.
The matchup in Dallas will be a familiar one, but the Cotton Bowl will provide the first look at how a freshman Heisman winner will react to the burden of the award.
Only Florida’s Tim Tebow spent more time in college with the phrase Heisman-winner preceded his name. Like Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram both won the Heisman as sophomores, but both left school after their junior seasons.
Instead, Texas A&M’s 20-year-old redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the marked man for the next three years.
“First and foremost, there’s the Cotton Bowl,” Manziel told USA Today’s George Schroeder. “From there, I have to be the guy that starts the motor for a run at the national title next year. That’s our goal. If more awards come, they come.”
At least for the bowl game, the trend is in the favor of the Heisman winner. The last three winners -- Ingram, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III -- all won their bowl games. Before that, Heisman winners had been snakebit in the postseason.
While Heisman winners have broken their bowl futility streak, so has Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. The Sooners have won three consecutive bowl games after they went through a 1-5 swoon from 2003-08.
The hot streaks will be put to a test in the Cotton Bowl where former conference foes will meet. In one of the oddities of conference realignment, the Aggies will face the Sooners 14 months since their last meeting, as Big 12 foes on Nov. 5, 2011. Oklahoma had won eight of the last nine meetings in the Big 12.
Cotton Bowl - Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Date and time: Jan. 4, 7 p.m. Eastern
When Oklahoma has the ball:
Landry Jones is capable of the bonehead turnover from time to time, but the Sooners relied on his arm during the five-game winning streak to end the season. Jones passed for 1,980 yards with 17 touchdowns and six picks in the final five wins, including four consecutive one-score games. Where the Sooners relied on Ryan Broyles in the past, Oklahoma has been balanced in the receiving corps with four receivers topping 500 yards including transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Jalen Saunders (Fresno State). Oklahoma’s offensive line was beat up near the end of the season, so the long layoff could benefit the Sooners and Jones against the Texas A&M pass rush.
Lost in the Manziel storyline, defensive end Damontre Moore had a breakout season with 12.5 sacks this season. If Oklahoma relies on the run game, the Sooners have a capable duo of tailbacks. Damien Williams is a big-play back, and Brennan Clay has been a supersub late in the season. With 24 rushing touchdowns on 102 career carries, Blake Bell is a short-yardage specialist who is the heir apparent at quarterback after Jones leaves. Texas A&M’s defense performed well enough during the course of the season, but the Aggies have not played passing offense this effective since a win over Louisiana Tech on Oct. 13. The Bulldogs scored 57 points and amassed a season-high 615 yards that night.
When Texas A&M has the ball:
It starts with Johnny Manziel -- Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Manziel’s play-making ability is well-established as he’s been able to turn broken plays into big gains and touchdowns. He finished the season with 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 total touchdowns. But Manziel isn’t invincible. He threw three interceptions in a home loss to LSU and threw eight overall this season. His run game has been spotty with senior Christine Michael having an inconsistent final season, though he finished with 12 touchdowns. Mike Evans led A&M in receiving (1,022 yards), but veteran Ryan Swope was no stranger to the big catch.
Outland winner Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews lead one of the nation’s best offensive line. Oklahoma led the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense. The Sooners held the final eight opponents to fewer than 60 percent passing, including three teams to less than 50 percent passing.
If the matchup between the Heisman winner against Oklahoma and two former conference foes isn’t enough, the Cotton Bowl will pit two familiar coaches. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was an assistant at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops from 2003-07. That’s an intriguing subplot in a game in which the matchup, but Manziel enters the game with new pressure. This is the last college game for Landry Jones, so the quarterback intangibles may favor the Sooners senior.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 35
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If Ole Miss players need a tour guide around Birmingham, they could ask their opponents.
Making their third consecutive trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh players should know the hot spots around town by now. While Ole Miss may be happy to play in a bowl anywhere, the Panthers are happy to make a bowl trip with a full-time coach in tow.
The Panthers’ last two trips to Birmingham -- a loss to SMU last season and a win over Kentucky two seasons ago -- have been with interim coaches. But Paul Chryst, despite a coaching change at his previous employer Wisconsin, appears to be staying with Pitt, which had become a weigh station for head coaches since since firing Dave Wannstedt in 2010.
A year removed from a coaching change itself, Ole Miss was one of the most improved teams in the SEC under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels won as many games last (six) as they did last two seasons under Houston Nutt combined.
BBVA Compass Bowl - Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6)
Date and time: Jan. 5, 1 p.m. Eastern
Location: Birmingham, Ala.
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
Pitt is at its best when it can control the ground game, which shouldn’t be a shock with a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator running the show. Ray Graham, who missed the second half of 2011 with a torn ACL, didn’t look fully confident on his knee until late in the season. Graham averaged 139.2 yards from scrimmage per game and 4.9 yards per carry over his final five games. He’s spelled by Rushel Shell, who was a touted recruit out of Aliquippa, Pa. At quarterback, Tino Sunseri had been a liability, but he quietly had a career year s a senior. He threw 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, none after Sept. 15.
The Rebels defense is led by freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss’ only All-SEC selection. Nkemdiche finished with 12 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. Ole Miss installed a defense run primarily out of the 4-2-5, enabling the Rebels to finish second in the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss.
When Ole Miss has the ball:
The Rebels are still working out the details in Hugh Freeze’s spread offense, but finishing in the top half of the SEC in scoring and total yards was a major leap forward. The offense finished with a flurry after a 37-10 loss to Georgia on Nov. 3. The Rebels rolled up at least 450 yards on the final three opponents, including 527 against Mississippi State. Quarterback Bo Wallace was able to move the ball against Vanderbilt, LSU and the Bulldogs, but he was still prone to turnovers (five interceptions in the last two games). Donte Moncrief is a reliable primary target with 13 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games.
The main challenge for the Ole Miss offense will be to contain Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had 18.5 tackles for a loss this season and nine in his last three games. Despite a solid run game led by Jeff Scott, Randall Mackey and the mobility of Wallace, teams were able to stop the Rebels behind the line of scrimmage with regularity.
Who knows which Pittsburgh team will show up? The Panthers outscored Rutgers and USF 54-9 in the final two games of the season, but that came on the heels of a loss to Connecticut, which came after an overtime loss with No. 1 Notre Dame. On the one hand, Pitt could be disappointed to play in the same bowl for the third consecutive year. But on the other, Pitt finally has a stable coaching situation. Still, Ole Miss is playing in its own region of the country and should be boosted by a rare bowl game appearance, even if it’s after New Year’s Day. The Rebels may have the best passing game Pittsburgh has seen since a 45-35 loss to Louisville on Oct. 13.
Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Pittsburgh 23
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|Ohio State coach Thad Matta|
John Groce can win a tournament game or two. The Illinois coach proved that in the Maui Invitational this season and in two NCAA Tournaments at Ohio.
His first foray into the Big Ten regular season, though, is not off to a great start with a 68-61 loss to Purdue, one of a handful of teams in the league that will struggle for a postseason berth.
With two losses in the last three games, Groce will try to coax his team into regaining its early season from, but he’ll have to defeat a mentor to do it.
Groce served as an assistant for Ohio State coach Thad Matta from 2001-08 at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, where he was recruited Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook to Columbus.
The Oden-Conley Ohio State team with Matta and Groce on the same bench reached the Final Four in 2007. When the two face off Saturday in Champaign, the game will be a key early matchup for momentum in a grueling Big Ten.
After the losses to Missouri and Purdue in the last three games, Illinois is looking to prove it has the staying power that eluded former coach Bruce Weber in his latter seasons in Champaign.
Ohio State’s situation isn’t as pressing, but the Buckeyes are looking to show they’re an upper-echelon Big Ten team. Ohio State saw a lead evaporate against Duke in a 73-68 loss on Nov. 28. Similarly, Kansas pulled away from Ohio State in a 74-66 victory on Dec. 22. A road win at Illinois could end up a key resume-builder for the postseason.
Game of the week
Ohio State (11-2, 1-0 Big Ten) at
Illinois (13-2, 0-1)
When: Saturday, 2:15 p.m. Eastern
Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network
Ohio State probable starters
G Aaron Craft (6-2/190, Jr.)
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6-4/205, Jr.)
F Sam Thompson (6-7/190, So.)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7/225, Jr.)
F Evan Ravenel (6-8/260, Sr.)
Illinois probable starters
G Tracy Abrams (6-1/185, So.)
G D.J. Richardson (6-3/195, Sr.)
G Brandon Paul (6-4/200, Sr.)
F Tyler Griffey (6-9/220, Sr.)
F/C Nnanna Egwu (6-11/235, So.)
|Illinois guard Brandon Paul|
Brandon Paul has been the centerpiece to Illinois’ hot start the season, but as the 6-4 senior goes, so does Illinois. Paul takes his share of shots from the floor -- nearly 13 per game -- so when he’s not efficient, Illinois can struggle. Paul scored 15 points on 10 attempts and seven attempts from 3-point range in the loss to Purdue, which at least was a step up from recent games. Paul was 8 of 30 from the field and 2 of 13 from beyond the arc against Auburn and Missouri before the Purdue loss. He’ll be defended by one of the best defenders in the country in Aaron Craft. In his last game against Nebraska, Craft didn’t score, but he had eight assists and six rebounds while playing relentless defense. But that was against Nebraska, and Ohio State isn’t that far removed from another big guard, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, taking over a game. To stop Illinois, Ohio State will need to guard the 3-point line: Illinois is dependent on the 3-pointer to win. Paul and D.J. Richardson have attempted more than 100 shots from beyond the arc this season as Illinois gains 37.3 percent of its overall scoring from 3-point land.
Related: New Year's resolutions for Illinois, Ohio State and more
With fellow 2010 signee Jared Sullinger gone to the NBA, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas continues to enjoy the scoring breakthrough he expected to have. Thomas is averaging 19.9 points per game on 15.3 shots from the floor. The 6-7 lefty who can step out to shoot for 3s could be a matchup problem for the Illinois frontcourt. Thomas also averages seven rebounds per game for a team that should have the advantage on the glass. Outside of Tyler Griffey’s 9.1 points per game, Illinois doesn’t bring much scoring on the front line. The 6-11 Nnanna Egwu could be a defensive troublemaker for the Buckeyes after picking up five blocks against Purdue. After Thomas, Ohio State’s best offensive threat from inside is the 6-7 LaQuinton Ross off the bench, but he hasn’t been a consistent option.
Illinois depends on guard Joseph Bertrand and forward Sam McLaurin on the bench, though Illinois is better off with Bertrand delivering in smaller doses. Ohio State is deeper than it’s been in recent years with eight players averaging 15 minutes per game. Ross leads the way with 9.5 points in 19.1 minutes per game. Guard Shannon Scott and center Amir Williams are also key players off the bench for Ohio State.
Both teams are a work in progress. Illinois needs to find away to balance its 3-point shooting with attacking the basket. Ohio State is looking for a secondary scorer beyond Thomas. Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., forward Sam Thompson and Ross have not proven to be consistent enough to take the heat off Thomas. These will be X-Factors for both teams as they try to navigate the Big Ten.
Despite Illinois’ 12-0 start, John Groce’s team garnered skepticism. In recent weeks, that’s turned out to be warranted. Illinois may finish in the top half of the Big Ten, but the Illini aren’t the most balanced or efficient team in the Big Ten. Ohio State has its flaws, but Deshaun Thomas’ scoring and Aaron Craft’s defense may be too much for a bruised Illinois to handle, even at home.
Ohio State 75, Illinois 67
Admit it: Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last.
All those promises to eat healthier and exercise more go by the wayside after only a few months.
Lucky for the following college basketball teams, New Year’s resolutions only have to last until early April at the latest.
As the New Year has begun and teams are beginning to focus on conference play, Athlon has a few suggestions of what teams, players and coaches need to resolve to accomplish in order to thrive in the 2013 portion of the season.
Some coaches must resolve to find the best lineup or locate the right personnel for the right time. Some leagues need to keep the momentum going or just stay interesting. Some teams need to improve a stat here or there (Kentucky, cough cough, free throws, cough cough).
No team is perfect this season, so any team's resolution could go a long way to success into March.
2013 COLLEGE BASKETBALL RESOLUTIONS
ACC: Establish a quality No. 2 team.
Duke is a clear-cut top team in the ACC, but does the league have a worthy challenger for the Blue Devils? Duke is ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The only other ACC teams in Pomeroy’s top 30 are No. 25 Virginia (10-3) and No. 27 Miami (9-3). Meanwhile, top-ranked Duke and No. 23 NC State are the only teams ranked in the AP poll this week. The Wolfpack has shown signs of pulling its roster together since a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico. A 79-73 win over UNLV on Saturday showed North Carolina can’t be counted out. And Maryland has an intriguing roster, if not quality wins. All may be NCAA Tournament teams, but their ability to stand with the Blue Devils at the end of the season remains in question.
Arizona: Keep the momentum from the San Diego State victory.
Two of the Wildcats’ biggest weaknesses -- turnovers and 3-point defense -- weren’t a concern in a 68-67 win over San Diego State on Christmas. Against the Aztecs, Arizona had its fewest turnovers (eight) since the opener and held San Diego State to 4 of 17 from the 3-point line. The Wildcats already are the favorites in the Pac-12, but if they can keep up the trend from the Diamond Head Classic, Arizona will be that much more dangerous in March.
Atlantic 10: Be the most interesting conference race.
A handful of other leagues have established clear pecking orders, but who knows what will come of the Atlantic 10, which may have the most compelling conference race aside from the Big Ten. With wins over Indiana and Syracuse, respectively, Butler and Temple are better than anyone projected this season. VCU may be the best of the bunch after winning seven in a row by an average of 25 points. Eight of the league’s 16 teams have at least nine wins.
Baylor: Get its act together.
This is a recurring resolution: Baylor has one of the top rosters in the country but the results of a middling Big 12 team. Beyond Kansas, the Big 12 is a crapshoot, so a team with Baylor’s talent should be able to cruise into the NCAA Tournament. But then again, the Bears enter conference play at 8-4.
Catholic 7: Assemble a great pure basketball league.
Any calls for a break in conference realignment seem futile. The biggest victory, at least for basketball, would be for the Big East’s Catholic school defectors to assemble a quality league that makes sense geographically and philosophically, a throwback to the original Big East, in essence. Here’s hoping Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Marquette, et al., learned from the mistakes of their former football colleagues and make logical moves in expansion.
Cincinnati: Relocate the scoring touch.
Cincinnati is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East, but the Bearcats are going to need to break the 70-point mark at a more regular pace if they’re going to deliver as a top Big East team. In its lone loss of the season to New Mexico, Cincinnati shot 31.3 percent from the field and reached the free throw line four times in the 55-54 defeat.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott: Lock up national player of the year honors.
Who else is in the running for national player of the year? Trey Burke? Russ Smith? Mason Plumlee? McDermott may still be the top candidate out there, though he’s not going to have much room for error in the Missouri Valley. McDermott is averaging 22.9 points per game, but he’s diversified his game with career bests both in efficiency and overall attempts from 3-point range and the free throw line.
Duke: Stay healthy.
All of Duke’s starters are averaging at least 10 points per game. Four are averaging at least 30 minutes per game. That’s nice, but no other Blue Devil is averaging more than 3.9 points per game. Given the way the season derailed after Ryan Kelly was hurt last season, culminating in the loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, Duke can ill afford any prolonged absences.
Florida: Figure out the go-to option in the backcourt.
For two years in a row, Florida has faded late in the Elite Eight. A go-to scorer in the backcourt has to be a priority for another Gators team with the potential to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Kenny Boynton struggled against Arizona and is 7 of 32 from 3-point range in the last six games. The Gators may want to put more on the shoulders of Mike Rosario and/or Scottie Wilbekin, but they’ve been cold from long range in recent games, too.
Georgetown: Don’t fool us again.
The Hoyas may not be a Big East frontrunner or a threat to reach the Final Four, but the 10-1 start with the only loss coming in overtime to Indiana is better than most expected for Georgetown. But then again, this is when things tend to go awry for the Hoyas. The young Georgetown team will start the Big East season with four road trips in the first six games, so we’ll find out by the end of the month of the Hoyas are a contender or fool’s gold again.
Gonzaga: Go on an NCAA Tournament run.
Mark Few may have his best team at Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs likely will be judged by their ability to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has played in the Tournament every season under Few but has reached the Sweet 16 as many times in the last 11 seasons (twice) as he did in his first two. What might help is drawing a Big 12 team in the field: Gonzaga is 5-0 against the Big 12 this season.
Illinois: Become less dependent on 3-pointers.
Illinois is scoring 37.3 percent of its points from 3-pointers this season, an awfully high ratio for a team contending in a major conference. A cold shooting day could mean disaster for Illinois, and a team anchored by the streaky Brandon Paul could be doubly problematic if he's the one who loses he scoring touch from beyond the arc. Finding balance is going to be a key for Illinois if its going to remain among the top teams in the Big Ten.
Indiana: Give Victor Oladipo his due.
Though Cody Zeller appeared on magazine covers and remains Indiana’s top awards contender, it’s time for Oladipo to carve out a niche as the Hoosiers’ folk hero. The one-time defensive specialist is on his way to career highs in scoring (13.6 points per game), rebounding (5.9) and shooting (67.3 percent from the field).
Kansas: Don’t let point guard become a liability.
The Jayhawks seem to have all the pieces to dominate the Big 12 and to make a deep postseason run. The one glaring question is point guard, where Elijah Johnson has struggled. Freshman Naadir Tharpe has shown signs of become a quality option at that spot with 12 assists against American on Saturday and no turnovers in backup duty in the last four games.
Kentucky: Don’t let free throws sink the season.
This isn’t one of John Calipari’s best teams. That’s clear, but it can be better than it has been. The Wildcats are shooting only 64.2 percent from the line, including an 11-of-23 performance that helped sink UK against Louisville. In Kentucky’s four losses, the Wildcats are shooting 55.3 percent from the line.
Louisville’s Russ Smith: Play at this level all season.
Russ Smith is in the national player of the year conversation by averaging 20 points per game and playing great defense in the Cardinals’ press. But Smith can make risky decisions from time to time. When he’s on, he’s electrifying. And if he stays that way all season, he’ll be an All-American.
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Michigan: Stay humble.
At 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, Michigan is in a spot it hasn’t seen since the Fab Five days. Trey Burke has been hailed as the nation’s best point guard, and the freshman class has helped transform the Wolverines into a title contender. But Michigan isn’t that far removed from losing in the NCAA Tournament to Ohio (whose former coach, John Groce, will face Michigan twice this season at Illinois). In less than a month (Jan. 13-Feb. 12), Michigan will make road trips to Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Minnesota: Hold on to a spot in the top tier of the Big Ten.
Monday’s 76-63 win over Michigan State showed the Gophers have some staying power, but how much? The potential is there for a standout season in the Big Ten, but we haven’t seen Andre Hollins play consistently. Before scoring 22 against Michigan State, he scored five against Lafayette, and after scoring 41 on Memphis, he was 1 of 8 against Stanford. Same goes for Trevor Mbakwe, an Athlon preseason All-American, who is still working his way to full strength after last season's knee injury.
Missouri’s Phil Pressey: Avoid shooting slumps.
Pressey can be the best player on the floor even if he’s not shooting well, but imagine if Pressey knocked down more of his shots? He had 19 assists in the overtime loss to UCLA and 11 assists against Illinois, but he was also a combined 11 of 41 from the floor in those games.
Memphis: Dominate Conference USA.
Don’t let records fool you: Despite four teams with at least 10 wins, Conference USA is not in good shape. Memphis is the league’s only team in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50 and one of four in the top 100. With three standout recruiting classes, Memphis has the ability to rule the league, especially with key players hurting/ineligible at Marshall, the most likely foil for the Tigers this season. But Memphis can’t seem to get out of a season without drama. If Memphis can’t win the C-USA tournament, it may be sweating an NCAA Tournament bid.
Mountain West: Land five teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountain West has never had more than four teams in the Tournament field, but this may be the season to change that. UNLV (11-2) and San Diego State (12-2) seem safe for bids, as does New Mexico (13-2). But Wyoming (13-0) remains undefeated with a stingy defense and a signature win over Colorado. Colorado State (12-2) is a veteran team that defeated Washington on the road and pounded Virginia Tech 88-52 on Dec. 23. And although Boise State (11-2) has a loss to Utah, it has a 13-point win at Creighton on its resume. Perhaps most important, the league won’t have a glut of teams dragging down the conference RPI other than perhaps Fresno State.
NC State: Make the most of its time out of the spotlight.
Remember, no one was on the NC State bandwagon until March last season. Maybe NC State will thrive again as a late bloomer. The Wolfpack are a long way removed from the 20-point loss to Oklahoma State but a long way from challenging Duke in the ACC. Now that no one’s talking about NC State as the ACC favorite anymore, the Wolfpack have been working on finding the right chemistry between its veterans and freshmen. The Pack will find out if the soul-searching has paid off when it faces Georgia Tech, Duke and Maryland in a three-game ACC swing.
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North Carolina: Find a lineup that works.
With few proven full-timers returning to North Carolina, perhaps it’s not a total surprise Roy Williams hasn’t found the right starting five. In filling in for Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston scored 15 points with four rebounds and four steals against UNLV in his first start of the season. When Bullock returns from a concussion, Williams will have to return Hairston to his bench role or play a smaller lineup. Either way, the key to the season may still be North Carolina’s ability to get the most out of James Michael McAdoo.
Ohio State: Find a second scorer.
Deshaun Thomas is scoring like Ohio State expected of him at 19.8 points per game, but who else is going to deliver? Lenzelle Smith Jr. was 3 of 13 against Kansas, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range. LaQuinton Ross has regressed since the start of the season. Aaron Craft isn’t scoring much either, but his best role is as a floor general. The lack of a secondary option was plainly obvious against Kansas and could continue to be that way through the Big Ten season.
Pac-12: Don’t embarrass yourself.
Let’s say this first: The Pac-12 is much better than it’s been. Arizona is a top-flight team. UCLA is getting better. Colorado and Oregon are in NCAA Tournament contention. In short, the Pac-12’s resolution should be to not screw it up. Four Tournament bids, after having eight total the last three seasons, would be a good place to start. Arizona advancing to the Sweet 16 or further would be better. And Tournament wins by the league’s second tier would be a nice touch.
Rivalries: Keep playing ‘em.
No longer conference rivals, Kansas and Missouri aren’t playing each other. Neither are West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Indiana and Kentucky couldn’t agree on where to play its series, so the matchup ended altogether. And Memphis and Tennessee will go on hiatus after this season. Ever wonder why college basketball’s regular season is fading? Maybe this is why.
Syracuse: Develop a Plan B after Michael Carter-Williams.
In Syracuse’s only loss of the season, Temple found a way to contain Carter-Williams to six assists (he averages 10.1) and 3 of 17 shooting. With Carter-Williams out of the picture some of the supporting cast failed to pick up the slack in the 83-79 loss. A backup plan needs to be in the works.
Tennessee: Become the SEC’s No. 4 team.
The top teams in the SEC are pretty clear with Florida, Kentucky and Missouri in NCAA Tournament contention. The bottom of the league, however, is a mess. In recent weeks, SEC teams have lost to Alabama A&M (Mississippi State), Southern (Texas A&M), Winthrop (Auburn), Iona (Georgia), Tulane and Mercer (Alabama). Where Tennessee fits in the equation is a mystery. The Volunteers guard with the best of them, but they’re challenged offensively. If Tennessee can figure things out in the offensive end, it could be the SEC’s No. 4 team.
Texas: Prove Myck Kabongo was the difference maker.
Kabongo’s NCAA-mandated suspension will end Feb. 13 against Iowa State, more than enough time for the sophomore guard to prove that he could have made a difference in the Longhorns’ stumbling start to the season. When Kabongo returns, he’ll be in the lineup against NCAA Tournament contenders Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, plus the Big 12 tournament. If Texas finds itself on the bubble, Kabongo (9.6 ppg, 5.2 apg last season) could have a hand in putting the Longhorns into the field.
UCLA: Maintain the up-tempo offense.
Ben Howland strayed again from what helped UCLA reach three consecutive Final Fours early in his tenure. In recent games, he’s put more focus on running the court, a development that helped the Bruins defeat Missouri 97-94 in overtime on Dec. 29. His lineup is suited to the change, though Howland can’t be elated about the tradeoffs in the defensive end. Will he see this through to the end of the season?
UNLV: Develop chemistry among the glut of scorers.
Dave Rice doesn’t have the worst dilemma a basketball coach can have, but it is a dilemma nonetheless. UNLV has plenty of qualified scorers, especially in the frontcourt with Mike Moser and Khem Birch in the lineup. He has six players averaging at least nine points per game, though superb freshman Anthony Bennett (19.2 ppg) is the only one averaging more than 11. Making sure everyone is happy and involved may be an interesting challenge for the second-year coach.
Florida and Louisville haven’t played each other during the lifetime of many of the players on the field in New Orleans, but familiar faces will be all over the place.
The Gators and Cardinals, who last met in a 31-17 Florida win in 1992, are full of Sunshine State-born players. Florida’s roster, of course, is awash with home-state players (66 total). Under former Gators assistant Charlie Strong, though, Louisville ramped up its strategy of aggressively recruiting Florida with 34 players from the state on its roster, including the Cardinals top player in Miami native Teddy Bridgewater.
Though this isn’t necessarily a recruiting battle by proxy -- the Cardinals rarely compete for the same prospects as Florida and tend to delve more into the Miami area -- this could be an important statement for Louisville.
“If you just break down that state, you can go get 25 players within that state,” Strong said. “What’s different for us here [in Kentucky] is you don’t have the state where you can go and get 25 players. You would like to go find those types of players, but you have to go outside of this state.”
And the familiarity with the former Florida high school stars is just the start: Strong was an assistant at Florida for three stints under four coaches, including a defensive coordinator/co-coordinator for the 2006 and ’08 title teams. He also recruited or coached many of Florida’s upperclassmen and took with him to Louisville two former Gators assistants (running backs coach Kenny Carter and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford).
While the shared background of the rosters and coaching staffs is an intriguing storyline, Louisville will have to try to find a way to crack a stout Florida defense.
Bridgewater may be a Heisman-contending quarterback in 2013, but he’ll open the calendar year against the nation’s No. 1 pass efficiency defense. Through the season, the Gators were able to neutralize Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Texas A&M’s Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel.
Sugar Bowl - Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
Date and time: Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Location: New Orleans, La.
When Florida has the ball:
The Gators’ primary strength is a power run game led by Mike Gillislee. When Florida gets its run game and blocking going, watch out. Against Tennessee, LSU and Florida State this season, Gillislee and the line took charge in the second half with long, methodical drives. This could be a problem for a Louisville defense that finished seventh in the Big East in stopping the run. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has showed potential as a run-pass threat, but the Gators offense has struggled for two years in the pass game. Driskel threw for fewer than 100 yards in a game four times this season, but Florida won all four of those games. Many of the problems in the pass game can be traced to a lackluster receiving corps and break downs in pass protection. Florida allowed three sacks per game.
Louisville, however, is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the season, and it came against a Rutgers team similarly built around a stout run game but with a shaky quarterback. In the regular season finale, Louisville held Rutgers to 54 rushing yards and forced three turnovers. Florida also has one of the best special teams units in the country with a Groza finalist (Caleb Sturgis) and Ray Guy finalist (Kyle Christy).
When Louisville has the ball:
Bridgewater can be one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, and as he proved late in the season, one of the toughest. Bridgewater battled through wrist and ankle injuries to pass for 263 yards against Rutgers, displaying pinpoint accuracy late despite being hobbled. Bridgewater threw 16 touchdown passes to four interceptions in the final six games of the season. DeVante Parker emerged as his go-to receiver downfield, but five Cardinals topped 30 catches. The problem for the Louisville offense, though, has been putting too much on Bridgewater’s shoulders, especially after a season-ending injury to running back Senorise Perry.
The Cardinals struggled when they couldn’t find balance. Achieving that goal will be tough against Florida, which ranked in the top 10 nationally in rush defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. Safety Matt Elam (four interceptions, 10 tackles for a loss) can cause problems all over the field. If there’s a weakness in the bowl game for the Gators defense it will be the absence of starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins with a broken foot. As with many of the SEC’s top defenses, the Gators have a stout defensive line that will present problems for a Louisville line that starts three sophomores.
Louisville lost two of its last three, including a defeat to bowl no-show Connecticut. Bridgewater limped to the finish line with injuries, so the layoff may do the Cardinals quarterback good. Florida had its flaws, but the Gators still managed to go 11-1. The Florida defense may be overwhelming even for a healthy Bridgewater. The Gators’ offense isn’t all that great, but neither is the Cardinals’ defense. The edge goes to Florida on both sides of the ball and in special teams.
Prediction: Florida 28, Louisville 14
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The bowl game in Tempe will be a last chance to build any sort of momentum for both Michigan State and TCU into 2013.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Insight Bowl) puts together two teams that have not won back-to-back games since September. For Michigan State and TCU, the season has not gone entirely as planned.
After 22 wins the last two seasons, Michigan State opened the season in the top 15 despite the departure of veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins. Despite a top-five defense nationally, new starter Andrew Maxwell struggled to fill the shoes of the Spartans’ leader the last two years. A hard-luck team, Michigan State’s five Big Ten losses came by an average of 2.6 points.
In Fort Worth, TCU won its first four games before the departure of quarterback Casey Pachall in early October thrust Trevone Boykin into unexpected starting duty. Though the most notable absence, Pachall’s was only one of a handful of departures -- either through injury or legal issues -- to befall the Horned Frogs in 2012. Despite the turmoil, TCU went 4-5 in its first Big 12 season, including road wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Texas.
As for the coaches, the bowl trend works in Gary Patterson’s favor. Patterson has won six of his last seven bowl games, the lone loss to undefeated Boise State in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, Dantonio is 1-4 in bowl games at Michigan State with last year’s Outback Bowl victory over Georgia ending the losing streak.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - Michigan State (6-6) vs. TCU (7-5)
Date and time: Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. Eastern
Location: Tempe, Ariz.
When Michigan State has the ball:
The Spartans offense revolves around running back Le’Veon Bell and a stout offensive line. Bell led the nation in carries with 350, and after a midseason lull, he finished the season strong. Bell rushed for 587 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in three November games. The same hot streak couldn’t be said of the quarterback Maxwell, who completed only 43.1 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions in the final month of the regular season. Maxwell and his undistinguished group of receivers will try to crack the TCU defense which includes an elite cover corner and one of the nation’s best freshmen in the pass rush. Jason Verrett intercepted six passes, and freshman end Devonte Fields had nine sacks and a Big 12-leading 17.5 sacks.
When TCU has the ball:
Boykin showed enough flashes to prove he’s the quarterback of the future, but it was clear he was forced into unexpected duty as the starter. He can make plays with his legs, but he completed 57.3 passes with nine interceptions in his eight games as starting quarterback. Josh Boyce can be a game-breaking threat in the receiving game. TCU uses a running back rotation with 5-foot-9, 185-pound B.J. Catalon and 6-1, 227-pound Matthew Tucker. Both will run into a formidable run defense led by All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough. The Spartans ranked fourth nationally in total defense and pass efficiency defense and eighth in rush defense. If there’s any crack in the Spartans’ D, it’s in the pass rush. William Ghoston struggled in his junior season, leading the team with merely 3.5 sacks. The secondary will also be without the services of top cornerback Johnny Adams, as the senior is dealing with an injured toe and will be replaced by Mitchell White.
Expect a defensive chess match. Patterson and Dantonio are among the best defensive coaches in the country. Despite shortcomings on offense for both teams, the defenses held for most of the season. Oddly enough, the two teams went a combined 4-9 overall at home and 1-7 in home conference games. Perhaps a change of venue will do both teams good, but the potential of Boykin, who never had a chance to fully prepare to become the starter, may give the Horned Frogs an edge in the bowl game.
Prediction: TCU 21, Michigan State 17
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