Articles By David Fox
What’s the fun in pinpointing that Doug McDermott is a strong contender for Big East Player of the Year? That’s a little obvious considering he’s the nation’s second leading scorer.
Of course, McDermott isn’t the only clear-cut player angling to be his league’s top player this season. The favorites for conference players of the year are more or less clear in many leagues.
Conference tournaments are roughly six weeks away, so we’re here to say the field for conference players of the year shouldn’t be set.
Granted, players like McDermott at Creighton, C.J. Fair at Syracuse, Jabari Parker at Duke and Nik Stauskas at Michigan are plenty deserving, but others are worth watching for top honors. These players maybe aren’t on the top teams, or they’re poised for great stretch runs, or they’ve only recently gone on hot streaks in league play.
Dark Horses for Conference Player of the Year honors
The Favorites: Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Jabari Parker (Duke)
Dark Horse: Rodney Hood, Duke
If Hood converts his dunk against Syracuse or goes to the free throw line on a Rakeem Christmas foul on Saturday, maybe Hood is up there with the leaders. Either way, he’s still getting less fanfare thanks to playing with perhaps the nation’s best freshman in Jabari Parker. Hood is second on the Blue Devils at 16.9 points per game, but leads them in scoring in conference games (16.4 ppg).
Dark Horse II: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Brogdon was 0 for 5 from the floor and scoreless in an embarrassing 87-52 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 30, but since then, he’s been Virginia’s most consistent player. Brogdon, who missed all of last season while recovering from foot surgery, has been more productive than teammate Joe Harris since conference play began. The sophomore guard is averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists since league play began.
Dark Horse III: Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Patterson is second only to T.J. Warren in scoring in conference games at 18.8 points per game, but the Panthers don’t have any wins over top teams in the league like Syracuse, Duke and Virginia. That may be enough of a knock on Patterson to keep him off a few ballots despite an outstanding season.
The Favorites: Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Shabazz Napier (Connecticut) and Russ Smith (Louisville)
Dark Horse: Markus Kennedy, SMU
The NCAA gets flak for being cold to athletes at times. Not for Markus Kennedy, though. Kennedy was able to surprise his mother in Philadelphia with a visit Saturday before the sergeant in the Air Force was deployed to Kuwait. SMU obtained a waiver from the NCAA to pay for the flight, but not until after Kennedy was 10 for 10 from the floor with 21 points and 15 rebounds in a key win over Memphis. Kennedy has five double-doubles in American Athletic Conference play for a team that should make its first NCAA Tournament in 21 years.
The Favorites: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
Dark Horse: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Is Ejim even the best candidate on his own team? That’s debatable. DeAndre Kane is putting up 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and six assists per game. Before Iowa State’s brief swoon in conference play, Kane was an All-America contender. Ejim, though, has been a rock in a frontcourt who has helped lift the Cyclones out of their recent slump. Ejim scored 44 total points and added 29 total rebounds in a sweep of the Oklahoma schools in a span of three days to lift his average to 18.8 points and eight rebounds in conference play.
Dark Horse II: Juwan Staten, West Virginia
If the Mountaineers were closer to playing in the NCAA Tournament, Staten would get more of a run for league player of the year. Still, West Virginia has improved from a tough out to a team able to beat teams with better postseason resumes (Baylor and Kansas State). The Dayton transfer is averaging 20.4 points per game in league play.
The Favorite: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
Dark Horse: Bryce Cotton, Providence
This is the league race with the least amount of suspense. McDermott could cap his stellar career as the National Player of the Year. Big East Player of the Year seems to be a given. In any other year, though, Cotton likely would be the guy. The Friars veteran is fourth in the Big East in usage rate, not a surprise considering he averages 21.3 points, 5.8 assists and 39.5 minutes per game. In a head-to-head matchup, Cotton scored 23 points to McDermott's 21 in the Friars' win on Jan. 18
The Favorites: Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Nik Stauskas (Michigan)
Dark Horse: Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
The Hawkeyes need to knock off one of the top teams in the league when the country is watching. Still, Iowa rarely plays down to its competition, and the Hawkeyes have no let downs on the schedule so far. Give credit to the veteran Marble, who averages 17 points per game in league play.
Dark Horse II: Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Another great player on a team that’s going to the NIT. The sophomore Petteway remade himself during his redshirt season after transferring from Texas Tech, and now the 6-6, 209-pound guard averages 18.2 points per game. His emergence came Jan. 26 with a 35-point performance against Minnesota.
The Favorite: Nick Johnson (Arizona)
Dark Horse: Chasson Randle, Stanford
Back from a sophomore slump, Randle is carrying Stanford to a potential Tournament bid. His shooting percentage has gone from below 40 percent last season to 48.1 all while the Cardinal has played most of the season without point guard Aaron Bright. Stanford still needs a few more key wins to feel good about a bid, but Randle is leading the way at 18.8 points per game.
Dark Horse II: Justin Cobbs, Cal
Cobbs’ season isn’t all that different from last year. He’s still averaging more than 15 points per game, and his efficiency numbers from the floor haven’t changed dramatically. But Cobbs is the go-to player this season after playing as the running mate to Allen Crabbe as a junior. Cobbs’ game-winning shot against Arizona, though, makes him a contender.
The Favorites: Jabari Brown (Missouri), Casey Prather (Florida) and Julius Randle (Kentucky)
Dark Horse: Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes is the only SEC player averaging a double-double in conference play, but McRae may be the most valuable down the stretch. McRae scored 34 against Arkansas and 26 in a critical win against fellow bubble-dweller Ole Miss. A year ago, McRae went on a streak of eight consecutive games with at least 15 points — including five in a row with at least 20 — down the stretch. After Wednesday's loss to Vanderbilt, Tennessee may need another stretch like that to make the NCAA Tournament.
This is the stage of the season where every coach starts to dread the unexpected.
More or less, we know what to expect from top teams around the country. Of course, there will be upsets and surprises, but for the most part we can count on the good teams to more often than not put a consistent team on the court.
Just take Cincinnati, even if this isn't a team that’s not many people’s idea of a title contender. But the Bearcats have been consistent in at least one way by putting the same five players on the court for every game.
Not every team is as lucky as Cincinnati. Injuries and personnel changes have impacted Oklahoma State and Arizona in ways that could derail their major goals for the season.
From the undefeated teams, to the teams dealing with curve balls and teams that just got a little lucky, here are the key stats of the week.
College Basketball Key Stats of the Week: Feb. 5
24. Teams since 1976 to be undefeated in time for the first polls of February.
Arizona’s loss to Cal means the Wildcats won’t join the elite group to make it to this point of the season with an unblemished record. With Syracuse and Wichita State undefeated at the time of the first AP poll of February, the Orange and Shockers have joined a group of 22 other teams since Indiana’s undefeated team in 1975-76 to be unbeaten at this point. Here’s how the other 22 fared.
1. Starting lineup used by Cincinnati this season.
The Bearcats are 10-0 in the American but still have their share of detractors. That’s not without good reason: Cincinnati’s non-conference schedule is ranked 315th on KenPom. But Cincinnati has wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville, so that has to count for something. What’s most remarkable for Mick Cronin’s team aside from Sean Kilpatrick’s scoring is that Cronin has used only one starting lineup in 23 games this season. Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, Tutus Rubles, Shaquille Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn have started every game this season.
64.6. Free throw percentage against Ohio State in the last two games.
Not that Ohio State has had anything to do with it, but the last two opponents’ struggles at the free throw line have helped the Buckeyes reverse their fortune. Wisconsin went 19 of 29, and Iowa went 12 of 19 from the line as the Buckeyes ended their slump with a pair of wins. To put those numbers in perspective, the 64.6 free throw percentage by Wisconsin and Iowa in the last two games would rank 325th nationally over the course of the season. And if you think home cooking is a factor here, consider that Ohio State was on the road for both dismal free throw shooting performances.
511. Minutes of experience lost by Oklahoma State without Michael Cobbins and Stevie Clark.
The Cowboys have a definite big four in Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, but the Pokes’ depth has been decimated in recent weeks with a season-ending injury to forward Michael Cobbins in late December and the dismissal of backup point guard Stevie Clark on Monday. They were only the seventh- and eighth-leading scorers, but their absence has been felt mightily. Combined, they played 511 minutes this season. The rest of the roster behind Cobbins and Clark has played 302 minutes.
8. Percentage points Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops without Brandon Ashley.
The loss of starting forward Brandon Ashely is a major hit for Arizona, which has played three consecutive less-than-dominant games. The last of which to Cal resulted in the Wildcats’ first loss of the season and last game with Brandon Ashley. As SI’s Luke Winn points out, Arizona will miss Ashley’s play around the rim. The senior shot 55 percent on 2-pointers this season. Take away his production and Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops from 51.2 percent to 50.4. That might not seem like a lot, but it was already middle of the road in the Pac-12. Without Ashley, Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops from fifth in the league to ninth.
1,403. Points lost in the AP poll by Wisconsin since Jan. 13.
Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State ensured that one team would end a slump and another would continued. The Buckeyes’ 59-58 win means the Badgers are still searching for answers. In less than a month, Wisconsin was ranked third in the nation with 1,482 points in the AP poll on Jan. 13. Five losses in six games later, and Wisconsin is unranked with only 79 points in the voting.
719. Points gained in the AP poll by Texas since Jan. 13.
Wisconsin’s fall in part has been mirrored by the rise of Texas. The Longhorns didn’t appear on a single AP ballot in the Jan. 13 poll. After winning six games in a row and four consecutive against ranked teams capped by Saturday’s 81-69 win over Kansas. The Longhorns are now ranked 15th.
2. Teams to defeat four ranked teams in consecutive games this season.
On Jan. 20, Kansas did something that hadn’t been done since 1997 by winning defeating four consecutive ranked teams in four games. Texas needed only two weeks to match the feat. The Longhorns defeated No. 8 Iowa State, No. 22 Kansas State, No. 24 Baylor and No. 6 Kansas to match the Jayhawks four-for-four streak earlier this year.
461. Career record for 3-pointers set by Oakland’s Travis Bader.
On Sunday, Oakland’s Travis Bader surpassed J.J. Redick for the most career 3-pointers. Redick left Duke with 457 3-pointers during his career. Bader hit 5 of 7 against Milwaukee, giving him 461 for his career. Just for fun: Marshall Henderson is averaging nearly 4 3-pointers per game in 54 games at Ole Miss. If he averaged that over the 128 games Bader has played at Oakland, Henderson would have 510 3s.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Syracuse’s undefeated start won’t be games like Saturday, when the Orange defeated Duke in overtime in a wild atmosphere at the Carrier Dome.
Instead, the end for Syracuse’s winning streak may be games like Monday. All the emotion from two days earlier had left the building as Syracuse got the best shot from a capable Notre Dame team. Save for 3-point sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, the entire Syracuse roster had an off night in the 61-55 win.
Wichita State will have its own challenge this week with road games against the second place team in the Missouri Valley (Indiana State on Wednesday) and another road trip to a team tied for third (Northern Iowa on Saturday).
Going undefeated is near impossible in college basketball. No team has made it to Selection Sunday undefeated since UNLV in 1990-91 before the Runnin’ Rebels lost in the Final Four to Duke.
Since Indiana finished the 1975-76 season undefeated, 24 teams have been unbeaten at the time of the first Associated Press poll in February.
Making this season more rare is the double of Syracuse and Wichita State unblemished to start the month. Since Indiana ran the table, two teams have been unblemished at this stage of the season only four times before 2013-14.
The last time two teams started February undefeated, a Jameer Nelson-led St. Joseph’s team and Stanford were both 18-0 at this stage of the season.
What can Syracuse and Wichita State expect for the remainder of the season? In all likelihood, a loss. The Shockers have the easier schedule, but they also haven’t won the Missouri Valley Tournament since 1987.
Here are a few other notables looking back at the teams undefeated at this stage of the season:
• In the last decade only three of the six teams that started February undefeated stayed that way into March. The best winning streaks to start the season since 2003-04 are as follows:
2004-05 Illinois (29-0, ended March 6 at Ohio State)
2003-04 St. Joseph’s (27-0, ended March 11 by Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament)
2003-04 Stanford (26-0, ended March 6 at Washington)
2007-08 Memphis (26-0, ended Feb. 23 by Tennessee)
2010-11 Ohio State (24-0, ended Feb. 21 at Wisconsin)
2011-12 Murray State (23-0, ended Feb. 9 by Tennessee State)
• Since Indiana went undefeated in 1975-76, only one other team undefeated at the start of February won the national title (2001-02 Duke), three others reached the title game (2007-08 Memphis, 2004-05 Illinois and 1978-79 Indiana State), and three topped out in the Final Four (1995-96 UMass, 1990-91 UNLV, 1980-81 Virginia)
• Jim Boeheim has been here before as his 1999-2000 Syracuse team started 19-0 before losing on Feb. 5 to Seton Hall. Among the coaches who also have twice reached the first week of February undefeated since 1975-76 include John Calipari at UMass and Memphis, Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV and Ray Meyer at DePaul.
• The names of players who have been undefeated at this point of the season is staggering: Larry Bird at Indiana State, Ralph Sampson III at Virginia, Michael Jordan at North Carolina and Christian Laettner at Duke.
|Undefeated in the first week of February since 1975-76|
|Wichita State (23-0)|
|2011-12||Murray State (23-0)||31-2||Round of 32 (lost to Marquette)|
|2010-11||Ohio State (21-0)||34-3||Sweet 16 (Ohio State)|
|2007-08||Memphis (21-0)||38-2||National runner up (Kansas)|
|2004-05||Illinois (23-0)||37-2||National runner up (North Carolina)|
|2003-04||Stanford (18-0)||30-2||Round of 32 (Alabama)|
|St. Joseph's (18-0)||30-2||Elite Eight (Oklahoma State)|
|1999-2000||Syracuse (20-0)||26-6||Sweet 16 (Michigan State)|
|1996-97||Kansas (22-0)||34-2||Sweet 16 (Arizona)|
|1995-96||UMass (21-0)||35-2||Final Four (Kentucky)|
|1991-92||Duke (17-0)||34-2||National champion|
|Oklahoma State (20-0)||28-8||Sweet 16 (Michigan)|
|1990-91||UNLV (18-0)||34-1||Final Four (Duke)|
|1987-88||BYU (15-0)||26-6||Round of 32 (Louisville)|
|1983-84||North Carolina (20-0)||28-3||Sweet 16 (Indiana)|
|DePaul (17-0)||27-3||Sweet 16 (Wake Forest)|
|1982-83||UNLV (18-0)||28-3||Round of 32 (Utah)|
|1981-82||Missouri (18-0)||27-4||Sweet 16 (Houston)|
|1980-81||Oregon State (17-0)||26-2||Round of 32 (Kansas State)|
|Virginia (18-0)||29-4||Final Four (North Carolina)|
|1979-80||DePaul (19-0)||26-2||Round of 32 (UCLA)|
|1978-79||Indiana State (20-0)||33-1||National runner up (Michigan State)|
|1976-77||San Francisco (21-0)||29-2||First round (UNLV)|
|1975-76||Indiana (18-0)||32-0||National champion|
Jim Boeheim called the win over Duke one of the best games he’d coached at the Carrier Dome. ESPN’s Dick Vitale called it one of the best games he’d ever called.
The only question: Why did it take so long for such a game to occur?
Syracuse and Duke lived up to its promise of two national title-contending teams meeting for the first time in 16 years, but it was only a slice of a chaotic basketball weekend.
Seven ranked teams lost to unranked foes on Saturday and Sunday. Five top-10 teams lost, not least of which was one of three remaining undefeated teams (Arizona) and one of the flavors of the week (Michigan).
That leaves Syracuse and Wichita State as the only undefeated teams in the country as the calendar turns to March.
The next question is how long these winning streaks can last. Both Pittsburgh and Duke pushed Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The Orange will play both on the road in February.
What appears to be the toughest road stretch for Wichita State begins this week with a trip to Indiana State on Wednesday and another to Northern Iowa on Saturday.
The 10 Most Important Things in College Basketball this Week
1a. We want more of what Syracuse and Duke delivered
Few regular season games can match what occurred at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Syracuse’s 91-89 win in overtime over Duke will stand with any NCAA Tournament game in 2014 as the highlight of the year. Two 900-win coaches went back and forth strategically, the stars performed, and unsung heroes made their impacts. If this is what an expanded ACC — with Louisville joining next season, mind you — we’ll take it.
1b. C.J. Fair and the Syracuse frontcourt delivered
Perhaps an outsized amount of attention has been given to Syracuse’s fantastic freshman point guard. True, Tyler Ennis came up with a key basket at the end and nine assists in the win over Duke, but this was the C.J. Fair show for a good bit. The veteran forward showed off his ability to score from any spot inside the arc, finishing 12 of 20 for 28 points. Jerami Grant added 24, including a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line. And Rakeem Christmas defended Rodney Hood on a potential dunk to take a lead with 14.3 remaining. Christmas could have been called for a foul, but the call never came, keeping Syracuse ahead.
1c. Duke is national title worthy
The Blue Devils had their lapses in ACC play, but there was enough Saturday to show Duke has the pieces for a title run. Jabari Parker was in foul trouble, but the Blue Devils kept coming back against undefeated team on the road. Most encouraging was the play of role players like Amile Jefferson with six offensive rebounds, Tyler Thornton with three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half and Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins combining for 30 points.
2a. Arizona is about to get tested twice over
Arizona’s first loss of the season seemed imminent in retrospect. On Wednesday, the Wildcats needed all 40 minutes to pull away for a 10-point win over Utah before a defensive stand and a late 3 from Nick Johnson finally put away Stanford. Saturday's late-night loss to Cal wasn’t so much a shocking loss for Arizona as much as it was a culmination of three consecutive less-than-dominant games. The bigger news is the season-ending injury to starting forward Brandon Ashley, who averages 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. The Wildcats can insert freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) or go with a three-guard lineup. Either way, this is will be a major adjustment for a team that has gotten this far without a major incident.
2b. This shot from Justin Cobbs:
3a. Rick Barnes has gone from hot seat to possible national coach of the year
After years of letdowns, Texas is basking in being one of the nation’s true surprise teams, a development that took one more giant step with a 81-69 win over Kansas in Austin. Rick Barnes may not win national coach of the year, but he should be in the discussion. Texas, the same team that lost to Houston in the CBI last season, has defeated four ranked teams in four games.
3b. Texas beat up Kansas up front
The most impressive part of Texas’ win? The way the Longhorns outworked Kansas around the basket. Forward Jonathan Holmes finished with 22 points and three blocks while center Cameron Ridley, a McDonald’s All-American who once appeared to be a bust, had 10 rebounds and four blocks. Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins entered the game on a two-game hot streak before finishing 2 of 12 from the field.
4a. Kentucky woke up, but there’s still reason to be worried.
Kentucky came back from a disconcerting loss to LSU to beat Missouri 84-79. That’s a good road win over one of the few NCAA contenders in the the SEC, but there’s still plenty here for John Calipari to nitpick. Kentucky still struggled to defend guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson as most SEC teams do. The Tigers duo combined for 21 of 34 shots and 61 points. Missouri got little outside of that pairing, however. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s four best freshmen combined for 73 points and showed a good spark after the LSU loss.
4b. Hello, Jabari Brown
5. Ohio State has stopped the bleeding while Wisconsin is still in a tailspin
The Buckeyes and Badgers started a combined 31-0 and went 1-9 thereafter. Someone had to win Saturday, and Ohio State waited until the final possession to seal the 59-58 win. The Buckeyes moved starter Shannon Scott to a more familiar role as the top guy of the bench. He and his replacement in the starting lineup, Sam Thompson, combined for only 11 points, but Ohio State was more aggressive in the offensive end. Wisconsin, though, struggled to find a shot for the second consecutive game, finishing 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
6. Yogi Ferrell is keeping things interesting for Indiana
Ferrell was one of the most impactful players of the weekend. He scored 27 points and guarded Nik Stauskas, who scored only six, in Indiana’s 63-52. It’s been tempting to write off the Hoosiers this season after losses to Nebraska on the road and Northwestern at home in recent weeks, but Indiana is still in the thick of the NCAA at-large conversation thanks to wins over Wisconsin and Michigan.
7. Michigan State needs Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson in the worst way
The Spartans perhaps stretched their roster as far as it could go without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Michigan State lost 64-60 to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden on Saturday in what might be the Spartans’ last game without Payne. Dawson’s return is weeks away, but Payne could rejoin the team against Penn State on Thursday after missing seven games. The Hoyas had lost five in a row.
8a. Baylor ended its funk in unlikely fashion
Baylor’s collapse ended (Scott Drew hopes) at a time no one could have envisioned. Baylor visited Stillwater with altered travel plays due to weather and no Kenny Chery due to injury. Even without its point guard, Baylor defeated Oklahoma State 76-70 for the Bears’ second Big 12 win. Gary Franklin had 11 points and five assists subbing for Chery, but Brady Heslip’s long-range scoring was the story of the day as Heslip hit six 3s in a 20-point performance.
8b. What’s wrong with Phil Forte and Marcus Smart?
Smart got his seven assists, but he has not been the Big 12 player of the year contender in recent games. Smart has been brutal from 3-point range in recent games, shooting 3 of 28 from beyond the arc in the last four games. The real question is why a 29.7-percent 3-point shooter is taking seven 3s against Baylor. Sharpshooter Phil Forte also was in a funk, going 0 of 4 from the floor. Oklahoma State hasn’t really been the same since forward Michael Cobbins was lost for the season, and now Stevie Clark is in trouble again. The freshman point guard was arrested for the second time this season during the weekend.
9. Virginia is legitimately in the race for the ACC title
The Cavaliers defeated Pittsburgh 48-45 on the road Sunday to put the Cavaliers in second place in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers don’t have the national notoriety of some of the teams in their league, but they’re right in the ACC race. Virginia is 7-1, already had its meeting with Duke and catches Syracuse at home. The sub-50 point total isn’t appealing, but the Cavs deserve credit for winning on an off night for Joe Harris (4 of 12, 11 points). Malcolm Brogdon was the hero again.
10. Larry Brown is going to the NCAA Tournament
SMU responded from its setback against USF to beat a ranked Memphis team 87-72 on Saturday, a major statement win for a team seeking to beef up its NCAA Tournament resume. As long as the Mustangs don’t collapse down the stretch, SMU can use these two top-50 wins (Connecticut is the other) for an at-large bid. SMU hasn’t been to the Tournament since 1993, and coach Larry Brown hasn’t been since leading Kansas to the 1988 title.
• Give credit to North Carolina freshman Kennedy Meeks playing a role in the Tar Heels quest for consistency. He had 20 rebounds in 39 minutes in the last two games as North Carolina has won four of five.
• While you were getting ready for Super Bowl festivities, UCLA lost 71-67 to Oregon State. Arizona has its questions coming out of the Cal loss, but UCLA continues to be one of a handful of Pac-12 teams without the ability to consistently defeated the lower-tier teams in the league.
• Point guard DeAndre Kane was the early frontrunner for Big 12 player of the year, but Iowa State forwards Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim have played a lead role in pulling Iowa State out of its funk. Niang had 27 points and Ejim had 22 points and 16 boards in the 81-75 win over Oklahoma on Saturday
• Chris Collins should be in the Big Ten Coach of the Year discussion even if his team won’t play in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern defeated Minnesota (minus Andre Hollins) 55-54 for back-to-back Big Ten road wins. The Wildcats are 5-5 in the league including wins over Wisconsin and Indiana on the road.
• Not a great look for Xavier: The Musketeers lost 68-60 at home to Seton Hall for its second consecutive loss. Xavier can’t afford many of those kinds of losses.
• Florida State’s stock has plummeted since starting 12-4. The Seminoles’ 53-49 home loss to Clemson was their fourth in five games.
• West Virginia is probably NIT-bound, but the Mountaineers had a nice week with a win at Baylor and a 10-point win over Kansas State. West Virginia needs all the momentum it can get. The schedule down the stretch is brutal.
The race for the national freshman of the year has been in flux for most of the season, which is great news for lists like these.
Jabari Parker started on a hot streak before Aaron Gordon took center stage in a head-to-head matchup between Duke and Arizona. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have both looked like Kansas’ best freshman at certain times. And the rest of the Big 12 — Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma — have provided candidates for the most underrated freshman of the season.
This week has a new No. 1 rookie after we picked Embiid seven days ago. This week, we’re going with Parker for the freshman trending upward thanks to three consecutive double-doubles for a team that’s entering its biggest showdown of conference play.
That game against Syracuse could change things up again thanks to the Orange point guard Tyler Ennis. But Kansas’ rookies can’t be ignored in a tough road trip against Texas and the Longhorns’ freshman Isaiah Taylor.
The Freshman 15: Jan. 31
1. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker is in fine form as the Blue Devils visit the Carrier Dome on Saturday with three consecutive double-doubles. The forward also set a Duke freshman record with 12 20-point games this season after a 21-point effort against Pittsburgh.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Has Wiggins reached the turning point of the season? The Oklahoma State game was not a shining performance from the rookie, but since then, he’s twice set career highs. The 27 points against TCU may be easy to overlook but not 29 points and seven rebounds against Iowa State on Wednesday. He was 18 of 29 from the field this week.
3. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid’s per game numbers since Jan. 11 are impressive enough (13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds), but he is averaging 20.8 points and 13 rebounds per 40 minutes.
4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis is third in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play (2.9) and second in assists (5.4) and steals (2.0).
5. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Arizona’s close call against Stanford on Wednesday was not helped by a five-point performance by Gordon in one of the few off games of the season. Gordon shot 5 of 23 from the field last week.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle struggled on both sides of the court just like everyone for Kentucky in the 87-82 loss to LSU on Tuesday. Defenses are collapsing on Randle, but he’s still averaging 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds.
7. James Young, Kentucky
Young was one of the few Wildcats making shots in the loss to LSU, hitting 8 of 18 from the field for 23 points. His shot hasn’t been consistent all season, but he’s shot 51.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in the last three games.
8. Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
The point guard of one of the nation’s surprise teams, Woodard had 18 points and only two turnovers in his matchup against Marcus Smart for Oklahoma’s signature win of the season.
9. Isaiah Taylor, Texas
Taylor broke out with 27 points in the 74-60 win over Baylor on Saturday, the Longhorns third consecutive win over a ranked team (though Baylor won’t be ranked for much longer).
10. Jordan Mickey, LSU
The Tigers’ top freshman has helped LSU make a push onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in recent games, averaging 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in his last four games.
11. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh grabbed only three rebounds in the loss to Nebraska on Thursday, but that followed three consecutive double-digit game. Vonleh, however, remains a limited threat in the offensive end.
12. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
The Huskies won’t go to the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Pac-12 tourney, but Williams-Goss is having an outstanding season at point guard for Lorenzo Romar. He’s filled up the stat sheet with 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists while breaking out for 32 points against Oregon State on Saturday.
13. Derrick Walton, Michigan
Walton has come into his own in recent games as Michigan's point guard, highlighted by 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in the signature win at Michigan State on Saturday.
14. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Foster had his worst game of the season on Tuesday with 2 points on 1-of-8 shooting against Texas Tech, but he’s still averaging 12.9 points in Big 12 games.
15. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Portis has returned to form in recent games even if Arkansas has not. The power forward had 16 points and seven rebounds against Missouri and 18 points and nine rebounds against Auburn in the last two games.
Take a break from Super Bowl preparations Saturday — and Sunday — to watch a little college basketball. Trust us.
While last weekend was short on top matchups, this week promises plenty of key storylines on heading into the biggest sports day of the year.
The showdown between Duke and Syracuse is the top game of the week as the Blue Devils appear to have solved some of their defensive shortcomings just in time for their first trip to the Carrier Dome.
The meeting will be the first between Jim Boehiem and Mike Krzyzewski since the 1998 NCAA Tournament when Duke defeated Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Since then, the two coaches have combined for three national championships and reached the 900-win marks at their respective schools.
In other games, top contenders face tricky road matchups against surprise teams. Kansas faces Texas in Austin as the Longhorns have been one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12. Arizona dodged Stanford on Wednesday, but its trip to the Bay Area will continue against a Cal team that is in NCAA Tournament contention.
Related: This week's NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 1-2
Game of the Week:
Duke at Syracuse (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Blue Devils have the outside shooting to attack the Orange’s zone defense, ranking fifth nationally 3-point efficiency (41.4 percent). Meanwhile, Duke’s recently reacquired ability to defend will be tested. The Blue Devils held Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson to 4 of 14 shooting on Monday, but defending forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will be another challenge. Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis didn’t have his best game of the season in the road scare Wednesday against Wake Forest, but this should still be a showdown between two of the nation’s top freshmen in Ennis and Jabari Parker.
Related: College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings
Baylor at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
It’s time to panic in Waco. The Bears, who beat a Colorado (with Spencer Dinwiddie) and Kentucky in non-conference action, dropped to 1–6 in the Big 12 with Tuesday’s home loss to West Virginia. This team is too good to be sinking to an NIT bid. Baylor has been nothing short of inept since conference play started. Oklahoma State’s situation isn’t as dire as Baylor’s, but the Cowboys have lost two of their last three games and struggled to beat West Virginia at home.
Arizona at Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Arizona’s undefeated start, now at 21 games, has been tested in the last two games. The Wildcats’ 10-point win over Utah on Sunday was more hotly contested than the final score indicated. On Wednesday, Arizona held Stanford to one field goals in the final 9:30 to escape Palo Alto with a win. Cal has lost three in a row, but Mike Montgomery’s team is solid on both sides of the court and has some nice veteran leadership in the form of senior guard Justin Cobbs and senior big man Richard Solomon. It would not be wise to pick against Arizona, but don’t be shocked if this game goes down to the wire.
Tricky Road Trip:
Kansas at Texas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Texas continues to be one of the nation’s biggest surprises. The Longhorns lost their top four scorers from the worst team of the Rick Barnes era, yet somehow find themselves among the upper echelon of the Big 12 with a 5–2 mark in league play. Kansas, of course, remains the team to beat. The Jayhawks, loaded with elite talent, are 6–0 in the Big 12 and appear to be getting better every game. Andrew Wiggins, the subject of lofty expectations to start the season, has set career highs in the last two games with 27 points against TCU and 29 against Iowa State.
Virginia at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Both teams are darlings in the advanced analytics world with Pitt ranked 12th in KenPom and Virginia one step behind. That’s with good reason. Both teams play sound basketball on both ends of the court, and with the exception of Virginia early in the season, neither loses games to inferior competition. That said, neither team has taken down a upper-echelon team this season.
Best Individual Matchup:
Oklahoma at Iowa State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler, a Gonzaga transfer, may be one of the top rebounders in the country. After a 17-board game against Oklahoma State on Monday, Spangler is averaging 13.5 rebounds in his last six games. The rematch will pit Spangler against Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim for the second time this season.
Odd Non-Conference Game:
Michigan State vs. Georgetown (Saturday in New York, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Michigan State steps out of Big Ten play for a trip to Madison Square Garden to play a Georgetown team that has lost five games in row. The Hoyas, thought by many to be a legitimate Big East title contender, slipped to 3–6 in the league with a loss at home to Villanova on Monday night. When healthy, Michigan State is arguably the best team in the country. The Spartans, however, have not been healthy in weeks. The game is part of a basketball showcase the day before the Super Bowl, including Marquette at St. John’s and the Miami Heat at the New York Knicks.
Other Games to Watch:
Ohio State at Wisconsin (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Ohio State and Wisconsin don’t lose on the same day very often, much less both both at home to Penn State and Northwestern. The two teams were among the last undefeated teams in the country, but Wisconsin has lost four of five while Ohio State has lost five of six. Wisconsin has had a hard time defending guards on the perimeter including Minnesota’s Drew Mathieu and Northwestern’s Drew Crawford. Ohio State, meanwhile, has been a mess on offense since conference play began.
Kentucky at Missouri (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Kentucky’s season hit a low point this week with a listless performance Tuesday against LSU. The Wildcats had no answer for Tigers big man Johnny O’Bryant, who scored 29 points. Missouri isn’t built the same way, but guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson are among the most prolific scorers in the SEC. Missouri’s season hasn’t gone as well as the Tigers would have hoped, but the are coming off a win at Arkansas.
Memphis at SMU (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Larry Brown has worked wonders in his second season at SMU, putting the Mustangs into NCAA Tournament contention. The 78-71 loss to USF on Tuesday was a notable setback, though, meaning the Mustangs need to reassert themselves against a top American Athletic Conference team. This visit from Memphis on Saturday figures to be the most anticipated home game for the program in decades. The Tigers have been inconsistent, but Josh Pastner’s team has all the right pieces — talented young players, veteran leadership, solid guard play and quality big men.
Michigan at Indiana (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Michigan is fresh off one of the best eight-day stretches in school history. The Wolverines sandwiched wins at Wisconsin and Michigan State around a win at home against Iowa. This team is 7–0 in the Big Ten — and has done it without preseason All-American Mitch McGary. Indiana, treading water in the tough Big Ten, has a win over Wisconsin (at home) on its résumé, but the Hoosiers sure could use another quality victory to impress the selection committee.
The number of undefeated teams remaining in college basketball has remained steady at three since Jan. 14.
Saturday may be the single day that’s most likely to change.
Granted, the three undefeated teams — Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State — are all likely to be favored this weekend. But the weekend will still be tricky for at least two of them.
Arizona has been flirting with its first upset in the last two games, and now visits a well-coached Cal team. Syracuse will face the best team of any of the unbeatens, though, when Duke makes its first trip to the Carrier Dome. Wichita State is the least likely to lose this weekend against an Evansville team with a losing record. The Shockers’ biggest tests will come next week.
Arizona and Syracuse may be staying put at Nos. 1-2 heading into the weekend, but there’s been movement elsewhere.
Related: This week's NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Jan. 31
1. Arizona (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Cal
The second half against Stanford showcased the best of Arizona this season: Stifling defense and a big shot from Nick Johnson.
Last week: 1
2. Syracuse (20-0, 7-0 ACC)
This weekend: Duke
The Orange have played three of the last four games on the road, but the Carrier Dome crowd gets back-to-back marquee games against Pittsburgh and Duke
Last week: 2
Related: Duke-Syracuse highlights weekend
3. Florida (18-2, 7-0 SEC)
This weekend: Texas A&M
The Gators finally got a resolution from the NCAA on stud freshman Chris Walker, but he won’t be able to play until Tuesday against Missouri.
Last week: 4
4. Kansas (16-4, 7-0 Big 12)
This weekend: at Texas
Andrew Wiggins has set career highs in back-to-back games, but don’t forget about Naadir Tharpe, who had 12 points and 12 assists against Iowa State on Nov. 29.
Last week: 5
5. San Diego State (18-1, 7-0 Mountain West)
This weekend: Colorado State
The Aztecs haven’t lost since Nov. 14, but offensive efficiency remains in question. San Diego State ranks 302nd nationally in effective field goal percentage.
Last week: 6
6. Michigan (16-4, 8-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Indiana (Sunday)
Going by the numbers, Michigan’s offense is better this season than it was with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. a year ago.
Last week: 14
7. Michigan State (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: vs. Georgetown (New York)
The Spartans’ loss to Michigan on Saturday was as deflating as any defeat, so give a ton of credit to Michigan State recovering for an overtime road win over Iowa on Tuesday.
Last week: 3
8. Villanova (18-2, 7-1 Big East)
This weekend: at Temple
In most seasons, a three-game road trip against Marquette, Georgetown and Temple would be tough. Not this season. The Wildcats can sweep the whole thing.
Last week: 8
9. Wichita State (22-0, 9-0 Missouri Valley)
This weekend: Evansville
The Shockers haven’t been challenged since Missouri State took them to overtime on Jan. 11. Will that change next week at Indiana State and at Northern Iowa?
Last week: 7
10. Creighton (18-3, 8-1 Big East)
This weekend: DePaul (Friday)
Doug McDermott’s historic season continued with a game-winning 25-footer and season-high 39 points against St. John’s on Tuesday.
Last week: 11
11. Duke (17-4, 6-2 ACC)
This weekend: at Syracuse
Recent lineup change has Quinn Cook coming off the bench along with Andre Dawkins.
Last week: 16
12. Iowa (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
The Hawkeyes are as sound a team in the country, but Iowa is 0-5 against RPI top 25 teams.
Last week: 12
13. Oklahoma (17-4, 6-2 Big 12)
This weekend: at Iowa State
The Sooners’ entire starting five averages double-digit scoring.
Last week: NR
14. Cincinnati (20-2, 9-0 American)
This weekend: USF (Sunday)
The Bearcats had a light non-conference schedule, so the Bearcats have made the most of wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville.
Last week: 20
15. Saint Louis (19-2, 6-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: George Mason
The Billikens are 21-1 in their last 22 Atlantic 10 games including the league tournament.
Last week: 13
16. Louisville (17-4, 6-2 American)
This weekend: UCF
Point guards Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had miserable games Thursday in a loss to Cincinnati.
Last week: 10
17. Oklahoma State (16-4, 4-3 Big 12)
This weekend: Baylor
The Cowboys are 1-3 in Big 12 road games. They’ll be happy to return to Stillwater for back-to-back games to start February.
Last week: 9
18. Wisconsin (17-4, 4-4 Big Ten)
This weekend: Ohio State
The Badgers got burned by another top guard in Drew Crawford in the Northwestern loss, and Badgers players not named Ben Brust shot 8 of 39 against the Wildcats.
Last week: 17
19. Kentucky (15-5, 5-2 SEC)
This weekend: at Missouri
Kentucky played little defense in an 87-82 loss to LSU. The Wildcats need to rebound in a hurry.
Last week: 19
20. Iowa State (15-4, 3-4 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma
The Cyclones tested Kansas in Lawrence on Wednesday but came up short in an 92-81 loss.
Last week: 18
21. UConn (17-4, 5-3 American)
This weekend: Off
It’s nearly February and Shabazz Napier still leads the Huskies in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
Last week: 21
22. Memphis (16-4, 6-2 American)
This weekend: at SMU
Only 30 teams take a lower rate of 3-point shots among all their attempts from the field than Memphis’ 26.2 percent.
Last week: 22
23. Pittsburgh (18-3, 6-2 ACC)
This weekend: Virginia (Sunday)
Talented forwards Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna will be tested against a stout defensive team in Virginia.
Last week: 15
24. UCLA (17-4, 6-2 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Oregon State
Many teams have tried, but the Bruins have proven they are the second-best team in a solid Pac-12.
Last week: NR
25. Virginia (16-5, 7-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Pittsburgh (Sunday)
Malcolm Brogdon has been one of the breakout players in ACC play, averaging 15.1 points per game in the last eight.
Last week: 25
Dropped out: No. 23 UMass, No. 24 Minnesota
Beyond the quarterbacks, Tennessee and Wisconsin have their fair share of rooting interests in the Super Bowl.
Led by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, no school will have more of their former players in the Super Bowl than the Volunteers. Manning and three others play for Denver.
Wisconsin isn’t far behind with four players in the Super Bowl. Wilson is one of three Badgers on the Seahawks 53-man roster heading into Sunday.
Beyond the colleges for the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, certain corners of the state of California will be watching their own favorite sons. The state of California produced 22 players on Super Bowl rosters, as many as the next two states combined.
Athlon Sports mapped the 53-man rosters for both the Seahawks and the Broncos by college and high school. Here’s what we found:
The maps are interactive. Zoom in and out to check different areas and find names of each player. The Broncos are marked in orange, and the Seahawks are marked in green.
Where the Super Bowl players went to college
• Gary Andersen may be the coach with more reasons to brag than others. On the one hand, he can sell the four Super Bowl players at his current stop at Wisconsin, including running back Montee Ball for the Broncos and linebacker O’Brien Schofield, defensive back Chris Maragos and Wilson for the Seahawks.
Andersen, a first-year coach in 2013, can’t really play up player development for those four, but he can for linebacker Bobby Wagner and running back Robert Turbin, two Seahawks who played for Andersen at Utah State.
• After Tennessee (five) and Wisconsin (four), some of the usual suspects have three players in the Super Bowl: Florida, Georgia, Stanford, Texas and USC.
Among the surprises with three apiece include Kentucky (linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard and tight end Jacob Tamme), San Diego State (running back Ronnie Hillman, linebacker Heath Farwell and long snapper Aaron Brewer) and Texas Tech (wide receiver Wes Welker and guards Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez).
• NC State has up to four players in the Super Bowl, assuming you count Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback graduated from NC State before transferring to Wisconsin. The other NC State products in the Super Bowl are linebacker Nate Irving, defensive end J.R. Sweezy and kicker Steven Hauschka.
• Schools conspicuously absent from the Super Bowl include rivals Ohio State and Michigan.
• The SEC rules again: The league’s current lineup produced 22 players in the Super Bowl from 10 different schools. Only Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are absent.
After the SEC’s 22, the Pac-12 checked in with 16 and the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten with 11 each.
Where the Super Bowl players went to high school
A tip of the hat to Dallas Jackson of NationalHSFootball.com for his charts of each players' high school details. Check his site for where each player ranked as a recruit:
Denver Broncos | Seattle Seahawks
• California led all home states with 22 players taking up 106 roster spots. The Golden State’s high total isn’t that surprising. However, that California’s total equalled that of Texas (12) and Florida (10) is surprising considering all three are considered on equal footing in recruiting.
The next most represented states were Georgia (eight) and Virginia (six).
• Two high schools will have two players each in the Super Bowl: Norfolk (Va.) Maury claims graduates Kam Chancellor, a Seattle defensive back, and Vinston Painter, a Broncos offensive tackle. Both went to college at Virginia Tech.
Colony High in Ontario, Calif., produced Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Denver cornerback Omar Bolden.
The ceiling for the 2013-14 Kentucky team continues to be a moving target.
Before the season, Kentucky's fantastic freshmen had Big Blue Nation thinking national championship and quietly talking about running the table.
The gaudy record was put in doubt by the third game of the season with a loss to Michigan State. That the Spartans were a veteran team also ranked in the top three raised few red flags. Then came losses to Baylor and North Carolina, talented but inconsistent squads. The 73-66 win over Louisville on Dec. 28 seemed to be a turning point, at least until SEC play started.
Then came the SEC speed bumps. Arkansas was a fluky game in officiating, lost on a last-second putback. Few teams win in Fayetteville, anyway.
Losing at LSU on Tuesday isn’t totally embarrassing on paper, but Kentucky never led, rarely defended and often looked disinterested. In short, it was a game that could be a harbinger of things to come or a wake-up call.
No, Kentucky’s not on the NCAA Tournament bubble quite yet, but the Wildcats have only two RPI top-50 wins and four losses to teams ranked between No. 51-100. Kentucky has hardly looked the part of a team capable of winning four to six NCAA Tournament games in a row.
So what’s gone wrong and how worried should Kentucky fans be with six weeks to Selection Sunday?
What’s Gone Wrong at Kentucky?
Kentucky doesn’t always do that team thing
Only a few weeks ago, John Calipari reiterated that his team is full of freshmen who at this time last year were the centerpiece of their teams. Against college veterans, one freshman can’t win a game on his own. That’s valid — Kansas had a learning curve with its young roster, and Duke’s Jabari Parker had his own adjustment period after storming out of the gates. But it’s nearly February, and Kentucky’s rookies don’t always look like they enjoy playing together. This is a cliche argument, but instances like this only reinforce the lack of chemistry. For example:
(h/t @DrewFranklinKSR of KentuckySportsRadio.com).
The “What are you doing?” factor
Kentucky’s fate likely was sealed in the 87-82 loss to LSU in the final seconds even after three Aaron Harrison 3-point baskets helped cut a 10-point deficit to five. But with 11 seconds left, Kentucky never fouled, allowing LSU to dribble the clock out. ESPN color commentator Dan Dakich was exasperated. “What are you doing?” Dakich asked in disbelief. Before the late-game blunder, Dakich also was critical of Kentucky’s effort, saying “LSU is competing and Kentucky is just playing.” The statement summed up the loss all too well. Not that Calipari would disagree: “I'm still having to coach too much,” he said after the Texas A&M win on Jan. 21. “Having to get on guys too much.”
Point guard play is lacking
Andrew Harrison was the top-ranked point guard in the 2013 signing class, but he’s hardly looked the part this season. Harrison had one assist and four turnovers against LSU. He’s averaging four assists per game in SEC play, good for fourth in the league, but Harrison hasn't been a facilitator. The passing problem isn’t isolated to Harrison, though. It’s team-wide. “Whenever they got the ball, they tried to shoot it,” Calipari said after the win over Georgia on Saturday. “If they couldn't shoot it, they tried a little bit more to shoot it, and then one more thing to try to shoot it, and if they couldn't shoot it they passed it.” Kentucky is 12th in SEC conference games in assists per field goal at 46.3 according to KenPom.com.
Kentucky can get destroyed on the interior
Against LSU, Kentucky had no answer for big man Johnny O’Bryant (29 points on 12 of 20 shooting) whether the Wildcats tried Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle or Dakari Johnson. The problem wasn't limited to Kentucky’s defensive end or this game. LSU blocked 11 shots, the most against Kentucky during the Calipari era. And 10 days earlier, Tennessee grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against the Wildcats.
Julius Randle can’t take over
In three SEC games, Randle has been held to 10 points or fewer. That Randle still averages 16.1 points per game is somewhat remarkable given the way teams gang up on him defensively. The triple-teaming of Randle and physical play is partly a function of the supporting cast. The Harrisons and James Young haven’t always made teams pay for focusing so much on Randle.
The Big Question: Can Kentucky find out what’s right?
The 2014 Kentucky team will hope for a repeat of 2011. That season, the Wildcats went 10-6 in the SEC, with all the losses coming on the road. Once Kentucky got on neutral courts, the Wildcats won the SEC Tournament and reached the Final Four. And while Kentucky this season never expected to start February with five losses, the other four defeats aren’t nearly as bad as LSU. But where are the big statements? The win over Louisville remains the high point of Kentucky’s season, but what’s the next-best moment on which the Wildcats can brag? Putting away Tennessee in the second half in Lexington? Look at the resume: Louisville and Tennessee may be the only wins over NCAA at-large bid teams on the schedule. Kentucky’s problems are more related to effort, chemistry and decision-making rather than personnel. That may be a doomsday scenario for the Wildcats.
The season has reached that stage of the year where one question is inevitable: How is the selection committee going to find 68 teams to play in this Tournament?
Teams we thought were in good shape weeks ago are working their way out. Colorado’s resume might be fine now, but we know the selection committee will take into account that the Buffaloes are lost without injured point guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Baylor looked like a Big 12 contender at one point, but the Bears are 1-6 after Tuesday’s home loss to West Virginia.
Meanwhile, that Baylor win over Kentucky earlier this season is less and less of a statement game after the Wildcats have dropped SEC games to Arkansas and LSU.
At least this week, the SEC provided our projections with the final teams in the field. Tennessee looked listless against Florida, but the Volunteers’ resume includes a major win over Virginia and wins over fellow SEC bubble teams LSU (on the road) and Arkansas.
For now, LSU is in our projections. The Tigers’ case is flimsy, but wins in the last week over Kentucky and Missouri work in their favor. No, a home loss to Rhode Island is a good look, at the end of the bracket, no one looks great.
NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch: Jan. 29
Feeling good: Duke, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Virginia
Bubble in: Florida State, North Carolina
Bubble out: Wake Forest
Notes: Seeding for Duke and Virginia will be great if both can continue hot streaks. ... Pittsburgh is probably safe, but the Panthers’ lack of a big win will hurt seeding. ... A season sweep to Virginia isn’t a great look for Florida State, but the Seminoles have few blemishes on the resume. ... North Carolina’s rout of Clemson allows Roy Williams to exhale a little.
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None
Notes: Since defeating SMU and Memphis in back-to-back games in early January, Cincinnati has played the dregs of the AAC. A huge game at Louisville looms Thursday. ... The Mustangs’ loss to USF on Tuesday is troublesome. ... UConn’s December losses to Stanford and Houston cut down on the Huskies’ margin for error.
Atlantic 10 (4)
Feeling good: George Washington, Saint Louis, VCU
Bubble in: UMass
Bubble out: Richmond
Notes: Saint Louis’ last loss came Dec. 1 to Wichita State, but the Billikens have yet to hit the meat of their league schedule. ... VCU’s win in Charlottesville over RPI No. 21 Virginia is one of the better ones for the league. The Rams also defeated Belmont, Dayton and La Salle on the road. ... The non-conference resume for UMass is looking more and more suspect. The Minutemen’s only real chance for a big road statement is at George Washington. ... Richmond is on the fringe after a home win over UMass on Jan. 22.
Big 12 (6)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas
Bubble in: Kansas State
Bubble out: Baylor
Notes: Baylor, 1-6 in the Big 12 after losing at home to West Virginia, is going to play itself out of the Tournament if the Bears don’t turn things quickly. ... The Sooners are the league’s biggest riser in the last month. ... Kansas should be a No. 1 seed if the Jayhawks can win the tough Big 12. ... Texas has defeated three consecutive AP ranked teams. ... The Cowboys’ last good win was Jan. 8 against Texas.
Big East (4)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Providence, Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown
Notes: Providence has won five in a row, including wins over Georgetown, Creighton and Xavier. ... Georgetown has lost five in a row.
Big Ten (7)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Indiana
Bubble out: Illinois
Notes: Minnesota’s loss to Nebraska wasn’t a great look, but the Gophers have four RPI top-100 wins. ... Anyone remember Michigan’s loss to Charlotte? Didn’t think so. ... Iowa so far has been able to avoid a loss to a below-average team, but the Hawkeyes have few elite wins. ... Indiana and Illinois are close. They split head-to-head meetings, and both lost to Northwestern. The Hoosiers lost at home, but at least they have a Wisconsin win.
Missouri Valley (1)
Feeling good: Wichita State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Indiana State
Notes: Indiana State was the Valley’s best hope for a second at-large candidate before losing by 20 to Wichita State on the road. Perhaps the only way the MVC is a multi-bid league is if the Shockers lose in the conference tournament.
Mountain West (3)
Feeling good: San Diego State, New Mexico
Bubble in: Boise State
Bubble out: None
Notes: San Diego State will have a record befitting of a high seed but not the RPI and schedule strength. ... New Mexico is by no means a lock with road trips against Utah State, Boise State, UNLV, Nevada and San Diego State looming. ... Boise State needs to pick up a good conference win, but at least the schedule strength is strong.
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Bubble in: Cal, Oregon, Stanford
Bubble out: Arizona State, Colorado
Notes: Arizona plays seven of the last 11 regular season games on the road. ... Cal’s road win over Oregon is less and less impressive but not nearly as damaging as last week’s loss at USC. ... The Sun Devils’ marquee win is at home over a wounded Colorado team. ... The Ducks stopped the bleeding of a five-game losing streak by defeating lowly Washington State on Sunday. ... Stanford’s pair of road wins (UConn and Oregon) are keeping the Cardinal in the mix.
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Missouri, LSU, Tennessee
Bubble out: Arkansas, Ole Miss
Notes: Florida may be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed. ... Tennessee and Ole Miss are on the fringe. Their matchup Wednesday is huge for both. Meanwhile, LSU has lost to both. ... Missouri’s road win over Arkansas on Tuesday was huge. ... With loss to LSU on Tuesday, Kentucky is sliding. ... Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Arkansas needs to win a road game.
West Coast (1)
Feeling good: Gonzaga
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: BYU, Saint Mary’s
Notes: Both BYU and Saint Mary’s lost on the road to Gonzaga, so marquee wins for both are dwindling. ... BYU’s neutral site win over Texas is looking better and better, but it probably won’t be enough to overcome a 6-4 record against teams ranked between 101-200 in the RPI.
One-bid leagues (21)
America East: Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Northern Colorado
Big South: UNC Asheville
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
WAC: Utah Valley
The weekend in college basketball ended with another coaching milestone for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, one he extended Monday with a victory over Pittsburgh.
Saturday, though, will be perhaps just as notable. The first meeting between Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim since the 1998 NCAA regional semifinal will pit two coaches with at least 900 wins at their current schools, and both teams have national title aspirations.
When the two last faced each other Krzyzewski sat on 431 wins at Duke (and added one with a win over Syracuse) while Boeheim had 528 at Syracuse.
The career numbers lead our top stats this week, but other coaches, playeres and teams had key notables.
10 Key Stats from the Week in College Basketball
1,840. Combined wins at Duke and Syracuse for Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim
Krzyzewski and Boeheim have long been members of the 900-win club, but with Duke’s win over Florida State on Saturday, now both coaches have won 900 games at their current schools, the first meeting between two coaches who won 900 games at their current schools (Syracuse’s game at Duke on Feb. 22 also will be the Orange’s first game at Cameron Indoor). The two coaches haven’t faced each other since the Sweet 16 in 1998.
679. Wins for Rick Byrd at Belmont, the next most for an active coach at his current school
To put the 900 wins at a single school in perspective, the next active coach has a long way to go to catch up to Krzyzewski and Boeheim. Belmont’s Rick Byrd has 679 wins with the Bruins, who were the NAIA when he started in 1986. The next active coach with the most wins at a program that has been in NCAA Division I through the entirety of his tenure is Davidson’s Bob McKillop with 462 victories. Here are the complete leaders:
Active coaches, most wins at current school
939 Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
901 Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
679 Rick Byrd, Belmont*
512 Greg Kampe, Oakland*
462 Bob McKillop, Davidson
457 Tom Izzo, Michigan State
432 Billy Donovan, Florida
*part of his tenure was before school joined NCAA Division I
122.9. Michigan’s offensive efficiency rating this season on KenPom
Is it possible that Michigan’s offense is better this season without Trey Burke and, effectively, Mitch McGary? The Wolverines’ efficiency numbers say yes. Michigan’s offensive rating on KenPom is more than two points higher this season than last year: 123.0 compared to 120.3 in 2012-13. Think of that as 122.9 points per 100 possessions adjusted for the schedule. Michigan’s efficiency rating in Big Ten play is up from 112.3 last season to 119.2 this year. The Wolverines’ effective field goal rate is up from 54.6 percent to 56.2.
7. SEC opponents Florida has held to fewer than 50 points in the last two seasons
The mix of Florida’s defensive prowess and the lack of depth in the SEC has been a bad combination for competitive balance in the league. The Gators beat Tennessee 67-41 on Saturday for the seventh game in the last two seasons in which Florida held an SEC opponent to fewer than 50 points. Here’s the breakdown of points scored against Florida since 2012-13 in SEC play, including the conference tournament:
Opponent scoring in Florida's SEC games since 2012-13 (Florida's record)
49 or fewer: 7 (7-0)
50-59 points: 11 (11-0)
60-69 points: 7 (4-3)
70 or more: 2 (1-1)
3. Consecutive games with 20 second-chance points for Duke
Another Duke number and one that doesn’t totally involve Jabari Parker — though he set a Blue Devils’ freshman record with his 12th 20-point game of the season Monday. Duke’s offensive rebounding has been a showcase in the last three games, contributing to 20 second-chance points in a game for the third consecutive time. The Blue Devils outscored Miami, Florida State and Pittsburgh 71-24 combined on second-chance points in the last three games.
42.6. Minutes per game in Big East play for Providence’s Bryce Cotton
Let that one sink in for a minute, since Providence started Big East play, the Friars’ leading scorer is averaging more than a game played in each conference game. Providence played two double overtime games in conference play against Seton Hall and St. John’s, but Cotton also played 40 minutes in four league games. Providence clearly needs him on the court as Cotton has contributed to 91 of the Friars’ field goals this season either by scoring himself or through an assist.
3. Consecutive overtime games for Marquette
No question, this has been a long season for Marquette, but lately that’s literal rather than figurative. The Golden Eagles have played three consecutive overtime games against Butler, Georgetown and Villanova, losing to the Bulldogs and Wildcats and defeating the Hoyas. The record is four consecutive overtime games held by 1982 Jacksonville (3-1), 1985 Illinois (3-1) and 1988 Dayton (1-3). If there’s a chance Marquette’s streak can continue, the Golden Eagles will face the right opponent Thursday in Providence. The Friars have played four overtime games this season, the last two settled in double overtime.
5. Different leading scorers in the last five games for UCLA
If balance is what you like, try UCLA. Five different players have led the Bruins in scoring in the last five games: David Wear (18 points against Cal), Tony Parker (22 against Stanford), Kyle Anderson (28 against Utah), Norman Powell (19 against Colorado) and Zach LaVine (19 against Arizona State). Oddly enough, the Bruins’ leading scorer, Jordan Adams, hasn't led the team since Dec. 14 against Prairie View.
7. Big 12 teams in the top 25 this season, most for any conference
When Texas ended a two-season drought from the AP rankings this week, the Longhorns became the seventh Big 12 team to land in the top 25, the most for any conference this year. The seven ranked teams from the Big 12 (all but TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia) is more than double the representation for the Big East and SEC this season (three each). The ACC and Big Ten have had six teams each ranked the season. In this week’s poll, the Big 12 has No. 6 Kansas, No. 8 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Iowa State, No. 23 Oklahoma and No. 25 Texas.
12. Double-digit rebound games for Ryan Spangler at Oklahoma
Ryan Spangler was going to have a tough time cracking the rotation at Gonzaga with Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, and Oklahoma offered him a chance to return to his home state. It’s tough to argue he made the right decision. He’s told reporters he has no hard feelings for Gonzaga, but we’ll throw out this stat anyway: With 17 rebounds in the 88-76 win over Oklahoma State on Monday, Spangler has 12 games this season with double-digit rebounds. Gonzaga players have hit double-figure boards seven times this season.
The list of star players not present in East Lansing was staggering Saturday: Branden Dawson, Mitch McGary and Adreian Payne all were out for two teams that have been the walking wounded for most of the season.
Spartans point guard Keith Appling played, but his wrist was in such bad shape he could barely shoot.
That left Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris with the opportunity to fill the void.
The two guards went back and forth for most of the game in a matchup that often left them one on one, but in the end, it was the Michigan guard Stauskas who was blowing kisses into the crowd at the Breslin Center.
Stauskas finished with 19 points against Michigan State and 26 against Iowa on Wednesday for two of Michigan’s three consecutive wins over ranked teams. The week, in which Stauskas shot a combined 15-of-26 from the field, earned the sophomore Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
“We knew he was going to have to pick his spots but he hit some daggers that were tough shots with Gary all over him,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “It was a great matchup of two really good players and that was a pretty efficient game by Nik.”
Athlon Sports College Basketball National Awards: Jan. 27
National Player of the Week: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Stauskas is making a strong push for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. The sharpshooting Canadian after averaged 22.5 points last week as Michigan posted huge wins against Iowa in Ann Arbor and Michigan State in East Lansing. A 6-6 shooting guard, Stauskas hit 5-of-6 from 3-point range and scored 19 points in the Wolverines’ comeback win over Michigan State on Saturday night. He is averaging 19.0 points and shooting 44.4 percent from three in Big Ten games.
National Freshman of the Week: Isaiah Taylor, Texas
Taylor, a freshman point guard, penetrated through the Baylor defense time and again en route to a career-high 27 points to lead Texas to a 74–60 win over slumping Baylor in Austin. The Longhorns, coming off the first losing season of the Rick Barnes era, improved to 16–4 overall and 5–2 in the Big 12. They have won three straight games over a ranked opponent for the first time in school history.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Treveon Graham, VCU
Graham scored a career-high 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead VCU to a 97–89 win over La Salle in double-overtime on Saturday in Philadelphia. Graham, a junior guard, sent the game into overtime by scoring the final six points of regulation, and he also scored six of the Rams’ seven points in the first overtime. His 34 points are the most scored by a VCU player in the five-year Shaka Smart era.
Other top performers:
Bryce Cotton, Providence
Surging Providence, winners of five straight games, is getting great play from Cotton, a senior guard who averaged 21.5 points and 6.5 assists (without committing a turnover) in the Friars’ wins over Butler and Xavier last week. Cotton has played every minute of each of the last five games, including 50 in a double-overtime win at St. John’s two weeks ago.
Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
With All-American Marcus Smart struggling through a dismal performance, Nash stepped up with a career-high 29 points to go along with nine rebounds to lead Oklahoma State to an 81–75 win over West Virginia in Stillwater. Nash, a junior swingman, converted 10-of-13 from the field and 9-of-14 from the foul line.
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Petteway, a transfer from Texas Tech, scored a career-best 35 points on 10-of-15 shooting and added six rebounds and three assists in Nebraska’s 82–78 win over Minnesota in Lincoln. A 6-6 swingman from Galveston, Texas, Petteway is averaging 17.2 points and 5.3 points for the Cornhuskers after averaging only 3.1 points as a freshman for Texas Tech two years ago.
James Siakam, Vanderbilt
Siakam scored a career-high 22 points and tied an SEC career high with 10 rebounds in the Commodores’ 66–55 win at Texas A&M. A junior forward from Cameroon, Siakam converted 6-of-10 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line to lead the Commodores to their first road win of the season. His previous career high in an SEC game was nine points in a win over Missouri two weeks ago.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins played perhaps the finest game of his young career, scoring 27 points — including 19 in the first half — as Kansas avenged a shocking loss at TCU last season by pounding the Horned Frogs 91–69 in Fort Worth. Wiggins, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, connected on 8-of-13 from the field and 9-of-10 from the foul line, and added five points and five rebounds. Wiggins, often criticized for his lack of aggression, has attempted 22 free throws in his last two games.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
Williams-Goss poured in career-high 32 points — on only 15 field goal attempts — to help Washington rally from 12 points down in the second half to beat Oregon State 87–81 in Seattle. A freshman guard from Oregon, Williams-Goss hit 10-of-15 from the field (including 3-of-4 from three) and 9-of-10 from the foul line.
The weekend of college basketball delivered only one true marquee matchup, but the weekend didn't lack for news. Although Michigan and Michigan State delivered in every way we hoped it would, other teams made key strides on Saturday and Sunday.
Let’s start with Michigan, now the last remaining team undefeated in Big Ten play. Michigan State gave all it could, but the Spartans’ injuries in the end were too much to overcome.
Michigan, of course, has had its own players banged up, but the Wolverines have grown in the last few weeks to be a better team now without Mitch McGary than they were when he was healthy.
A scary thought for the rest of the league: Imagine a team with an improved Nik Stauskas and a matured Derrick Walton playing with the sophomore big man McGary. As it is, Michigan is already in charge of the league for the time being.
Elsewhere, Duke is starting to look more and more like the team we thought the Blue Devils would be this season. Where that places Duke in the ACC will be answered this week when the Blue Devils face Big East imports Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend
1a. Michigan is a Final Four threat
In his absence from the court, Mitch McGary found at least one way to stay useful — writing “Win the Game” on a white board. It seems to be working as Michigan is undefeated without McGary, including three consecutive wins over top-10 teams. Two of those have come in Madison and East Lansing after Saturday's 80-75 win at Michigan State. The Spartans were shorthanded, but Michigan was able to erase a second-half eight-point deficit with key baskets in transition down the stretch to seal the win. Guards Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton combined for 55 points and 15 of 17 free throws as Michigan took over the Big Ten lead ... two months after a loss to Charlotte and and the injury to McGary appeared to set Michigan back to the middle of the Big Ten.
1b. Gary Harris should be on All-America lists
Stauskas may be the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year, but Harris is the league MVP. With Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson out and Keith Appling barely able to shoot with a wrist injury, Harris is keeping Michigan State in Big Ten contention. Harris matched Michigan’s guards basket for basket for most of the game to finish with 27 points. As the Spartans have taken their hits with injuries, Harris has averaged 19.9 points per game in Big Ten play.
1c. Tom Izzo is having an emotional year
After the loss to Michigan, Izzo said he’d never been prouder of a team in 30 years at Michigan State — high praise, considering the track record. Michigan didn’t take a lead until the final 3:12. Afterward, Izzo praised Appling’s toughness to play through injuries, and players told reporters the coach was nearly moved to tears in the postgame meeting. Only weeks ago, Izzo was exasperated as his team coughed up a 17-point lead in regulation against Ohio State before winning in overtime. For certain, this has been a roller coaster season for the veteran coach.
2a. We’re about to find out of Duke is a national title contender
Back on Jan. 11, Duke looked nothing like a team ready to contend for the Final Four. At that point the Blue Devils couldn’t defend, lost their toughest games of the season to Kansas and Arizona and dropped two ACC games to Notre Dame and Clemson. Since then, Duke has started to look the part of a title contender, but the major test will be next week at Pittsburgh (Monday) and at Syracuse (Saturday). The Blue Devils have shut down the 3-point line in three consecutive games and dominated the offensive glass Saturday in a 78-56 win over Florida State. Duke grabbed 27 offensive rebounds — led by Jabari Parker’s 10 — for a team offensive rebound rate of 61.4 percent.
2b. You’re going to hear the number 900 a lot for the next week
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski joined Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem as the only major college coaches to win 900 games at a single school. Boeheim, Krzyzewski’s opponent next Saturday, has 938 wins all with the Orange.
2c. Duke’s defense has caught up
Parker was fantastic against Florida State, Rodney Hood contributed 18 points and Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaimon continue to give Krzyzewski third and fourth scoring options. Meanwhile, the leaky Duke defense has finally started to catch up. Since Duke sputtered in a win over Virginia on Jan. 13, the Blue Devils moved from outside of the top 100 in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com to No. 62 to start the week.
3. Wisconsin and Iowa State can take a deep breath
Two three-game losing streaks by previously undefeated teams ended when Iowa State and Wisconsin both won Saturday. The Cyclones ended their three-game losing streak with an 81-75 win over a quality Kansas State team. With DeAndre Kane having an off game, Iowa State’s frontcourt was dominant as Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang combined for 38 points compared to 10 total points for Kansas State’s starting forwards. Wisconsin’s win wasn't as much of a statement with a 72-58 win at Purdue, but the Badgers responded in the defensive end. Wisconsin struggled to guard anyone during its three-game losing streak but held the Boilermakers to 35.4 percent shooting and 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
4. Rick Barnes may be saving his job
Texas’ week started with Jonathan Holmes’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Kansas State and continued with a 74-66 road win over Baylor on Saturday. When the season started, Barnes’ program appeared to be heading in the wrong direction — no Sweet 16 appearances since 2008 and a losing season in 2013 that ended with a CBI loss to Houston. Now, Barnes is a Big 12 coach of the year contender. Barnes’ recruiting has been scrutinized, especially in the state of Texas, but his freshman point guard who graduated from a Houston high school, Isaiah Taylor, scored 27 against Baylor. With no seniors getting regular minutes, the core of the team should be around for another year. The Longhorns have put together three consecutive wins over ranked teams heading into a game against Kansas on Saturday, the biggest game in Austin since January 2011.
5. Florida had the best defensive game of the weekend
The Gators had a couple of closer-than-they-should-have-been games against Auburn and Alabama in the last week. Their defensive effort against Tennessee made sure they had enough of a cushion to play walk-ons. Florida defeated the Volunteers 67-41, the eighth time in the last nine games the Gators held their opponent to 62 points of fewer. The Volunteers couldn’t manage to get good shots from the perimeter all game as Tennessee’s starting backcourt went 2 of 29 from the field and only got to the free throw line twice. Jordan McRae, who averages 19.2 points per game, scored only 5. Florida, who ranks ninth on KenPom.com in defensive efficiency, might not be seriously tested until they face Kentucky on Feb. 15.
6. North Carolina can make shots again
Time to check in on the North Carolina roller coaster. This time, the Tar Heels are on the upswing again with a 80-61 win over Clemson. No, the Heels don’t need to take a victory lap for beating Clemson at home, but this at least a positive sign for the time being. The Tar Heels scored 45 against Syracuse, 57 against Miami, 61 against Virginia and 67 against Wake Forest. The Heels were hitting their shots Sunday, converting 10 of 19 shots from 3-point range against a team ranked second nationally in defending the 3-point line. Carolina hit the 70-point mark with more than four minutes to go against Clemson, one of the top defensive teams in the country. North Carolina faces some of the weaker teams in the ACC between now and the Feb. 12 game against Duke, not that sustaining momentum has been a strong suit for this team.
7. Baylor is in a tailspin
Unless the Bears can turn things around in short order, Baylor is going to have trouble shedding its image of an underachieving team. With the 74-60 loss to Texas, Baylor fell to 1-4 in the Big 12 with its only win over TCU in Waco. Against the Longhorns, Baylor couldn’t find the basket. Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin were a combined 4 of 16 from the field, and sharp-shooter Brady Heslip was 0 for 4 from 3-point range. Baylor shot 32.1 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from beyond the arc against Texas, yet another game where Baylor couldn’t get anything done in the offensive end in a Big 12 game. The Bears have non-conference wins over Kentucky and a healthy Colorado, but they’re going to need to get hot in conference play in a hurry.
8. Marcus Smart, Phil Forte were both awful Saturday yet the Pokes still won
Oklahoma State lost a key cog in the frontcourt in Michael Cobbins earlier this season. Then, the Cowboys struggled with their composure for much of the game against Kansas. And now, Marcus Smart had the worst game of his career Saturday against West Virginia. At some point, maybe Oklahoma State’s recent games should raise some concerns, but not quite yet. The reason, at least this week, was that Le’Bryan Nash and others proved capable of carrying the Pokes in an 81-75 win over the Mountaineers. Smart went 1 of 7 from the field against West Virginia, and the normally sharp-shooting Phil Forte was 1 of 9 from 3-point range. Good thing Nash made up for it with 29 points on 10 of 13 shooting.
9. Providence has arrived on the bubble
Time to start taking Providence seriously as an NCAA Tournament contender. The Friars defeated Xavier 81-72 on Saturday for their fifth consecutive Big East win after starting 0-2 in the league. Bryce Cotton may be one of the nation’s most overlooked players, but he can score with anyone (22.4 points per game in Big East play). Besides the Musketeers, Providence has defeated Georgetown and Creighton, but all three wins have come at home. Still, the Friars are in the top 50 in the RPI and on KenPom.com. All that’s missing is a big road win. The Friars will have that opportunity with three of the next four on the road.
10. Creighton is a little more than Doug McDermott
Hold McDermott to 14 points and 5 of 15 from the field, and most teams would feel pretty good. Not Georgetown. McDermott was tied for the team lead in scoring, but five Bluejays scored in double figures, including Will Artino and Devin Brooks off the bench. Forward Ethan Wragge’s 3-point prowess is well established, but Jahenns Manigat added 10 points in the 76-63. Creighton probably doesn’t want to risk a 14-point night from McDermott in March, but it’s nice to know the Bluejays can absorb that kind of game every once in a while. Meanwhile, Georgetown is falling apart. The Hoyas have lost four in a row, and center Josh Smith was declared academically ineligible during the week.
• The season isn’t going quite as well for Sean Miller’s brother Archie at Dayton. The Flyers looked like a potential NCAA Tournament team with an early 10-point win at Georgia Tech, wins over Gonzaga and Cal in Maui and an overtime win over Ole Miss. Dayton has lost three in a row in the Atlantic 10 in a 1-4 start in league play.
• No Spencer Dinwiddie, no NCAA Tournament for Colorado. The Buffaloes lost 72-51 to Arizona State, giving Tad Boyle’s team three losses in four games since Dinwiddie was lost for the season. Bad break.
• Not sure if Minnesota’s 82-78 loss at Nebraska on Sunday is reason to get off the Gophers bandwagon after Richard Pitino’s team defeated Wisconsin earlier in the week. Minnesota is still without Andre Hollins, and Nebraska defeated Ohio State in Lincoln earlier this season.
• After a win over Notre Dame, Wake Forest is 4-3 in the ACC. The Demon Deacons have a shot at an NIT bid, major progress given the way Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure started.
Recent weeks have presented the classic conundrum for those who spend time ranking teams: Do you rank a team based on what they have been all season, what they can be or what they are right now?
Tough life, right?
Teams like Wisconsin and Iowa State have seen winning streaks turn into losing streaks. Right now, clearly, they’re not very good, but the body of work suggests they’re still among the best in the country.
Teams like Kansas and Duke are starting to look more like the teams we thought we’d see this season, but — again — their body of work might suggest a lower ranking.
Maybe we’ll get more answers during the weekend, but probably not. Here’s a look at where teams standing heading into Saturday.
College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Jan. 24
All games Saturday unless noted.
1. Arizona (19-0, 6-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Utah (Sunday)
The only weakness for Arizona? Try free throw shooting (66.7 percent). Otherwise, nada.
2. Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 ACC)
This weekend: at Miami
The undefeated Orange got a bit of bad news this week with a season-ending injury to DaJuan Coleman, Syracuse’s best low-post player.
3. Michigan State (18-1, 7-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan
The Spartans will head into Saturday’s game against Michigan — also perfect in the Big Ten — without Adreian Payne (foot) and Branden Dawson (hand).
4. Florida (16-2, 5-0 SEC)
This weekend: Tennessee
Florida is 5-9 against Tennessee since the 2006-07 season, including the current three-game losing streak to the Volunteers.
5. Kansas (14-4, 5-0 Big 12)
This weekend: at TCU
The Jayhawks have been rewarded for wins over four consecutive ranked teams with four days off and a date with lowly TCU.
6. San Diego State (17-1, 6-0 MWC)
This weekend: at Utah State
The Aztecs have a great defense, but they’re shooting 43.5 percent from 2-point range, ranking 326th nationally.
7. Wichita State (20-0, 7-0 MVC)
This weekend: at Drake
Since the overtime scare against Missouri State, Wichita State has won their last three games by an average of 19 points.
8. Villanova (16-2, 5-1 Big East)
This weekend: at Marquette
Creighton exposed Villanova’s leaky 3-point defense in a major way. Teams are shooting 36.2 percent from 3 vs. the Wildcats.
9. Oklahoma State (15-3, 3-2 Big 12)
This weekend: at West Virginia
The Cowboys played one poor half and one good half in Lawrence on Saturday.
10. Louisville (17-3, 3-1 American)
This weekend: UCF
Freshman point guard Terry Rozier has 14 assists and two turnovers in three games since taking over for an injured Chris Jones.
11. Creighton (16-3, 6-1 Big East)
This weekend: Georgetown
The Bluejays have the highest offensive efficiency rating on KenPom.com since at least 2003.
12. Iowa (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Northwestern
In the last two games, Aaron White has scored one point total in the first half ... and a combined 34 in the second.
13. Saint Louis (18-2, 5-0 A-10)
This weekend: Richmond
The Billikens were able to survive defensive lapses to beat a bad Duquesne team on the road Wednesday.
14. Michigan (14-4, 6-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Michigan State
Nik Stauskas is averaging 23.3 points in his last three games heading into huge showdown with rival Michigan State.
15. Pittsburgh (17-2, 5-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Maryland
The Panthers responded to a hard-fought loss at Syracuse by scoring 76 points and shooting 56.3 percent in a win over a salty defensive team in Clemson.
16. Duke (15-4, 4-2 ACC)
This weekend: Florida State
Is Duke on its way back up? Jabari Parker is dominating again and the Blue Devils can defend again ... against NC State and Miami.
17. Wisconsin (16-3, 3-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Purdue
The Badgers have allowed opponents to shoot 55 percent from the field during this three-game losing streak.
18. Iowa State (14-3, 3-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Kansas State
The Cyclones have lost three in a row, and it’s tough to find where the streak will end: Iowa State’s upcoming schedule is Kansas State, at Kansas, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State.
19. Kentucky (14-4, 4-1 SEC)
This weekend: Georgia
Alex Poythress has proven to be a key contributor off the bench, scoring 16 against Texas A&M on Tuesday.
20. Cincinnati (18-2, 7-0 American)
This weekend: at Temple (Sunday)
The Bearcats are in the midst of six-game stretch against the weaker teams in the American before facing Louisville on the road on Jan. 30.
21. UConn (15-4, 3-3 American)
This weekend: at Rutgers
The Huskies are shooting a stellar 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
22. Memphis (14-4, 4-2 American)
This weekend: USF (Sunday)
Shaq Goodwin is averaging 17 points and 6.8 rebounds in his last four games against AAC competition.
23. UMass (16-2, 3-1 A-10)
This weekend: at St. Bonaventure
The Minutemen’s close calls in A-10 play caught up with them in 55-52 loss to Richmond on Wednesday.
24. Minnesota (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Nebraska (Sunday)
The Gophers split a tough 11 days with wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin and losses to Michigan State and Iowa. Not bad for the young Pitino.
25. Virginia (14-5, 5-1 ACC)
This weekend: Virginia Tech
The Cavaliers are quietly contending for the ACC regular season title. Virginia won’t play Duke again and gets Syracuse at home. Cavs must beat Pitt on the road next week.
Five freshmen were among the midseason top 25 released by the Wooden Award earlier this week, but the nation’s top freshman — at least this week — was not among them.
Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon all made the watch list for the national player of the year. The Jayhawks’ Joel Embiid did not.
Granted, the voting took place before Embiid’s breakout against Oklahoma State on Saturday. And the midseason top 25 wouldn’t preclude Embiid from winning — “the players on the list are considered strong candidates” for the award, the Wooden Award release notes.
Whether Embiid is a contender by the end of the year we don’t know, but at least this week, he’s the freshman with the most momentum.
The Freshman 15: Jan. 24 Power Rankings
1. Joel Embiid, Kansas
The rumblings that Embiid may be outshining his other great freshman teammate have been going on for several weeks, but Saturday was the breakout. Embiid came two blocked shots short of a triple double against Oklahoma State with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. In one game, he proved he can not only finish, but start, an alley-oop.
2. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis numbers as a passer — 5.5 assists per game, 1.3 turnovers — remain outstanding, but Pittsburgh learned he’s just as dangerous with the ball in his hands in crunch time Saturday. Ennis scored 16 points and clinched the 59-54 win with two driving layups and two free throws late.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker never really went away as he continues to lead Duke in scoring. That said, his efficiency numbers dipped early in ACC play. In the last two games, though, he returned to his early season pace, converting 12 of 26 shots from the field against Miami and NC State. He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in his two games last week.
4. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Gordon keeps chugging along for the undefeated Wildcats. The forward is averaging 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his last four while shooting 54.8 percent from the field.
5. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
No question, Wiggins was a virtual no-show in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma State. But even considering his three points and two rebounds against the Cowboys, Wiggins averaged 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in Kansas’ run of four consecutive games (and wins) against ranked teams.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle emerged from a physical game with Tennessee’s frontcourt with only two rebounds, the only time in SEC play he failed to grab double-digit boards.
7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh is becoming a more effective player in the offensive end in recent games as the Hooisers need all the help they can get. Vonleh had double-doubles against Michigan State and Northwestern last week, but Indiana lost both games.
8. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
With the Volunteers dominating down low last week, John Calipari put the game in Harrison’s hands on the outside. The guard finished with 26 points, including 10-for-10 free-throw shooting.
9. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Texas A&M stopped Harrison’s hot streak, holding him to 1-of-5 shooting. In the three games prior, Harrison averaged 14.7 points per game.
10. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
The book is clear on Kansas State: Shut down Foster and win. Foster is averaging 16.5 points per game in the Wildcats’ Big 12 wins. He scored 7 of and 8 points on a combined 6-of-24 shooting in losses to Kansas and Texas.
11. Jordan Mickey, LSU
Mickey came back from a dismal performance against Ole Miss to pick up 13 points and give rebounds against Vanderbilt and 14 points and 13 rebounds against Missouri.
12. Zach LaVine, UCLA
LaVine is averaging 13.6 points per game in Pac-12 play. He’s certainly getting more involved, taking at least nine shots in each game in conference play.
13. James Young, Kentucky
Young has been a little streaky, but the Wildcats’ guard/forward is averaging 14.3 points and 4.5 rebounds.
14. Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
Woodard is coming off a lackluster game against TCU, but his presence in our freshman power rankings is long overdue. The point guard had 10 points and eight assists in a road win over Baylor on Saturday.
15. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier hasn’t put up big scoring numbers since taking over the point guard role for an injured Chris Jones, but he has amassed 14 assists to two turnovers in three games as a starter.
This weekend will feature only two games between ranked teams, but one of them is a doozy.
After Michigan defeated Iowa on Wednesday and Michigan State dodged Indiana on Wednesday, the top two teams in the Big Ten standings will meet in East Lansing.
Especially in this league, staying undefeated in conference play in late January is a major feat. Just ask Ohio State and Wisconsin. Certainly the two coaches meeting Saturday at the Breslin Center are feeling a bit lucky to be playing for the Big Ten lead.
Michigan has played nine games this season without forward Mitch McGary, and John Beilein is adapting to playing without him for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Michigan State has had ongoing injuries issues that at some point or another have claimed Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris.
The matchup between the Michigan schools isn’t the only key game this week. The story of the month seems to be slumping teams — Wisconsin, Iowa State, Baylor and others are facing critical games this week to show if any of them can pull out of recent funks.
College Basketball Weekend Preview
All times Eastern
Game of the Week:
Michigan at Michigan State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
No one would dare say that the basketball matchup between the Wolverines and Spartans is bigger than the football game, but this is pretty close. Both teams are in Big Ten contention despite major injuries. Michigan has weathered the season-ending injury to Mitch McGary with wins over Wisconsin and Iowa in the last week. Thanks to the hot hand of Nik Stauskas (20-plus points in three consecutive games), Michigan leads the Big Ten in points per possession at 118 points per 100 possessions in conference games. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo only wishes he had injury concerns so simple. Adreian Payne is not likely to play with an ongoing foot injury, and Branden Dawson is out four to five weeks after sustaining a broken hand when he slammed his hand in frustration while watching game film. With those combined injuries, expect a backcourt battle in East Lansing.
Tricky Road Trip:
Xavier at Providence (Saturday, noon, Fox Sports 1)
Providence isn’t quite on the NCAA Tournament bubble yet, but the Friars are riding a four-game winning streak that includes a 81-68 defeat of Creighton at home. Providence’s Bryce Cotton and Xavier’s Semaj Christon should be able to match each other shot for shot in what could be one of the best individual matchups of the weekend.
Kansas State at Iowa State (Saturday, 1:45 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Iowa State, which has lost three straight games following a 14–0 start, desperately needs a win to remain relevant in the Big 12 title chase. Kansas State has been one of the league’s early surprises; the Cats are 4–1 in the Big 12, with the only loss coming on the road at Kansas. Bruce Weber’s team has been terrific on the defensive end, so defending Iowa State’s many set plays will be key in this game. After a last-second loss to Texas on Tuesday, Kansas State also needs a win for its psyche.
Streaking vs. Slumping:
Texas at Baylor (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas has suffered major personnel losses in recent years, but Rick Barnes has the Longhorns in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth. Jonathan Holmes’ buzzer-beater against Kansas State on Tuesday has given Texas a four-game winning streak. Baylor, on the other hand, has too much talent to be 1–4 in the Big 12. With non-conference wins over Colorado, Dayton and Kentucky, Baylor’s NCAA résumé is solid, but at some point this team needs to start winning games in league play.
BYU at Gonzaga (Saturday, 11 p.m., ESPN2)
The West Coast Conference is looking more and more like a one-bid league, especially after BYU added a triple overtime loss to Portland on Thursday to defeats to Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga also lost to the Pilots earlier this season, but the Bulldogs have found their stride. On Saturday, they'll look to contain guard Tyler Haws, who scored 48 points in 50 minutes of play Thursday.
Others to Watch
Florida State at Duke (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
This is an intriguing matchup between one of the nation’s top defensive teams in Florida State and a Duke team that is loaded with offensive weapons. Florida State is holding its opponents to 40.5 percent shooting on 2-point field goals, a figure that ranks sixth in the nation. Duke, which shoots 41.4 percent from three and 52.7 percent from two, ranks second nationally in offensive efficiency (123 points per 100 possession).
Tennessee at Florida (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Florida, off to a 4–0 start in the league, has emerged as the team to beat in the SEC. The Gators do just about everything well except shoot free throws, where they shoot 66.6 percent from the line. Tennessee features one of the most talented rosters in the league, but the Vols have some troubling losses — vs. UTEP on a neutral court and against NC State and Texas A&M at home. This team is searching for a quality win to pad its NCAA Tournament résumé.
Wisconsin at Purdue (Saturday 5 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Wisconsin has suddenly forgot how to defend the perimeter, as the Badgers have allowed all three opponents to top 50 percent shooting in three losses. The Badgers are entering must-win territory, especially against a lackluster Purdue team that has struggled to score at times this season. The Boilermakers are coming off a lost to Northwestern, but they had won three in a row before Tuesday.
Villanova at Marquette (Saturday, 2 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Villanova must regroup after its stunning 28-point loss at home to Creighton on Monday night. Defending the 3-point line will obviously be a focus in practice for Jay Wright. Good thing Marquette is one of the worst teams in the country from the 3-point line (30.4 percent).
Georgetown at Creighton (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Both teams had eventful games Monday night. Creighton set a bunch of shooting records at Villanova en route to a 96–68 stunner over the Wildcats. The Bluejays are 6–1 in league play in their first season in the Big East. Georgetown blew a seven-point lead in the final three minutes on its way to an 80–72 overtime loss at home to Marquette. The Hoyas, who have lost three straight games, dropped to 11–7 overall and 3–4 in the Big East.
Illinois at Indiana (Sunday, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Just a few weeks ago, Illinois was 13–2 overall and 2–0 in the Big Ten. Now, the Illini are 13–6 and 2–4 in the Big Ten. Barring a quick turnaround, John Groce’s team will have a tough time earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Indiana regrouped from its embarrassing loss to Northwestern by giving Michigan State a fight on Tuesday in East Lansing, but it wasn’t enough for a win. The Hoosiers cannot afford to lose another home game to a team in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
Clemson at North Carolina (Sunday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
At some point, North Carolina has to turn a corner if the Tar Heels aren’t going to see their wins over Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky wasted on an NIT bid. The Heels have lost three of their last four, and the inconsistent offense faces one of the better defensive teams in the ACC in Clemson.
California at UCLA (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
At one point Cal looked like it would be a viable No. 2 team in the league thanks to Oregon’s slump and Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury at Colorado. Then the Bears lost to USC 77-69 on Wednesday. UCLA is coming off a deflating loss of its own on the road to Utah.
Athlon Sports’ Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Go ahead and do the math: 48 college underclassmen declared for the NBA Draft in 2013 for the opportunity at 30 first-round picks and guaranteed contracts.
With a handful of college seniors and international players in the first round, plenty of players have a chance to be disappointed on draft day.
College fans have reason to be disappointed, too. Their teams take hits in the draft, and some with little payoff in terms of an NBA roster spot.
A few college teams are struggling at this point of the season, and some could simply be better with an extra veteran on the roster.
This is our look at the top missing pieces — the players who could reasonably still be on college rosters. Sure, Indiana would be better off with Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo this season, but both were top-four draft picks. We’re not looking at those cases.
Instead, we’re looking at how the early entries from the 2013 and 2012 drafts who were not selected in the first round could have impacted their college teams in 2013-14.
This isn’t to shame players who declared early for the NBA Draft but missed out on being a lottery pick, either.
Surely, some didn’t make great decisions. But staying on a college basketball roster isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. After all, sitting on the end of an NBA roster or playing professionally in Europe still guarantees more (legitimate) income than playing in college.
For our purposes, this is a look at teams that may or may not be struggling this season and how some of the departed players who weren’t NBA locks may have helped this season.
Missing Pieces: NBA Draft Early Entries Who Could be Helping their College Teams
Vander Blue, Marquette
Final season: Junior, 2013
Draft status: Undrafted
Where he is now: Boston Celtics
After Blue recently signed a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics, he will have a shot at playing in an NBA game, but meanwhile, Marquette has struggled all season to score consistently. The Golden Eagles’ backcourt production has been lacking all season thanks in part to the season-long leg injury to incoming freshman Duane Wilson. The 6-4, 200-pound Blue led Marquette in scoring last season and was a clutch player in the team’s run to the Elite Eight last season. The Eagles haven’t won three consecutive games since.
C.J. Leslie, NC State
Final season: Junior, 2013
Draft status: Undrafted
Where he is now: Released by the New York Knicks
The cast of highly touted freshmen and veterans never meshed at NC State last season as the Wolfpack finished 11-7 in the ACC and lost to Temple in the NCAA round of 64 with Leslie on board. Sophomore T.J. Warren is still on the Wolfpack roster, but he sure could use some help. He’s averaging 22.2 points per game, but it takes him nearly 18 shots to get there. Although he was inconsistent last season, Leslie averaged 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season. He and Warren would at least give NC State a one-two punch that could put the Wolfpack onto the NCAA bubble.
Amath M’Baye, Oklahoma
Final season: Junior, 2013
Draft status: Undrafted
Where he is now: Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins, Japan
Oklahoma probably is an NCAA Tournament team without M’Baye, but an extra big body could make an impact in a tough Big 12. A Sooners team with a 6-9, 208-pound forward who can defend the perimeter in the mix would be a Big 12 title contender.
Phil Pressey, Missouri
Final season: Junior, 2013
Draft status: Undrafted
Where he is now: Averaging 1.6 points per game with the Celtics
Pressey has spent the entire season on an NBA roster, which is pretty good for an undrafted free agent. His alma mater Missouri started 12-1 but has since lost three of the last five in the SEC. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has fared well as the point guard, but the Tigers have managed to lose close games to Illinois, Georgia, Vanderbilt and LSU — all winnable games for the Tigers.
Adonis Thomas, Memphis
Final season: Sophomore, 2013
Draft status: Undrafted
Where he is now: Springfield Armor, NBA D-League
Adonis Thomas’ career at Memphis wasn’t what his recruiting reputation suggested he should have produced. And Tigers may be better this season anyway. Still, Thomas averaged 11.7 points per game last season. Not a bad piece to have around.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Final season: Junior, 2013
Draft status: 58th overall pick
Where he is now: Nanterre (France)
Ohio State can defend, but the Buckeyes rank 122nd in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. Put Thomas on this season’s roster, and Ohio State is essentially the same team that went 29-8 and reached the Elite Eight last season. Thomas averaged 19.8 points per game last year while no Buckeye averages more than 14 points per game in 2013-14.
Royce White, Iowa State
Final season: Sophomore, 2012
Draft status: 16th overall, has not played
Where he is now: Cut by the Philadelphia 76ers
Every other player on this list was either undrafted or a late second round draft pick. White is an exception as the No. 16 pick of the Houston Rockets two years ago. He’s never played a game in the NBA as he and the team that drafted him couldn’t agree on stipulations he requested to deal with anxiety. If White had stayed at Iowa State, he’d be a fifth-year senior on a team that started 14-0. He and DeAndre Kane could have been No. 1 and No. 2 in nearly every major category for the Cyclones.
B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell, Arkansas
Final season: Sophomore (Young) and junior (Powell), 2013
Draft status: Undrafted
Where they are now: Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League (Young) and Ferro-ZNTU in the Ukraine (Powell)
Arkansas built itself into a fringe NCAA Tournament team this season in the non-conference schedule with decent wins over SMU, Minnesota and Cal. The Razorbacks, in foul-filled game for both sides, also managed to beat Kentucky in overtime last week. But the SEC road woes continued with losses to Texas A&M and Georgia. McDonald’s All-American freshman Bobby Portis has already been a difference maker, Houston transfer Alandise Harris is an impact player, and sophomore Michael Qualls is one of the most improved players in the SEC. Throw Young and Powell into the mix, and the Razorbacks would have one of the strongest rosters in the league.
Some of the names and faces have changed, but the Big Ten is again one of the most intriguing league races.
Michigan State and Michigan are undefeated in league play, but teams like Iowa and Wisconsin lurk on the outside. And despite recent struggles, Ohio State isn’t going to be an easy out for the rest of the regular season.
The schedules are unbalanced, each team has its strengths and weaknesses and all are well-coached. But which team will finish the regular season on top? Our college basketball staff debates.
Weekly Tipoff: Who is your pick to win the Big Ten regular-season title?
Mitch Light: Iowa
Michigan State might be the obvious pick, but I’m going with Iowa. I’ve been on the Hawkeyes’ bandwagon since last season, when they narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament despite going 9–9 — with six of the losses coming by four points or less — in the nation’s most difficult conference. With every key player back, it’s no surprise that Fran McCaffery has his team in the hunt for a league title. Iowa might lack the star power of some of the elite teams in the Big Ten, but no program features more quality depth. McCaffery can go 10 deep and has the ability to mix and match lineups to accentuate his team’s positives. Taking a quick look at the advanced stats, there isn’t one thing that this team does not do well. The Hawkeyes are efficient offensively — and aren’t too reliant on the 3-pointer — and outstanding on the defensive end while playing at one of the fastest tempos in the country.
Related: Creighton, Kansas produced key stats this week
Braden Gall: Michigan State
After watching Wisconsin and Ohio State go a combined 0-5 since starting 16-0 and 15-0 respectively, the answer pretty clearly has to Michigan State. When healthy — a major ongoing concern for Tom Izzo this season — this team is as good as any in the nation. Izzo has veteran leadership, experience and talent in the form of arguably the best backcourt in the nation (Keith Appling, Gary Harris). He has a dominate, athletic, versatile big mane in Adreian Payne. And he has a roster of bouncy supporting players like Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. When fully healthy, the Spartans can beat anyone in the nation and should be considered the Big Ten favorite — and near-lock for the Final Four.
Related: 10 Things You Need to Know in College Basketball This Week
David Fox: Michigan State
I’m picking the Spartans, though it’s a tough call over Wisconsin. Consider that Tom Izzo hasn’t had a fully healthy roster this season and still started 17–1. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne have both been hurt. So has Branden Dawson. That said, Keith Appling is one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, and the Spartans have had the depth in Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Kenny Kaminksi to weather the injuries so far. The road will be tough — quite literally, with trips to Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State — but Michigan State can navigate it.
A team hitting blackjack on 3-pointers is as good a time as any to look at key numbers during the week.
Creighton rained 3-pointers on Villanova on Monday as the new Big East frontrunner knocked off one of the league’s traditional powers and did so in a way Rollie Massimino might admire. Creighton's win over Villanova also was only one of two key wins for a team in a new league in conference realignment Monday as Nebraska defeated Ohio State for the first time since 1985, a span of nine games.
The night, though, wasn’t all bad for major powers. Far from it. Kansas hit a milestone of its own.
Key college basketball stats of the week: Jan. 21
4. Consecutive wins over ranked teams by Kansas.
Kansas started 9-4 against a hellacious schedule, but there was still plenty of room to wonder if the Jayhawks would struggle to live up to expectations. Not anymore. With wins over then-No. 25 Kansas State, then-No. 8 Iowa State, then-No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Baylor, the Jayhawks are the first team since 1997 to defeat four ranked teams in a row during the regular season. The last team to accomplish such a feat was 1996-97 North Carolina, which defeated No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 14 Maryland, No. 12 Clemson and No. 7 Duke to finish the regular season. The Tar Heels that year reached the Final Four before losing to Arizona.
58-0. Combined record for Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State and Wisconsin to start the season.
The AP top 10 on Jan. 6 included undefeated Ohio State (No. 3), Wisconsin (No. 4) and Iowa State (No. 9). A week earlier, the top 10 included undefeated Oregon (No. 10). At the time, all were considered contenders in their respective conferences...
0-13. Record for Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State and Wisconsin since their undefeated starts.
Those four formerly undefeated teams all endured their first losses in recent weeks and haven’t been able to win since. Not all losses are created equal, though. Ohio State’s 68-62 loss to Nebraska on Monday is the most troubling of the Buckeyes’ four consecutive losses, especially since Ohio State defeated Nebraska by 31 in the first meeting this season. Oregon, whose defensive presence has disappeared, has lost four in a row to Colorado, Cal, Stanford and Oregon State — none are NCAA Tournament locks.
21. 3-point field goals by Creighton on Monday.
Creighton was already one of the nation’s most prolific teams from 3-point range entering Monday’s key matchup against Villanova, but this something else. The Bluejays went 21 of 35 from 3-point range against the Wildcats — at team by virtue of its own offense that should know how to guard the 3-point line. They didn’t. Creighton’s 21 3-pointers was the most in a game since Nov. 29, 2010 and the most in a game between major conference teams since Kentucky hit 21 against North Carolina on Dec. 27, 1989.
97.4. Percentage of Creighton guard Ethan Wragge’s field goals that have been from 3-point range.
You want to talk about a specialist? Creighton guard Ethan Wragge barely ventures inside the 3-point line. Against Villanova, he was 9 of 14 from the field — all from 3-point range. That’s routine for Wragge. He is 74 of 148 from 3-point range this season. He’s 2 of 6 on attempts from 2-point range. Wragge has one job and he does it well. A historical comparison of Wragge? Ken Pomeroy and his readers note Iowa’s Devan Bawinkel, who made 83 3-pointers and one 2-pointer in two seasons from 2008-10.
10. Oklahoma’s rank in adjusted tempo on KenPom.com
Lon Kruger isn’t a coach normally associated with high-tempo play — he never really ran enough for the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV — but the 14-4 Sooners rank 10th nationally in adjusted tempo this season. Since the KenPom rankings began in 2005, Kruger’s Oklahoma and UNLV teams have never ranked higher than 60th in adjusted tempo, the only other time they’ve been ranked in the top 100.
344. Syracuse’s rank in adjusted tempo on KenPom.com
Jim Boeheim is the anti-Kruger in terms of tempo through his career, but his Syracuse teams are slowing down. The Orange rank near the bottom nationally in adjusted tempo at No. 344 this season as Syracuse has progressively slowed down every season since 2008. That year, the Orange ranked 27th in adjusted tempo.
Not long ago, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa State stood among the ranks of the unbeaten.
Now, Bo Ryan, Thad Matta and Fred Hoiberg may wonder when they’re going to win another game.
Around the same time — in December and earlier this month — teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and a few other preseason favorites had legitimate concerns about their ability to contend for big prizes at the end of the season.
Not so much anymore.
Such is the story of the college basketball season. Hot teams cool off. Young teams mature into conference play. That much was clear on Saturday.
The major storyline was the play of Kansas. The Jayhawks endured four losses against the toughest schedule in the country, but they are starting to look like national championship contenders after defeating Oklahoma State 80-78 in Lawrence on Saturday.
The reason wasn’t the play of Andrew Wiggins, but that of Joel Embiid, who is quickly overtaking his freshman teammate in terms of headlines. Sophomore point guard Naadir Tharpe, a liability to start the season, also had a key game.
Consider this: Kansas defeated perhaps the No. 2 team in the Big 12 and with ease for most of the game despite a virtual no-show from, on paper, what could be its best player.
Kansas’ win wasn’t the only major storyline of the weekend, but it was the most important.
10 Things You Need to Know from the Weekend in College Basketball
1a. Joel Embiid is Kansas’ best freshman and it’s not really close
Let the NBA Draft people sort out the futures of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, but right now, Embiid is the best freshman on Kansas’ roster. Embiid was the key player for the Jayhawks as Kansas built a 19-point lead early against Oklahoma State. The freshman finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the 80-78. One of Embiid’s many key sequences was a dunk of an alley oop pass from Naadir Tharpe over national player of the year contender Marcus Smart and then moments later swatted away a shot at close range. Meanwhile, Wiggins was near invisible in one of the biggest games of the season. He finished 1 of 5 from the field with one missed shot in the second half.
1b. Naadir Tharpe is becoming a game changer
Tharpe started the season as a liability, but the Jayhawks wouldn’t have defeated Oklahoma State without him in the second half. Tharpe finished with 21 points, including a jumper with 34 second remaining, a dagger that turned out to be the game-winning basket.
1c. Oklahoma State lost all composure early
Bad shots. Bad fouls. Poor composure. Oklahoma State made a game of it late against Kansas, so the Cowboys have to wonder what would have happened if they had played a sharper game from the start in Lawrence. Le’Bryan Nash picked up two early fouls. Markel Brown was in foul trouble in the first half, too, and ended up fouling out after a personal and technical late, one of three OSU technicals in the game. And Marcus Smart was among many Cowboys who couldn’t get a shot until the final minutes.
2. Duke played its best game since December
ACC play has been shaky for Duke so far with losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, but Saturday was a return to form. The Blue Devils demolished NC State 95-60 and won in key ways that had hampered them through ACC play so far. Duke was content to let T.J. Warren score 23 points since it took him 19 shots to get there. And the Duke defense that had struggled mightily forced 21 turnovers, scoring 33 points off of them. Freshman Jabari Parker (23 points, seven rebounds) was great, but Mike Krzyzewski has to be thrilled to get a combined 24 points from Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaimon off the bench.
3. Kentucky gave up 20 offensive rebounds and won thanks to Andrew Harrison
Tennessee jumped to a nine-point lead on Kentucky in part by controlling the glass in the offensive end. The Volunteers finished with 20 offensive rebounds to Kentucky’s 17 defensive boards, but the Wildcats still won 74-66. Point guard Andrew Harrison had his best game of the season, though, with a second-half surge. Harrison finished with 26 points and went 10 of 10 from the free throw line. The Wildcats, who have struggled from the line all season, went 23 of 24 on Saturday.
4. Indiana’s signature win was a mirage
Indiana is back to being a fringe NCAA Tournament team at best despite handing Wisconsin its first loss of the season earlier in the week. The Hoosiers had one of their worst offensive performances of the Tom Crean era in a 57-54 loss at home to a Northwestern team with a losing record. Indiana shot 25 percent from the field (15 of 60) for the most embarrassing loss in the Big Ten this season.
5. Wichita State’s chances of running the table in the Valley look much better
A week after Wichita State’s close call on the road in overtime against Missouri State, the Shockers still look like they could run the table in the Missouri Valley. Wichita State had no difficulty defeating the No. 2 team in the league with a 68-48 win over Indiana State on Saturday. Granted, the Shockers still have to face the Sycamores on the road, but homecourt advantage in Terre Haute isn’t worth 20 points.
6. Pittsburgh acquitted itself as a top ACC team
Syracuse continued its undefeated start to the season, but Pittsburgh earned a bit of credibility in the 59-54 loss. The Panthers never went away against Syracuse and led by 3 with 4:41 to go. Most impressive: Pitt owned the offensive glass as the Panthers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds while Syracuse claimed 24 defensive boards. Syracuse is the class of the ACC, but Pitt may end up being No. 2 or No. 3 by the end of the season. Lamar Patterson, with 18 points and already one of the season’s breakout players, might be an ACC player of the year contender.
7. We were too quick to write off Michigan
During the midseason report, Athlon Sports noted Michigan as one of the nation’s disappointing teams. Part of that was in anticipation that of the Mitch McGary injury catching up to the Wolverines. Michigan is 9-0 without him after defeating Wisconsin 77-70 in Madison on Saturday. Guards Nik Stausaks and Caris LeVert made up for the absence of their fellow sophomore by combining for 43 points as the Wolverines withstood a late Wisconsin rally. LeVert had one of the best games of his career, adding seven rebounds and four assists, but Stauskas is a Big Ten player of the year contender. A jump shooter on the team that reached the title game last season, he has a more well-rounded game this season and has become a leader on a team that needed one.
8. Kevin Ollie isn’t happy
The uncalled foul and the ejection probably didn’t play a major role in UConn’s 76-64 loss to Louisville, but Huskies coach Kevin Ollie joined Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on the short list of the best coach freakouts this season.
9. Baylor has an execution problem
If anyone wanted to be generous to Baylor in the Bears’ loss to Texas Tech last week by chalking it up as a one-time lapse on the road, that argument should fall on deaf ears. Baylor has fallen apart in recent games as the Bears returned to Waco to lose 66-64 to Oklahoma for its third loss in four games. The final possession was a disaster — the game ended with the ball in the hands of Royce O’Neal (6.1 ppg) — but this loss was determined earlier. Baylor shot 20 3-pointers, despite making only six, and shot 50 percent from the 3-point line. Baylor is 10 of 40 from 3 and 26 of 54 from the free throw line in the last two games.
10. Watch out: Texas is overachieving
Rick Barnes has been criticized for lackluster results with talented teams in recent seasons — no Sweet 16 trips since 2008, for example. If Texas has been an underachiever in recent seasons, this team has been one of the country’s top overachievers. It’s true Barnes’ recruiting classes aren’t as highly rated as they once were, but fringe top-100 prospects Jonathan Holmes and Javan Felix are leading a Longhorns team ready to contend for the NCAA Tournament. Holmes and Felix combined for 40 points in an 86-76 win over Iowa State. On its NCAA resume, Texas has a non-conference win over North Carolina, three consecutive Big 12 wins and no embarrassing losses.
While everyone was watching the NFC title game, Oregon further proved it is falling apart. The Ducks lost their fourth consecutive game with an 80-72 loss to Oregon State. Oregon started the season 13-0. ... Not many teams are going to win in Salt Lake City. UCLA made the final score look closer with a late push, but Utah dominated in a 74-69 win. The Utes went 8-28 in their first two seasons in the Pac-12. At 3-3, they may double that conference win total this season. Kudos to coach Larry Krystowiak. ... Virginia captured a season sweep of Florida State with a 78-66 win over the Seminoles. Joe Harris (15 ppg in his last four) is rounding into form. ... Seton Hall won at Georgetown for the first time since 2003 with a 67-57 victory. What are you doing, Hoyas? ... Butler picked up its first Big East win by outscoring Marquette 43-25 in the second half and overtime. Marquette may go from preseason conference favorite to missing the NIT. ... Providence isn’t an NCAA Tournament contender yet, but the Friars are worth watching after defeating Georgetown, St. John’s and Creighton in consecutive games.
Basketball fans, clear your schedule for Saturday around 4 p.m. Eastern.
Certainly, there’s other action this weekend, but the 4 p.m. time slot will pack the most action. Rather than going up against the NFL playoffs, college basketball all but vacated Sunday except for one key game. As a result, Saturday afternoon is a little crowded.
The late afternoon Saturday will feature Oklahoma State at Kansas, Pittsburgh at Syracuse and Indiana State and Wichita State. In other words, two undefeated teams and the biggest star power in the Big 12.
The main storyline of the weekend — especially with so many top teams playing at home — will be teams looking to rebound from disappointment in recent weeks. Wisconsin and Iowa State suffered their first losses since last Sunday. Baylor needs to prove its loss to Texas Tech was a fluke. And Duke needs to prove it can guard someone, anyone.
Related: College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 18-19
Game of the Week
Oklahoma State at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The Cowboys’ Big 12 title hopes took a hit with the injury to big man Michael Cobbins. Still, any team with the core of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown is going to win a lot of games. Kansas’ freshmen are starting to play to their potential. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden are averaging a combined 44 points per game in Big 12 play compared to 35.1 during the non-conference schedule. Embiid may be able to take advantage of the absence of a key big guy for Oklahoma State.
Pittsburgh at Syracuse (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
These two long-time rivals have made the move from the Big East to the ACC, but not much else has changed. They are both winning a bunch of games. Syracuse has been stingy on defense of late, having allowed no more than 59 points in their last five games. Pittsburgh feasted on a soft non-conference schedule before opening up league play with wins over NC State, Maryland and Wake Forest. The Panthers are shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3 in ACC games.
Marquette at Butler (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Marquette’s NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support. The Eagles have not defeated a top 50 team in the RPI since beating George Washington on Nov. 29. Butler is off to an 0-5 start in the Big East, though the run included overtime losses to Villanova, DePaul and Georgetown. The Bulldogs are about to start a stretch of five consecutive games against the lesser teams in the league, which includes matchups with Marquette. Butler expected to have a down season in the first year without Brad Stevens, but it’s time to show that moving up from the Horizon to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East wasn’t a mistake.
Lighting Up the Scoreboard
NC State at Duke (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Duke is having one of the worst defensive seasons in recent memory for Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils are allowing 101 points per 100 possessions, a figure that ranks 12th in the ACC and 125th nationally. NC State is even worse at 102 points per 100 possessions. The Wolfpack’s T.J. Warren is averaging 22.2 points per game this season, but Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood is averaging a league-best 22 points per game in ACC games.
Needs a Bounce Back
Oklahoma at Baylor (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Big 12 won’t have many sure-fire road wins in the league this season, but Texas Tech is supposed to be one of the easier matchups in the conference. Not for Baylor, apparently. The Bears lost 82-72 in Lubbock in a game that wasn’t competitive from the get-go. The Red Raiders shot 23 of 38 (60.5 percent) from 2-point range against Baylor. Surprising Oklahoma is also looking to bounce back from a road loss to Kansas State on Jan. 14.
Tricky Road Trip
UCLA at Utah (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Bruins have flourished under new coach Steve Alford, especially in terms of finding a handful of go-to players from Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson to Zach LaVine and Norman Powell. Utah has some playmakers, too, in Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge. The Utes defeated Oregon State and USC easily in Salt Lake City and took Oregon to overtime at home two weeks ago.
Under-the-radar Game of the Week
Indiana State at Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Not that anyone should overlook an undefeated team, but the Shockers are in the crowded 4 p.m. Eastern time slot on Saturday. The Sycamores, who won in Wichita by 13 last season, may be Wichita State’s toughest opponent in the Missouri Valley this season. With Manny Arop, a Gonzaga transfer two years ago, and veteran Jake Odum, Indiana State may be able to keep up with Wichita State again.
Others to watch:
Tennessee at Kentucky (Saturday, noon, CBS)
These two SEC rivals only play once this season — and it’s a huge game for a Tennessee program searching for quality wins. With victories over Virginia (by 35) and at LSU (by 18), the Volunteers had seemingly played their way out of an early season slump, but their momentum was derailed with a shocking loss at home to Texas A&M on Saturday night. Kentucky’s young big men will be tested by UT’s Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The Wildcats’ ability to bounce back from an overtime loss at Arkansas also will be tested.
Florida State at Virginia (Saturday, noon, ACC Network)
This will be the second meeting between these two teams in the first three weeks of the ACC season. Florida State lost the first matchup, 62–50 at home, but bounced back to beat Clemson on the road and Maryland at home by 24 points. Virginia saw its three-game winning streak end on Monday with a 69–65 loss at Duke, but the Cavs had been playing their best ball of the season in recent weeks. Both teams are in the top 30 of the RPI, but a season sweep of Florida State could be a key statement for the Cavaliers.
Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
The loss of big man Mitch McGary to season-ending back surgery has weakened the Wolverines’ roster, but this is still a team with quality offensive weapons and one of the game’s elite coaches in John Beilein. This, however, a tough test for Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s freshman point guard. Wisconsin plays good defense, and despite a late-game scoring slump in the loss to Indiana, the Badgers rarely take bad shots.
Michigan State at Illinois (Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Illinois’ NCAA Tournament profile — shaky at best to this point of the season — is falling apart with three consecutive Big Ten losses, including Northwestern and Purdue. Beating Michigan State, obviously, would be huge for John Groce’s young team. The Spartans have been winning games despite not playing their best basketball. They blew a huge lead against Ohio State last week before winning in overtime and then had to go to OT to beat Minnesota on Saturday.
Louisville at Connecticut (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Losses to Houston and SMU on the road to start American play were a concern for UConn, but the Huskies have since rebounded with wins over Harvard and Memphis, the latter on the road. Louisville’s roster isn’t quite what we thought it would be, but Rick Pitino still has enough talent to do some damage in March. The re-emergence of Luke Hancock as an offensive weapon of late has been a big boost.
Minnesota at Iowa (Sunday, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Under 31-year-old coach Richard Pitino, the Gophers are off to an impressive start in Big Ten play. Iowa is hoping to keep its own hot streak rolling rolling after Sunday’s big win at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes don’t have a ton of star power, but they are as deep as any team in the Big Ten.
Athlon Sports’ Mitch Light contributed to this report.
Even against the toughest schedule in the country, Kansas’ 9-4 start had to be troubling. The play of Kansas’ star-studded freshman class, in particular, was puzzling.
The schedule isn’t getting any easier midway through January, either. The Big 12 is tougher than most expected. Even the league’s two gimmes — TCU and Texas Tech — come with caveats. TCU defeated Kansas last season in Fort Worth, and Texas Tech just made easy work of Baylor on Wednesday night.
Kansas’ freshmen, though, are proving they’re up to the challenge. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden all have had among their best performances of the season just in the last two weeks.
Wiggins takes over the No. 1 spot in our freshman power rankings for this week, but Embiid isn’t far behind. Syracuse's Tyler Ennis is also becoming a major factor thanks to his near-flawless play as the point guard of an undefeated team.
For now, though, we're where we startedt his season with Wiggins leading the way.
College Basketball Midseason Freshman Power Rankings
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
For those waiting for Wiggins to take off this season, now is the time to tune in. Wiggins had 17 points and 19 rebounds in front of frenzied crowd in Ames for 77-70 win over Iowa State. That performance came two days after 22 points in a win over Kansas State.
2. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
How big a role does Ennis play for Syracuse? Either by an assist or a field goal, Ennis is responsible for 36.9 percent of the Orange’s baskets this season.
Related: 10 Midseason Breakout Players
3. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Could the 7-footer from Cameroon take the No. 1 spot in the NBA Draft? Embiid is starting to take over with 16 points against Iowa State and 11 against Kansas State on a combined 12 of 15 shooting.
4. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Opponents are averaging 87 points per 100 possessions against Arizona, the fifth best average in the country, thanks in part to Gordon’s defense.
Related: 10 Midseason Disappointments
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle’s brief slump ended with 20 points and 14 rebounds in the overtime loss to Arkansas. Credit his above-average free throw shooting (10 of 14 against the Razorbacks).
6. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker’s scoring average has dropped from 21.4 points per game to 18.8 since ACC play began.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh’s jumper capped a 12-0 run that gave Indiana the lead for good in the 75-72 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday.
8. Wayne Selden, Kansas
Selden’s hot streak came to a screeching halt against Iowa state in Monday, but he still had six assists.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
9. James Young, Kentucky
If Young is going to continue to take 15.5 shots per game — as he has in the last four — his shot will need to be more consistent.
10. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Less has been more in recent games for Harrison, who is 9 of 17 from the field with 30 total points in road games against Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
11. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
The forward from Little Rock scored 11 points in a win over Kentucky and 16 in an overtime loss to Florida last week.
12. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
A 3-of-12 day from the field in a loss to Kansas put a damper on a surprising season, but Foster returned to score 18 in a win over a ranked Oklahoma team on Tuesday.
13. Zach LaVine, UCLA
After a lackluster performance against Arizona, LaVine returned to hit 8 of 12 shots for 19 points in a win over Arizona State on Sunday.
14. Josh Hart, Villanova
The under-appreciated guard has scored in double figures in seven consecutive games for the Big East leaders.
15. Jordan Mickey, LSU
Mickey had seven blocks against Ole Miss, but he was 1 of 5 from the field in what could be a disastrous loss.
Discussing the personality differences on the big new coaches hired at Penn State, USC at Texas and how James Franklin, Steve Sarkisian and Charlie Strong will attack their respective jobs.
Franklin’s hire set off more news as he continued to recruit Vanderbilt commitments at Penn State. Should recruits be off limits when coaches move or is all fair in the recruiting game?
Lastly, Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan makes a special appearance to pick the teams that benefited the most from the NFL Draft early entry deadline and who is losing out.
Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email email@example.com. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.
The list of breakout players for 2013-14 got an early start.
The first name on the countdown of the biggest surprise players, at least chronologically, started Nov. 19 when Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points on North Dakota. Opponent aside, this was a guy who had averaged 2.5 points per game in two seasons before the start of the 2013-14 season.
Kaminsky, of course, hasn’t been the only revelation.
From role players turned stars to secondary scorers turned MVPs, from the injury-prone to the former underachievers, these 10 players have refined their games through the first half of this season to become the surprise breakout performers of the year.
Related: NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
2013-14 Midseason Breakout Players
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
With Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk returning, New Mexico appeared to have an inside out duo capable of leading the Lobos through the Mountain West. Those two are having career years, but nothing close to what Bairstow is doing. The 6-9 Australian is averaging 20 points per game, though he never scored 20 points in a single game in his first three seasons. Maybe we should have seen it coming as Bairstow averaged 13.8 points per game over the last eight games of last season.
Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
What’s the best place to start with Oklahoma’s surprise squad? Buddy Hield was a bench player for most of last season, but he scored 22 points in wins over Iowa State and Texas since conference play started. Ryan Spangler was buried at Gonzaga, but he’s leading the Big 12 in rebounding at 9.5 boards per game. The nod, though, should go to Clark. After a promising first season in 2010-11, he essentially played himself deeper down the bench. He’s now Oklahoma’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
Jerami Grant could have received this pick, but a breakout was more or less expected from the Syracuse forward. He thrived when inserted in the lineup for an injured James Southerland and fit the profile of a Syracuse forward primed to take the next step. Cooney, who is averaging 14.1 points per game, is a bit of surprise after he competed with Michael Gbinije for the starting two-guard spot. Cooney averaged only 26.7 percent on 3-pointers last season and improved his average to 42.3 percent this season. Not bad for a guy taking more than seven 3s per game.
Related: 10 Midseason Disappointments
Maurice Creek, George Washington
Creek arrived at Indiana as part of the 2009 signing class that would help bring the Hoosiers back to national prominence — the class also included 2012-13 contributors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Injuries, though, derailed Creek's contributions. Now healthy, Creek is leading a George Washington team in Atlantic 10 contention. Creek’s 14.1 points per game is his best production since his freshman season at IU.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Bo Ryan has a knack for unearthing his big guys, but none has been a more stunning revelation than the seven-foot Kaminsky. He scored the most unlikely 43 points of the season against North Dakota in the fourth game of the season. Throw that outlier out of the mix, and Kaminsky is still averaging 11.6 points per game. He was barely cracking 10 minutes per game a year ago.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh will learn a bit about itself in ACC play after a lackluster non-conference schedule, but Patterson has nonetheless flourished as the Panthers’ go-to player after the departure of Tray Woodall. Patterson has improved from 10 to 17.6 points per game while hitting career highs in field goal percentage (52 percent, up from 46.4) and 3-pointers (up nearly 10 points to 42.7). Patterson, a forward, has thrown in 4.6 assists to boot.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
Casey Prather, Florida
How often does a role player for three seasons become a contender for conference player of the year as a senior, especially at a place like Florida? Prather is doing that right now. With the Gators’ roster in flux for most of the season, Prather has been the glue. Prather scored a total of 276 points in his first three seasons, a total he’ll double by the end of January.
Michael Qualls, Arkansas
Qualls’ last second, put-back dunk to beat Kentucky on Tuesday could be the highlight of the year for Arkansas, but he’s had quite a season leading up to that win. A three-star recruit, Qualls averaged only 4.6 points as a freshman, but his athleticism was apparent. He’s averaging 13 points per game for a team that’s contending for an NCAA title spot.
Nik Staustaks, Michigan
An improvement was expected from a highly touted recruit who was a key contributor from the perimeter as a freshman. But Stauskas has improved in other ways beyond averaging 17.7 points per game. Staustaks is getting to the basket with more regularity and has already topped his assist total from a year ago.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Before the season, the Aztecs lost Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the top two scorers in consecutive seasons, but they may be better because of the development of former role player Thames. The senior guard is getting more opportunities, but he’s also improved his effective field goal percentage from 42.3 percent to 52.3.
More than any recent week, upsets shook up this week’s NCAA Tournament projections.
Clemson upset Duke, Indiana upset Wisconsin and Arkansas upset Kentucky to shape some of the NCAA Tournament hopes for a handful of teams in different ways.
Indiana confirmed an already strong case, Arkansas put itself into the field, and Clemson rendered itself worth watching for the rest of the ACC season.
At the midpoint of the year we’ve taken stock of the field so far, pinpointing the teams looking for a bid and the start of the bubble watch. So far, the Big Ten is the bell cow of all conferences with eight teams in this week’s projections.
NCAA Tournament Projections: Jan. 15
Feeling good: Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Duke
Bubble in: Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina
Bubble out: Clemson, Maryland, NC State
Notes: Pittsburgh’s schedule is finally going to get tougher with road trip to Syracuse. ... Clemson’s win over Duke as great, but the Tigers’ non-conference schedule, including a loss to Auburn, is dismal. ... Virginia and Florida State have near-identical resumes, though the Cavaliers won in Tallahassee. ... North Carolina’s three big non-conference wins are still keeping the Heels in the field, but their margin for error is shrinking.
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: Connecticut, SMU
Bubble out: None
Notes: Louisville’s best wins to date are over Southern Miss and SMU. ... Cincinnati has three top-50 wins (Pitt, Memphis, SMU). ... Memphis is 6-2 away from the FedEx Forum. ... UConn’s loss to Houston is ugly, but the Huskies are 6-2 against the top 100. ... SMU to date has avoided the bad loss.
Atlantic 10 (4)
Feeling good: Saint Louis, UMass, George Washington
Bubble in: VCU
Bubble out: Dayton
Notes: The A-10 is sixth in conference RPI, ahead of the SEC, American, Mountain West and Missouri Valley. ... Saint Louis’ only two losses are to Wisconsin and Wichita State ... George Washington continued to build its case with a home win over VCU on Tuesday. ... VCU will hope its non-conference win over Virginia in Charlottesville continues to hold up. ... A game against Saint Louis was a missed opportunity for Dayton to undo some of the damage from USC, Illinois State losses.
Related: 10 Midseason Disappointments
Big 12 (6)
Feeling good: Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Baylor
Bubble in: Oklahoma, Kansas State
Bubble out: Texas
Notes: Baylor’s only losses are to Syracuse and Iowa State away from Waco. ... Kansas State has defeated Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, George Washington and Oklahoma, all at home. ... Win over Iowa State is a boon for the Sooners. ... Texas has no bad losses, but no great wins, either.
Big East (4)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Xavier, Georgetown
Bubble out: Marquette, Providence
Notes: Georgetown’s loss to RPI No. 235 Northeastern could be a resume killer. ... Marquette is 2-7 against the RPI top 100, and one of those wins is at home over DePaul. ... Providence may come to rue a one-point home loss to Seton Hall.
Big Ten (8)
Feeling good: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa
Bubble in: Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois
Bubble out: Purdue
Notes: The Big Ten has four top-10 teams Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. ... Michigan is 8-0 without Mitch McGary, but that’s about to get tested in the next three games (at Wisconsin, Iowa, at Michigan State). ... Wednesday’s win over Wisconsin puts Indiana in the field this week. ... The profile the Hoosiers and Minnesota is similar, but the Gophers have the edge in RPI (44 to 56). ... Illinois is playing with fire after loss at Northwestern.
Related: Midseason All-America teams
Missouri Valley (1)
Feeling good: Wichita State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Indiana State, Northern Iowa
Notes: Indiana State is off to a 4-0 start in the Missouri Valley and has two top-100 non-conference wins (Belmont, Notre Dame)
Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: San Diego State, New Mexico
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State
Notes: San Diego State has two marquee wins away from home against Kansas (on the road) and Creighton (on a neutral site). ... New Mexico is ranked 23rd in the RPI. ... Boise State is 0-5 against the top 100.
Feeling good: Arizona, Oregon
Bubble in: Cal, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford
Bubble out: Arizona State
Notes: Cal entered the mix after Jan. 9 road win over Oregon to go with no bad losses. ... Colorado will slip out of the field if the Buffaloes can’t prove they can win without Spencer Dinwiddie. ... UCLA showed nice fight in loss to Arizona, but the Bruins need to pick up top-50 wins. ... Stanford has nice duo of road victories over Oregon and Connecticut.
Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Missouri, Arkansas
Bubble out: Tennessee, LSU
Notes: With roster at full-strength, Florida may be No. 1 seed material. ... Kentucky still No. 14 in the RPI despite loss at Arkansas. ... With one game apiece against Florida and Kentucky, Missouri starting to wonder how many NCAA Tourney teams they’ll face this season. ... Win over Kentucky puts Arkansas in for now, but the Razorbacks must conquer their road woes.
West Coast (1)
Feeling good: Gonzaga
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: BYU, Saint Mary’s
Notes: A loss to Portland is troubling, but Gonzaga’s non-conference wins over Arkansas, New Mexico State and West Virginia are looking a little better. ... Bad losses may catch up to BYU (Pepperdine, Loyola-Marymount, Utah) and Saint Mary’s (Hawaii, Santa Clara, George Mason).
One-bid leagues (21)
America East: Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Northern Colorado
Big South: Radford
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
WAC: New Mexico State