Articles By David Fox
Nebraska basketball will wear throwbacks to the 1954-55 team for Sunday’s game against Iowa.
The replicas are designed to commemorate the 60th anniversary of coach Jerry Bush’s first Cornhuskers team during Legends Weekend. Stan Matzke, a captain in 1954-55, will speak to more than 50 former Nebraska players spanning eight decades.
The uniforms will look great, but the memories? Not so much. The 1954-55 team went 9-12 in the original unis.
In North Carolina’s first home game since the passing of legendary coach Dean Smith, the Tar Heels ran a fitting tribute to the man whose name graces the arena.
The Tar Heels ran Smith’s famous Four Corners offense on their first offensive possession. Roy Williams, a Smith protege, signaled in the play, and Marcus Paige passed to a cutting Brice Johnson for North Carolina’s first points in an 89-60 win over Georgia Tech.
Here’s the play:
"That was one of the most nerve-racking moments of my life just because I feel like if I would've turned it over, if I would've messed it up or something that I was letting down the way we were going to pay homage to Coach Smith," Paige told reporters after the game. "I'm just glad Brice caught it and laid it up. He made me look good."
Here's what it looked like from above:
Marcus Paige calling out 4 corners pic.twitter.com/uhng7i2BW8— Spencer Herlong (@TarHeelPhoto) February 21, 2015
Recent years have brought an influx of impact football coaches into the Pac-12 — Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Jim L. Mora have all taken their schools to new heights. Mark Helfrich and David Shaw picked up where their predecessors left off.
Now, the league hopes basketball will hold up its end of the bargain. Sean Miller, for example, has returned Arizona to national powerhouse status, giving the Wildcats the best duo in the league. Utah's Larry Krystkowiak and Colorado's Tad Boyle have remade their respective programs, and Wayne Tinkle may be on the way to doing the same at Oregon State.
The moves have given the Pac-12 an impressive lineup of coaching duos at the top while the rest of the league is starting to catch up.
The goal of our coach tandem rankings is to look at each football and basketball duo as a pair. In general, we’re looking at the duos most likely to keep each school’s fans happy and entertained from the start of football season through the end of basketball season.
Football: Rich Rodriguez | Basketball: Sean Miller
Less than a decade ago, Arizona’s basketball and football programs were searching for an identity. The end of the Lute Olson era was a protracted experience with two interim coaches, and football found only limited success with Mike Stoops. Miller and Rodriguez have transformed all that. Miller has led Arizona to two Elite Eights and two regular season conference titles. The football program isn’t going to be USC, but Rodriguez is the right fit for an underdog program. His 10 wins last season was the most for Arizona since the Desert Swarm days, and 26 wins in three seasons in the most for the Wildcats in a three-year period since the 1970s.
2. Oregon State
Football: Gary Andersen | Basketball: Wayne Tinkle
Oregon State pulled off one of the biggest coups of the college football coaching carousel this season when it pulled Andersen from Wisconsin. The former Badgers coach was 19-7 overall and 13-3 in the Big Ten after winning 11 games and a WAC title at Utah State. Just as important, though, was the arrival of Tinkle with the basketball program. He took Montana to the NCAA Tournament and won two Big Sky regular season titles in his final three seasons. His first team at Oregon State is already competitive in the Pac-12. Both of the Oregon State coaching jobs are among the toughest in the Pac-12, but both coaches can win here.
Football: David Shaw | Basketball: Johnny Dawkins
Stanford has a pair of coaches that — at least for now — appear to be trending in opposite directions. Shaw picked up where Jim Harbaugh left off and led Stanford to 34 wins, three major bowl games and two Pac-12 titles in his first three seasons. The 2014 season, though, ended with five losses and a trip to the Foster Farms Bowl. Dawkins seemed to be in trouble entering last season before taking Stanford to the Sweet 16. The Cardinal should head to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament this season.
Football: Kyle Whittingham | Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak
Times were better for Whittingham and Utah football in the Mountain West, when the Utes went 33-6, including an undefeated season in 2008, in their last three seasons in the league. Wittingham delivered Utah’s best season in the Pac-12 last year — 9-4 overall and 5-4 in the league — but coaching staff tumult has put the future in question. Basketball, on the other hand, is surging forward. Krystkowiak went 6-25 with a broken program in his first year, reached 21 wins in his third and has a top-10 team in his fourth. The Utes have arguably their best team since Rick Majerus was the coach.
Football: Mark Helfrich | Basketball: Dana Altman
Helfrich picked up where Chip Kelly left off, reaching the national title game in his second season as head coach and winning 11 games and finishing in the top 10 in his first season. He’s laid-back demeanor is a change for the program, but the most pressing issue is winning without Marcus Mariota. Altman has survived an offseason of controversy to have Oregon in contention for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. In his last 17 seasons at Creighton and Oregon, Altman has 16 20-win seasons.
Football: Jim L. Mora | Basketball: Steve Alford
Mora has pulled UCLA out of its funk, leading the Bruins to back-to-back 10 win seasons and top-25 finishes for the first time since 1997-98. With the way he has recruited, more should be on the way. Alford got over his NCAA Tournament bugaboo by reaching the Sweet 16 in his first season at UCLA. If the Bruins even get into the field this season, it will be something of a victory. Alford has been around longer than you might think — he’s taken four teams to the Tournament and should get to 450 career wins next season.
7. Arizona State
Football: Todd Graham | Basketball: Herb Sendek
Will Graham be the coach to fully tap into Arizona State’s potential? Graham is already the first Sun Devils coach to finish in the top-25 in back-to-back years since 1996-97 and the first to win 10 games in back-to-back years since Frank Kush. Next up is a Pac-12 title. Sendek has two NCAA appearances in nine seasons and he’s fresh out of James Hardens.
Football: Mike MacIntyre | Basketball: Tad Boyle
Colorado stepped back from 4-8 to 2-10 in MacIntyre’s second season, but the Buffaloes lost four Pac-12 games by a touchdown or less. Despite a lackluster season this year, Boyle has turned Colorado into a relevant basketball program. He’s the only coach in school history to lead the Buffaloes to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and four consecutive postseasons.
Football: Chris Petersen | Basketball: Lorenzo Romar
Petersen’s first season in a power conference was forgettable as the Huskies went 8-6 and lost to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl. Petersen is 16-11 in his last two seasons, an unthinkable mark after his first seven years. Romar’s Washington tenure has seen its share of peaks and valleys, and right now is a valley. The Huskies are about to miss the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season and fail to win 20 games for the third year in a row.
Football: Steven Sarkisian | Basketball: Andy Enfield
Sarkisian went 9-4 in his first season at USC, but with NCAA sanctions finally gone and an elite recruiting class arriving, expectations are about to be sky high. The rebuild of USC hoops is going to take time, but Enfield is still two years removed from taking Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16.
11. Washington State
Football: Mike Leach | Basketball: Ernie Kent
Reaching the postseason is tough for the coach in either sport. Leach has sandwiched a 6-7 season with two 3-9 years. Kent, the former Oregon coach, has already eclipsed last year’s win total but there’s a long way to go.
Football: Sonny Dykes | Basketball: Cuonzo Martin
Dykes oversaw one of the most improved teams in the Pac-12, going from 1-11 to 5-7 in his second season. He led a similar turnaround at Louisiana Tech. Martin will hope to approach 20 wins in his first season at Cal, a place where it’s not easy to win big immediately.
For several years, the Big Ten has had a roster of basketball coaches that could rival only the ACC.
Now, the league is working to make sure its roster of football coaches rivals only the SEC.
Names like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein and Thad Matta are on the top of anyone’s list of college basketball coaches. Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh would be the same among college football coaches.
Those additions on the football side — plus Penn State’s James Franklin — give the Big Ten one of the most interesting rosters of coaching tandems in the country.
The goal of our coach tandem rankings is to look at each football and basketball duo as a pair. In general, we’re looking at the duos most likely to keep each school’s fans happy and entertained from the start of football season through the end of basketball season.
1. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban are the Nos. 1A and 1B of college football coaching with good reason. After Ohio State’s improbable run to the 2014 national championship, Meyer and Saban are the only coaches to win national titles at two different schools. Meyer is 38-3 with the Buckeyes and has six AP top five finishes at Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Matta has one of the most underrated careers in college basketball, partly because he’s never won a national title and partly because of his low-key personality. Remember, when Matta took over at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were emerging from NCAA sanctions. Since then, Ohio State has won 30 games three times and reached the Final Four twice. In 15 seasons as a head coach, he’s won at least a share of eight regular season conference titles.
2. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo
This duo rarely makes a big splash with major recruits, but Dantonio and Izzo both excel at developing upperclassmen capable of winning in the Big Ten and the postseason. Dantonio has elevated Michigan State football to one of the powers in the Big Ten. He’s led Michigan State to four seasons of 11 wins or more in the last five and back-to-back top-five finishes, something that hasn’t happened in East Lansing since 1965-66. Izzo is in interesting territory. He is enduring his longest Final Four drought (five seasons, boo hoo) and his team is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. The track record, though, is elite: Izzo has six career Final Fours and a national title.
Football: Jim Harbaugh | Basketball: John Beilein
Give credit to both of these coaches for not taking the easy route: Harbaugh’s first head coaching job was at San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League; Beilein’s was at Erie Community College. All Michigan is asking of its new hire Harbaugh is to do what Beilein has done — return a program to national contention. In basketball, the Wolverines reached the Final Four in 2013 and the Elite Eight in 2014. Harbaugh would seem to be up to the task at his alma mater. He built Stanford into a Pac-12 contender and took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Football: Paul Chryst | Basketball: Bo Ryan
Ryan was already one of the best coaches in the country when he led Wisconsin to top-four finishes in the Big Ten every year since 2002. Now, he’s looking to take the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours. And he’s done all of that without a ton of major recruits on his roster. Wisconsin football has had an unbroken record of success under Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. Chryst, a former Badgers player and offensive coordinator, knows the territory. His record at Pittsburgh — 19-19 overall, 10-13 in the ACC — was nothing special, but he took over program with a tumultuous coaching situation.
5. Penn State
Football: James Franklin | Basketball: Patrick Chambers
Penn State is nearing full strength after severe NCAA sanctions, and it has the right coach to lead the program back to national prominence. Franklin is the only coach in Vanderbilt history with back-to-back nine-win seasons and three bowl appearances. In his first season at Penn State, he capitalized on the Nittany Lions’ first post-Paterno bowl bid with a win over Boston College. There’s only so much Chambers can do with Penn State basketball, so flirting with a winning record in consecutive seasons has to be taken in context.
Football: Mike Riley | Basketball: Tim Miles
Riley’s move to Nebraska was one of the most puzzling of the offseason on two fronts — first that Riley would leave Oregon State after 12 years of resisting overtures to go elsewhere and second because Nebraska would hire a coach who averaged fewer than six wins in his last five seasons. But he can unearth and develop recruits, which is what Nebraska might need. In basketball, the momentum has stalled in Miles’ third season in Lincoln, but two NCAA appearances in four years at places like Colorado State and Nebraska is no small feat.
Football: Jerry Kill | Basketball: Richard Pitino
Opposing coaches will tell you how good a coach Kill is — his teams are routinely one of the toughest to play in the Big Ten. Top 25 finishes and major bowl games aren’t plentiful at Minnesota no matter the coach, but Kill has led the Gophers to back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 2002-03. The 32-year-old Pitino is one of the names to watch in the sport, and not just because of his bloodlines. He his first season at Minnesota, he led the Gophers to an NIT championship, and in his only season at FIU, he led the Golden Panthers to their best season in 17 years.
Football: Randy Edsall | Basketball: Mark Turgeon
Maybe Big Ten affiliation will be good for Maryland in ways beyond finances. Turgeon should get to double-digit conference wins for the first time during his tenure at Maryland, and Edsall presided over wins over (weakened) Iowa, Penn State and Michigan squads in his Big Ten debut. Progress is good, but there’s still a lot of work for both coaches. Football hasn’t won eight games or won a bowl game since 2010 and basketball hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2003. Edsall and Turgeon are on the clock.
Football: Pat Fitzgerald | Basketball: Chris Collins
Two years ago, it would be tough to find a hotter name in coaching that Fitzgerald. In 2012, he had led the Wildcats to a 10-win season and five consecutive bowl appearances. He’s 5-7 in each of his two seasons since. Some hard-luck injuries have been a factor, but either way, the momentum in Evanston has stalled. Hopes are high that Collins, a former Duke assistant, will be the one who turns things around for Northwestern hoops, but it’s a long climb.
Football: Kirk Ferentz | Basketball: Fran McCaffery
Neither coach will win a popularity contest. Ferentz is 34-30 in his last five seasons and struggling to live up to the standard he set with three top-10 finishes from 2002-04. McCaffery is prickly with the media and combustable on the bench, but his team ended an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.
Football: Darrell Hazell | Basketball: Matt Painter
After two losing seasons, Painter is leading Purdue to its best season since Robbie Hummel left. During one stretch, Painter led the Boilermakers to six consecutive NCAA appearances, including two Sweet 16s. Hazell is 4-20 in two seasons with the football program.
Football: Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean
Give Indiana credit for featuring two coaches who put up a ton of points but can’t seem to stop anyone from scoring. Crean pulled Indiana out of the depths of NCAA sanctions stemming from the Kelvin Sampson era, but what has it done for the Hoosiers in terms of sustainability? Indiana won 29 games and spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in 2012-13 — yet it yielded a Sweet 16 at the end of that season and a 17-win campaign the next. Indiana football is as good as any Big Ten team on offense — yet hasn’t reached a bowl game in four seasons under Wilson.
Football: Tim Beckman | Basketball: John Groce
Give Groce credit for making the most of this season despite some bad luck. He missed on some key recruits and had players miss stretches due to injury. But Illinois could reach the NCAA Tournament this year or should at least win 20 games for the third time under Groce. Beckman has led a two-game improvement at Illinois every season as head coach.
Football: Kyle Flood | Basketball: Eddie Jordan
Three consecutive bowl games at Rutgers is still a notable feat, and Flood has done it in his first three seasons. Rutgers basketball is destined for 10 or more conference losses, no matter the conference or the coach.
Step back five years and the list of football-basketball coaching tandems in the ACC looks pretty crazy.
That Mike Krzyzewski is the basketball representative at Duke probably makes sense, but what about the Blue Devils having a successful football coach?
Now, that’s weird.
And what about the No. 2 and No. 3 teams on our list: Louisville and Notre Dame were hardly a glimmer in the eye of the ACC several years ago. Notre Dame, of course, isn’t a full member, but we’ve included the Irish here since men’s basketball is an ACC team and the football team by contract plays its fair share of ACC schools.
Semantics aside, with Duke football plus Louisville and Notre Dame in the fold, the ACC has assembled a solid group of football-basketball coaching duos.
The goal of our coach tandem rankings is to look at each football and basketball duo as a pair. In general, we’re looking at the duos most likely to keep each school’s fans happy and entertained from the start of football season through the end of basketball season.
Football: David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
Krzyzewski’s resume is self-explanatory: More than 1,000 career wins, 11 Final Fours and four national titles. Early NCAA Tournament exits (Mercer in 2014, Lehigh in '12) have vexed the Blue Devils, but that appears to be unlikely with the group Coach K has assembled this season. Cutcliffe has done the unthinkable with the football program by turning the perennial ACC bottom-feeder into a factor in the league race. Duke has won 19 games the last two seasons, reached three consecutive bowl games and won the ACC Coastal Division in 2013.
Football: Bobby Petrino | Basketball: Rick Pitino
The Petrino/Pitino duo is back at Louisville for the first time since 2006. Having both coaches is still a boon for the Cardinals. Petrino went 9-4 and finished in the top 25 in his first season back with the Cardinals, a notable feat considering the revolving door at quarterback and that it was the football program’s indoctrination into the ACC. Petrino has finished in the top 25 in six of 10 seasons as a head coach, including four times in five total seasons at Louisville. Pitino has seven Final Fours and two national championships, including the 2013 title.
3. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey
Is Notre Dame a year-in and year-out powerhouse in either sport? Not yet. Still, both coaches deserve credit for putting the Irish back into the mix. The Irish are two years removed from an undefeated regular season in football, and Kelly is the first Notre Dame coach to post five consecutive winning seasons since Lou Holtz. Mike Brey’s consistency — six NCAA appearances in eight years — gets overlooked because his team hasn’t made it to the Sweet 16 since 2003. Now if only both of them could go a season without losing a player to an academic-related suspension...
4. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Florida State’s football program is the healthiest it has been since Bobby Bowden was in his prime. In the last three seasons, Fisher has led the Seminoles to a national title, 29 consecutive wins, a College Football Playoff appearance and three ACC titles. The basketball program was on a nice hot streak from 2009-12 under Hamilton with four consecutive NCAA appearances, an ACC tournament title and a trip to the Sweet 16. In three seasons since, FSU has yet to post a winning ACC record.
5. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams
North Carolina fans don’t like to hear this, but both coaches leave us wanting more these days. Williams is a Hall of Fame coach with seven career Final Fours and two national championships. Yet his team will have five or more ACC losses for the third consecutive season. If Carolina doesn’t reach the Sweet 16 this season, Williams will face his longest Sweet 16 drought since 1998-2000 at Kansas. Fedora’s win total has decreased every season at Carolina, and he’s never finished better than 5-3 in the league.
6. Virginia Tech
Football: Frank Beamer | Basketball: Buzz Williams
On career achievements, this duo should rank higher. Virginia Tech is a factor in football because of Beamer, who has been the coach since 1987. And despite 22 consecutive winning seasons, the Hokies are having a bit of identity crisis. The 10- and 11-win seasons have become seven- and eight-win seasons during the last three years. Williams’ credentials at Marquette were impeccable — two Sweet 16s, an Elite Eight and five consecutive NCAAs through 2013 — but he’s working through a major rebuilding project in his first season in Blacksburg.
Football: Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga
Golden left Temple with the reputation of a miracle worker and walked into the Nevin Shapiro mess at Miami. After a self-imposed bowl ban in his first two seasons, Miami went 9-4 in his third year before falling to 6-7 last season. With quarterback Brad Kaaya starting his second season, Golden is entering a critical fifth year. Larranaga has taken George Mason to a Final Four and won the ACC at Miami. That’s a pretty darn good career right there, never mind that he has 547 career wins otherwise.
Football: Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Boeheim probably would like us to spend more time thinking about the four Final Fours, the 2003 championship and the 964 career wins rather than the last 12 months. The Orange were the last undefeated team in the country last season and ended on a 3-6 skid. And now, due to NCAA issues, Syracuse forfeited its chance to go to the postseason this year (in a season that likely would have ended in the NIT anyway). Shafer has had a rough two seasons since taking over for Doug Marrone. Syracuse football is 10-15 overall and 5-11 in the ACC under Shafer.
Football: Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett
Bennett is quickly becoming college basketball’s best miracle worker. Despite no McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster, Bennett has the Cavaliers en route to a second consecutive ACC regular-season title. He also has a pair of Sweet 16 appearances under his belt at Virginia and Washington State. London may have saved his job with a three-game improvement in 2014, but the Cavs’ football coach still has three losing season in five years.
Football: Pat Narduzzi | Basketball: Jamie Dixon
Few coaching tandems seem so perfect for their particular school. Dixon has already established a rugged, blue collar program with Pitt basketball, and Narduzzi did the same with his defenses at Michigan State. Dixon’s overall resume at Pitt is great (10 NCAA appearances in 12 seasons), but Pitt is flirting with its second NCAA miss in four years. The Panthers also haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2009. Narduzzi is a first-time head coach, but he was in demand as one of the best DCs in the country at Michigan State.
Football: Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell
Swinney has returned Clemson to national prominence. The Tigers have won 10 or more games in four consecutive seasons and finished four seasons in a row in the AP top 25, the first time either has happened since the late '80s/early '90s. The lingering question for 2015 is if he can do it without offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Clemson is no basketball power, but Brownell hasn’t exactly elevated the Tigers, either. He has one NCAA appearance in five seasons. His win in the 2011 First Four is Clemson’s only NCAA win since 1997.
12. Georgia Tech
Football: Paul Johnson | Basketball: Brian Gregory
Just when it appeared Georgia Tech hand slid into mediocrity, Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-win season, a top-10 finish and an Orange Bowl victory. Johnson is unconventional beyond the option offense, but he led Georgia Tech to an ACC title in 2009 and has never had a losing conference season. Gregory is headed to his fourth consecutive season with at least 12 conference losses in four seasons in Atlanta.
13. NC State
Football: Dave Doeren | Basketball: Mark Gottfried
Doeren improved from 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the ACC in his first season to 8-5 and 3-5 in his second. Now, the question is if he can take that momentum into his third season. Gottfried has upped the talent level for the basketball program but has delivered sporadic results. Consistency, though, eludes the Wolfpack in basketball right now.
14. Boston College
Football: Steve Addazio | Basketball: Jim Christian
Addazio has two identical seasons of 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the ACC, two seasons which actually exceeded preseason expectations. Boston College will have its fourth consecutive losing season overall in Christian’s first season with the program. He has a long climb ahead.
15. Wake Forest
Football: Dave Clawson | Basketball: Danny Manning
Clawson and Manning had successful runs at Bowling Green and Tulsa, respectively, but Wake Forest hasn’t given them much to work with in their first seasons in Winston-Salem.
It’s not just you: The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is played a little later these days.
The two Tobacco Road foes meet for the first time on Feb. 18 this season. Last year, they didn’t meet for the first time until Feb. 20. Compare that to years past when the first game generally will be played in early February.
The late start doesn’t make the meeting any less interesting. Perhaps even it raises the stakes as both teams have more of their regular season resumes behind them. A win for Duke would be another item on a ledger for a potential No. 1 seed. A win for North Carolina would be a key building block for the Tar Heels’ postseason run.
North Carolina at Duke
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Time: Wednesday, 9 p.m. Eastern
What’s up for grabs?
Duke will look to continue its recent dominance of the rivalry. The Blue Devils are 8-3 against North Carolina since 2009 with only one of those losses coming at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Beyond that, postseason considerations are at play. Both teams will have trouble catching Virginia for the ACC regular season title, so both will try to hang onto a top-four finish in the standings and a bye to the quarterfinals in the ACC tournament. Duke is No. 3 in the league at 9-3 while North Carolina is tied for fourth with Louisville at 8-4.
You’ll tune in to watch:
Another strong Duke performance or a bounceback effort from North Carolina. The second-half comeback against Virginia on Jan. 31 seemed to re-energize Duke. At that point, the Blue Devils had gone 3-3 in their last six games. Starting with the Virginia win, Duke has won five in a row, including a 30-point rout of Notre Dame. North Carolina will need to be better than what it has shown if it’s going to stop Duke’s momentum. The Tar Heels are starting to look like a team with a clear ceiling. They’ve lost three of their last four to Louisville, Virginia and Pittsburgh and have not defeated a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team since Jan. 10.
Pivotal player: Justise Winslow
Duke’s Big Two freshmen of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones is back to being a Big Three. Winslow is averaging 14 points per game since going scoreless against St. John’s on Jan. 25. Duke is averaging 120 points per 100 possessions during Winslow’s hot streak.
Biggest question: Can North Carolina stop anyone?
North Carolina is coming off a miserable defensive performance against Pittsburgh. The Panthers couldn’t miss against the Tar Heels, averaging 1.44 points per possession, shooting 65 percent from the field and assisting on 30 of 37 made field goals. Roy Williams says North Carolina guarded capably in that game, and Pitt just made shots. That may be true, but UNC is 10th in the ACC in defensive efficiency and hasn’t held an opponent to under one point per possession since facing Wake Forest on Jan. 24.
David Fox: Duke 80-67
Mitch Light: Duke 76-70
Jake Rose: Duke 78-66
Seton Hall suspended guard Sterling Gibbs for two games for throwing a punch at Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono while fighting for a loose ball during the Wildcats’ 80-54 win Monday.
Gibbs was ejected for a flagrant foul for the incident in the second half.
Gibbs was clearly remorseful after the incident, apologizing publicly to Arcidiacono on Twitter. To the Villanova guard’s credit, he accepted the apology and moved on.
In a statement after the game, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said:
“I am extremely disappointed in Sterling’s actions tonight. Our student-athletes are entrusted to uphold the morals and values of good sportsmanship and personal conduct that we preach to them on a daily basis. Tonight’s incident involved a young man of high character showing poor judgement in the heat of competition. It was regrettable, and we will address the issue.”
In the immediate aftermath, ESPN analyst Jay Williams tweeted that Gibbs should be suspended for the remainder of the season.
Sterling Gibbs should not be allowed to play the rest of the season for that strike to the face. It was intentional & Violent. @ESPNCBB— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) February 17, 2015
The Gibbs incident is the latest setback in a season that started with promise for Seton Hall. The Pirates, who have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2006, started 12-2. However, Seton Hall has lost five in a row and eight of its last 10 in conference play.
Gibbs and star freshman Isaiah Whitehead nearly came to blows after a loss to Georgetown last week, reported The Setonian, the school’s campus newspaper. Starting guard Jaren Sina abruptly left the team last week.
Willard attempted to downplay the issues surrounding his team.
“There is no chaos outside the program,” Willard told NJ.com. “The only chaos is you guys (the media).”
Opening Day is less than two months away.
Just keep repeating that, Boston Red Sox fans. Maybe it will help warm the soul. After one look at Fenway Park, though, maybe not.
Boston is enduring its snowiest month on record, and not even Fenway can escape.
The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore and his producer Steve Petyerak tweeted several images of Fenway buried in snow during the last few weeks. The white stuff is piled up to the right field wall but not quite to the Green Monster. Yet.
The images are pretty remarkable.
The Red Sox home opener is April 13 against the Nationals, assuming the snow can be cleared by then.
Sunset over the Green Monster pic.twitter.com/h1ll0pTbz7— Steve Petyerak (@StevePetyerak) February 12, 2015
Snow in the stands at Fenway pic.twitter.com/6TLZWYKt4P— Steve Petyerak (@StevePetyerak) February 12, 2015
Fenway Park covered w/ snow pic.twitter.com/NDO5ybS419— Steve Petyerak (@StevePetyerak) February 12, 2015
The SEC in general is regarded as the nation’s most football-mad conference. That much is true, but no longer is that coming at the expense of basketball.
Football coaches in the league generally will have among the highest salaries in the country and the most tools at their disposal to contend for national championships.
Outside of Kentucky, basketball hasn’t been as much of a consistent priority.
All it takes to see that this is changing is a quick peek at Auburn. The Tigers have one of the top football coaches in the league in Gus Malzahn, arguably the best offensive mind in the SEC. Now, they have one of the top basketball coaches.
After rolling the dice on Jeff Lebo and Tony Barbee, Auburn went with a proven winner in the SEC and a big-time personality in Bruce Pearl. That move gives Auburn the best one-two coaching punch in the SEC.
So even though Alabama has a great football coach and Kentucky has a great basketball coach, their counterparts on the other side of the athletic department are working to pick up the slack — with varying degrees of success.
Football: Gus Malzahn | Basketball: Bruce Pearl
During the course of two seasons, Auburn made two hires that changed the trajectory of its football and basketball program. Football had been relatively consistent back to the Pat Dye era, but it was clear Malzahn and his up-tempo, run-oriented offense brought something special to the Tigers. He was the offensive coordinator of the 2010 championship team and took Auburn back to the title game in the first season after his return in 2013. The ascent won’t be as rapid for the basketball program under Pearl, who has reached the Sweet 16 or better in four of his last seven seasons as head coach. Still, he’s brought in elite recruits and already has Auburn basketball fans following his cult of personality.
Football: Mark Stoops | Basketball: John Calipari
Calipari has simply led the Kentucky basketball program to an undefeated start this season — and that’s on the heels of an appearance in the national championship game. Simply put, no one in the game is better at recruiting top talent, and he may never get the credit he deserves in managing the egos of players who are one step away from the NBA Draft lottery. The football program is a tougher sell, but Stoops is doing good work. Stoops signed a top-25 class in 2014 and kept the 2015 class respectable. Kentucky improved from 2-10 to 5-7 in Stoops’ second season and could have been bowl eligible if not for close calls with Florida and Louisville.
Football: Bret Bielema | Basketball: Mike Anderson
Say this about Arkansas’ coaching duo: They create a clear identity. Bielema knows exactly what he wants to do with his program — build a punishing run game behind an imposing offensive line. That led to a surprising turnaround in his second season with the Hogs, going from 3-9 to 7-6 in 2014. Anderson has a similar identity with the 40 Minutes of Hell inspired by his mentor Nolan Richardson. The turnaround has been a little slower for Anderson, though this will be his best season — and first NCAA appearance — in four years at Arkansas.
4. South Carolina
Football: Steve Spurrier | Basketball: Frank Martin
We liked this duo a little more a year ago. At that point, Spurrier had South Carolina on a streak of three consecutive 11-win seasons and top-10 finishes. On the basketball side, Martin deserved the benefit of the doubt as he tried to revive South Carolina’s moribund basketball program. History still says these guys will figure it out, but this has not been a great year for South Carolina’s football and men’s basketball programs. Six combined conference wins makes this a year to forget.
Football: Nick Saban | Basketball: Anthony Grant
Saban has few peers in college football coaching. In a ranking of football coaches alone, Saban would be at or near the top, depending on where Ohio State’s Urban Meyer fits. Basketball is another story. Grant arrived at Alabama as one of the hot young coaches in the sport after his tenure at VCU. The Crimson Tide, though, have been inconsistent on the court despite talented rosters. One NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons might not be enough for Grant to stay in Tuscaloosa.
Football: Jim McElwain | Basketball: Billy Donovan
The Spurrier-Donovan and Meyer-Donovan duos were among the best tandems in the country. The constant has been Donovan, who is having an uncharacteristically subpar season after three Elite Eights and a Final Four. That said, he should win 500 career games by the time he’s 50. McElwain’s track record as a head coach is only three years long, but he took Colorado State from four wins to eight to 10.
7. Ole Miss
Football: Hugh Freeze | Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Freeze has led Ole Miss on a steady rise on the football field from seven wins to eight to nine. The latest season was not a hollow nine wins by any means as the Rebels were ranked as high as No. 3 and reached one of the coveted Playoff contract bowl slots in the Peach Bowl. Meanwhile, Kennedy has been Ole Miss for nine years, hard to believe as it is. He finally got over the NIT hump in 2013 with a trip to the NCAA round of 32. He should lead Ole Miss to the second NCAA berth of his tenure this season.
8. Texas A&M
Football: Kevin Sumlin | Basketball: Billy Kennedy
Sumlin has proven that Texas A&M will be a factor in the SEC and in recruiting. He’s delivered upsets of No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Auburn, a Heisman trophy and a top-10 finish — yet overall his teams are 13-11 in the SEC. Kennedy has yet to deliver a 20-win season to the Aggies in four seasons in basketball. If that doesn’t change this year, it probably will next season when the Aggies add a highly touted signing class.
Football: Les Miles | Basketball: Johnny Jones
Perhaps no coaching duo in the country causes more high blood pressure among its fans. Miles’ teams have won 10 more games in four of the last five seasons, but end-of-game situations have been — shall we say — dramatic. Jones’ teams have had the talent to go toe-to-toe with teams like Kentucky, but they’ve been susceptible to puzzling losses during the last two seasons. LSU’s conference record in football has declined every year since 2011, and the basketball program has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament under Jones.
Football: Mark Richt | Basketball: Mark Fox
The Marks make up the longest-tenured football/basketball tandem in the SEC with 19 seasons combined. They’ve also been the victim of a little bad luck in recent years. Richt has watched key injuries claim some of his top players on offense (though his team won 18 games the last two seasons anyway), and Fox watched players unexpectedly leave early for the NBA Draft (though his team should reach the NCAA Tournament this season). Georgia football hasn’t won an SEC title since 2005, and Georgia basketball hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2002.
11. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen | Basketball: Rick Ray
Mullen enjoyed a breakout last season, taking a consistent bowl team to College Football Playoff contention. Mullen was already the first Mississippi State coach to go to four consecutive bowl games before going 10-3 and reaching the Orange Bowl last season. Ray has a major rebuild on his hands with the basketball program, but the Bulldogs have already eclipsed last year’s SEC win total (from three to five) and could pass their overall win total (14) from his first season.
Football: Gary Pinkel | Basketball: Kim Anderson
Since 2007, Pinkel has led Missouri to two Big 12 championship games and two SEC championship games. The Tigers are 0-4 in title games, but Mizzou’s status as an overachiever in both conferences under Pinkel is ironclad. Missouri isn’t a recruiting powerhouse by any means, but the Tigers have been competitive with the powers in two conferences at the top of their games. In basketball, Anderson gets an incomplete grade at best. Coming from Division II, Anderson was a questionable hire to begin with, and his first roster at Mizzou is hardly SEC-ready.
Football: Butch Jones | Basketball: Donnie Tyndall
For the first time since Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee may have a football coach who will stick. Jones delivered the Volunteers’ first winning season since 2009 and picked up major momentum in recruiting during the last two cycles. Optimism is at a high point, but the Volunteers are still seeking their first winning conference season since 2007. Tyndall, a standout coach at the mid-major level, has done fine work with a rebuilding basketball team in his first season, but NCAA issues from Southern Miss are following him in Knoxville.
Football: Derek Mason | Basketball: Kevin Stallings
Mason has the unfortunate task of following up James Franklin at a place that just started to get used to competing in the SEC. Mason went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC in his debut season and immediately shuffled his coaching staff. Stallings is the second-longest tenured basketball coach in the league after Donovan and is generally regarded as one of the league’s best minds. Yet since the Jeffery Taylor/John Jenkins/Festus Ezeli class left, Vanderbilt is 19-29 in the SEC in three seasons.
Michigan freshman basketball player Austin Hatch will receive the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Most Courageous Award for 2015 for his perseverance in the face of unthinkable adversity.
If you haven’t heard about Hatch’s background, you should. It’s been one of the most inspiring stories of the basketball season.
Hatch survived two separate plane crashes over the course of eight years, but lost members of his immediate family in both. Four years ago, after the second plane crash, Hatch spent two months in a coma with a traumatic brain injury.
After intensive rehab, Hatch eventually enrolled at Michigan where John Beilein honored his scholarship. He’s played in four games this season.
When Hatch was 8, he and his father survived a plane crash that claimed the life of his mother, older sister and younger brother. In 2011, after Hatch’s commitment to Michigan, Hatch was involved in another plane crash that claimed the life of his father and stepmother.
Hatch has shared his story several times this season. It’s worth your time to check it out:
Here’s a clip from Hatch’s first appearance in an exhibition game against Wayne State:
Projecting how high school athletes might perform on the college and pro level is difficult enough.
Now, Rivals.com will monitor at least two sixth graders for the first time in the history of the site.
In a post last week about a camp in Boston for middle school athletes, Rivals mentioned Tyson Thornton of Springfield, Mass., and Daron Bryden of Enfield, Conn., will be the first sixth grade prospects the site will “actively monitor.”
Monitoring eighth graders isn’t new for Rivals. The site is tracking as many as 15 eighth graders, but no seventh graders, according to SI.com. Even colleges have been known to take commitments from prospects as young as 13 or 14, even though they can’t by rule hand out written scholarship offers until the start of their senior years.
Sixth graders — that’s the class of 2021, by the way — is new and questionable ground.
Just as a point of clarity, let’s point out that the two sixth graders were moved up at the camp to compete with the eighth graders, so at least in the eyes of the NextGen Boston organizers, these kids are ahead of the curve. And Thornton is a 5-foot-11, 167-pound sixth grader.
But Bryden is a 5-foot-2 quarterback. By “actively monitor,” does Rivals intend on charting the kids’ growth spurts in real time? How often will Rivals recruiting analysts be in touch with middle school kids (or parents)?
Bryden actually has a pretty interesting story. Both his mother and father are deaf, though he and his siblings are not. Bryden also appeared on “Kids Do the Darndest Things” when he beat NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in an accuracy competition.
But this is all pretty weird, right? Covering 11-year-olds as recruiting athletes or college or pro prospects is a little overboard isn’t helpful to anybody, is it?
The Big 12 academic year has been an experiment in contrasts in recent years.
In football, new powers have taken over with Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State claiming championships since 2011.
Yet in basketball, the old guard — the only true blue blood in the league — continues to rule as Kansas appears headed to its 11th consecutive Big 12 title.
It makes sense, then, that of the top football-basketball coaching tandems on our list, one comes from a traditional power and the other comes from a new-age contender.
Oklahoma tops our list even after a lackluster football season by Bob Stoops’ standards. The Sooners, in general, are contenders in both football and men’s basketball under Stoops and Lon Kruger, respectively.
That said, Baylor is quickly gaining. Art Briles has claimed the last two Big 12 football titles, and basketball coach Scott Drew looks to have one of the better teams of his tenure, only a year after reaching the Sweet 16.
Indeed, these are strange times in the Big 12 when Baylor — a non-factor in both sports a decade ago — is pressing to have the most competitive program in an academic year.
That means it may look at little strange to see a top football coach or top basketball coach near the bottom of the rankings. That’s nothing against, say, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self. Rather, the football side is the one that has to kick it up a notch to at least give Jayhawks fans something to cheer in September and October before basketball season rolls around.
Football: Bob Stoops | Basketball: Lon Kruger
Even though Stoops is coming off an 8-5 campaign, the most disappointing since he’s been a head coach, Oklahoma has the most solid coaching duo in the league. Stoops has won at least 10 games in four of the last five seasons and made more BCS games than any other coach under the old system. Kruger, whose forte is rebuilding programs, has completed his reclamation of OU basketball with his best team this season. No program is more likely to be in a major bowl game and the NCAA Tournament in the same season as Oklahoma.
Football: Art Briles | Basketball: Scott Drew
The year before Briles was hired, Baylor football was riding 12 consecutive losing seasons. When Drew was hired, Baylor was emerging from one of the biggest scandals in college basketball history. It’s tough to find a duo who improved their school’s situation more from the day they were hired until 2015. Briles had Baylor on the verge of the College Football Playoff and won the last two Big 12 titles. And Drew has twice taken Baylor basketball to the Elite Eight and once to the Sweet 16.
3. Kansas State
Football: Bill Snyder | Basketball: Bruce Weber
Kansas State failed to sign a top 50 recruiting class in 2015, but that doesn’t matter. We’ll end up talking about the Wildcats as a top 10 team at some point anyway. That’s the deal for Snyder, whose teams have been the biggest overachievers in college football. Weber’s team has fallen below expectations this season, but he’s still two years removed from a 27-win season and a share of the Big 12 title.
Football: Gary Patterson | Basketball: Trent Johnson
In only TCU’s third season in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs won a share of the league and were in playoff contention until the final week of the season. Most of all, Patterson deserves credit for altering his offensive philosophy for a 12-1 season in 2014, not an easy ask for any coach who had already been wildly successful earlier in his career with two BCS bowls out of the Mountain West. Johnson, who took both Nevada and Stanford to the Sweet 16, has an uphill battle with TCU’s neglected basketball program, but the Frogs’ 14 wins this season is the most of his tenure.
Football: Charlie Strong | Basketball: Rick Barnes
Is there any reason why Texas shouldn’t have the best coaching tandem in the league? Not long ago, Texas indeed had one of the top duos. From 2003-05, the Longhorns reached a Final Four and won a football title under Mack Brown and Barnes. Now, both programs are in a state of flux. Strong is entering Year Two of his project to return the Longhorns to national contention. Barnes has reached the NCAA Tournament in 15 of 16 seasons at Texas, but this season is shaping up to be another disappointing campaign. Barnes’ preseason top 10 team is flirting with a losing record in the Big 12.
6. Oklahoma State
Football: Mike Gundy | Basketball: Travis Ford
Are either Gundy or Ford the most accomplished coaches at their individual sports in the Big 12? No. But remember, this is a ranking of tandems, and it’s tough to argue Oklahoma State keeps things interesting from the start of football season until the end of basketball season. Gundy has led Oklahoma State to four of Oklahoma State’s 10 top 20 finishes all time, including No. 3 and a Big 12 title in 2011. Ford has made up for last season’s disappointing 21-13 campaign with a surprising top-25 team this year.
Football: David Beaty | Basketball: Bill Self
Remember: This is a ranking of coaching tandems as a duo. Self is is on his way to his 11th consecutive Big 12 title, but football is on its third football coach since its last bowl game. The football side made a bold move in hiring the 44-year-old ace recruiter Beaty. The former Texas A&M position coach is an unknown commodity, but being an unknown is a step up from his predecessor, who was known to not be very good.
8. Iowa State
Football: Paul Rhoads | Basketball: Fred Hoiberg
Iowa State needs to be creative to be competitive. The Cyclones have creativity at both spots. Hoiberg as turned Iowa State into Transfer U and one of the few places that plays an up-tempo — and successful — offensive system. Rhoads has been notable for his impassioned speeches, but he has one winning season and a career 14-48 Big 12 record in six years.
9. West Virginia
Football: Dana Holgorsen | Basketball: Bob Huggins
No doubt, this is one of the more interesting college pairings in terms of personality. And as a Big East tandem, it was one of the best. Holgorsen won the Big East in his first season, but he’s 18-20 in three seasons in the Big 12. Huggins has 758 career wins and reached the Final Four with WVU in 2010, but he’s yet to reach the NCAA Tournament as a Big 12 member.
10. Texas Tech
Football: Kliff Kingsbury | Basketball: Tubby Smith
This would make an interesting buddy cop show. The two are separated in age by 28 years. Kingsbury is Coach Cool. Tubby Smith is ... not as cool. What would make both coaches more cool, though, would be more wins. Since starting his career with seven consecutive wins, Kingsbury is 5-13. Meanwhile, Smith led Kentucky to the 1998 national title but hasn’t had a winning conference record in the Big Ten or Big 12 since leaving Kentucky.
Watch out, @TheOregonDuck, you’re about to have company as the best college mascot on Twitter.
@GoldyTheGopher is finding a fond place in our hearts — appropriately — this Valentine’s Day weekend with Valentines for the other Big Ten mascots.
Just like in elementary school, everyone in the class gets a Valentine.
If you like the Big Ten, Valentines and bad puns, this should be a delight:
At this time last year, the folks with the Wooden Award and Naismith Award could have started engraving Doug McDermott’s name on the national player of the year trophy.
The Creighton forward started the season as one of the favorites and turned it into a one-man race early into conference play.
This season could have more drama. The player of the year race may be as heated as any 2010-11 when BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker battled for end-of-year hardware and the scoring title until late into the season.
This year might be the year two centers — unless a freshman guard in the Big Ten starts to make a late push — go for the top award at the end of the season.
The Wooden Award released its late season top 20 list Wednesday, so this is as good a time as any to survey the field.
We’ve ranked the top 20 players on that list by their likelihood of taking home the Wooden Award other national postseason honors.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Frank the Tank is even better than he was a year ago when he scored 43 points in a game and carried Wisconsin to the Final Four. His numbers are up across the board for a team that’s 21-1 when he’s in the lineup. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game (up from 13.9 last season) and 8.3 rebounds (up from 6.3). Perhaps what’s most striking for a seven-footer who hits 40 percent of his free throws is that he’s improved as a passer, averaging 2.5 assists per game. Kaminsky is the only player in the country averaging 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor lived up to the hype and more. He’s the best true center in the college game in decades and arguably the best freshman since Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. Okafor averages 1.6 points per field goal attempt, an outlandish number for a player averaging 18 points per game in a major conference. Okafor also ranks fourth nationally in offensive rating on KenPom.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell is making a late push for Big Ten player of the year and national freshman of the year, remarkable considering he’s in competition for those awards with Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, respectively. Russell has become the most exciting player in the Big Ten, if not the country. His versatility at Ohio State is akin to 2010 player of the year Evan Turner. In Big Ten play, Russell is averaging 21.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals. His offensive rating of 121.0 ranks third in the country, two spots ahead of Okafor.
4. Delon Wright, Utah
Utah’s multi-dimensional guard has put the Utes into Pac-12 contention. Wright is averaging 14.2 points and 3.1 assists per turnover while leading Utah’s standout defense. The 6-5 guard was one of the nation’s most underrated players a year ago, and now he could be an All-American.
5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell, the most important player to opt for school instead of the NBA Draft, picked up where he left off last season as one of the most imposing players in the country. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds — both career bests — for a top-10 Louisville team. It’s easy to see why. The big man has developed an all-around offensive game all the way out to the 3-point line.
6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant has come back from his extended absence last season to average 17 points per game and plenty of clutch performances. Grant played his best game of the season against Duke (23 points, 12 assists, six rebounds in South Bend) and one of his worst games against Duke (3-of-10, seven points in Durham).
7. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Someone needs to be on the list to represent undefeated Kentucky, and it may as well be Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats’ most experienced player and anchor of the defense. Because of Kentucky’s platoon, it’s more useful to look at Cauley-Stein’s per-40 minute numbers. Cauley-Stein averages 14.3 points per 40 minutes to go with 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
8. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson would have been a compelling case for postseason awards. His 13.4 points per game don’t jump off the page — he ranks 19th in the ACC in scoring. With Virginia’s tempo and balance, that has to be taken in context. Anderson is arguably 21-1 Virginia’s most valuable player. That said, his stock for award season will drop due to the hand injury that will keep him out 4-6 weeks.
9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Even as Kentucky overwhelms the conversation in the SEC, it’s impossible to overlook the season Portis is having in Fayetteville. He’s one of the most improved players in the country, going from 12.3 points per game on an NIT team to 17.9 for a team that’s close to sealing an at-large bid. Portis has turned it up in conference play, averaging 19.3 points and 11 rebounds in the SEC.
10. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
The Big 12 may be the best conference in the country, or at least the most balanced from top to bottom. Yet, the league doesn’t have a ton of guys in All-America contention. Oklahoma has been streaky this season, but not Hield. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game in Big 12 play, though OU might be better when the Sooners are more balanced. He averages 18 points per game in eight Big 12 wins and 22.5 points in four conference losses.
11. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Few 21-3 teams receive less pub. Part of that is the shadow of the Shockers’ 35-0 start a year ago. Baker, though, is as steady as ever. He’s averaging 15.5 points per game, up from 13.1 a year ago. He’s also up for 41.3 shooting from 3-point range despite shooting at a greater volume (six 3s per game) than a year ago.
12. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson turned the ball over seven times in his final non-conference game, a loss to UNLV. Johnson is averaging only two turnovers per game since to go with 14.7 points per game in conference play.
13. Tyus Jones, Duke
That’s two Duke freshmen in the national player of the year race, and that doesn’t count Justise Winslow playing at an elite level during stretches this season. All Jones has done is displace a senior at point guard for a top-five team and average 5.3 assists per game for a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also proven to be a clutch 3-point shooter (39.5 percent).
14. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Pangos’ scoring is down from the last two seasons at 12.1 points per game, but there’s no doubt who Gonzaga’s top player is. Pangos is the floor general of a balanced offensive team that is 24-1 and nearing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He averages 3.6 assists per turnover.
15. Georges Niang, Iowa State
Even as Iowa State has six guys averaging double figures, Niang is the focal point. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Cyclones at 14.9 points and is second in rebounds (5.3) and assists (3.5). He’s the Big 12’s best mismatch.
16. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier has slid into the void left by Russ Smith, averaging 18.7 points per game as a sophomore and leading one of the most aggressive backcourts in the country. Rozier is also averaging 5.7 rebounds after Wednesday's double double against Pittsburgh.
17. Chasson Randle, Stanford
At 20.3 points per game, Randle accounts for 27.1 percent of Stanford’s scoring, the highest rate for anyone on this list.
18. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
A forgotten man at Kentucky, Wiltjer has flourished at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Wiltjer is 10th in the country in points per 40 minutes (24.9).
19. Juwan Staten, West Virginia
West Virginia is enjoying a turnaround season, and Staten deserves his due for two outstanding seasons in Morgantown after his transfer from Dayton. Still, West Virginia has been sliding in recent weeks due to struggles in the halfcourt.
20. Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is second in the nation at 22.5 points per game and is second in KenPom’s offensive rating, but he plays for a fringe NCAA Tournament team. A tough sell.
The bubble watch is on.
Selection Sunday is less than five weeks away and the bracket is starting to take shape.
We’re pretty sure we know the teams in contention for the No. 1 seeds and teams that are safely in, which of course leaves the bubble — all the teams that have done some good things and some bad things through the first three months of the season.
For better or worse, most of those teams can get off the bubble, either solidifying their Tournament credentials or playing their way out.
Here’s a look at the 10 teams under the most pressure this week.
All RPI and schedule strength figures are from CBSSports and Jerry Palm.
LSU (17-6, 6-4 SEC)
This week: Kentucky (Tuesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)
The good: LSU is 4-2 against the RPI top 50, including true road wins over West Virginia and Ole Miss.
The bad: The Tigers have lost to sub-150 RPI teams in Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State.
The bubble: Handing Kentucky its first loss of the season would solidify LSU’s status in the field, but that road trip to Tennessee may be the more important game given LSU’s lapses in games it should win.
Seton Hall (15-8, 5-6 Big East)
This week: Georgetown (Tuesday), at Providence (Saturday)
The good: Seton Hall is one of two teams to beat Villanova this season.
The bad: The Pirates have been swept by DePaul and Butler.
The bubble: Seton Hall is 3-6 since its overtime upset of Villanova on Jan. 3. The next four games are brutal with Georgetown at home and Providence, Villanova and St. John’s on the road next week. Not a good situation for a team already trending the wrong way.
Michigan State (15-8, 6-4 Big Ten)
This week: at Northwestern (Tuesday), Ohio State (Saturday)
The good: KenPom likes Michigan State better than the RPI, ranking the Spartans at No. 28 (compared to No. 52 in the RPI).
The bad: Michigan State is 0-4 against the RPI top 30.
The bubble: Saturday’s home loss to Illinois puts Michigan State onto the bubble. The Spartans can’t (and probably won’t) lose to Northwestern. Facing RPI No. 35 Ohio State in East Lansing will be critical.
Texas A&M (16-6, 7-3 SEC)
This week: Georgia (Wednesday), Florida (Saturday)
The good: Texas A&M is 7-3 in the SEC.
The bad: The Aggies don’t have a top 50 RPI win.
The bubble: Second place in the SEC won’t be enough to guarantee an NCAA Tournament berth. The next three games against RPI No. 24 Georgia, No. 67 Florida and No. 51 LSU — all at home — are huge for the Aggies’ hopes.
NC State (14-10, 5-6 ACC)
This week: Virginia (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)
The good: The Wolfpack rank 11th in strength of schedule and defeated RPI No. 4 Duke on Jan. 11.
The bad: After a loss to Wake Forest a week ago, NC State is already up to double-digit losses. The Wolfpack haven't won back-to-back games since early December.
The bubble: For NC State to stay in the discussion, the Wolfpack may need to split the week against top 15 opponents. NC State will face Virginia in its first game without guard Justin Anderson.
St. John’s (15-8, 4-6 Big East)
This week: DePaul (Wednesday), at Xavier (Saturday)
The good: The Red Storm are ranked No. 50 in the RPI and No. 27 in strength of schedule. St. John’s swept Providence for its two top-50 wins.
The bad: Providence may be the only NCAA at-large team St. John’s has defeated this season.
The bubble: A home loss to DePaul would be devastating. Road wins over Xavier on Saturday and/or Georgetown on Tuesday would put St. John’s back on the right track.
The Mountain West
This week: Wyoming at San Diego State (Wednesday), Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday)
The good: Colorado State (20-4, 7-4 MW) has the best RPI in the Mountain West plus a home win already over San Diego State. Wyoming (19-5, 8-3 MW) completed a season sweep of Colorado State last week.
The bad: Neither team has a top-75 non-conference win.
The bubble: If Mountain West at-large bids go through San Diego State, this will be the key week.
Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3 SEC)
This week: at Florida (Thursday), Arkansas (Saturday)
The good: The Rebels are No. 39 in RPI and 3-3 against the top 50.
The bad: Ole Miss has home losses to Western Kentucky, TCU and Charleston Southern.
The bubble: Splitting the week would maintain the status quo. Two wins would further solidify the Rebels’ chances. Ole Miss already has wins against each of these teams this season.
Purdue (15-9, 7-4 Big Ten)
This week: at Rutgers (Thursday), Nebraska (Sunday)
The good: The Boilermakers have three top 40 wins (Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa).
The bad: All of those wins were at home. So were bad losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida.
The bubble: The Boilers are hanging on, but they’ll lose their grip if they don’t go 2-0 this week.
Illinois (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten)
This week: Michigan (Thursday), at Wisconsin (Sunday)
The good: Defeating Michigan State on the road was a signature moment, but Illinois had already picked up two top 20 wins before Jan. 7 (Baylor on a neutral court, Maryland).
The bad: Illinois has lost five games to teams ranked between Nos. 50-100.
The bubble: Asking Illinois to beat Wisconsin in Madison may be too much to ask, but the Illini need to beat Michigan to avoid a season sweep to the Wolverines.
Kentucky isn’t the only team chasing history in the SEC.
The Wildcats took another team’s best shot Saturday in a 67-61 win over Florida, but as has been the case in close calls all season, Kentucky continued its march to an undefeated regular season and more.
That Florida gave Kentucky a game is little surprise to John Calipari, who has come to expect that every team is looking for its signature moment of the season when it faces the Wildcats.
A game against Kentucky is a game to end the streak, a chance to be the ultimate spoiler.
“There will be games where players play out of their minds,” Calipari said. “After the game, Billy (Donovan) said it was the best game by far they’ve played all year. ... That’s every game we play.”
Ironically, Kentucky was in this spot less than a year ago, knocking off a 35-0 Wichita State team in the NCAA Tournament. The end of the Shockers’ bid at 40-0 was only the start of the run for Kentucky. The only interruption between the NCAA Tournament a year ago and today was a loss in the title game to UConn.
On paper, Kentucky will be favored in every game — SEC or otherwise — until a potential Final Four, but a pristine record is far more fragile in reality than it is on paper.
KenPom.com gives Kentucky at least an 84 percent chance to beat each individual opponent during the final eight games. The same projection, however, predicts a 30-1 record at the end of the regular season and a 56.7 percent chance to go undefeated.
In other words, Kentucky will be a heavy favorite in each game to finish the season, but the chances of the Wildcats going 8-0 in totality is not quite as certain.
So when might that mystery loss occur? Here’s a look at Kentucky’s final eight opponents and if they might have what it takes to make history against the Wildcats.
Feb. 10: at LSU
LSU may have the most pro potential of SEC teams not named Kentucky, and the Tigers get UK in Baton Rouge only three days after a close call in Gainesville. That’s roughly 10 hours on a plane between Saturday and tipoff at LSU on Tuesday, plus two raucous atmospheres. LSU is one of the few SEC teams that may be able to match up against Kentucky’s size with 6-foot-10 Jarell Martin and 6-8 Jordan Mickey. Beyond the forwards, LSU also has a 6-6 emerging guard in Tim Quarterman (though he doesn’t have the bulk of the Harrisons). If point guard Josh Gray can play under control and Keith Hornsby is knocking down shots, LSU could give Kentucky fits.
Will Kentucky lose this game? Maybe
Feb. 14: South Carolina
One of Kentucky’s closest calls this season came in double overtime against Texas A&M. The Aggies — who are second in SEC play in 2-point defense — held Kentucky to 9-of-36 from inside the 3-point line. South Carolina doesn’t have the size and length Texas A&M does, but the Gamecocks nonetheless have a strong interior defense, holding opponents to 41.9 percent shooting from 2. There's also some history here. South Carolina defeated Kentucky in Columbia last season and took out a John Wall-led team in 2010.
Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope
Feb. 17: at Tennessee
Tennessee will be an interesting matchup, particularly for Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison. The Volunteers lead the SEC in defensive turnover rate and steal rate in conference games, and Harrison, while improved this season, is as streaky as they come. Just in the last week, he played his best game of the year against Georgia (23 points, seven assists, one turnover) and then one of his worst against Florida (one point, two assists, three turnovers). Playing against Tennessee will require patience against the zone and patience against a team that’s averaging the fewest possessions per game in the SEC (62.9). Kentucky already had some difficulty with the next two slowest-tempo teams in the league, Vanderbilt and Florida.
Will Kentucky lose this game? It’s plausible
Feb. 21: Auburn
No team shoots more 3-pointers than Auburn at 20.7 per game. The problem is the Tigers make only 33.4 percent of them, ranking eighth in the SEC. Maybe Auburn will have a ridiculous day from the 3-point line as Ole Miss did on Jan. 6 when the Rebels went 9-of-17 in an 89-86 overtime loss. That is the only chance Auburn has to end a streak of its own: Auburn hasn’t defeated Kentucky since 2000 and hasn’t defeated Kentucky in Lexington since 1988.
Will Kentucky lose this game? Only in football
Feb. 25: at Mississippi State
This is as good a time as any to mention that Kentucky hasn’t been immune to the injury bug. The Wildcats haven’t had Alex Poythress, who went down with a torn ACL, since December. Forward Trey Lyles (7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds) has missed the last three games with an illness, leaving Kentucky’s guards to pick up some of the rebounding slack. Lyles probably will be healthy in time for this particular game, but the point is that no team makes it to March completely healthy
Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope
Feb. 28: Arkansas
Other than Florida, Arkansas is the only SEC team to consistently give Kentucky trouble during the last few years. The Razorbacks have won four of the last five meetings, including the last three. This season, Arkansas has one elite big man, Bobby Portis, who could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky’s front. He’ll be outnumbered, but he alone is still a better matchup than most. The question is what kind of game the streaky Michael Qualls will have. Arkansas is the highest-scoring team in the SEC, at least according to raw numbers, but the Hogs rank third in offensive efficiency.
Will Kentucky lose this game? In Fayetteville, maybe, but probably not in Lexington
March 3: at Georgia
The final scoresheet shows an 11-point Kentucky win Feb. 3, but Georgia had this to within five points with two minutes to go. In Lexington. Without Marcus Thornton. All of that is notable. In the return trip, Kentucky will visit Athens to face a veteran Georgia team that, presumably, will have its leading scorer and rebounder.
Will Kentucky lose this game? We’re still picking Kentucky, but this is the one we like
March 7: Florida
Kentucky caught Florida right after the Gators played their worst game of the season in a loss to Vanderbilt. Maybe the Wildcats underestimated Florida. Maybe Billy Donovan finally woke up his team in time for Kentucky. The Wildcats still managed to escape an off game due to near-perfect free throw shooting and the continued emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns. Florida played long stretches without Michael Frazier, but the Gators also had plenty go their way, too.
Will Kentucky lose this game? No
Dean Smith is one of the rare figures and perhaps the only figure who directly connects the birth of basketball to its modern era.
Smith played at Kansas for Phog Allen, the “Father of Basketball Coaching” who played for the inventor of the game, James Naismith. Smith then coached Michael Jordan. From Naismith to Allen to Smith to Jordan, it would be hard to find a better connection from the infancy of basketball to the modern game.
Beyond the games, records and innovations, Smith was an integral part of bringing athletics into the future by integrating the ACC and taking the lead on social and race issues.
Smith died Saturday, leaving a legacy that was celebrated throughout the sports world. Smith was 83.
Smith was legendary not only for his basketball record or his role in championing civil rights, but also his way of remembering the names of every player he coached, from the Hall of Famers to the walk-ons.
“He made sure that we knew our teachers by their first names, not just the last names,” Tar Heels All-American Vince Carter told Athlon Sports in 2005. He’d come and ask you, ‘so, what’s your teacher’s first name?’ He’d have a coach who was assigned to be at the front door of every one of our classes, every player.”
The mantras started in practice.
Wrote Eric Montross, an All-American who played for Smith from 1990-94, in “Game Day: North Carolina Basketball:”
“The emphasis was on transforming young athletes into mature educated adults of good character, both on and off the court. In my experience, this perspective was emphasized by the unique way that Coach Smith began practices. Instead of beginning in a typical fashion with layup lines or fast-break drills, every Dean Smith practice started with a thought for the day, an impressive mix of life lessons and messages pertinent to the game of basketball.
“One such quote, which I have kept with me now for 15 years, reads: ‘When trying to move a mountain, you must first begin by removing small stones.’ Often the freshmen would be called upon to recite these lines, and if the player did not know the quote, the entire team would be sent to the end of the line to run sprints — that is, the entire team minus the player who made the mistake.”
By the Numbers
• Dean Smith won 879 career games, breaking Adolph Rupp’s career wins record of 876 in 1997. Smith now ranks sixth on the NCAA’s all-time wins list behind Mike Krzyzewski (1,003), Herb Magee (1,000), Jim Boeheim (963), Don Meyer (923) and Bob Knight (902).
• Only eight coaches have spent more games on the bench than Smith’s 1,133. On that list are Jim Phelan, Krzyzewski, Knight, Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Henson, Rollie Massimino and Lefty Driesell.
• Only three coaches in Division I history have more 20-win seasons: Boeheim (36), Krzyzewski (31) and Smith (30). Smith’s streak of 27 consecutive 20-win seasons is a Division I record by a long shot. The next longest streak belongs to Arizona’s Lute Olson at 20.
• Smith also set the record for ACC wins with 422, a mark that wasn’t broken until this season when Krzyzewski did it on Feb. 4.
Mike Krzyzewski on Dean Smith's passing: "We have lost a man who cannot be replaced." pic.twitter.com/tZbINfnrlE— Laura Keeley (@laurakeeley) February 8, 2015
• This is a startling number, but perhaps understandable considering the standard Smith set at North Carolina. The legendary Tar Heels coach was only named national coach of the year three times in 1977, 1979 and 1993. The latter may be the most interesting. Smith won the Basketball Times and Naismith coach of the year awards. The other awards were swept by one of his proteges, Vanderbilt’s Eddie Fogler.
• By now, it’s too easy to forget the college part of college athletics, the University of North Carolina included. Even more important than Smith’s on-court records — and there are many — is that 97 percent of his players graduated. Even those that went to the pros returned to UNC to get their degrees.
Smith’s legacy cannot be removed from his stance on social issues. Smith was among the key figures in integrating the ACC and college sports. Willie Cooper was the first black player for the Tar Heels’ freshman team in 1964. Charles Scott was North Carolina's first black scholarship player in 1966 and one of the early African-Americans to play on scholarship a major Southern school. Scott helped the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1968 and 1969.
What stuck with Scott was that Smith always called him “Charles” rather than Charlie. Scott’s son, Shannon, is a starting guard for Ohio State this season.
The countless ways Dean Smith lives on: Recruited UNC's first black athlete Charlie Scott whose son, Shannon, will start for Ohio St today.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 8, 2015
Beyond Scott, Smith was outspoken on a variety of issues, including opposition to the death penalty, criticism for the Vietnam War and abolition to nuclear weapons. Such vocal and controversial stances are all but gone from college athletics today.
In 2013, though he wasn’t able to receive the award in person, Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest national honor for a civilian. The list of other sports figures honored in such a way is staggering: Hank Arron, Muhammad Ali, Bear Bryant, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Billie Jean King, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Pat Summitt and John Wooden, for starters.
In many ways, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was the perfect culmination for his career. When he started at North Carolina, John F. Kennedy was the president. Nine presidencies later, Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Smith reached his first Final Four when Lyndon Johnson was in office, won his first national championship with Ronald Reagan in office and reached his last Final Four with Bill Clinton in the White House.
Smith retired in 1997 after reaching his 11th Final Four. Only John Wooden (12) reached more. Smith’s 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1975-97 remains a record for coaches. His successors, Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty, added four more to extend UNC’s streak to 27. Guthridge reached the Final Four twice in three seasons.
Smith completed his career one of only four coaches to win an NCAA championship, an NIT championship and an Olympic gold medal, joining Adolph Rubb, Pete Newell and Bob Knight. The 1976 gold is notable in particular after the United States lost to the Soviet Union in 1972.
Beyond a coaching tree that includes Hall of Famers Roy Williams and Larry Brown, Smith coached six players who went to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame themselves: Billy Cunningham (1962-65), Bob McAdoo (1971-72, James Worthy (1970-82) and Michael Jordan (1981-84).
Michael Jordan statement on the passing of Dean Smith. pic.twitter.com/zvNgIniu30— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 8, 2015
Revenge was the name of the game this week in college basketball.
Not too long ago, the cracks appeared to be showing for teams like Duke, Villanova and Iowa State as they took key losses. A few weeks later, those losses now look like wake-up calls as all three answered in rematches.
Duke would find no drama in its second game against Notre Dame this season as the Blue Devils embarrassed a top 10 team by 30 points. Villanova took its only loss in regulation in a lopsided defeat to Georgetown, but the Wildcats returned the favor with an impressive defensive performance against its classic Big East rival. And Iowa State, which lost a head-scratcher to Texas Tech two weeks ago, turned around for a 37-point rout.
Yet the story of the week may be the continued win streak by Kentucky. The Wildcats lost all three meetings to Florida a year ago, but needed all 60 minutes to put away the Gators in their first matchup this season.
1. Kentucky keeps finding ways to stay undefeated
Winning conference road games is tough, and we’re sure Kentucky’s not going to get enough credit for answering the call each game in an otherwise mediocre SEC. The Wildcats’ 68-61 win at Florida is a perfect example of why Kentucky remains undefeated. The Gators played arguably their best game of the season (only days after their worst game of the season in a loss at Vanderbilt), Kentucky had some key lapses, and still the Wildcats walked away with a win. Andrew Harrison was a non-factor (no field goals, three turnovers), and the Wildcats shot 3-of-14 from 3-point range. Still, Kentucky won because it was 21-of-22 from the free throw line while Florida went 7-of-14. And Karl-Anthony Towns played his best game of the season with 19 points and eight rebounds. Towns is averaging 15.3 points per game in his last three, and Aaron Harrison rebounded from a one-point game against Georgia for 23 against the Gators. We’ve known this for a while, but taking out Kentucky is going to take an outstanding effort from a darn good team.
2. Duke looks like the scariest team in the country
Time to stop worrying about what’s wrong with Duke and try to figure out how anyone is going to slow down the Blue Devils. On Jan. 28, Notre Dame beat Duke 77-73 in South Bend for the Blue Devils’ third loss of the season. Duke hasn’t lost since. The rematch against the top-10 Irish was a thorough 90-60 beatdown. Notre Dame took a 6-0 lead, and from there, Duke went on a 43-7 run during the first half. This came with Jahlil Okafor playing only eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Meanwhile, Justise Winslow continued his hot streak, flourishing in transition for 19 points. Guard Matt Jones obliterated his career high with 17 points (3-of-5 from 3) off the bench. And when Okafor was in the game he simply went 9-of-11 form the field for 20 points with 10 rebounds in 23 minutes. Quite the statement for Duke.
3. Virginia needs to adjust without Justin Anderson
On the court Saturday, Virginia played yet another stifling game against a quality opponent. The Cavaliers defeated Louisville 52-47, holding the Cardinals to 13 points in the first half and 0.85 points per possession overall. The rub, though, is pending hand surgery for Justin Anderson, arguably the team’s most important player. Surgery to repair a broken finger may put him out for 4-6 weeks, through the first week of March or into the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers face only three KenPom top 100 teams (North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse) before the finale against Louisville, but Anderson’s absence will be a key speed bump for a team that’s had trouble closing out games in recent weeks.
4. Oklahoma State makes a major statement
Oklahoma State found one way to separate itself from the depth of the Big 12, arguably the deepest league in the country. The Cowboys defeated Kansas 67-62 to give the Pokes a win over Kansas in each of the last three seasons, including the last two games in Stillwater. Kansas did not have a great game, turning the ball over 18 times, but the key for Oklahoma State is the emergency of secondary scorers. For most of the season, the Pokes could count on only Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte to light up the scoresheet. That’s changed. Four Cowboys scored in double figures against KU. Point guard Anthony Hickey has become the key No. 3 with 12 points per game in the last four.
5. Another red flag for Arizona?
On first glance, Arizona’s 81-78 loss to Arizona State shouldn’t be a major warning sign. The season is long, and this was a road game against a capable rival. The Sun Devils got a little hot from 3 (7-of-15) and were able to pull off the upset. But this is also the third loss of the season for Arizona against a team that won’t be in the NCAA Tournament. The other two were to UNLV and Oregon State, both on the road. Arizona may still be a title contender at 20-3 but these losses may cost the Wildcats a No. 1 seed.
6. Villanova avenges its worst loss of the season
OK, Villanova, we’re believers again. The Wildcats lost by 20 to Georgetown back on Jan. 19 for one of its two losses of the season, and from there they faced the dregs of the Big East. On Saturday, Villanova made a statement in its rematch with the Hoyas, defeating Georgetown 69-53 in a defensive turnaround. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession and shot 51.1 percent from the field in the first meeting. In the second game in Philadelphia, Villanova held Georgetown to 0.79 points per possession and 30 percent shooting from the field, including 1-of-17 from 3-point range. Villanova was especially effective off takeaways, outscoring Georgetown 24-8 on turnovers despite being in the red in turnover margin (20-15).
7. Time to start buying into Baylor
There are plenty of Baylor and Scott Drew skeptics out there. Some of that is earned, for sure. Dare we say this is a year to start buying into the Bears? Baylor demolished West Virginia 87-69 on the road for their fourth win in their last five Big 12 games. Wins in bunches don’t come often in this league, so Baylor’s hot streak must be noted. Baylor went on a 21-0 run in the first half and took advantage of West Virginia’s struggles in the halfcourt. Against the Baylor zone, West Virginia shot a mere 6-of-23 from 3. Meanwhile, Rico Gathers was a beast as always on the glass with 16 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. Gathers’ 17 points against West Virginia was his second-highest total in a Big 12 game in his career.
8. Time to start selling West Virginia?
The other side of Baylor’s rout in Morgantown: Maybe West Virginia is a team to start looking at a little more critically. The Mountaineers’ elite pressure defense helped turn around the team this season, but West Virginia doesn’t do much of anything else very well. Now, the Mountaineers’ other deficiencies are starting to catch up to them. Their last three Big 12 losses — to Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor — have been routs. The loss also highlights that West Virginia has only two top-50 RPI wins and one of those is over Wofford.
9. Shorthanded Illinois is making a move
On Jan. 24, Illinois was 13-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten, thanks in part to an injury to guard Rayvonte Rice. Now, Rice and fellow guard Aaron Cosby are still out with suspension. That hasn’t been a problem for Illinois, which won its third consecutive game with a 59-54 road win over Michigan State. Malcolm Hill, who scored 19 points against the Spartans, has become Illinois’ best player as the Illini have quietly become an NCAA bubble team. Even before the win over Michigan State, Illinois had a 2-3 record against the RPI top 20 with wins over Baylor and Maryland.
10. Temple is the turnaround team no one’s talking about
The consistently underrated Fran Dunphy has led a remarkable turnaround in Philadelphia, leading the Owls to a 17-7 start and 8-3 in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls went 9-22 (4-14 AAC) a year ago, and after a 61-60 comeback on the road against Memphis, the Owls are in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The final shot, a Josh Brown jumper off a bounce pass from Will Cummings, deserves attention, especially since Dunphy elected not to take a timeout. But the real story is that Temple is back to defending at a high level after a three-year slump. The Owls rank eighth in the nation in defensive efficiency on KenPom and 13th in defensive effective field gal rate, both the best for Temple since 2009-10.
• Providence coach Ed Cooley was hospitalized Saturday after leaving the Friars’ game against Xavier early in the second half. After overnight observation for high blood pressure, Cooley is expected to return Wednesday against Villanova.
• UCLA built momentum for its at-large credentials and then promptly ended its hot streak with a 64-62 loss at Cal. The Bruins defeated Utah, Colorado and Stanford just before sustaining their worst loss of the season, at least considering the opponent.
• Seton Hall’s at-large credentials are crumbling, too. The Pirates fell to 5-6 in the Big East after back-to-back losses to DePaul and Marquette. Not a great omen with Georgetown, Providence and Villanova in the next two weeks.
• Georgia welcomed back Marcus Thornton after a two-game absence due to a concussion — the Bulldogs lost both games. Thornton scored only eight points in 26 minutes, but the Bulldogs still found a way to beat Tennessee 56-53.
• Texas Tech gets the award for worst box score of the week. The Red Raiders scored only 38 points in a loss to Iowa State, in part by going 0-of-8 from the free throw line.
• No team had a more exciting week than St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies had buzzer-beaters to defeated two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 in Davidson and VCU.
On Saturday, Syracuse will play its first meaningless game of the season.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. The game means something for Pittsburgh, a team clinging to the NCAA Tournament fringe but more than likely host an NIT game.
In that way, the Panthers aren’t all that different from Syracuse, another team that at least until Wednesday still had the slimmest of hopes of participating in March Madness.
The difference, though, is that Syracuse isn’t playing any more games that really matter. Instead, Syracuse, facing an NCAA investigation, elected to get a head start on its potential sanctions by forfeiting its chance at any postseason. No NCAA Tournament. No ACC Tournament. No NIT. No CBI.
Pittsburgh still has an opportunity to do what Syracuse cannot. Maybe Pitt will win the NCAA Tournament. Maybe Pitt will beat Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia. That’s all highly unlikely, for sure, but Panthers coach Jamie Dixon’s team can still try to pull off the feat.
No matter how much Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim tries to dress this up as a self-imposed punishment with teeth or tries to acknowledge mistakes, this move is as cynical as they come.
Syracuse, as an institution, decided to make the lost season official. The timing is, to put it mildly, convenient.
Syracuse has lost three of its last five and eked out a two-point win against lowly Virginia Tech on Tuesday. Hope is pretty slim for a meaningful postseason. This will probably be only the second Syracuse team to fail to win 20 games since 1982.
No question, Syracuse did the smart thing as a program, sacrificing what’s likely to be a mediocre postseason in hopes that by the time the Orange are ready to be a more realistic contender in future the sanctions will be done and gone.
“You can’t wait and say, ‘We’ll take it next year,’” Boeheim told host Chris McManus on his weekly coach’s radio show. “You have to take it.”
That’s not entirely true. Syracuse could have waited out the NCAA or could have announced a postseason ban for 2015-16. Syracuse could have announced the ban before the season — the investigation concluded in October — before it became evident the Orange would fall well below their own standard.
Instead, Syracuse elected to change the conditions of this season. The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy has gone so far as to call it “a disgrace that rises to the highest level of all that is untoward in college athletics.”
Denying guys like Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament — a goal they thought they had until this week — is “reprehensible,” DeCourcy writes.
Indeed, the players are the primary losers here. Not Boeheim, whose march to 1,000 wins will only be marginally impacted. Not the program, which gets to avoid a likely NIT invite so a better team can play in the NCAA Tournament.
Boeheim tried to save face this week, but in some ways his defense makes the curiously timed self-imposed sanctions seem worse.
Boeheim says he believes the self-imposed punishment indeed has teeth. Syracuse still has a shot at the NCAA Tournament, he says, and playing in the NIT and ACC Tournament is still a chance for his young team to improve.
The former is a long shot. Syracuse is ranked No. 71 in the RPI with only two wins against teams in the top 90 — No. 47 Iowa and No. 62 Long Beach State. His team is woefully thin with the season-ending injury to freshman forward Chris McCullough. And his team, already 15-7, has the toughest portion of the ACC schedule ahead of it. The Orange still have to face Duke twice, plus Notre Dame on the road and Virginia and Louisville at home.
The latter, the extra practice time and experience in a one-and-done situation, is a legitimate sanction for the Orange.
But who loses if Syracuse doesn’t get those extra games or practices? Syracuse has only two top 100 prospects for the 2015 draft, according to DraftExpress.com. One is out for the rest of the season with injury. The other is Christmas, a senior. Both are second-rounders right now at best.
Syracuse though has a handful of juniors and underclassmen who could become pros or solid college players. Even Boeheim says NIT experience could be good for them. Instead, the Orange's season ends March 7 at NC State.
“I saw Hakim Warrick grow up in the NIT when he was a freshman,” Boeheim told McManus. “He came in and had an unbelievable game at Richmond. It led to a breakout year as a sophomore, so you’re giving up something.”
So exactly who is giving up something? Not any of the adults in the room.
Of course, Syracuse isn’t the first to decide when it will serve its sanctions. Miami football announced midseason that it would self-impose a postseason ban in 2011 and '12, amid the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
Ohio State learned the wrong lesson when the Buckeyes elected to play out a 6-7 season under an interim coach that ended in a Gator Bowl loss. The Buckeyes served a bowl ban in 2012, when a 12-0 season ended without a Big Ten title game or a BCS bowl appearance.
This shouldn’t even be an option for schools. That the NCAA allows programs to decide when it serves a punishment is preposterous. The NCAA tacitly encourages such behavior from institutions that broke rules in the first place.
In other words, the NCAA is investigating a program for doing something against the rules and then allows the program to decide when and how it serves its sentence. Syracuse gets to plea bargain and punish its current players for something that happened several years ago.
At least as far as NCAA rules are concerned, these are serious issues. Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, is having his academic record investigated. James Southerland, who missed six games in 2012-13 due to an academic issue, is also believed to be involved.
At one point, Syracuse itself admitted that the NCAA was investigating the program’s adherence to its own drug policies.
And Syracuse’s own investigators looked into an internship program that placed Syracuse athletes at an Oneida, N.Y., YMCA. The investigation centered on a former YMCA employee that had exceptional access to men’s basketball players and had been sued by the YMCA for allegedly misappropriating $338,000 worth of funds.
According to an ESPN source, the issues stretch back for more than a decade, ending in 2013. “Things were going on consistently for a long time,” the source told ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy.
Boeheim has been there for the entire time, plus for Syracuse’s previous postseason ban in 1993. Should he know everything going in the athletic program? No, but these are issues that span several years and several areas of NCAA interest. Perhaps he should know something.
In the end, Syracuse may end up dodging any major sanctions. The NCAA isn’t known for its track record of consistency. But skipping out on the postseason this year has another effect: Even at 15-7 now, the Orange may end the season approaching a .500 record; They could very well find themselves in a position where one and done in the ACC Tournament and NIT hands Jim Boeheim the first losing season of his career.
Perhaps the notion of two postseason bans in his career, including one has he’s marching toward 1,000 wins, is enough to dent his tremendous legacy of building his alma mater into a national power.
But decades from now, his ledger merely will read 1,000 wins and one or two below-average seasons in the twilight of his career.
Again, how convenient.
This weekend of college basketball may be a key lesson in the important of matchups in college basketball.
Let’s start with Duke: A team that’s had trouble with stopping opposing guards. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant knows first hand and would like to again prove that guards like him are Blue Devil Kryptonite.
Then there’s Villanova, a team that’s made easy work most of its Big East schedule but lost in a blowout to Georgetown. Does John Thompson III hold the key to beating up on Nova? The Wildcats will find out.
In the Big 12, West Virginia often wins the matchup in the full-court press, and Baylor often wins the matchup on the offensive glass. Which one will take over in Morgantown?
And Virginia’s ability to defend might only be only matched by their resilience in the last week. Louisville has displayed plenty of mental fortitude, too, this season, but do the Cardinals have the offensive game to beat Virginia in Charlottesville? Maybe not.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 7-8
All times Eastern
Tennessee at Georgia
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
With a top 25 RPI and a 2-4 record against the top 50, Georgia has a passable NCAA resume. The Bulldogs have lost their last two games, but that came without leading scorer Marcus Thornton, who was out with a concussion. If Thornton returns, Georgia can re-establish itself during the next week against a pesky Tennessee team and on the road against Texas A&M.
Pick: Georgia 70-59
Baylor at West Virginia
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Neither is going to catch up to Kansas for the Big 12 title, but these are two squads that each do one thing really, really well. West Virginia is an average defensive team in the halfcourt, but the Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate and steal percentage. Led by Rico Gathers, Baylor is the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Steals and second-chance points will be the name of the game. We’ll take it.
Pick: West Virginia 68-62
Notre Dame at Duke
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
Duke gets another shot at Notre Dame after the Irish got two late miracle shots to help defeat the Blue Devils 77-73 on Jan. 28. Expect another shootout as Notre Dame and Duke rank in the top four nationally on offensive efficiency. Duke is only getting more dangerous, especially as freshman Justise Winslow (30 points and 21 rebounds in his last two games) rounds into March form.
Pick: Duke 75-70
Georgetown at Villanova
Saturday, 2 p.m., FOX
Villanova had a bit of a Creighton problem last season, losing twice to the Bluejays in routs. Might the Wildcats have the same issue with Georgetown this year? Villanova has lost twice this season; the only time in regulation came by 20 to Georgetown. That meeting truly was an outlier against a solid defensive squad from Nova. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession in that game and shot 51.5 percent from 2 and 50 percent from 3 in that meeting. Does Villanova get revenge?
Pick: Georgetown 68-65
Kansas at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Never doubt Kansas in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have reeled off five wins in a row since an 86-81 loss at Iowa State. Kansas, though, has played three of those five games at the Phog, the only road games against TCU and slumping Texas. Kansas beat Oklahoma State 67-57 on Jan. 13, but it wasn’t easy. In a sloppy effort, the two teams combined for 71 free throw attempts and shot 6-of-28 from 3-point range.
Pick: Kansas 72-68
Louisville at Virginia
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Virginia deserves credit for answering its first loss of the season with a quick, resilient win. The Cavaliers lost in the final five minutes to Duke on Saturday and then turned around to beat North Carolina convincingly on the road on Monday. The Cardinals have re-established themselves as contenders, but they may be an awful matchup against Virginia’s defense. Long-range shooting from multiple players is one of they keys to the pack-line defense, and Louisville doesn’t exactly meet that criteria.
Pick: Virginia 67-57
SMU at Tulsa
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPNU
SMU-Tulsa probably wasn’t many people’s idea of a key American Athletic Conference game to start the season, but it’s turned out to be a game between the top two teams in the league standings. Tulsa has been one of the surprises of the league, starting 5-5 and then winning 11 in a row, including 10 in the AAC. SMU won eight in a row before losing at home to Cincinnati on Thursday. The Bearcats are 2-0 against SMU for the Mustangs' only two AAC losses.
Pick: SMU 63-60
UCLA at Cal
Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
OK, UCLA, you have our attention. Since Jan. 29, the Bruins have defeated Utah at home and Stanford on the road, the latter giving UCLA a season sweep of the Cardinal. The Bruins have had some poor performances against top 100 teams this season, but they also haven’t lost to a team outside of the RPI top 100. That makes for a team inching its way into the NCAA Tournament, provided it can sustain its momentum on the road against a Cal team riding a three-game win streak.
Pick: UCLA 70-65
Kentucky at Florida
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Kentucky may not be challenged in SEC play, but the Wildcats going on the road against one of its top rivals in conference is worth keeping an eye on. The Gators started to play their way into being one of the more interesting teams in the second half of the conference season before a no-show against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The matchup of Kentucky’s frontcourt size does not favor Florida, to say the least.
Pick: Kentucky 70-59
Maryland at Iowa
Sunday, 3:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
A key game for confidence for both teams. Iowa has lost three of the last five, albeit twice to Wisconsin. Maryland hasn’t won a Big Ten road game since Jan. 10 against Purdue, losing in lospided fashion to Indiana and Ohio State. All the action, though, will be on one side of the court — Maryland’s offense and Iowa’s defense are in the bottom four of the Big Ten in efficiency while Iowa’s offense and Maryland’s defense are both in the top four.
Pick: Maryland 68-66
The NCAA Tournament can be something like a big family reunion, gathering names and faces we haven’t seen in years.
As always, this year’s Tournament will have its share of long lost faces we may have had fond memories of in the last few decades.
A former national champion (Maryland) expects to be back as do three other Final Four teams from recent years (Butler and West Virginia) and a one-time Cinderella (Northern Iowa).
Before you get caught unaware on Selection Sunday, these are the teams about to end NCAA Tournament droughts this season.
Last NCAA appearance: 2009
2014-15 record: 17-4, 7-2 Pac-12
Basketball fans of a certain age probably remember Utah has a national power when the Utes reached the championship game in 1998. The run under Rick Majerus eventually ended, and Utah limped descended into irrelevance. The Utes have reached the Tournament once since 2005 and have won one NCAA game since 2003.
Even though the Utes lost Jan. 29 to a mediocre UCLA squad, Utah is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Even with the loss to the Bruins (and earlier to Arizona), Utah is outscoring league opponents by 15.7 points per game. Utah could be in contention for a Pac-12 title for its rematch in Salt Lake City against Arizona on Feb. 28.
Last NCAA appearance: 2012
2014-15 record: 18-4, 6-3 Big 12
The Mountaineers reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in an eight-season span under John Beilein and Bob Huggins, landing in the Final Four (2010), Elite Eight (2005) and Sweet 16 twice (2006 and 2008). In two seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia has missed the Tourney twice.
West Virginia has weathered a storm of transfers to become one of the toughest opponents to face thanks to its press. The Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate. And after starting his career at Dayton, fifth-year senior point guard Juwan Staten will finally get his chance at the NCAA Tournament.
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
2014-15 record: 19-4, 7-3 Big Ten
Mark Turgeon entered the season needing to show signs of progress after reaching just one NIT in his first three seasons. The Terrapins endured a rash of transfers before the season, but they still had upperclassmen Dez Wells and Jake Layman. The latter has taken a major step forward this season, and the team has come together around freshman Melo Trimble, Maryland’s first McDonald’s All-American in more than a decade.
With the exception of Wisconsin, nearly every Big Ten power is down. Maryland has pounced and could end up the No. 2 team in the league.
Last NCAA appearance: 1993
2014-15 record: 18-4, 9-1 American
Off the court, SMU is facing questions. Emmanuel Mudiay never played this season, and an NCAA investigation has claimed Keith Frazier. On the court, SMU keeps rolling. The Mustangs started 2-3, but they’ve lost only once since (at Cincinnati). SMU remains the favorite in the AAC, but this is a league with only three other RPI top-50 teams (No. 34 Cincinnati, No. 42 Tulsa and No. 44 Temple). The Mustangs were one of the top snubs from last season’s NCAA Tournament, but they may have put in the work to be an at-large team if they don't win the AAC tournament.
Last NCAA appearance: 2013
2014-15 record: 21-3, 9-2 ACC
The Irish missed only one NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons, so this drought isn’t much of one. Still, Mike Brey’s only win in the Tourney since 2008 is over 15th-seeded Akron in 2011. This team looks built to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish have a guard who can carry them in Jerian Grant, they can score with anyone and they already defeated Duke this season.
Last NCAA appearance: 2013
2014-15 record: 17-6, 7-3 Big East
Butler has been out of the NCAA Tournament for only a year, but few teams have had such a mountain to climb. Brad Stevens left for the Celtics two years ago, and his replacement, Brandon Miller, has been absent due to an unspecified medical issue. Butler elevated Chris Holtmann to full-time head coach earlier this season, and the Bulldogs seemed to have weathered the storm. A healthy return by junior forward Roosevelt Jones also has been a boon for a team that went 4-14 in its first season in the Big East. Butler, which has already swept Seton Hall and St. John’s this season, is going to more than double that total.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 14-7, 5-4 SEC
Georgia has been to the NCAA Tournament only once in Mark Fox’s six seasons. This season might change that trend. The Bulldogs defeated Seton Hall in the non-conference and put together a five-game SEC win streak that ended a week ago, but they’re not giving themselves a ton of wiggle room with a road loss to South Carolina and early SEC losses to bubble squads from Arkansas and LSU. Georgia doesn’t have a ton of depth, but the Bulldogs do have two juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
2014-15 record: 21-2, 10-1 Missouri Valley
Northern Iowa went to the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at one point, but hasn’t been since Ali Farokhmanesh helped the Panthers upset No. 1 seed Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 in 2010. Led by senior forward Seth Tuttle, the Panthers can wrestle the Valley away from Wichita State. The Panthers already defeated the Shockers with surprising ease Saturday to all but ensure they’ll be an at-large team.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 15-6, 6-3 SEC
Back on Jan. 10, Kentucky going to double overtime with Texas A&M was supposed to be a sign of something wrong with the Wildcats. It was a sign of something right with the Aggies, who won six in a row before Wednesday's loss at Ole Miss. Texas A&M is a year ahead of schedule thanks to transfers Jalen Jones (SMU) and Danuel House (Houston) arriving ahead of a standout signing class. The Aggies still have plenty of work ahead of them to seal an at-large bid thanks to a non-conference schedule lacking in RPI top 100 wins.
Last NCAA appearance: 2006
2014-15 record: 15-7, 5-5 Big East
One of the biggest surprises in a surprising Big East has been charter member Seton Hall. The Pirates started league play with wins over St. John’s and Villanova — both without star freshman Isaiah Whitehead — to move into the AP top 20 for the first time since 2001. Seton Hall has cooled since that hot start, but the Pirates are at least closer to moving closer to full strength. Whitehead returned in the last two games to score 19 and 14 points. The Pirates can’t afford many more losses like Tuesday’s to DePaul if they want to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 14-8, 3-6 Big East
St. John’s needs to get on a hot streak in Big East play and fast. A sweep of Providence and a home win over Marquette — that's all St. John's has in the Big East — won’t be enough. The Red Storm’s signature non-conference wins over Minnesota, Syracuse and Saint Mary’s might not include an NCAA Tournament team among them.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For most of Tuesday’s game at Vanderbilt, Florida coach Billy Donovan appeared to operate at a simmer.
He spent stretches of the second half seated in his folding chair on the Florida bench at the baseline. At least twice, he slouched back into his seat while Florida played defense on the far end of Memorial Gym.
As the clock ticked to the end, Donovan had pulled aside Michael Frazier, one of the few players who had a good game in this 67-61 drubbing. As he talked to Frazier, Donovan shook his head and then rubbed his forehead when sent his junior guard back to the bench.
By the time Donovan exited the players’ locker room on the way to the coaches’ locker room after the game, he adequately summed up his assessment of the Gators’ play in a critical game of the season.
“It’s a joke,” he told his team as the locker room door swung closed behind him.
After three Elite Eights and a Final Four, Florida all but punched its ticket to the NIT with a loss to Vanderbilt, a team that had won only one SEC game entering Tuesday.
Perhaps the loss wouldn’t have been so frustrating for Donovan if Florida hadn’t picked up a new lease on the NCAA Tournament in the last two games. The Gators have been a Tournament reach since November and December, but defeating Alabama on the road and Arkansas at home in back-to-back games moved Florida onto the fringe of the NCAA bubble.
Florida went to Vanderbilt at a crossroads. A win over the Commodores would continue the Gators’ hot streak and solidify them as a team worth monitoring. A loss to sub-100 RPI team would mark the Gators’ 10th loss this season and effectively end Florida’s at-large hopes.
Even with those stakes in mind, Florida showed up like a team whose season had already come to an end.
Vanderbilt jumped to a 15-0 lead, and the Gators missed their first nine shots from the field. Florida spent most of the game chasing a Vanderbilt of at least five points. The Gators couldn’t defend without fouling, allowing Vanderbilt to amass more made free throws (29 on 42 attempts) than Florida made field goals (21-of-57).
The Gators were “annihilated” on the glass, in Donovan's words — Florida grabbed nine offensive rebounds to Vandy’s 29 defensive boards and 17 defensive rebounds to the Commodores’ 13 offensive boards.
“We were frustrated that we didn’t come out ready to play and we got beat,” Frazier said. “That’s not our culture, and (Donovan) expressed that to us. We’ve got to come out with more energy to start the game.”
Florida is talking about a lack of passion and energy at a critical juncture in February, which is another reason Donovan is so befuddled, even if he saw all the warning signs.
“Things just have to change,” guard Eli Carter said.
Things have changed for Florida. Unless the Gators can win the SEC Tournament — a feat that would require them or someone else knocking off undefeated Kentucky — Florida is going to the NIT for the first time since 2009.
The loss to Vanderbilt gives the Gators their third loss to a team ranked outside of the top 100 of the RPI, compared to a 1-3 record against the top 50.
Internally, this isn't a total shock. Donovan anticipated falling below the preseason rankings. Despite losing four senior starters, Florida had enough role players and highly touted prospects and transfers in the pipeline to be ranked in the preseason top 10.
What outsiders in the preseason saw was five-star recruits ready to breakout as sophomores (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker), two key returnees with Final Four experience (Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith) and two transfers ready to make an impact in the frontcourt (Jon Horford from Michigan and Alex Murphy from Duke).
What Donovan saw were players who were coming off the bench or playing less than 10 minutes per game for a reason.
“Last year’s team covered up a lot of these returning players’ inconsistencies,” Donovan said. “That’s what you’re seeing is a high level of inconsistency.”
Even if it’s not a surprise that a team of former role players is struggling to find its way as a team of starters, that the problems have continued into February is a source of frustration.
The Gators can defend. They are ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Even in a game in which nothing went right for the Gators, the defense was a spark for the offense. When Florida started to close the gap on Vanderbilt, the Gators picked up turnovers on the press (18 total) and were able to get into transition.
But this is still a team that can’t seem to figure out how to score enough to string together wins in SEC play.
“For our guys, there’s a difference between performance and competing,” Donovan said. “Our guys get wrapped up in performing well, but we don’t compete well. That was the difference.”
In other words, Donovan has a bunch of players who believe they need to perform individually for the team to win. That’s a long way from last year’s team that went 18-0 in the SEC with four players averaging double figures but none more than 14 points per game.
After this latest loss, though, Donovan has seemed to resigned himself that those answers haven’t come in time for an NCAA bid this season.
“They’ve got to learn and they’ve got to grow, and they’re not...” Donovan trailed off. “Sometimes it takes going through a season like this to really understand how far we have to go as a team and how far they have to go as individuals.”
Nearly six years to the day since the receiver class of 2008 signed letters of intent to play college football, the class continued to dazzle.
In Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse fell onto his back, bobbled the football and eventually came up with the 33-yard catch that put Seattle onto the New England 5. The miracle catch won’t sear in people’s memories thanks to the interception two plays later, but Kearse’s catch is why the wide receiver recruiting class of 2008 is the best in recent history.
Kearse was merely the No. 72 receiver in that class, according to Rivals.com, but cracking the top 10 now that all have finished their college careers is achievement unto itself. Kearse was recruited alongside Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon and a host of other great collegians and future pros.
1. Class of 2008
The Stars: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Jermaine Kearse, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, Terrence Williams, Randall Cobb
Best of the Rest: Jonathan Baldwin, DeVier Posey, DeAndre Brown, Jeff Fuller, Juron Criner, Roy Roundtree, Greg Childs, T.J. Moe, Markus Wheaton, Ryan Swope, Cordarrelle Patterson, A.J. Jenkins
The wide receiver class of 2008 may be the best group of recruits at any position during the last 10 seasons. Almost every top prospect delivered on his five-star promise to one degree or another. Julio Jones and A.J. Green were Nos. 1-2 in this class and have since combined for six Pro Bowl selections. The class also had plenty of gems outside of the top prospects. Two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State was ranked No. 91, and consensus All-America selection Terrance Williams of Baylor was a two-star.
2. Class of 2011
The Stars: Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans
Best of the Rest: Jaxon Shipley, Donte Moncrief, Rashad Greene, Ty Montgomery, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, DeVante Parker, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder
The receiver class of 2011 could surpass the star-studded class of 2008. The 2011 receivers arguably topped the 2008 class in terms of college achievements. The class produced two Biletnikoff winners (Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and USC’s Marqise Lee), three consensus All-Americans (Lee, Cooks and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans) and the NFL rookie of the year (LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr.). The best pro of the bunch, though, will probably be Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Moreover, West Virginia’s Kevin White, Louisville’s DeVante Parker and Auburn’s Sammie Coates may all end up as first-round NFL draft picks.
3. Class of 2006
The Stars: Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton
Best of the Rest: Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Hakeem Nicks, Riley Cooper, Greg Salas, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Brown
The No. 1 overall prospect in the class, Percy Harvin, has had a fine career, including two national championships at Florida and Super Bowl win with the Seahawks. Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree was a four-star athlete before twice winning the Biletnikoff and going on to a productive pro career. The rest of the top recruits struggled to live up to top billing, but plenty of lower-ranked prospects and unknowns became superstars. Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) and T.Y. Hilton (FIU) are NFL stars.
4. Class of 2004
The Stars: Calvin Johnson, Jordan Shipley, Sidney Rice, Dwayne Jarrett, Ted Ginn
Best of the Rest: Eddie Royal, Greg Carr, D.J. Hall, Danny Amendola, Marcus Monk, Austin Collie, James Hardy, Early Doucet
A Biletnikoff winner and three-time All-Pro, Johnson was every bit the star on the college level as he is in the NFL. He was one of three consensus All-Americans in the class along with USC’s Dwayne Jarrett and Texas’ Jordan Shipley. Do-everything receiver Ted Ginn was the No. 2 prospect in the class, but he was listed as a cornerback.
5. Class of 2007
The Stars: Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Torrey Smith, Greg Little
Best of the Rest: Arrelious Benn, Ronald Johnson, Nick Toon, Leonard Hankerson, Austin Pettis
Dez Bryant was a consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2008 and was on the way to a similar season before an NCAA suspension ended his college career. Golden Tate set the Notre Dame record for single-season receiving yards and tied the touchdown record on the way to the first Biletnikoff in school history. Though listed as a corner, Ryan Broyles set the NCAA career catch record (later broken by East Carolina’s Justin Hardy). Maryland’s Torrey Smith arguably has been a bigger impact player at the NFL level than at the college level.
6. Class of 2003
The Stars: Andre Caldwell, Robert Meachem, Adarius Bowman, Steve Smith, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe, Jeff Samardzija,
Best of the Rest: Limas Sweed, Todd Blythe, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Chad Jackson
This class has produced a number of productive pros (Robert Meachem, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe) and not just in football (Jeff Samardzija). Tennessee’s Meachem and Florida’s Andre Caldwell are among the top receivers in their respective schools’ histories, no easy task in either Knoxville or Gainesville. Adarius Bowman played two 1,000-yard seasons at Oklahoma State, but his career was overshadowed by those who came later. Same could be said of USC’s Steve Smith, who was the running mate to Dwayne Jarrett.
7. Class of 2010
The Stars: Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Jordan Matthews, Justin Hardy, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen
Best of the Rest: Kenny Shaw, Kenny Stills, Paul Richardson, Ace Sanders, Austin Hill, Kaelin Clay, Bud Sasser, Mike Davis, Kenny Bell, Josh Huff, Antwan Goodley
The top recruits in this receiver class struggled to find their way as Kyle Prater, Da’Rick Rogers and Markeith Ambles all transferred for one reason or another. What the class lacked in star power, it made up for in consistent production on the college level. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy caught more career passes than anyone else in college football. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews caught more passes than anyone in SEC history. Robert Woods and Kenny Bell caught more passes than anyone in USC or Nebraska history, respectively.
8. Class of 2005
The Stars: DeSean Jackson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon LaFell, Mardy Gilyard, Eric Decker, Victor Cruz
Best of the Rest: Mario Manningham, Mohamed Massaquoi, Louis Murphy, Brian Robiskie, Malcolm Kelly, Earl Bennett, Derrick Williams
Penn State’s Derrick Williams was the No. 1 prospect in this class, and although he had a fine a career, he was eclipsed by another prep star (DeSean Jackson) and guys from Minnesota, Cincinnati and UMass.
9. Class of 2009
The Stars: Alshon Jeffery, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin
Best of the Rest: Rueben Randle, Josh Gordon, Stephen Hill, Eric Ward, Jeremy Gallon, Cobi Hamilton, Aaron Dobson, Mohamed Sanu
The class was kind to West Virginia, sending both Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the Mountaineers. The star in the class, though, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, who has two 1,000-yard seasons with the Bears.
10. Class of 2012
The Stars: Amari Cooper
Best of the Rest: Dorial Green-Beckham, Stefon Diggs, Nelson Agholor, Deontay Greenberry, Gabe Marks, Bryce Treggs, Jordan Payton, Bralon Addison, Leonte Carroo, Jordan Westerkamp, Jaelen Strong, Devin Funchess (TE)
The class produced arguably the best receiver in SEC history and a bit of a mixed bag everywhere else. Dorial Green-Beckham was the can’t-miss recruit in this class, but he’s been away from football for a year after his dismissal at Missouri.
The era of the superstar running back is coming to a close.
Or is it about to be re-started?
In the last two NFL drafts, no team felt it necessary to take a running back with a first-round pick. The 2008 draft class that included five first-round running backs seems to be ages ago.
NFL teams have learned that effective runners can be found just as much in the later rounds or outside of the draft entirely.
At the same time, though, the college game as seen a resurgence in superstar runners. The 2014 signing class produced 10 1,000-yard rushers last season, indicating that the next two seasons might belong to the running backs.
Since 2002, we’ve seen our share of superstar running back recruiting classes. To help us sort them out, we asked Mike Farrell, national recruiting director from Rivals.com for his input on the best running back singing classes since 2002.
1. Class of 2004
The Stars: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson
Best of the Rest: Jerome Harrison, Mike Hart, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jackson, Rafael Little
What the class of 2004 lacks in numbers compared to the 2006 class at No. 2, it makes up for in NFL stardom. This class amassed 20 Pro Bowl selections, six first-team All-Pro selections, four NFL rushing titles and an NFL MVP. The class also included Michigan’s all-time rushing leader (Mike Hart) and a consensus All-American out of Washington State (Jerome Harrison).
Farrell’s take: “The best 1-2 punch we have ever seen at running back with AP and Lynch but also some huge surprises like Foster and Chris Johnson. Those two guys couldn’t get looks at all for different reasons. Hart was a guy we had as a three-star and we got a lot of heat for that but top-end speed was not his thing. However, he had a great college career.”
2. Class of 2006
The Stars: Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith, Steve Slaton, Rashard Mendenhall
Best of the Rest: Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, James Davis, Javon Ringer, Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Montario Hardesty
Star power, depth, college studs and NFL feature backs — the running back class of 2006 had it all. The headliner is Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, a two-time consensus All-American, two-time Doak Walker winner and two-time Heisman finalist. This is the same class that produced Arkansas’ other great running back, Felix Jones, who would have been a superstar in any other backfield. The class produced five first-round draft picks (McFadden and Jones, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, UConn’s Donald Brown), two Doak Walker winners (McFadden and Iowa’s Shonn Greene), and five consensus All-Americans (McFadden, Green, Michigan State’s Javon Ringer, UCF’s Kevin Smith and West Virginia’s Steve Slaton).
Farrell’s take: “Ray Rice was a guy who really stepped up his game as did Donald Brown, both were really under-recruited as was Slaton. McFadden and Stewart were special and the second group there of Davis, Charles and Mendenhall were all very well thought of.”
3. Class of 2003
The Stars: Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, Laurence Maroney, LenDale White
Best of the Rest: J.J. Arrington, Chris Henry, Tony Hunt, Michael Bush, Tashard Choice
This class was awfully kind to the state of California, helping the Pac-10 re-establish itself as a national power. Heisman-winner Reggie Bush led the way at USC, but the Trojans also picked up his backfield mate LenDale White in this class. UCLA signed a future NFL rushing champ (Maurice Jones-Drew), and Cal signed a consensus All-American (J.J. Arrington).
Farrell’s take: “Reggie Bush was the real deal and I wanted him to be No. 1 but [Florida State signee and eventual linebacker] Ernie Sims won out. Jones-Drew we liked a lot despite his lack of size. I remember how fast Choice was and how big Bush was. He was one of the biggest backs I’d seen with good feet like that. LenDale White was a big deal in that class as well and Maroney was a big deal as well.”
4. Class of 2006
The Stars: LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, Toby Gerhart, DeMarco Murray
Best of the Rest: Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, Mike Goodson, Dexter McCluster, Anthony Dixon, Ben Tate, Evan Royster
This class produced the last two NFL rushing leaders in LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray, though neither were consensus All-Americans in college. The biggest collegiate stars in this class were Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, the ACC’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards by a wide margin, and Stanford’s Doak Walker winner Toby Gerhart.
Farrell’s take: “McCoy was special but we didn’t know how he’d recover from that awful ankle break he suffered. He was a five-star talent, that’s for sure. Spiller was a five star as was Beanie Wells and Moreno. Murray and Goodson were all high four stars as was Ben Tate who a lot of people didn’t know about at the time. This could be the most talented class at the top of all of them as far as talent coming out of high school.”
5. Class of 2009
The Stars: Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy
Best of the Rest: Carlos Hyde, Christine Michael, Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Knile Davis, Charles Sims, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Stepfan Taylor
This class has been full of surprises on the NFL level. A fourth-round pick from Miami (Lamar Miller) has rushed for more pro yards than All-American Trent Richardson, and a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt (Zac Stacy) has rushed for more yards than FBS career touchdown leader Montee Ball. The career leading rusher out of this class so far is Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, who played second fiddle to Richardson in Tuscaloosa.
Farrell’s take: “Richardson was a beast. He was special and looked like an NFL back already. Hyde really got a lot faster in college than he was in high school, Lacy was a beast as well, he would mule kick anyone who came near him. David Wilson was a great athlete, Michael was a five-star kid who had so much potential. and Ball and Taylor were also big deals. This was a really good class as well as far as depth.”
6. Class of 2008
The Stars: Mark Ingram, LaMichael James, Ryan Williams, Kenjon Barner
Best of the Rest: Jonas Gray, Isaiah Pead, Jaquizz Rodgers, Chris Polk, Andre Ellington, Mike Leshoure, Daniel Thomas (junior college)
What the 2003 running back class was to California’s Pac-12 schools, the 2008 class was the same for the Pacific Northwest. Oregon picked up two consensus All-Americans in this group (LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner), Oregon State and Washington both picked up their No. 2 career rushing leaders (Jacquizz Rodgers and Chris Polk). Oh, and the class produced Alabama’s first Heisman winner, Mark Ingram.
Farrell’s take: “This class is an interesting one because James was a speedster from Texas and a perfect fit for Oregon, Ryan Williams was an amazing talent and Ingram went south to play for ‘Bama, but no one knew he would be a Heisman winner. Gray was an absolute beast, we loved him and Barner was a sleeper for sure. Ellington was the most athletic of the group.”
7. Class of 2011
The Stars: Melvin Gordon, Ka’Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, Ameer Abdullah
Best of the Rest: Bishop Sankey, Jay Ajayi, Malcolm Brown, Dee Hart, Devonta Freeman, De’Anthony Thomas
The pro potential of this class hasn’t been tapped yet, but it’s off to a good start. LSU’s Jeremy Hill led all rookies in rushing with more than 1,000 yards for a playoff team. The best of the bunch, though, may be Gordon, whose 2,587 yards is the second-best rushing total in college football history.
Farrell’s take: “Gordon was tall and has the look of a linebacker coming out of high school but turned into a great back, Hill was coming off heaps of trouble out of high school but was very talented. Hart had a lot going for him but those knee injuries hurt him. Carey and Sankey were both excellent. Mason and Freeman were both excellent out of Florida, and Thomas was probably the most talented of the group when it came to explosion and getting you out of your seat. He was just small.”
8. Class of 2014
The Stars: Nick Chubb, Samaje Perine, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook
Best of the Rest: Nick Wilson, Sony Michel, Royce Freeman, Nick Wilson, Jalen Hurd, Justin Jackson
It’s not too early to heap praise on this group of running backs who were only true freshmen a year ago. This group produced 10 1,000-yard rushers (Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Arizona’s Nick Wilson, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III, USF’s Marlon Mack, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook) and the FBS single-game rushing leader (Perine). This class may end up No. 1 by the time it reaches the NFL.
Farrell’s take: “Chubb is a guy I’m kicking myself for not making a five star and looks like he will have a great career, Fournette was the consensus No. 1 back while Michel, Cook and Hurd were all five-star talents. Perine was a four star but is playing above his ranking, and Freeman was another guy who just missed five-star status and was under scouted because he was so far down south in Cali. This is an amazing crop and could turn out to be No. 1 before all is said and done.”
9. Class of 2007
The Stars: Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, Kendall Hunter, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
The Best of the Rest: John Clay, Jonathan Dwyer, Jahvid Best, Boom Herron, Alfred Morris, Daniel Thomas, Roy Helu, Chris Rainey, Noel Devine
Few classes ended up as upside down as this one. The best pros in this class ended up at Boise State (Doug Martin), Fresno State (Ryan Mathews) and FAU (Alfred Morris) while the can’t-miss prospect at the top of the class, Joe McKnight, was hardly the second coming of Reggie Bush at USC.
10. Class of 2010
The Stars: Marcus Lattimore, Gio Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, Andre Williams
Best of the Rest: James White, Lache Seastrunk, Michael Dyer, Silas Redd, Storm Johnson
The class was well-traveled that’s for sure. Four of the top 10 running backs in the class transferred — Michael Dyer (from Auburn to Louisville), Lache Seastrunk (from Oregon to Baylor), Silas Redd (from Penn State to USC) and Storm Johnson (from Miami to UCF). Marcus Lattimore had the most potential of the group before his career was interrupted by injuries, Boston College’s Andre Williams was a Heisman finalist and North Carolina’s Gio Bernard and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell turned out to be solid pros.
Farrell’s take: “Lattimore was special, he was a three-down back who could make you miss, run you over and catch the ball and such a great kid as well. Bernard had some injury issues to overcome, but he did a great job showing durability after being hurt often in high school. Andre Williams was a big, fast kid that BC stole and kept hidden, Dyer and Seastrunk were five-star talents, and I loved Redd’s strength and cutting ability. Bell was too big to be a running back — oops.”