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