Articles By David Fox
At this time last year, the folks with the Wooden Award and Naismith Award could have started engraving Doug McDermott’s name on the national player of the year trophy.
The Creighton forward started the season as one of the favorites and turned it into a one-man race early into conference play.
This season could have more drama. The player of the year race may be as heated as any 2010-11 when BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker battled for end-of-year hardware and the scoring title until late into the season.
This year might be the year two centers — unless a freshman guard in the Big Ten starts to make a late push — go for the top award at the end of the season.
The Wooden Award released its late season top 20 list Wednesday, so this is as good a time as any to survey the field.
We’ve ranked the top 20 players on that list by their likelihood of taking home the Wooden Award other national postseason honors.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Frank the Tank is even better than he was a year ago when he scored 43 points in a game and carried Wisconsin to the Final Four. His numbers are up across the board for a team that’s 21-1 when he’s in the lineup. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game (up from 13.9 last season) and 8.3 rebounds (up from 6.3). Perhaps what’s most striking for a seven-footer who hits 40 percent of his free throws is that he’s improved as a passer, averaging 2.5 assists per game. Kaminsky is the only player in the country averaging 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor lived up to the hype and more. He’s the best true center in the college game in decades and arguably the best freshman since Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. Okafor averages 1.6 points per field goal attempt, an outlandish number for a player averaging 18 points per game in a major conference. Okafor also ranks fourth nationally in offensive rating on KenPom.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell is making a late push for Big Ten player of the year and national freshman of the year, remarkable considering he’s in competition for those awards with Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, respectively. Russell has become the most exciting player in the Big Ten, if not the country. His versatility at Ohio State is akin to 2010 player of the year Evan Turner. In Big Ten play, Russell is averaging 21.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals. His offensive rating of 121.0 ranks third in the country, two spots ahead of Okafor.
4. Delon Wright, Utah
Utah’s multi-dimensional guard has put the Utes into Pac-12 contention. Wright is averaging 14.2 points and 3.1 assists per turnover while leading Utah’s standout defense. The 6-5 guard was one of the nation’s most underrated players a year ago, and now he could be an All-American.
5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell, the most important player to opt for school instead of the NBA Draft, picked up where he left off last season as one of the most imposing players in the country. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds — both career bests — for a top-10 Louisville team. It’s easy to see why. The big man has developed an all-around offensive game all the way out to the 3-point line.
6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant has come back from his extended absence last season to average 17 points per game and plenty of clutch performances. Grant played his best game of the season against Duke (23 points, 12 assists, six rebounds in South Bend) and one of his worst games against Duke (3-of-10, seven points in Durham).
7. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Someone needs to be on the list to represent undefeated Kentucky, and it may as well be Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats’ most experienced player and anchor of the defense. Because of Kentucky’s platoon, it’s more useful to look at Cauley-Stein’s per-40 minute numbers. Cauley-Stein averages 14.3 points per 40 minutes to go with 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
8. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson would have been a compelling case for postseason awards. His 13.4 points per game don’t jump off the page — he ranks 19th in the ACC in scoring. With Virginia’s tempo and balance, that has to be taken in context. Anderson is arguably 21-1 Virginia’s most valuable player. That said, his stock for award season will drop due to the hand injury that will keep him out 4-6 weeks.
9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Even as Kentucky overwhelms the conversation in the SEC, it’s impossible to overlook the season Portis is having in Fayetteville. He’s one of the most improved players in the country, going from 12.3 points per game on an NIT team to 17.9 for a team that’s close to sealing an at-large bid. Portis has turned it up in conference play, averaging 19.3 points and 11 rebounds in the SEC.
10. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
The Big 12 may be the best conference in the country, or at least the most balanced from top to bottom. Yet, the league doesn’t have a ton of guys in All-America contention. Oklahoma has been streaky this season, but not Hield. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game in Big 12 play, though OU might be better when the Sooners are more balanced. He averages 18 points per game in eight Big 12 wins and 22.5 points in four conference losses.
11. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Few 21-3 teams receive less pub. Part of that is the shadow of the Shockers’ 35-0 start a year ago. Baker, though, is as steady as ever. He’s averaging 15.5 points per game, up from 13.1 a year ago. He’s also up for 41.3 shooting from 3-point range despite shooting at a greater volume (six 3s per game) than a year ago.
12. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson turned the ball over seven times in his final non-conference game, a loss to UNLV. Johnson is averaging only two turnovers per game since to go with 14.7 points per game in conference play.
13. Tyus Jones, Duke
That’s two Duke freshmen in the national player of the year race, and that doesn’t count Justise Winslow playing at an elite level during stretches this season. All Jones has done is displace a senior at point guard for a top-five team and average 5.3 assists per game for a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also proven to be a clutch 3-point shooter (39.5 percent).
14. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Pangos’ scoring is down from the last two seasons at 12.1 points per game, but there’s no doubt who Gonzaga’s top player is. Pangos is the floor general of a balanced offensive team that is 24-1 and nearing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He averages 3.6 assists per turnover.
15. Georges Niang, Iowa State
Even as Iowa State has six guys averaging double figures, Niang is the focal point. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Cyclones at 14.9 points and is second in rebounds (5.3) and assists (3.5). He’s the Big 12’s best mismatch.
16. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier has slid into the void left by Russ Smith, averaging 18.7 points per game as a sophomore and leading one of the most aggressive backcourts in the country. Rozier is also averaging 5.7 rebounds after Wednesday's double double against Pittsburgh.
17. Chasson Randle, Stanford
At 20.3 points per game, Randle accounts for 27.1 percent of Stanford’s scoring, the highest rate for anyone on this list.
18. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
A forgotten man at Kentucky, Wiltjer has flourished at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Wiltjer is 10th in the country in points per 40 minutes (24.9).
19. Juwan Staten, West Virginia
West Virginia is enjoying a turnaround season, and Staten deserves his due for two outstanding seasons in Morgantown after his transfer from Dayton. Still, West Virginia has been sliding in recent weeks due to struggles in the halfcourt.
20. Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is second in the nation at 22.5 points per game and is second in KenPom’s offensive rating, but he plays for a fringe NCAA Tournament team. A tough sell.
The bubble watch is on.
Selection Sunday is less than five weeks away and the bracket is starting to take shape.
We’re pretty sure we know the teams in contention for the No. 1 seeds and teams that are safely in, which of course leaves the bubble — all the teams that have done some good things and some bad things through the first three months of the season.
For better or worse, most of those teams can get off the bubble, either solidifying their Tournament credentials or playing their way out.
Here’s a look at the 10 teams under the most pressure this week.
All RPI and schedule strength figures are from CBSSports and Jerry Palm.
LSU (17-6, 6-4 SEC)
This week: Kentucky (Tuesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)
The good: LSU is 4-2 against the RPI top 50, including true road wins over West Virginia and Ole Miss.
The bad: The Tigers have lost to sub-150 RPI teams in Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State.
The bubble: Handing Kentucky its first loss of the season would solidify LSU’s status in the field, but that road trip to Tennessee may be the more important game given LSU’s lapses in games it should win.
Seton Hall (15-8, 5-6 Big East)
This week: Georgetown (Tuesday), at Providence (Saturday)
The good: Seton Hall is one of two teams to beat Villanova this season.
The bad: The Pirates have been swept by DePaul and Butler.
The bubble: Seton Hall is 3-6 since its overtime upset of Villanova on Jan. 3. The next four games are brutal with Georgetown at home and Providence, Villanova and St. John’s on the road next week. Not a good situation for a team already trending the wrong way.
Michigan State (15-8, 6-4 Big Ten)
This week: at Northwestern (Tuesday), Ohio State (Saturday)
The good: KenPom likes Michigan State better than the RPI, ranking the Spartans at No. 28 (compared to No. 52 in the RPI).
The bad: Michigan State is 0-4 against the RPI top 30.
The bubble: Saturday’s home loss to Illinois puts Michigan State onto the bubble. The Spartans can’t (and probably won’t) lose to Northwestern. Facing RPI No. 35 Ohio State in East Lansing will be critical.
Texas A&M (16-6, 7-3 SEC)
This week: Georgia (Wednesday), Florida (Saturday)
The good: Texas A&M is 7-3 in the SEC.
The bad: The Aggies don’t have a top 50 RPI win.
The bubble: Second place in the SEC won’t be enough to guarantee an NCAA Tournament berth. The next three games against RPI No. 24 Georgia, No. 67 Florida and No. 51 LSU — all at home — are huge for the Aggies’ hopes.
NC State (14-10, 5-6 ACC)
This week: Virginia (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)
The good: The Wolfpack rank 11th in strength of schedule and defeated RPI No. 4 Duke on Jan. 11.
The bad: After a loss to Wake Forest a week ago, NC State is already up to double-digit losses. The Wolfpack haven't won back-to-back games since early December.
The bubble: For NC State to stay in the discussion, the Wolfpack may need to split the week against top 15 opponents. NC State will face Virginia in its first game without guard Justin Anderson.
St. John’s (15-8, 4-6 Big East)
This week: DePaul (Wednesday), at Xavier (Saturday)
The good: The Red Storm are ranked No. 50 in the RPI and No. 27 in strength of schedule. St. John’s swept Providence for its two top-50 wins.
The bad: Providence may be the only NCAA at-large team St. John’s has defeated this season.
The bubble: A home loss to DePaul would be devastating. Road wins over Xavier on Saturday and/or Georgetown on Tuesday would put St. John’s back on the right track.
The Mountain West
This week: Wyoming at San Diego State (Wednesday), Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday)
The good: Colorado State (20-4, 7-4 MW) has the best RPI in the Mountain West plus a home win already over San Diego State. Wyoming (19-5, 8-3 MW) completed a season sweep of Colorado State last week.
The bad: Neither team has a top-75 non-conference win.
The bubble: If Mountain West at-large bids go through San Diego State, this will be the key week.
Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3 SEC)
This week: at Florida (Thursday), Arkansas (Saturday)
The good: The Rebels are No. 39 in RPI and 3-3 against the top 50.
The bad: Ole Miss has home losses to Western Kentucky, TCU and Charleston Southern.
The bubble: Splitting the week would maintain the status quo. Two wins would further solidify the Rebels’ chances. Ole Miss already has wins against each of these teams this season.
Purdue (15-9, 7-4 Big Ten)
This week: at Rutgers (Thursday), Nebraska (Sunday)
The good: The Boilermakers have three top 40 wins (Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa).
The bad: All of those wins were at home. So were bad losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida.
The bubble: The Boilers are hanging on, but they’ll lose their grip if they don’t go 2-0 this week.
Illinois (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten)
This week: Michigan (Thursday), at Wisconsin (Sunday)
The good: Defeating Michigan State on the road was a signature moment, but Illinois had already picked up two top 20 wins before Jan. 7 (Baylor on a neutral court, Maryland).
The bad: Illinois has lost five games to teams ranked between Nos. 50-100.
The bubble: Asking Illinois to beat Wisconsin in Madison may be too much to ask, but the Illini need to beat Michigan to avoid a season sweep to the Wolverines.
Kentucky isn’t the only team chasing history in the SEC.
The Wildcats took another team’s best shot Saturday in a 67-61 win over Florida, but as has been the case in close calls all season, Kentucky continued its march to an undefeated regular season and more.
That Florida gave Kentucky a game is little surprise to John Calipari, who has come to expect that every team is looking for its signature moment of the season when it faces the Wildcats.
A game against Kentucky is a game to end the streak, a chance to be the ultimate spoiler.
“There will be games where players play out of their minds,” Calipari said. “After the game, Billy (Donovan) said it was the best game by far they’ve played all year. ... That’s every game we play.”
Ironically, Kentucky was in this spot less than a year ago, knocking off a 35-0 Wichita State team in the NCAA Tournament. The end of the Shockers’ bid at 40-0 was only the start of the run for Kentucky. The only interruption between the NCAA Tournament a year ago and today was a loss in the title game to UConn.
On paper, Kentucky will be favored in every game — SEC or otherwise — until a potential Final Four, but a pristine record is far more fragile in reality than it is on paper.
KenPom.com gives Kentucky at least an 84 percent chance to beat each individual opponent during the final eight games. The same projection, however, predicts a 30-1 record at the end of the regular season and a 56.7 percent chance to go undefeated.
In other words, Kentucky will be a heavy favorite in each game to finish the season, but the chances of the Wildcats going 8-0 in totality is not quite as certain.
So when might that mystery loss occur? Here’s a look at Kentucky’s final eight opponents and if they might have what it takes to make history against the Wildcats.
Feb. 10: at LSU
LSU may have the most pro potential of SEC teams not named Kentucky, and the Tigers get UK in Baton Rouge only three days after a close call in Gainesville. That’s roughly 10 hours on a plane between Saturday and tipoff at LSU on Tuesday, plus two raucous atmospheres. LSU is one of the few SEC teams that may be able to match up against Kentucky’s size with 6-foot-10 Jarell Martin and 6-8 Jordan Mickey. Beyond the forwards, LSU also has a 6-6 emerging guard in Tim Quarterman (though he doesn’t have the bulk of the Harrisons). If point guard Josh Gray can play under control and Keith Hornsby is knocking down shots, LSU could give Kentucky fits.
Will Kentucky lose this game? Maybe
Feb. 14: South Carolina
One of Kentucky’s closest calls this season came in double overtime against Texas A&M. The Aggies — who are second in SEC play in 2-point defense — held Kentucky to 9-of-36 from inside the 3-point line. South Carolina doesn’t have the size and length Texas A&M does, but the Gamecocks nonetheless have a strong interior defense, holding opponents to 41.9 percent shooting from 2. There's also some history here. South Carolina defeated Kentucky in Columbia last season and took out a John Wall-led team in 2010.
Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope
Feb. 17: at Tennessee
Tennessee will be an interesting matchup, particularly for Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison. The Volunteers lead the SEC in defensive turnover rate and steal rate in conference games, and Harrison, while improved this season, is as streaky as they come. Just in the last week, he played his best game of the year against Georgia (23 points, seven assists, one turnover) and then one of his worst against Florida (one point, two assists, three turnovers). Playing against Tennessee will require patience against the zone and patience against a team that’s averaging the fewest possessions per game in the SEC (62.9). Kentucky already had some difficulty with the next two slowest-tempo teams in the league, Vanderbilt and Florida.
Will Kentucky lose this game? It’s plausible
Feb. 21: Auburn
No team shoots more 3-pointers than Auburn at 20.7 per game. The problem is the Tigers make only 33.4 percent of them, ranking eighth in the SEC. Maybe Auburn will have a ridiculous day from the 3-point line as Ole Miss did on Jan. 6 when the Rebels went 9-of-17 in an 89-86 overtime loss. That is the only chance Auburn has to end a streak of its own: Auburn hasn’t defeated Kentucky since 2000 and hasn’t defeated Kentucky in Lexington since 1988.
Will Kentucky lose this game? Only in football
Feb. 25: at Mississippi State
This is as good a time as any to mention that Kentucky hasn’t been immune to the injury bug. The Wildcats haven’t had Alex Poythress, who went down with a torn ACL, since December. Forward Trey Lyles (7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds) has missed the last three games with an illness, leaving Kentucky’s guards to pick up some of the rebounding slack. Lyles probably will be healthy in time for this particular game, but the point is that no team makes it to March completely healthy
Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope
Feb. 28: Arkansas
Other than Florida, Arkansas is the only SEC team to consistently give Kentucky trouble during the last few years. The Razorbacks have won four of the last five meetings, including the last three. This season, Arkansas has one elite big man, Bobby Portis, who could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky’s front. He’ll be outnumbered, but he alone is still a better matchup than most. The question is what kind of game the streaky Michael Qualls will have. Arkansas is the highest-scoring team in the SEC, at least according to raw numbers, but the Hogs rank third in offensive efficiency.
Will Kentucky lose this game? In Fayetteville, maybe, but probably not in Lexington
March 3: at Georgia
The final scoresheet shows an 11-point Kentucky win Feb. 3, but Georgia had this to within five points with two minutes to go. In Lexington. Without Marcus Thornton. All of that is notable. In the return trip, Kentucky will visit Athens to face a veteran Georgia team that, presumably, will have its leading scorer and rebounder.
Will Kentucky lose this game? We’re still picking Kentucky, but this is the one we like
March 7: Florida
Kentucky caught Florida right after the Gators played their worst game of the season in a loss to Vanderbilt. Maybe the Wildcats underestimated Florida. Maybe Billy Donovan finally woke up his team in time for Kentucky. The Wildcats still managed to escape an off game due to near-perfect free throw shooting and the continued emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns. Florida played long stretches without Michael Frazier, but the Gators also had plenty go their way, too.
Will Kentucky lose this game? No
Dean Smith is one of the rare figures and perhaps the only figure who directly connects the birth of basketball to its modern era.
Smith played at Kansas for Phog Allen, the “Father of Basketball Coaching” who played for the inventor of the game, James Naismith. Smith then coached Michael Jordan. From Naismith to Allen to Smith to Jordan, it would be hard to find a better connection from the infancy of basketball to the modern game.
Beyond the games, records and innovations, Smith was an integral part of bringing athletics into the future by integrating the ACC and taking the lead on social and race issues.
Smith died Saturday, leaving a legacy that was celebrated throughout the sports world. Smith was 83.
Smith was legendary not only for his basketball record or his role in championing civil rights, but also his way of remembering the names of every player he coached, from the Hall of Famers to the walk-ons.
“He made sure that we knew our teachers by their first names, not just the last names,” Tar Heels All-American Vince Carter told Athlon Sports in 2005. He’d come and ask you, ‘so, what’s your teacher’s first name?’ He’d have a coach who was assigned to be at the front door of every one of our classes, every player.”
The mantras started in practice.
Wrote Eric Montross, an All-American who played for Smith from 1990-94, in “Game Day: North Carolina Basketball:”
“The emphasis was on transforming young athletes into mature educated adults of good character, both on and off the court. In my experience, this perspective was emphasized by the unique way that Coach Smith began practices. Instead of beginning in a typical fashion with layup lines or fast-break drills, every Dean Smith practice started with a thought for the day, an impressive mix of life lessons and messages pertinent to the game of basketball.
“One such quote, which I have kept with me now for 15 years, reads: ‘When trying to move a mountain, you must first begin by removing small stones.’ Often the freshmen would be called upon to recite these lines, and if the player did not know the quote, the entire team would be sent to the end of the line to run sprints — that is, the entire team minus the player who made the mistake.”
By the Numbers
• Dean Smith won 879 career games, breaking Adolph Rupp’s career wins record of 876 in 1997. Smith now ranks sixth on the NCAA’s all-time wins list behind Mike Krzyzewski (1,003), Herb Magee (1,000), Jim Boeheim (963), Don Meyer (923) and Bob Knight (902).
• Only eight coaches have spent more games on the bench than Smith’s 1,133. On that list are Jim Phelan, Krzyzewski, Knight, Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Henson, Rollie Massimino and Lefty Driesell.
• Only three coaches in Division I history have more 20-win seasons: Boeheim (36), Krzyzewski (31) and Smith (30). Smith’s streak of 27 consecutive 20-win seasons is a Division I record by a long shot. The next longest streak belongs to Arizona’s Lute Olson at 20.
• Smith also set the record for ACC wins with 422, a mark that wasn’t broken until this season when Krzyzewski did it on Feb. 4.
Mike Krzyzewski on Dean Smith's passing: "We have lost a man who cannot be replaced." pic.twitter.com/tZbINfnrlE— Laura Keeley (@laurakeeley) February 8, 2015
• This is a startling number, but perhaps understandable considering the standard Smith set at North Carolina. The legendary Tar Heels coach was only named national coach of the year three times in 1977, 1979 and 1993. The latter may be the most interesting. Smith won the Basketball Times and Naismith coach of the year awards. The other awards were swept by one of his proteges, Vanderbilt’s Eddie Fogler.
• By now, it’s too easy to forget the college part of college athletics, the University of North Carolina included. Even more important than Smith’s on-court records — and there are many — is that 97 percent of his players graduated. Even those that went to the pros returned to UNC to get their degrees.
Smith’s legacy cannot be removed from his stance on social issues. Smith was among the key figures in integrating the ACC and college sports. Willie Cooper was the first black player for the Tar Heels’ freshman team in 1964. Charles Scott was North Carolina's first black scholarship player in 1966 and one of the early African-Americans to play on scholarship a major Southern school. Scott helped the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1968 and 1969.
What stuck with Scott was that Smith always called him “Charles” rather than Charlie. Scott’s son, Shannon, is a starting guard for Ohio State this season.
The countless ways Dean Smith lives on: Recruited UNC's first black athlete Charlie Scott whose son, Shannon, will start for Ohio St today.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 8, 2015
Beyond Scott, Smith was outspoken on a variety of issues, including opposition to the death penalty, criticism for the Vietnam War and abolition to nuclear weapons. Such vocal and controversial stances are all but gone from college athletics today.
In 2013, though he wasn’t able to receive the award in person, Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest national honor for a civilian. The list of other sports figures honored in such a way is staggering: Hank Arron, Muhammad Ali, Bear Bryant, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Billie Jean King, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Pat Summitt and John Wooden, for starters.
In many ways, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was the perfect culmination for his career. When he started at North Carolina, John F. Kennedy was the president. Nine presidencies later, Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Smith reached his first Final Four when Lyndon Johnson was in office, won his first national championship with Ronald Reagan in office and reached his last Final Four with Bill Clinton in the White House.
Smith retired in 1997 after reaching his 11th Final Four. Only John Wooden (12) reached more. Smith’s 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1975-97 remains a record for coaches. His successors, Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty, added four more to extend UNC’s streak to 27. Guthridge reached the Final Four twice in three seasons.
Smith completed his career one of only four coaches to win an NCAA championship, an NIT championship and an Olympic gold medal, joining Adolph Rubb, Pete Newell and Bob Knight. The 1976 gold is notable in particular after the United States lost to the Soviet Union in 1972.
Beyond a coaching tree that includes Hall of Famers Roy Williams and Larry Brown, Smith coached six players who went to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame themselves: Billy Cunningham (1962-65), Bob McAdoo (1971-72, James Worthy (1970-82) and Michael Jordan (1981-84).
Michael Jordan statement on the passing of Dean Smith. pic.twitter.com/zvNgIniu30— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 8, 2015
Revenge was the name of the game this week in college basketball.
Not too long ago, the cracks appeared to be showing for teams like Duke, Villanova and Iowa State as they took key losses. A few weeks later, those losses now look like wake-up calls as all three answered in rematches.
Duke would find no drama in its second game against Notre Dame this season as the Blue Devils embarrassed a top 10 team by 30 points. Villanova took its only loss in regulation in a lopsided defeat to Georgetown, but the Wildcats returned the favor with an impressive defensive performance against its classic Big East rival. And Iowa State, which lost a head-scratcher to Texas Tech two weeks ago, turned around for a 37-point rout.
Yet the story of the week may be the continued win streak by Kentucky. The Wildcats lost all three meetings to Florida a year ago, but needed all 60 minutes to put away the Gators in their first matchup this season.
1. Kentucky keeps finding ways to stay undefeated
Winning conference road games is tough, and we’re sure Kentucky’s not going to get enough credit for answering the call each game in an otherwise mediocre SEC. The Wildcats’ 68-61 win at Florida is a perfect example of why Kentucky remains undefeated. The Gators played arguably their best game of the season (only days after their worst game of the season in a loss at Vanderbilt), Kentucky had some key lapses, and still the Wildcats walked away with a win. Andrew Harrison was a non-factor (no field goals, three turnovers), and the Wildcats shot 3-of-14 from 3-point range. Still, Kentucky won because it was 21-of-22 from the free throw line while Florida went 7-of-14. And Karl-Anthony Towns played his best game of the season with 19 points and eight rebounds. Towns is averaging 15.3 points per game in his last three, and Aaron Harrison rebounded from a one-point game against Georgia for 23 against the Gators. We’ve known this for a while, but taking out Kentucky is going to take an outstanding effort from a darn good team.
2. Duke looks like the scariest team in the country
Time to stop worrying about what’s wrong with Duke and try to figure out how anyone is going to slow down the Blue Devils. On Jan. 28, Notre Dame beat Duke 77-73 in South Bend for the Blue Devils’ third loss of the season. Duke hasn’t lost since. The rematch against the top-10 Irish was a thorough 90-60 beatdown. Notre Dame took a 6-0 lead, and from there, Duke went on a 43-7 run during the first half. This came with Jahlil Okafor playing only eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Meanwhile, Justise Winslow continued his hot streak, flourishing in transition for 19 points. Guard Matt Jones obliterated his career high with 17 points (3-of-5 from 3) off the bench. And when Okafor was in the game he simply went 9-of-11 form the field for 20 points with 10 rebounds in 23 minutes. Quite the statement for Duke.
3. Virginia needs to adjust without Justin Anderson
On the court Saturday, Virginia played yet another stifling game against a quality opponent. The Cavaliers defeated Louisville 52-47, holding the Cardinals to 13 points in the first half and 0.85 points per possession overall. The rub, though, is pending hand surgery for Justin Anderson, arguably the team’s most important player. Surgery to repair a broken finger may put him out for 4-6 weeks, through the first week of March or into the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers face only three KenPom top 100 teams (North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse) before the finale against Louisville, but Anderson’s absence will be a key speed bump for a team that’s had trouble closing out games in recent weeks.
4. Oklahoma State makes a major statement
Oklahoma State found one way to separate itself from the depth of the Big 12, arguably the deepest league in the country. The Cowboys defeated Kansas 67-62 to give the Pokes a win over Kansas in each of the last three seasons, including the last two games in Stillwater. Kansas did not have a great game, turning the ball over 18 times, but the key for Oklahoma State is the emergency of secondary scorers. For most of the season, the Pokes could count on only Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte to light up the scoresheet. That’s changed. Four Cowboys scored in double figures against KU. Point guard Anthony Hickey has become the key No. 3 with 12 points per game in the last four.
5. Another red flag for Arizona?
On first glance, Arizona’s 81-78 loss to Arizona State shouldn’t be a major warning sign. The season is long, and this was a road game against a capable rival. The Sun Devils got a little hot from 3 (7-of-15) and were able to pull off the upset. But this is also the third loss of the season for Arizona against a team that won’t be in the NCAA Tournament. The other two were to UNLV and Oregon State, both on the road. Arizona may still be a title contender at 20-3 but these losses may cost the Wildcats a No. 1 seed.
6. Villanova avenges its worst loss of the season
OK, Villanova, we’re believers again. The Wildcats lost by 20 to Georgetown back on Jan. 19 for one of its two losses of the season, and from there they faced the dregs of the Big East. On Saturday, Villanova made a statement in its rematch with the Hoyas, defeating Georgetown 69-53 in a defensive turnaround. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession and shot 51.1 percent from the field in the first meeting. In the second game in Philadelphia, Villanova held Georgetown to 0.79 points per possession and 30 percent shooting from the field, including 1-of-17 from 3-point range. Villanova was especially effective off takeaways, outscoring Georgetown 24-8 on turnovers despite being in the red in turnover margin (20-15).
7. Time to start buying into Baylor
There are plenty of Baylor and Scott Drew skeptics out there. Some of that is earned, for sure. Dare we say this is a year to start buying into the Bears? Baylor demolished West Virginia 87-69 on the road for their fourth win in their last five Big 12 games. Wins in bunches don’t come often in this league, so Baylor’s hot streak must be noted. Baylor went on a 21-0 run in the first half and took advantage of West Virginia’s struggles in the halfcourt. Against the Baylor zone, West Virginia shot a mere 6-of-23 from 3. Meanwhile, Rico Gathers was a beast as always on the glass with 16 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. Gathers’ 17 points against West Virginia was his second-highest total in a Big 12 game in his career.
8. Time to start selling West Virginia?
The other side of Baylor’s rout in Morgantown: Maybe West Virginia is a team to start looking at a little more critically. The Mountaineers’ elite pressure defense helped turn around the team this season, but West Virginia doesn’t do much of anything else very well. Now, the Mountaineers’ other deficiencies are starting to catch up to them. Their last three Big 12 losses — to Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor — have been routs. The loss also highlights that West Virginia has only two top-50 RPI wins and one of those is over Wofford.
9. Shorthanded Illinois is making a move
On Jan. 24, Illinois was 13-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten, thanks in part to an injury to guard Rayvonte Rice. Now, Rice and fellow guard Aaron Cosby are still out with suspension. That hasn’t been a problem for Illinois, which won its third consecutive game with a 59-54 road win over Michigan State. Malcolm Hill, who scored 19 points against the Spartans, has become Illinois’ best player as the Illini have quietly become an NCAA bubble team. Even before the win over Michigan State, Illinois had a 2-3 record against the RPI top 20 with wins over Baylor and Maryland.
10. Temple is the turnaround team no one’s talking about
The consistently underrated Fran Dunphy has led a remarkable turnaround in Philadelphia, leading the Owls to a 17-7 start and 8-3 in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls went 9-22 (4-14 AAC) a year ago, and after a 61-60 comeback on the road against Memphis, the Owls are in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The final shot, a Josh Brown jumper off a bounce pass from Will Cummings, deserves attention, especially since Dunphy elected not to take a timeout. But the real story is that Temple is back to defending at a high level after a three-year slump. The Owls rank eighth in the nation in defensive efficiency on KenPom and 13th in defensive effective field gal rate, both the best for Temple since 2009-10.
• Providence coach Ed Cooley was hospitalized Saturday after leaving the Friars’ game against Xavier early in the second half. After overnight observation for high blood pressure, Cooley is expected to return Wednesday against Villanova.
• UCLA built momentum for its at-large credentials and then promptly ended its hot streak with a 64-62 loss at Cal. The Bruins defeated Utah, Colorado and Stanford just before sustaining their worst loss of the season, at least considering the opponent.
• Seton Hall’s at-large credentials are crumbling, too. The Pirates fell to 5-6 in the Big East after back-to-back losses to DePaul and Marquette. Not a great omen with Georgetown, Providence and Villanova in the next two weeks.
• Georgia welcomed back Marcus Thornton after a two-game absence due to a concussion — the Bulldogs lost both games. Thornton scored only eight points in 26 minutes, but the Bulldogs still found a way to beat Tennessee 56-53.
• Texas Tech gets the award for worst box score of the week. The Red Raiders scored only 38 points in a loss to Iowa State, in part by going 0-of-8 from the free throw line.
• No team had a more exciting week than St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies had buzzer-beaters to defeated two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 in Davidson and VCU.
On Saturday, Syracuse will play its first meaningless game of the season.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. The game means something for Pittsburgh, a team clinging to the NCAA Tournament fringe but more than likely host an NIT game.
In that way, the Panthers aren’t all that different from Syracuse, another team that at least until Wednesday still had the slimmest of hopes of participating in March Madness.
The difference, though, is that Syracuse isn’t playing any more games that really matter. Instead, Syracuse, facing an NCAA investigation, elected to get a head start on its potential sanctions by forfeiting its chance at any postseason. No NCAA Tournament. No ACC Tournament. No NIT. No CBI.
Pittsburgh still has an opportunity to do what Syracuse cannot. Maybe Pitt will win the NCAA Tournament. Maybe Pitt will beat Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia. That’s all highly unlikely, for sure, but Panthers coach Jamie Dixon’s team can still try to pull off the feat.
No matter how much Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim tries to dress this up as a self-imposed punishment with teeth or tries to acknowledge mistakes, this move is as cynical as they come.
Syracuse, as an institution, decided to make the lost season official. The timing is, to put it mildly, convenient.
Syracuse has lost three of its last five and eked out a two-point win against lowly Virginia Tech on Tuesday. Hope is pretty slim for a meaningful postseason. This will probably be only the second Syracuse team to fail to win 20 games since 1982.
No question, Syracuse did the smart thing as a program, sacrificing what’s likely to be a mediocre postseason in hopes that by the time the Orange are ready to be a more realistic contender in future the sanctions will be done and gone.
“You can’t wait and say, ‘We’ll take it next year,’” Boeheim told host Chris McManus on his weekly coach’s radio show. “You have to take it.”
That’s not entirely true. Syracuse could have waited out the NCAA or could have announced a postseason ban for 2015-16. Syracuse could have announced the ban before the season — the investigation concluded in October — before it became evident the Orange would fall well below their own standard.
Instead, Syracuse elected to change the conditions of this season. The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy has gone so far as to call it “a disgrace that rises to the highest level of all that is untoward in college athletics.”
Denying guys like Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament — a goal they thought they had until this week — is “reprehensible,” DeCourcy writes.
Indeed, the players are the primary losers here. Not Boeheim, whose march to 1,000 wins will only be marginally impacted. Not the program, which gets to avoid a likely NIT invite so a better team can play in the NCAA Tournament.
Boeheim tried to save face this week, but in some ways his defense makes the curiously timed self-imposed sanctions seem worse.
Boeheim says he believes the self-imposed punishment indeed has teeth. Syracuse still has a shot at the NCAA Tournament, he says, and playing in the NIT and ACC Tournament is still a chance for his young team to improve.
The former is a long shot. Syracuse is ranked No. 71 in the RPI with only two wins against teams in the top 90 — No. 47 Iowa and No. 62 Long Beach State. His team is woefully thin with the season-ending injury to freshman forward Chris McCullough. And his team, already 15-7, has the toughest portion of the ACC schedule ahead of it. The Orange still have to face Duke twice, plus Notre Dame on the road and Virginia and Louisville at home.
The latter, the extra practice time and experience in a one-and-done situation, is a legitimate sanction for the Orange.
But who loses if Syracuse doesn’t get those extra games or practices? Syracuse has only two top 100 prospects for the 2015 draft, according to DraftExpress.com. One is out for the rest of the season with injury. The other is Christmas, a senior. Both are second-rounders right now at best.
Syracuse though has a handful of juniors and underclassmen who could become pros or solid college players. Even Boeheim says NIT experience could be good for them. Instead, the Orange's season ends March 7 at NC State.
“I saw Hakim Warrick grow up in the NIT when he was a freshman,” Boeheim told McManus. “He came in and had an unbelievable game at Richmond. It led to a breakout year as a sophomore, so you’re giving up something.”
So exactly who is giving up something? Not any of the adults in the room.
Of course, Syracuse isn’t the first to decide when it will serve its sanctions. Miami football announced midseason that it would self-impose a postseason ban in 2011 and '12, amid the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
Ohio State learned the wrong lesson when the Buckeyes elected to play out a 6-7 season under an interim coach that ended in a Gator Bowl loss. The Buckeyes served a bowl ban in 2012, when a 12-0 season ended without a Big Ten title game or a BCS bowl appearance.
This shouldn’t even be an option for schools. That the NCAA allows programs to decide when it serves a punishment is preposterous. The NCAA tacitly encourages such behavior from institutions that broke rules in the first place.
In other words, the NCAA is investigating a program for doing something against the rules and then allows the program to decide when and how it serves its sentence. Syracuse gets to plea bargain and punish its current players for something that happened several years ago.
At least as far as NCAA rules are concerned, these are serious issues. Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, is having his academic record investigated. James Southerland, who missed six games in 2012-13 due to an academic issue, is also believed to be involved.
At one point, Syracuse itself admitted that the NCAA was investigating the program’s adherence to its own drug policies.
And Syracuse’s own investigators looked into an internship program that placed Syracuse athletes at an Oneida, N.Y., YMCA. The investigation centered on a former YMCA employee that had exceptional access to men’s basketball players and had been sued by the YMCA for allegedly misappropriating $338,000 worth of funds.
According to an ESPN source, the issues stretch back for more than a decade, ending in 2013. “Things were going on consistently for a long time,” the source told ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy.
Boeheim has been there for the entire time, plus for Syracuse’s previous postseason ban in 1993. Should he know everything going in the athletic program? No, but these are issues that span several years and several areas of NCAA interest. Perhaps he should know something.
In the end, Syracuse may end up dodging any major sanctions. The NCAA isn’t known for its track record of consistency. But skipping out on the postseason this year has another effect: Even at 15-7 now, the Orange may end the season approaching a .500 record; They could very well find themselves in a position where one and done in the ACC Tournament and NIT hands Jim Boeheim the first losing season of his career.
Perhaps the notion of two postseason bans in his career, including one has he’s marching toward 1,000 wins, is enough to dent his tremendous legacy of building his alma mater into a national power.
But decades from now, his ledger merely will read 1,000 wins and one or two below-average seasons in the twilight of his career.
Again, how convenient.
This weekend of college basketball may be a key lesson in the important of matchups in college basketball.
Let’s start with Duke: A team that’s had trouble with stopping opposing guards. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant knows first hand and would like to again prove that guards like him are Blue Devil Kryptonite.
Then there’s Villanova, a team that’s made easy work most of its Big East schedule but lost in a blowout to Georgetown. Does John Thompson III hold the key to beating up on Nova? The Wildcats will find out.
In the Big 12, West Virginia often wins the matchup in the full-court press, and Baylor often wins the matchup on the offensive glass. Which one will take over in Morgantown?
And Virginia’s ability to defend might only be only matched by their resilience in the last week. Louisville has displayed plenty of mental fortitude, too, this season, but do the Cardinals have the offensive game to beat Virginia in Charlottesville? Maybe not.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 7-8
All times Eastern
Tennessee at Georgia
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
With a top 25 RPI and a 2-4 record against the top 50, Georgia has a passable NCAA resume. The Bulldogs have lost their last two games, but that came without leading scorer Marcus Thornton, who was out with a concussion. If Thornton returns, Georgia can re-establish itself during the next week against a pesky Tennessee team and on the road against Texas A&M.
Pick: Georgia 70-59
Baylor at West Virginia
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Neither is going to catch up to Kansas for the Big 12 title, but these are two squads that each do one thing really, really well. West Virginia is an average defensive team in the halfcourt, but the Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate and steal percentage. Led by Rico Gathers, Baylor is the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Steals and second-chance points will be the name of the game. We’ll take it.
Pick: West Virginia 68-62
Notre Dame at Duke
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
Duke gets another shot at Notre Dame after the Irish got two late miracle shots to help defeat the Blue Devils 77-73 on Jan. 28. Expect another shootout as Notre Dame and Duke rank in the top four nationally on offensive efficiency. Duke is only getting more dangerous, especially as freshman Justise Winslow (30 points and 21 rebounds in his last two games) rounds into March form.
Pick: Duke 75-70
Georgetown at Villanova
Saturday, 2 p.m., FOX
Villanova had a bit of a Creighton problem last season, losing twice to the Bluejays in routs. Might the Wildcats have the same issue with Georgetown this year? Villanova has lost twice this season; the only time in regulation came by 20 to Georgetown. That meeting truly was an outlier against a solid defensive squad from Nova. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession in that game and shot 51.5 percent from 2 and 50 percent from 3 in that meeting. Does Villanova get revenge?
Pick: Georgetown 68-65
Kansas at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Never doubt Kansas in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have reeled off five wins in a row since an 86-81 loss at Iowa State. Kansas, though, has played three of those five games at the Phog, the only road games against TCU and slumping Texas. Kansas beat Oklahoma State 67-57 on Jan. 13, but it wasn’t easy. In a sloppy effort, the two teams combined for 71 free throw attempts and shot 6-of-28 from 3-point range.
Pick: Kansas 72-68
Louisville at Virginia
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Virginia deserves credit for answering its first loss of the season with a quick, resilient win. The Cavaliers lost in the final five minutes to Duke on Saturday and then turned around to beat North Carolina convincingly on the road on Monday. The Cardinals have re-established themselves as contenders, but they may be an awful matchup against Virginia’s defense. Long-range shooting from multiple players is one of they keys to the pack-line defense, and Louisville doesn’t exactly meet that criteria.
Pick: Virginia 67-57
SMU at Tulsa
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPNU
SMU-Tulsa probably wasn’t many people’s idea of a key American Athletic Conference game to start the season, but it’s turned out to be a game between the top two teams in the league standings. Tulsa has been one of the surprises of the league, starting 5-5 and then winning 11 in a row, including 10 in the AAC. SMU won eight in a row before losing at home to Cincinnati on Thursday. The Bearcats are 2-0 against SMU for the Mustangs' only two AAC losses.
Pick: SMU 63-60
UCLA at Cal
Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
OK, UCLA, you have our attention. Since Jan. 29, the Bruins have defeated Utah at home and Stanford on the road, the latter giving UCLA a season sweep of the Cardinal. The Bruins have had some poor performances against top 100 teams this season, but they also haven’t lost to a team outside of the RPI top 100. That makes for a team inching its way into the NCAA Tournament, provided it can sustain its momentum on the road against a Cal team riding a three-game win streak.
Pick: UCLA 70-65
Kentucky at Florida
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Kentucky may not be challenged in SEC play, but the Wildcats going on the road against one of its top rivals in conference is worth keeping an eye on. The Gators started to play their way into being one of the more interesting teams in the second half of the conference season before a no-show against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The matchup of Kentucky’s frontcourt size does not favor Florida, to say the least.
Pick: Kentucky 70-59
Maryland at Iowa
Sunday, 3:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
A key game for confidence for both teams. Iowa has lost three of the last five, albeit twice to Wisconsin. Maryland hasn’t won a Big Ten road game since Jan. 10 against Purdue, losing in lospided fashion to Indiana and Ohio State. All the action, though, will be on one side of the court — Maryland’s offense and Iowa’s defense are in the bottom four of the Big Ten in efficiency while Iowa’s offense and Maryland’s defense are both in the top four.
Pick: Maryland 68-66
The NCAA Tournament can be something like a big family reunion, gathering names and faces we haven’t seen in years.
As always, this year’s Tournament will have its share of long lost faces we may have had fond memories of in the last few decades.
A former national champion (Maryland) expects to be back as do three other Final Four teams from recent years (Butler and West Virginia) and a one-time Cinderella (Northern Iowa).
Before you get caught unaware on Selection Sunday, these are the teams about to end NCAA Tournament droughts this season.
Last NCAA appearance: 2009
2014-15 record: 17-4, 7-2 Pac-12
Basketball fans of a certain age probably remember Utah has a national power when the Utes reached the championship game in 1998. The run under Rick Majerus eventually ended, and Utah limped descended into irrelevance. The Utes have reached the Tournament once since 2005 and have won one NCAA game since 2003.
Even though the Utes lost Jan. 29 to a mediocre UCLA squad, Utah is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Even with the loss to the Bruins (and earlier to Arizona), Utah is outscoring league opponents by 15.7 points per game. Utah could be in contention for a Pac-12 title for its rematch in Salt Lake City against Arizona on Feb. 28.
Last NCAA appearance: 2012
2014-15 record: 18-4, 6-3 Big 12
The Mountaineers reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in an eight-season span under John Beilein and Bob Huggins, landing in the Final Four (2010), Elite Eight (2005) and Sweet 16 twice (2006 and 2008). In two seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia has missed the Tourney twice.
West Virginia has weathered a storm of transfers to become one of the toughest opponents to face thanks to its press. The Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate. And after starting his career at Dayton, fifth-year senior point guard Juwan Staten will finally get his chance at the NCAA Tournament.
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
2014-15 record: 19-4, 7-3 Big Ten
Mark Turgeon entered the season needing to show signs of progress after reaching just one NIT in his first three seasons. The Terrapins endured a rash of transfers before the season, but they still had upperclassmen Dez Wells and Jake Layman. The latter has taken a major step forward this season, and the team has come together around freshman Melo Trimble, Maryland’s first McDonald’s All-American in more than a decade.
With the exception of Wisconsin, nearly every Big Ten power is down. Maryland has pounced and could end up the No. 2 team in the league.
Last NCAA appearance: 1993
2014-15 record: 18-4, 9-1 American
Off the court, SMU is facing questions. Emmanuel Mudiay never played this season, and an NCAA investigation has claimed Keith Frazier. On the court, SMU keeps rolling. The Mustangs started 2-3, but they’ve lost only once since (at Cincinnati). SMU remains the favorite in the AAC, but this is a league with only three other RPI top-50 teams (No. 34 Cincinnati, No. 42 Tulsa and No. 44 Temple). The Mustangs were one of the top snubs from last season’s NCAA Tournament, but they may have put in the work to be an at-large team if they don't win the AAC tournament.
Last NCAA appearance: 2013
2014-15 record: 21-3, 9-2 ACC
The Irish missed only one NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons, so this drought isn’t much of one. Still, Mike Brey’s only win in the Tourney since 2008 is over 15th-seeded Akron in 2011. This team looks built to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish have a guard who can carry them in Jerian Grant, they can score with anyone and they already defeated Duke this season.
Last NCAA appearance: 2013
2014-15 record: 17-6, 7-3 Big East
Butler has been out of the NCAA Tournament for only a year, but few teams have had such a mountain to climb. Brad Stevens left for the Celtics two years ago, and his replacement, Brandon Miller, has been absent due to an unspecified medical issue. Butler elevated Chris Holtmann to full-time head coach earlier this season, and the Bulldogs seemed to have weathered the storm. A healthy return by junior forward Roosevelt Jones also has been a boon for a team that went 4-14 in its first season in the Big East. Butler, which has already swept Seton Hall and St. John’s this season, is going to more than double that total.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 14-7, 5-4 SEC
Georgia has been to the NCAA Tournament only once in Mark Fox’s six seasons. This season might change that trend. The Bulldogs defeated Seton Hall in the non-conference and put together a five-game SEC win streak that ended a week ago, but they’re not giving themselves a ton of wiggle room with a road loss to South Carolina and early SEC losses to bubble squads from Arkansas and LSU. Georgia doesn’t have a ton of depth, but the Bulldogs do have two juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
2014-15 record: 21-2, 10-1 Missouri Valley
Northern Iowa went to the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at one point, but hasn’t been since Ali Farokhmanesh helped the Panthers upset No. 1 seed Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 in 2010. Led by senior forward Seth Tuttle, the Panthers can wrestle the Valley away from Wichita State. The Panthers already defeated the Shockers with surprising ease Saturday to all but ensure they’ll be an at-large team.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 15-6, 6-3 SEC
Back on Jan. 10, Kentucky going to double overtime with Texas A&M was supposed to be a sign of something wrong with the Wildcats. It was a sign of something right with the Aggies, who won six in a row before Wednesday's loss at Ole Miss. Texas A&M is a year ahead of schedule thanks to transfers Jalen Jones (SMU) and Danuel House (Houston) arriving ahead of a standout signing class. The Aggies still have plenty of work ahead of them to seal an at-large bid thanks to a non-conference schedule lacking in RPI top 100 wins.
Last NCAA appearance: 2006
2014-15 record: 15-7, 5-5 Big East
One of the biggest surprises in a surprising Big East has been charter member Seton Hall. The Pirates started league play with wins over St. John’s and Villanova — both without star freshman Isaiah Whitehead — to move into the AP top 20 for the first time since 2001. Seton Hall has cooled since that hot start, but the Pirates are at least closer to moving closer to full strength. Whitehead returned in the last two games to score 19 and 14 points. The Pirates can’t afford many more losses like Tuesday’s to DePaul if they want to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 14-8, 3-6 Big East
St. John’s needs to get on a hot streak in Big East play and fast. A sweep of Providence and a home win over Marquette — that's all St. John's has in the Big East — won’t be enough. The Red Storm’s signature non-conference wins over Minnesota, Syracuse and Saint Mary’s might not include an NCAA Tournament team among them.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For most of Tuesday’s game at Vanderbilt, Florida coach Billy Donovan appeared to operate at a simmer.
He spent stretches of the second half seated in his folding chair on the Florida bench at the baseline. At least twice, he slouched back into his seat while Florida played defense on the far end of Memorial Gym.
As the clock ticked to the end, Donovan had pulled aside Michael Frazier, one of the few players who had a good game in this 67-61 drubbing. As he talked to Frazier, Donovan shook his head and then rubbed his forehead when sent his junior guard back to the bench.
By the time Donovan exited the players’ locker room on the way to the coaches’ locker room after the game, he adequately summed up his assessment of the Gators’ play in a critical game of the season.
“It’s a joke,” he told his team as the locker room door swung closed behind him.
After three Elite Eights and a Final Four, Florida all but punched its ticket to the NIT with a loss to Vanderbilt, a team that had won only one SEC game entering Tuesday.
Perhaps the loss wouldn’t have been so frustrating for Donovan if Florida hadn’t picked up a new lease on the NCAA Tournament in the last two games. The Gators have been a Tournament reach since November and December, but defeating Alabama on the road and Arkansas at home in back-to-back games moved Florida onto the fringe of the NCAA bubble.
Florida went to Vanderbilt at a crossroads. A win over the Commodores would continue the Gators’ hot streak and solidify them as a team worth monitoring. A loss to sub-100 RPI team would mark the Gators’ 10th loss this season and effectively end Florida’s at-large hopes.
Even with those stakes in mind, Florida showed up like a team whose season had already come to an end.
Vanderbilt jumped to a 15-0 lead, and the Gators missed their first nine shots from the field. Florida spent most of the game chasing a Vanderbilt of at least five points. The Gators couldn’t defend without fouling, allowing Vanderbilt to amass more made free throws (29 on 42 attempts) than Florida made field goals (21-of-57).
The Gators were “annihilated” on the glass, in Donovan's words — Florida grabbed nine offensive rebounds to Vandy’s 29 defensive boards and 17 defensive rebounds to the Commodores’ 13 offensive boards.
“We were frustrated that we didn’t come out ready to play and we got beat,” Frazier said. “That’s not our culture, and (Donovan) expressed that to us. We’ve got to come out with more energy to start the game.”
Florida is talking about a lack of passion and energy at a critical juncture in February, which is another reason Donovan is so befuddled, even if he saw all the warning signs.
“Things just have to change,” guard Eli Carter said.
Things have changed for Florida. Unless the Gators can win the SEC Tournament — a feat that would require them or someone else knocking off undefeated Kentucky — Florida is going to the NIT for the first time since 2009.
The loss to Vanderbilt gives the Gators their third loss to a team ranked outside of the top 100 of the RPI, compared to a 1-3 record against the top 50.
Internally, this isn't a total shock. Donovan anticipated falling below the preseason rankings. Despite losing four senior starters, Florida had enough role players and highly touted prospects and transfers in the pipeline to be ranked in the preseason top 10.
What outsiders in the preseason saw was five-star recruits ready to breakout as sophomores (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker), two key returnees with Final Four experience (Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith) and two transfers ready to make an impact in the frontcourt (Jon Horford from Michigan and Alex Murphy from Duke).
What Donovan saw were players who were coming off the bench or playing less than 10 minutes per game for a reason.
“Last year’s team covered up a lot of these returning players’ inconsistencies,” Donovan said. “That’s what you’re seeing is a high level of inconsistency.”
Even if it’s not a surprise that a team of former role players is struggling to find its way as a team of starters, that the problems have continued into February is a source of frustration.
The Gators can defend. They are ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Even in a game in which nothing went right for the Gators, the defense was a spark for the offense. When Florida started to close the gap on Vanderbilt, the Gators picked up turnovers on the press (18 total) and were able to get into transition.
But this is still a team that can’t seem to figure out how to score enough to string together wins in SEC play.
“For our guys, there’s a difference between performance and competing,” Donovan said. “Our guys get wrapped up in performing well, but we don’t compete well. That was the difference.”
In other words, Donovan has a bunch of players who believe they need to perform individually for the team to win. That’s a long way from last year’s team that went 18-0 in the SEC with four players averaging double figures but none more than 14 points per game.
After this latest loss, though, Donovan has seemed to resigned himself that those answers haven’t come in time for an NCAA bid this season.
“They’ve got to learn and they’ve got to grow, and they’re not...” Donovan trailed off. “Sometimes it takes going through a season like this to really understand how far we have to go as a team and how far they have to go as individuals.”
Nearly six years to the day since the receiver class of 2008 signed letters of intent to play college football, the class continued to dazzle.
In Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse fell onto his back, bobbled the football and eventually came up with the 33-yard catch that put Seattle onto the New England 5. The miracle catch won’t sear in people’s memories thanks to the interception two plays later, but Kearse’s catch is why the wide receiver recruiting class of 2008 is the best in recent history.
Kearse was merely the No. 72 receiver in that class, according to Rivals.com, but cracking the top 10 now that all have finished their college careers is achievement unto itself. Kearse was recruited alongside Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon and a host of other great collegians and future pros.
1. Class of 2008
The Stars: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Jermaine Kearse, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, Terrence Williams, Randall Cobb
Best of the Rest: Jonathan Baldwin, DeVier Posey, DeAndre Brown, Jeff Fuller, Juron Criner, Roy Roundtree, Greg Childs, T.J. Moe, Markus Wheaton, Ryan Swope, Cordarrelle Patterson, A.J. Jenkins
The wide receiver class of 2008 may be the best group of recruits at any position during the last 10 seasons. Almost every top prospect delivered on his five-star promise to one degree or another. Julio Jones and A.J. Green were Nos. 1-2 in this class and have since combined for six Pro Bowl selections. The class also had plenty of gems outside of the top prospects. Two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State was ranked No. 91, and consensus All-America selection Terrance Williams of Baylor was a two-star.
2. Class of 2011
The Stars: Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans
Best of the Rest: Jaxon Shipley, Donte Moncrief, Rashad Greene, Ty Montgomery, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, DeVante Parker, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder
The receiver class of 2011 could surpass the star-studded class of 2008. The 2011 receivers arguably topped the 2008 class in terms of college achievements. The class produced two Biletnikoff winners (Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and USC’s Marqise Lee), three consensus All-Americans (Lee, Cooks and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans) and the NFL rookie of the year (LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr.). The best pro of the bunch, though, will probably be Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Moreover, West Virginia’s Kevin White, Louisville’s DeVante Parker and Auburn’s Sammie Coates may all end up as first-round NFL draft picks.
3. Class of 2006
The Stars: Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton
Best of the Rest: Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Hakeem Nicks, Riley Cooper, Greg Salas, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Brown
The No. 1 overall prospect in the class, Percy Harvin, has had a fine career, including two national championships at Florida and Super Bowl win with the Seahawks. Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree was a four-star athlete before twice winning the Biletnikoff and going on to a productive pro career. The rest of the top recruits struggled to live up to top billing, but plenty of lower-ranked prospects and unknowns became superstars. Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) and T.Y. Hilton (FIU) are NFL stars.
4. Class of 2004
The Stars: Calvin Johnson, Jordan Shipley, Sidney Rice, Dwayne Jarrett, Ted Ginn
Best of the Rest: Eddie Royal, Greg Carr, D.J. Hall, Danny Amendola, Marcus Monk, Austin Collie, James Hardy, Early Doucet
A Biletnikoff winner and three-time All-Pro, Johnson was every bit the star on the college level as he is in the NFL. He was one of three consensus All-Americans in the class along with USC’s Dwayne Jarrett and Texas’ Jordan Shipley. Do-everything receiver Ted Ginn was the No. 2 prospect in the class, but he was listed as a cornerback.
5. Class of 2007
The Stars: Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Torrey Smith, Greg Little
Best of the Rest: Arrelious Benn, Ronald Johnson, Nick Toon, Leonard Hankerson, Austin Pettis
Dez Bryant was a consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2008 and was on the way to a similar season before an NCAA suspension ended his college career. Golden Tate set the Notre Dame record for single-season receiving yards and tied the touchdown record on the way to the first Biletnikoff in school history. Though listed as a corner, Ryan Broyles set the NCAA career catch record (later broken by East Carolina’s Justin Hardy). Maryland’s Torrey Smith arguably has been a bigger impact player at the NFL level than at the college level.
6. Class of 2003
The Stars: Andre Caldwell, Robert Meachem, Adarius Bowman, Steve Smith, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe, Jeff Samardzija,
Best of the Rest: Limas Sweed, Todd Blythe, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Chad Jackson
This class has produced a number of productive pros (Robert Meachem, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe) and not just in football (Jeff Samardzija). Tennessee’s Meachem and Florida’s Andre Caldwell are among the top receivers in their respective schools’ histories, no easy task in either Knoxville or Gainesville. Adarius Bowman played two 1,000-yard seasons at Oklahoma State, but his career was overshadowed by those who came later. Same could be said of USC’s Steve Smith, who was the running mate to Dwayne Jarrett.
7. Class of 2010
The Stars: Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Jordan Matthews, Justin Hardy, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen
Best of the Rest: Kenny Shaw, Kenny Stills, Paul Richardson, Ace Sanders, Austin Hill, Kaelin Clay, Bud Sasser, Mike Davis, Kenny Bell, Josh Huff, Antwan Goodley
The top recruits in this receiver class struggled to find their way as Kyle Prater, Da’Rick Rogers and Markeith Ambles all transferred for one reason or another. What the class lacked in star power, it made up for in consistent production on the college level. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy caught more career passes than anyone else in college football. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews caught more passes than anyone in SEC history. Robert Woods and Kenny Bell caught more passes than anyone in USC or Nebraska history, respectively.
8. Class of 2005
The Stars: DeSean Jackson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon LaFell, Mardy Gilyard, Eric Decker, Victor Cruz
Best of the Rest: Mario Manningham, Mohamed Massaquoi, Louis Murphy, Brian Robiskie, Malcolm Kelly, Earl Bennett, Derrick Williams
Penn State’s Derrick Williams was the No. 1 prospect in this class, and although he had a fine a career, he was eclipsed by another prep star (DeSean Jackson) and guys from Minnesota, Cincinnati and UMass.
9. Class of 2009
The Stars: Alshon Jeffery, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin
Best of the Rest: Rueben Randle, Josh Gordon, Stephen Hill, Eric Ward, Jeremy Gallon, Cobi Hamilton, Aaron Dobson, Mohamed Sanu
The class was kind to West Virginia, sending both Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the Mountaineers. The star in the class, though, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, who has two 1,000-yard seasons with the Bears.
10. Class of 2012
The Stars: Amari Cooper
Best of the Rest: Dorial Green-Beckham, Stefon Diggs, Nelson Agholor, Deontay Greenberry, Gabe Marks, Bryce Treggs, Jordan Payton, Bralon Addison, Leonte Carroo, Jordan Westerkamp, Jaelen Strong, Devin Funchess (TE)
The class produced arguably the best receiver in SEC history and a bit of a mixed bag everywhere else. Dorial Green-Beckham was the can’t-miss recruit in this class, but he’s been away from football for a year after his dismissal at Missouri.
The era of the superstar running back is coming to a close.
Or is it about to be re-started?
In the last two NFL drafts, no team felt it necessary to take a running back with a first-round pick. The 2008 draft class that included five first-round running backs seems to be ages ago.
NFL teams have learned that effective runners can be found just as much in the later rounds or outside of the draft entirely.
At the same time, though, the college game as seen a resurgence in superstar runners. The 2014 signing class produced 10 1,000-yard rushers last season, indicating that the next two seasons might belong to the running backs.
Since 2002, we’ve seen our share of superstar running back recruiting classes. To help us sort them out, we asked Mike Farrell, national recruiting director from Rivals.com for his input on the best running back singing classes since 2002.
1. Class of 2004
The Stars: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson
Best of the Rest: Jerome Harrison, Mike Hart, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jackson, Rafael Little
What the class of 2004 lacks in numbers compared to the 2006 class at No. 2, it makes up for in NFL stardom. This class amassed 20 Pro Bowl selections, six first-team All-Pro selections, four NFL rushing titles and an NFL MVP. The class also included Michigan’s all-time rushing leader (Mike Hart) and a consensus All-American out of Washington State (Jerome Harrison).
Farrell’s take: “The best 1-2 punch we have ever seen at running back with AP and Lynch but also some huge surprises like Foster and Chris Johnson. Those two guys couldn’t get looks at all for different reasons. Hart was a guy we had as a three-star and we got a lot of heat for that but top-end speed was not his thing. However, he had a great college career.”
2. Class of 2006
The Stars: Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith, Steve Slaton, Rashard Mendenhall
Best of the Rest: Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, James Davis, Javon Ringer, Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Montario Hardesty
Star power, depth, college studs and NFL feature backs — the running back class of 2006 had it all. The headliner is Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, a two-time consensus All-American, two-time Doak Walker winner and two-time Heisman finalist. This is the same class that produced Arkansas’ other great running back, Felix Jones, who would have been a superstar in any other backfield. The class produced five first-round draft picks (McFadden and Jones, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, UConn’s Donald Brown), two Doak Walker winners (McFadden and Iowa’s Shonn Greene), and five consensus All-Americans (McFadden, Green, Michigan State’s Javon Ringer, UCF’s Kevin Smith and West Virginia’s Steve Slaton).
Farrell’s take: “Ray Rice was a guy who really stepped up his game as did Donald Brown, both were really under-recruited as was Slaton. McFadden and Stewart were special and the second group there of Davis, Charles and Mendenhall were all very well thought of.”
3. Class of 2003
The Stars: Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, Laurence Maroney, LenDale White
Best of the Rest: J.J. Arrington, Chris Henry, Tony Hunt, Michael Bush, Tashard Choice
This class was awfully kind to the state of California, helping the Pac-10 re-establish itself as a national power. Heisman-winner Reggie Bush led the way at USC, but the Trojans also picked up his backfield mate LenDale White in this class. UCLA signed a future NFL rushing champ (Maurice Jones-Drew), and Cal signed a consensus All-American (J.J. Arrington).
Farrell’s take: “Reggie Bush was the real deal and I wanted him to be No. 1 but [Florida State signee and eventual linebacker] Ernie Sims won out. Jones-Drew we liked a lot despite his lack of size. I remember how fast Choice was and how big Bush was. He was one of the biggest backs I’d seen with good feet like that. LenDale White was a big deal in that class as well and Maroney was a big deal as well.”
4. Class of 2006
The Stars: LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, Toby Gerhart, DeMarco Murray
Best of the Rest: Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, Mike Goodson, Dexter McCluster, Anthony Dixon, Ben Tate, Evan Royster
This class produced the last two NFL rushing leaders in LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray, though neither were consensus All-Americans in college. The biggest collegiate stars in this class were Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, the ACC’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards by a wide margin, and Stanford’s Doak Walker winner Toby Gerhart.
Farrell’s take: “McCoy was special but we didn’t know how he’d recover from that awful ankle break he suffered. He was a five-star talent, that’s for sure. Spiller was a five star as was Beanie Wells and Moreno. Murray and Goodson were all high four stars as was Ben Tate who a lot of people didn’t know about at the time. This could be the most talented class at the top of all of them as far as talent coming out of high school.”
5. Class of 2009
The Stars: Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy
Best of the Rest: Carlos Hyde, Christine Michael, Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Knile Davis, Charles Sims, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Stepfan Taylor
This class has been full of surprises on the NFL level. A fourth-round pick from Miami (Lamar Miller) has rushed for more pro yards than All-American Trent Richardson, and a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt (Zac Stacy) has rushed for more yards than FBS career touchdown leader Montee Ball. The career leading rusher out of this class so far is Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, who played second fiddle to Richardson in Tuscaloosa.
Farrell’s take: “Richardson was a beast. He was special and looked like an NFL back already. Hyde really got a lot faster in college than he was in high school, Lacy was a beast as well, he would mule kick anyone who came near him. David Wilson was a great athlete, Michael was a five-star kid who had so much potential. and Ball and Taylor were also big deals. This was a really good class as well as far as depth.”
6. Class of 2008
The Stars: Mark Ingram, LaMichael James, Ryan Williams, Kenjon Barner
Best of the Rest: Jonas Gray, Isaiah Pead, Jaquizz Rodgers, Chris Polk, Andre Ellington, Mike Leshoure, Daniel Thomas (junior college)
What the 2003 running back class was to California’s Pac-12 schools, the 2008 class was the same for the Pacific Northwest. Oregon picked up two consensus All-Americans in this group (LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner), Oregon State and Washington both picked up their No. 2 career rushing leaders (Jacquizz Rodgers and Chris Polk). Oh, and the class produced Alabama’s first Heisman winner, Mark Ingram.
Farrell’s take: “This class is an interesting one because James was a speedster from Texas and a perfect fit for Oregon, Ryan Williams was an amazing talent and Ingram went south to play for ‘Bama, but no one knew he would be a Heisman winner. Gray was an absolute beast, we loved him and Barner was a sleeper for sure. Ellington was the most athletic of the group.”
7. Class of 2011
The Stars: Melvin Gordon, Ka’Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, Ameer Abdullah
Best of the Rest: Bishop Sankey, Jay Ajayi, Malcolm Brown, Dee Hart, Devonta Freeman, De’Anthony Thomas
The pro potential of this class hasn’t been tapped yet, but it’s off to a good start. LSU’s Jeremy Hill led all rookies in rushing with more than 1,000 yards for a playoff team. The best of the bunch, though, may be Gordon, whose 2,587 yards is the second-best rushing total in college football history.
Farrell’s take: “Gordon was tall and has the look of a linebacker coming out of high school but turned into a great back, Hill was coming off heaps of trouble out of high school but was very talented. Hart had a lot going for him but those knee injuries hurt him. Carey and Sankey were both excellent. Mason and Freeman were both excellent out of Florida, and Thomas was probably the most talented of the group when it came to explosion and getting you out of your seat. He was just small.”
8. Class of 2014
The Stars: Nick Chubb, Samaje Perine, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook
Best of the Rest: Nick Wilson, Sony Michel, Royce Freeman, Nick Wilson, Jalen Hurd, Justin Jackson
It’s not too early to heap praise on this group of running backs who were only true freshmen a year ago. This group produced 10 1,000-yard rushers (Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Arizona’s Nick Wilson, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III, USF’s Marlon Mack, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook) and the FBS single-game rushing leader (Perine). This class may end up No. 1 by the time it reaches the NFL.
Farrell’s take: “Chubb is a guy I’m kicking myself for not making a five star and looks like he will have a great career, Fournette was the consensus No. 1 back while Michel, Cook and Hurd were all five-star talents. Perine was a four star but is playing above his ranking, and Freeman was another guy who just missed five-star status and was under scouted because he was so far down south in Cali. This is an amazing crop and could turn out to be No. 1 before all is said and done.”
9. Class of 2007
The Stars: Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, Kendall Hunter, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
The Best of the Rest: John Clay, Jonathan Dwyer, Jahvid Best, Boom Herron, Alfred Morris, Daniel Thomas, Roy Helu, Chris Rainey, Noel Devine
Few classes ended up as upside down as this one. The best pros in this class ended up at Boise State (Doug Martin), Fresno State (Ryan Mathews) and FAU (Alfred Morris) while the can’t-miss prospect at the top of the class, Joe McKnight, was hardly the second coming of Reggie Bush at USC.
10. Class of 2010
The Stars: Marcus Lattimore, Gio Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, Andre Williams
Best of the Rest: James White, Lache Seastrunk, Michael Dyer, Silas Redd, Storm Johnson
The class was well-traveled that’s for sure. Four of the top 10 running backs in the class transferred — Michael Dyer (from Auburn to Louisville), Lache Seastrunk (from Oregon to Baylor), Silas Redd (from Penn State to USC) and Storm Johnson (from Miami to UCF). Marcus Lattimore had the most potential of the group before his career was interrupted by injuries, Boston College’s Andre Williams was a Heisman finalist and North Carolina’s Gio Bernard and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell turned out to be solid pros.
Farrell’s take: “Lattimore was special, he was a three-down back who could make you miss, run you over and catch the ball and such a great kid as well. Bernard had some injury issues to overcome, but he did a great job showing durability after being hurt often in high school. Andre Williams was a big, fast kid that BC stole and kept hidden, Dyer and Seastrunk were five-star talents, and I loved Redd’s strength and cutting ability. Bell was too big to be a running back — oops.”
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