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Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. Which team had the most impressive win of the weekend?
Nathan Rush: Texas’ unbelievable come-from-behind win at Kansas was easily the biggest victory of the weekend. The Longhorns ended the Jayhawks’ 69-game home winning streak at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. UT also ended its own 0–7 slide at KU with the improbable 74–63 triumph. Kansas jumped out to a 10–0 lead, led by as many as 15 points in the first half and took a 35–23 edge over Texas into the break. In the second half, however, the Horns rocked the Hawks and chalked up a 51–28 tally over the final 20 minutes, taking a 45–44 lead with just over 10 minutes to play before cruising to an 11-point statement win. Rick Barnes’ team was my early-season Final Four sleeper (in one of these columns) when the Horns were barely hanging on to a top-25 spot. After this weekend’s win in Lawrence, it will take Bevo to pull the burnt orange bandwagon.
Mitch Light: Wisconsin. The Badgers completely dominated a decent Northwestern team in Evanston, racing out to a 20-point lead in the first half and eventually winning by 32. Wisconsin shot 55.4 percent from the field, had 22 assists on 31 field goals and only committed three turnovers. On the other end of the court, the Badgers held Northwestern to a season-low 46 points. Bo Ryan’s club was great in every facet of the game.
Braden Gall: Since I think Duke and Kansas are the top two teams in the nation — no offense, Ohio State — I would have to say Texas’ win over the Jayhawks was easily the most impressive win. Allen Fieldhouse was rockin’ after an 18–3 KU start, but the resiliency and hard work of the Burnt Orange youngsters brought Kansas’ 69-game home winning streak to an end. There is something different about this Texas team. Ohio State’s road win over Illinois was also impressive but would have been the equivalent of Kansas winning at Texas — not vice versa.
2. Which team had the most troubling loss?
Nathan: Arkansas suffered a 32-point beatdown at the hands of Florida. Granted, these aren’t Corliss Williamson’s Razorbacks and no one expects them to be. But these aren’t Joakim Noah’s Gators, either. Before devouring the Hogs, coach Billy Donovan’s young team appeared toothless during an ugly 45–40 win at Auburn — a team that has established itself as easily the worst in the SEC. Maybe the lopsided loss says less about Arkansas’ ineptitude and more about Florida’s enormous unrealized potential. Still, a 39–17 halftime deficit and 75–43 final margin against an unranked conference foe is something to be ashamed of.
Mitch: I subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as a bad road loss in conference play, but Louisville let one get away Saturday in Providence. When you play in a league as loaded as the Big East, you simply have to beat the bad teams in the league — and Providence entered the weekend with an 0–6 mark in the conference. Louisville missed an opportunity to improve to 5–1 in the Big East.
Braden: I have to give an honorary vote to Clemson for losing its 55th straight game to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That is more than eight decades of frustration. But my real vote goes to St. John’s, which suffered a tough loss to Cincinnati. A Yancy Gates 3-pointer with eight seconds left took a quality home win over a likely NCAA Tournament team away from the Red Storm and gave Mick Cronin’s group a solid resume road win. This is a game that St. John’s, now 11–7 overall and 4–4 in the Big East, might look back on when Selection Sunday rolls around.
3. Will Gonzaga’s run of 10-straight regular-season WCC titles going to end?
Nathan: The Zags’ run of 10-straight West Coast Conference regular season titles has come to an end. Granted, coach Mark Few’s team has not yet been mathematically eliminated. But following back-to-back losses at Santa Clara (85–71) and at San Francisco (96–91, OT), Gonzaga is 3–2 in WCC play (13–7 overall) and looking up at a powerful Saint Mary’s club that is 5–0 in the WCC (17–3 overall). The Bulldogs do have two chances to take down the Gaels (at home on Thursday and at SMC on Feb. 24), but the odds are against an 11th consecutive West Coast crown. Just don’t tell Adam Morrison; he can get pretty emotional.
Mitch: We will know a lot more later this week after the Zags host Saint Mary’s, but I do believe this is the year that Gonzaga’s streak ends. They are already two games behind SMC in the loss column and are coming off their first two-game WCC losing streak since 2000. This team has some talent, but it’s not nearly as skilled as some of Mark Few’s team from years past.
Braden: After seeing Saint Mary’s in person over the weekend (they lost by 19 to Vanderbilt), I am inclined to say no. But Gonzaga has a ton of work to do — and it starts on Thursday. The Zags still have the most talented roster in the league but already trail the Gaels by two games in the loss column. The battle between these two on Thursday in Spokane will go a long way in determining the Bulldogs’ WCC fate. What amounts to a four-game lead in the league would be insurmountable.
4. San Diego State visits BYU on Wednesday in one of the biggest MWC games in years. Who wins?
Nathan: With all due respect to the great Jimmer Fredette — who has taken the Danny Ainge school of shot taking and making to a new level while establishing himself as a legit National Player of the Year candidate — San Diego State is a better team than BYU. The Aztecs will have to account for Fredette and battle a tough crowd at the Marriott Center, but coach Steve Fisher, Kawhi Leonard (15.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and Co. will improve to 21–0 overall and 6–0 in the Mountain West after their top-10 showdown on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.
Mitch: Can’t wait for this one. I think San Diego State is the better team, but I will go with the home team. Expect a wild atmosphere at the Marriott Center and expect a big game from Jimmer Fredette, one of the most exciting players in the nation.
Braden: Is 39–1 good? These two have combined for one loss thus far in 2010-11, with BYU losing to UCLA by seven points. BYU has owned this series of late — especially at home. The Cougars have won seven of the last 10 (and five straight) regular-season meetings and haven’t lost at home to SDSU since Jan. 8, 2005. I also think they have the best player on the floor in Jimmer Fredette. The nation’s leading scorer has averaged 29 points per game with 14 boards and 14 assists in his last three against the Aztecs. Fredette went a combined 9-of-16 from behind the arc in last season’s series sweep by BYU. Give me the Cougs at home.
5. Who’s the best freshman in the country on a team not in one of the Big Six leagues?
Nathan: Unlike other Ohio basketball stars, Dayton point guard Juwan Staten decided to stay close to home when it came time to sign his name on the dotted line. After playing alongside Kentucky’s Doron Lamb, Connecticut’s Roscoe Smith and Syracuse’s Baye Moussa Keita last season at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Staten chose to take his talents to southwest Ohio for his collegiate career. Now, the 6’0”, 189-pound passer is leading the Atlantic 10 in assists (6.6 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.74-to-1) while also averaging 9.2 points for a Flyers club that is very much in the A-10 hunt.
Mitch: Memphis has a bunch of good-looking freshmen, but Detroit’s Ray McCallum has been the best of those playing outside the power conferences. McCallum turned down some big-time offers (UCLA, Arizona, Florida) to play for his dad at Detroit and is averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Trey Zeigler, another touted recruit who chose to play for his dad, is putting up better numbers (17.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) at Central Michigan, but the Chips are 5–13 overall.
Braden: The most talented non-Big Six freshman is probably Detroit guard Ray McCallum. Coached by his father, Ray Sr., McCallum has the Titans in the thick of the Horizon race by leading his team in scoring (14.4 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) and is second on the team in rebounding (4.7 rpg).