College basketball will have a new No. 1 team today as Syracuse’s luck ran out — twice — last week.
Florida has as strong a case as any team, turning in another complete performance in a 75-71 win at Ole Miss, the Gators’ 19th victory in a row. Meanwhile, the nation’s lone undefeated team still has plenty of reason to feel underappreciated despite its unblemished record. Wichita State thrashed Drake 83-54 and remains two games away from going to the Missouri Valley Tournament undefeated.
If any team besides Florida or Wichita State ends up No. 1, it will be a surprise, but a handful of teams are playing some of their basketball of the season. Arizona is back to its mid-January form. Kansas answered for its 12-point loss to Texas on Feb. 1 with a 31-point win.
The takeaway from the week, though, may be a first for Jim Boehiem.
College Basketball Weekend Recap: 10 Things to Know
1a. Boeheim cost his team dearly
Jim Boeheim is the Hall of Fame coach, so he’ll get the benefit of the doubt that few other coaches or any of his players would receive for such an outburst. Credit C.J. Fair for pointing out the obvious: Boeheim’s tantrum, his first career ejection, cost Syracuse a realistic chance to tie. Boeheim said the close charge call on Fair on what would have tied the game with 10.4 seconds left was the “game-decider” and the “worst call of the year.” Though Fair and his teammates appreciated the show of emotion, the numbers didn’t really work out. “I think maybe if we didn't get the techs, we probably still had a chance to win,” Fair told reporters. “We lost by (six)? He made three of the four free throws. You do the math.” Maybe not a chance to win, but certainly an opportunity to force overtime.
1b. Jabari Parker, folks
There’s not too much more to be said about one of the nation’s top freshmen and most versatile players. He’s been in All-America form in recent games, picking up his third consecutive double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds against Syracuse. Perhaps Parker benefitted from facing the Syracuse zone, but his 3-point shooting touch returned with 3 of 3 shots from beyond the arc Saturday night. Parker had made two 3-pointers in the previous six games combined.
2. Caris LeVert is the nation’s most improved player in February
Michigan has been one of the most interesting teams in the country this season, essentially because a different player has stepped up to carry the team without Trey Burke and later Mitch McGary. Nik Stauskas is still productive, but Caris LeVert has been the star in recent weeks. That much was true in Sunday’s 79-70 win over Michigan State. Down by 1 midway through the second half, Stauskas and LeVert took over during a 13-0 run that decided the game. LeVert nailed two free throws, hit a 3-pointer and converted on a dunk as part of the run. After finishing with 23 points, LeVert is averaging 17.8 points in the month of February as Michigan remains in the lead of the Big Ten.
3a. Louisville is in championship form
Hadn’t heard much from Louisville lately? That’s because the Cardinals had been playing the worst teams the American Athletic Conference had to offer in the last few weeks. That changed Saturday with a 58-57 win at Cincinnati. The final shot said a great deal about this Louisville team getting ready for the stretch run. Russ Smith rolled to his left, saw he didn’t have a shot and trusted freshman Terry Rozier with the ball. Rozier immediately passed it back to Smith for the long 2-pointer to win the game. But beyond that, Montrezl Harrell had a standout game with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Louisville gave Cincinnati little in the offensive end. Sean Kilpatrick was the only player with more than two field goals, and it took him 26 shots to get to 28 points.
4a. Frank Kaminsky should get Big Ten player of the year looks
And that’s kind of ridiculous. Back on Nov. 19, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota. At the time it seemed like an oddity. He hasn’t hit 40 points again, but Kaminsky had as great a week as anyone in the Big Ten. On Feb. 16, Kaminsky had 25 points and 11 rebounds in a road win over Michigan. And on Saturday, he added 21 points and seven rebounds in a 79-74 road win against Iowa. The real scary thing is that the 7-footer is a fine free throw shooter, helping seal the win over the Hawkeyes with 5 of 6 shots from the free throw line.
4b. Iowa’s ceiling strikes again
Iowa is a fine team, but the Hawkeyes have yet to prove they’re better than Sweet 16 material. Iowa and Wisconsin traded the lead six times in the final 3:08 before the Badgers finally sealed the game. Iowa is now 2-7 against the RPI top 50.
5. Florida is as worthy of the No. 1 ranking as anyone
The Gators had a fairly typical game Saturday, defeating Ole Miss 75-71 in Oxford. And by typical, we mean Florida was really, really good. Florida started slow defensively but held Marshall Henderson to 0 of 6 from the field in the second half. Meanwhile, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier were the outside shooters of note, combine for 9 of 20 from 3. And center Patric Young continues to cap his career in excellent fashion with 12 super-efficient points (4 of 5 from the field, 4 of 4 from the free throw line). The Gators can defend, they can score from inside and outside, and their edge in experience down the stretch is evident.
6. Virginia might win the ACC
Thanks to three combined losses by Duke and Syracuse last week, Virginia has taken over the ACC lead, and there’s no reason the Cavaliers can’t finish the deal. Virginia has lost once since the calendar turned to 2013 — a four-point loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. For the remainder of the regular season, Virginia has Miami and Syracuse at home and Maryland on the road. Virginia’s run isn’t just fortunate scheduling. The Cavs can win some games in March. In a game where Joe Harris was not at his best (3 of 10 from the field), Virginia still shot 63.6 percent from the floor and outscored Notre Dame 40-19 in the second half of a 70-49 win.
7. A little bit of good and a little bit of bad for Kentucky
Give credit to Kentucky for avoiding a season sweep to LSU with Julius Randle’s putback with 3.9 seconds in overtime off an offensive rebound by James Young. LSU led in the final two minutes of overtime and by two with 21 seconds left in regulation before Kentucky emerged with a 77-76 win. On the one hand, Kentucky needed this kind of hard-earned win. But LSU, a talented but inconsistent team, still appears to have Kentucky’s number. Johnny O’Bryant III had a combined 49 points and 21 rebounds against the Wildcats. If it wasn’t O’Bryant against Kentucky, it was Anthony Hickey (20 points, four 3-pointers, eight assists) from the outside. Kentucky chalked this up to LSU being a good matchup for the Wildcats, but that has to be a concern for a Wildcats team looking to advance in the postseason.
8. Arizona is back among the national elite even without Brandon Ashley
The season-ending injury to Brandon Ashley forced Arizona to adjust to the absence of a key frontcourt player. After an 88-61 win at Colorado, the Wildcats are passing that test. Defensive stalwart Aaron Gordon had his best game of the season with 23 points and 10-of-13 shooting against the Buffaloes. Meanwhile, guard Gabe York entered the starting lineup to grab 10 rebounds against Colorado and score 15 points in Wednesday’s overtime win over Utah. Ashley still leaves a major void, but the only loss without him is in double overtime to Arizona State.
9. Time to start paying attention to New Mexico
It’s been too easy to ignore the Mountain West this season. In all likelihood, this will be a two-bid league. New Mexico, not San Diego State, might end up winning the conference, though. The Lobos shocked a top-10 Aztecs team 58-44, but this thing was over early. New Mexico led by as much as 24 in the second half behind an All-America kind of performance from Cameron Bairstow (26 points, nine rebounds, 11 of 18 shooting). When New Mexico finishes the season on the road at San Diego State, Craig Neal could clinch a regular-season title in his first season with the Lobos.
10. You won’t find many finishes stranger than what happened to Tennessee
Let’s start with the end of regulation in College Station. Volunteers guard Antonio Barton appeared to have hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left, but Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin had called a timeout to negate the shot. On the next play, Jarnell Stokes tied the game on a layup but missed the free throw on the 3-point play to send the game to overtime. In the extra frame, Texas A&M’s Antwan Space hit a 3-pointer with 8 seconds remaining. Here’s the strange part: Space has made nine 3-pointers, and two of them were to beat Tennessee in the final seconds of a game. Beyond the bizarre finishes, Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament hopes may be in trouble with four losses in the last six games.
• Someone will be the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, but no team in this league outside of Arizona looks capable of winning multiple games in the NCAA Tournament. Stanford defeated Arizona 83-74 in a game that was rarely in question. Any time UCLA starts to build momentum, the Bruins get tripped up on the second road trip of the week. The Bruins are 0-3 in Saturday/Sunday road games. Good on Stanford, though, which is a step closer to making the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Johnny Dawkins.
• Andrew Wiggins went 2 of 12 for 7 points in Kansas’ loss to Texas in Austin on Feb. 12. He went 7 of 12 for 21 points in an easy 85-54 win when the Longhorns visited Lawrence. Wiggins is ready for the postseason.
• Is it time to declare a moratorium on referring to North Carolina’s bad losses early in the season? The Tar Heels came back from the win over Duke to roll over Wake Forest 105-72. Leslie McDonald, suspended to start the season, had a breakout week with 21 against Duke and 19 against Wake.
• Oklahoma State is still alive. The Cowboys defeated Texas Tech 84-62 to end a seven-game losing streak in Marcus Smart’s return from suspension. Smart was back to form with 16 points, 10 assists and six steals.
• Who wants to play in the NCAA Tournament from the Big East? St. John’s let a key win slip through its fingers in a 57-54 loss to Villanova. Xavier dropped its fifth game in the last eight games with a 74-52 defeat to Georgetown, a team that lost earlier in the week to Seton Hall.
• Why can’t anyone figure out who the No. 3 team in the SEC is? Missouri keeps doing things like losing 80-73 to an Alabama team with a losing record.
• UMass appeared to be fading a few weeks ago, but the Minutemen picked up two nice wins last week on the road against George Washington on Feb. 15 and at home over VCU on Friday.
• Saint Louis won its 19th consecutive game and still wasn’t satisfied, even if that win was another stout defensive performance against a fellow A-10 team likely headed to the NCAA Tournament in George Washington. The Billikens are the only top 10 team no one’s watching.