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The College Basketball Weekly 10: Coach K gets 1,000, Tyler Ulis Carries Kentucky

Author:
Quinn Cook

Quinn Cook

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

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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.

Short Stuff

• 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.