It was a wild weekend around college basketball, with several upsets and plenty of last drama. Some of the most notable results were Florida State winning at Duke, Syracuse tasting its first defeat, Baylor losing at home to Missouri, Tennessee beating UConn, Mississippi State’s comeback at Vanderbilt and Wisconsin winning on the road at Illinois. Our editors answer three questions covering the best and worst from the college hoops week.
1. Name a team that really needs to get its act together over the next few weeks?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Northwestern has the talent to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. But the Wildcats, currently 12–7 overall and 2–5 in the Big Ten, don’t have an NCAA Tournament resume. The Cats broke through with a big win at home vs. Michigan State on Jan. 14, but followed up with a 20-point loss at Wisconsin and a 23-point loss at Minnesota. Northwestern was alarmingly uncompetitive on Sunday against the Gophers, falling behind 11–0 and 21–4. The Cats begin a stretch with three out of four at home this weekend when Purdue visits Evanston. It’s about time for this team to play like it belongs in the NCAA Tournament.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I want to see what Texas can get done over the next month. The Longhorns did lose a ton — Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph and Gary Brown — from last year’s team, but Rick Barnes’ club still has enough talent to get to the NCAA Tournament. However, a 12–7 record and a tough Big 12 slate has Texas looking at missing March Madness for the first time since 1997-98, Tom Penders’ last season in Austin. The heralded freshman class of Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Jonathan Holmes and Julien Lewis will need to grow up quickly and help veterans J’Covan Brown and Clint Chapman end a current three-game losing streak. The Horns are 2-4 in league play and still have two games against Baylor, plus rematches with the teams that gave them those four Big 12 defeats — Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. Texas will need to go above .500 in its 12 remaining games and win in the league tournament to avoid playing in the NIT in March.
Mark Ross: How about an entire conference, as in the Pac-12. The Pac-12 is currently No. 7 in the RPI rankings, behind the Mountain West, A-10 and Missouri Valley. The Pac-12's current leader is Cal, which is tied with Oregon atop the standings at 6–2, and beat the Ducks in Eugene a few weeks ago. Cal is currently No. 37 in the RPI, followed by Oregon at No. 56. The other 10 teams are ranked 61st and below. One Pac-12 team will get into the NCAA Tournament because of the automatic bid, but unless someone starts making some real noise, this “Big Six” conference may be ‘One and Done’ come Selection Sunday.
2. Which team had the best win over the weekend?
Patrick Snow: There are several good candidates — Notre Dame taking down undefeated Syracuse, Tennessee beating UConn, Wisconsin winning at Illinois — after an exciting weekend, but I have to go with Florida State winning at Duke. The Seminoles were impressive the previous Saturday in beating North Carolina as Deividas Dulkys got red-hot from beyond the arc and the Tar Heels seemed to give up down the stretch. However the victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which broke Duke’s 45-game home winning streak, shows that Leonard Hamilton’s team is for real. The Noles are not quite as good defensively as last season’s Sweet 16 club, but they are scoring more points this year — especially during the current four-game winning streak. FSU is in great shape at tied for first in ACC play, and the Seminoles have the look of being a dangerous March team once again.
Mitch Light: Mississippi State made a nice statement with a comeback win at Vanderbilt Saturday night. The Bulldogs had lost their two previous road games in the SEC, but found a way to rally from 11 down at the half to beat Vanderbilt — a team that had won eight in a row — at Memorial Gym. State opened the second half on a 20–2 run, thanks in large part to some tremendous shooting from long range. The Bulldogs hit 10-of-11 from beyond the arc in the final 25 minutes (second half, plus overtime), with sophomore guard Jalen Steele (four threes in the second half) responsible for much of the damage. Mississippi State has a ton of talent. If Rick Stansbury’s club has its head on straight — which isn’t always the case — there is no reason they can’t be a factor in the SEC title chase.
Mark Ross: How can it not be Florida State? Beating North Carolina at home is one thing, even if it was by a convincing 33 points. Beating Duke on the road in Cameroon Indoor Stadium is something entirely different. But that's the rare double-double Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles pulled off thanks to Michael Snaer's game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer on Saturday. The Seminoles have seemingly found their defensive identity, as they held the Blue Devils to under 40 percent shooting and ended their 45-game home winning streak in Durham. In name, this may be the same team that lost to Harvard and Princeton earlier in the season, but on the court it looks a lot like the team that made it all the way to the Sweet 16 last year.
3. Which team had the most damaging loss over the weekend?
Mark Ross: Not to pile on the Pac-12, but given the conference's across-the-board weakness this season, the last thing Cal needed to do was to lose to Washington State. Yes, Cal is still tied for first in the league standings and this was on the road in Pullman, but this is a Washington State team that has lost to Utah, Pepperdine and UC Riverside — all of which are ranked 175th or lower in the RPI, this season. In a year like this, Cal can't afford too many bad losses, even if they are in conference road games.
Mitch Light: There’s no need to panic in Charlottesville, but I was disappointed that Virginia let a Virginia Tech team that had been 0–4 in the ACC steal a win at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavs had been 2–1 in the league with the only loss coming by three points at Duke. This was simply a game that Virginia had to win if it wanted remain relevant in the ACC race over the next six weeks.
Patrick Snow: I thought UConn’s loss at Tennessee was a bad sign for the reigning national champions. The Vols have played better since freshman big man Jarnell Stokes became eligible, but Cuonzo Martin’s crew is still a team with a losing record. The 14–5 Huskies should easily make the NCAA Tournament, but the non-conference defeat was their fourth loss in six games. Jim Calhoun’s bunch has the talent to make another magical March run, but the loss in Knoxville pointed out some damaging deficiencies. Center Alex Oriakhi has regressed since last season, and freshman big man Andre Drummond has been very inconsistent. UConn has solid guards in stud scorer Jeremy Lamb and point Shabazz Napier, but there has not been much depth with freshman Ryan Boatright out of the lineup as the NCAA investigates his eligibility. Consequently, the Huskies have not been able to play their usual aggressive defense on the perimeter for fear of fouls. Obviously UConn showed us last season that a high league finish is not a prerequisite to win it all. The Huskies have the individual players to do it again, but their latest loss showed some weaknesses that must be corrected quickly.