Each college basketball weekend is taking on more meaning with less than a month to go until league tournaments begin. Saturday saw several big-time clashes, highlighted by Kentucky surviving in a great SEC game at Vanderbilt, Michigan State going into Columbus and beating Ohio State by 10 and Missouri easily handling Baylor in Columbia. Wichita State had an impressive win at Creighton, while UNLV topped San Diego State in a great matchup of top 20 teams from the Mountain West. As we look ahead...
1. Who is your choice, at this point of the season, for National Player of the Year?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman) : I would go with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis at this point in the year. While some may not vote for Davis because of his controversial recruitment, there is no doubt that the freshman from Chicago has impacted the college game as much as anyone this season. His defensive presence, including a national-best 4.9 blocks per game, has allowed UK to smother opponents on the perimeter and is a huge factor in the 25–1 Wildcats being ranked No. 1. Davis also leads the Cats in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.0 points and 9.9 boards per game. Additionally, the nation’s top frosh has been very efficient on the offensive end — shooting 65.1 percent from the field and 70.6 percent from the free throw line. While Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Kevin Jones of West Virginia have had stellar seasons, Anthony Davis has been the National Player of the Year.
Mark Ross: In one year, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson has gone from top sixth man to the best player in the Big 12 and, in my opinion, the nation. Last year, Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as the first man off of the bench for Bill Self. This year the junior has more than doubled his point production to 18.1, which is second in the Big 12, and is averaging 12.1 rebounds per game, which is second in the entire country. He already has posted 17 double-doubles to this point, and is the main reason why this Kansas team is a viable threat to not only win an eighth straight Big 12 title, but also make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Robinson’s dominance in the post has also allowed fellow junior and frontcourt mate Jeff Withey develop his game. In the past two games, Withey has put up a combined 43 points, 25 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in Kansas wins over then No. 6-ranked Baylor on the road and against Oklahoma State.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I love what Thomas Robinson is doing for Kansas, but I’ve got to go with Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The big man from Chicago is dominating games on the defensive end like a young Patrick Ewing did for Georgetown in the 1980s. And like with most great shot-blockers, you can’t just look at the number of shots Davis blocks — 4.9 per game, the most in the nation — but you also have to take into account the amount of shots he alters and the times his presence in the lane deters players from driving toward the basket. Davis is also making contributions on the offensive end of the floor with a 14.0-point average, and he leads the Wildcats in rebounding with 9.9 per game. He is, quite simply, a special player.
2. What is the biggest game on the schedule this upcoming weekend?
Mitch Light: I am very intrigued by Ohio State’s trip to face Michigan in Ann Arbor. This great rivalry isn’t quite as intense on the basketball court as it is on the football field, but it is always an important game for both schools. And the stakes will be very high Saturday night, with both Ohio State and Michigan very much in the hunt for a regular-season Big Ten title. The Buckeyes won in Columbus in late January despite a subpar performance from Jared Sullinger (13 points, five boards). Thad Matta’s team will need its All-America big man to play well at Crisler Arena, which figures to be at a fever pitch for the hated Buckeyes.
Mark Ross: Murray State hosts Saint Mary’s on Saturday in the only BracketBusters match-up of ranked teams. Both teams had long winning streaks snapped by second-place conference foes on Feb. 9 as Saint Mary’s was beaten by West Coast rival Gonzaga 73–59 on the road, while Murray State suffered its first loss of the season in a 72–68 home loss to Ohio Valley foe Tennessee State. Both bounced back with wins two days later and will play conference games on Wednesday prior to Saturday’s showdown. Even though Murray State has just the one loss on the season, the Racers appear to need this win more than the Gaels do when it comes to NCAA Tournament résumés. Saint Mary’s is ranked in the top 25 of the RPI and, for now, is more secure in terms of at-large consideration should the Gaels not win the WCC Tournament. The Racers also have a strong résumé, boosted by a December road win against then-No. 20 Memphis, but a home victory Saturday over the Gaels would probably move them into “lock” territory for an NCAA Tournament bid, regardless of what happens in the OVC Tournament.
Patrick Snow: I see Xavier hosting Dayton as a huge game on Saturday. The Musketeers were seen as a top-20 team and probable Atlantic-10 champions in the preseason. However Chris Mack’s club was involved in the infamous brawl with city-rival Cincinnati in December, and the subsequent suspensions led to Xavier losing five of its next six games (after an 8–0 start). The Musketeers seemed to right the ship in mid-January with four straight wins, but they have now lost four of the last seven contests. There is no reason that a team with veteran guards like Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, as well as experienced big men Kenny Frease and Andre Walker, should miss the NCAA Tournament, but that is now a possibility. The Musketeers still have tough road games at UMass and Saint Louis, so this weekend’s home game with Dayton — an 87-72 victor over XU in January — is paramount to Xavier finishing strong and not missing March Madness.