Player of the Week: Drew Gordon, New Mexico
The Lobos have made a push back into relevancy after struggling through the early part of the season. After starting out the year 2-2, New Mexico has now won 10 in a row, including victories against St. Louis, Oklahoma State and Missouri State. This past week, Steve Alford’s club went 2-0, but it was the play of big man Drew Gordon that stood out.
On Wednesday, the UCLA transfer helped the Lobos get revenge against New Mexico State. UNM lost to the Aggies back in November at home, but those memories were quickly erased in an 89-69 win in Las Cruces that probably wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate. Gordon has arguably his most impressive performance of the season, going for 23 points and 19 boards against NMSU’s Wendell McKines. On Saturday, New Mexico had an even more noteworthy win, knocking off Atlantic 10 contender St. Louis 64-60. Gordon was terrific in that game as well, finishing with 18 points and nine boards.
Gordon is such an important piece for the Lobos because he is the best post player in the conference. His issue has been on the offense end of the floor, but it looks like he may be snapping out of that funk. In addition to the 20.5 ppg that he averaged this week, Gordon shot 14-22 (63.6%) from the floor and got to the foul line 18 times. He was shooting under 50% on the season and averaging fewer than five FTA’s per game before the week started.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:
G: Keith Appling, Michigan State: Appling looks like he is starting to grasp what it takes to be a lead guard for a Tom Izzo team. He had his best game as a Spartan in Michigan State’s fluky win over Indiana, going for 25 points, seven assists and six boards. He followed that up with 14 points and four assists in a win over Nebraska.
G: Eli Carter, Rutgers: In a 1-1 week for the Scarlet Knights, Carter averaged 27.0 ppg, 4.5 apg and 3.0 spg while shooting 6-14 from beyond the arc. But the reason he made this list was the result of his performance in Rutgers’ double-overtime win over Florida. He had 31 points, seven assists and seven boards, hitting a number of big shots late in the game.
F: Kyle Weems, Missouri State: Weems looks like he is finally snapping out of the offensive funk that plagued him all season long. He averaged 26.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg as the Bears started off MVC play with back-to-back wins, but it was the 31 points (25 of which came in the second half) as the Bears knocked off Creighton in Omaha that got him noticed.
F: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, Kentucky: MKG averaged 21.0 ppg and 12.5 rpg on the week, but his most noteworthy performance came as the Wildcats knocked off Louisville in Rupp. He had 24 points and 19 boards. But Davis was just as impressive. He averaged 14.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg and 6.0 bpg, but what was most impressive was the way that he dominated the defensive end of the floor in the second half of UK’s win over Louisville.
C: Brandon Davies, BYU: Davies was terrific in three games for the Cougars this week, averaged 21.0 ppg and 14.0 rpg while adding six blocks and four steals. While the 28 points he scored against St. Mary’s will get wiped away by the loss to the Gaels, the 21 points and 22 boards he posted in a win over San Diego was flat out dominant.
Bench: Trey Burke, Michigan (27 pts, 8-11 FGs in W vs. Minnesota); Kyle Casey, Harvard (26 pts, 10 rbs in W vs. St. Joe’s); Demetrius Conger, St. Bonaventure (27 pts, 11 rbs in W vs. Niagara); Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s (18 pts, 12 asts, 6 rbs in W vs. BYU); Sam Dower, Gonzaga (17.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 12-18 FGs, 2-0 week); Kenny Gabriel, Auburn (24 pts, 13 rbs, 10 blks, 4 stls, 3 asts in W vs. Georgia Southern); Chris Gaston, Fordham (23 pts, 17 rbs vs. Georgia Tech); Richard Howell, NC State (14.5 ppg, 15.5 rpg, 2-0 week); Rob Jones, St. Mary’s (24 pts, 15 rbs, 4 asts in W vs. BYU); Kenny Kadji, Miami FL (30 pts, 12 rbs in W vs. UNC-Greensboro); Greg Mangano, Yale (23.0 ppg, 13.5 rpg); Cameron Moore, UAB (17.5 ppg, 16.5 rpg); Dominique Morrison, Oral Roberts (27.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2-0 week); Ryan Pearson, George Mason (35 pts, 14 rbs in W at Charleston); Thomas Robinson, Kansas (30 pts, 21 rbs, 4 asts vs. North Dakota); Colt Ryan, Evansville (27.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.5 spg, 2-0 week); Trevis Simpson, UNC Greensboro (36 pts vs. Miami)
Team of the Week: Vanderbilt Commodores
There may not be a team in the country that had been dogged harder than Vanderbilt early in the season. The Commodores had suffered tough loss after tough loss, giving credence to the critics that had said this group was overrated heading into the season.
But the performance of this group against Marquette of Wednesday was enough to make the doubters reconsider their stance. Playing in Milwaukee, the ‘Dores absolutely dominated Marquette. They jumped out to a 35-8 lead and never allowed the Golden Eagles to make things interesting. More impressive, however, was the fact that the blowout win wasn’t a result of John Jenkins or Jeff Taylor taking the game over, it was their play on the defensive end, keeping Marquette from getting good looks from the floor for the majority of the first half as they built their lead.
Teams deserving a shoutout:
Baylor: The Bears put together a couple of solid wins this week, knocking off Mississippi State in Dallas and hanging on to beat an overmatched Texas A&M team in Waco. Baylor’s success right now is mostly the result of their defense, as teams are having a tough time figuring out how to deal with the Bear’s length. If Scott Drew can figure out how to get this team’s offense to play at the highest level, than eventually we are going to have to start putting Baylor in the same sentence as the likes of Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State and North Carolina.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats obviously didn’t miss the presence of Yancy Gates all that much. Cincy went 6-0 while he and Cheikh Mbodj were suspended, thriving as they played a more uptempo style and used a four-guard alignment. Included during that stretch was a pair of close wins, over the surprising Oklahoma Sooners and the stumbling Pitt Panthers.
Georgia State: Perhaps the most under-the-radar team in the country right now is Georgia State, a team I feel confident saying had almost no expectations coming into the year. After dropping their first three games, Georgia State has now won 10 in a row, including a 2-0 start to CAA play. This week, they dropped league favorite Drexel by 14 points. Devonta White led the way in that win with 15 points.
Gonzaga: Xavier may be reeling, but for the first time in four games, the Musketeers were back to full strength. Throw in the fact that the Muskies were playing at home, and its understandable why most of the New Years Eve hype heading into their game against Gonzaga centered around the hosts. But the Zags showed they could play as well. Gonzaga got 20 points and 10 boards out of Sam Dower. They also started out WCC play with a win over Portland.
Indiana: I talked about this on the CBS Podcast today, but I wanted to touch on it again here: Indiana has to be ranked in the top ten right now. They’ve beaten both Kentucky and Ohio State. Their one loss came at Michigan State in a performance where they were able to use a 25-2 run to erase a 17 point deficit before running out of gas down the stretch. No team in the country has a resume better than that. But are they a top ten team? That is a different question, and one that is difficult to answer until we see more out of this group.
Iowa: The term ‘upset’ can upset some folks when used in the wrong situation in sports, but I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I were to say that Iowa’s win at Wisconsin was an upset. The Hawkeyes, who were coming off of a close loss to Purdue, got an impressive performances from Aaron White and Bryce Cartwright — as well as a number of late buckets from Roy Devyn Marble — as they knocked off the Badgers.
Memphis: The Tigers bounced back from a rough showing against Georgetown in DC with a pair of wins this past week. They knocked off both Robert Morris and Charlotte as Josh Pastner switched up the lineup a bit. Ferrakhon Hall was moved into the starting lineup and Joe Jackson came off the bench against RMU and didn’t play against Charlotte. Wesley Witherspoon, who has scored just 41 points since he had 22 in the season-opener, didn’t play in either game. He managed just eight minutes in two games last week. The best news of the week, however, had nothing to do with the play on the court: Joe Jackson opted not to transfer out of the program.
Michigan State: Can we officially say that the Spartans are back? After beating Indiana by 15 despite giving up a 25-2 run, Michigan State went into Lincoln and knocked off a resilient Nebraska team. Its very, very difficult not to like a Michigan State team that embraces what Tom Izzo is asking them to do.
Princeton: Look at the Tigers making a name for the Ivy League! Princeton went into Tallahassee and knocked off the Seminoles in triple-overtime, following that up with a win on the road against Florida A&M. Most assume that Harvard is going to be able to earn the Ivy’s automatic bid with relative ease. Princeton doesn’t like that line of thinking, apparently.
Washington: The Huskies had a nice start to Pac-12 play, knocking off both Oregon teams with some impressive play out of Tony Wroten, whose shot selection and ball protection is starting to come around. With scorers like CJ Wilcox and Terrence Ross surrounding him, Washington has the potential to be a very, very dangerous team. It finally looks like Washington is starting to play that way.
Teams deserving a scolding:
Drexel: So much for the Dragons being a CAA favorite. Drexel, who lost four of their first six games on the year, had seemingly bounced back into form with six straight wins. That was before they took on Georgia State and turned the ball over 25 times. With a loss to Delaware earlier in the year, Drexel has fallen to 0-2 in CAA play.
Louisville: Louisville isn’t actually the group that needs the scolding. Its the sportswriters that voted the Cardinals into the top five. This is not a top five team, especially when there are six or seven teams this season that probably should be considered a level above the rest of the playing field. Rick Pitino’s got a hard-working group that is going to win a lot of games, but they aren’t a Final Four contender. Their losses to Georgetown and Kentucky this week don’t help to change that line of thinking.
Marquette: It is too early to say that they Golden Eagles are sliding, especially after a win over Villanova, but it is fair to say that you are concerned about this group. Not only did they lost at LSU two weeks ago, Marquette was embarrassed on their home floor by Vanderbilt. Given the relative struggles that Marquette’s two best wins — Washington and Wisconsin — have had, when can we start questioning whether we overvalued this group.
Northern Iowa: This was supposed to be the team that snuck up on everyone in the MVC. After losing to Ohio on Dec. 20th, the Panthers dropped their first two in league play, to Southern Illinois and Evansville.
Oregon State: I think the Beavers were going to be the team that won the Pac-12 regular season title. Boy, do I feel dumb. Oregon State went out and got beaten by both Washington and Washington State on the road to kick off league play. OSU isn’t done yet, not with how balanced and weak the league is Pac-12 is. But they need to start winning games, and winning games soon.
Pitt: Ay yi yi. There’s not much else to say about the Panthers right now. Pitt has now lost three in a row — Wagner, at Notre Dame and Cincinnati — and simply does not bear any resemblance to the Pitt teams that Big East fans have become accustomed too.
– How long is it going to be before Quinn Cook gets a real shot to play meaningful minutes for the Blue Devils? Because right now, he appears to be the team’s best point guard. Granted, Cook generally only plays against subpar competition and in blow out situations, but he has by far the team’s best assist rate and has a very low turnover rate for a guy that handles the ball as much as he does. Taking it one step further, over the las two games, Cook has tallied 17 assists in 45 minutes without turning the ball over. He also managed to score 22 points on just 12 FGA in that stretch. Seth Curry and Austin Rivers have been far from bad this season, but if Cook keeps performing he will get his shot.
– The Big Ten is going to be such a fun league to follow this year. Five of the top twenty teams reside in the conference, and if you look through the league’s schedule, it seems like two of those teams are playing each other every single night. There are also four more teams that will be in the mix for an at-large bid come March — Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota. Iowa knocked off Wisconsin in Wisconsin. Nebraska gave Michigan State everything they could handle. Is Penn State really the only pushover in this league?
Here’s a better question for you: what happens if Bruce Weber gets fired this year? If the Illini are sharing a league with Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue and the rejuvenated Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan programs, who is going to want to take that job? All of a sudden, Illinois sits in the bottom half of the Big Ten programs.
– Andre Drummond just continues to get better. The gifts that he was given are almost unfair — he’s 6’11”, weighs over 250 lb and has the athleticism and explosiveness of a guy that weighs 50 pounds less and stands six inches shorter. The scary part is that he is only learning how good he can be and beginning to tap into his immense wealth of talent. If this rise continues, imagine where Drummond will be in a few years … hell, in a few months. The biggest question surrounding Drummond: What happens with Alex Oriakhi? Can he accept the fact that he is the second best big man on this team?
– What is going on in the Atlantic 10? Xavier has completely collapsed. Temple has been a different team with Michael Eric injured. Dayton has put together a season that makes about as much sense as starting to watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 45 minutes in. Even St. Louis, the conference darlings, have fallen back to earth a bit, with their latest setback coming at the hands of New Mexico at The Pit. I’m not ready to say that Xavier is not the favorite in the conference. They are. But with the way that things are starting to play out in this league, I don’t think that it is outrageous to say that St. Joseph’s has a shot at winning this league. They have athletes on their front line, they have talented scorers in their back court and, most importantly, this group believes they can win games.
They youth is going to shine through eventually, and this is likely to happen at some inopportune moments. But the talent on this team is undeniable. If the Hawks fall to fifth place finish below all four of the teams that I listed above, than we might be able to declare this season a disappointment. In October, I would have said a fifth place finish in this conference was a pipe dream.
– One of the most pressing questions we have heading into the New Year centers around Cincinnati: What is Mick Cronin going to do about Yancy Gates? Since the big fella has been suspended, the Bearcats season completely turned around. Cronin is playing small ball, using a four-guard lineup to spread the floor and push the ball. Its worked, as Cincinnati has now won six games in a row.
But here’s the thing with Gates — he has the ability to be the best big man in the conference. I know he’s a senior and he’s had his issues, but if Cronin didn’t kick him off the team for the sucker punch he landed on Kenny Frease’s face, than that means that Gates isn’t going anywhere. And if that kind of talent is going to be on your roster, he might as well be in the game. The catch? When Gates was suspended for the Pitt game last season, he returned as a different player. What happens after Gates loses six games.
Games of the Week:
Rutgers 85, Florida 83 2OT:
Indiana 74, Ohio State 70:
VCU 76, Akron 75 OT: VCU overcame a 12 point deficit early in the second half to force overtime against Akron. The Zips took a one point lead on two Zeke Marshall free throws with 20 seconds left, but the Rams had an answer (jump to the six minute mark):
Matchups of the Week:
– 1/3 7:00 pm: No. 11 Michigan State @ No. 19 Wisconsin
– 1/4 7:00 pm: No. 3 Duke @ Temple
– 1/4 7:00 pm: No. 20 Marquette @ No. 9 Georgetown
– 1/4 8:00 pm: No. 22 Kansas State @ No. 15 Kansas
– 1/4 8:00 pm: Tennessee @ Memphis
– 1/4 8:00 pm: St. Louis @ Dayton
– 1/5 9:00 pm: No. 13 Michigan @ No. 12 Indiana
– 1/5 11:00 pm: Arizona @ UCLA
– 1/6 7:00 pm: Belmont @ Lipscomb
– 1/7 12:00 pm: No. 9 Georgetown @ West Virginia
– 1/7 1:30 pm: No. 6 Missouri @ No. 22 Kansas State
– 1/7 4:00 pm: No. 20 Marquette @ No. 1 Syracuse
– 1/7 8:00 pm: Oral Roberts @ South Dakota State
– 1/8 1:30 pm: No. 19 Wisconsin @ No. 13 Michigan