Shabazz Napier, Keith Appling

College Hoops Week in Review: Team of the Week – UConn Huskies

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Team of the Week: UConn Huskies

UConn wasn’t supposed to be relevant this season. Not with their postseason hopes taken away. Not with two players entering the NBA Draft and two others transferring out of the program. Not with Jim Calhoun retiring. This was supposed to be the year where UConn scrapped and clawed and did everything in their power to ensure that Kevin Ollie remained their head coach next season, when they would actually have something to play for.

And then something funny happened: the Huskies went out and punched Michigan State in the mouth at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany. They jumped out to a lead that was as big as 15 points and held on down the stretch, out-executing Sparty down the stretch. Shabazz Napier led the way with 25 points while Ryan Boatright and Deandre Daniels added 13 and 12, respectively. This group may end up being the nation’s biggest spoiler this season.

And I think it’s safe to say that Ollie’s bid to get a contract extension has gotten off to a perfect start.

Teams Deserving of a Shoutout

Creighton Bluejays: It was supposed to be one of the most exciting games of the weekend, but Creighton wasn’t having that. Instead of exciting the nation with a battle featuring all-american Doug McDermott and future lottery pick Tony Mitchell, what Creighton’s 71-51 win over North Texas proved was the difference between a team that knows how to execute offensively and one that doesn’t. What makes this win all the more important for Creighton is that UNT is the kind of team they normally struggle with. Quicker, more athletic, penetrating guards. Factor out Mitchell, and UNT shot 14-54 from the floor and 0-11 from three, a promising sign for Creighton’s defense.

George Mason Patriots: Mason was the forgotten about team in the CAA heading into the season. Drexel was the favorite and Delaware was the contender. But after one weekend, Mason is the only one of those three to remain unscathed. The Dragons lost in overtime to Kent State and La Salle dropped Delaware. The Patriots, on the other hand, knocked off Virginia at home despite playing without Erik Copes or Vaughn Gray. Not a bad way to start out the year.

Bucknell Bison: The simple fact that the Bison went into Mackey Arena and knocked off Purdue is impressive enough to earn a spot on this list. But how they did it makes the win that much better. Center Mike Muscala, a former Patriot League Player of the Year, played far from his best game, finishing with just 14 points on 5-13 shooting.

Syracuse Orange: There is only so much that we can take out of Syracuse’s win over San Diego State in the Battle of the Midway on Sunday afternoon, and none of it can be a negative response to the Aztecs. They walked into an impossible matchup. But I think it is fair to say that the Orange proved that they have the pieces to compete with Louisville for the Big East title. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche combined for 32 points, eight assists, eight steals and seven boards with CJ Fair added 17 points and ten boards.

Kent State Golden Flash: Kent State has traditionally been one of the strongest mid-major programs in the country, but with the hype that Drexel had coming into the season, there wasn’t much talk about the Golden Flash heading into their matchup with the Dragons. That changed after Kent State dropped Drexel 66-62 in overtime on Friday night.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.