College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Is the CAA now overrated?: ‘Overrated’ might not be a fair term to use here, as most expected the CAA to take a hit with VCU leaving for the Atlantic 10 this season. ‘Incapable of getting two teams to the tournament’ is probably the better descriptor here. Only three teams in the league having winning records, and none of them have fewer than three losses less than a month into the season. The two favorites in the conference, Drexel and Delaware, are a combined 4-11, and while a number of those losses have come against good competition — Delaware made it to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT, but they’ve lost five in a row, including a game at Lafayette, while Drexel recently lost to Rider, the fifth school outside the BCS leagues they’ve dropped a game against — simply playing a tough schedule won’t get you a trip to the Big Dance.

George Mason may now be the one team that can potentially carry the torch for the conference, but they failed to follow up their season-opening win over Virginia with wins against Bucknell, New Mexico or, on Sunday, against Maryland. With Northern Iowa being the only quality non-conference opponent left on the schedule, there likely isn’t going to be enough there for the Patriots to earn an at-large bid. League play will only hurt, as the CAA is currently 1-20 against RPI top 100 teams.

Two years ago, three CAA teams made the NCAA tournament. But two of those three — VCU and Old Dominion — have left the conference. We knew there was a chance this would happen, but that doesn’t reduce the sting of one of the nation’s most entertaining mid-major leagues losing some of their pluckiness.

What’s up with Kentucky?: After losing two straight games last week, which included the first loss at Rupp Arena in the Calipari era, the Wildcats are going to likely see themselves fall out of the top 25. And that’s probably fair; they lost to two unranked teams, including one that was coming off of a loss at home to Charleston. But I must stress to you that how good Kentucky ends up being is still a complete unknown. This team is very, very young and in the midst of trying to find an identity and pinpoint individual roles while getting on-the-job training for how to play college basketball. Most importantly, Ryan Harrow is still a long way from 100%. The Wildcats ceiling is simply unknown at this point.

But that’s not necessarily a positive thing, because the simple fact of the matter is that this team could end up simply OK. What happens if Harrow never figures out how to play the point for Coach Cal? And what happens if Kyle Wiltjer never learn how to play defense, or Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein can’t figure out a way to share the front court without being massive liabilities offensively? What if Alex Poythress never becomes ‘The Man’? Most importantly, what happens if this team simply doesn’t have the mental toughness and leadership to perform under the pressure of Big Blue Nation’s expectations?

At the end of the day, my point is this: for better or for worse, Kentucky is still a complete question mark at this point.

The nation’s most underrated freshman: Xavier is 6-1 on the season, including a dominating win over Butler and a win at Mackey Arena over Purdue, which is a far cry from what was expected of these Musketeers heading into the season. The biggest reason for their improvement has been the play of freshman Semaj Christon. After sitting out the opener and despite scoring just two points in the win over Butler — his first game of the season — Christon is now averaging 16.0 points and 6.2 assists on the season. An athletic, 6-foot-3 freshman, Christon excels at using a crafty handle, long strides and an explosive first step to get to the rim. Did Chris Mack have a feeling that Christon would be this good? I wonder if that played a role in Mark Lyons’ departure.

In San Diego State the best team in California?: At this point, there really is no way to argue that fact. It’s certainly not UCLA, who not only was beaten by SDSU on Saturday, but who lost to another California school in Cal Poly. It’s not USC, either, as the Trojans lost at home to the Aztecs despite the absence of Deshawn Stephens and Chase Tapley. And to think: this team is only going to get better when James Johnson gets eligible.

If someone can figure out Florida State, do share: Nothing surprises me about Florida State anymore. Is there a program in the country that is more capable of pulling off thrilling upsets and head-scratching, you-gotta-be-kidding-me losses? Last season, Florida State lost to Harvard, Princeton and Clemson (by 20!) while going 4-1 against North Carolina and Duke. That included a 33 point home win over the Tar Heels, a win at Cameron and the ACC tournament title. This season, they won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center, but have now lost to South Alabama, Minnesota and, on Sunday, Mercer.

The Seminoles are at their best offensively when they have Ian Miller, Michael Snaer and Devon Bookert on the floor together at the same time, but that takes away from their ability defensively. Leonard Hamilton is still trying to figure out his rotations — Where does he fit in Montay Brandon? How many minutes should Terrence Shannon play? — so that might have something to do with it. Regardless, this group has proven to be Team Schizophrenic.

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

Bates-Diop, No. 22 Ohio State top Minnesota 67-49

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NEW YORK (AP) — Keita Bates-Diop had 17 points and 12 rebounds, leading No. 22 Ohio State over Minnesota 67-49 Saturday for its seventh straight win.

The game was part of a two-sport Big Ten doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. At night, Minnesota and Michigan State were set to meet in hockey.

The Buckeyes (17-4, 8-0 Big Ten) used a 24-2 burst to overcome a 10-point deficit midway through the first half. They stayed in control, and went on to match last season’s win total.

Kaleb Wesson added 15 points and eight rebounds for Ohio State.

Amir Coffey, who missed five games because of a shoulder injury, scored 11 points for the Golden Gophers (14-8, 3-6). Jordan Murphy had 13.

Maye, Pinson help No. 15 UNC beat Georgia Tech 80-66

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Luke Maye had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 15 North Carolina beat Georgia Tech 80-66 on Saturday.

Theo Pinson added 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Joel Berry II and Cameron Johnson finished with 16 points apiece to help the Tar Heels (16-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

They shot 42 percent and dominated the glass, building a 46-25 rebounding advantage and scoring 26 second-chance points to Georgia Tech’s four.

Jose Alvarado scored 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, including one that pulled the Yellow Jackets to 70-62 with about 3½ minutes left. But he fouled Berry on the Tar Heels’ ensuing possession — and then stepped over him, earning a technical foul with 3:21 to play.

Berry hit three of the four free throws he was awarded to put North Carolina’s lead into double figures to stay. The Tar Heels were 19 of 24 from the line, while Georgia Tech was just 3 of 6.

Josh Okogie led Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3) with 18 points, while Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye each had 12. The Yellow Jackets were just 5 of 18 from 3-point range.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets had won four in a row before this two-game run against top-15 opponents. After suffocating against No. 2 Virginia’s ACC-best defense, Georgia Tech couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s fast-paced offense, which averages nearly 83 points — especially after one stretch in which it had two field goals in 10-plus minutes.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ winning streak remains intact, but Berry had a rough day until his free-throw bonanza all but iced it. The most outstanding player at the Final Four finished just 3 of 17 from the field and was just 1 of 8 from long range.

VIDEO: Ted Valentine apologizes to Joel Berry for incident

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Two weeks ago, during a North Carolina loss at Florida State, official Ted Valentine missed an obvious foul committed on Joel Berry that resulted in a turnover.

When Berry went to ask TV Teddy about the no-call, the veteran referee turned his back on Berry.

Literally.

Today, prior to Georgia Tech’s game at North Carolina which Valentine officiated, he apologized to Berry for the previous incident:

“He was just telling me that he apologized for what he did,” Berry said after the game. “That’s all he said, just apologized and made sure that there was nothing wrong between us and I told him it was all good, it was in the heat of the moment.”

Xavier’s win over Seton Hall shows they’re still a team to be reckoned with

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J.P. Macura had arguably the best game of his career as the senior guard helped will No. 11 Xavier to a 73-64 road win over No. 19 Seton Hall in the Big East on Saturday.

Putting together a strong effort on both ends of the floor, Macura finished with 27 points, five rebounds and three assists as he punctuated a Musketeers comeback with a monster tip dunk in the game’s final minutes. This was arguably the biggest win of the year for Xavier — the first road win against a top-25 team and a comeback after losing for a sizable chunk of the contest.

Macura’s efforts on both ends as the star in this one proved how dangerous Xavier can be and why they’re still a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. Already hovering in the range of a No. 2-3 seed, the Musketeers should elevate into the top ten of the national rankings after another bloodbath week for the best teams in college basketball.

And Xavier is showing plenty of balance by having multiple players who can take over a game. Senior Trevon Bluiett (15 points) is the All-American candidate who has often been celebrated for much of his career but he doesn’t need to play to his best for the Musketeers to beat strong opponents.

Macura seems to feed off of certain situations and the Seton Hall home crowd chanting at him must have done something to help ignite a big performance. Diving for loose balls and knocking down big shots, Macura made plays all over the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game when Xavier needs him.

Others like Kerem Kanter on the interior, Kaiser Gates on the wing, or Naji Marshall running the wing also chip in plenty of points. This team can use balanced scoring with the heavy lifting being done by the hot hand as a dangerous concoction that’s tough for opponents to stop.

Just 10 days ago, Xavier was reeling following a loss to Providence and a blowout road loss to Villanova in Philadelphia. After a three-game winning streak that includes a blowout win over Creighton and a comeback win over Seton Hall on the road, the Musketeers are right back in the Big East title race.

The next month also proves to be fairly average from a scheduling standpoint for Xavier. There isn’t a ranked opponent on the schedule until a rematch with Seton Hall in Cincinnati on Feb. 14 and another big home game against No. 1 Villanova looms right after.

If Xavier continues to pile up wins — they do have tourney-caliber opponents in Butler, Creighton and Marquette — and sweep Seton Hall, then they’ll still get a home game against Villanova that could decide the conference. If both teams keep winning that could even be an important game for the No. 1 seed discussion.

Don’t look now, but Xavier is right back in the top ten and they could stick around for a bit.

Trae Young’s 48 points not enough as Oklahoma State upsets No. 4 Oklahoma

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Trae Young snapped out of his slump, tying a Big 12 record and setting a career-high by scoring 48 points, but No. 4 Oklahoma still fell in overtime on the road against in-state rival Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys jumped out to a 25-6 lead as Young continued to struggle early on in the first half. The Sooners trailed 42-30 at the break, but they were able to rally throughout the second half and only headed to overtime after Kendall Smith hit a three to tie the game at 73 with 6.2 seconds left. Young missed a three at the buzzer that would have won the game.

This win puts Oklahoma State squarely in the bubble conversation. The Cowboys are now 13-6 on the season. They’re only notable wins to date are Oklahoma and Florida State, but they’ll have plenty of chances to add to that résumé over the final two months of the season.

The loss is the second in a row and third in the last five games for the Sooners. All three of those games came on the road, where it has been nearly impossible to win in the Big 12.

Since Texas Tech won at Kansas and TCU won at Baylor on January 2nd, Big 12 road teams have gone 2-22. (At the time of this posting, TCU was trailing at Kansas State and Kansas was yet to tip off at home against Baylor.) Those two wins were Kansas at TCU and Kansas at West Virginia, meaning that for the last 18 days, the only team to win a road game in the Big 12 is the program that has won 13 straight Big 12 regular season title.

With that in mind, Young’s performance was … almost promising?

There is no shame in this loss. Yes, it puts the Sooners two games behind the Jayhawks in the conference title race, but winning the Big 12 regular season title isn’t their only goal this year, and for Oklahoma to come anywhere near reaching any of those goals, they’re going to need Trae Young to be better than he has been over the course of the last two weeks.

Young was in the second half on Saturday. Where the concern truly lies is with the supporting cast. Young shot 14-for-39 from the floor in this loss. The rest of the Oklahoma team shot 14-for-43. Young shot 8-for-20 from three. His teammates shot 2-for-15. Young made all 12 of his free throws. His teammates shot five and missed two. Young scored 48 points. Every other Sooner combined for 33.

As I wrote last week, part of the reason for Young’s struggles was because he was trying to do too much.

Maybe this is why.

It’s a catch-22.

Young needs to be able to trust that his teammates can make winning plays when defenses key on him and take him out of the game, but his supporting cast – Brady Manek, Christian James, Kameron McGusty – need to give him a reason to trust them.