Cody Zeller, Trey Burke

Conference Catchup: Michigan, Indiana headline a loaded Big Ten

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Big Ten Conference Catchup:

Favorites: Michigan and Indiana

At this point, it’s almost impossible to delineate between the Hoosiers and the Wolverines. They are unquestionably two of the top five teams in the country — alongside Duke, Louisville and Kansas (sorry, Syracuse and Arizona) — but, for the same reason that it’s tough to pick a title favorite out of that group, it’s tough to make a choice between the Hoosiers and the Wolverines. Both teams do things well. Both teams do some things poorly. Both teams have an all-american anchoring a roster full of talented role players, but neither team has the kind of talent that sets them apart from the rest of the pack.

Gun to my head, I’m picking Michigan to win the conference. Trey Burke has been that good, they have the kind of athleticism and versatility that is perfect in John Beilein’s system, and I think Indiana’s been bolstered by a weak non-conference resume. Then again, the Hoosiers are actually defending this season and have the nation’s best low-post scorer. Bottom-line: the season finale will be played between these two teams — March 10th at Michigan — and could end up being the best game of the year.

Contenders: I have a tough time seeing anyone other than Michigan or Indiana winning the league, but that’s not because of a lack of quality teams. Ohio State and Michigan State are probably going to end up being the Big Ten’s two biggest challengers, but based on the way that Illinois and Minnesota have played this season, it is impossible to count either team out.

Biggest Surprise: Brandon Paul, Illinois

We expected that Minnesota would be competitive this season, and while I doubt that anyone actually thought they could be a top 15 team at the turn of the year, their success is much less of a surprise than that of Illinois. The Illini look like they have fully bought into what John Groce is selling. A number of their wins have been less-than-impressive, but at the end of the day, a win is a win. Paul, however, has been a revelation. After spending three years as a guy with worlds of potential that was unable to put all the pieces together, Paul is playing like an all-american. He’s become deadly in the pick-and-roll and a much more consistent shooter. The problem? He’s so important to this team than they can struggle when he’s not playing well.

Biggest Disappointment: Purdue

We knew there was going to be a gap between the tournament hopefuls and the rest of the Big Ten, but I don’t think that anyone predicted that the Boilermakers would essentially be written off as a tournament team before December came to a close. Matt Painter’s club has dealt with some injury issues this season and their back court hasn’t progressed like many had expected.

Player of the Year: Trey Burke, Michigan

I’m going with Burke in what is probably the tightest player of the year race in the country. There’s no shortage of talent in the Big Ten this season, but Burke has been the best because of his ability to score and create based on what his team needs at the time. He gets his talented teammates involved early and turns into an assassin down the stretch. His numbers — 17.8 points, 7.4 assists, 1.9 turnovers, 53.6/75.7/38.3 shooting splits — aren’t to shabby either.

Best Freshman: Nik Stauskas, Michigan

No one really talked about Stauskas coming into the season, but he’s absolutely been the best freshman in the Big Ten. The kid simply doesn’t miss when he gets his feet set (he’s shooting 39-69, or 56.5%, from three) but he’s also capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, defending and rebounding for a player his size. He’s Zak Novak, only more talented, bigger, and a much better athlete.

Three Predictions

  • The Big Ten gets eight bids to the big dance. I’m not one to bet against Wisconsin. No one should be. Iowa is a young team that is only going to get better. And given how many good teams there are in the league and how many chances both the Badgers and the Hawkeyes are going to have to notch quality (marquee?) wins, I think their resume ends up being strong enough.
  • Shannon Scott becomes Ohio State’s best playmaker by the end of the year. I love Aaron Craft as much as anyone, but Scott is more dynamic and more talented. On a team that needs offensive support for Deshaun Thomas, Scott is a valuable option.
  • Tom Izzo’s team struggles in March. Branden Dawson hasn’t made a jump this season. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix have been inconsistent. I’m not convinced Keith Appling and Gary Harris will be able to carry this team offensively. Will Izzo’s Magic March touch wear off again this season?

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Indiana*
2. Michigan*
3. Michigan State*
4. Ohio State*
5. Minnesota*
6. Illinois*
7. Wisconsin*
8. Iowa
9. Purdue
10. Northwestern
11. Nebraska
12. Penn State

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Gillon’s banked in 3 gives Syracuse win over Duke

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Syracuse trailed for much of its game against Duke on Wednesday night.

John Gillon made sure the Orange were on top at the end.

The win snaps a three-game losing streak for Syracuse, which keeps itself square in the NCAA tournament hunt with the victory.

No. 3 Kansas clinches their 13th straight Big 12 title

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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It’s official.

No. 3 Kansas has now tied UCLA for the most consecutive conference titles one program has won as a 87-68 win over TCU locked up at least a share of the 13th straight Big 12 championship that Bill Self has won in Lawrence.

Self already held the record fro the most consecutive league titles that a single coach has won; John Wooden won the majority of UCLA’s 13 straight titles, but head coaches Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham were part of that streak as well.

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Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham combined for 37 points and 11 assists in the win, and Josh Jackson chipped in with yet another double-double, adding 15 points, 11 boards and four assists to go along with a tweaked ankle, but the story of this game is the record.

It was a foregone conclusion after they had beaten Baylor in Waco last weekend — Kansas wasn’t going to lose their last four games of the season, are you nuts? — but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular.

The popular refrain for people that aren’t Kansas fans is to let everyone know that this record occurred in the Big 12, a conference where the Jayhawks are the only elite basketball program. UCLA has to contend with Arizona. Duke has North Carolina and Louisville. Indiana has Michigan State. You get the point, and frankly, there is some merit to that point, even when you factor in just how good the Big 12 is and has been in the KenPom conference rankings. Those numbers stem from the fact that the league is as deep as any conference, and the bottom of the league tends to be as good or better than the bottom of just about any league.

Put another way, the Big 12’s computer numbers always look great because the gap between the second-best team and the second-worst team is as small as any power conference on a consistent basis.

I say second-best because Kansas — as a program, historically, and as a team, annually — is a cut above the field. I think we can all agree on that.

But it’s still a dumb argument, because even the best program in a conference has down years. Gonzaga, who is clearly the class of the WCC, didn’t win the regular season title in 2012, snapping Mark Few’s streak of 11 straight seasons as champion. Or how about this: Kentucky, who is the SEC’s version of Kansas and is rolling under Coach Cal these days, didn’t win the SEC regular season title in 2011, 2013 or 2014.

Perhaps the most impressive part of all of this is that Self hasn’t slowed down in the one-and-done era, where program continuity is so difficult to achieve.

That should tell you everything you need to know about this streak.

It should lock up Bill Self’s trip to the Hall of Fame this spring.

And if it doesn’t convince you about how incredible this streak is or how good Self is at his job, then there is no hope for you.

Jayson Williams says Charles Oakley lent him $20K while at St. John’s

24 Jan 1999: Jayson Williams #55 and Sam Cassell #10 of the New Jersey Nets cheer on of the St John''s Red Storm during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. The Blue Devils defeated the Red Storm 92-88. Mandatory Credit: David Leeds  /Allsport
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Another Madison Square Garden tenant has been brought into the feud between Charles Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan.

St. John’s.

How, exactly, do the Red Storm figure in? Well, the story comes courtesy of former St. John’s and NBA standout Jayson Williams, who spoke to Gio & Jones of CBS Sports Radio.

“So, how we did it at St. John’s was when you were in your senior year, and the guys who made it before you goes to the NBA, that guy would give you,” Williams said, according to CBS Sports, “let’s call it like a loan so you don’t have to go out and get an agent or put St. John’s in any trouble with the NCAA. So when my year was up and I was a senior, it was Mark Jackson. Now if anybody knows Mark Jackson, Mark is the greatest human being on Earth – but cheap as the day is long. That man is so frugal.”

As such, Jackson didn’t lend Williams any money, but his teammate on the 1989-90 Knicks, Oakley, did. More from Williams:

“He said, ‘Come here, man. Once you ask somebody once and they ain’t going to give it to you, you don’t beg. What you do is follow me home after.’ Went home and he gave me 20 (and said) ‘When you get drafted, I’m going to want 25 back.’”

And after that the two became fast friends, even if Oakley charged Williams “mafia rates” on return, Williams said. Williams has been one of many outspoken defenders of Oakley, who is in a very public dispute with Dolan after an ugly incident at MSG.

Williams averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his final season with St. John’s before being taken. in the first round of the 1990 draft.

Oakley was one of the few people that came to prison to visit Williams in prison after Williams was sentenced for fatally shooting a hired limo driver in 2002.

“Charles Oakley came to see me once every month like clockwork,” Williams said. “This is why people are so adamant about supporting Charles Oakley.”

 

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

STILL TO PLAY

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out), 6:30 p.m.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed) at Rutgers, 6:30 p.m.

No. 10 Duke at Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out), 7:00 p.m.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out) at Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out), 7:00 p.m.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game) at No. 3 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

Southern Illinois at Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Saint Louis at VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Xavier at Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game), 7:00 p.m.

Texas A&M at Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed), 8:30 p.m.

No. 6 Oregon at Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed), 9:00 p.m.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed), 9:00 p.m.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out) at No. 23 Creighton, 9:00 p.m.

Man arrested for selling fake Duke-UNC tickets

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws the ball in against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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A man was arrested in Durham on Feb. 9th, the day of the Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, for selling counterfeit tickets to the game, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

The man, a 24-year old from Ft. Myers, Florida, named Andrew Frank Arvai, was busted in a sting that was set up by someone that had bought fake tickets from Arvai before.

From the Sun:

DPD spokesman Wil Glenn alleged that Arvai placed an ad on Craigslist for the tickets and set up a meeting with a ticket broker from stubhub.com at Northgate to sell the tickets to the Feb. 9 game.

Glenn said the broker had purchased tickets from Arvai in the past and the Feb. 9 transaction was a sting. The broker called mall security and alerted a police officer that he was going to meet the scalper, who he accused of selling phony tickets.

According to Durham jail records, he was charged with four counts of scalping tickets, four counts of counterfeiting a trademark and four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.