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: Fordham tops VCU at the horn in OT

In this Oct. 6, 2015, photo, VCU men's NCAA college basketball coach Will Wade talks to his team during practice at the Franklin Street Gym in Richmond Va. VCU surged at the end of last season, winning the Atlantic 10 tournament to earn its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (
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Down 12 at halftime, VCU needed a second-half comeback to force overtime at Fordham.

There was nothing VCU could do to counteract Fordham’s game-winner.

Antwoine Anderson’s jumper as time expired in overtime gave Fordham a 69-67 victory Wednesday night.

After winning eight-straight games, VCU has now dropped back-to-back games with a loss to Davidson coming last weekend. The loss will likely bring up the same questions that were there after a less-than-steallar non-conference showing for VCU, given Fordham had lost 10 of 12 coming into the night.

Allonzo Trier suspended after failing PED test

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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The suspension that Arizona guard Allonzo Trier is currently serving is due to positive test for performance-enhancing drugs during the preseason.

Trier, who has missed the first 18 games of the season, confirmed the news with a statement released late on Wednesday night that said he has “never knowingly taken a banned substance.”

According to a statement released by the university, Trier has been cleared by the NCAA after an appeal, but he cannot suit up for the Wildcats until the drug is completely out of his system.

“After finding out that I was given a banned substance by a well-intentioned, but misguided person not associated with the University after an injury, I presented this information to the NCAA,” Trier said in the statement. “The NCAA agreed that I had no knowledge of receiving the substance and my eligibility was restored. Although I can practice and travel with the team, I am not allowed to resume playing in games until the substance completely leaves my body even at a trace amount.”

There is no timetable for his return, but the door is open for a return.

As a freshman last season, Trier averaged 14.8 points and shot 36.4 percent from three. He was Arizona’s best isolation scorer and their leading returning scorer.

Without Trier, Arizona has looked like a Pac-12 title contender. They are 16-2 on the season and undefeated in league play heading into their games at the LA schools this weekend.

VIDEO: James Blackmon saves Indiana with buzzer-beating three

HONOLULU, HI - NOVEMBER 11: James Blackmon Jr. #1 of the Indiana Hoosiers calls out a play during the second half of the second game of the Armed Forces Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on November 11, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Indiana won the game 103-99. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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There is plenty of reason to criticize James Blackmon Jr., and I did plenty of it in this story I wrote about Indiana earlier this month.

It’s also pretty obvious that Blackmon has been Indiana’s best player this season, and he backed that up on Wednesday night. Blackmon kept Indiana from falling to 2-4 in the Big Ten by burying a three at the buzzer to beat Penn State in Happy Valley.

The bigger issue for Indiana fans is the status of O.G. Anunoby’s knee. Indiana’s star forward went down with a non-contact injury in the first half and did not return to the game in the second half. I’m not going to play armchair physician here, but this does not look good.

This shot from Blackmon may have saved the Hoosiers from embarrassment, but where there season goes from here is still a major question mark.

VIDEO: Woodard game-winner topples No. 7 West Virginia

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Jordan Woodard #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Welcome back, Jordan Woodard.

The Oklahoma senior, playing in his just third game back from injury, went coast-to-coast to hit a game-winning shot with under 3 seconds to play against West Virginia to give the Sooners an 89-87 victory in overtime.

The Sooners had just 12 turnovers against Press Virginia while shooting 49 percent from the field. Woodard had a chance to win the game in regulation for Oklahoma after he made a shot and was fouled, but the 86.7 percent free-throw shooter missed the shot from the charity stripe. He finished with 20 points.

West Virginia, which was ranked No. 1 by KenPom, shot 43.7 percent overall and 28 percent from 3-point range.

It may be just one loss, but it can only be considered a significant setback for the Mountaineers in their quest to finally be the team to end Kansas’ 12 year run at the top of the Big 12. Not only is losing a home game a blow, but losing one to a team the Jayhawks have already beaten in Allen Fieldhouse is a double-whammy.

West Virginia is now two games out of first place, and still has two games remaining against Kansas, which is either good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it. The Mountaineers will have to sweep the Jayhawks, steal a different one they aren’t expected to on the road or hope Kansas falters like they really haven’t in over a decade.

Yeah, there’s a lot of season left, but you don’t want the math and probability to work against you like it does with a loss like this. That is unless Oklahoma isn’t the same team it’s been through the first third of the Big 12 season, which lessens the blow some. Let’s investigate that.

Oklahoma was largely able to win this game based on its ball security. The Sooners only coughed it up  on 14.6 percent of their possessions. West Virginia has been forcing turnovers at around a 25-percent clip in Big 12 play. Woodard presence made a huge difference there (even if he had five turnovers), and Oklahoma is now 2-1 with only a loss to Kansas since his return.

Are the Sooners still one of the Big 12’s weakest teams or does Woodard make them a serious contender amid the second tier of the league? If it’s the latter, a recalibration of expectations is probably in order for a conference already considered one of the most difficult give its 10-team, round-robin format.

No. 10 Florida State hands No. 15 Notre Dame first ACC loss

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) steals the ball from Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell (5) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
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Notre Dame shot over 70 percent on 21 3-point shot attempts, but it wasn’t enough as tenth-ranked Florida State became the first ACC team to defeat the Fighting Irish with a 83-80 win Wednesday night in Tallahassee.

Johnathan Isaac had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Seminoles, who moved into a tie for the ACC lead along with Notre Dame and North Carolina, which all sport 5-1 league records. The ‘Noles shot 50 percent from the floor and had 39 points off their bench.

The Fighting Irish made 15 of 21 3-point shots on the night, getting six from Matt Farrell and five apiece from VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia.

Florida State continues the ACC gauntlet with a home test against Louisville on Saturday while the Irish have Syracuse in South Bend on Saturday.

Here are three things to takeaway from this win for Leonard Hamilton’s club:

1. Jonathan Isaac, man: He was so good. He finished with 23 points, 10 boards and seven blocks, shooting just 7-for-9 from the floor, but it wasn’t just the plays that he made that were impressive. It was when they came. Isaac buried a pair of threes and sparked a late Florida State flurry that pushed the Seminoles out to a seven-point lead with two minutes left. He had a nasty block on a dunk attempt by V.J. Beachem, and then, after Florida State turned the ball over on their final possession, blocked two shots at the rim to help preserve the victory.

Isaac has had some issues with intensity and aggressiveness this season, and there are questions about whether or not he has the killer instinct to be a star at the next level. Tonight’s performance should quiet some of those doubters, at least for the time being.

2. This was the first time that Notre Dame looked overmatched by size and athleticism: Florida State is big, they’re athletic and they’re versatile. Notre Dame isn’t, and it showed tonight, particularly in the first half. Matt Farrell had five of his six turnovers in the first 20 minutes. As a team, the Irish finished with 18 turnovers, and just seemed to be out sync offensively for much of the game. That’s what Florida State wants to do defensively. That is their game-plan, and it worked quite well on Wednesday.

And yet, Notre Dame was still able to hang around in this one thanks to their ridiculous three-point shooting. They were 15-for-21 from beyond the arc, the 19th team to make 15 threes and shoot better than 70 percent from three since 2010 and the only one of those 19 to lose. There are a couple ways to look at that:

  1. Notre Dame’s fluky shooting kept them from getting exposed against a team that could take advantage of Notre Dame’s weaknesses..
  2. That Florida State was still able to win, and force turnovers on 23.7 percent of the possessions against the nation’s seventh-best team at protecting the ball, says more about the Seminoles than anything else.
  3. These are two excellent basketball teams that traded haymakers for 40 minutes.

No. 3 sounds about right to me.

3. Both of these teams will be in the ACC title race for the long haul: What more do either of them have to prove? Florida State has now beaten Duke and Notre Dame in their last two home games, which sandwiched an impressive performance in a loss at North Carolina. And the Irish? Their three losses this season came against Villanova, Purdue and Florida State by a combined 16 points, none of them coming at home.