Kentucky may not have put together the kind of non-conference performance that will lock up a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Quite frankly, the Wildcats are anything but a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point in the season, and given how weak the SEC is this year, Kentucky could be looking at a pretty low seed. In our latest bracket projection, Dave Ommen has Kentucky as an eight seed.
But sometimes, simply looking at wins and losses won’t tell you the whole story.
The Wildcats are getting better, and Ryan Harrow is a major reason why. After being a non-factor for the first month — playing in just four of Kentucky’s eight games and scoring a grand total of six points in that span — Harrow has turned into the kind of floor general that the Wildcats need out there. Over the last five games, the NC State transfer is averaging 15.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals while turning the ball over just seven times and shooting 49.2% from the field and 46.7% from three.
“The team trusts him more now,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “He’s spending a lot of time around his teammates. In practice, he’s one of our hardest workers now. He’s got a great attitude. … He’s become that guy that we needed him to be.”
“Leading is not just walking out on the court and barking orders. Leadership is about service, and the only way you can serve others is to be around them. That’s what he’s been able to do, and I’m really proud of how far he’s come. My thing to him was: This is where we – as in I – thought you’d be at the beginning of the year. Now we’ve gotta build on this.”
The growth of this Kentucky team continues to be one of this season’s most intriguing story lines.
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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.
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.