PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Xavier Thames, San Diego State
This was supposed to be a down year for San Diego State. This was supposed to be their rebuilding season, the in-between season where Winston Shepard and Dakarai Allen mature into stars while the Aztecs try to learn how to survive the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. And while that is still very much the case with this group, this week proved that it’s anything-but a rebuilding year for the Aztecs, as they knocked off Charleston, Creighton and Marquette to take home the title in the Wooden Legacy.
The best player on the floor for Steve Fisher’s club was senior guard Xavier Thames, who looks like he’s ready to slide into that starring role. Thames averaged 22.0 points in the three wins, shooting 18-for-32 from the floor and 11-for-15 from three. In the wins over the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles, Thames had 26 and 29 points, respectively.
They were good, too
- Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker has been sensational through the first months of the season, and that was no different this past week as he averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 boards and 2.3 steals in wins over DePaul, BYU and at Saint Louis.
- Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will get the attention, but Ennis was awesome in Maui. He averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals while turning the ball over just twice in 109 minutes.
- Chad Frazier, UAB: The Blazers have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, and Frazier has been their best player. He averaged 21.0 points and 4.5 assists in wins over Florida A&M and UNC.
- Lamar Patterson, Pitt: We got to see Patterson’s full arsenal this week: 21.7 points, 4.7 boards, 5.3 assists, 4.0 steals, 8-for-17 threes.
- Sidney Sanders Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights shocked both Rutgers and Seton Hall on the road this week, and it was Sanders that did the majority of the work. He averaged 22.5 points, 9.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.0 steals in the two wins.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova Wildcats
Villanova was expected to be an improved team this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected the kind of start that the Wildcats have gotten off to. After rolling through Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova is now 7-0 on the season and ranked in the top 15.
The most impressive part about this start is that their best player, Ryan Arcidiacono has yet to really hit his rhythm. He hit the game-winner against Kansas, but he did not play well in that game. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots with this team: deep, talented back courts surrounded by physical, blue-collar front court guys. This is a tough group with enough talent that they just might be the best team in the wide-open Big East.
They were good, too
- Arizona: The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT, knocking off Duke in the title game on Friday.
- Dayton: The Flyers beat Gonzaga and Cal out in Maui this week, with their only loss coming by a single point to Baylor in a game that Dayton led for much of the second half.
- Memphis: The Tigers earned themselves a massive victory by knocking off Oklahoma State in the finals of the Old Spice Classic.
- San Diego State: The Aztecs won the Wooden Legacy by picking up wins over both Marquette and Creighton.
- Syracuse: The Orange have looked like the best team in the ACC through the first month of the season, and taking home a title in Maui isn’t going to change that perspective.
- Wichita State: The Shockers notched three nice wins this week, including beating BYU in the finals of the Legends Classic and knocking off Saint Louis on the road.
Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.
On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.
One of my favorite parts of the NCAA tournament is seeing who comes out of nowhere to turn into a viral celebrity during this month of madness.
By my estimation, we had eight true candidates for the award of March Madness Viral Celebrity of the Year. Here they are:
8. ROB GRAY’S LITTLE BROTHER
He was more fired up for Houston’s success in the tournament than any Houston fan in the history of basketball in the city of Houston.
7. JORDAN PEELE
Jordan Poole is spelled a lot like Jordan Peele, which inevitably led to people tweeting at Peele instead of Poole. Peele’s thank you tweet was a highlight of the first weekend.
6. TY JEROME DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR DUMB QUESTIONS
Having to answer questions from a bunch of reporters after suffering the most humiliating moment of your life is not an easy thing to do. Having to answer ridiculous and stupid questions could be intolerable, which is why I loved Ty Jerome’s response to a stupid question he was asked:
5. ROBERT WILLIAMS TEAMMATE
I loved seeing Robert Williams’ teammate do a panotmine windmill in the background while Williams was throwing down a windmill in real time on Providence:
4. MARIAH MUSSELMAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman has led his team to the Sweet 16, cussed on live television and gone shirtless to celebrate with his team, but the star of the Musselman family is his daughter Mariah:
3. MATT HAARMS’ HAIR
He really does have great hair:
This dude lived the dream of every twitter user out there. When your shot is there, you have to take it.
1. SISTER JEAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman went shirtless to celebrate his team’s come-from-behind win over No. 2 seed Cincinnati on Sunday.
I guess this is better than dropping F-bombs live on national TV. Maybe that’s why they had Steve Lappas talking over him …
The worst-kept secret in college basketball no longer appears to be a secret: Penny Hardaway is going to be the next coaching at the University of Memphis.
ESPN is reporting that a deal has been agreed upon. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal is reporting that Penny was waiting for his season to end with East High School before he made anything official. NBC Sports can confirm that an announcement is expected to be made early this week, likely as soon as Tuesday, to introduce the former Memphis and NBA star as Tubby Smith’s replacement.
The truth, however, is that we all knew this was what would be happening the second that Memphis formally fired Tubby Smith. Hell, we knew it a month before that decision was made final. This was always how it was going to play out.
What’s interesting to me is now the discussion of whether or not Penny will be able to handle being a Division I head coach, because it’s been hit or miss with basketball programs hiring legends of their past. Chris Mullin and St. John’s hasn’t exactly gone to plan but Fred Hoiberg was quite successful at Iowa State. Kevin Ollie won a title with UConn then fell off a cliff. Patrick Ewing’s start wasn’t great, but he was better than expected.
Where does Penny fall on this scale?
Well, let me just drop this section of a column from Geoff Calkins in here:
Hardaway isn’t a guy who woke up one morning and decided he’d like to be a Division I head coach. He’s not a former player who got bored with retirement and decided he’d like to do something other than play golf.
Hardaway started coaching at middle school. Middle school! Because an old friend needed some help.
Then he built one of the best AAU programs in the country. Then he spent years coaching a high school team.
Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to roll up his sleeves and do the work? Does that sound like someone who is just in it for the glory and the glitz?
The truth is, if it weren’t for Hardaway’s iconic stature, he might be characterized as a grinder, as a guy who worked his way up from the lowest levels of basketball on the strength of his relationship with the kids.
I think that this is going to work out for both Penny and Memphis, especially if Penny hires a staff that can help him with the intricacies of running a college basketball program.
PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
So Carter’s numbers themselves were ridiculous this weekend. He had 21 points, eight assists, six steals and five boards in a first round win over Murray State. He followed that up with 28 points, five assists, five steals and four boards in a win over in-state rival Marshall to advance to the Sweet 16. For the weekend, he shot 54 percent from the floor and 63 percent from three.
But perhaps the more telling state in regards to what Carter did this weekend are the numbers that the Murray State and Marshall stars put up this weekend. Jon Elmore — whose averages of 23 points, seven assists and six boards matched what Markelle Fultz averaged a season ago — was 4-for-12 from the floor with eight turnovers in Marshall’s second round loss. Jonathan Stark, who entered the tournament averaging 22 points, had nine points on 1-for-12 shooting in Murray State’s first round loss.
On Friday night, we get Jalen Brunson squaring off with Carter.
THE ALL-FIRST WEEKEND TEAM
- ROB GRAY, Houston: Gray is the only guy on this list that didn’t reach the Sweet 16 — blame Jordan Poole for that — but he did put together one of the most memorable and impressive first round NCAA tournament performances I can ever remember when he dropped 39 points and a game-winner on San Diego State.
- KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans averaged 22.5 points in this weekend’s two games, but what got him on this list was that he averaged 16.5 points in the second half of those two games, closing out a come-from-behind win against Stephen F. Austin with drive after drive and hitting the go-ahead three in the win over Florida.
- ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga: Not only did the Zags freshman averaged 21.5 points in two games — including a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double against Ohio State — but he hit the dagger in both of those games; a game-winner in the final minutes against UNCG and a three to put the Zags up six in the final two minutes against Ohio State.
- SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER, Kentucky: We spent the entire season talking about how Kentucky didn’t have a star this year. That may not be true anymore. SGA averaged 23 points, 7.0 boards, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals as the Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 as the highest remaining seed in the South Region.
- THE MARTIN TWINS, Nevada: Caleb was the hero in the come-from-behind win over Texas, doing bonkers in overtime, while Cody had 25 points, seven assists and six boards in the come-from-behind win over Cincinnati. But mostly they were both awesome all weekend.