With the Super Bowl in the past, here are the ten things you need to know about college basketball

6 Comments

source: Getty Images

1. Injuries plaguing two of the nation’s best: Syracuse is the new No. 1 team in the country. They are unanimously ranked at the top of the latest AP poll, and they are currently sitting in first in the NBCSports.com Top 25. There really isn’t a coherent argument to make against the Orange currently being the No. 1 team in the country.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been the most impressive team this season. To date, I’d argue that Arizona and Michigan State have been the two teams that have looked the most formidable as we head into the stretch run of college basketball season. But here’s the thing: neither of those two teams are healthy. Michigan State could get there, as Adreian Payne could be back as early as this week and Brandon Dawson’s broken hand should be healed at some point this month.

Arizona?

They’ll be without Brandon Ashley the rest of the season thanks to a broken foot.

2. Andrew Wiggins is overrated and underrated: The story of the season back in October was the freshmen: Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon. To date, Randle, Parker and Gordon have mostly been what we expected them to be. Wiggins, on the other hand, has failed to live up to the hype of being the “best prospect since LeBron” this year, which has resulted in talk about Wiggins being overrated.

And to a point, that was a fair criticism. But remember: Wiggins is the leading scorer on a top ten team that is a favorite to not only win the Big 12, which may be the nation’s best conference, but is also considered one of the strongest Final Four contenders in college hoops. He’s so overrated that he’s become … underrated? Sounds weird, but it’s true.

3. Tyler Ennis is the nation’s best freshman: Here’s the irony of it all: Wiggins isn’t even the best freshman on his team. Joel Embiid is, and he’s not even the best freshman in the country.

source: Getty ImagesThat title belongs to Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis, who has been the steadying presence and closer that Syracuse has needed so badly this season. C.J. Fair gets a lot of attention, because he’s a senior that has been really good for a really long time, and Jerami Grant gets the hype, because all of those tip-dunks are nasty, but it’s Ennis that is the reason the Orange are currently the No. 1 team in the country.

4. The Big 12, not the ACC, is the best conference: There was some chatter in the preseason that the ACC could end up being the best conference in the history of conferences, hype that turned out to be a long way from true. North Carolina has not been the same team without P.J. Hairston, Duke’s defensive issues has made them quite inconsistent, Virginia’s slow start hasn’t yet been made up by feasting on ACC bottom-feeders, and Pitt has literally beaten no one this season.

The Big 12 is the best conference in the country this season, and it’s because so many teams have outperformed expectations. Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and, arguably, Kansas are all better than we thought. The crazy part? Oklahoma State and Baylor have disappointed to date, and the Big 12 is still loaded. Think about that.

5. The Big Ten is nuts: If you can figure out the Big Ten, you may be the only one. Michigan lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway to the draft and Mitch McGary to surgery, yet they’ve been the best team in league play. That’s until they went to Indiana, who was coming off of a disastrous second half in a loss to Nebraska and beat the Wolverines. Wisconsin and Ohio State were ranked in the top five at one point and both have lost five of six games at one point in league play. Illinois? They went from top 25 to seven straight losses. Northwestern? They went from the league’s running joke to fourth place as February starts.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

6. Kentucky’s talented, but can they win a title?: The talent on Kentucky’s roster has mostly been as good as advertised. They had some struggles early in the season, but Julius Randle has been awesome, James Young is scoring a ton and the Harrison twins have, mostly, looked like what scouts expected them to look like. Throw in the recent emergence of Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress, and Kentucky, on paper, can matchup with anyone.

The problem? The Wildcats haven’t shown the kind of toughness or leadership you expect out of a real title contender. The game against LSU is the perfect example. They got staggered by a 22-6 run to open the game, and never fully responded. Can this team handle the adversity that will undoubtedly come during a six-game run through the NCAA tournament?

Are they even the most dangerous team in the SEC? Florida doesn’t have a star on their roster, but they’re stifling on the defense. The last three games? They’ve given up 128 points total. That’s an average of 42.7 points.

7. Doug McDermott has been awesome: Creighton may not be the best team in the Big East — Villanova probably is, despite losing by 28 to Creighton at home — but they not only have the league’s best player in Doug McDermott, they have a guy that is a shoe-in for National Player of the Year at this point in the season. It’s barely even a discussion at this point.

Which actually disappoints us a bit. The Bluejays have been steamrolling a disappointing Big East, but …

8. Wichita State is better than they were last year: … we miss out on a chance to see them play the Shockers two (or three!) times this season.

The Shockers are still undefeated as we enter February, and I’d argue they are better this season than they were last season. Fred VanVleet is one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, Ron Baker is as good of an off-guard as you’ll find in the country and Cleanthony Early is a legitimate NBA prospect. They are extremely well-coached, they defend and they have size and depth up front.

9. Best team in the American is … Cincinnati?: Entering the season, it was Louisville. Memphis and UConn weren’t all that far behind. SMU had some hype. So did Houston. Cincinnati? They were mostly an afterthought, but they’ve turned out to be one of the best teams in the country. Their defense is absolutely stifling, as Justin Jackson has become arguably the nation’s best overall defender. When Sean Kilpatrick is shooting well, this is a dangerous team.

10. The Mountain West is down, but SDSU isn’t: New Mexico’s issues defensively, Boise State’s mediocrity and UNLV’s inconsistency means that the conference, as a whole, is no where near where it was last season. But that doesn’t change the fact that San Diego State is legitimately a top ten team. Thing about it like this: they have one of just nine wins in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in the last nine seasons and their only loss came against Arizona. Like Cincinnati, this team is stifling defensively and quite dangerous on the days Xavier Thames is hitting shots.

VIDEO: Kenrich Williams posterizes West Virginia

AP Photo
Leave a comment

I am not sure what was more impressive tonight, Kenrich Williams going for 14 boards and six assists against No. 7 West Virginia, the fact that he played the point for them against that press … or this dunk:

It was the dunk.

Definitely.

Alex Robinson leads TCU past No. 7 West Virginia

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

You’d be forgiven if you thought that TCU’s season was done and dusted when starting point guard Jaylen Fisher went down with a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season.

Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and ranked second in assists. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, he was backcourt defensive presence that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the TCU roster.

When the Horned Frogs lost Fisher, they were coming off of their second loss to Oklahoma in the span of two weeks and their fourth loss in the first five games of league play. With two games against both West Virginia and Texas Tech, and a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, left on their schedule, this had all the warning signs of a season in danger of sliding into oblivion.

On Monday night, in TCU’s third game without Fisher, Jame Dixon’s club put together their best performance of the season. They held No. 7 West Virginia to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and led by as many as 20 points in an 82-73 win in Fort Worth, a win that puts an entirely knew feel on where this season can and will go.

The biggest reason for that may be Alex Robinson.

A 6-foot-1 hometown kid and a redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Texas A&M, Robinson has seemingly always been overlooked in this TCU program. Part of that is because he’s not a great scorer or shooter. Part of that is because he isn’t really a defender. And part of is, frankly, is because he never quite got his chance.

And now, with Fisher out, Robinson is not only getting his chance, but he is making the most of it.

TCU is 2-1 in their three games without Fisher, and Robinson has been the star, averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 boards and 10.7 assists. Against West Virginia, one of the nation’s most difficult defenses to deal with, Robinson finished with 17 points, nine assists and seven boards despite barely stepping foot off of the court. He got some help from Kenrich Williams, TCU’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward that was a high school point guard and did the heavy-lifting when it came to breaking that press.

But that shouldn’t put a damper on how Robinson played on Monday.

And it shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to do with Fisher out.

Suddenly, TCU looks like a team that found themselves on the wrong side of lucky through the first seven games of Big 12 play. They lost five games during that stretch by an average of 3.3 points. Two of those losses came when the Horned Frogs missed game-winning shots at the buzzer.

They were and have been a top 25 team that found out the hard way how tough it is to win close games in this league.

And at this point it is probably fair to say that hasn’t changed despite having a new player running the point.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: TCU, Virginia Tech and Kansas State earn big wins

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

1. VIRGINIA TECH EARNED ITS BIGGEST WIN OF THE SEASON

Virginia Tech has been considered by many to be a disappointment this season. The Hokies haven’t beaten anybody notable in the ACC and the non-conference schedule didn’t deliver any signature victories.

Which is why Virginia Tech’s win Monday night over No. 10 North Carolina is so critical.

The Hokies finally have a great win to hang their hat on for the committee. Where has this version of Virginia Tech been all season?

2. TCU ALSO EARNS A SIGNATURE WIN

Entering Monday night, TCU could have rolled over and called it quits on this season.

The Horned Frogs had dropped four of five games by a total of 15 points. Talented sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher was diagnosed with a season-ending injury for TCU.

But TCU stayed strong through some adversity as they pulled off a huge 82-73 Big 12 home win over No. 7 West Virginia. Leading for nearly the entire game, TCU did a great job of slowing down Mountaineer offense as West Virginia struggled to score in the half court.

3. KANSAS STATE PICKED UP THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

It’s time to start keeping track of the bubble.

With March Madness creeping closer, every night will feature games with big bubble implications. Besides for TCU and Virginia Tech beating top-1o teams, Kansas State beating Baylor for a Big 12 road win was the most important bubble win of the night.

The Wildcats have suddenly won four of their last five — including wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor in their last three games. Not many people are talking about Kansas State in a loaded Big 12 but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now.

A few more wins like this and the Wildcats could play their way into the Field of 68.

Bates-Diop scores 20 as No. 13 Buckeyes slip past Nebraska

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Keita Bates-Diop scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and No. 13 Ohio State beat Nebraska 64-59 on Monday night, the fourth victory for the surging Buckeyes in the last eight days.

The back-and-forth game had seven lead changes in the second half. A pair of foul shots by Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. cut Ohio State’s lead to four with 2:19 remaining, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t pull any closer.

Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0 Big Ten) up by six with a layup with 1:02 left, and a pair of foul shots by Kaleb Wesson stretched it to eight. Palmer hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Nebraska ran out of time.

Palmer had a career-high 34 points. Nebraska (14-8, 5-4) was fresh off a 20-point upset of then-No. 23 Michigan on Thursday.

Ohio State surpassed its win total for all of last season. Earlier in the day, it moved from No. 22 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25, its highest position since 2014.

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska: The surprising Cornhuskers knocked off a ranked team last week and are a better squad than last season with Palmer carrying the load, but couldn’t outlast the steady Buckeyes.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes may have been fatigued after a rugged traveling schedule and three straight games on the road. But they found a rhythm in the second half and picked up another critical Big Ten win over a good team.

NEXT UP

Nebraska: At Rutgers on Wednesday.

Ohio State: Hosts Penn State on Thursday.

Virginia Tech picks up most important win of the season over No. 10 North Carolina

(Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Virginia Tech picked up its most important win of the season on Monday night as the Hokies earned an 80-69 ACC home win over No. 10 North Carolina.

While the Hokies have been competitive against some good teams, they’ve never been able to get over the hump against a team as good as the Tar Heels this season. Virginia Tech had high hopes entering the year as a potential ACC dark horse and dangerous team in March. So far, they’ve largely fallen short of those expectations.

During Monday’s win over North Carolina, the Hokies ramped up the defensive intensity and looked like a team that could still be dangerous the rest of the season.

Playing better defense than they’ve shown for much of the season, Virginia Tech also knocked down enough big shots as they made plays on both ends of the floor against the Tar Heels. Neutralizing everyone on the North Carolina offense outside of Luke Maye and Joel Berry (23 points each), the Hokies had a balanced defensive effort that helped to shut down other options for North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels only shot 32 percent from three-point range as Virginia Tech’s perimeter defense looked more consistent than in other games during the season.

Virginia Tech has a top-35 offense (according to KenPom) this season. Scoring points and having enough weapons on that end has never been the issue. Virginia Tech knocked down 12 three-pointers, shooting 40 percent from distance as seven different players made threes for the Hokies. Even on a night where Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (eight points each) both struggled to consistently knock down shots, Virginia Tech had plenty of offense. Justin Robinson led the way with 19 points while Ahmed Hill (18 points) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (16 points) both contributed plenty of offense as well.

The defense for the Hokies hasn’t been able to hold up against some of the elite teams on the schedule. With wins only over Pitt and Wake Forest before Monday night, the Hokies hadn’t picked up a win over a good ACC team thus far this season. And after allowing over 90 points in losses to Florida State, Louisville and Kentucky, Virginia Tech’s defense had a tendency to disappear against the best teams they faced on the schedule.

The North Carolina win was not only the signature victory that Virginia Tech could use at this point in the season. It was also a huge defensive improvement from what the Hokies have shown so far this season. Over the next month, Virginia Tech’s schedule remains difficult. They also don’t play any ranked teams until back-to-back road games on Feb. 10 and 14 against Virginia and Duke.

If Virginia Tech can put together a solid streak and continue to improve its defense, we can get a glimpse into how they could look during that important conference stretch in a few weeks. The Hokies looked like a NCAA tournament caliber team with its win over Monday night. Now can they put together a stretch to back that up and actually get in?

The North Carolina win also makes you wonder if this was a flash in the pan from an overrated team or a glimmer of hope in a turnaround effort.