Ten things to prepare football fans for college basketball’s stretch run

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1. Which Andrew Wiggins will show up?: We’ve seen how good he can be when it call comes together. That 29-point performance in the win over Iowa State? The 19 points he scored in the first half against TCU? The 26 points and 11 boards he had against Florida? When Wiggins decides that he wants to dominate … he dominates.

The problem is that that Andrew Wiggins doesn’t always show up. He’s just as likely to finish 2-for-12 from the field with a handful of turnovers and blown defensive assignments as he is to dominate a game on both ends of the floor. And here’s the conundrum for Bill Self, Kansas fans and anyone filling out a bracket: Kansas is the most dangerous team in the country when Wiggins shows up, because the combination of improved play from Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden and the overpowering front line of Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid is already really good.

But when Wiggins doesn’t show up, he’s a liability. And you just never know when he’s going to decide he wants to play.

2. The Big 12 is going to be a lot of fun: To be honest, I actually kind of enjoy the inconsistency of Andrew Wiggins, as it lends some serious intrigue to a Big 12 race that is going to be as wild as anything we see this season.

There are ten teams in the Big 12 this season, and seven of them look like they have an inside track on making the NCAA tournament. Six of those teams — Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas — are all, for the most part, equivalent. What that means is that on just about a nightly basis, we are going to have a key Big 12 matchup between two tournament-caliber teams playing with a lot on the line. So last night’s three-overtime thriller between the Cyclones and the Cowboys? If all goes to plan, that will be commonplace.

Back to Kansas, they are the overwhelming favorite in the league. But they’re young enough that they can lose on any given night, especially when they’re on the road. Can anyone put together the winning streak needed to catch them?

Ten things to get you caught up on the season

3. Set up for great Elite 8 and Final Four: The way that this season has shaken out, there are a handful of teams that have set themselves apart from the rest of the field. Arizona and Michigan State, before their injuries, looked like the two best teams in the country. Syracuse, the way they’ve played the last two games, may have taken over that title. Florida’s defense is downright abusive, as is San Diego State’s and Cincinnati’s. Wichita State is making a run at perfection, Duke seems to be peaking at the right time and Villanova and Creighton have set themselves apart from the Big East crowd.

All told, there are five or six teams that look like national title contenders and another five or six that look like legitimate Final Four-caliber teams. With the amount of inconsistency throughout the rest of the country, we could be looking at a scenario where the first weekend of the tournament is wild, but where the top of the bracket is strong enough to advance.

That’s what we want, right? A couple of 12 or 13 seeds winning early, a few buzzer-beaters, and the best of the best marching on through to the Elite 8? There’s nothing better than a matchup of two powerhouse programs late in March.

source:  4. Wichita State’s undefeated regular season hinges on this week: The Shockers will pay a visit to Indiana State and Northern Iowa this week, who are probably the second and third best teams in the Missouri Valley. If they can get through this week, they’ll have a great chance at entering Arch Madness without a loss.

I’m rooting for it to happen. I’d love to the Shockers enter the NCAA tournament without a blemish on their record.

5. Syracuse? Not so much: It would be fun to see the Orange enter the tournament without a loss as well, I just don’t see it happening. Five of their last eight games are on the road, which may actually be their five toughest road games of the season: Pitt, Duke, Virginia, Florida State and Maryland. Then there’s the ACC tournament. The Orange are the real deal, but even The Truth can stumble in that stretch.

6. How many bids from Big Ten?: The Big 12 is the most entertaining league.

The Big Ten may be the weirdest.

Think about it like this: two top former five teams played on Sunday, with Ohio State beating Wisconsin as both teams now sit at 4-5 in league play, a half-game behind … fourth-place Northwestern.

Seven teams are in a position to get a bid to the Big Dance. How many will make it?

7. Can anyone catch Dougie McBuckets?: He’s far and away the best player in the country at this point in the season. His numbers are inarguable. His team is ranked in the top 15. He’s a senior dominating in a land of freshmen. Can any of those freshmen put together the late season run needed to catch him?

8. A resurgence in the Bluegrass State: This was supposed to be a season dominated by Kentucky and Louisville. Instead, neither team even looks like the best in their respective conference. Kentucky certainly has the talent to make a run at a national title, but whether or not they actually have the toughness to pull it off is a different story.

And Louisville? Well, they’re front court is depleted, their back court doesn’t seem to be able to get along and they can’t beat a top team in their conference in the Yum! Center. It’s crazy to think that there may not be a real Final Four contender in the Bluegrass State this year.

9. Final Four sleepers: We went over some of the title favorites earlier, but outside of those teams, who has the makeup to put together a run to the Final Four?:

  • When Nik Stauskas is playing like he did for the last month, Michigan is as good as anyone. When he plays like he did against Indiana, they’re very beatable.
  • Iowa State is a matchup nightmare, using their center (Georges Niang) to bring the ball up and posting their point guard (DeAndre Kane). They have the pieces, but they’ll need beneficial matchups.
  • Iowa can make a run as well, they just need to learn how to close out games against elite competition.

10. Not a lot of mid-majors will get at-large bids: Don’t be surprised to see quite a few middle-of-the-pack power conference teams get a bid to the dance as the mid-major ranks are somewhat depleted right now. Outside of Wichita State and Gonzaga, there aren’t many teams from outside one of the top nine conferences that deserve an at-large. Maybe Southern Miss, but that’s it.

In other words, there aren’t many bid-stealers this season.

Martin brothers lead No. 24 Nevada past Utah State, 93-87

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LOGAN, Utah — Cody Martin scored 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting and twin brother Caleb Martin added 23 points to lead No. 24 Nevada to a 93-87 win over Utah State on Saturday.

Jordan Caroline chipped in with 20 points for the Wolf Pack. Nevada (23-5, 11-2 Mountain West) shot 59.3 percent from the field — including 11-of-21 from 3-point range — to pull away from the Aggies.

Koby McEwen scored 32 points and Sam Merrill added 16 to lead Utah State. The Aggies (14-14, 7-8 MW) have lost 14 straight to ranked opponents and fell to the Wolf Pack at home for the second time in five games.

Utah State was the hotter team from the field early, going 13 of 19 (68.4 percent) in the first 12 minutes. Nevada used a 17-0 run late in the first half to take its first double-digit lead at 47-37. Cody Martin converted a four-point play to ignite the run, and Hallice Cooke and Kendall Stephens put the Wolf Pack in front with back-to-back 3-poitners.

Nevada ultimately took a 52-40 halftime lead as Utah State missed 12 of 13 shots over the final 7:19 of the first half.

The Aggies trimmed the lead to 72-66 on a dunk from DeAngelo Isby with 8:32 left. Nevada kept Utah State from getting any closer by hitting six straight baskets over a five-minute stretch. Caroline finished the string with a 3-pointer that put the Wolf Pack up 87-75 with 3:10 remaining.

McEwen ran off eight points in a minute, capped by a hammer dunk, to cut Nevada’s lead to 91-87 with 14.6 seconds left. Caleb Martin sealed the win by making a pair of free throws with 7.6 seconds to go.

BIG PICTURE

Nevada: The Wolf Pack opened up a 1 1/2 -game lead over Boise State atop the Mountain West standings and avoided a loss that could have damaged their NCAA Tournament hopes. With three of its four remaining games coming against the lower half of the league, Nevada can clinch at least a share of the regular season title in the week ahead.

Utah State: The Aggies feasted on a steady diet 3-pointers from the opening tip and it ultimately cost them. Utah State hit 6 of 10 from beyond the arc through the first 12 minutes, but went 1 of 10 over the next eight minutes. The Aggies finished 10 of 33 (30.3 percent) from the perimeter.

UP NEXT

Nevada: The Wolf Pack host San Jose State on Wednesday.

Utah State: The Aggies visit Air Force on Saturday.

Yante Maten leads Georgia to upset of No. 18 Tennessee

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ATHENS, Ga. — Yante Maten scored 19 points and Georgia held off No. 18 Tennessee for a 73-62 victory Saturday that denied the Volunteers an opportunity to pull within a game of the SEC lead.

Derek Ogbeide had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Georgia (15-11, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) won its second straight in a late attempt to return to NCAA Tournament consideration.

Tennessee (19-7, 9-5) remained two games behind No. 10 Auburn, the SEC leader, which lost to South Carolina 84-75 on Saturday. The Vols have lost two of their last three.

Lamonte Turner led Tennessee with 14 points. Jordan Bowden had 13, and Admiral Schofield 11.

Foul trouble helped to limit Tennessee’s Grant Williams to five points, 11 below his average. Williams made only one of eight shots from the field.

Tennessee’s last lead was 6-5. Georgia briefly led by double figures at 38-28 before a 3-pointer by Schofield started the Vols’ comeback.

A tip-in by Kyle Alexander cut the Georgia lead to 51-49, but the Vols couldn’t take advantage of repeated opportunities to pull even.

A three-point play by Ogbeide and a 3-pointer by Tyree Crump gave the Bulldogs a 57-51 lead. Ogbeide’s tip-in of a Maten miss pushed the lead to eight points. Crump added another 3 for a 62-54 lead with 1:54 remaining.

Maten scored 11 of Georgia’s first 13 points but left the game after collecting his second foul with about five minutes remaining in the half. He sat out all but a few seconds of the final five minutes as the Bulldogs saw their big lead of 21-12 shrink.

Turner and Bowden made 3-pointers to help the Vols cut into the deficit before halftime.

Schofield briefly left the game midway through the first half when he landed hard on the court after battling for a rebound.

There were delays at the start of each half, each lasting several minutes, due to shot-clock malfunctions.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Vols trailed by only two points at halftime, 28-26, despite offensive struggles most of the half. Tennessee showed good composure in trimming Georgia’s lead after Williams went to the bench with four fouls and only four points with 11:21 remaining.

Georgia: The Bulldogs continue to struggle with their backcourt play. Tennessee’s man-to-man pressure had an immediate effect on Georgia’s half-court offense as Georgia struggled to run plays. The Bulldogs’ best success came when the guards were able to quickly pass to Maten, even if he wasn’t near the basket.

TAKE A BOW

Two former Georgia standout guards were featured in promotions. J.J. Frazier bobblehead toys were given to fans, and Frazier was on hand to lead a pregame cheer. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, now with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, attended the game and given a tribute during a timeout.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Hosts Florida on Wednesday night.

Georgia: Visits South Carolina on Wednesday night.

Does Kansas have enough in the tank after rallying to beat West Virginia?

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For the second time this season, Kansas overcame a double-digit deficit to knock off Big 12 rival West Virginia. This time, the No. 13 Jayhawks might have saved their chances of winning another Big 12 regular-season title with a critical 77-69 home win over the No. 20 Mountaineers on Saturday evening.

After trailing by as many as 12 points during the second half, the Jayhawks finished the game on a 19-3 run to close things out as West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was ejected towards the end of the contest.

Struggling to a slow start once again against West Virginia, the Jayhawks grinded out offense at the free-throw line before finally figuring things out down the stretch. Playing with a thin rotation that looked exhausted by the end of the game, Kansas is lucky to come out of this one with a win. The free-throw disparity certainly played a huge part as Kansas had a 35-2 advantage in that department. The discrepancy helped lead to Huggins’ ejection as he had to be frustrated by those numbers. Even though West Virginia is a pressing team that commits a lot of fouls, and shoots a ton of threes, 35-to-2 is a pretty staggering difference.

Big man Udoka Azubuike had a strong second half for the Jayhawks, as he took advantage of additional touches on the interior to finish with a team-high 21 points and five rebounds. Dominant whenever he was able to get a post touch within five feet, Azubuike was 7-for-8 from the floor on Saturday as he’s now 20-for-22 from the floor over his last three games. Also coming up with a few key blocks down the stretch, Azubuike made momentum-shifting plays on both ends of the floor.

While Kansas had a monster performance from its monster in the middle, this was another win in which the Jayhawks needed to claw back from a big deficit to win at home. Not quite the same threat at The Phog this season as they’ve been in years past, the Jayhawks have looked beatable at home during many nights this season.

But even though Kansas hasn’t looked immortal, they’ll certainly take an important win like this over a tough opponent like West Virginia.  The win means the Jayhawks are still within striking distance of Texas Tech as the Red Raiders are on the road against Baylor on Saturday night. The big question with Kansas will be if they have enough gas to close things out and potentially win another Big 12 regular season title. Regardless of how the Red Raiders do against the Bears on Saturday, Kansas will get its chance at Texas Tech with a game in Lubbock next week.

Before they get to that all-important game, however, the Jayhawks have to overcome being worn down. Having to exert a lot of energy by playing starters heavy minutes during emotional comeback wins isn’t going to help in that equation.

Jay Bilas noted that Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham has only missed 30 seconds of action total over his last 10 games. The All-American floor general is literally playing 40 minutes per night. And although Graham was still a warrior in finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, he never took over in a tight, must-win game like an All-American would usually do.

Graham made a key three-pointer and still put up a good stat line, but he only finished with six field goal attempts. His teammates were usually the ones going on strong scoring runs. This could ultimately be the byproduct of Graham riding the hot hands of his teammates and being a good floor leader. It should also be noted that Graham went to the charity stripe 10 times as he was getting fouled quite a bit.

But Graham could also be wearing down after all of the recent minutes. Graham is averaging 37.2 minutes per game this season. For perspective, Jimmy Butler is leading the NBA in minutes at 37.3 minutes a night. Basketball fans constantly make jokes about Tom Thibodeau running him into the ground. In other words, Graham’s recent workload has been ridiculous.

And Graham’s fatigue is starting to show in his shooting numbers. Over his last four games, Graham is shooting 36 percent from the floor (20-for-55) as his scoring production has started to dip. Graham is also only 8-for-24 on two-point field goals during that span, as most of his offensive production is coming from threes and free throws. Things aren’t going to get any easier for Graham when he has to face opponents like Trae Young and Oklahoma and Texas Tech next week.

Does Graham have enough in the tank to get Kansas past that stretch for two more wins? When will his teammates run out of gas if they have to keep playing at full speed during every game?

Azubuike also had to play 31 minutes in Saturday’s win over West Virginia — the first time he’s had to play over 25 minutes since Jan. 20. Looking gassed at the end, Azubuike still managed to muster enough energy for those big plays late in the game. Other Kansas starters are also playing well north of 30 minutes every game as it leads to some inconsistent nights.

Even if Kansas somehow manages to win another Big 12 regular season title, it might come at the expense of everything else this season. The Jayhawks might not have anything left to give after another few weeks of games like this.

Minnesota’s Amir Coffey out for the season with shoulder injury

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Minnesota sophomore Amir Coffey will miss the rest of his sophomore season with a season-ending shoulder injury, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-8 Coffey was one of the Big Ten’s most productive freshman last season but he wasn’t able to stay consistently healthy during the 2017-18 campaign. Coffey put up solid numbers when he was able to play, averaging 14.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, but he missed 10 total games with the injury.

Coffey has been out for the last five games, and with Minnesota’s postseason hopes plummeting during an eight-game losing streak, the decision to hold him out was probably best for his long-term health.

Barford leads dominant Arkansas past No. 21 Texas A&M, 94-75

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daniel Gafford capped off the most difficult stretch of his young Southeastern Conference career with a disappointing and foul-plagued performance the last time Arkansas faced Texas A&M.

The standout Razorbacks forward remembered that game all too well, and it showed as he added yet another dominating effort to his remarkable freshman season on Saturday.

Gafford scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting to lead Arkansas (19-8, 8-6 SEC) to its fourth straight win, 94-75 over the No. 21 Aggies. It was the fifth straight game in double figures for Gafford, who is shooting 70.7 percent (29 of 41) since the 80-66 loss to Texas A&M on Jan. 30.

The 6-foot-11 freshman was on a mission to atone for that loss, and it showed as he hit his first five shots and punctuated the dominating win with a late dunk.

“Playing them here, in my mind I had to play smarter and more physical,” Gafford said. “Because in my mind, I was ready for them. I was ready for Tyler Davis, I was ready for pretty much all the big men because pretty much I got punked when we went up to Texas A&M, and I didn’t want that to happen tonight.”

Gafford had plenty of help from his teammates, with Jaylen Barford scoring 14 of his 21 points in the second half and adding five rebounds and five assists for the surging Razorbacks.

Also, Daryl Macon finished with 20 points for an Arkansas team that’s won seven of its last nine. It was the eighth time in the last nine games Macon has scored 20 or more. C.J. Jones had 13 points off the bench.

Robert Williams had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8), which lost its second straight after entering the rankings this week. The 6-foot-10 sophomore also had three blocks and finished 10 of 13 from the field.

Admon Gilder also scored 20 points for the Aggies, while Davis added 15 points and T.J. Starks had 12. However, Texas A&M was unable to slow down an Arkansas team that shot 49.3 percent (35 of 71) from the field and hit 10 of 23 3-pointers.

“There’s not many teams going to come in here and beat Arkansas when they shoot the ball like they did today,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I thought they shot the ball extremely well and made some tough shots.”

REBOUNDING RAZORBACKS

Texas A&M entered the game 3rd nationally and tops in the SEC in rebounding with an average of 41.9 per game. The Aggies also outrebounded Arkansas 45-30 in their win last month, but the Razorbacks turned the tables on Saturday — finishing with a 45-33 edge on the glass.

Freshman Darious Hall followed up his career-best 11-rebound effort in a win over Mississippi earlier in the week with seven rebounds in only 17 minutes on Saturday, and Gafford and senior Trey Thompson had six rebounds apiece.

“This is a team that beat us by 15 at their place, and they’re one of the better rebounding teams in the country with all that size,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Somehow we found the energy. We found the players that were really engaged and going to get those rebounds.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M: The last time the Aggies won in Fayetteville was March 1, 1986, when both teams were members of the Southwest Conference and Arkansas still played in Barnhill Arena. They led only once on Saturday, a 4-2 advantage that disappeared quickly after the Razorbacks went on an 11-0 run. Texas A&M was 0 of 7 on 3-pointers while trailing 43-32 at halftime, and it just avoided matching its season low for 3-pointers — finishing 4 of 17 as a team.

Arkansas: The win starts a difficult five-game stretch to end the regular season for Arkansas, which entered Saturday 32nd in the NCAA’s RPI ratings. Beginning with the 18th-rated Aggies, the Razorbacks face teams all 31st or higher in the ratings during the five games — including Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri. They started the stretch in dominating fashion on Saturday, a key victory for a team hoping to reach the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four seasons this year.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M returns home to face Mississippi State on Tuesday.

The Razorbacks host Kentucky on Tuesday.