Weekend Preview: Michigan-Iowa, Gonzaga-Memphis, and Lumberjack Night!

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Michigan at No. 17 Iowa, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Just how good is Iowa? That’s the question that everyone has on their mind at this point in the season. Looking at the numbers, the Hawkeyes look like a top 10 team. Looking at their roster, that theory is more or less confirmed. They are deep, they have lineup versatility, and Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are two of the best players you don’t hear talked about.

The problem? Iowa hasn’t beaten anyone this season. Their best win is against an Ohio State team that collapsed after playing them. But here’s the thing: they haven’t lost to anyone that’s not really good. Their six losses are all against teams that are ranked in the top 20 on KenPom, including Ohio State.

We know what Michigan is at this point. They’ve been the best team in the Big Ten during league play, currently sitting in a tie for first place with a Michigan State team that they’ve beaten. The Hawkeyes are just two games behind them. Are they really going to be a contender in this conference, or is Fran McCaffery’s club nothing but a pretender.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 23 Gonzaga at No. 24 Memphis, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Gonzaga probably needs this win more than Memphis. The Zags have eight top 100 RPI wins this season, but just one of them against a team in the top 50. That was BYU. So while Mark Few’s club has once again put up an impressive record, how many people are going to think back to last season’s gaudy record and NCAA tournament collapse with this year’s Gonzaga. Memphis was smacked around by SMU and lost to UConn at home, but at least they already own wins over Oklahoma State, LSU and Louisville.

FIVE MORE TO WATCH

  • No. 15 Texas at Kansas State, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: Ahh, the Big 12, where every weekend yields matchups between tournament teams. This may be the best of the bunch, as a Texas team that owns the league’s only win over conference-leading Kansas will pay a visit to the Octagon of Doom.
  • West Virginia at No. 8 Kansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: West Virginia has been one of the most surprising teams in the country in conference play, but it will take a minor miracle for them to pull off an upset in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Missouri at Ole Miss, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Missouri whiffed on two chances to land a season-defining win over Kentucky or Florida, which makes Saturday’s matchup with the Rebels that much more important. They’ll only have so many more chances to land quality wins.
  • Baylor at No. 21 Oklahoma, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Is Baylor ever going to turn their season around? A win at Oklahoma State looked like it could be a catalyst, but they followed that up by getting drilled by Kansas at home.
  • No. 9 Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sun. 1:00 p.m.: The Spartans finally have Adreian Payne back in the lineup, which is not a good thing for a Wisconsin team that has lost five of their last seven games. .

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 13 Saint Louis at La Salle, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Defensively, the Billikens are as good as anyone in the country, but they are middle-of-the-pack in the Atlantic 10 in offensive efficiency. Can the Explorers take advantage?
  • No. 7 Cincinnati at SMU, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The Mustangs have knocked off a pair of top 25 teams in Dallas this season, and they have the pieces to matchup with Cincinnati. They have size inside, a quality point guard and talent on the wings. They’ll have their work cut out for them scoring on the Bearcats.
  • No. 4 Wichita State at Northern Iowa, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: This may be the last real chance for someone in the MVC to knock off the Shockers this season. Wednesday’s loss to Illinois State isn’t exactly promising for the Panthers, however.
  • No. 19 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Sat. 9:30 p.m.: The Cowboys are reeling and Marcus Smart is struggling. Texas Tech? They’ve got some size, they’ve got some athletes and they can be tough at home.
  • No. 12 Creighton at St. John’s, Sun. 7:00 p.m.: The Bluejays nearly lost to a streaking St. John’s team a couple of weeks ago in Omaha. Now, the Johnnies will get a crack at them at home. Doug McDermott had 39 in that game and hit the game-winner. Maybe try to slow him down?

FIVE THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

1) Three other top five teams will be in action on their home floors this weekend:

  • Clemson at No. 1 Syracuse, Sun. 6:00 p.m. 
  • Oregon State at No. 2 Arizona, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
  • Nevada at No. 5 San Diego State, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

2) Four more top 25 teams will be heading out on the road this weekend:

  • No. 20 Virginia at Georgia Tech, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 Kentucky at Mississippi State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.,
  • No. 11 Duke at Boston College, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 22 UConn at UCF, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

3) Everyone is talking about Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10, but VCU has been pretty impressive in their own right. They’re just a game out of first place, but they’ll visit a St. Joseph’s team playing for their tournament lives on Saturday.

4) Lumberjack Night!!!

5) Minnesota was safely in the NCAA tournament before they lost three straight games to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue. Indiana was out before they beat Michigan. The Hoosiers probably need the win more than Minnesota.

Creighton loses starter Krampelj for the season

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Creighton big man Martin Krampulj will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left team, the team announced on Thursday.

Krampelj was one of the most improved players in the Big East this year, averaging 11.9 points and 8.1 boards while starting 19 games. He suffered the injury in a win over Seton Hall on Wednesday.

Last year, the Bluejays lost all-american point guard Mo Watson to a torn ACL right around this same point in the season.

Colorado freshman out while dealing battling stroke-like symptoms

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Colorado redshirt freshman Evan Battey suffered a medical scare while back at home in California during the semester break, and it’s unclear how and when he’ll be able to return to practice.

The team has not detailed specifics of what happened to Battey but that is mainly because they aren’t quite sure the specifics. They said that he is dealing with stroke-like symptoms after collapsing at his home.

“He’ll be meeting with doctors and starting his rehab process this week as we get going,” Boyle told reporters this week. “The doctors are still gathering information. Now our doctors can look at him, see him, and get him to who he needs to see. They’re still getting everything from the doctors in California from when the event happened. There’s a lot of things that need to go on.”

“Obviously I want it to happen right away. Evan wants it to happen right away. But we’re just going to take it one day at a time, have him get better and improved. He’s been doing that and that’s all we can ask.”

Battey has had some tough breaks during his basketball career. He did not pay his final season in high school after a family issue caused him to have to repeat his freshman year. Since he did not graduate in four years, he also had to redshirt this season.

What’s Wrong With Trae Young: An in-depth look at how defenses are adjusting to the Oklahoma superstar

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In the past two weeks, Oklahoma’s Trae Young learned the hard way that there is always a cost that comes with success, and for him, it appears to be the weight of expectation.

Young has become a sensation in college basketball this season. He is this year’s version of Adam Morrison, or Jimmer Fredette, or Stephen Curry. He is the best story in college basketball, must-see TV not just because of the numbers he puts up but because of the entertainment that comes with getting seats to the The Trae Young Show.

Not only that, but Young is playing in the toughest conference in college basketball for a title contender as a 19-year old freshman in the biggest, most important and most influential role I can ever remember seeing a player in. Put another way, he has the best coaches in the country ranking their brains for a way to slow him down and get the ball out of his hands all while he, in the back of his mind, is wondering how he can top what he did the game before.

Young has never told me that’s the way he feels, but isn’t that human nature? When I write a great story, I want the next one to be just as good if not better. Musicians want their next single to be better than their last. Lawyers that crush a cross-examination want their closing argument to ensure they win the case. And Young wants to be better every game than he was the previous.

And that, it seems, is why Young has hit the first slump of his post-high school career.

On Tuesday night, No. 4 Oklahoma went into Kansas State and got whooped, 87-69, as Young shot 8-for-21 from the floor and turned the ball over 12 times. Against the Wildcats, Bruce Weber came up with a game-plan that was as simple as it was effective. They blitzed Young on every ball-screen and dribble-handoff, forcing the ball out of his hands before face-guarding him to try and prevent him from getting the ball back.

That came on the heels on committing nine turnovers against TCU over the weekend. He currently leads the country in turnovers – 5.2 per game, including 39 turnovers in his last five games – and it’s a result of the degree of difficulty of the plays that Young is trying to make; it’s almost as if he’s trying to get an assist, to make a highlight reel pass, on every possession, an issue that gets magnified by the number of layups opponents get off of those turnovers:

“He’s trying to do too much,” Young’s father, Rayford, said this week. “He wants to win so bad. He’s got to understand in this league coaches make a lot of money to scout you and shut you down.”

“That’s the difference between now and the beginning of the year. People didn’t understand how to get the ball out of his hands. Now there is some film on him.”

The other issue with Young of late is making the right read. I wrote earlier this season about Young’s passing and how he is so good at reading where defenders are in pick-and-rolls. He had a knack for almost always making the right pass:

But he’s made mistakes more often in recent games than in the first couple of weeks of the season.

In the first clip below, you’ll see Young try to make a no-look pass to the roll-man out after getting blitzed, not seeing that Kansas State was sending a weak-side defender to help. The pass that was open was to the weak-side corner, where Christian James would have had an open look at a three:

In the second clip above, the pass Young tries to make isn’t wrong – getting Jamuni McNeace the ball with a smaller defender on his back can work – but he didn’t put the ball on the money.

That is another trend I noticed watching Young in recent games. I’m not sure sloppy would be the right word to use, but where he typically had been putting the ball exactly where it needed to be previously, he’s now throwing the ball into the crowd.

In the first clip below, you’ll see Young make the right read and find Brady Manek for an open three. The shot didn’t go down, but that’s the shot that Oklahoma is looking for. In the second clip, Young does the same, except the pass ended up three feet off the mark and resulted in a turnover. At the end of the play, Young is visibly frustrated:

In the end, I think the fix here is fairly simple.

For starters, Lon Kruger just needs to settle the kid down. The first action of a possession doesn’t have to lead to a shot. Keeping possession and running more offense is better than forcing a pass with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. I would also expect Kruger to find more ways to get Young into a ball-screen action that goes beyond a simple high-ball screen. Some false motion at the start of a possession can work wonders moving a defense around and getting individual defenders into uncomfortable positions.

Young also needs to trust his teammates a little more, and not in the sense that he doesn’t think they can get the job done but because it would alleviate some of the pressure that falls on his shoulders. Brady Manek, Christian James, Kameron McGusty. Those are good players that can probably handle more of the load.

At the end of the day, opponents have made some adjustments to what Oklahoma wants to do.

And now it is on the Sooners to tweak what they do.

This happens with every team in the country during the course of the season, but given how reliant Oklahoma is on one player, the effect is magnified.

That’s a long-winded way of saying this: The Sooners are fine.

Stanford’s surprising mid-season turnaround continues with upset of No. 16 Arizona State

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Stanford earned a huge home win over No. 16 Arizona State on Wednesday night, taking down the Sun Devils for an 86-77 Pac-12 win.

The win for the Cardinal continues one of the best (and most surprising) turnarounds in the nation as Stanford is keeping pace with Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings. Now sitting at 5-1 in the conference, the Cardinal have won five consecutive games after sitting at 6-8 for the season following a loss to Cal. Stanford has picked off UCLA, USC and Arizona State since the start of 2018 while also sweeping the Washington schools on the road last week. Now Stanford is 11-8 overall while looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the Pac-12.

So how did this turnaround exactly happen?

Stanford figured things out with the mid-season addition of touted freshman forward Kezie Okpala. A bit of a late-blooming prospect coming out of high school, the 6-foot-8 Okpala was a high-end four-star recruit who had to sit out Stanford’s first 12 games this season due to academic complications.

During his final semester of high school, Okpala dropped below the threshold of what Stanford required in an AP calculus course while he tried to juggle the academic rigors of three AP classes. Stanford’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions notified Okpala of this and said they’d honor the original decision to admit him if he agreed to sit out of competition.

It was initially unclear if Okpala would play this season, but he’s figured out the academic side of things, and Stanford is very happy that he’s with them on the court. Since Okpala’s debut, the team has gone 5-2 with the freshman playing extended minutes in all seven contests. Okpala has even scored in double-figures in five of seven games he’s played in so far this season.

While Okpala actually had his worst shooting performance of the season on Wednesday in the win over Arizona State — finishing with four points on 1-for-8 shooting — his size and skill level on the wing (five assists) helped the Cardinal in other facets of the game. Outrebounding the Sun Devils, 44-30, while adding 13 offensive rebounds, Stanford has a long and athletic main lineup with Okpala in the mix.

Forward Reid Travis (18 points, 10 rebounds) remains one of the Pac-12’s most productive players after helping dismantle the Sun Devils with another double-double. Seniors like guard Dorian Pickens (19 points) and center Michael Humphrey (four points, five rebounds) are solid contributors. Freshman guard Daejon Davis (13 points, eight assists) is also seeing his play improve over time as he’s been picking things up lately as conference play gets going.

It might be too-little, too-late when it comes to Stanford’s NCAA tournament hopes after such a rough start. At least the Cardinal are showing plenty of fight now that they have their prized recruit in the lineup. Okpala’s return has given Stanford a major boost as the Cardinal look like a real threat with its rotation in place.

There’s still a long way to go before the Pac-12 conference race is decided. Stanford still has to prove this five-game winning streak isn’t merely a fluke like the half-court buzzer-beater that lifted them past USC. But the Cardinal has at least put themselves in the conversation among the league’s better teams. Nobody saw that coming a few weeks ago.

Wednesday’s Three Things To Know: No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 19 Seton Hall get dropped on the road

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The nights where there aren’t any marquee games are always the nights where college basketball goes absolutely batty.

Wednesday night was no different.

Here are the three things you need to know.

1. TEXAS TECH BLEW THE ADVANTAGE THEY HAD IN THE BIG 12 RACE

It’s a talking point that never really caught on, but prior to Wednesday night’s trip to Austin, No. 8 Texas Tech had the inside lane in the race for the Big 12 regular season title.

There is a clear-cut top four in the conference: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and the Red Raiders. The way to win the league was simple: Beat the teams outside of the top four and protect your home court against the other three contenders. Entering Wednesday, Texas Tech and Kansas were sitting one game ahead of West Virginia, who had lost at home to Kansas, and Oklahoma, had lost on the road to Kansas State. Texas Tech already had a leg up on the Jayhawks as well, as they won in Phog Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year.

I would hesitate to call anyone a favorite in the Big 12 that isn’t named Kansas, but the Red Raiders had certainly put themselves in a position where they had the easiest path.

And then the Texas game happened.

Mo Bamba went for 15 points, 11 boards and five blocks and Kerwin Roach poured in 20 in a return to the lineup as Texas beat No. 8 Texas Tech, 67-58. We knew losses were likely coming for the Red Raiders – no one is going to make it through this league without taking some lumps – but it has to be frustrating that those losses came when the program had a chance to keep pace with Kansas.

Credit to Texas. Their defense played as well as it has in weeks, they showed some toughness to get the win against a physical Tech team and they landed a résumé win that should age well.

Texas Tech also did a really cool thing for Andrew Jones prior to the game.

2. SETON HALL GOT BLOWN OUT ON THE ROAD AND DESI RODRIGUEZ GOT BENCHED

Twice in the last eight days, No. 19 Seton Hall has lost by at least 17 points on the road after they fell, 80-63, at Creighton on Wednesday night.

Creighton is a good team. They were playing at home in an arena that routinely puts 17,000 butts in seats. When they get it going they are tough to beat, so there really isn’t all that much to be concerned about here in a vacuum.

But we’re not in a vacuum.

Seton Hall lost by 20 points at Marquette last Tuesday. Marquette is not as good as Creighton and they do not play in as tough of an atmosphere as there is in Omaha.

What’s worse, however, is that Desi Rodriguez – the guy that has probably been Seton Hall’s Player of the Year – played just six minutes. Here is Kevin Willard’s explanation:

“He had that look in his face where he just didn’t want to be out there. When he gets that way, you just got to let him regroup and refocus. And it just never happened.”

That’s probably a cover for something else, but the concern for Seton Hall fans was that Rodriguez was hurt.

Getting benched isn’t ideal. But it’s better than getting hurt.

3. ALABAMA ENDED NO. 17 AUBURN’S 14-GAME WINNING STREAK

But what is more impressive is that they did it without Collin Sexton, who was sitting out with an injury.

That is a massive win for the Crimson Tide’s NCAA tournament hopes, which our Scott Phillips detailed here.