Wisconsin players react as time runs out in overtime in a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. Wisconsin won 64-63 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
As Iowa State packed for their trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off, they were a team in complete disarray.
The Cyclones were 0-2, having been drubbed by Michael Porter Jr.-less Missouri in Columbia and, more embarrassingly, taken an 18-point home loss against a Milwaukee program that would lose to a Division II program at home in their next game.
That is not exactly an ideal start to the season, but things sure did turn around in South Cackalacky. Iowa State knocked off Appalachian State, Tulsa and Boise State on successive days to take home the Tip-Off tournament title and completely change their season.
The difference, it seems, came in the form of moving Nick Weiler-Babb from off-guard to point guard, and he made Iowa State fans totally forget about Monte’ Morris. In the three games, he averaged 17.7 points, 9.3 assists and 8.7 rebound, while Donovan Jackson, who scored 10 total points in the first two games of the year, finished averaged 25.3 points during the event and didn’t score fewer than 24 points on any given night.
I’m still not convinced that Iowa State is anything more than the worst team in the Big 12 not named Oklahoma State, but they sure made it hard to stick to that take.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
- Texas Tech: The Red Raiders absolutely pasted Northwestern in the final of the Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Classic, winning by 36 points and looking every bit the part of a top 25 team that can make a run at that No. 2 spot in the Big 12 pecking order. Keenan Evans is a name you’re going to need to familiarize yourself with.
- Duke: The Blue Devils proved themselves the best team in the country with a win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic despite playing without Marvin Bagley III for the majority of the game.
- Colorado: The Buffaloes were bailed out by a buzzer-beater that hit the rim and the backboard before rattling through in their Paradise Jam opener against Quinnipiac, but by the end of the week, they had moved to 5-0 on the season with a tournament title to their name.
- Temple: Temple did not play a regular season game before they arrived in South Carolina for the Charleston Classic, but they returned to North Philly with a title in hand. The Owls looked like they might actually be an NCAA tournament team this season as they knocked off Old Dominion, Auburn and Clemson to take home the title.
- Xavier: The Musketeers landed themselves what might be the Big East’s best non-conference win, as they went into the Kohl Center and knocked off the Wisconsin Badgers in an absolute thriller on Thursday night. Trevon Bluiett was fantastic, J.P. Macura trolled an entire state and Chris Mack’s club returned to Cincinnati looking like they might be a real contender to Villanova this season.
I’m not sure that we’ll see a better performance this season than what we saw out of Grayson Allen on Tuesday night in Chicago.
Playing against the No. 2 team in the country in Michigan State, Allen scored 23 of his 37 points in the second half, hitting big three after big three after big three as the Blue Devils were able to knock off the Spartans despite the fact that star freshman Marvin Bagley III went out with an eye injury midway through the first half.
And frankly, it should be all that surprising that Allen can do what he did on Tuesday.
We’re talking about a guy that was a second-team all-american as a sophomore and the consensus preseason National Player of the Year prior to his junior season. He’s healthy now, physically and, seemingly, mentally, and he’s the veteran presence on a Duke team that has as much youth as they’ve ever had under Coach K. He’s Quinn Cook from Duke’s 2015 team. He’s Darius Miller from Kentucky’s 2012 team.
But he is also going to be asked to be more involved offensively. Nights like Tuesday will be what he is going to have to do throughout the year. When the younger guys on that roster are struggling, he’s going to be the one that is asked to take over, and on Tuesday he proved that he’s more than capable of doing so.
The irony in all of this is that Allen showed up in the biggest night of hoops to date, the only night where we’ve been able to escape talk of FBI investigations, players getting arrested in China, LaVar Ball going tweet-for-tweet against Donald Trump and impermissible benefit violations, it was Grayson Allen that we were all talking about.
Mr. Controversy himself gave us actual basketball to talk about.
Who saw that coming?
THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
- TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Bluiett has been one of the best players in college basketball through the season’s first two weeks, and he put the exclamation point on his start with a terrific performance – well, terrific finish – in No. 15 Xavier’s win at Wisconsin. Bluiett hit two threes within the span of a minute to break a 66-all tie and give Xavier a lead they’d never relinquish. Bluiett has scored at least 25 points in all three games this season.
- JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN, USC: McLaughlin scored a career-high 35 points on Sunday night, leading USC back from a nine-point second half deficit to land an overtime win at Vanderbilt. He made too many big shots down the stretch to count.
- JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: Murphy was the best player on the floor in what was arguably the Big Ten’s best win to date, as the Golden Gophers went into Providence and knocked off a good Friar team. Murphy had 23 points, 14 boards and three blocks in that win and, on the season, is now averaging 24.8 points and 12.8 boards. He’s had at least 18 points and 11 boards in all four Gopher wins. Who knew that Minnesota’s strength was going to be their front court?
- KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders made a statement this weekend, as they easily won the Hall Of Fame Tip-Off, cruising past Boston College before bullying then-No. 21 Northwestern. Evans was the star of the show. He had 54 points in the two wins.
- DONOVAN JACKSON, Iowa State: The Cyclones had an awful start to the regular season, but bounced back this week by winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Jackson was the star, as he averaged 25.3 points in the three wins and scored at least 24 points in every game.
At this point, there really is no choice but to put Duke at No. 1 in the Power Rankings this week.
That’s what happens when you’re a consensus top three team in the preseason and, five days into the regular season, you pick off another top three team. Hell, we had Michigan State ranked No. 1 in the NBC Sports Power Rankings last week.
At this point, Michigan State is still No. 2 for me. Their one loss this season came on a night where Grayson Allen went crazy and they gave up 25 offensive rebounds and committed 18 turnovers, and they still were in the game down the stretch. Beyond that, the only teams in the top 25 that have lost so far this season are Kentucky, Northwestern and Providence. The Wildcats fell to Kansas while playing their best game of the season, while Northwestern and Providence both dropped out of the top 25.
But the truth is that, as of today, we still don’t really know anything about these teams. Arizona, Villanova and Wichita State didn’t have to play anywhere near their best basketball to start the season 3-0. The same can be said for anyone that is currently sitting at or near the top of these rankings.
This week is when we start to really find out about them. Arizona is playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina and Florida are in the PK80. Wichita State is out in Maui. There are events in New York City all week. UCLA, Creighton, Baylor and Wisconsin are in Kansas City. There are games in Las Vegas and Orlando and California
And while my opinion on the glut of exempt events still stands, I do think that we learn more about, say, Wichita State seeing them play potentially overmatched opponents in Maui over the course of three straight days than we do seeing them beat the brakes off of mid-major competition in Koch Arena.
Anyway, here is the NBC Sports Top 25 in its entirety:
1. Duke, 4-0 (Last Week: No. 2)
2. Michigan State, 2-1 (1)
3. Arizona, 3-0 (3)
4. Kansas, 3-0 (4)
5. Villanova, 3-0 (5)
6. Wichita State, 2-0 (6)
7. Florida, 3-0 (7)
8. Cincinnati, 3-0 (8)
9. USC, 4-0 (9)
10. Miami, 3-0 (10)
11. Xavier, 3-0 (14)
12. Texas A&M, 2-0 (11)
13. Minnesota, 4-0 (19)
14. Louisville, 2-0 (12)
15. Notre Dame, 3-0 (13)
16. Seton Hall, 4-0 (15)
17. Kentucky, 3-1 (16)
18. North Carolina, 2-0 (17)
19. Saint Mary’s, 4-0 (21)
20. Alabama, 3-0 (22)
21. Purdue, 4-0 (24)
22. Gonzaga, 3-0 (23)
23. UCLA, 3-0 (18)
24. Texas, 3-0 (NR)
25. Texas Tech, 4-0 (NR)
NEW ADDITIONS: 24. Texas, 25. Texas Tech
DROPPED OUT: 20. Northwestern, No. 25 Providence
No. 21 Northwestern was, technically, never even tied with Texas Tech on Sunday evening.
The Wildcats were given a technical foul at the start of the game because their players were not in the scorebook, which was more than adequate foreshadowing for what was to come. Keenan Evans made a free throw before the ball was tipped, the Red Raiders would then score the next eight points and jump out to a 23-5 lead that Chris Collins’ club never recovered.
Northwestern never was within single-digits again, let alone close enough to make this a game. They lost 85-49, the worst loss for the Northwestern program in nearly a decade, since Nov. 27th, 2007.
I could recite the stats to you, if you’d like. Northwestern shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 6-for-23 from three. Texas Tech forced 17 turnovers, and Northwestern had 12 field goals to 11 steals for the Red Raiders.
It was as bad of a beatdown as you’ll see between two teams in the NCAA tournament discussion.
It’s easy to read into this loss, and the loss that Northwestern suffered at home against Creighton on Wednesday, and think that the Wildcats are not yet cut out for being the hunted, and that might be fair. As cliché as it is, there is something to be said for the way an opponent plays when you are the quality win. At some point, Northwestern is going to have to prove they can handle that.
But Sunday was not about Northwestern.
Sunday was about Texas Tech.
It was about Chris Beard putting the Big 12 on notice.
This team is tough and they are old. They have size and athleticism. They have a star in lead guard Keenan Evans and a roster that is more than willing to put in the work on the defensive end of the floor. Most importantly, however, is that Beard has built a team full of guys that all have something to prove. There aren’t any four or five-star freshmen on his roster. The elite recruits that he does have are all transfers, cast-offs from other programs.
That’s just how Beard like it.
Now I don’t think the Red Raiders are going to be winning the Big 12 and ending Kansas’ streak of 14 straight Big 12 titles. But I do think that they’ll be right there in the mix for the title of second-best in the Big 12, and I’m not sure I would have felt that way before the start of the season.
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges stayed in school to chase a national championship instead of cashing in on his potential in the NBA.
Three games into his sophomore season, he is hurt.
Bridges scored 20 points before limping off the court after injuring his left ankle, casting a pall over No. 2 Michigan State as it beat Stony Brook 93-71 on Sunday night.
“Thank God it’s not a high-ankle sprain,” coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s just a sprain where he rolled it. He’ll be day to day.”
The Spartans (2-1) bounced back from their loss to top-ranked Duke with a win that will be remembered as being costly if Bridges’ injury lingers.
Bridges was fouled with 8:32 left in the game as he went into the lane with the ball and awkwardly planted his left foot, rolling his ankle. After trying to stay in the game to shoot free throws, the preseason All-America player went back to the bench briefly before walking toward the locker room.
“By Tuesday morning, I’ll know more,” Izzo said. “Miles is tough enough to play through it but we’re not going to take any chances.”
Nick Ward scored a season-high 22 points, Joshua Langford had a career-high 19 points and Cassius Winston scored a season-high 13 points and had six assists for the Spartans.
The Seawolves (0-4) led for much of the first half, holding Bridges to two points as they led 22-15 midway through the first half.
Stony Brook’s Elijah Olaniyi scored 16, Akwasi Yeboah had 15 points, UC Iroegbu scored 12 and Tyrell Sturdivant added 10 points.
“The biggest positive was coming out and competing for 40 minutes,” coach Jeff Boals said. “We kept on fighting. I think we led 12 1/2 minutes in the first half. Our biggest thing was coming out and getting off to a good start, just to build some confidence.”
Stony Brook: The America East Conference team made 13 of 26 3-pointers against one of the top teams in the country. That kind of shooting can help the Seawolves pull off an upset, something they had a chance to do in setbacks against Maryland and Connecticut.
“We’re 0-4 right now and it doesn’t look good on wins and losses, but we’ve competed in every game we’ve played,” Boals said.
Michigan State: Bridges’ health is a key factor for the team, and for himself. Izzo isn’t sure how long Bridges will be out.
The Spartans will slip in The Associated Press poll after losing to the top-ranked Blue Devils and perhaps because Bridges is injured.
HUMBLED AT HOME
Michigan State standout freshman Jaren Jackson fouled out in 14 scoreless minutes. He missed his only shot, a 3-pointer, and had a team-high three turnovers.
“This might be the only time in that kid’s career he doesn’t score,” Boals said. “He is an unbelievable talent.”
The 6-foot-11 Jackson, rated as one of the top prospects for the 2018 NBA draft, was averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Jaren’s a great player, but he is a young player,” Langford said. “He’s way ahead of where I was.”
Stony Brook: In its home opener on Wednesday night, hosts Brown.
Michigan State: Plays DePaul on Thursday night in Oregon at the Phil Knight Invitational. The Spartans will play the Ducks or Connecticut in the semifinals on Friday and could face No. 9 North Carolina on Sunday.
“It’s not the biggest stage like Duke was, but it’s time to get back to what we lost against Duke,” Langford said.