Weekly Awards: Kevon Looney saves UCLA, Virginia’s ascent continues

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Kevon Looney (Getty Images)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kevon Looney, UCLA

UCLA’s season was over. They had lost five straight games, had kicked off Pac-12 play by losing at Colorado and getting embarrassed at Utah, and had managed to make the term ‘Daddy Ball’ popular among the Bryce Alford haters. But that all changed this past week, as the Bruins beat both Stanford — in double-overtime — and Cal at Pauley Pavilion. And suddenly, things don’t look so bad. That five-game losing streak consisted of two top ten teams and three road games, and with games against USC, Oregon and Oregon State coming up, a 5-2 mark in league play heading into Super Bowl weekend is feasible.

The catalyst for that resurgence? Kevon Looney. The 6-foot-8 former McDonald’s All-American had 27 points and 19 boards against Stanford, following that up with 15 points and seven boards against Cal. He was 14-for-24 from the floor and has now hit four of his last six from three. UCLA may not be a different team than they were a week ago, but the doom and gloom surrounding the program has certainly changed. That’s a big step.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn led the Friars to wins over Providence and Georgetown, averaging 20.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 boards to go along with three steals and three blocks.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: The Wildcats reaffirmed their place at the favorite in the Big East by winning at St. John’s and smacking around previously 3-0 DePaul. Hilliard averaged 21.0 points in the two wins.
  • George Fant, Western Kentucky: WKU moved to 3-0 in Conference USA with wins over Charlotte and No. 25 Old Dominion with Fant averaging 21.0 points and 12.0 boards.
  • Marcus Foster, Kansas State: Foster scored 23 points in a win at TCU on Wednesday and followed that up with 14 points, including the game-tying and game-winning shots, as the Wildcats won at Oklahoma. Foster was benched last week.
  • Bobby Portis, Arkansas: Portis went for 21 points as the Razorbacks kicked off SEC play with a win at Georgia, following that up by putting 32 points and 11 boards — nine offensive — on Vanderbilt star Damian Jones.
  • Notables: Ameen Tanksley (Hofstra), Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Virginia Cavaliers

source: AP
Malcolm Brogdon (AP Photo)

Kentucky will remain the No. 1 team in the country after this week despite the fact that they were twice taken to overtime by overmatched SEC opponents. Duke lost to an overmatched N.C. State team on the road. Wisconsin lost at Rutgers. Arizona was pushed to the brink at Oregon State. Louisville lost at North Carolina. Texas lost twice. Elite teams have not handled the start of league play all that well, yet here we are, approaching the midway point of the season, and Virginia is not only undefeated, but they’ve now beaten three top 20 teams on the road.

The Cavs knocked off Maryland during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and beat VCU in Richmond back in December. But their most impressive win came this week, as they went into South Bend and knocked off No. 13 Notre Dame three days after outlasting a hot-shooting N.C. State team in Charlottesville. I still have my doubts about Virginia, but the Cavs are every bit deserving of that No. 2 ranking they’ll have on Monday.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Iowa State Cyclones: The Cyclones bounced back from a loss to South Carolina with a pair of impressive wins to kick off Big 12 play, knocking off Oklahoma State in Ames and West Virginia on the road.
  • Dayton: Playing with just six scholarship players, Dayton has now won six straight games and is now tied for first place in the Atlantic 10.
  • Michigan State: The Spartans won three games in Big Ten play this week after losing to Maryland in double-overtime to kick off the conference season.
  • UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks moved into first place in the CAA by picking up three league wins this week. Kevin Keatts has won eight games this season; UNCW won nine all of last year.
  • Wyoming: The Cowboys continue to look like the best team in the Mountain West, following up a win at Colorado State by smacking around Boise State. Larry Nance Jr. is the favorite for MWC Player of the Year at this point.
  • Notables: Vermont, Utah

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 16 Oklahoma at No. 14 West Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 2 Duke at No. 5 Louisville, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 14 West Virginia at No. 10 Texas, Sat. 6:15 p.m.
  • No. 9 Utah at No. 7 Arizona, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
  • No. 12 Kansas at No. 17 Iowa State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Duke to No. 1, Xavier and Minnesota climb

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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, 3-1 (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

Texas Tech mollywhops No. 21 Northwestern, stakes claim to second-best in Big 12

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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.

Miles Bridges hurt as No. 2 Michigan State cruises past Stony Brook

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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.”

BIG PICTURE

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.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

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.”

UP NEXT

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.

Donald Trump’s response to LaVar Ball: ‘I should’ve left them in jail!’

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I told you this was going to happen.

After LaVar Ball downplayed Donald Trump’s role in bringing home his son, LiAngelo, and the three other UCLA players that were arrested for shoplifting in China last week, Trump responded by taking to twitter and saying that he should have left American citizens in prison in a non-democratic, authoritarian country because they will not personally acknowledge his efforts enough:

Sigh.

Now we await LaVar’s response.

Five-star 2018 recruit Anfernee Simons could test NBA Draft process

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Five-star Class of 2018 guard Anfernee Simons is interested in potentially entering the 2018 NBA Draft.

According to a report from Jonathan Givony of ESPN, the former Louisville commit will likely be eligible to jump to the NBA straight out of high school since he graduated high school last year while turning 19 next June. The 6-foot-4 Simons, considered the No. 16 overall prospect in the Rivals’ Class of 2018 national rankings, is playing a post-grad season at IMG Academy for 2017-18 after reclassifying as a sophomore.

If Simons opts to go pro than college basketball loses a potential star as he’s been shooting up the national rankings over the past year. Simons was committed to the Cardinals since the beginning of his junior year but he opened things up once former head coach Rick Pitino lost his job in a fallout from the FBI investigation on college basketball.

Simons started his season at the National Prep Showcase this weekend as six NBA teams sent people to watch him play, according to Givony’s report.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens in this situation as Simons hasn’t done much with the recruiting process over the last several months. Now that NBA teams are already watching him play, Simons could follow in Thon Maker’s footsteps and turn pro right away.