We’ve written plenty about what this injury means and why it’s such a brutal loss for Creighton – and college basketball in general. But we aren’t the only ones that recognized that. So did Butler, Creighton’s Big East rival, who sent this note to Watson:
“We were all saddened to learn about your knee injury,” the letter said. “You were such a tough player to prepare for and one heck of a competitor. The league will miss having you in it. We wish you all the best on a speedy recovery.”
Former Seton Hall star Herb Pope has plead guilty to bank robbery, armed bank robbery and brandishing a gun during a crime of violence in U.S. District Court this week.
Pope was arrested and charged with the robbery of a bank in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb across the Ohio River from Moon Township, where John Calipari is from, on February 16th of last year. Pope is facing 10 years in prison for the crime.
According to Allegheny County police, part of the reason that Pope was caught is that he’s 6-foot-9, which makes him fairly easy to identify, particularly when you consider that he told tellers at the bank that he was a professional basketball player from Aliquippa, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of basketball talent.
If that wasn’t bad enough, when the two men left the bank they hopped into a gold BMW that was registered to Tyler Bridges, Pope’s half-brother and accomplice in the robbery. When the police caught up with the men, they were using the stolen bills to pay for tattoos in a house where the gold BMW was parked on the street outside.
This is a sad twist in the tale of Herb Pope, who was shot four times as a senior in high school. He eventually averaged 15 points and 10 boards for the Pirates as a senior in 2012, but his career was marred by consistent issues. In 2010, he was ejected from an NIT game against Texas Tech for repeatedly punching an opponent below the belt. He would declare for the NBA Draft, but that April, Pope nearly died after suffering a cardiac event on the Seton Hall campus. He spent New Year’s Day in 2013 in jail after getting arrested for pulling a gun on a bar owner.
Weekend Preview: The five most important story lines this side of the Super Bowl
After seven games on the sideline and more than a month laid up after undergoing surgery on his back, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is headed back to the bench on Saturday afternoon. Duke went 4-3 in his absence, but over the course of the last two games, it seems as if they have started to get some things figured out. That run started after a meeting at Coach K’s house where, among other things, the Duke players had their access to the locker room taken away and lost the right to wear gear with a Duke logo on it.
But the other thing that happened after that meeting is that Duke seems to have made the changes we all thought they needed to make. In their last two games, the Blue Devils have made a concerted effort to run their offense through Luke Kennard, primarily, and Grayson Allen. Without a point guard, their best option is to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers and let them do what they can do, right? The other change has been that Jayson Tatum has played primarily at the four – when he manages to stay out of foul trouble – while Harry Giles III has been relegated to playing a bit role off the bench.
So it looks like the Blue Devils are starting to figure this thing out.
And, at the same time, one of the greatest to ever do it returns to the sidelines.
Is Duke back to being back again?
2. Maryland has a chance to prove they’re not frauds: Other than Duke, whose season has been nothing short of a soap opera, Maryland is the nation’s most intriguingly confounding team. They’re 20-2, but they haven’t even played a team that is currently ranked or that was ranked at the time that they played. So they’re record is unproven, and the believe in them isn’t helped by the fact that they seem to play down to the level of their opponent, struggling through every game until Melo Trimble finds a way to bail them out down the stretch.
For metrics like KenPom and Sagarin, that heavily value margin of victory and level of competition, this is a good way to get your rating dropped.
On Saturday, the Terps have a chance to prove themselves to everyone. Playing in their first game that will attract anything close to a national audience – they’re on ESPN, playing No. 23 Purdue is what is the marquee early game of the day – Maryland will have a chance to, more or less, give us our first impression of who they are and what they can be. Are they truly a Big Ten title contender? Are they a team that can get to the Final Four? If they are, they should be able to beat Purdue at home.
3. Jim Boeheim goes for his 1,000th win on Saturday: Syracuse won for the 999th time with Jim Boeheim as their head coach on Saturday, coming from 17 points down in the second half to knock off N.C. State on the road. They will host No. 9 Virginia this weekend with the chance for Boeheim to win for the 1,000th time in his long, illustrious and – dare I say it – tarnished career.
In the eyes of the NCAA, it is.
Thanks to a ruling that came down last year, Syracuse had to vacate 101 of Boeheim’s 999 wins due to various infractions the program had committed over the course of the last decade. What that means is that beating Virginia on Saturday would give Boeheim 899 career wins in the eyes of the NCAA, who will be watching the Orange closely on Saturday.
“The NCAA has written and sent us a letter. We got a letter right away,” Boeheim told the Syracuse-Post Standard this week. “‘You delete all these, and this is how many wins you have. Period.’ We’re forbidden from saying something in the Dome at any time. Or post anything. Or congratulate in any way.”
So what that means is that instead of being on the verge of being celebrated for becoming just the second men’s Division I coach – and just the fourth Division I coach, period, behind Coach K, Pat Summitt and Tara Vanderveer – to ascend the 1,000 win plateau, Boeheim will find himself just one win away from winning his second 900th game.
And I get it, I guess.
The NCAA’s gotta do what they gotta do, even if vacating wins is the single-dumbest punishment in the history of punishments.
But keep in mind that, with a win on Saturday, Boeheim will be doing something that has only happened once before in men’s Division I basketball.
4. The Pac-12 title race may come to an end Saturday: If No. 5 Arizona goes into Eugene and knocks off No. 13 Oregon on Saturday, the Wildcats will, for all intents and purposes, have basically locked up the Pac-12 title.
They’ll be two games up on Oregon and three games up on UCLA with a home game left against the Bruins while the Ducks will still have to head to Pauley Pavilion for their rematch. At the risk of jinxing a good thing, that’s as close to a lock as you can get for a team that’s sitting pretty with a 21-2 record and a 10-0 mark in the Pac-12 entering the weekend.
And to think, this was supposed to be the year where Arizona came back to earth. Terrence Ferguson went pro in Australia. Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time. Allonzo Trier sat out the first 19 games of the season. Sean Miller was forced to rely on a pair of freshmen guards and a 7-foot forward from Finland to headline a roster with seven healthy guys.
5. Kentucky’s SEC title could be in jeopardy this weekend: The Wildcats have been in a rut the last two weeks. They lost at Tennessee, they lost at home to Kansas, they nearly lost at home to Georgia and their star point guard has a stomach bug. Should I mention that on Saturday, they get the pleasure of tripping down to Gainesville to play No. 24 Florida, a team that currently sits 9th in KenPom’s rankings.
Kentucky is currently tied atop the SEC with South Carolina, a game in front of Florida. A Gator win would, in all likelihood, drop Kentucky out of the top spot in the league standings with just eight games left in league play.
Weekend Preview: Here are the games you need to be ready to watch
No. 5 Arizona at No. 13 Oregon, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: First place in the Pac-12 is on the line on Saturday afternoon as Arizona, who currently sits at 10-0 in the league, a game ahead of the Ducks, makes the trek up to Eugene to square off with Oregon. The Wildcats have quietly turned into one of the nation’s best and most dangerous teams. They vaulted their way among the elite when Allonzo Trier returned, which just so happened to coincide with Arizona’s 96-85 win in Pauley Pavilion.
But Trier has turned into the best guard on the Wildcats, which is saying quite a bit considering how well Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have played at times this season. Coming off the bench, Trier is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists after his 18-point outburst on Thursday night, a season-high, and the key for Sean Miller moving forward is going to be how he manages egos and playing time. Because Trier needs to be on the floor. But Simmons and Alkins have become accustomed to playing 29 minutes a night, and not only is Trier cutting into their minutes but Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who missed time with an ankle injury early in league play, is healthy and playing well, too.
And that’s before you factor in Kadeem Allen, who has turned into the defensive stopper and glue guy this group needed. Throw in Lauri Markannen – who, by the way, is having an all-american season – and Dusan Ristic, and this Arizona team that had depth and experience issues entering the year suddenly has a wealth of weapons.
They’ll pay a visit to an Oregon team that is coming off a strenuous, one-point win over Arizona State. The Sun Devil guards ripped the Ducks apart on Thursday, which isn’t a good sign considering that Arizona’s back court is, well, better. The Wildcats, however, are going to have to figure out a way to deal with Dillon Brooks, who went off for 27 points on Thursday night – including the final 12 for the Ducks – as he continues to prove just how good he is when he’s healthy.
Sitting a game out of first place in the conference, Oregon more or less has to win this if they want a shot at the conference regular season title. There is no return trip to the McKale Center, and not only does Oregon have to make a trip to Pauley Pavilion next week, but the Wildcats get UCLA at home later this year. If Arizona is good enough to win in Eugene, they’re probably good enough that they won’t blow a two-game lead with seven games left.
And if Arizona is able to get this win, the battle for the No. 1 seed in the west with Gonzaga is going to get awful interesting.
PREDICTION: I actually think that Arizona will go in and win this outright, so I’ll take Arizona (+2).
No. 23 Purdue at No. 17 Maryland, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: There are Big Ten title implications in this game. Maryland sits tied with Wisconsin for first place, a full two games ahead of both Purdue and and Northwestern. If the Boilermakers lose this, any chance they had of winning a Big Ten regular season title is all-but out the window. You don’t make up three games on two teams in the span of a month. It doesn’t work that way.
But the far more interesting angle here is in regard to Maryland. The Terps are 20-2 this season. They’re ranked No. 17 in the country. They’re 8-1 in the Big Ten. And they have yet to play a single team that is currently ranked in the top 25 or that was ranked in the top 25 at the time that they played them. Purdue will be the first.
It’s that lack of elite competition, and the fact that the Terps seem to play everyone close, regardless of how good they are, that has people wondering whether or not Maryland is the real deal. This will be their chance to prove it.
PREDICTION: I expect this game to be close. KenPom expects this game to be close. Melo Trimble, in his career, is 29-6 in games decided by six points or less, including 9-1 this season. If you can get Maryland (+3), take it.
No. 8 Kentucky at No. 24 Florida, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: For those of you that want to see Kentucky lose out on the SEC regular season title, this game could not have come at a more perfect moment in time. The Gators after playing some of their best basketball of the season at the moment while Kentucky is doing exactly the opposite. The Wildcats lost at Tennessee last week and followed that up with a home loss to Kansas over the weekend. On Tuesday night, Malik Monk’s 37-point outburst is the only thing that kept the Wildcats from dropping a game to Georgia at home, and all this is going on while De’Aaron Fox and, seemingly, half the Kentucky roster battles some sort of stomach bug.
The way the SEC standings currently breakdown, Kentucky is tied for first in the conference with South Carolina at 8-1 while Florida sits a game back of them at 7-2. This is Florida’s chance.
PREDICTION: KenPom is currently projecting a two-point Florida win, but KenPom’s ratings of Florida might be skewed a little bit because the Gators were unable to play in the O-Dome until Dec. 21st. Still, I think I’d take Florida (-2).
No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 12 North Carolina, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: The Game of the Weekend in the ACC. The Irish enter this one having lost three straight and four of their last five games. Righting that ship is not going to be an easy thing to do in the Dean Dome. PREDICTION: North Carolina (-9)
No. 9 Virginia at Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game is more or less a must-win for a Syracuse team that badly needs marquee wins to make up for some of the horrendous losses they took earlier this season. The Orange have won three straight. PREDICTION: Syracuse (+7)
Xavier at No. 22 Creighton, Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Two teams learning to play without their star point guards. Xavier barely survived Seton Hall at home on Wednesday, and now they have to head to play a Creighton team in Omaha coming off of a win at Butler. PREDICTION: Creighton (-6)
Illinois State at Wichita State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: This is Illinois State’s chance to essentially lock up the MVC regular season title; they sit a game in front of the Shockers in the standings. And Illinois State win here and a Wichita State conference tournament title is also probably the only way the MVC will get two bids into the NCAA tournament. PREDICTION: Wichita State (-7)
Iowa State at No. 3 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: It always seems to be a thriller when these two programs get together, and while the Cyclones seemed destined to spend the next month on the bubble, it is worth noting that the Jayhawks can’t seem to keep themselves out of the headlines for off-the-court stuff. Can Iowa State strike while the iron is … distracted? PREDICTION: Kansas (-10)
VIDEO: Ole Miss fan Morgan Freeman grabs rival player’s shorts