Rob Dauster

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on as Malik Monk #5 celebrates after hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer late in the team's 103-100 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Five Things We Learned This Week: Malik Monk, Justin Jackson and Aaron Holiday

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1. Malik Monk is the most dangerous scorer in college basketball: We all saw the 47 points that he scored, right?

And if you didn’t see it you’ve at least heard about it by now, correct?

On Saturday, squaring off against No. 7 North Carolina, Monk went 18-for-28 from the floor and 8-for-12 from three en route to a 47-point eruption, which included a pair of threes in the final two minutes to give the Wildcats a 103-100 win. I honestly cannot remember an individual performance as impressive – I’m sure there’s been one – and it’s critical for the Wildcats for two reasons:

  1. That vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t look so scary all of a sudden. In the two games they’ve played against elite competition, the Wildcats have now given up 197 points in 162 possessions, or 1.216 PPP, which is a pretty bad number. If this group is going to make a deep tournament run, they’re going to be playing in games where they will need to score in the 90s to win, and I think Monk has proven that he’s capable and unafraid of being the guy to carry this team.
  2. Monk is far and away the most effective player this Kentucky team has in half court settings. Coach Cal knows this, which is why he put in set plays to run specifically to ensure that Monk would get the ball in a spot where he can do some damage. They worked. The key to beating this Kentucky team is keeping them out of transition, where they are just too fast to defend. Forcing them to execute in the half court is the better option given some of the issues they have with perimeter shooting and floor-spacing, but if Monk is going to consistently be able to score when plays are run for him, it makes UK that much more effective offensively.
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Justin Jackson. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2. UNC’s stars gave us reason to believe in them: We learned just how valuable Joel Berry II was last week, when North Carolina struggled at home with Davidson and Tennessee as Berry nursed an injured ankle back to health. If that didn’t prove it to you, then his 23 points and seven assists on Saturday against Kentucky should have.

Berry was terrific.

He was also the second-best player on North Carolina that day, as junior wing Justin Jackson went for a career-high 34 points and kept the Tar Heels within striking distance while their front court seemingly spent the entire game battling foul trouble. That matters, because it is really the first time against competition like this that Jackson has shown that he’s capable of throwing the Tar Heels on his back and carrying them. He damn near led them to a win, too; his three with two minutes left to give UNC their first lead since the opening seconds will go down as one of the biggest shots he’ll ever make even if it doesn’t matter at this point.

The bottom line is this: I’m not sold on UNC’s front court. I think that the Tar Heels were a bit overrated after the way they started the season. But Jackson and Berry very nearly dragged this team to a come-from-behind win over a really good Kentucky team that had a star player going all NBA Jam. That’s notable even in a loss.

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3. Aaron Holiday is the best sixth-man in the country: There are 351 Division I programs in college basketball. There are, at most, five or six programs where Holiday wouldn’t step in and immediately start in their back court. There probably aren’t 20 teams in America where he wouldn’t be the best player on the roster. And yet, Holiday – the younger brother of NBA guards Jrue and Justin – is content working as UCLA’s sixth-man as a sophomore after starting his freshman season.

In fact, he’s more than content. He’s thriving, averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals. He’s shooting 53.3 percent from three, which leads the team. He’s playing more than 26 minutes a night. He had a team-high 20 points in UCLA’s win over Ohio State. He had 13 points and four assists in the first half of the win at Kentucky, his play changing the course of the game.

It works because of his versatility. He can replace any of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and do what they do. He is a point guard by trade, but he’s also capable of playing off the ball as a shooter and can score when he puts the ball on the floor. He’s also a very good on-ball defender, which isn’t necessarily the case for the rest of UCLA’s perimeter. He’s clearly not this team’s MVP, but the Bruins would not be where they are right now without him.

Not just because of his skill set.

But because he embraced the “demotion” of coming off the bench.

4. Can Notre Dame close out games?: Two Saturdays in a row now we’ve seen the Fighting Irish jump out to big first half leads against two of the best teams in the country, and two Saturdays in a row we’ve seen them give those leads right back. The Irish blew an 11-point first half lead against Villanova two weeks ago, following that up by losing to Purdue after holding a 14 point lead at the break.

Point guard Matt Farrell, who has starred in both of those games, was blunt when he asked what happened.

“I think it’s just toughness,” he said. “This is two times now we’ve had double-digit leads and it’s come down to defensive rebounding and we haven’t done that. That’s just toughness.”

“I feel like we got comfortable at halftime just like we did in the Villanova game. We can’t get comfortable, especially if we’re up by 15, we gotta make that jump, extend the lead. It’s all about toughness and winning close games.”

The Irish watched Josh Hart put together the best performance we saw this season pre-Malik Monk. They then let Caleb Swanigan get loose against them on Saturday. On a team without much proven size and with a star big man that tops out at about 6-foot-6 on a good day, it’s worth wondering whether Notre Dame has the physicality inside to be able to handle games against teams like that.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17: Matt Farrell #5 of Notre Dame shoots the ball during the game against the Purdue Boiermakers in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Matt Farrell Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. The Big East is as good as it has been since the split: I think that this is the best that we’ve seen the Big East since it split off from the AAC. Villanova, the reigning national champs, are a threat to repeat. Creighton is still undefeated and find themselves ranked in the top 15. The Bluejays have usurped Xavier’s title as Villanova’s biggest threat in the league, although that may change when Myles Davis is allowed to play again. Then there’s Butler, who is the proud owner of the best résumé in the conference, with wins against Indiana, Arizona, Cincinnati, Northwestern and at Utah.

There is a valid argument to make that that top four may actually be better than the top four teams in the ACC.

There also appears to be more depth in the conference than in recent years. Seton Hall is a tough, veteran group that landed a brand-name win last week, handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. Providence is 9-2 on the year with a win over Rhode Island. Georgetown had some struggles early on in the year but just won at Syracuse over the weekend. Marquette probably isn’t looking at a tournament trip this season, but they certainly aren’t going to be pushovers this year. DePaul is DePaul and St. John’s is a tire fire, but overall, there is a lot to like about the league this season.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke No. 1, how high does Butler climb?

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach Chris Holtmann of the Butler Bulldogs yells to his players as they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores during the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 24, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Butler won 76-66.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 1): Duke didn’t play last week so there’s not much to discuss regarding the Blue Devils beyond the fact that they are expected to get Harry Giles III back tonight. Giles has not played yet this season after undergoing a knee score in September.

2. Villanova (11-0, 2): After a 37 point outburst in a come-from-behind win against Notre Dame last weekend, Hart went off for 26 points as he and Kris Jenkins became the first players to ever go 16-0 in their four-year career of playing in the Big 5.

3. UCLA (12-0, 3): UCLA didn’t play well, by their standards, against Ohio State on Saturday, and they still managed to win that game by 13 points. Over the last two games, the Bruins are just 21-for-64 from three. They had previously been shooting 47.1 percent from three as a team.

4. Kansas (10-1, 4): After a slow start against Davidson, the Jayhawks pulled away in the second half. Frank Mason continues to be one of the nation’s most under-appreciated players.

5. Kentucky (10-1, 5): Malik Monk scored 47 points, De’Aaron Fox chipped in with 24 points and 10 assists as the Wildcats landed a much-needed marquee win over North Carolina in Las Vegas on Saturday.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

6. North Carolina (10-2, 6): If anything, the Tar Heels proved themselves on Saturday afternoon in Vegas. They looked every bit the part of a national title contender, and I was one of the people that wasn’t yet sold on UNC being among the elite.

7. Gonzaga (11-0, 7): I had a chance to bring Miles Simon onto the CBT podcast last week, and he made a really good point about the Zags: Do they have a go-to guy?

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8. Baylor (11-0, 8): The Bears steam-rolled a couple of overmatched opponents this weekend. They have one of the best profiles in the sport right now, but I’m still not convinced that they deserve to be ranked in the top five.

9. Creighton (11-0, 9): The Bluejays did everything they could to lost to Oral Roberts at home on Saturday night, somehow managing to win 66-65 against a team that was 2-9 entering the game without scoring in the final three minutes. That’s concerning.

10. Wisconsin (11-2, 11): The Badgers continue to roll after a slow start to the season, while Nigel Hayes continues to play like one of the nation’s elite players.

11. Louisville (10-1, 11)
12. West Virginia (9-1, 13)
13. Butler (10-1, 19)
14. Purdue (9-2, 14)
15. Indiana (8-2, 9)
16. Xavier (9-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (8-1, 17)
18. Virginia (9-1, 18)
19. South Carolina (9-1, 15)
20. USC (10-0, 20)
21. Cincinnati (9-2, 22)
22. Oregon (10-2, 23)
23. Arizona (10-2, 24)
24. Notre Dame (9-2, 21)
25. Seton Hall (9-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 25 Texas A&M
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 25 Seton Hall

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:  Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs dribbles the ball during the 83-78 win over the Indiana Hoosiers during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Butler put together a fairly dominating performance on Saturday, beating No. 9 Indiana 83-78 in a game they lead by 14 at halftime. Kelan Martin led the way with 28 points for the Bulldogs, who suddenly look like a team that we need to talk about at the top of the Big East this season.

They’re one of just two teams this season to beat the Hoosiers, who own wins over top ten teams North Carolina and Kansas. They’re one of just two teams to beat Arizona this season. They’ve beaten Cincinnati. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt and Northwestern. They won at Utah. Their lone loss on the season came on the road to an in-state rival that will likely finish in the top four of one of the best mid-major leagues in the country.

They have a star in Martin. They have a pair of talented point guards, Tyler Lewis and Kamar Baldwin, who compliment each other so well. Andrew Chrabacsz and Tyler Wideman makeup an underrated front court. Chris Holtmann has proven to be one of the best young coaches in the game.

Look, I don’t think anyone believes Butler is going to win the Big East barring some kind of season-altering injury to Villanova.

But is there really any reason to believe that the Bulldogs can’t finish second in the Big East?

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THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Purdue: The Boilermakers came back from 17 points down in the first half to knock off Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday. Caleb Swanigan was the star, but credit has to be given to Vince Edwards as well. He played his best basketball of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 boards.
  • Arizona: Give Sean Miller and Arizona credit. This team, with Ray Smith done for the year, Parker Jackson-Cartwright injured and Allonzo Trier out, just keeps winning. On Saturday, they handed Texas A&M a loss in Houston in the Lone Star Shootout, and while Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins all have continued to improve this season, it was Dusan Ristic who was the star on Saturday.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates landed a key win in their push to get a bid to the NCAA tournament by handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. The Pirates may be without Isaiah Whitehead this season, but they still have a roster full of scrappy, athletic veterans that are not going to back down from anyone. I don’t know if anyone plays as hard as Angel Delgado.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers in a dominating performance. Brad Underwood has had this group playing better this season, but this was really the first time that the Pokes have landed a resulted that backs that up.
  • Northwestern: Is this going to be the year that the Wildcats finally make it to the NCAA tournament? They still have a ton of work left to do, but the job got a little bit easier on Saturday as Northwestern knocked off Dayton in the United Center in Chicago. Chris Collins has that team sitting at 9-2 on the season, with the losses coming by a total of six points against Butler and Notre Dame. They’ve beaten Texas, DePaul and Wake Forest already this year, but Dayton has a chance to be a top 25 win come Selection Sunday.

Player of the Week: Kentucky’s Malik Monk

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives against Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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In the history of players and weeks and awards, has there ever been an easier pick for someone to receive a Player of the Week award than Malik Monk this week?

In case you spent the last 48 hours under a rock, Monk set a Kentucky freshman scoring record and a season-high nationally by dropping 47 points on Saturday as No. 6 Kentucky knocked off No. 7 North Carolina. Think about it like this: Of all the players that have ever played at Kentucky – including, but certainly not limited to, Karl Towns, Anthony Davis, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins – here is the list of players that have scored more points in a single game than Monk did on Saturday: Jodie Meeks, Dan Issel, Cliff Hagan and Bob Burrow.

And Monk did it on national television against one of the biggest brands and best teams in the country.

Not only did he score 47 – you can see each of those 47 points right here – but Monk also ensured that the Wildcats didn’t throwaway a game they controlled for roughly 38 minutes.

With two minutes left, North Carolina took their first lead in forever on a three from Justin Jackson. Monk immediately responded with a contested three of his own. Then 90 seconds later, after UNC again took a lead, Monk buried another contested three from the same spot, this one with 15 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 101-100 lead.

But that’s not my favorite part of Monk’s Saturday.

This is: during the halftime interview on the broadcast, John Calipari called Monk’s threes “fool’s gold”. He didn’t want his trigger-happy freshman to start settling for 22-footers just because he had hit a few 22-footers. Which brings us to that game-winning jumper.

“Coach Cal told me to drive,” Monk said. “But I was hot. So I didn’t.”

“I said, ‘Drive the ball! Drive the ball!’ And he shot a three and it went in,” added Cal. “So I said, ‘Great shot, kid. Way to shoot the ball.'”

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THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: De’Aaron Fox and Joel Berry II were both terrific on Saturday as well, but it was Jackson whose performance was the most notable. He finished with a career-high 34 points, doing everything he could to keep the Tar Heels within striking distance of Kentucky. No one will remember it, but the three he hit with two minutes left to give the Tar Heels the lead was as big of a shot as he’s made in his career. UNC fans are allowed to be disappointed with the final result, but someone had to lose. The Tar Heels proved something on Saturday.
  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Speaking of proving something, the Bulldogs thrust themselves into the conversation of Big East contenders with a win over Indiana on Saturday. Martin was the star of the show, popping off for 28 points and helping lead the Bulldogs to a 14-point halftime lead that Indiana could never fully recover from.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The Boilermakers erased a 17-point first half deficit to knock off No. 21 Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday, and it was Swanigan that did the heavy lifting in their comeback. He finished with 26 points, 10 boards and four blocks as Notre Dame couldn’t handle Purdue’s small lineup.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Is there a more underrated player in college basketball than Maten? He went for 30 points and six boards in a win over Charleston Southern just six days after he had 18 points, 15 boards and five blocks against Louisiana. On the season, the 6-foot-8 Maten is averaging 21.5 points, 8.7 boards and 1.9 blocks.

Michigan State’s tournament profile a question mark after Northeastern loss

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks to his team against the Kentucky Wildcats during the first half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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It’s time to start talking about whether or not Michigan State has cost themselves a shot at getting to the NCAA tournament.

On Sunday night, once again playing without starting forward Miles Bridges, the Spartans fell to 7-5 on the season with a 81-73 loss to Northeastern. That’s the same Northeastern team that won at UConn earlier this season, which seems like it may not be all that bad of a loss until you consider that A) UConn is not good this season, and B) Northeastern has also lost to Boston U., LIU-Brooklyn, Stony Brook, Cornell and Harvard.

Here’s the situation that the Spartans are in right now. They don’t have a quality non-conference win unless you consider their win over Wichita State, who lost by 17 at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday, a quality win. They also, however, only have one catastrophic loss, and that loss came with Bridges out of the lineup, something that the selection committee will take into consideration.

The determining factor, then, is going to be how Michigan State does in Big Ten play, and there are a couple of factors to be worried about here. For starters, the Big Ten appears to be tiered this year. Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue look like they are the clear-cut top three teams in the league. Once you get past that, there is a logjam of teams that look like they’ll end up being in contention to get an at-large bid without really being good enough to threaten for the league title. The Michigans and Marylands and Ohio States and Northwesterns of the world.

The Spartans right now probably fall somewhere in the back end of that tier.

And that’s concerning.

But the other issue is that Tom Izzo’s team will only get four chances against that elite group. They play Indiana twice and get both Purdue and Wisconsin in East Lansing.

My guess?

Michigan State needs to go at least 11-7 in Big Ten play and get two wins against the top three teams in the league to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997.

I’ll let you decide whether or not they’re actually capable of doing that.

VIDEO: T.J. Dunans’ buzzer-beater lifts Auburn to a win vs. Mercer

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 19: Edmond Sumner #5 of the Xavier Musketeers dribbles past T.J. Dunans #4 of the Auburn Tigers in the second half of the game at Cintas Center on December 19, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Xavier defeated Auburn 85-61. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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T.J. Dunans finished with 13 points on the night.