Rob Dauster

Associated Press
Associated Press

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Wichita State’s big Missouri Valley test

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 22 Wichita State at Evansville, 4:00 p.m.

The Shockers have been rolling ever since Fred VanVleet returned from the hamstring injury that cost him the tournament in Orlando. They’ll get their toughest test of the Missouri Valley season this afternoon, as they pay a visit to Evansville, who is the only team in the conference with a one-two punch that approaches Gregg Marshall’s. Can D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius pull off the upset?

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. No. 8 Maryland pays a visit to Ohio State at 1:00 p.m. The Terps won this game by 35 points in college Park earlier this month.
  2. No. 25 Notre Dame got smoked without Demetrius Jackson at Syracuse. Can they avoid another let down against Wake Forest today?
  3. No. 3 Iowa is coming off of a loss to Maryland on Thursday night. They’ll look to bounce back against Northwestern at home this afternoon.
  4. It feels like we can say this about every game in the Pac-12 the rest of the season, but Cal at Colorado will be an important bubble game for both teams.
  5. Can No. 23 Oregon remain all alone in first place in the Pac-12? They’ll have to win at Arizona State to do it.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 6 Villanova at St. John’s, 12:00 p.m.
  • Rutgers at No. 12 Michigan State, 5:15 p.m.

Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil lead No. 10 Providence to win at Georgetown

Providence guard Kris Dunn, center, goes to the basket against Georgetown center Bradley Hayes (42) and guard Kaleb Johnson (32 ) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — No matter how glaring their biggest weakness is, saying that the No. 10 Providence Friars have a fatal flaw probably isn’t a fair thing to do.

Basketball teams don’t win 18 of their first 22 games if they have a fatal flaw. They don’t beat Arizona and they don’t sweep Butler and they don’t win at Villanova, what may end up being one of the five best wins of the entire college basketball season when we’re all said and done, if they have a fatal flaw. A lot can be overcome when the nation’s best point guard (Kris Dunn) shares the floor with the Big East’s leading scorer (Ben Bentil). Both stars had 26 points in Saturday night’s 73-69 win at Georgetown.

That said, the Friars do have one glaring weakness:

Entering Saturday night, the Friars were shooting 30.6 percent from three on the season, which is good for 320th nationally out of 351 teams. That’s bad, but not quite as bad as the 27.8 percent they were shooting from beyond the arc in league play. Only seven teams in high-major leagues (Tulane, Rutgers, Northwestern, Missouri, South Carolina, Stanford, North Carolina) shot that poorly from beyond the arc in conference play. Of those seven, only UNC has a real shot of doing more than scrapping their way into a double-digit seed, and the Tar Heels are only shooting that poorly because Marcus Paige had been mired in a 1-for-22 shooting slump from beyond the arc.

Long story short, Providence cannot shoot.

“If you watched us the last four or five games you saw some missiles being fired,” head coach Ed Cooley said.

He’s not wrong.

The Friars have fired up some of the most hideous jumpers that you’ll see from a really good team this season. The backboards of the Dunkin Donuts center must be made from bullet-proof glass, and while Dunn has been the culprit on couple of different occasions, for the most part, the kid whose shooting ability has been knocked by just about everyone has been terrific. In league play, he’s shooting 45.2 percent from beyond the arc himself, which means that, entering Saturday, the rest of Dunn’s team was knocking down a paltry 23.0 percent of the threes the shot.

Those teammates were shooting 19 threes per game.

That’s not exactly a recipe for success, which is why we’ve seen Providence lose to the likes of Marquette and Seton Hall, and why Creighton took this team to within one banked-in Dunn jumper from beating them in Omaha.

It’s also by design.

Dunn is not exactly a secret at this point. Everyone in the conference — everyone in the country — knows how good he is and how difficult he is to stop when he’s allowed to turn a corner and get downhill. So opposing defenses pack the paint, forcing Dunn into a decision: Try to go one-on-two or three, or make the smart pass to an open teammate. More often than not, it’s the latter.

“We’ve been played every imaginable way with him. Zone, man, two on the ball. He’s in a crowd every game,” Cooley said. “We see that every game. That’s where the third and fourth guys have to step up and make plays.”

We’ve talked about this quite a bit this season, how the Friars will go as far as Dunn’s supporting cast will carry him. Generally speaking, that conversation has usually centered around whether or not the likes of Kyron Cartwright, Junior Lomomba and Rodney Bullock are actually hitting their threes on that night, but that changed on Saturday night in the Verizon Center. Providence shot just 11 threes against the Hoyas, by far the fewest triples they’ve taken in Big East play the first time since their three-point rate — the percentage of field goals attempted that came from beyond the arc — was that low in a game since Dec. 5th.

“That was our plan,” Cooley said. He’s not dumb. He saw what the rest of us saw. He knew those shooting percentages better than anyone. He knew he team needed to stop settling and attack the rim. “We wanted to make some adjustments out of that. We wanted to go, go, go, go. And it paid big dividends.”

Dunn still did Kris Dunn things, including one three-possession stretch late in the first half when he scored on a ridiculous drive to the rim off of a ball-screen (video below), dribbled through traffic and found Bentil for a dunk, and followed that up with another tough, driving layup.

And while those three plays are what will stick in the mind of people watching the game, it was really the only point in the game where he was able to use the dribble to break down a set Georgetown defense.

“They did a really good job, it’s just that he scored in transition, he made two threes,” Cooley said. “He controls the game.”

In other words, it was business as usual for teams trying to slow down Dunn, but on Saturday, when he would find his open teammates on the perimeter, instead of simply settling for semi-open jumpers, they were putting the ball on the floor and trying to get into the paint. Providence eventually shot 5-for-11 from three, getting to the line 33 times.

And it made a difference.

The Friars landed their sixth-straight win on the road and will held into February just two games behind Villanova in the Big East regular season title race.

BUBBLE BANTER: Florida’s big win, Butler in some real trouble following loss

Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) celebrates after a turnover against LSU during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won 68-62. (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)  THE INDEPENDENT FLORIDA ALLIGATOR OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
(Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)
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WINNERS

Florida (Kenpom: 26, RPI: 25) wasn’t in a bad position to earn themselves an at-large bid entering this weekend. In fact, most bracket projections have them slotted somewhere around the 8-9 games. The issue with Florida’s profile was that the Gators didn’t have any marquee wins. They beat Saint Joseph’s, a team with great computer numbers that may not actually be a top three team in the Atlantic 10. They also picked wins over LSU, Georgia, Auburn and at Ole Miss, all of which are, as of Saturday, top 100 wins.

On Saturday, the Gators not only beat No. 9 West Virginia, they blew the Mountaineers out in the O-Dome. Scoring difference is irrelevant when it comes to the RPI, but it matters in KenPom’s formula — which the committee is slowly but surely paying more attention to — and it matters for perception. We didn’t know what to think of the post-Billy Donovan Gators. Great computer metrics only mean so much when you lose to the five best teams you play. A dominating win over a top ten team is a good way to make a statement.

  • South Carolina (KenPom: 46, RPI: 28): The Gamecocks improved to 18-2 overall with a win over Alabama on Saturday, but here’s the crazy thing about their profile: that win over Alabama is their best win of the season, at least in terms of the RPI. South Carolina now has one top 50 win. One. They play at Texas A&M and get Kentucky and Florida at home. That’s it. Frank Martin is going to have to land two of those wins to feel safe, assuming South Carolina doesn’t get upset.
  • Syracuse (KenPom: 33, RPI: 41) picked up a home win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, a win that moved the Orange to 7-7 against the RPI top 100. The Orange have some quality wins this season — Texas A&M, at Duke, Notre Dame — and if it wasn’t for that horrid loss to St. John’s, this group probably wouldn’t need to be mentioned here.
  • Florida State (KenPom: 44, RPI: 43): The Seminoles have a stronger profile than I realized: Three RPI top 50 wins, including Virginia and at Florida, and no RPI sub-100 losses. A weak non-conference schedule means that games like Clemson at home, which Florida State won on Saturday, are critical; their margin for error is minimal.
  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 42, RPI: 54): The Pirates picked up a win against Creighton on Saturday meaning that they are still looking like they’re land right on the cut-line. Barring a loss to Marquette, St. John’s or DePaull, Seton Hall’s NCAA tournament status is going to get decided by the last week of February, when they get Providence and Xavier at home.
  • Kansas State (KenPom: 39, RPI: 42): The Wildcats knocked off Ole Miss, which is critical because it’s exactly the kind of game that they cannot afford to lose at this point. K-State’s profile is interesting: They’re 0-8 against the RPI top 25 but those are their only eight losses this year. They have one top 50 win (over Texas Tech, who is 29th in the RPI) and they beat Georgia and Ole Miss. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row. They have six more games against the top teams in the Big 12, so they’ll have chances. They need to start capitalizing on them.
  • UCLA (KenPom: 67, RPI: 58): The Bruins are only winners in the sense that they didn’t lose to Washington State … again. It’s tough to know what to make of UCLA’s profile at this point, but with nine games left and all of them against teams ranked in the top 60 of the RPI, what their profile looks like now is irrelevant. They need to start piling up the wins.
  • San Diego State (KenPom: 74, RPI: 59): The Aztecs kept their bubble hopes alive by beating UNLV, but with just one top 50 win, one sub-300 loss and no teams in the MWC ranked in the RPI top 50, it’s going to be tough to put together a profile worthy of that at-large bid.
  • Gonzaga (KenPom: 40, RPI: 79): Like SDSU, Gonzaga avoided a loss that could have been a killer. Their status as an at-large team still hinges on whether or not they can beat SMU at SMU next month.
  • Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 20, RPI: 38): The Gaels avoided a bad loss, meaning that they’re still in the same boat. They’re going to have better computer numbers than the Zags come Selection Sunday, but they only have two RPI top 100 opponents left, and neither of them are in the top 75.

LOSERS

Butler (KenPom: 38, RPI: 60) is suddenly in a very worrisome position in terms of their bubble standing. Prior to last weekend, the reason to be bullish on the Bulldogs was that they didn’t have a bad loss on their résumé, with all five of their losses at the time coming against RPI top 25 teams. Throw in the neutral court win over Purdue and a win at Cincinnati, and there was enough in their profile to slot them in favorable at-large position.

Fast forward two weeks, and Butler has dropped roadies to Creighton and Marquette. Granted, winning on the road is a difficult thing to do in league play, but for a team that has just one top 50 win, losing to teams with sub-90 RPIs is risky business. Here’s the other concern: Butler only has two games left against the top three teams in the conference: they play Xavier at home on Feb. 13th and visit Villanova a week after that. They do get Seton Hall and Georgetown twice apiece, so it’s not like Butler’s schedule is devoid of good wins, but if they can’t land a win against Providence or Xavier, they are likely going to be heading into the Big East tournament with quite a bit of work left to do to get an at-large bid..

  • Vanderbilt (KenPom: 31, RPI: 56): The ‘Dores lost at Texas, which isn’t exactly the kind of loss that will hurt a résumé. Hell, a road game against an RPI top 25 opponent might actually bump their RPI up a bit. The missed opportunity hurts — Vandy is 2-7 against the top 50, albeit without a sub-100 loss — but the way this group played is perhaps more concerning. For a team with a potential first round pick at the point and at center, a slew of shooters and a coach with the reputation of Kevin Stallings on the offensive end of the floor, Vandy managed just 16 first half points and will likely slide out of the KenPom top 100 in offensive efficiency. This group is trending towards the cut-line. Are they actually going to be good enough to pick up the wins they need? They get Texas A&M twice, Kentucky at home and Florida on the road. My guess is they need at least two of those.
  • Georgetown (KenPom: 53, RPI: 70): The Hoyas missed another opportunity to land a quality win on Saturday, falling to Providence by four at home. Georgetown has one of the best wins any team will land this season — at Xavier — but with just four top 100 wins and loss to UNC Asheville and Radford, this group needs to start landing some of the marquee wins. The good news? They’ll have plenty of chances.
  • St. Joseph’s (KenPom: 49, RPI: 32): Like South Carolina, the Hawks have a terrific record (18-3) but no real substance in their profile. They’ve lost to the three best teams they’ve played and can count Princeton and Temple as their best wins. A visit from Dayton next month is looking like a must-win.
  • LSU (KenPom: 63, RPI: 74): Losing to Oklahoma is a killer for LSU. not because a loss to the No. 1 team in the country hurts their profile, but because a win over the nation’s No. 1 team — a win that LSU would’ve had until Buddy Hield went crazy — would have put the Tigers on the right side of the bubble.
  • Creighton (KenPom: 35, RPI: 93): The Bluejays are a better team than their at-large profile says, but moral victories don’t get factored into the NCAA tournament selection process. Creighton lost to Seton Hall on Saturday, and having lost four games by one possession this season, the Bluejays cannot afford to lose winnable games.
  • Clemson (KenPom: 52, RPI: 81): The Tigers lost at Florida State, which isn’t exactly a killer considering that FSU is a top 50 RPI team right now. Clemson has an interesting profile: Six RPI top 50 wins but two RPI sub-150 losses. The biggest issue? A non-conference strength of schedule of 335.
  • Stanford (KenPom: 96, RPI: 50): The Cardinal are another one of these teams with just enough good wins to keep them in the picture because they don’t have a bad loss on their résumé. Losing at Utah certainly doesn’t qualify as a bad loss, but if Johnny Dawkins’ club is going to go dancing, they need to start landing some of these quality wins. Right now, they’re 2-9 against the top 50.
  • Oregon State (KenPom: 84, RPI: 52): The Beavers lost at Arizona, meaning that they are without a bad loss this season. Barring a loss to Washington State next month, they’ll end the season without a sub-100 loss. The problem? They’re just 4-8 against the RPI top 100.

 

POSTERIZED: Ben Simmons crossover and reverse dunk in traffic is sick

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
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Want to know why people think Ben Simmons will be a star in the NBA?

It’s because of plays like this:

VIDEO: Dayton knocks off La Salle to win sixth straight.

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Dayton earned its sixth straight win with a 59-44 victory over La Salle. The Flyers were paced by junior Kendall Pollard, who scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

No. 5 Texas A&M picks up statement win over No. 14 Iowa State

Texas A&M's Danuel House (23) dunks against Iowa State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
(AP Photo/Sam Craft)
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Danuel House scored 20 and Tyler Davis added 15 points, including a couple of key second-chance buckets down the stretch, as No. 5 Texas A&M knocked off No. 14 Iowa State, 72-62.

This was a big win for an Aggie team that doesn’t get the same kind of hype as some of the nation’s other top ten programs. There are reasons for that — they’re not a name brand team, they didn’t have much hype in the preseason, they don’t have much in the way of star power, they play in a conference where football matters most everywhere other than Lexington — but it doesn’t change the fact that most people will see A&M with a No. 5 next to their name and think, ‘Really? I wonder who’s on that roster.’

Then today happened.

And the Aggies took down one of the most visible basketball programs in the country, picking off an Iowa State team that beat No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas in the last 13 days.

I’m not trying to say that this win should automatically make the Aggies the favorite to win the national title. Putting this into perspective, they beat a team ranked lower than them on their home floor on a night where that opponent’s best players either struggled shooting the ball (Monte’ Morris was 4-for-14) or dealt with foul trouble and a bruised hip (Georges Niang). In other words, no one that watched that game will definitively believe that Texas A&M is better than Iowa State.

But it was a marquee win that came on national television. It gave the nation a chance to see just how talented House is, how much of a handful Davis can be on the block, how difficult it is for opposing forwards to matchup with Jalen Jones.

They earned some respect on Saturday, which is almost as important as the conference landing another high-profile win in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. That may not seem significant, but big non-conference wins like this help the computer profile of the league as a whole.

All in all, it was a good Saturday in College Station, as Texas A&M entered with some question marks and left as the definitive favorite to win the SEC.