Top Posts

Robert Franklin/AP Photo

Player of the Week: Tayler Persons, Ball State

Leave a comment

In a week where Jy Bowman put 30 on Duke, Tra Holder had 29 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Mikal Bridges popped off for 28 in Madison Square Garden, the Player of the Week this week was shockingly easy to pick.

Tayler Persons, Ball State.

And I know what you’re saying. “Who?”

That was my reaction, too, when I found out that Persons was the man that hit the game-winning 25-footer to give the Cardinals a victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday. When he hit another game-winner against Valpo on Saturday, I knew who he was.

And when I realized that, in those two games, Ball State’s leading scorer had averaged 23.5 points, 5. boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins, it made sense.

If you’re going to hit the game-winning shot in the two biggest wins of the season for your team, chances are that you’re a pretty good player.

I do have some advice for young Tayler, however.

He left 1.5 seconds on the clock at Notre Dame and 3.3 seconds on the clock against Valpo. Next time, make the shot at the buzzer. It’s cooler that way, and you’ll probably get on Sportscenter.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College: Bowman damn near had a triple-double on Saturday, finishing with 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists to lead Boston College to a 89-84 upset win over No. 1 Duke. His partner in crime, Jerome Robinson, was pretty good as well. He finished with 25 points, including a pair of massive threes in the final five minutes of the game.
  • MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Bridges has been having a terrific season, but he finally had his moment on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic. Bridges went for 28 points and six boards, including an emphatic dunk, as the Wildcats knocked off No. 12 Gonzaga is fairly uneventful fashion.
  • TERANCE MANN, Florida State: Mann has been Florida State’s best player this season, and he was certainly their best player on Monday, when the Seminoles went into the O-Dome and knocked off their rival, Florida, by 17 points. Mann went for 25 points in that one.
  • TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Holder had 29 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off No. 2 Kansas, 95-85, and you can make the argument that it wasn’t one of his two-best performances of the season. That’s pretty good.
  • LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State: After going for 21 points and eight assists to lead the Shockers past South Dakota State on Tuesday night, Shamet had a career-high 30 points to help Gregg Marshall’s club come from behind to beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Team of the Week: Arizona State Sun Devils

David Becker/Getty Images
1 Comment

Arizona State had themselves a week, didn’t they?

It was impressive enough before they went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday after. They had already beaten St. John’s in the Staples Center for the opener of the Hall Of Fame Classic. With a blowout win over Xavier and wins over San Diego State and Kansas State already on their résumé, the Sun Devils were playing with house money on Sunday.

No one would blame them if they took a loss in the Phog. All but ten teams that have played their while Bill Self has been the head coach have taken a loss. You don’t just walk into Lawrence, Kansas, and expect to leave with a win.

But … they did win.

And suddenly, there is a totally different vibe around this Arizona State program.

They’re going to be ranked in the top five on Monday. They’re going to be receiving first-place votes in both top 25 polls. They’re going to be looked at as the best team out west, the favorite to win the Pac-12, the best program in Arizona. Hell, you’ll probably start hearing people say that Bobby Hurley is the answer to the ‘who replaces Coach K?’ question.

That’s when you know you’ve got something rolling.

When people like me start talking about your next job.

Personally, I’m far more interested in seeing if Arizona State can keep this thing going. They are 154th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and while they are the second-best team in the country at getting to the foul line, their bet performances have all come when they shot the grip off the ball.

But as of now, that doesn’t really matter.

Arizona State is the most fun team in the country and totally deserving of whether they end up being ranked.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles did something on Saturday that no one else has been able to do this season: They outplayed Duke for 35 minutes and then managed to avoid choking the game away down the stretch as Marvin Bagley III took over. Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson were nothing short of sensational.
  • ARIZONA: The Wildcats are back. They picked up a pair of impressive wins this week, knocking off Alabama at home on Saturday night after landing a marquee win over No. 7 Texas A&M in Phoenix on Tuesday night. Throw in the win at UNLV last weekend, and Sean Miller’s club has officially turned this thing around.
  • MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE: The Blue Raiders won at Vanderbilt and beat Ole Miss at home this week, meaning that Kermit Davis is now 5-0 against the SEC over the course of the last two-plus seasons.
  • TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 10-0 on the season this week by landing their two best wins to date. They knocked off SMU at home on Tuesday night before going into LA late on Friday evening to beat No. 22 Nevada.
  • LOYOLA-CHICAGO: The MVC should be on the lookout for the Ramblers after they went into the O-Dome and landed a win over No. 5 Florida.

College Basketball Power Rankings: After a wild week, let’s start this thing over

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
1 Comment

This has been an unbelievably weird season to date, which feels about par for the course for college basketball in the era of the FBI investigation.

Arizona fell off a cliff in the Bahamas before returning stateside and reeling off four straight wins, three of which came at UNLV, on a neutral against Texas A&M and at home against Alabama. Duke lost at Boston College after playing like they deserved to lose four or five times already this season. Florida lost to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago. Kansas lost to Washington and Arizona State, who actually has a shot of being ranked as the No. 1 team in college basketball on Monday.

Seriously.

But wait.

There’s more.

Notre Dame lost to Ball State. Minnesota got blown out at Nebraska and Arkansas. Purdue lost to Western Kentucky. I could go on but you get the point. Nothing makes sense anymore. My best guess is that we’re all watching basketball in the upside-down.

I’m starting anew. Instead of trying to figure out who goes up because they beat Team A who beat Team B after Team B upset Team C who lost by 30 to Team D. I’m just going to rank who I think are the 25 best teams in the country in order.

So bear with me as I try to figure out just what to make of college basketball in the year of our lord, 2017.

1. Villanova, 10-0 (Last Week: No. 4)
2. Michigan State, 9-1 (2)
3. Miami, 8-0 (7)
4. Wichita State, 8-1 (8)
5. Duke, 10-1 (1)
6. Arizona, 7-3 (22)
7. Arizona State, 9-0 (18)
8. Texas A&M, 8-1 (6)
9. Xavier, 9-1 (10)
10. West Virginia, 9-1 (17)
11. Seton Hall, 8-1 (15)
12. North Carolina, 9-1 (19)
13. Kansas, 7-2 (3)
14. Gonzaga, 8-2 (9)
15. Notre Dame, 8-2 (11)
16. Purdue, 10-2 (20)
17. Kentucky, 7-1 (14)
18. Virginia, 8-1 (16)
19. Oklahoma, 7-1 (NR)
20. Tennessee, 7-1 (NR)
21. Florida State, 9-0 (NR)
22. Florida, 6-3 (5)
23. Cincinnati, 7-2 (13)
24. Texas Tech, 7-1 (20)
25. TCU, 10-0 (21)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 20 Tennessee, No. 21 Florida State

DROPPED OUT: 12. Minnesota, 23. Texas, 24. Baylor, 25. Creighton

No. 16 Arizona State hands No. 2 Kansas second-straight loss

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 16 Arizona State got a combined 72 points, 14 assists and nine steals from their three-headed monster of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and handed Kansas their second-straight loss, 95-85. ASU went on an 18-0 second half run to turn a 52-47 deficit into an 65-52 lead they would never relinquish.

It’s the first time since Dec. 2013, when Kansas lost to Colorado and Florida in back-to-back road games, that the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks lost two in a row. The difference, of course, is that neither of these losses came on the road; Kansas was beaten by Washington in Kansas City on Wednesday.

Arizona State now owns wins at Kansas and over St. John’s and No. 14 Xavier on a neutral floor. They were, without a doubt, the favorite to win the Pac-12 title at this point. They are probably the best team on the west coast, and there is a valid argument to rank them as the No. 1 team in the country.

Here are four things to take away from this result:

1. YES, WE CAN RANK ARIZONA STATE NO. 1 IN THE COUNTRY

I probably won’t be the guy to do that, not when Villanova and Michigan State still exist, but there is more than enough reason to do so.

Namely: their wins.

Is there a program in the country that has put together a better trio of wins than at Kansas, Xavier on a neutral and St. John’s on a neutral? The Sun Devils also own wins over San Diego State and Kansas State, and perhaps the most impressive part of it is that each of those wins, with the exception of Kansas State, came by double-digits. They put up 102 points on Xavier despite trailing by 15 in the first half. They put up 95 points on Kansas despite trailing by 13 in the first half.

If you’re the kind of person that does your rankings based totally on the rèsumè that a team has produced – a completely valid way to rank – then putting Arizona State at No. 1 makes total sense.

So don’t be surprised when they get some of them in this week’s AP poll.

2. ARIZONA STATE’S ACHILLES’ HEEL IS NOT THREES, IT’S DEFENSE

One idea that I’ve seen bandied about is that Arizona State’s performance early on this season is something of a mirage. These guards, as talented as they are, are just tough-shot makers that are running hot right now, and there might be something to that. I’m not going to pretend that shooting 14-for-28 from three at Phog Allen Fieldhouse or 13-for-27 from three against Xavier is the kind of thing that is going to happen every single time that Arizona State plays this season, but I also don’t think that’s why their offense has been so successful this season.

The Sun Devils get to the line more than just about any other team in the country; Cal St.-Fullerton is the only program with a higher free throw rate than the Sun Devils. That has everything to do with the ability of Evans, Holder and Martin to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint. It’s why they get to the line so often, and it’s why Romello White gets to the line so often.

That is sustainable, more so than shooting nearly-50 percent from three is.

What may not be sustainable, however, is winning games like this while posting a sub-150 adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. That’s where Arizona State has problems they need to solve. We saw it on Sunday, as Kansas had a never-ending parade of dunks. Ironically, what may have ended up being the difference is the fact that the Sun Devils had a handful of run-out layups – pick-six turnovers, if you will.

Bobby Hurley’s team allowed 1.39 points-per-possession on possessions where Kansas did not turn the ball over. That, quite simply, has to improve if you assume that Arizona State doesn’t shoot 50 percent from three every night.

3. KANSAS DESPERATELY NEEDS THEIR REINFORCEMENTS

We talk about it over and over again, but it’s the truth. Right now, Kansas goes seven-deep. One of those seven is Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-foot-9 back-up center that is the only big man on the Kansas roster not named Udoka Azubuike. He’s fine as a back-up. He’s not fine as a guy that is going to have to provide 15-18 minutes a night as the only big man on the floor. He doesn’t provide rim protection. He doesn’t provide post scoring. He’s not a great rebounder. He can commit five fouls and but Bill Self some time with Azubuike on the bench. That’s it.

They need Silvio De Souza to get his test score and enroll early. They need to find a way to get Billy Preston cleared to play this season. If they don’t, we probably need to start entertaining the idea that this might be the Kansas team that sees their Big 12 title streak come to an end.

The other issue is that the only other player on the KU bench is Marcus Garrett, who is a freshman that doesn’t quite seem ready for the minutes he’s getting. Malik Newman has not been as good as advertised this season, and on Sunday, Svi Mykhailiuk reverted back to the Svi Mykhailiuk of the last three years. What that means is that …

4. … KANSAS HAS ONE GUY THAT CAN CREATE FOR HIMSELF RIGHT NOW

And I’m not quite sure when that is going to change.

I just don’t think Newman is all that good. Svi is at his best as a spot-up shooter and a guy that attacks close-outs. Garrett, as of now, cannot be relied upon, and I’m not convinced that Sam Cunliffe or Lagerald Vick are guys that can be more than finishers; at the rim, as a spot-up shooter, etc.

Even Azubuike is someone that has to more or less rely on getting the ball in a position where all he has to do is catch it and dunk it.

That’s a massive burden to ask Devonte’ Graham to carry, especially when he has to do so while playing every second.

No. 5 Florida snaps losing streak, beats No. 17 Cincinnati

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEWARK — Calling Florida desperate was probably too strong.

The Gators, who entered the week ranked No. 5 in the country, had lost three straight prior to their date with No. 17 Cincinnati in the Never Forget Classic. They had blown a 17-point lead in the final 10 minutes against then-No. 1 Duke. Then they lost by 17 points at home to arch-rival Florida State two days before they handed Loyola-Chicago their best win of the year – decade? – by allowing the Ramblers to waltz into the O-Dome and leave with a win.

Florida was on the verge of a crisis that was nipped in the bud on Saturday. The Gators got 21 points from Egor Koulechov while Chris Chiozza added 15 points and six assists, including the final six points of the game, as the Gators knocked off No. 17 Cincinnati, 66-60.

“We grew up a little bit tonight,” head coach Mike White said. “That’s the most amount of toughness we’ve shown.”

Toughness.

That was a common theme in Florida’s press conference. That’s what the Gators attributed their recent run of bad form. Toughness, or a lack of it, and not just the physical variety. Yes, they struggled to get the stops they needed to get on the defensive side of the ball, but they also struggled to run their offense the way it’s supposed to be run. They struggled to make shots they typically make. They settled for difficult shots instead of making the right pass for an easier look.

Most importantly, they failed to let the past be the past. Having a short memory is a gift for an athlete, and the Gators didn’t have the mental toughness to forget.

Or so they say.

“To be honest, a part of our shooting struggles has been overthinking,” White said. Florida entered Monday night’s matchup with the Seminoles shooting 46 percent from three while attempting 25 threes a night. In their two losses this week, Florida was 8-for-44 (18 percent) from three, including a horrid 2-for-19 performance against Loyola.

On Saturday, the Gators knocked down 6-of-15 threes they shot, and only attempted a single three in the first 10 minutes of the game.

“We just have so many people on the offensive end that can put the ball in the basket,” Chiozza said, and the majority of those players are at their best when they can operate in isolation. Koulechov, Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen. Those guys are tough-shot makers, but the problem with being a tough-shot maker is that, by definition, tough-shots are not easy to make. Particularly when you’re struggling. “We talked about trying to get a good shot every possession. We have guys that can make tough shots, but we don’t want to have to rely on that. We really focused on not taking anything tough tonight, get the ball flowing around again. Moving the ball, getting great shots.”

“I thought tonight was more of a happy medium,” White added, and the benefits of that was that the Gators woke up on the defensive end.

The fact of the matter is that this is never going to be a great defensive team. They play four guards and they lack elite individual defenders at certain positions. This isn’t like last year’s Florida team, which was the second-best defense in the country, according to KenPom. They don’t have to be great, however, not with how explosive they can be offensively.

They just need to be active.

Intense.

Tough.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do defensively,” White said, but that wasn’t the story on Saturday. Florida tried a few different looks, doubling Cincinnati’s bigs – Gary Clark and Kyle Washington were both held to just eight field goals attempts – and trying to fluster Cincinnati, and it worked. Florida forced 21 turnovers on a night where Cincinnati had just four assists.

“I thought we were really scrappy, flying around,” White said. “I thought our rotations were really good, we got our hands on a bunch of passes.”

And that may be more promising than the improved three-point shooting.

As the saying goes, live by the three, die by the three, and Florida, at two different times this past week, died by the three. On Saturday, they beat the No. 17 team in the country, but for a team that averaged 11.5 made threes for the season’s first six games, they didn’t have to live by them.

Florida got enough good shots. They got enough rebounds. They got enough stops. They were tough enough, and that is a great sign moving forward.

This is not a top five team. They’re probably not a top ten team. But they are a team that can beat anyone in the country on their night, and they proved on Saturday that it doesn’t necessarily have to be their night for them to play with one of the best.

“It’s been a tough week for us, that’s not secret,” Koulechov said. “I thought we were really soft this past week, but we took a step forward today with that against a tough team.”

Saturday’s College Basketball Recap: Duke goes down, Florida rebounds, the Deandre Ayton show

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PLAYERS OF THE DAY

Boston College sophomore guard Ky Bowman played completely out of his mind on Saturday. The catalyst for the Eagles in a stunning home win over No. 1 Duke, Bowman finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, coming just short of a triple-double against a roster full of future NBA players.

Bowman is a North Carolina native. He was passed over by the Tobacco Road juggernauts – and every ACC member south of Massachusetts – so games like this give him the proverbial chip-on-the-shoulder. But this game isn’t simply explained by a kid being mad that a one-and-done factory didn’t want him. Bowman, and his backcourt partner Jerome Robinson, can outplay any pair of guards on a given night, and Saturday was another example of that.

As good as Bowman was, dare I say Arizona’s Deandre Ayton was better? The big fellas went for 29 points and 18 boards on 12-for-18 shooting on Saturday night as the Wildcats held off a scrappy Alabama team that got 30 points out of Collin Sexton. Ayton was playing a different level of basketball in this one, but perhaps the most impressive part of this performance was that he sealed the game with a pair of mid-range jumpers in the final two minutes.

Ayton is a physical freak. He stature on the floor and in the paint is eerily reminiscent of Greg Oden, the former Ohio State star.

The difference, however, is on the offensive end of the floor. While Ayton has the physical tools to one day figure out how to be the defensive presence that Oden, his skill set offensively is on a much higher level.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • Landry Shamet, Wichita State: Shamet had a career-high 30 points while adding five assists as the No. 6 Shockers overcame a slow-start to beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 78-66.
  • Luwane Pipkins, UMass: Pipkins popped off for 30 points to lead the Minutemen to a 72-63 win over Providence in Amherst.
  • Tayler Persons, Ball State: After knocking off Notre Dame earlier this week with a huge three-pointer, Persons hit another game-winning three-pointer to knock off Valparaiso. He finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Arkansas bounced back from an embarrassing loss at Houston last weekend in emphatic fashion. Beating Colorado State was one thing, but Saturday’s performance against No. 14 Minnesota is another. The Razorbacks jumped all over the Gophers early and never allowed Minnesota to truly get back into the game, running away late to win 95-79. Jaylen Barford led the way with 22 points, four boards and four assists, while Daniel Gafford chipped in with 16 points (on 8-for-8 shooting) to go along with seven boards and six blocks. This was the last chance that the Razorbacks had at landing a quality non-conference win, and they did not miss.

GAME OF THE DAY

No. 5 Florida dispatched No. 17 Cincinnati, 66-60, in a physical, entertaining game in the nightcap of the Never Forget Classic in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday night. Florida has been must-see TV all season long, but this performance was different than the way that they’ve played much of the year. Florida averaged 24 threes per game entering Saturday. They only took one in the first ten minutes. Florida has struggled on the defensive end of the floor for much of the first month of the season. They held a good Cincinnati team to just 60 points on Saturday. But most importantly, at least in the mind of Mike White and Chris Chiozza, Florida got back to sharing the ball.

So while this wasn’t a double-overtime game that reached the triple-digits, this was a tense, hard-fought game between two really good, well-coached teams. Florida won.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Boston College beating Duke doesn’t count?

Then how about this: Middle Tennessee State picked off Ole Miss at home on Saturday. It was their second-straight win over an SEC opponent and their fifth straight win over teams from the league in the last three seasons. Both of those years, the Blue Raiders won a game in the NCAA tournament, beating No. 2 seed Michigan State in 2016 and No. 5 seed Minnesota in 2017.

MTSU gets Auburn next. At some point, you’d think SEC schools would want to stop scheduling Kermit Davis’ team and just hire him instead.

Right?

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

Michigan rallied in the second half to pick up an overtime home win over UCLA as Moritz Wagner paced the Wolverines with 23 points. Charles Matthews also broke out of a recent mini slump to finished with 20 points for Michigan despite only going 2-for-10 from the free-throw line.

No. 3 Michigan State struggled but used a late run to put away Southern Utah.

No. 8 Kentucky cruised past Monmouth in Madison Square Garden as the Wildcats had five players finish in double-figures. Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo paced Kentucky’s offense with 23 points while freshman forward P.J. Washington added 20 points.

Jevon Carter finished with 19 points, nine assists and six boards, for No. 18 West Virginia, but the Mountaineers never really put away a struggling Pitt team, winning just 69-60 despite holding an 18-point first half lead.

We don’t typically see beatdowns like this in this rivalry but Marquette cruised to an 82-63 road win over in-state rival Wisconsin. With the Badgers dinged up in the backcourt, the Golden Eagles took advantage with big games from Andrew Rousey (24 points) and Markus Howard (23 points). Marquette has now won four of its last six games in the Kohl Center.

Speaking on in-state rivalries, Creighton outlasted Nebraska for a home win as five players finished in double-figures. Marcus Foster led the Bluejays with 19 points, scoring 17 in the second half. .

In a game that was close until the end, Louisville was able to hold off Indiana for a home win. Deng Adel led a balanced effort with 16 points for the Cardinals as they held the Hoosiers to 21 percent three-point shooting.