11/22 – College Hoops Week in Review: The preseason tournaments start; some leagues disappoint

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Game of the Week: UNLV 68, Wisconsin 65

We’ve already touched on the Iowa State-Creighton finish and the San Diego State-Gonzaga tilt out in Spokane. The refs ruined a potential classic in Provo, which leaves us with UNLV’s win over Wisconsin. Neither team could really find any kind of offensive rhythm in the first half, and if it wasn’t for the performance of the two point guards — Jordan Taylor and Oscar Bellfield, who both ended up with 16 points heading in to the break — the score could have been really ugly.

UNLV made a couple of pushes to try and break the game open in the second half, but every time Chace Stanback — who scored 18 of his 25 points in the final twenty minutes — made a clutch jump shot, Wisconsin was able to answer despite their star Jon Leuer having an off-night (10 points, 3-11 shooting). With just over a minute left in the game, Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans knocked down two free throws to give the Badgers a 65-64 lead, but Stanback answered with an 18 foot pull-up with just 54 seconds remaining. The two teams would trade misses before Wisconsin eventually wound up with the ball underneath their own basket with just eight seconds remaining. The Rebels switched a screen on the inbounds, leaving 6’3″ defensive specialist Justin Hawkins to cover Leuer, and Hawkins stole inbounds pass before getting fouled. He would knock down both free throws, and Taylor would miss a three at the buzzer that would have tied the game.

Player of the Week: Tu Holloway, Xavier

Xavier looks like they might be in a bit of trouble this season. The Musketeers are 4-0, but they have yet to notch anything close to a convincing victory. Just imagine where they would be without Holloway. Holloway is averaging 27.0 ppg and 4.3 apg for Xavier. In back to back games last week he set his career high, scoring 28 points in an 86-73 win over Iowa and 31 points in a 57-52 win over Seton Hall. You read that right. Holloway outscored the rest of his teammates on Sunday night, hitting a three with 17 seconds left that broke a 52-all tie and gave the Musketeers the win. It was the third game this season that Tu has single-handedly won for his team. There is no way that Holloway can shoulder this heavy of a workload all season long; he looked exhausted at the end against Seton Hall, and has to come back tonight to play an even tougher opponent in Old Dominion. Holloway has to be on every early season all-american list. Tired or not, I’m not sure there are five players (if there is one!) I would rather have with the ball in their hands in a critical moment.

The All-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Casey Mitchell, West Virginia: Mitchell proved to the nation why he won the national JuCo player of the year award in 2009 with two impressive performances. He went for 31 points in West Virginia’s win over Vanderbilt, and had 27 to keep the Mountaineers close in their title game loss to Minnesota.
  • G: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Jenkins, like Mitchell, was impressive in his three games out in Puerto Rico, averaging 21.7 ppg in a 2-1 week.
  • F: Chace Stanback, UNLV: Stanback averaged 17.5 ppg for the week, but it was his 25 point performance — including 18 in the second half and the game-winning jumper with 54 seconds left — against Wisconsin that got him on this list.
  • F: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Mbakwe’s numbers — 15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg — were not as impressive as his dominating physicality in the paint against West Virginia and North Carolina. He may be the most pleasant surprise of this young season.
  • C: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger’s 26 points, 10 rebound performance against then No. 10 Florida convinced a lot of people that he may be the only freshman that was properly hyped.
  • Bench: Jordan Hamilton, Texas; Harper Kamp, Cal; Anatoly Bose, Nicholls State; JaJuan Johnson, Purdue; Kemba Walker, UConn

Team of the Week: Minnesota Golden Gophers

This was a pretty easy pick. Minnesota has gone from a preseason after thought to arguably a top ten team in the country after notching five consecutive impressive victories. This week, the Gophers beat Siena before taking home the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title with wins over Western Kentucky, UNC, and West Virginia. Trevor Mbakwe was the MOP out in Puerto Rico, and rightfully so as he has anchored a front line that will be considered one of the best in the country (which also includes Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson) while become the leading scorer and rebounder for Minnesota. There are athletes and playmakers (Austin Hollins, Rodney Williams, Blake Hoffarber, Chip Armelin) on the perimeter, and Al Nolen is one of the more underrated point guards in the country. This team defends, they beat you up in the paint, and they are efficient and balanced scoring the ball. And you want to know what is scary? They still may only be the fifth or sixth best team in the Big Ten.

Much of the talk when it comes to the worst conferences in the country focuses on the Pac-10 and the SEC. Those sentiments are not necessarily wrong.

The Pac-10 claimed a few impressive victories this week — Arizona and USC both dismantled New Mexico State; Stanford beat Virginia by 21; Cal smacked New Mexico by 25 — but the number of questionable losses continued to mount. Before USC’s win at NMSU, they lost by 20 to Rider at home and dropped a one point decision to Bradley in Springfield, MA. Cal’s win over New Mexico came just four days after the Lobos had beaten Arizona State at The Pit by 14. The state of Oregon took an 0-fer this week, as the Ducks lost to San Jose State while the Beavers lost on the road to Seattle and at home to Texas Southern.

The SEC hasn’t been much better. The western division is down right terrible. Auburn needed a 68-66 win over Middle Tennessee State to avoid an 0-4 start at home against mediocre mid-major competition. Alabama is currently playing in the 7th place game in the Paradise Jam. LSU surrounded a 23 point win over UT-Martin with a loss to Nicholls State at home and a loss to Memphis in Mississippi. Ole Miss (win over Murray State, loss to Dayton) and Mississippi State (two point win over Appalachian State) have looked far from dominant, but at least their struggles are coming against better competition.

The SEC East was supposed to be as competitive as any of the Big Six conference races. We thought it was due to the quality of the teams, but it appears that mediocrity will beget parity as much as anything. Tennessee struggled looked far from a top 15 or 20 team in their two wins in the Preseason NIT. Georgia had a nice win over Colorado, but surrounded it with two point wins over Mississippi Valley State and St. Louis. Florida’s 50 point win over North Carolina A&T wasn’t as telling as their 18 point loss to Ohio State of their struggles in a win over Morehead State. Vanderbilt looked good in a win over overrated North Carolina but also lost to unranked West Virginia. Kentucky, who handily beat Portland on the road, is the only team that looks like they are really clicking early in the season.

But will anyone mention the struggles that the ACC has had. Can it be that North Carolina, the team that lost twice in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament this weekend, is the second best team in the conference?

It looks like it.

That is, of course, unless you are willing to name Florida State the league’s second best. The Seminoles have looked good, there’s no question, but this is a team that many considered borderline top 25 coming into the season. I’m not sure that four 20 point wins in guarantee games should really impress us.

Virginia Tech? They were exposed against a Kansas State team that was missing Jacob Pullen for a half and Curtis Kelly for the entire game. They aren’t hitting shots from the perimeter (26.9% on threes) and have gotten an impressive 7.0 turnovers per game out of superstar Malcolm Delaney.

NC State hasn’t been much better. They lost Tracy Smith for three weeks to a knee injury, and their win over George Mason without him doesn’t speak as loudly as their unimpressive second half performance against Georgetown.

Wake Forest got lit up at home by both Stetson and VCU. Boston College took a loss to Yale. Virginia had any goodwill they built in their back to back 20 point iwns to open the season erased with a 21 point loss to Stanford. Miami followed up an ugly performance against Memphis with a loss to Big East cellar dweller Rutgers. Georgia Tech at least bounced back from their 17 point loss to Kennesaw State with a couple of big wins in guarantee games.

Perhaps the biggest sign of problems for the ACC is that Clemson, who trailed for majority of the second half in a one point loss to Old Dominion, and Maryland, who went 0-2 this weekend in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, both look like they can finish in the top half of the league.

Its looking more and more like Duke can go through the ACC schedule undefeated.

Other News and Notes from the past week:

  • Twice this week a team lost because they called a timeout when their team didn’t have any left. The first team was Southern Illinois, who called their timeout with the score tied and just 2.5 seconds left on the clock against Northeastern during the Tip-Off Marathon. Colorado also lost in overtime to San Francisco on a similar call. The Dons had tied the game up with 2.4 seconds left. Colorado inbounded the ball and Alec Burks missed a potential game-winning three. The game looked like it was head to overtime, but the referees huddled and the scorer’s table and ruled that Cory Higgins had called a timeout when the Buffs didn’t have any remaining. He denied it, but to no avail.
  • You should already know this by now, but the Mountain West is legit. And not just legit in the sense that they are one of the best conferences outside the Big Six. There is an argument to be made that the MWC is the fifth best conference in america. After beating Gonzaga, San Diego State should climb somewhere up into the mid-teens in the next top 25 poll, and that still may be too low. UNLV notched a very good win at home against an underrated Wisconsin team, made all the more impressive by the fact that their star Tre’Von Willis made only two shots returning from his suspension. All homer referees aside, BYU picked up a quality win against WAC favorite Utah State. New Mexico did lose by 25 to Cal, a middle of the pack team in the Pac-10, but they also beat another middle of the pack Pac-10 team — Arizona State — by 14. And the Lobos won’t have one of their best players, UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, available until mid-December. Put those four teams up against the top four of the SEC, the Pac-10, and the ACC. Who ya got?
  • Duke, Ohio State, and Pitt have all asserted themselves as Final Four favorites thus far. Kansas State would probably get thrown into that mix had they looked better against Presbyterian. Michigan State will get thrown into that mix if they have a good showing out in Maui. The thinking is that Kansas will as well once Josh Selby becomes eligible. But outside of those top five or six teams, its essentially a coin flip when it comes to the rest of the top 25. Take a look at the rankings. Georgetown will be near the bottom of the top 25. Have they been any less impressive that Villanova or Syracuse, who will almost surely be ranked in, or near, the top ten? Texas will likewise be near the bottom of the top 25, but are they really behind Baylor or Missouri based on what we have seen this season? There is a pretty significant drop off from the top five or six teams to the next 20 or so, but those 20 or so teams are incredibly difficult to differentiate.
  • There are different levels of wins and losses, and anything that happens this early in the season should be taken lightly. We’ve touched on UNC already, but what about Butler’s loss to Louisville? Probably not as bad as it was made out to be. Louisville was underrated and playing on the raw emotion of opening a new arena and attempting to erase the critics from the offseason. Yes, Butler was a bit overrated, but regardless of opponent, Louisville was going to be tough to beat that night.
  • In that same light, be careful of how you rank Syracuse this season. The Orange are 4-0, yes, but its not been an impressive 4-0. In four games, the Orange have probably played a grand total of 40 minutes of impressive basketball — the second half of their wins against Northern Iowa and Canisius. Their latest effort? A 63-60 win over a William & Mary squad that lost to Virginia by 24. The Orange had to come back from four down with three minutes to go. Maybe Jim Boeheim was right when he called this his most overrated team at Syracuse. They remind me a bit of the 2007-2008 team. Those Orange added freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn to the likes of Andy Rautins, Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf, and while they were a preseason top 25 team, early struggles continued and the Orange eventually were headed to the NIT. With this club, the issue seems to be that no one wants, and is capable of, being the star. Kris Joseph was expected to be the guy, but he’s been up and down through four games. Scoop Jerdine is talented, but not talented enough to be taking 17 or 18 shots a night on a consistent basis. Freshmen Fab Melo and Dion Waiters haven’t quite become the players they were expected to be, either. There aren’t many shooters on the roster and as a result the Syracuse offense has looked stagnant and out of sync early in the season. These are solvable problems, but do the Orange have the pieces to solve them?Staying in the Big East, it would be wrong not to give some credit where credit is due. The Georgetown front line has been criticized left and right this season. The general consensus is that the big three in the back court will carry this team as far as they can. While I know it was against NC State’s young front line that was without Tracy Smith, it still deserves to be mentioned that Georgetown’s big guys were impressive. Julian Vaughn had 8 points, 7 boards, and 4 blocks, as well as scoring on a couple of post moves. The oft-maligned Henry Sims finished with 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Sophomore Jerelle Benimon added 6 points and 4 assists, while Hollis Thompson (who is more of a three, but whatever) led the team with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Combined, they got 15 offensive rebounds.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.

Chris Mack: David Johnson’s shoulder ‘is fine’

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The biggest concern coming out of Louisville’s win at Duke on Saturday evening was the status of David Johnson’s shoulder.

Johnson was the best player on the floor for Louisville, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals and two blocks as the Cardinals landed a much-needed win in Cameron. But with three minutes left in the game, he landed on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and had to leave the game. He returned to the bench, but he did not return to the game.

Head coach Chris Mack did not seem overly concerned about the injury after the game, and he confirmed as much in a conference call on Monday.

“The shoulder is fine,” Mack said. “He’s just a little sore, but he’ll practice the next couple of days and we fully expect him to play on Wednesday.”

Bracketology: Welcome to the top line, San Diego State

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Welcome to the top line, San Diego State.  The Aztecs join Baylor, Gonzaga, and Kansas as No. 1 seeds in our latest bracket update.  SDSU remains the only unbeaten team in college hoops, buoyed by wins over tournament teams Iowa, Creighton and BYU.

The West-leaning geographical slate of top seeds means someone has to go East.  As SDSU is the fourth overall seed, that adventure belongs to them.  Several additional power conference teams are pushing for the top line, too – including Florida State, Michigan State and surging Seton Hall.  And let’s not forget about Louisville, a preseason top seed.  The Cardinals put together an impressive road win at Duke on Saturday.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 20, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Virginia Tech vs. Georgetown
WEST REGION NC State vs. VCU
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ST. FRANCIS (PA)

SOUTH Houston                           WEST – Los Angeles
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ST. FRANCIS (PA)
8) Arkansas 8) Illinois
9) Memphis 9) HOUSTON
Tampa Sacramento
5) Colorado 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NC State / VCU
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
St. Louis Greensboro
6) Marquette 6) Michigan
11) NORTHERN IOWA 11) Saint Mary’s
3) LOUISVILLE 3) Duke
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany Spokane
7) Wisconsin 7) LSU
10) USC 10) Oklahoma
2) SETON HALL 2) Oregon
15) WILLIAM-MARY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Rutgers 8) Indiana
9) STANFORD 9) Florida
Albany Cleveland
5) Kentucky 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Villanova 4) DAYTON
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Penn State 6) Auburn
11) Virginia Tech / Georgetown 11) BYU
3) West Virginia 3) Butler
14) COLGATE 14) WRIGHT STATE
Tampa Cleveland
7) Ohio State 7) Wichita State
10) DePaul 10) Texas Tech
2) Florida State 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) NORTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
USC Virginia Tech Purdue Washington
DePaul NC State Minnesota Saint Louis
Saint Mary’s Georgetown Arizona State St. John’s
BYU VCU Xavier Richmond

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

AP Poll: Baylor leapfrogs Gonzaga, seventh No. 1 team this season

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor and Gonzaga were the only two teams in the top five that took care of business last week.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t move around, too.

The Bears (15-1) leaped over the Bulldogs and into the No. 1 spot in college basketball AP poll on Monday, using wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State to give the Top 25 its seventh team on top this season. That matches the record set in 1983 for the most No. 1s in the history of the poll, which dates to the 1948-49 season.

Gonzaga (20-1) was merely a victim of its conference schedule. The Bulldogs blew out Santa Clara and BYU, but just enough voters considered those wins to be less impressive than the Bears’ perfect Big 12 start. Baylor received 33 first-place votes and had 1,591 points from the 65-member media panel while Gonzaga received 31 first-place votes for 1,588 points.

“It takes a team to win,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team also reached the top of the poll two years ago. “As a coach, you’re just really proud when different people step up, especially guys that have been working hard.”

The rest of the top five looks a whole lot different after Duke, Auburn and Butler all lost both of their games last week.

Kansas (14-3) rose three spots to No. 3 in the college basketball AP poll after victories over Oklahoma and Texas, the latter requiring a big comeback in Austin. San Diego State (19-0) remained perfect with wins over Fresno State and Nevada, and Florida State (16-2) barged into the fifth spot after it beat reigning national champion Virginia and survived overtime to best Miami.

The Seminoles haven’t lost since playing Indiana in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge the first week of December.

Louisville, which tasted the top spot earlier this season, jumped five spots to sixth after beating Pittsburgh in overtime and handling the Blue Devils. Dayton was next, followed by Duke, Villanova and Seton Hall to round out the top 10.

Duke also lost to Clemson earlier in the week, sending coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team tumbling five spots.

“We just have to get older,” he said after the Blue Devils’ 79-73 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey. I’ve never told you that we’re great. It’s a process for us, playing these two teams. Getting beat, we have to learn from it and move on. It’s a long journey.”

Krzyzewski’s team wasn’t alone in getting a tough lesson last week. Fourth-ranked Auburn fell all the way to No. 16 after losing a pair of blowouts to Alabama and Florida, and fifth-ranked Butler was bounced all the way to 13th after the Bulldogs followed up a loss to Seton Hall by getting soundly beaten by DePaul.

“It’s the time of the year when we should be trying to elevate our play, and we’re not,” said Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, whose team had won its first 15 games. “Obviously, there’s a pretty big price on our head being ranked fourth in the country. And so I think we have to respond to the step-up that we saw this week from both Alabama and Florida.”

Here is the full college basketball AP poll:

1. Baylor (33 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (31)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Duke
9. Villanova
10. Seton Hall
11. Michigan State
12. Oregon
13. Butler
14. West Virginia
15. Kentucky
16. Auburn
17. Maryland
18. Texas Tech
19. Iowa
20. Memphis
21. Illinois
22. Arizona
23. Colorado
24. Rutgers
25. Houston

Others receiving votes: Wichita St. 94, LSU 83, Michigan 73, N Iowa 42, Ohio St. 36, Stanford 28, Wisconsin 28, Penn St. 24, Liberty 21, Florida 21, Arkansas 19, Virginia 13, Creighton 13, Duquesne 13, Purdue 9, ETSU 6, Indiana 6, Southern Cal 4, Marquette 2, BYU 2, Harvard 1.

Here’s a closer look at the other big news in another fresh Top 25:

RUTGERS ON THE RISE

The Scarlet Knights bounced back from a loss to Illinois by beating Indiana and Minnesota at home, running their record at the RAC to 13-0 this season — the best start in school history. That was enough to get Rutgers (14-4) into the poll at No. 24 for the first time since the final poll of the 1978-79 season. And with Seton Hall at No. 10, the state of New Jersey has two teams ranked for the first time since the Pirates were joined by Princeton in the last poll of the 1990-91 season.

OTHER NEWCOMERS

Iowa, which has been in and out of the poll all season, made the biggest jump back in at No. 19 after its win over then-No. 19 Michigan. The Hawkeyes were joined by No. 22 Arizona — which beat a ranked team in Colorado — and No. 25 Houston, which romped through SMU and then-No. 16 Wichita State last week.

ON THE WAY OUT

The Shockers dropped all the way out after losing to Houston and Temple. The Wolverines also fell out, along with Big Ten rival Ohio State and Creighton, whose one-week stay ended with a loss early last week to Georgetown.

BUCKEYES BUMMER

No team has been falling as steadily as Ohio State, which was 9-0, was ranked in the top five and received first-place votes just six weeks ago. The Buckeyes have lost six of their last nine games, and five of their last six, to complete their tumble from the poll. Their lone victory in the last few weeks was against lowly Nebraska.

___

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

Monday’s Overreaction: Myles Powell, Payton Pritchard, David Johnson and the two worst chokes of the year

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Myles Powell, Seton Hall

Seton Hall improved to 6-0 in Big East play this season with wins over Butler and St. John’s, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to telling the whose story here.

The Pirates trailed by double-figures at halftime of both of those games. Both of those games were on the road. They were down 40-30 at the break at No. 5 Butler, but Myles Powell came to the rescue, scoring 19 of his 29 points after the break to lead the Pirates to a 78-70 win.

Then on Saturday, Seton Hall trailed St. John’s 43-30 at the Garden at halftime, but Powell — again — took over, scoring 23 of his 29 points in the second half as Seton Hall remained perfect in the Big East.

It took him a while to get fully healthy, but now that he is, Powell is showing everyone why he is a favorite to win National Player of the Year.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

What Steve Pikiell has done with this Rutgers program should never, ever be overlooked.

After a week in which the Scarlet Knights beat both Indiana and Minnesota at the RAC, They are now sitting at 14-4 over and 5-2 in the Big Ten, good for second in the toughest conference in college basketball. They are 24th in KenPom, which is the highest that this program has ever ranked in the metric we all use the most when evaluating teams. They are 18th in the NET with a 2-3 mark against Quad 1 opponents and five Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins combined.

Put another way, Rutgers is very much in a position where missing the NCAA tournament this season would be something of a disappointment.

Now, it should be noted that this is when their schedule gets tough. They play at Iowa on Wednesday and still face off with Michigan twice, Maryland twice, Purdue twice and play at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. A home game against No. 24 Illinois is about their sixth-toughest game left on the schedule.

It won’t be easy.

But getting to 14-4 wasn’t easy in the first place.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. DAVID JOHNSON MAKES LOUISVILLE GREAT AGAIN

Louisville may have finally found an answer to their point guard problems.

David Johnson, a freshman from Louisville that has spent the season to date trying to get back up to speed after offseason shoulder surgery, had his coming out party in a big way on Saturday, going for 19 points and seven assists as Louisville went into Cameron and knocked off Duke.

That is incredibly important news for a Louisville team that has desperately been searching for a guy to do all of the things that Johnson did on Saturday night.

The way he scored those points is the most significant part of the equation. He broke down defenses. He dribbled right past Jordan Goldwire and drove the lane for a dunk. He created out of ball-screens. He handled Duke’s ball-pressure like he was playing against high school opponents.

And then there was the passing (see below):

 

This is what the Cardinals have been waiting for. It’s been a talking point all season long, and every time I have mentioned it, I have also mentioned that Louisville was just waiting to see if Johnson would ever get healthy. That staff believed he was a pro after getting him on campus, and anyone that watched him play on Saturday night would be inclined to agree.

If he can remain healthy and play somewhere close to this level for the rest of the season, then this Louisville team is much, much more dangerous.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD IS A KILLER

The reason Payton Pritchard is one of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year is the fact that he is putting up terrific numbers this season for a top ten team and doing so while putting together some incredibly impressive performances in crunchtime.

Saturday might have been his statement game.

Oregon erased a 13-point second half deficit thanks in large part to Pritchard, who hit a huge three with a minute left to tie the game. In overtime, he hit a floater to give the Ducks the lead before burying this insane three to win the game with 3.2 seconds left:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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No. 8 Oregon avoided going 0-2 on the Washington road trip with a 64-61 win. Pritchard finished with 22 points. The Ducks are now 3-0 in overtime games this season largely due to the fact that Pritchard is arguably the most clutch player in college basketball.

Is there anyone that you would want taking a big shot in a big game more than him?

3. BAYLOR IS A KILLER, TOO

I talked about this in depth at the 19:00 mark of the podcast, but with the exception of an early season loss against Washington — I’ll get to that — the Bears have been arguably the best team in college basketball down the stretch of close games.

Whether it’s wins at Texas Tech, or Kansas, or Oklahoma State, Baylor has consistently been able to execute in situations where teams like Duke have not been able to execute. That is why they are sitting at No. 1 in the country right now and Duke has three losses to their name.

And as far as the Washington game is concerned, the Huskies play zone. Baylor was totally lost against that zone down the stretch. Oklahoma State played zone as well, and Baylor discovered the answer in the second half: Matthew Mayer. They plugged him in at the high post, and it launched a comeback.

So now they have an answer for that, too.

4. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS WEEK COMING FOR AUBURN

Auburn entered this seek as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball, but there were question marks.

The Tigers don’t have a single win over a team ranked in the top 40 on KenPom. They have only played three Quad 1 games this season. Their only Quad 1 win is barely a Quad 1 win: It came at Mississippi State, who currently ranks 70th in the NET; the cutoff for Quad 1 road wins is top 75.

The other two Quad 1 games that Auburn has played this season?

They were both this week.

And they were both ugly losses.

On Tuesday, it was Alabama that ran over Auburn in the basketball version of the Iron Bowl, 83-64. On Saturday, it was Florida doing the damage, as they held Auburn to 25.5 percent shooting from the field, 4-for-23 shooting from three (17.4%) and to just a single point during an eight-minute stretch late in the second half that saw the Gators push their lead from 47-43 to 69-44. They won 69-47.

Suddenly, those concerns look prescient.

The truth is this: Auburn is dangerous. They are a team that can make a lot of threes, that can force turnovers and play in transition and has the ability to play big (with Austin Wiley) or small (without Austin Wiley). They have a lottery pick in Isaac Okoro and they have a couple of guards on their roster capable of taking games over in J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty.

But they haven’t consistently played up to the level of a top five team, and their 15-0 record was inflated by feasting on teams that are just good enough to make us believe.

Auburn is still good.

They’re just not a top five team.

5. STANFORD AND UTAH STATE, WHO CHOKED WORSE?

Stanford was up 46-25 in the second half of their loss at USC on Saturday evening. They led by 15 points with less than 10 minutes left. They were up by five points with 15 seconds left and the ball out of bounds underneath USC’s basket, and not only did they find a way to lose that game in overtime, but they got lucky to actually get to OT. USC missed a free throw that could have won the game in regulation.

According to KenPom, USC had a 3.8% chance to win this game at the half, a 3.6% chance to win the game with 10 minutes left and just a 0.7% chance to win with 15 seconds left.

But that’s not as bad as what happened to Utah State.

The Aggies led 66-48 with less than 4:10 remaining. Boise State had a 0.3% chance of winning this game with five minutes left. Turnovers, fouls, missed threes. Utah State did it all, but they still led 73-67 with 15 seconds left, 75-70 with eight seconds left and 75-73 with three seconds left and the ball.

And they lost.

That just does not seem possible.