10 Takeaways: Who’s No. 1, Jimmer gets angry and a Blake Griffin moment

Leave a comment

No. 1 lost, another pair of ranked showdowns went down and a Cleveland State player did something no college player’s done the last 15 years besides Blake Griffin.

Yeah, I’d call that a pretty good little Saturday.

So take a stroll through the top stories of the day in our 10 Takeaways.

Who’s the 1? Despite Ohio State suffering just its first loss of the season –at No. 13 Wisconsin, a place where the Badgers win 93 percent of the time – conventional wisdom holds that there’ll be a new No. 1 team when Monday’s rankings are released. So who will it be?

If you ask players for No. 2 Kansas, they’re the ones.

“I want to be No. 1,” junior forward Marcus Morris said after throttling Iowa State, 89-66. “I want to have that chip on our shoulder every time we go out. I want to be the one that gets everybody’s best shot because I believe we can take it.”

The Jayhawks were atop the polls for 14 weeks last season and say their desire to be No. 1 comes from taking it for granted. They have something to prove. Odd thing is, the team that handed Kansas (24-1, 9-1 in Big 12 play) its only loss – and at Allen Fieldhouse, no less – says it doesn’t want those honors.

“I don’t want to be No. 1,” freshman Tristan Thompson said after holding off Baylor at home, 69-60. “Enjoy No. 3 and keep climbing that mountain.”

Teammates Jordan Hamilton echoed that statement, which is probably a good thing for the ‘Horns (22-3, 10-0 in big 12 play). They started off last season 17-0 and hit the top spot, only to fall into an epic freefall and nearly miss the NCAA tournament.

So who’s that leave? No. 4 Pitt managed a win at No. 9 Villanova without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, who’s out a few weeks due to a knee injury. At 23-2 and 11-1 in the Big East, the Panthers’ résumé is fairly impressive. Same with No. 5 Duke (22-2, 9-1), which plays Sunday at Miami. But you know who’s record is the most impressive?

Ohio State’s. A road loss at the nation’s No. 13 team? Pssh. Kansas and Pitt may have beefs, but nobody’s been better thus far than the Buckeyes (I’m not alone in this view, either). Keep them atop the polls.

(It’s all just posturing until the NCAA tournament anyway, right?)

About those Buckeyes: Ohio State football was also No. 1 when Wisconsin’s stunned it earlier this academic year. It’s the second time the Buckeyes’ basketball and football teams have lost to the same school in the same timeframe (Florida did in 2006-07). That trivia nugget aside, Ohio State isn’t sweating this right now.

Yes, it lost to a team that overcame a 15-0 second-half deficit, but coach Thad Matta says there wasn’t much his team could’ve done. Sometimes, the other team just has your number.

“They had to play, for that stretch, darned near perfect to get us and they did,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. “I don’t know what exactly we could have done differently.”

Mostly, it’ll reinforce the notion that there are no dominant teams this season, which is fine. Should make for a lively NCAA tournament.

Nation, meet Jordan Taylor: Allow me one more on the day’s big game. Can’t ignore Jordan Taylor. The Naismith and Cousy Awards might, but those are simply examples of how they ignored one of the nation’s top players. As Rob Dauster wrote earlier, Taylor could do no wrong in Wisconsin’s win, scoring 27 points (he missed just six of 13 shots) and dishing seven assists in 39 minutes of action. How’d he get this good? Read this fantastic piece by Luke Winn.

Kentucky’s road woes: The Wildcats’ 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt brought about one of the day’s big questions: If Kentucky can’t win an SEC road game (it’s now 1-5), what happens during the NCAA tournament? A win at Louisville on Dec. 31 seems ages ago. Big Blue Nation can console itself with the fact that the ‘Cats only have two road games remaining on the schedule, and one’s at Arkansas. But coach John Calipari wonders if his team is “mentally” tough enough to win a dogfight.

Jimmer gets angry! The nation’s leading scorer had 23 in a win vs. Utah, but needed 19 shots to do it and even had some harsh words for referee Mike Reed after a late foul. Reed told the BYU bench to get Fredette out of the game because “he’s losing control,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune. No word if it’s because he saw Michelle Peralta at the game.

How good is that Valley? Good enough to get two teams into the NCAA tournament. Wichita State and Missouri State both logged solid road wins on Saturday, keeping them knotted atop the conference standings. The Shockers (21-5, 12-3) held on at Northern Iowa, while the Bears (20-6, 12-3) kept pace by beating Illinois State.

Streaking: Coastal Carolina now has the nation’s longest win streak (22) after beating Winthrop 61-56. George Mason won its 11th straight, 82-68 over rival James Madison. Murray State got its eighth W in a row and 10th in its last 11 by beating Jacksonville State. Meanwhile, Centenary remained the only winless team on the season, dropping to 0-27 with a 91-58 loss at UMKC.

Slumping: Maryland dropped to 16-9 overall and 5-4 in the ACC with a loss at BC. It gets worse when you consider the Terps’ lone wins since Jan. 1 are Wake Forest (twice), Georgia Tech, Virginia, Clemson and Longwood. Of those, only Clemson has a winning record. K-State (16-9, 4-6) lost at Colorado. Its lone impressive Big 12 win (Jan. 24 vs. Baylor) is looking more and more like an anomaly. Both the ‘Cats and Terps will be hard pressed to reach the Big Dance.

Where’d they come from? UCLA got 19 from Malcolm Lee in a 69-61 win vs. Oregon State for its fifth straight win and ninth in last 10 games. The Bruins are now 18-7 overall and 9-3 in the Pac-10. Memphis (19-6, 7-3) rallied past Southern Miss and is within half a game of the C-USA lead. The Tigers play UAB on Wednesday. Both had rough starts to the season, but could be darkhorses to watch in March.

Blake Griffin? Really? Yes, really. Cleveland State guard Norris Cole throws up stellar numbers – 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game – but Saturday he hit a different level. He put up 41 points, 20 rebounds, nine asissts and three steals in a win over Youngstown State. Nobody’s posted a 40-20 game in college the last three years except Griffin, the 2009 Player of the Year at Oklahoma. Take a bow, Norris.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

Getty Images
3 Comments

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

Getty Images
3 Comments

McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

jared butler baylor
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

Getty Images
3 Comments

TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

xavier tillman nba draft
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.