The #BIAHRoadTrip will be cutting into our national coverage a bit, so the Week in Review’s will be limited over these three weeks.
Player of the Week: Brandon Paul, Illinois
This was a relatively easy choice. Paul played a single game this week, and in that game, he had arguably the single most dominant individual performance of the season. He scored 43 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. He shot 11-15 from the floor — the first time in 16 years that someone scored as many as 43 points while taking as few as 15 shots — and 8-10 from three. He scored 15 points in the last three minutes of the game, including a pair of ridiculously tough threes to keep Illinois in the lead. The latter came from about 22 feet with Aaron Craft’s hand literally in his face.
The question for Illinois now is how they build on this. Yes, Paul’s performance was great theater and yes, it got them a marquee win that they so desperately needed. But its not difficult to see how this win can be viewed as fool’s gold. Paul isn’t going to be this dominant every single night, and even with that kind of performance, Illinois only managed to knock off Ohio by five points. Paul needs to be much more consistent and the Illini need to get more out of Meyers Leonard. If they do, Illinois should be in the mix at the top of the Big Ten.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team
G: Phil Pressey, Missouri: Missouri was sensational in Missouri’s win over Texas, finishing with 18 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers. He also added 12 points, five boards and five assists in a huge road win at Iowa State. Missouri got drubbed by the now 1-3 Kansas State Wildcats on the road, which is why a win over an improved Cyclones team — one in which Missouri played far from their best game — is a very good sign.
G: Chaz Williams, UMass: The Hofstra transfer has been one of the most improved point guards in the country. He’s averaging 16.2 ppg and 5.9 apg, spurring the Minutemen on to a surprising 3-1 start in Atlantic 10 play. This week, Williams has 22 points, six boards and seven assists — and just one turnover — as UMass overcame a 17 point deficit to knock off St. Joe’s. That performance came on the heels of the 19 points, six assists and five boards he had in a win over Charlotte.
G: Lenzelle Smith, Ohio State: Lenzelle Smith had a career-high 28 points and added seven boards as the Buckeyes knocked off Indiana in impressive fashion, getting revenge for a loss at Assembly Hall from earlier in the season. Putting OSU here is less about Smith, however, and more about simply wanting to comment on the Buckeyes: they made a statement here, and they needed to. There had been some doubt creeping into the minds of the pundits over the last couple of weeks. Between the loss at Kansas (without Sullinger), the loss at Illinois (when Paul went nuts) and the loss at Indiana, the Buckeyes suddenly looked mortal. For my money, OSU is still the favorite to win the Big Ten. As they showed Saturday, they can be absolutely smothering defensively. When they are getting the kind of perimeter production they got on Sunday, look out.
F: Terrence Ross, Washington: Ross had the best game of his career on Sunday night, scoring 30 points, grabbing 14 boards and hitting six threes as he led the CJ Wilcox-less Huskies to a win at Washington State. 26 of those points came in the second half. Washington has a wealth of perimeter talent, but for one reason or another, Lorenzo Romar has been unable to get everyone on the same page. No one has suffered from that lack of cohesion as much as Ross. Is this the spark he needs to become the kind of player that everyone expected him to be in the preseason.
C: Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: Moultrie was only average in a 62-58 win over a scrappy Tennessee team, finishing with 13 points, four boards and four blocks. But he was sensational as Mississippi State knocked off fellow SEC West member Alabama 56-52 on Saturday. He had 25 points and 13 boards (seven offensive) and helped to keep JaMychal Green from having a major impact in the paint.
Team of the Week: Florida State
Just like the Paul pick, this is fairly obvious. On Tuesday, the Noles went into Blacksburg and knocked off Virginia Tech 63-59. But that’s not the game that everyone is going to be talking about this weekend. On Saturday, FSU absolutely pulverized North Carolina, taking an eight point lead into the break and embarrassing the Tar Heels in the second half, winning by 33 points. Seriously! 33 points!
We’ll save our question marks about UNC for later. Its all Florida State here. The Noles really, really needed this win, and its not just because they had a resume that included two losses to Ivy League teams and a twenty point loss to Clemson. Deividas Dulkys was 8-10 from three. Michael Snaer went for 17 points. Luke Loucks hit a pair of threes. Florida State’s issue coming in was offensively — they struggle to score in large part because they can’t shoot. Will this be the confidence boost they needed to turn that around?
Five teams that deserve a shoutout:
Baylor: First, the Bears go into Kansas State and knock off the Wildcats a couple of days after Frank Martin’s team blew out Missouri on the same court. Then, Baylor puts up 106 points in a 41 point win over Oklahoma State. Some people are waiting to see if Baylor can beat Kansas in Phog Allen to label this team a national title contender. Not me. The Bears are as good as anyone in the country.
Cincinnati: Cincinnati is doing everything they can to prove that the loss they suffered to St. John’s at home — the only loss they’ve had since the brawl — was a fluke. The Bearcats went into DC and knocked off Georgetown, following that up with a four point win over Villanova despite the Wildcats getting 39 points, 13 boards and six assists from Maalik Wayns. Mick Cronin’s team is now sitting just a game out of first place in the Big East.
Oregon: Don’t look now, but the Ducks are sitting just a game out of first place in the Pac-12 after sweeping a road weekend at the Arizona schools. Making their record all the more impressive is that the Ducks have won three of their four games on the road. Given everything that is going on in that conference, we have to consider this group a contender for the league title.
SDSU: The Aztecs knocked off UNLV in the most exciting game of the week. Jamaal Franklin, who went for 24 points and 10 boards on a bum ankle, hit a driving layup with 0.3 seconds left on the clock. I guess that SDSU’s terreible schedule during the holiday break didn’t hurt them too much. It doesn’t get any easier for Steve Fisher’s club, however. Three of their next four are on the road, at New Mexico, at Colorado State and at Wyoming.
St. Mary’s: The Gaels are now the favorite in the WCC. That’s what happens when you beat BYU and Gonzaga by an average of 18.5 ppg. But remember, we’ve seen this before out of St. Mary’s. We’ve seen the great starts. Can they close out the season? And what happens when they go and play those two teams on the road? St. Mary’s has been very impressive, particularly Rob Jones and Matthew Dellavedova, but I still need to see more.
– Road losses: We saw a lot of ranked teams lose on the road this week. UNC and Louisville got smoked by Florida State and Providence, respectively. Michigan lost at Iowa. Michigan State lost at Northwestern. Kansas State, Seton Hall and Ohio State all lost road games as well. As you can probably imagine, this led to a plethora of tweets and stories about just how difficult it is to win on the road in conference play, all of which were true.
But its also common. Every year, we talk about how tough it is to win on the road in league play and how teams are going to eventually slip up playing against programs that are so familiar. It happens every single season. So what do you make of the losses? Well, each situation is difference. The fact that UNC quit against Florida State is alarming. Louisville’s loss at Providence further drove home the point that the Cardinals are and have been very overrated. But Kansas State and Seton Hall lost at improved Oklahoma and South Florida teams who are going steal games all year long. Ohio State ran into the Brandon Paul buzz saw.
Home losses are more worrisome (looking at you Indiana) than road losses, and so long as teams are able to bounce back and keep a loss from becoming a losing streak, all is ok.
– The Missouri Valley is too balanced: The Missouri Valley is very strong this season. Creighton and Wichita State are probably good enough to earn at-large bids, and there are another five or six teams in the league that are capable of beating anyone in the conference on a given night. While that is going to make for some great basketball games and an entertaining race, it may also mean that the league ends up beating themselves into just two NCAA Tournament bids.
Outside of the top two, who is going to be able to put together one of the 37 best at-large resumes? UNI and Indiana State are both sitting below .500 in league play. Missouri State won at Creighton but has since lost to Illinois State, Northern Iowa and Evansville, with two of those losses coming at home. Drake and Evansville both have a star, but that hasn’t exactly turned into wins. Can anyone separate themselves from the rest of the pack?
– Duke now the favorite in the ACC?: I’m not ready to say that yet, but I do think that North Carolina showed their true colors against the Seminoles. The Tar Heels lack toughness. I’m not just talking about physical toughness, either — all though that is a major issue, given how hard the Heels were smacked on Saturday. Their mental toughness has been a problem. UNC quit against Florida State. Plain and simple. They got smacked around a bit, they found themselves in a hole and they just said “screw it, I don’t want to be out here anymore”. That’s not the only time something like this has happened, either. Remember the brain lock against Kentucky, when UNC opted not to foul after Anthony Davis blocked that John Henson jumper with six seconds left?
Duke has their own issues, which have been well-documented in this space. And while they may deserve to be ranked above UNC right now, I don’t believe they are the better team. That said, if UNC has this kind of performance against Duke, they’ll lose by 40.
– Jarnell Stokes: He was awesome in his debut. He clearly is out of shape and he needs to learn the system that Cuonzo Martin runs, but he’s a big guy with a nice touch around the rim and decent range on his jumper. At 6’8″, 250 lb, he will provide a nice compliment alongside Jeronne Maymon. Don’t be surprised to see the Vols knock off some of the contenders in the SEC this season.
– Northwestern: The Wildcats got a huge win against Michigan State. That point cannot be stressed enough. After coming up short against both Illinois and Michigan, Northwestern absolutely had to have this game. But its no where near enough. They are 2-3 in the league right now and they still have to play loaded Big Ten schedule. Are they going to be able to beat Wisconsin on the road? Indiana on the road? Purdue? Ohio State? Northwestern has plenty of work to do.