Player of the Week: TyShawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, Kansas
We all already know about what TyShawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson did against Baylor. Taylor had 28 points, six boards and five assists while T-Rob demoralized the Baylor interior for 27 points and 14 boards as the Jayhawks steamrolled Baylor 92-74. Coming into the game, Baylor was undefeated and the third ranked team in the country. They were the squad that everyone was picking to end the Jayhawks’ streak of Big 12 regular season titles. I think Taylor and Robinson put an end to that.
More impressive, however, was the way that Kansas knocked off Texas on Saturday afternoon. Kansas jumped out to a big lead on the road, but Texas made their run late in the second half. After a J’Covan Brown three with three minutes left, the Longhorns had a four point lead and all the momentum. But Kansas had an answer, using a 9-2 run to close the game and pick up a solid road win against a better-than-you-think Texas team.
More than anything, however, the most important thing to take out of the win over Texas was something that TyShawn Taylor didn’t. Its no secret that turnovers are the issue with him, but against Texas, Taylor had 22 points, five boards, four assists and not a single turnover. The scouting report on Taylor has always been that he has the talent to be an all-american but he’s as consistently inconsistent as any player in the country. He’s been sensational the past three games. Can it last?
– G: Anthony Marshall, UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels lost at San Diego State last week, which put them in a bit of a whole to start out Mountain West play especially when you consider that the Aztecs also knocked off New Mexico on the road. If anything, UNLV proved that the MWC may end up being just a two team race as they knocked off TCU on Wednesday before running the Lobos out of the gym in an 80-63 win on Saturday. Marshall was the catalyst, finishing with 40 points, 18 assists, 11 boards and six steals in the two games.
– G: Maalik Wayns, Villanova: The knock on Villanova this season is that they didn’t have a player capable of taking control and leading this team. Early in the season, that looked to be the case as both Wayns and Mouph Yarou were inconsistent. But over the past three games, Wayns has been unbelievable. He went for 39 points, 13 boards and six assists in a loss to Cincinnati last Saturday, but rebounded with 53 points, 10 assists and seven boards in wins over St. John’s and Seton Hall.
– F: Khalif Wyatt and Ramone Moore, Temple: The Owls finally have Michael Eric back, but the biggest reason they are still in the race for the Atlantic 10 has been the play of Moore and Wyatt. They are the two leading scorers in the conference and lead the Owls to a 2-0 week, combining for 69 points, 17 boards and 16 assists in wins over La Salle and Maryland.
– F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are not three players in the country as underrated as KJ is. He’s averaging 20.7 ppg and 1.5 rpg for a team that may just be the second best in the Big East after their 77-74 win over Cincinnati in overtime. West Virginia also knocked off Marshall this week. Jones, in the two games, averaged 25.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 2.5 apg.
– C: Matt Kavanaugh, Dayton: The Flyers looked like they were going to be left out of the Atlantic 10 race last month when it was announced that Josh Benson, their starting center, was out of the season with a knee injury. But as of today, the Flyers are currently sitting all alone in first place in the conference at 4-1, and Kavanaugh is one of the biggest reasons why. After going for 23 points and nine boards in last Saturday’s win over La Salle, Kavanauh had 20 points and nine boards in a 15 point win over league favorite Xavier.
Team of the Week: Missouri
Of all the teams that we can consider elite this season, I am not sure if there is any that has had their credibility questioned more than Missouri this season. Are they big enough? Can they rebound? Are they going to be able to shoot this well against “real competition”? Can they win on the road?
I think its safe to say they have answered those questions. After handling Texas A&M fairly easily at home on Monday, the Tigers went into Waco and smacked Baylor in the second half, leaving with a win that was much more impressive than the 89-88 final would indicate. There were two things that Missouri really showed on Saturday afternoon. For starters, they aren’t just a three-point shooting team. Ricardo Ratliffe looked like an all-american thanks to the penetration ability of Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon and Marcus Denmon. Missouri shot 31 free throws and dominated the much-bigger Bears on the glass.
The other thing that Missouri proved is that they aren’t just a team that wins at home. That was a question a lot of folks had after they got handled at Kansas State earlier in league play, but they followed that up with a convincing win over Iowa State in Ames and, or course, the win at Baylor. The beauty of this Missouri team is that every player has had their ability maximized in the system that Frank Haith is running. This group is the epitome of the saying “the whole is the sum of the parts.”
Five teams that deserve a shout out:
Cleveland State: The Vikings went 2-0 this week and moved into a tie for first place in a balanced and competitive Horizon League. They started out their weekend with a 10 point win over Green Bay, following that up with an 83-57 win over Milwaukee, who was leading the conference as of Thursday. The Vikings, who has been my pick to win the league since the beginning of the season, are now in the driver’s seat for the conference title. The team they are tied with — Valpo — still has to play at Cleveland State.
Washington State: No one is out of the Pac-12 race this season. No one. That’s why Wazzu’s 2-0 week, knocking off both Stanford and Cal at home, is so important. For the first time all season, Faisal Aden is playing well. He went for 33 points against Stanford and followed that up with 24 against Cal. With Reggie Moore joining Aden in the back court and Brock Motum playing well this season, who knows?
Florida State: Believe it or not, the Seminoles actually have an real chance to win the ACC this season. After knocking off Maryland at home and Duke on the road this week, FSU is currently died for first place in the conference. The better news? They don’t play North Carolina again this season, they only host Duke while the two Tobacco Road rivals still have to play each other twice. I wrote about it in more detail on Saturday, but during this three game winning streak, FSU has turned into one a powerhouse offensively. No one should be expecting them to continue shoot at that clip, but if they get more consistent offensively, this group is big enough and tough enough defensively that they are going to have a real chance to make some noise in March.
San Diego State: The Aztecs followed up their two point win over UNLV from last weekend with an impressive victory over New Mexico at the Pit and a win over Air Force. Xavier Thames had 22 points and four assists in the win over the Lobos. The Aztecs have to get put into the driver’s seat in the MWC race. Not only do they have a game lead on UNLV and a two game lead on New Mexico, but they own a victory over both teams already and still host UNM.
Central Florida: The Golden Eagles moved into sole possession of first place in the Conference USA race by going 2-0 this week. On Wednesday, they knocked off Memphis and followed that up with a 48-41 grind-it-out win at UAB.
– Tulsa’s easy road: Conference USA doesn’t have divisions on the basketball side, but the way that the conference schedule breaks down is that the teams in the “eastern division” all play each other twice while playing the teams from the “western division” just once, and vice versa. Tulsa is in the west. Memphis, UCF, Southern Miss and Marshall are all in the east. That means that Tulsa plays the top four in the league four times while the top four all play each other six times.
Depending on how it plays out, those two games could end up playing a huge role. While it will be difficult for Tulsa to win the conference outright — they already have two bad losses to teams at the bottom of the league — if they can turn things around there is a chance that the Golden Hurricane can steal one of the byes in the CUSA Tournament from one of the top four teams.
– Big 12 is the best conference: At this point, it has to be considered as much. Why? Because every other league in the country is a mess. Outside of Syracuse, it looks like no one in the Big East is better than “pretty good”, and the Orange lost their first game of the season on Saturday when Fab Melo didn’t play. The Big Ten has turned into a Royal Rumble. Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin all look like they were overrated earlier this year. Michigan State has struggled on the road. Ohio State still looks like the favorite, but with the way William Buford has played of late, the Buckeyes look “vincible”. Florida State, who lost to Princeton, Harvard and Clemson by 20, has beaten UNC by 33 and Duke in Cameron. Beyond Kentucky, the next four teams in the SEC are a toss-up. The Pac-12 is a mid-major league.
At least in the Big 12, the top three teams are playing like the top three teams. Up until this week, we thought Baylor was the favorite. And now, after they got worked by both Missouri and Kansas, the Border War is going to be the coin-flip we need to determine who is the best team in this conference. Its refreshing to have question marks about a league because the teams are surpassing expectations.
– Is Oregon actually a contender in the Pac-12?: They may be. After sweeping the LA schools at home, the Ducks are now 6-2 in the Pac-12 and tied with Cal for first in the conference. They’ve won four straight games and have three legitimate scoring threats on their perimeter in Devoe Joseph, Eli Singler and Garrett Sim. Who would have thought this was possible after Oregon lost Jabari Brown? And what does this say about the Pac-12?
– Let’s just enjoy Murray State’s run, ok?: Yes, we all know that this team plays a weaker schedule than the rest of the country. Yes, we all know they are a mid-major. Yes, we all know they may not be as good as some of their high-major counterparts. But the bottom-line is this — the Racers are still undefeated, and they are the only team without a blemish on their record. Instead of criticizing them for what they aren’t, can we all please just sit back and enjoy what they are?
Murray State plays a fun style. They shoot a lot of threes, they get up and down the floor and they score a lot of points. They have a superstar that will be loved by both the efficiency gurus and the guys that study box scores with a name that is perfect for a sharp shooter (Isaiah Canaan, pronounced the same way as “cannon”). How often does a team actually have a legitimate chance to go undefeated in the regular season? Not often. So kick back, grab a brew and have fun with it.
– Can Loyola Marymount throw a wrench in the WCC race?: For most of the season, the thought has been that the round-robin between St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU is going to be what determines the WCC conference race. But LMU is proving to be a thorn in the side of the big boys. After losing by just four at Gonzaga last Saturday, the Lions went into BYU and handled the Cougars pretty solidly. The difference is that they now have Drew Viney healthy. He had 21 points against a very good BYU front line and Anthony Ireland went for 27 points, five assists and five steals.
The win avenged an earlier loss to BYU, meaning that the Lions haven’t lost to anyone that isn’t a part of the “big three”. They are only two games off the pace right now with two games left against the leader St. Mary’s. If they can beat the Gaels at home next week, it may be time that we start considering this team as a sleeper.