Blogger Spotlight: The Big Lead on Kentucky, the Big East vs. the Big Ten and some Final Four picks

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The Big Lead covers everything sports, and then some. NFL, NBA, MLB, MMA, fantasy sports, sports gossip, babes, statistical analysis, you name it. It’s there.

With NFL season over, expect even more college hoops to surface on the site as it reflects the nation’s annual rising interest in the sport. But if it seems as though it has a few more college basketball stories than anything else, that’s probably because the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, Jason McIntyre, is a hoophead.

(This SI.com profile makes for good background reading if you don’t read the site, though this story’s a bit more recent.)

All of which makes him an ideal subject for the latest Blogger Spotlight. We covered hoops’ post-Super Bowl attention, if it needs a Jimmer, Kentucky’s insane fan base and even a little CAA hoops. Who does he think will be in the Final Four and who will probably make the Final Four? Read on.

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Q: Super Bowl’s over, which usually means college basketball gets a slight attention boost from casual fans (who weren’t watching before) and media outlets that couldn’t fit in games like St. Mary’s-Gonzaga for time/space limitations. Do you find this to be true? Does The Big Lead’s coverage change? Do you guys push college hoops more?

A: I’m a college hoops junkie, so I follow the sport from the Maui Classic through the title game. I thought Kentucky/UNC in December was better than 97 percent of worthless bowl games. It almost seems as if college hoops timed it perfectly this year – the Super Bowl, quickly followed by a slew of marvelous games this week.

I think you’re right – nationally, college hoops will be getting significantly more coverage now that football is over. Weekends won’t be consumed by football, but rather college basketball. On the site, yes, we’ll certainly be doing much more college hoops.

I’m just glad the Colts are going to cut Peyton Manning soon instead of waiting until March and infringing on March Madness, which is the greatest sports event every year (except when the World Cup happens every four years).

Q: Does college basketball need a Jimmer-type player every year to boost overall interest? Or is it better when Kentucky, Carolina, Duke and other marquee schools are dominating the game? Seems like the ideal for national attention is when Duke has a star like J.J. Redick and is great, but …

A: It’s funny – the NBA basically has two Jimmer-type players this year in Ricky Rubio and emerging Jeremy Lin and college hoops doesn’t have one. I think college basketball certainly misses Jimmer, but I don’t think the sport is hurting without him, not with a ridiculously loaded Kentucky team and at least 8-9 really, really good lottery picks dominating the sport.

College football is better when traditional powers like Notre Dame are very good; baseball generates better ratings when the Yankees are in the World Series. The NBA is star-driven. College basketball seems like a different animal. Duke and Butler in the National title game generated the best Championship rating in over a decade.

This year, we could be looking at a Final 4 better than 2008, when all the No. 1 seeds advanced. How much interest would there be in a Kentucky-Kansas-North Carolina-Syracuse Final Four? (Syracuse for the coveted “Northeast” market.) Or would fans tune in for an “underdog” like Missouri or Baylor? (I’m using underdog in the sense that neither school ever makes the Final 4.)

Q: Not that you’ve been ignoring college hoops. You love this stuff. Where does college hoops rank in your sports hierarchy? Prefer it over NBA?

A: Of the 17 NFL Sundays last season, i was able to sit at home for 16 of them watching Red Zone for hours on end. (Don’t ask how I pulled this off with a baby at home who is now 10 months old.) That being said, yes, my favorite sport is college basketball. In college, I joined a nerdy college hoops fantasy league and became obsessed with sport. I’d be willing to go up against anyone in college basketball Jeopardy from 1995-2002.

Gun-to-head, I’d rank em like this: College basketball, NFL, NBA, college football. In truth, it’s 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B.

Q: Do you get to many games in person? Or is that appeal even there? When I’m work, it’s far more useful to have TVs on and ESPN3 running so I can monitor several games. Going to games is fun, but it’s like everything else in sports right now – TV is often a superior viewing experience. (Not to mention the kid factor. Who has the time to work, go to a game and see their family?)

A: Haven’t been to a college basketball game in years. For site coverage purposes, it makes significantly more sense to be at home – the ability to pull video, for instance, and get it online 10 minutes later. The value in going to the game and getting quotes/talking to people/networking works for longer pieces and developing contacts, though. Then you’ve got to weigh the hassle of travel, and as you said, being away from your family constantly. I don’t know how the beat guys do it. I traveled plenty for work in my 20s, but it’s not nearly as appealing now.

As for March Madness, the best seat, without question, is a computer chair with two TVs going. (True story: Last year, during the 2nd day of the tournament, my wife was giving birth and I had the tournament on mute. Only for a bit though. Once labor began, I had to shut it down.) I actually feel that way about all sports. Give me Red Zone on NFL Sundays over going to a game. When you factor in all the TV timeouts, the prices for parking, food, dealing with drunk knuckleheads, etc … the game experience is vastly overrated, in my opinion.

Q: Earlier this season, you tapped the Big East as the best conference. Still feel that way? And where’s the ACC rank nowadays? I might take the Mountain West over it in an ACC/MWC Challenge.

source: APA: I’ve been trying to find a moment to sit down and really delve into the Big East vs. Big Ten. Perhaps this weekend. I’m aware that virtually all the numbers point to the Big Ten. Yes, the Big East is obviously down this year, but of course you’re going to go down after getting a record 11 teams into the tournament. Check out last year’s  all-Big East teams. Of the top 16 players, how many are playing right now? Three. Of course a drop-off was to be expected. That being said, let’s look at strength of schedule.

The Big East has three in the top six, and six in the top 18. The Big Ten has four in the Top 20. If you compare the top three teams in each league in SOS, it’s about even; the Big 10 (going by the current standings) has an edge in the next group of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois over Notre Dame, Louisville and Cincinnati. But then you’ve got the next trio where the Big East has an advantage because teams like West Virginia and UConn are down a bit.

For what it’s worth – last five years, five Big East squads have reached the Final Four (four different schools). Same time period: three Big Ten squads, (two different schools). I’m very curious to see how these conferences do in the NCAA tournament. Would you be surprised if each conference only had two schools in the Sweet 16 (Ohio State, Indiana; Syracuse, UConn)? I wouldn’t.

How wild has the ACC been? Florida State beating the hell out of UNC and winning at Duke? Virginia was on the uptick, but 18-4 good? I actually think UNC has underwhelmed a bit despite rolling through the ACC so far. I was expecting the loaded Tar Heels to pummel teams into submission, but that hasn’t totally happened. Problem is, after FSU, UVA, UNC and Duke, I’m not sold on Miami (which is better with Reggie Johnson) or NC State (which has a fat record by default because the dregs in the conference stink). I could see the same number of MWC teams reaching the Sweet 16 as the ACC.

Q: Most surprising aspect of the season thus far?

A: I knew the Pac-12 would be awful, but falling to a 1-bid league?

I think Dion Waiters of Syracuse went from reserve with potential to star in one off-season. I know a lot of folks like Kevin Jones as Big East player of the year, but Waiters is my pick.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an elite high school player, but going to UK all anyone talked about was Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. MKG has been phenomenal, and I think he’s become a Top 5 draft pick.

I’m shocked that Georgetown managed to improve (considerably) despite losing two all-conference stars in Wright and Freeman.

Gotta toss Missouri, Murray State and Michigan State into the “surprising” category as well.

Q: You tweeted some reservations about Kentucky as the game’s best/most dominant team despite a 20-point win against Florida. How much did BBN kill you for this? Few fan bases respond with more vigor and ferocity to perceived slights.

A: It’s undeniable: Kentucky is the best team in the country. Kentucky has the best talent in the country. Virtually all the stats point to Kentucky. My reservations are purely opinion-based: 1) Cal’s history of struggles in the NCAA tournament, 2) Freshman and sophomores choking in a big spot in a close game on the road, 3) Despite the growth of Marquis Teague, he’s still the weak link of that offense. That’s all I’ve got.

That being said, a No. 1 seed has won the title four of the last five years (UConn last year was a 3). I’ll probably fill out 10 pools again and have Kentucky winning in 6-7 of them.

Q: You’re a James Madison grad, right? As Shaka Smart says, great basketball in that state. But do you ever look at the rest of the Virginia-based CAA teams and think “Damn. Why can’t we break through just once?”

A: Can I play the, “we’re a football school?” card? They beat Penn and GW earlier this year and I thought maybe they could be dangerous in the CAA tournament. Now, they’ve lost six in a row. No shot. The last time they went dancing was in 1994, which was three years before I got there.

Q: We’re still a month away from Selection Sunday, but give me who you’d like to see in the Final Four and who you think will get there.  

source: APA: It’s all about the matchups. Take Syracuse. Like the Orange, root for the Orange, but what if they draw a strong 3-point shooting team in the 2nd round? I could easily see them getting bounced. Michigan and Virginia can be dangerous teams – if the matchups are right. That being said …

Who I’d like to see: Kentucky vs. Syracuse would be an exciting semifinal. Remember what Bob Huggins’ gimmick zone defense did to John Wall’s 2010 Kentucky team in the Final 4? UNC vs. Ohio State. I’d say those are probably the 4 best teams in the country. Craft vs. Marshall? Sullinger vs. Henson?

Who I think will get there: Kentucky and UNC seem to be the only sure bets (Duke finish notwithstanding), and two teams not currently in the top 15 (polls or Ken Pom), just for fun: Louisville, UNLV.

Q: Do you get much time for reflection for how The Big Lead’s grown? You’re obviously in this for the long haul, but how do you envision your role in a few years? Will you ever cede daily responsibilities to another editor and take a background role or even seek out another challenge and let the site evolve without you, kinda like what Will Leitch did?

A: I used to be the kind of guy who tried to map out my future long term, but then I started a website from scratch and that’s changed everything. No idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in two years. But I enjoy running the site because it doesn’t have to be all sports, all the time. That’s why I left newspapers – it was basically sports 24/7 and that’s it. I much prefer the ability to drop in a movie/tv/culture post whenever, and having fun that way. I have started to slowly back away from the site for an hour here or an hour there because I need to for my sanity, but ultimately, I end up checking things out on my phone and talking with the writers that way.

There’s a weird parallel somewhere about the site being my little baby – awkward and fun and clumsy at first, and I had no clue what I was doing. As it has grown, the site has matured, and it’s constantly evolving and trying different things (such as the Colin Cowherd profile last month). Preliminary talks with the USA Today brass give me optimism for 2012 and beyond.

More of Jason’s writing can be found at The Big Lead. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigLead.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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.