Player of the Week: Jeff Withey, Kansas
Last Saturday, when Kansas lost to Missouri in Mizzou Arena, Jeff Withey was a no-show. He finished without a single point on just one field goal attempt, grabbing only four rebounds — and just one offensive — in 23 minutes. That’s about as sufficient as a no-show as a gets, and there is little doubt that the inability of Withey to help Kansas take advantage of their size on the interior played a role in their loss. If he has more of an impact, Kansas isn’t in a position where they are susceptible to the Marcus Denmon Show.
Well, that was the last time we saw that Jeff Withey. Since then, the new and improved Jeff Withey has looked like an all-american. He had a career-high 25 points to go along with five boards, three blocks and two steals in a dominating win over Baylor and followed that up with 18 points, 20 boards and seven blocks as the Jayhawks rolled over Oklahoma State. More impressive? He didn’t cut into Thomas Robinson’s production. He averaged 19.5 ppg and 12.5 rpg this week. That is a formidable front line.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team
– G: Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: The Zags have put themselves in a great position heading into the stretch run. They knocked off St. Mary’s in The Kennel and followed that up with a win over surprising Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga still needs St. Mary’s to slip up at the end of the conference season to have a chance to make up the one game deficit, but without these two wins, they wouldn’t have that chance. And Pangos was the biggest reason they got those wins. He had 27 points, including 5-6 shooting from three, in the win over St. Mary’s and followed that up with 21 points and nine assists, on 8-12 shooting and 5-7 from three, in the win over LMU. Oh, and he didn’t commit a single turnover in the two games.
– G: Marquis Teague, Kentucky: Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are the two potential all-americans on the Kentucky roster. Terrence Jones is the enigmatic sophomore with the talent to be an all-american. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller are the unsung role players. The guy that never gets any credit? Marquis Teague, the point guard that hasn’t lived up to the hype of the “Calipari point guard”. Well, maybe it just took longer than we expected. Teague was terrific in two of Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season. In a 20 point win over Florida in Rupp and a 69-63 win at Vanderbilt, Teague had 25 points and 18 assists while turning the ball over just six times and shooting the ball just 10-18 from the field.
– F: Ramone Moore, Temple: Temple has taken control of the Atlantic 10 race, but that was something we knew prior to their dominating, 85-72 win over Xavier in Philly on Saturday. Moore was the star, going for 30 points, on 9-16 shooting, which followed up a 25 point, four rebound, four assist performance in a win over George Washington. Perhaps more importantly, Michael Eric made his grand return this week, going for 11 points and 16 boards against Xavier.
– F: Jamil Wilson, Marquette: Marquette is currently playing without Chris Otule and Davante Gardner, and for those unfamiliar with the Golden Eagle’s roster, that means that Buzz Williams is working with a limited front court rotation. That’s what makes Jamil Wilson’s play this week so important. He went for 16 points and four boards against Cincinnati on Saturday, which followed up a dominating performance against DePaul in which he had 18 points, 10 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks. With Wilson teaming with Jae Crowder in the Marquette front court, the Golden Eagles become a dangerous up-tempo team.
– C: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame: As good as Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have been, the biggest reason for Notre Dame’s surge this season is because the guy that looks like a mini-Luke Harangody has been playing like a mini-Luke Harangody. Jack Cooley has played like an all-conference player over the last month, and that didn’t change this week. He averaged 21.5 ppg, 13.0 rpg and 2.5 bpg while shooting 17-21 from the floor in wins at West Virginia and against DePaul.
Team of the Week: Wichita State Shockers
There have been rumblings for a while that Wichita State, and not Creighton, is the best team in the Missouri Valley. It was a difficult argument to make when Creighton owned a win in the only head-to-head battle and also held a better league record. That argument got a bit easier when the Bluejays lost two in a row to fall a game behind the Shockers. But after this week, there really is no question anymore.
Not only did Wichita State beat Northern Iowa by 25 points, but they also went into Omaha and knocked off the Bluejays 89-68. Dominating doesn’t begin to describe the performance. Creighton took a punch, then took another and took another. And by the time the dust cleared and the Bluejays were able to answer, they had been run out of their own gym. Most impressive? They did it while Garrett Stutz, who has been the best player on the roster over the last three weeks, managed just eight points and a single rebound in 13 minutes.
Teams deserving of a shoutout
Michigan State Spartans: Maybe its time we start talking about Michigan State as a serious Final Four contender. On paper, they aren’t as sexy as a North Carolina or a Baylor or a Missouri, but they are a gritty, defensive-minded team that attacks the glass as well as any hard in the country. We know about Draymond Green and Keith Appling and company, but the guy that stood out this weekend? How about Adreian Payne. He averaged 13.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg, including 15 points and 6-6 shooting from the field as Michigan State ended their road struggles with a 58-48 win at Ohio State.
Duke Blue Devils: All it took was a 10 point comeback in the final two and a half minutes in the Dean Dome, capped by a memorable and iconic three from Austin Rivers, for the Blue Devils to go from the brink of being two games back in the ACC to a three-way tie for first place. They followed that up with an 18 point win against Maryland. Think about this: against UNC, Rivers went for 29 points, and against Maryland, the Plumlees combined for 29 points and 32 boards. What happens when they all end up playing well at the same time?
Louisville Cardinals: Did anyone think that, after the Cardinals lost to Providence by 31 points, Louisville could be sitting at 8-4 in the Big East? They’ve won six games in a row, including a 21 point win against UConn on Monday night and a come-from-behind, three point win against West Virginia. Finally, for what feels like the first time all season, the Cards are hitting threes. On a similar note, Louisville finally has a healthy Wayne Blackshear in their mix. He went for 13 points in the win over West Virginia. I guess that shoulder is feeling pretty good.
Missouri Tigers: I gotta be honest: I’m getting kind of sick of writing about Missouri. Its the same thing every time. This team beats more talented teams and they do it playing an entertaining style of team basketball. This week, it was a 72-57 win over Baylor, one where Mizzou’s four-headed back court attack went for 63 points and 17 assists on 20-38 shooting, 14-28 of which came from beyond the arc.
Vermont Catamounts: Since their loss to Stony Brook to kick off America East play, UVM has won 11 of their last 12 games, including the 19 point win they had against those very Seawolves on Sunday afternoon. Four McGlynn had 24 points in the win, which pulled the Catamounts within a half-game of first place.
– Syracuse, not Ohio State, Kentucky’s biggest contender?: Kentucky is the best team in the country. No one in their right mind is going to argue that fact. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the Wildcats to win the national title. But they certainly aren’t an overwhelming favorite by any stretch. There are flaws to this team. They can be pushed around in the paint, they lack depth if foul trouble strikes and Marquis Teague, while playing much better of late, is still Marquis Teague. Kentucky is not unbeatable.
And if anyone is going to take them down, I believe its going to be Syracuse, not Ohio State. I think that its safe to say those are the two teams that everyone in the country believes are Kentucky’s biggest competition, and rightfully so. They both have the kind of physical interior presence needed to try and take advantage of the fact Terrence Jones is soft and Anthony Davis is slender. They both can buckle down and defend. They both re loaded with talent on the offensive end of the floor.
Here’s my thing about Syracuse over Ohio State, however. The knock on Syracuse is that they don’t have a go-to player. I disagree with that sentiment. I think they have three go-to players in Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, and I think those three are ok with sharing the spotlight. I think they get the fact that they are going to be their best as a team and win the most games when they are all playing together, allowing the guy with the hot hand to shoot the ball in the big moments. It was Joseph against Georgetown, and it was Jardine against UConn.
I think Ohio State is the team with an issue with go-to scorers. As we saw against Michigan State, Jared Sullinger is not exactly adept at going 1-on-2 or 1-on3 every possession in the post. But that is precisely what he is going to have to do when William Buford and Deshaun Thomas aren’t scoring the ball. Buford has not been the same player that he was last year, and Thomas is a bit of a streaky scorer. If those two can’t iron out their kinks, the Buckeyes have a lower ceiling than the Orange.
– Tony Mitchell of North Texas is the country’s least-discussed stud: Mitchell was supposed to be enrolled at Missouri before he ran into some academic issues, which is why he had to sit out half of this season with the Mean Green before finally getting on the court. But it was worth the wait, as Mitchell has been sensational. Earlier in the year, Mitchell was a bit up and down, mixing in the 34 points and 16 boards he had against South Alabama or the 30 points 17 boards he had against Denver with six point performances against the likes of Troy and Arkansas-Little Rock. The last four games have ben a different story, however. Mitchell has averaged 19.0 ppg, 14.5 rpg and 5.3 bpg while shooting 57.1% from the field.
– Who is the second-best team in the SEC?: As we’ve established, Kentucky is not only the best team in the conference, they are the best team in the country. So who is the second-best? Its clearly not Alabama, whose struggles were compounded by Anthony Grant’s decision to suspended four of his starters for a violation of team rules (love the decision, by the way). And its not Mississippi State, who can’t handle Georgia at home. Florida not only lost to Kentucky by 20 on Tuesday, they got beaten up by Tennessee in Gainesville. Could it be that Vanderbilt, the team that everyone in the country spent the first two months of the season bashing, is actually the second best team in this league?
– Is the best story in the country UNC-Greensboro?: On December 13th, Wes Miller took over as UNCG’s head coach after Mike Dement was fired. The name should sound familiar to you. Miller was a guard on UNC’s 2005 national title team. He turns 29 this month. And he was forced to take over a team that had gone just 2-8 before he took over the role. As you might expect, the start of his tenure was a bit rough. Miller lost his first six games at the helm of the Spartans, dropping their record this season to 2-14.
But on January 12th, Miller’s team got their first win, winning at the College of Charleston. Since that win, they’ve only looked back once, a 93-85 defeat at the hands of Furman. The Spartans have won nine out of their last ten games. Three of them have been by a single point, and another was by two points. Two more of those wins came in overtime, meaning that Miller, whose players probably remember him from his time in Chapel Hill, is coaching as well as anyone in the country in crunch time. UNCG is currently in first place in the Northern Division of the SoCon. If there is any team you are going to root for making the NCAA Tournament, it should be the Spartans.
– The MAAC race is going to be a lot of fun: Either that or a mess. One of the two. After Fairfield’s 68-51 win over Loyola (MD) erased the Greyhounds one game lead over Iona in the standings, we now have four teams within one game of first place. Fairfield, one of the most talented teams in the conference, struggled early, but they are now playing their best basketball of the season.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.