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College Hoops Contender Series: Three (flawed?) Final Four favorites

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers. Today, we talk Final Four contenders.

To me, there is a clear-cut line between the teams ranked in the top four or five and the rest of the top 25. Duke probably should be ranked No. 1 in your preseason poll, but their question marks at the point guard spot and the youth on the roster are enough that I can see two teams arguably being ranked above them.

I also think there is another clear-cut tier of teams, through the top 12, that are good enough that they are a decent bet to get to the Final Four in San Antonio while being flawed enough that we cannot consider them a true title contender, at least not in October.

Two of those teams won a national title in recent years: Villanova and Louisville. Another, West Virginia, has yet to make it out of the Sweet 16 as Press Virginia. Let’s take a dive into those three teams, shall we?

RELATED: Big Ten PreviewACC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series

Jalen Brunson (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

VILLANOVA

Over the course of the last four years, Villanova has done the following:

  • Won four outright Big East regular season titles, with each title coming by at least two full games.
  • In those four seasons, they’ve gone 63-9 in Big East play and 129-17 overall.
  • The next-best record in the Big East over those four years is Xavier’s 42-30 mark.
  • The combined-record of the conference runner-up during this Villanova dynasty is 52-20, 11 games worse than the Wildcats. Including Big East tournament games, Villanova has lost just 11 times to Big East teams during those four years.
  • They’ve won two Big East tournament titles.
  • They won the 2016 national title.

There has not been a more successful team in college basketball over the course of that four-year period, so why in the world would it make sense to assume that trend would change heading into the 2017-18 season?

Well, the Wildcats lost Josh Hart, a first-team all-american last season and a first round draft pick last June, as well as Kris Jenkins, the man who gave Villanova their first national title since 1985.

Those are big, big losses, and it would be silly to argue otherwise, but losing stars has not slowed Villanova down during this run. They lost James Bell and Jayvaughn Pinkston after the first league title. They lost Darrun Hilliard the year after. Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduated after the Wildcats won the title. Jay Wright has built a program that is as adept as any at handling turnover within a roster, and this season should be no exception.

It starts with Jalen Brunson, the former McDonald’s All-American point guard who was arguably Villanova’s best player for a stretch at the end of his sophomore season. I’m not sure there is a higher IQ player in the country than Brunson, who has done nothing but win throughout the entirety of basketball career, whether it was at the high school or college level.

He’ll be an all-american this season, the biggest reason that Villanova remains at the top of the Big East standings.

Even with the loss of Hart, Villanova will have some of the best wings in the sport. Phil Booth is back after missing last season through injury, and Mikal Bridges should take another step forward this year. The guy to watch here is Donte DiVincenzo, who had a terrific redshirt freshman season and will be atop every list of breakout players this year. Eric Paschall is back, former five-star center Omari Spellman will be eligible and Jermaine Samuels has all the makings of the next great Villanova wing.

Change doesn’t hurt this program.

I’m not sure what would actually hurt this program.

But I do know this: Villanova has one of the nation’s best coaches. They have one of the nation’s best point guards. They have three redshirt juniors and a redshirt sophomore that will rotate through on the wings. And they have a pair of freshmen that picked the Wildcats over the nation’s bluebloods.

The only thing that makes me hesitant to put Villanova on this list is the narrative. They won the 2016 national title. They didn’t get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in 2014, 2015 or 2017.

Can we really call them a Final Four favorite if all they do is win national titles or get upset?

MORE2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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LOUISVILLE

Back in May, back before Donovan Mitchell had climbed his way into the lottery of NBA Draft boards and when it looked like there was at least a shot that he would be returning to school, Louisville was very much in the conversation to be the preseason No. 1 overall team in the country.

That, however, has changed just a bit.

Not only did Mitchell leave, and not only did Louisville find out that the banners that they hung in 2012 (Final Four) and 2013 (National Title) may end up coming down, but the Cardinals were implicated in last month’s FBI complaints that resulted in the arrest of ten people. Rick Pitino was fired. Star freshman Brian Bowen will probably never play college basketball.

And here we are.

The Cardinals still have a bevy of talent on their roster this season, enough that, in a vacuum, they would be able to make a return to the Final Four, a nice consolation prize should all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons get wiped off the books. But that is assuming that this group is able to band together playing for interim head coach David Padgett. That’s not out of the question. The Louisville players have been through more than any college team ever should have to go through. They lived through the escort scandal, the banners coming down and now the end of the Pitino era.

There is a chance the ends up being a story with a happy ending.

Strictly in terms of basketball, the way I see it there are three specific issues that are going to have to be addressed in one way or another for Louisville this year:

  1. Who get better? After a freshman season that went to ruin because of injury, Deng Adel quietly had a good sophomore year that was particularly impressive down the stretch of the season. Will he take another step forward this year? Will V.J. King, a former five-star prospect that Rick Pitino has said is in line for a Mitchell-esque jump as a sophomore this season? What about Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud? Both front court players have NBA measureables and unique skillsets, but neither have been able to put together consistent performances.
  2. Just how good are the freshmen? The star of this class was Brian Bowen, a five-star recruit that fell into Pitino’s lap after stars at Arizona and Michigan State opted not to enter the NBA Draft. But he will likely end up ineligible as fallout from the FBI complaints last month. The next name to know, then, is Malik Williams, who was something of a late-bloomer and, like Spalding and Mahmoud, has some intriguing longterm potential. Jordan Nwora is a floor-spacing forward and Lance Thomas is another big body up front, but the most interesting guy here may be Darius Perry because …
  3. … point guard is still a problem position. Quentin Snider has had moments of brilliance for the Cardinals. He was sensational in last year’s win over Kentucky and, after returning from injury, was really good for U of L down the stretch of last season. But he also put together a disastrous performance in the upset loss against Michigan in the second round of the Big Dance and, frankly, he’s not exactly what you think of when you think of a Rick Pitino point guard. Perry, however, is. He’s quick, he’s athletic, he’s a pest defensively and he’s aggressive going towards the rim. It will be good for Louisville if Perry pushes Snider for playing time, even if Snider remains the starter.

It’s impossible to know what to expect from David Padgett in his first season as a head coach, but the good news is that he’ll have the pieces to put together a good team. I still expect the Cardinals to be pretty typical Louisville — a nightmare for opponents on the defensive end, at times unwatchable offensively, potentially in the mix for an ACC title come February.

And if you’re in the mix for an ACC title, you have the kind of talent that could can together and make a deep run in March.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Jevon Carter (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

WEST VIRGINIA

I have a theory, and it dates back years and years and is the biggest reason that VCU fans generally despise my being.

In reality, it’s pretty simple, and to date I’ve been proven nothing but right: Teams that survive on a full court press inevitably have a ceiling.

Why?

Because the way that those teams play is built around the idea that they are going to out-effort, out-athlete and out-tough their opponent for 40 minutes. They win by wearing opponent’s out and by forcing ball-handlers into bad decisions. They need their opponent to make mistakes, and, generally speaking, the better a college basketball team is, the better their guards are. Better guards are less prone to making mistakes or getting flustered by a trapping press.

Put another way, why do you think that there are no full court pressing teams in the NBA?

Over the course of the last three seasons, West Virginia has redefined themselves as Press Virginia, playing as aggressive and as intense of a full court press as you’ll find anywhere in the country. The results have been impressive: at least 25 wins in three straight years, a 36-12 record in the Big 12 and back-to-back-to-back top-five seeds in the NCAA tournament.

But despite all that, West Virginia has yet to make it past the Sweet 16 despite ranking as a top-eight team on KenPom in each of the last two seasons.

Will this year be the year that the narrative changes?

It may be. Jevon Carter is back and may end up being the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. With Esa Ahmad and Daxter Miles Jr. alongside, him, the Mountaineers have experience and leadership to lean on. That said, the key to the success that Bob Huggins’ has had playing this style hasn’t been his stars, it’s the depth and the myriad bodies that he has at his disposal. That depth is going to be young this year, but Huggins does add a couple of JuCo wings while bringing along redshirt sophomore James Bolden, who showed flashes of potential last year. Throw in a half-dozen front court pieces, and the Mountaineers have the bodies.

They’ll miss Nathan Adrian’s shooting and his effort at the top of their zone. They’ll miss Teyvon Myers and Tarik Phillip torturing opposing ball-handlers. But we also thought they’d miss Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton and Jaysean Paige.

The program just keeps humming along.

This year should be no different. The question is whether or not it will end in the Sweet 16 once again.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Louisville or Ohio State at No. 1?

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It feels like college basketball makes a little more sense today than it did at this time last week.

That’s because, over the course of the last seven days, we’ve had a number of marquee non-conference battles, from the showdowns that took place during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to a wild Saturday that was headlined by a battle of top 20 teams to a Sunday that happened to feature the worst game between top ten teams that we’ve ever seen.

So there’s a lot to dig through.

And in a season where it doesn’t feel like there are any great teams, I will say this: I think that we’re starting to get some separation at the top.

Anyway, here is my AP poll with some explanation as to why I slotted teams in those spots.



1. LOUISVILLE (9-0, Last Week: 2)

2. OHIO STATE (9-0, 6)

I think there are only two teams this week that can justifiably be ranked No. 1 in a poll: Louisville and Ohio State.

And both have strong claims to the top spot. Louisville was No. 1 in the AP Poll last week and all they did was land a couple of double-digit wins over Pitt and No. 4 Michigan, who was No. 1 in this space seven days ago. They’re very much deserving of being the No. 1 team in the country.

But Ohio State has an argument as well. The Buckeyes beat North Carolina and Penn State by an average of 28.5 points this week, with the win over the former coming in Chapel Hill. The Buckeyes have three wins over 25 points or more over KenPom top 25 opponents. To put that into context, there have been just six instances this season where a KenPom top 50 team has lost by 20 or more. Ohio State is responsible for half of them.

So they’re deserving of consideration as well.

3. KANSAS (7-1, 3)

If you forced me to put college basketball into tiers, I would have Kansas as the third team in the top tier. Hell, I think that there’s an argument to be made that they are the favorite to win the national title right now. They have the most unstoppable force of the elite teams – see: Azubuike, Udoka – and they have the best point guard play as well. They beat No. 20 Colorado by 14 on Saturday evening, a win that is going to age really nicely.

4. MICHIGAN (8-1, 1)

The Wolverines got smoked when they played at Louisville on Tuesday, which was hardly unexpected. Michigan was coming off of a trip to the Bahamas, where they played three games in three days, and it was the most obvious fade Michigan spot in the history of gambling. They bounced back on Friday by putting up 103 points on Iowa.

5. MARYLAND (10-0, 4)

Maryland is still undefeated despite trying their damnedest to not be undefeated anymore. The Terps needed to rally from 15 points down in the second half to avoid dropping a home game against Illinois, but they did it. I’m still torn on just how good this team is, but the talent is undoubtedly there.

6. GONZAGA (10-1, 8)

The Zags went into Seattle and picked off in-state rival Washington on Sunday night. That’s a really nice win for a team that seems to be flying under the radar a little bit. Remember the name Joel Ayayi. He’s the x-factor for Mark Few.

7. KENTUCKY (7-1, 5)

We just have to survive games against Georgia Tech and Utah in the next 10 days and we’ll get rewarded with the Wildcats taking on No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Ohio State in the span of one week. I’m already fired up.

8. ARIZONA (9-1, 9)

I discussed why on the podcast (at the 26:50 mark), but I actually feel better about Arizona after they lost at Baylor than I did before they played.

9. AUBURN (8-0, 10)

I’m still in on this Auburn team. They struggled with Furman at home, but the Palladins are well coached with good guard play. Teams like that are not going to be affected by Auburn’s pressure. There’s a reason they are still undefeated.

10. DAYTON (7-1, 12)

I guess that I’m still higher than the public on Dayton, and they rewarded me by going out west and taking care of Saint Mary’s in Phoenix. This is a really, really good team that spaces the floor, shoots a ton of threes and has Obi Toppin. They’re legit.

11. DUKE (9-1, 13)

Exactly seven days after they lost at home to Stephen F. Austin as the No. 1 team in the country, Duke turned around and went into East Lansing and handed the preseason No. 1 team in the country a beatdown. I don’t pretend to understand it.

12. OREGON (7-2, 15)

The Ducks bounced back from a tough trip to the Bahamas by beating Hawaii in Eugene over the weekend. We’ll get a better sense for just how good they are this weekend, when they head to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan.

13. BAYLOR (7-1, 17)

The Bears hung on to beat Arizona at home on Saturday despite playing what sounded like a road game in their own gym. That’s what happens in Big 12 country when your football team is playing for the conference title at the exact same time. The big question with Baylor is going to be whether or not Tristan Clark can ever get back to 100 percent.

14. VILLANOVA (7-2, 18)

The Wildcats have been pretty good since they were plastered by Ohio State in Columbus, and there is still rook for them to grow. Bryan Antoine has only played 38 minutes this season as he comes back from shoulder surgery.

15. UTAH STATE (9-1, 19)

Neemias Queta is back, which means that we can finally start to see the Aggies that we have been expecting to see since last March. When healthy, this is a dangerous group.

16. SETON HALL (6-3, 16)

The status of Sandro Mamukelashvili, who may have broken a bone in his wrist, is much more important than losing on the road at Iowa State. Without him, Seton Hall’s ceiling takes a significant hit.

17. MEMPHIS (8-1, 20)

Memphis just keeps winning without James Wiseman. On Saturday, they erased a 20 point deficit on the road against a pretty decent UAB team.

18. BUTLER (9-0, NR)

The most underrated team in college basketball right now, the Bulldogs picked off Florida in Hinkle this weekend after going into Oxford and beating Ole Miss.

19. TENNESSEE (7-1, 22)

The Vols have only played one game since returning from the Emerald Coast Classic. They get Memphis on Saturday. Buckle up.

20. VIRGINIA (8-1, 7)

The Wahoos can’t score. When you go from having Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter to Kihei Clark, Kody Stattman and Mamadi Diakite, you are going to take a step back.

21. NORTH CAROLINA (6-3, 11)

I’m not sure what to do with North Carolina. On the one hand, they looked awful this week. On the other hand, they’re a young team still learning how they are going to play that had to go up against the two best defensive teams in college basketball.

22. XAVIER (9-1, 24)

Xavier’s win over Cincinnati on Saturday should force you to take notice. All the people that Travis Steele bought beers for certainly did.

23. PURDUE (6-3, NR)

Purdue gave up 84 points in two games this weekend against Virginia and Northwestern. Matt Painter might be able to get to the NCAA tournament with my men’s league team.

24. FLORIDA STATE (7-2, 21)

Just when I was starting to buy in to the Florida State hype they go out and lose by 14 at Indiana, who promptly goes and loses by 20 to Wisconsin. I don’t know anymore.

25. MARQUETTE (7-2, NR)

I’ve been impressed with Marquette defensively. If you can guard and you have two players that are as good at getting a bucket as Markus Howard and Koby McEwen, you have a chance to win a bunch of games.

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 18 Butler, No. 23 Purdue, No. 25 Marquette
DROPPED OUT: No. 14 Michigan State, No. 23 Florida, No. 25 Colorado

No. 9 Gonzaga uses late 3s to beat No. 22 Washington 83-76

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SEATTLE — One glance at the shot clock told Killian Tillie there was no choice. He had to launch the jumper 30 feet from the basket.

When the shot left Tillie’s hand, it felt just like a normal 3-point attempt, even if he was almost closer to half-court. And the result? ”

“It felt good. It was cash,” Tillie said.

The senior forward hit the key 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 2:55 remaining and finished with 15 points, Joel Ayayi hit another 3 with 24 seconds left that served as a capper, and No. 9 Gonzaga held off No. 22 Washington 83-76 on Sunday night.

Control of the in-state rivalry remained on the east side of the state as the Bulldogs (10-1) could never pull away but made the key plays in the closing minutes to hold off the young Huskies (7-2). Gonzaga has won six straight in the series, with Washington’s last win coming in 2005.

It was a fun, loud, exciting night where Washington’s home arena roared in hope of the Huskies mounting a comeback. But every rally was stemmed and it was the Gonzaga fans yelling and cheering at the end.

“It was just a great college basketball game. Big shot after big shot. Big play after big play,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Except it was the Bulldogs who made more of the big plays and especially the big shots.

Tillie and Ayayi were two of the heroes on a night the Bulldogs put five players into double figures. Filip Petrusev finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Ryan Woolridge had 16 points, including two key baskets in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Corey Kispert added 15 points and Ayayi finished with 12, but none bigger than his 3 in the final minute.

“We did a really good job taking away the 3 until the end of the game,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said.

Ayayi had just missed a 3 on Gonzaga’s previous possession, but didn’t hesitate to launch another 3 after Washington’s Nahziah Carter had missed a drive at the other end that could have pulled the Huskies within one.

“I felt really comfortable when I got the ball and somebody had to shoot it,” Ayayi said.

Isaiah Stewart led Washington with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Jaden McDaniels and Carter both added 15 points and Quade Green finished with 14.

Gonzaga never trailed after falling behind 5-4, but the lead never got bigger than nine. Every time Washington made a run, the Bulldogs had an answer.

Gonzaga took its biggest lead at 65-56 with 8:35 left when Drew Timme tipped in Woolridge’s miss. It seemed a substantial advantage after the teams spent the first 30-plus minutes never separated by more than a couple of points.

But Washington responded with a pair of free throws from Stewart and off a turnover a floater from Carter to pull back within 65-60 and force a Gonzaga timeout. Tillie stemmed the momentum with a tough basket, but Hameir Wright answered with a 3 for Washington and the lead was 67-63 with 7 minutes left.

Gonzaga pushed the lead back to 7, but Carter’s fast-break layup, followed by Stewart hustling to save a loose ball and McDaniels hitting a 3 pulled the Huskies to 72-70 with 3:51 left.

That’s when Tillie saw the shot clock winding down and launched from well-beyond the 3-point line. The 3 pushed the lead back to five and after Carter hit a 3 for Washington, Woolridge scored on consecutive possessions for the Bulldogs.

Ayayi’s 3 was the capper that sent Washington fans to the exits.

“We did a good job every time answering them,” Tillie said.

IN THE MIDDLE

Despite being a heavy focus of Gonzaga’s defense, Stewart had one of his more impressive games. The freshman was 6 of 7 shooting and 9 of 10 at the foul line. He also stayed out of foul trouble and played a season-high 37 minutes.

AGAINST THE PAC

Few improved to 39-18 all-time against Pac-12 opponents. The Bulldogs are 2-0 against the conference already this year with wins over Oregon and Washington and one more game upcoming.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The matchup against Washington was the start of a mighty three-game stretch for the Bulldogs. They’ll have a nearly a week off before traveling to Arizona next Saturday and then return home to host North Carolina. Washington was the second ranked team the Bulldogs have faced.

Washington: The Huskies will lament a sloppy first-half where they committed 12 turnovers. The Huskies finished with 19 turnovers, which was two off a season-high committed. “When you’re playing a top-10 team you can’t have 19 turnovers,” Hopkins said.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: At Arizona on Saturday.

Washington: Host Seattle on Dec. 17.

No. 5 Virginia wins slugfest against No. 7 North Carolina, 56-47

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Mamadi Diakite scored 12 points and Tomas Woldetensae and Francis Caffaro combined for 21 points off the bench as No. 5 Virginia rebounded from a mid-week embarrassment to hand No. 7 North Carolina their second straight loss, 56-47.

This was hardly a pretty basketball game. The two teams combined to shoot 34.7 percent from the floor. Both turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions. The score at halftime was 24-18, and while the scoring kicked up a notch in the second, it was hardly a vintage North Carolina performance.

In fact, it’s the second straight game that the Tar Heels failed to crack 50 points – they lost 74-49 at home against Ohio State on Wednesday night – and further highlighted the issues they have on the offensive end of the floor.

The truth is that neither of these teams are all that good right now. Both are still reeling from a massive talent departure during the offseason, and with Duke still working through some things as well, it looks like this is going to be Louisville’s ACC title to win.

I will say this: I do think that both teams do have access to a ceiling.

The Tar Heels are a young team built around the exploits of a pair of freshmen (Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot) and they just played the two best defensive teams in the country, according to KenPom. Things were never going to look pretty for them in these two games.

And for Virginia, the answer is going to be finding some shot-makers on their perimeter. Part of that will be the return of Braxton Key. Part of it will be hoping that this 3-for-4 shooting performance from three is the start of Woldetensae busting out of his funk. And part of it will be getting the best out of Casey Morsell, who has shown some flashes but has played like a freshman.

I’m not ready to write either team off, not in a year where no one is all that good, but I am ready to say neither UNC nor UVA are anywhere near top ten teams as of today.

Travis Steele buys entire bar drinks after Xavier beats Cincinnati (VIDEO)

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To celebrate a win over rival Cincinnati, Xavier head coach Travis Steele walked into Dana Gardens — *the* spot for Xavier fans and students — and dropped a huge wad of cash on the bar. Beat UC and drink for free:

Legendary move.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Ohio State’s awesome, Cowan the savior, Queta’s back

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Football dominated the conversation on Saturday.

That’s what happens when conference championship games determine who will be in the college football playoff. And some of those football games that were played on Saturday were fun!

But there were also some good, meaningful college basketball games that happened as well.

So if you spent the afternoon and evening eating, drinking and watching football, here are the ten things you need to know after a fun Saturday of hoops.

1. OHIO STATE IS PLAYING LIKE THE BEST TEAM IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

I don’t know if No. 6 Ohio State in the best team in college basketball right now.

I don’t think anyone in college basketball is the best team.

After seeing Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke lose as the No. 1 team in the country, I feel like a man that has had multiple relationships end because he was cheated on. I can’t fall in love again until I can trust again, and I am definitely not ready to trust a single college basketball team with the title of my girlfr-… I mean, the No. 1 team in college basketball.

That includes Ohio State.

But I do think that I can say this and have it be justifiable simply because it can be backed up with facts: Ohio State is playing like the best team in college basketball right now.

On Saturday afternoon, the Buckeyes mollywhopped Penn State, beating them 106-74 as they became the first Big Ten team to put up triple digits in a conference game since 2006. Before you start snickering about how bad Penn State is, remember this: The Nittany Lions entered the day as the No. 23 team in KenPom’s rankings.

Ohio State beat them by 32 points.

And that’s not the only KenPom top 25 team that they have done this to.

They beat Villanova by 25. They beat North Carolina by 25, and that game took place in Chapel Hill. According to the indefatigable Jordan Sperber, there have been just six games this season where a KenPom top 50 team has lost by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for dispensing three of those butt-kickings.

So while I don’t think that Ohio State will find themselves at the top of the polls on Monday morning, I do think that there is probably an argument to be made that they deserve it.

2. ANTHONY COWAN SAVES MARYLAND FROM DISASTER

The No. 3 Terps dug themselves a 15 point hole at home against Illinois on Saturday afternoon, which is hardly an ideal scenario and more or less the kind of thing that the naysayers have come to expect out of Mark Turgeon teams these days.

But Maryland didn’t lose.

The Terps rallied, and Cowan was the savior. He finished with 20 points, seven boards, six assists and three steals to lead the way, which is impressive, but what matters more is that Cowan scored four points in the final 20 seconds – a 28-foot three followed by a steal, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw – to give Maryland a 59-58 come-from-behind win.

Now, on the one hand, this performance is somewhat worrying. Top five teams playing at home should not find themselves in a 15 point hole to anyone. But everyone is going to have rough nights, and while this certainly qualifies as such, Maryland still found a way to win. Winning ugly is still a win.

And in regards to Cowan, I think that it should be noted that these are the kind of performances we’ve been waiting to see from him. Put the team on his back, carry them to a win they’re not supposed to get. That’s the stuff All-Americans do.

3. BAYLOR’S TRISTAN CLARK IS NOT RIGHT

The No. 18 Bears found a way to hang on and beat No. 12 Arizona in Waco on Saturday, 63-58, despite the fact that they had to give away free tickets – many of which were scooped up by Arizona fans – because their football team was playing in the Big 12 title game at the exact same time.

But Clark only played ten minutes after sitting out Wednesday’s game against UMES with a foot injury and a knee that apparently hasn’t quite recovered from surgery last season. He tweaked something in the first half and never came back in.

I feel for the kid. Last season, when Clark went down, he was arguably the best big man in the Big 12. He was likely a shoe-in for first-team all-conference had he played for the entire season, and the idea of pairing him with Freddie Gillespie, Mark Vital and all of those talented guards was why everyone was so bullish on Baylor entering the season.

And they weren’t wrong.

This is still a top 15 team.

But if Clark can’t get back to being the guy that he was for two months at the start of last season, that’s a pretty big blow to Scott Drew’s frontcourt depth.

4. NEEMIAS QUETA IS BACK

After a full month of nightly speculation about when Utah State would get their 7-foot-1 Portuguese center back from a knee injury, we finally got the answer on Saturday.

Midway through the first half in a home win over Fresno State on Saturday, Queta checked in for the first time this season.

Queta played just 10 minutes, finishing with six points on six free throws, missing all three of his field goals, but it’s his presence and availability that matters. The Aggies have plenty of skill and shooting on this roster. What they have been missing is a defensive anchor and a rim-protector, and those are the things that Queta does well enough to attract NBA attention.

5. MARKUS HOWARD IS BACK, TOO

After missing a game on Wednesday with a concussion, Markus Howard returned to the floor for Marquette on Saturday, and he made a difference.

The Golden Eagles went into the Little Apple and knocked off Kansas State, 73-65, thanks to 19 points from Howard.

6. IT IS TIME TO TAKE BUTLER SERIOUSLY

I know, I know, it’s Florida.

At this point, Florida has made us believers in Florida State, UConn and now Butler. So maybe we should be saying more about the Gators than about the teams they are playing. That’s certainly a conversation worth having at some point.

But I also think that it is fair to point out that Butler, currently sitting 9-0 after a very impressive 76-62 over those Gators – one in which their star, Kamar Baldwin, was just OK – currently has wins over Florida and Minnesota at home, Stanford and Missouri on a neutral and Ole Miss on the road.

This isn’t a fluke anymore.

7. CINCINNATI HAS BIGGER ISSUES THAN JARRON CUMBERLAND’S HEALTH

I don’t know how injured Jarron Cumberland is right now. I know that he had some issues early in the season that kept him out of practice for a few weeks, and I know that he and head coach John Brannen have had their issues. Cumberland has missed two games this season. He only played 18 minutes in a win against Vermont. His numbers are way down from last season.

On Saturday, Cumberland was 4-for-14 from the floor and finished with just 11 points in a 73-66 loss at Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout.

The bottom line is this: Right now, whatever is going on between Cumberland and Brannen is torpedoing what could have been a really good season.

8. KANSAS PASSED ANOTHER TEST AT HOME

I was actually really curious to see how Kansas would bounce back from their win in the Maui Invitational on Saturday when they hosted No. 20 Colorado.

The Buffaloes are tough. They are a veteran group that is well-coached and that defends the paint well. They have the bodies to give Udoka Azubuike some trouble inside. But that didn’t happen. There was no Maui hangover. The Jayhawks picked off the Buffaloes, 72-58, in a game that was closer to 20 in the second half.

That’s a good win in a tough spot.

9. INDIANA TOOK THEIR FIRST LOSS IN THEIR FIRST ROAD GAME

I don’t think I was the only one that thought the Hoosiers were officially back when they managed to beat up on a good Florida State team on Tuesday night, winning 72-58 in Assembly Hall. That win boosted their record to 8-0 on the season, and while all eight wins came at home, it surely had to mean something considering that one of those wins came against the No. 17 Seminoles.

Right?

Well, on Saturday, those very same Hoosiers got absolutely humiliated in an 84-64 loss at now 5-4 Wisconsin. Indiana trailed by as many as 30 points on Saturday. That’s not good.

10. CREIGHTON HUMILIATED NEBRASKA

We knew that Nebraska was in a rebuilding year in their first season with Fred Hoiberg at the helm, and we also knew that Creighton is a team good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid this season.

The Bluejays were always going to be favored.

But this was a rivalry game.

Nebraska would make it interesting, right? Because these are the kind of games where you just throw the records out the window, correct???

Well, no.

Creighton was up 27-4. They led 37-7. I think the worst that it got was 42-11. The final wasn’t quite as bad – Creighton won 95-76 – but I don’t think anyone still cared at that point.