Eric Francis/Getty Images

College Basketball’s Best Backcourts

5 Comments

The most difficult thing to do when putting together a list of the nation’s best back courts if figuring out who, exactly, belongs listed as a member of the back court. 

Take Miles Bridges, for example. Last season, he played the four for Michigan State, typically lining up alongside Nick Ward on the Michigan State front line.

But given his skill-set and his physical tools, he natural position is probably as a three. Then if you actually go back and watch the film, the role he played was essentially as a scoring guard, a walking mismatch that took bigger defenders out to the perimeter. 

Positionless basketball, by definition, makes identifying positions a nightmare. 

So we worked through a lot of these. Bridges is listed as a member of the front court. Louisville’s Deng Adel is in our back court rankings because, like Arizona’s Rawle Alkins, he’s a natural wing. Kevin Knox is a forward even if he’s going to end up playing some on the wing this season.

So with that in mind, let’s get to our list of the top back courts in the country.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Allonzo Trier (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

1. ARIZONA: Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith

Let’s start with the good, because there is plenty of it.

Allonzo Trier is going to be in the mix for National Player of the Year. He could end up averaging 20 points for a team that could end up being the best in the country. I’m not sure there is a better pure scorer in college basketball this season. He’s joined on the perimeter by Rawle Alkins, a former five-star recruit and a potential first round pick that should be in line for an uptick in shots once he returns from a foot injury.

Brandon Randolph is an impressive freshman that will give some good minutes early in his career, and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith is, at worst, a serviceable backup at the point.

And that is going to be where the big question with this group lies. The one constant with Arizona over the course of the last four years as been terrific leadership and a defensive menace at the point guard spot. First, it was T.J. McConnell. Then it was Kadeem Allen. Now, it looks like that job is going to be Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s to lose. And he’s not bad. In fact, when you consider the number of people that are going to be needing shots in that offense, it’s not a bad thing to have a point guard on the floor that wants to be a facilitator.

But the question I have is whether or not he can be the defender they need at that point guard spot, and if he is built to be the leader that can get a guy like Trier or Alkins to give up shots when it behooves the team.

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

2. MIAMI: Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Ja’Quan Newton, Dejan Vasilijevic, Chris Lykes

Miami might have my favorite back court in college basketball this season.

Jim Larrañaga’s best teams have come when he has talented and aggressive guards that thrive in ball-screens, and that’s what he has at his disposal this season. Most ACC fans probably know the name Ja’Quan Newton by now. He’s a senior and a former top 50 prospect that has had a couple really good years for the Canes.

But he’s not the guys here to get excited about. Lonnie Walker, a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2017 and a potential lottery pick, is. He’s arguably the best off-guard in this class, and so long as his knee is healthy, he should have a big year. He’s also the second-best prospect on this team. Bruce Brown is the star. A former football player and a dynamic athlete at the combo-guard spot, Brown is projected by many to develop into an all-american player this season.

And if he does, he’ll be the anchor that Larrañaga can build an ACC title contender around.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Bruce Brown (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

3. VILLANOVA: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Collin Gillispie

The Josh Hart era is now over, and it may have ended midway through last season, when Jalen Brunson went from being his sidekick to the best player on Villanova’s roster.

There is nothing flashy about Brunson’s game. He’s not going to break ankles and he’s not going to dunk on anyone. What makes him so good is that he understands the game on a level that very few people do, and that he is hyper-efficient with the possessions that he does use. At the end of a day, the most important stat when it comes to a point guard is wins, and there are very few guards that have won more over the course of the last two years than Brunson.

The rest of Villanova’s back court rotation is impressive as well. Phil Booth is healthy again after missing most of last season through injury, and Collin Gillispie is likely going to be the next star Villanova point guard. The name to know here, however, is Donte DiVincenzo, a redshirt sophomore that was very impressive in limited minutes last season. He may not be Hart, but he has a real shot to be an all-Big East player this season.

This group isn’t going to awe you or make NBA scouts swoon, but don’t be surprised when they once again win more than 30 games and a Big East regular season title.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

4. KANSAS: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick, Sam Cunliffe, Marcus Garrett

At this point, we know what this back court is, or at least what they’re going to be this year, right?

Malik Newman is a former five-star recruit that will probably lead the team in scoring. Devonte’ Graham is the point guard that is finally going to be able to play full-time point guard and looks to be in line for an all-american season. Svi Mykhailiuk is a 20-year old senior that may, finally, live up to his hype this season while LaGerald Vick and Sam Cunliffe are the athletic wings that will space the floor and make plays defensively. The only real unknown is probably Marcus Garrett, and there has been some talk that the 6-foot-5 freshman could end up being better than most realize.

The far more interesting discussion will be with how this group has to play. Specifically, will they be asked to play small-ball again? Kansas, as we discussed in detail here, has a weird roster this year, one that isn’t really built to play with two big men but that lacks the kind of small-ball four that Josh Jackson was last year.

There are questions with this group, but it certainly isn’t talent.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview

5. DUKE: Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Trevon Duval, Alex O’Connell, Jordan Tucker

If we’re talking raw talent, I’m not sure that anyone’s back court truly stacks up to Duke’s. We’ve been over this before: Trevon Duval is the No. 1 point guard and a top five prospect in the Class of 2017. Gary Trent Jr. is a top two shooting guard in the class. Alex O’Connell and Jordan Tucker are four-star freshmen.

And then there is Grayson Allen, a much-maligned senior that struggled through last season as he dealt with the fallout of his inability to control his feet and nagging ankle injury. But he’s healthy now, meaning that, in theory, he is back to being the guy that he was as a sophomore, when he averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while shooting 41 percent from three.

So why is Duke at fifth on this list?

Part of it is their questionable perimeter shooting. Part of it is that there may not be enough shots to go around. But the biggest issue is at the point guard spot, where Trevon Duval is slated to be the guy that finally replaces Tyus Jones. The question is whether or not he is the kind of point guard that can actually do that. Duval has more Derrick Rose in him than Jones. He’s big, he’s athletic and he’s terrific getting downhill, but he’s not a shooter and he has never proven to be the kind of facilitator that Duke will need. Duval may actually be the fifth-best scorer in Duke’s starting lineup. Does he know that?

It’s the same issue that has plagued Duke each of the last two seasons, and I’m just not yet convinced that Duval is the player that is going to solve that equation. If he is, if he lives up to the hype, then I think it is safe to say that this Duke team will be the favorite to win the national title.

And if he is, having then sixth will look almost as silly as having Kentucky’s back court ranked sixth heading into last season.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

6. USC: Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, De’Anthony Melton, Jonah Mathews, Chuck O’Bannon Jr., Shaqquan Aaron, Derryck Thornton Jr.

I love USC this season, and much of it has to do with the depth of talent in their back court.

Jordan McLaughlin is one of the most underrated point guards in the country. Elijah Stewart and De’Anthony Melton are two of the better athletes you’ll find on the wing who skillsets – Stewart is a scorer where Melton is a swiss-army knife – compliment each other. Chuck O’Bannon Jr. is a top 40 recruit that will provide quality depth alongside Shaqquan Aaron and Jonah Mathews, while Derryck Thornton Jr. is the ultimate wildcard: A former five-star recruit and a transfer from Duke that didn’t find the fit that he needed at the point.

The Trojans don’t have the star power of some of these other groups, but they have a number of really good, veteran players that understand and excel in their role. That matters.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

7. XAVIER: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Elias Harden, Naji Marshall

J.P. Macura is a perennially underrated talent. Quentin Goodin had some promising moments as a freshman at the point. Paul Scruggs, Elias Harden and Naji Marshall are all four-star recruits that will have a varying, but likely significant, impact on the Musketeers.

But the reason that Xavier is ranked this high on this list is the presence of Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett was arguably the best player in the NCAA tournament through the first three rounds last season. Hell, if he didn’t sprain his ankle midway through Big East play last season, he might have been able to play his way into the conversation for the league’s Player of the Year.

Expect more of the same from Bluiett this year.

8. SETON HALL: Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell, Myles Cale

Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard has quietly put together one of the best rosters in the country that no one seems to be talking about, and this list doesn’t even include the Hall’s all-american big man Angel Delgado.

As good as this group has a chance to be, it all is really going to come down to the play of Khadeen Carrington. A 6-foot-2 combo-guard, Carrington is going to be tasked with playing the point full-time this season, a change from his role as a go-to scorer over the course of the last two years. Desi Rodriguez has quietly put together a fantastic career, while the Myles’ – Cale and Powell – are promising youngsters that will carry the program when the old guys finally graduate, but none of it will matter if Carrington’s adjustment to a new position doesn’t go well.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview
Aaron Holiday (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

9. UCLA: Aaron Holiday, Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, LiAngelo Ball, Prince Ali, Chris Smith

It’s hard to believe that a team could lose a talent like Lonzo Ball and remain among the best back courts in the country, but that’s exactly what happens when you have a guard as good as Aaron Holiday on the roster.

Holiday and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham have a lot in common in the sense that they are point guards that are going to be allowed to play the point this season. Holiday will be joined by a pair of five-star prospects in Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, while Prince Ali, a redshirt sophomore, should be ready to chip in this year, but the key may end up being how LiAngelo Ball fits in with this group. Lonzo’s younger brother, Gelo is not on the level of his older brother. How will LaVar react to that?

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

10. NORTH CAROLINA: Joel Berry II, Jalek Felton, Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson, Seventh Woods

This is going to sound weird, but bear with me: It’s not actually a bad thing that Joel Berry II broke his hand. I’m not even calling it a silver lining. I’m flat-out saying North Carolina will be better in the long-term because of it.

Berry is a senior. He was an all-league player the last two years. He was part of the most heart-breaking national title game loss of all-time and followed that up the next season by winning a national title and Final Four MOP. He’s a winner. He can miss a month and he won’t miss a beat.

But the rest of the guys on this list? Jalek Felton is a freshman. Seventh Woods is a sophomore that barely played. Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson are going to be asked to play bigger roles this season than they have in years passed, while Cam Johnson is a transfer from Pitt trying to learn a new system.

Berry will be out a month. He’ll miss two weeks of games. Those two weeks will allow some of these younger guys to get thrown into the fire in games that, frankly, don’t mean all that much.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Khyri Thomas (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
  • 11. CREIGHTON: Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, Davion Mintz, Kaleb Joseph, Tyler Clement, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock: Marcus Foster will put up all-american numbers this season and Khyri Thomas may actually be the single-most under-appreciated player in college basketball, but until we know the answer at the point, Creighton will have serious question marks
  • 12. ALABAMA: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Avery Johnson Jr., Dazon Ingram, Ar’mond Davis, Riley Norris: Alabama was top ten nationally in defensive efficiency last season but missed the NCAA tournament because they couldn’t score. So what did Avery Johnson do? Oh, he went and signed Collin Sexton, the best scorer in this high school class.
  • 13. KENTUCKY: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker: Like Alabama, this Kentucky team should end up being one of the nation’s best defensive back courts. Unlike Alabama, they don’t have a scorer of the ilk of Collin Sexton. The other issue: Who is going to make jump shots?
  • 14. LOUISVILLE: Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Darius Perry: Deng Adel is going to have a chance to prove he can carry a team and Quentin Snider is back for what feels like his 17th season, but the key to this Louisville group is V.J. King. Can he take the ‘Donovan Mitchell leap’ if Rick Pitino is not coaching?
  • 15. NOTRE DAME: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, D.J. Harvey: Matt Farrell was one of the most improved players in the country last season. I fully expect both Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger to take a similar leap, while D.J. Harvey is talented enough to have an immediate impact.
MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
Matt Farrell (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
  • 16. MICHIGAN STATE: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn, Kyle Aherns: The Spartans team is the toughest to rank on this list. Based on last year, they don’t deserve to be on this list. But the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Right, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford?
  • 17. MINNESOTA: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Isaiah Washington, Amir Coffey: Nate Mason is a criminally underrated point guard. Dupree McBrayer and Isaiah Washington are both talented, but the x-factor is Amir Coffey. He’s a versatile wing that lets Richard Pitino play with different looks.
  • 18. ST. JOHN’S: Shamorie Ponds, Marcus Lovett Jr., Justin Simon: I was torn on where to rank this group, but the bottom-line is this: Ponds and Lovett are going to be a nightmare for opponents to defend on a nightly basis.
  • 19. NORTHWESTERN: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Isiah Brown, Jordan Ash, Anthony Gaines: After getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the history of the program, the Wildcats bring back basically everyone, including stars Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey.
  • 20. YALE: Makai Mason, Miye Oni, Trey Phills, Alex Copeland: Laugh if you want, but Makai Mason has already committed to Baylor for his grad transfer season and Miye Oni, just a sophomore, has attracted NBA scouts to New Haven. Should I mention Alex Copeland actually led the team in scoring last season?

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Some changes to the top ten

Getty Images
1 Comment

A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

We talked about this a bit on Friday’s podcast, but I want to put it into print form.

One of the narratives of this season is that there are no great teams in college basketball. It was one of the biggest storylines back in November and December as so many of the teams that we thought would be really good this season went through struggles, and the fact that we rolled through seven No. 1 teams in the AP poll only drove that point home.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Now that we’re in mid-February, things have started to shake themselves out, and what we’ve learned is that early in the season we just didn’t actually know who the best teams in the sport were. Now that we do, there are some teams that have started to gain separation on the field. It’s pretty clear that Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State are the heavy favorites to earn the four No. 1 seeds, and that point is driven home by the fact that the only loss any of those teams have suffered since Christmas came when Kansas played Baylor. Duke is rolling. Maryland is rolling. Dayton is rolling. Up until this past week, Louisville and Auburn were rolling, too.

Put it all together, and as of today, it’s pretty clear who the best teams in the country are, and it’s made doing a top 25 every week much easier than it has been in the past. I haven’t had to think all that hard about the top ten in about six weeks. I will say, that has been nice. Doing a top 25 every week can be a drag.

Having said all that, while there are some great teams in the context of this season, I don’t think that there are any teams here that we are going to be talking about as one of the best college basketball teams of *enter arbitrary cut-off point here.*

Part of the reason I say that is the lack of NBA talent on these rosters. Take, for example, the 2018 Villanova team that won the title. For my money, they are the best college basketball team that I have seen since I started doing this, and four of the five guys that started on that team are now starting in the NBA. That doesn’t include Omari Spellman, either.

Or how about this: Compare this Gonzaga team to last year’s Gonzaga team. Last year, they had two first round picks in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, a top 40 pick in Zach Norvell and an All-American point guard in Josh Perkins. All of them were upperclassmen. This year’s team is really good, but their best NBA prospect — Killian Tillie — can’t stay healthy and their second-best NBA prospect — Joel Ayayi — was enough of a question mark entering the season that Mark Few felt the need to go out and recruit two grad transfers to provide insurance at his position.

Don’t get me wrong, this Gonzaga team is very, very good.

And when compared to the rest of the country this year, we can probably call them great. The same can be said about Baylor, and Kansas, and maybe even San Diego State.

But as much fun as they have been to watch this season, putting them in the same conversation as the great teams from past season is a step too far.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



NBC SPORTS COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOP 25

1. BAYLOR (23-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (26-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (22-3, 3)
4. DUKE (22-3, 5)
5. SAN DIEGO STATE (26-0, 7)
6. DAYTON (23-2, 8)
7. MARYLAND (21-4, 10)
8. FLORIDA STATE (21-4, 6)
9. PENN STATE (20-5, 19)
10. LOUISVILLE (21-5, 4)
11. AUBURN (22-3, 11)
12. KENTUCKY (20-5, 12)
13. OREGON (20-6, 13)
14. SETON HALL (18-7, 9)
15. VILLANOVA (19-6, 15)
16. CREIGHTON (20-6, 21)
17. WEST VIRGINIA (18-7, 14)
18. IOWA (18-8, 16)
19. COLORADO (20-6, 20)
20. MICHIGAN (16-9, 24)
21. HOUSTON (20-6, 17)
22. ILLINOIS (16-9, 18)
23. MARUQETTE (17-7, 23)
24. BYU (21-7, NR)
25. OHIO STATE (17-8, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 24 BYU, No. 24 Michigan
DROPPED OUT: No. 22 LSU, No. 25 Michigan State

Saturday’s Things To Know: Louisville’s a mess, Seton Hall’s messier, Maryland rallies, Baylor rolls

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
1 Comment

It was yet another wild Saturday in college basketball, complete with crazy comebacks, top ten upsets and a career-high from the best defender on Kansas.

Here is everything you need to know from a fun day of college hoops.

1. LOUISVILLE IS A TOTAL MESS RIGHT NOW

No. 5 Louisville eliminated any and all chance that they might end up being a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday this week. After suffering what we all thought was going to be their worst loss of the season on Wednesday, losing at Georgia Tech, the Cardinals came out on Saturday and … made five first half field goals at Clemson?

Louisville trailed 31-14 at the break. They shot 15.6 percent in the first half. They were down by as many as 21 points to a team that entered the afternoon 12-12 on the season. Both Josh Pastner and Brad Brownell entered this week on the hot seat, and if they do keep their jobs this season, one of the reasons why will be that they beat Louisville this year. Wouldn’t that be ironic.

The crux of the issue seems to be Jordan Nwora, who was benched at the start of Saturday’s game after being benched down the stretch on Wednesday. He did not score his first points until late in the second half, when the game was already out of reach, and is now 2-for-11 from the floor and 1-for-9 from three in the last two games. He’s scored a total of seven points during that stretch.

So much for that All-American season.

“I don’t have all the answers right now,” head coach Chris Mack. “I just don’t. It’s my job. We’ll watch film. I’m going to have a lot of one-on-one conversations, and we’ll figure out a way to be better against Syracuse on Wednesday.

“It looks like we’re not playing for anything. Really frustrating. But it’s my job to figure it out, and I’ve failed so far.”

The fact of the matter is that this is not a talent issue for Louisville. It’s not a coaching problem, it’s not a problem with their scheme, or their personnel, or anything of the sort. The Cardinals has all the pieces that they need to get this thing right. I’m not ready to sell on them just yet.

2. SETON HALL IS, TOO

The only team in the country that had a worse Saturday that Louisville was No. 10 Seton Hall. The Pirates lost their second straight game on Saturday, falling behind by 25 points in the first half at Providence before rallying to cut the lead to two in a 74-71 loss.

Seton Hall lost at home to Creighton on Wednesday — a game where they gave up 87 points — and pulled the same stunt at home against Xavier just two weeks ago, falling behind by 22 points in the first half before rallying and making the final score respectable.

The Pirates are still sitting in first place in the Big East standings, but they have to play at Marquette and Creighton and still host Butler and Villanova before the Big East tournament starts. A league title is certainly a possibility, but given how tough their remaining schedule is, I’m not sure they are even the odds on favorite.

That’s what makes this stretch so baffling.

Seton Hall is playing for a regular season title and three times in five games they aren’t even close to ready to play?

“We have some guys with bad attitudes right now to be perfectly honest with you,” Kevin Willard said in his postgame radio interview. “When you have a bad attitude and you’re pouting and complaining that you’re not playing enough time yet your team is 10-2, you have issues.

“It’s amazing to me that, when we lost to Xavier I saw a team that bounced back and was hungry to go to Georgetown and get it. When we lost to Creighton the other day and we played terrible (in practice), and I’m sitting in practice and I’m thinking, I’ve got a guy moody that doesn’t want to go through practice who hardly played. I have another guy who played 25 minutes that can’t make a shot and didn’ have a rebound. I have another guy that got embarrassed defensively.

“I will make sure of it, come in 20 minutes that there will be a very large correction . . . The bench is going to get shortened. Either you’re going to show up and play or you’re not. I’m really disappointed in a few guys who, either they regain their focus or I’ll just play six.”

Willard did not name the grumpy-gus, but it’s worth noting: Myles Cale was a starter last year and played just seven minutes against Providence. Ike Obiagu played just five. Anthony Nelson played just two. Draw your own conclusions.

3. BAYLOR IS THE BEST BECAUSE THEY CAN LOSE A KEY PIECE AND STILL ROLL

MaCio Teague is Baylor’s second-leading scorer at 14.4 points. He’s one of their better three-point shooters and the best guy on the roster not named Jared Butler at creating his own shot. He did not play on Saturday against the second-best defensive team in the country in West Virginia, and it did not matter.

No. 1 Baylor rolled to their 22nd consecutive win, knocking off the No. 14 Mountaineers, 70-59, in a game that they led by 28 points in the first half.

And that, more or less, sums up everything that you need to know about this Baylor team. They are good enough, and balanced enough, that they can lose their second-leading scorer, a critical piece to their offense, and not even miss a beat against one of the nation’s very best teams.

4. THERE’S NO REASON TO DOUBT MARYLAND ANYMORE

If you are still among the doubters that does not believe that Maryland is capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title, what else do the Terrapins need to prove?

On Saturday, Maryland went into the Breslin Center and knocked off Michigan State, 67-60. They led by as many as 15 points in the first half and used a 14-0 run over the course of the final three minutes of the game to escape with a win. They are now 11-3 in the Big Ten, a game in front of Penn State and three games in front of the rest of the field in first place in the conference, and sitting on an eight-game winning streak. During that streak, they have won at Illinois, at Indiana and, on Saturday, at Michigan State.

Jalen Smith has played like an All-American over the course of the last six weeks. Aaron Wiggins is starting to re-discover his shooting stroke. Darryl Morsell has done all of the little things. Most importantly, Anthony Cowan has continued to play the role of the closer. He scored the final 11 points for Maryland on Saturday, including banging home three threes in the final two minutes.

So tell me.

If you are still one of the people that doubts Maryland, why?

And short of actually getting to Atlanta, what can they do to prove it to you?

5. YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO GUARD MARCUS GARRETT

Entering Saturday, Marcus Garrett hadn’t made a three since January 14th. He had shot just a single three in the month of February. In his last 14 games, he was 3-for-17 from three, combined.

On Saturday, Oklahoma decided to defend No. 3 Kansas by using whoever was “guarding” Garrett to double-team Udoka Azubuike.

Garrett responded by scoring a career-high 24 points, making six threes and handing out seven assists. The Jayhawks rolled, 87-70.

6. PATRICK EWING SHOULD BE THE BIG EAST COACH OF THE YEAR

I don’t think that there is any way that Ewing will win the National Coach of the Year award because one of Scott Drew, Brian Dutcher or Anthony Grant has that covered.

He should, however, win the award for Big East Coach of the Year. Think about everything that this Georgetown program has gone through this season. They had two players transfer out of the program in December, a decision that led to NBC Sports breaking the news that one of those two players had accusations of assault and harassment hanging over his head, and that two more members of the team — both of whom would later leave the program — were involved as well.

That’s when the injuries started. Mac McClung has missed five games — including Saturday’s visit to DePaul — with a lingering foot issue. Omer Yurtseven did not play on Saturday, either, meaning that the Hoyas were down to just five scholarship players.

And they went into Indianapolis and knocked off No. 19 Butler, giving them an elite win and putting them in a position where they have a bit of room to spare when it comes to getting to the NCAA tournament.

It makes no sense.

And yet, here we are.

7. TEXAS HAS QUIT ON SHAKA SMART.

The Longhorns took on Iowa State in Ames on Saturday and got absolutely humiliated, 81-52, in a game that more or less locked Texas out of the NCAA tournament.

As one longtime Big 12 beat writer put it, “that was the worst Big 12 performance I’ve seen since a winless TCU team.”

Yikes.

8. AUBURN LOST WITHOUT ISAAC OKORO

The Tigers went into Missouri and got dropped, 85-73, playing without Isaac Okoro, who is their best player.

He was out with a hamstring injury that shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup for too long.

9. ILLINOIS LOST WITHOUT AYO DOSUNMU

The Illini lost at Rutgers, which is, apparently, the most difficult place in the country to play. Dosunmu did not play after hurting his knee against Michigan State.

10. FLORIDA STATE WON WITHOUT DEVIN VASSELL

The Seminoles needed a late rally to do it, but they held off Syracuse, 80-77. Devin Vassell didn’t play, and we don’t really know why.

Bubble Banter: Georgetown lands massive win over No. 19 Butler

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There is plenty of action happening on the bracketology bubble watch despite it being a relatively slow night for college hoops.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Here is everything you need to know to.

THE BUBBLE WATCH WINNERS

GEORGETOWN (NET: 55, NBC: First four out): Without question, the biggest bubble winner of the day is Georgetown, who landed their fifth Quad 1 of the season and by far their best win of the year by going into Indianapolis and knocking off Butler (12). There are two major problems with Georgetown’s NCAA tournament profile: The first is that they already have ten losses, but some of that is explainable: They are 5-9 against Quad 1 opponents and 9-10 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. They have played 19 games against top 75 teams. That’s a lot of good games, and a 9-10 record against them is hardly a bad thing. The other issue was a lack of elite wins, but they already had a win over Creighton (19) in their back pocket, and now they can add a road win over a top 15 team to the mix. My guess would be that they slide up to a 10 seed when Dave updates our bracket on Monday morning.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 51, NBC: First four out): Abdul Ado made the biggest player of the year for the Bulldogs, tipping home a game-winning bucket with less than a second left on the clock in a 78-77 win at Arkansas (43) on Saturday.

The enormity of this win cannot be overstated. For starters, Mississippi State only had one Quad 1 entering the day, and adding a second Quad 1 win means they now have the same number as their Quad 3 losses. But the bigger issue is that MSU’s schedule down the stretch features precisely one top 65 opponent. This was their last chance at a good win for their resume until the SEC tournament, and they got it.

ALABAMA (NET: 39, NBC: Off the bubble): The Crimson Tide picked up an enormous win on Saturday, as they knocked off LSU (27) in Tuscaloosa for their second Quad 1 win of the season. Alabama is now 14-11 overall and while their 6-10 record against Quad 1 and 2 opponents is solid, a 3-6 mark on the road, a home loss to Penn (177) and just two Quad 1 wins is not a good sign. At this point, I think Alabama needs to win out during the regular season for the simple fact that their schedule is not all that strong. But they have a shot if they do.

VIRGINIA (NET: 55, NBC: 11): Tomas Woldetensae his a three with a second left on the clock to beat North Carolina (95) in Chapel Hill. The Wahoos are now 16-7 overall with a 6-6 mark against the top two Quads thanks to this win. They do have three Quad 1 wins, but just one of them — Florida State (14) at home — is a surefire Quad 1 win to go along with a Quad 3 loss at Boston College (145). Perhaps the biggest issue is that UVA has just two potential Quad 1 wins left on their schedule. They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use a win over Duke (6) or Louisville (7) next month.

FLORIDA (NET: 38, NBC: 10): Florida blew out Vanderbilt at home on Saturday. Whoop dee doo. Florida’s resume is more or less built on a home win over Auburn (13) and a neutral court win over Xavier (44). They are 5-9 against the top two Quads without a Quad 3 or 4 loss, but this is still not a very strong resume. With two games left against Kentucky (24) and a home date with LSU (27), the Gators are not as comfortable is it may seem, but they will have chances to improve.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 34, NBC: 11): URI did what they needed to do and picked off St. Joseph’s (237) at home. They’re 19-6 overall and they have just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-5 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (236) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton at home in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): The Spiders picked up a win in the toughest game they have left on their schedule, beating VCU (42) by 18 points at home. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead. I cannot see how they are going to be able to get enough wins to jump six or seven teams that play in tougher leagues with a schedule that includes a bunch of bad teams. But stranger things have happened, and they could end up getting another shot at Dayton (5) in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

UTAH STATE (NET: 46, NBC: First four out): After beating Fresno State, the Aggies have won four in a row and seven of their last eight games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as three weeks ago. Wins over LSU (27) and Florida (38) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 41, NBC: 11): ETSU has a win at UNCG (61) and a win at LSU (27). With a 20-4 record and a loss to Mercer (205) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lost to only UNCG or Furman (73) in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that will be a bit of a longshot. They won today.

… AND LOSERS

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 35, NBC: 11): The Panthers lost at Loyola (102), which is hardly a bad loss, especially in the MVC, but I’m not sure that it is a loss they can afford. Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (17) and over South Carolina (66) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but losses at Southern Illinois (148) and Illinois State (202) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago (102) in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large, and even then, it will be tough.

TEXAS (NET: 71, NBC: Off the bubble): Texas lost their fourth straight game on Saturday. It was their seventh loss in nine games. They were beaten by 29 points by an Iowa State (80) team that didn’t have Tyrese Haliburton. The dream is over.

VCU (NET: 42, NBC: Next four out): The Rams are going to find themselves in a very tough spot after getting worked over at Richmond (55) on Saturday. They have now lost two in a row and three of their last four games, and if they do not beat Dayton (5) on Tuesday next week, than discussing the rest of their resume will not matter. They will not be a tournament team. We’ll talk Wednesday.

PURDUE (NET: 29, NBC: 10): The biggest issue currently facing Purdue after losing at Ohio State (23) is that they now have 12 losses on the season, including a Quad 3 loss at Nebraska (167), and the rest of their schedule is absolutely brutal. The most losses and at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 19-16 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Purdue is 4-9 against Quad 1 opponents and 7-11 against the top two Quads with a 3-7 record on the road. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot right now.

ARKANSAS (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): The Razorbacks fell at the buzzer on Saturday when Mississippi State’s (51) Abdul Ado tipped in a missed shot with less than a second left. They ave now lost four straight games, are sitting with a 4-9 recorded against the top two Quadrants with just two Quad 1 wins — at Alabama (39) and at Indiana (58). They desperately need to get Isaiah Joe back.

STANFORD (NET: 33, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal lost their fourth straight game on Saturday night at home against Arizona (9). It was their seventh loss in the last eight games. They have an ugly Quad 3 loss to Cal (155) and just two total Quad 1 wins. Stanford will have chances down the stretch, but should we actually trust them to take advantage of those chances?

TENNESSEE (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): The Vols fell to 14-11 on the season when they lost at South Carolina (66) on Saturday. That’s the fifth loss in the last seven games for the Vols, who still have some chances to get themselves onto the right side of the bubble but have enough work left to do that this is the last time you will see them in this space unless they get hot.

No. 11 Auburn falls at Missouri without Isaac Okoro

Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Guards Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson each scored 28 points and Missouri beat No. 11 Auburn 85-73 on Saturday night.

Smith and Pinson repeatedly drove into the lane and scored for Missouri (12-13, 4-8 Southeastern Conference). Kobe Brown added 10 points and nine rebounds.

Austin Wiley led Auburn (22-3, 9-3) with 22 points and 10 rebounds, J’Von McCormick added 21 points and Samir Doughty scored 16. Auburn made just 1 of 17 3-point attempts.

Smith and Pinson combined to score 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half. Pinson freed himself with a crossover dribble and sank a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, giving Missouri a 45-32 lead.

RELATED: CollegeBasketballTalk’s latest bracketology

Missouri’s foul trouble mounted early in the second half, with Pinson and Mitchell Smith each picking up their fourth in the first eight minutes.

Momentum swung back to Missouri when Auburn’s Devan Cambridge was ejected with 10:01 remaining. He was called for Flagrant 1 and 2 fouls on the same play. Cambridge pulled Missouri’s Javon Pickett down and then stepped on his leg while he was sitting on the court. Pickett and Dru Smith combined to make 3 of the 4 free throws. Missouri got possession of the ball, and Torrence Watson hit a 3-pointer. The total damage from the play was six points, giving Missouri a 62-46 lead.

Two minutes later, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was hit with a technical and had to be restrained by assistants. He was angered when McCormick was called for a foul while trying to get around a screen. Auburn couldn’t get the deficit below 10 points the rest of the way.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: The Tigers are showing signs of a late-season surge. After beating Arkansas in overtime on Feb. 8, they led 25th-ranked LSU on the road for most of the game Tuesday before losing 82-78. The victory over Auburn was Missouri’s first win over a ranked team in five tries this season.

Auburn: Freshman star Isaac Okoro, who injured his hamstring Wednesday against Alabama, didn’t make the trip to Missouri. Okoro averages 13.1 points and 4.8 rebounds. He was replaced in the starting lineup by fellow freshman Allen Flanigan, who finished with five points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Missouri: Host Mississippi on Tuesday.

Auburn: At Georgia on Wednesday.

Cowan closes game on 11-0 run as No. 9 Maryland beats Michigan State

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Anthony Cowan scored 11 of his 24 points in the final two-plus minutes, helping No. 9 Maryland beat Michigan State 67-60 with a strong finish Saturday night.

The Terrapins (21-4, 11-3 Big Ten) scored the final 14 points of the game after trailing by seven with 3:24 left. Cowman had the last 11 points on three 3-pointers and two free throws.

The Spartans (17-9, 9-6) trailed by as much as 15 points in the first half and by eight early in the second half before making a surge to take the lead.

RELATED: CollegeBasketballTalk’s latest bracketology

Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but he gave Jalen Smith enough space to make a 3-pointer with 3:08 remaining to start Maryland’s game-closing run. Tillman caught the wrath of coach Tom Izzo after making the mistake on defense.

Smith finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Cassius Winston had 14 points for the Spartans.

DRAWING A ROAR

Michigan State’s new football coach, Mel Tucker, fired up fans during the first half in a timeout break. The crowd roared again during halftime when Michigan State honored its 2000 national championship team.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: With eight straight wins, the Terrapins have a one-game lead over No. 13 Penn State in the conference standings.

Michigan State: The team is simply struggling, losing four of five games and two straight at home.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Terrapins may move up a little in the poll. The Spartans became the first preseason No. 1 to drop out of the poll since Kentucky did it during the 2013-14 season and they will be unranked for at least another week.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Hosts last-place Northwestern (6-18, 1-13 Big Ten) on Tuesday night.

Michigan State: Plays at Nebraska (7-18, 2-12) on Thursday night.