PLAYER OF THE DAY: Markus Howard, Marquette
Marquette was a team badly in need of a win entering Saturday’s date with No. 12 Kansas State in Milwaukee.
The Golden Eagles had whiffed on their chance to land a marquee win last week, blowing an 11 point first half lead against No. 2 Kansas, a loss that forced them into a consolation game against Louisville instead of the NIT title game against No. 5 Tennessee. They had lost by 23 points at Indiana. Their best win of the year to date was a three point overtime win against a Louisville team that is profiling as a borderline top 25 team.
With the Big East looking like it is going to be a hodge-podge of mediocrity this year, the Golden Eagles need everything they can get out of their non-conference slate, and they got a big win on Saturday, beating No. 12 Kansas State, 83-71.
And the hero was exactly who you would expect it to be.
Markus Howard, the all-american.
He went for 45 points on just 17 shots on Saturday, going 11-for-17 from the floor, 4-for-10 from three and 19-for-21 from the line. The rest of his team combined for 38 points on just 27 shots and 15 free throws.
We’ve seen Howard have explosions like this before, and part of the reason that Marquette is a team that I’ve been bullish on since the preseason is that when he gets on a role like he did today, Howard can carry Marquette to a win over literally anyone. Kansas State has one of the best on-ball defenders in the country in Barry Brown, and he got cooked.
It’s hard to top all of that.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Gonzaga
The Bulldogs went into Omaha on Saturday as the No. 1 team in the country and quickly realized why we always talk about how the CHI Health Center is one of the most difficult places to play in America.
The Bluejays got on an early role, with Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock burying some threes and Davion Mintz dunking on the entire frontline of the Zags, and with all 18,000 people in the building going absolutely bonkers, the Zags slowly but surely cut away at what was at one point an 11 point lead. By the time it was all said and done, the Zags had a 103-92 road win that will carry some weight come Selection Sunday.
And perhaps the best part of this for head coach Mark Few was that the Zags didn’t simply rely on one guy going nuts. Yes, Zach Norvell Jr. caught fire in the second half (22 of his 28 points), but Gonzaga wouldn’t have been in firing range if it wasn’t for the play of Brandon Clarke (27 points, 10 boards, two steals, two blocks), Rui Hachimura (22 points, 11 boards, three assists, three steals) and Josh Perksins (13 points and 13 assists).
Just an all-around solid win.
ONIONS OF THE DAY: Lagerald Vick, Kansas
Vick has been the most important player this season for Kansas. He bailed them out against Vermont and Louisiana, shooting 15-for-20 from three in those two games, scoring an average of 32.5 points and helping the Jayhawks avoid bad home losses in the process.
On Saturday, he did the same thing against Stanford, hitting the game-tying three to force overtime and then lighting up the Cardinal with the first eight points of the extra frame:
We wrote about Vick last week. Bill Self ran him out of the program. He declared for the draft with the intention of signing with an agent before he realized the NBA wasn’t in his future and returned to school, only without the same number or any guarantee of playing time.
SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS
MARQUETTE: We touched on it above, but Marquette landed a win that they really, really needed to get. Playing in a league where the best team is a Villanova that is not the same Villanova that we’ve known for the last half-decade, the Golden Eagles needed to do some work in the non-conference to ensure that A) they get into the tournament, and B) they get into the tournament with a seed that allows them a chance to make a run.
Thanks to that 45 point outburst from Howard, they now have one of those wins. Combine that with a win over Louisville and, potentially, wins against Wisconsin and Buffalo, and that would be a solid start to a tournament resume.
LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals picked up a pretty nice road win over Seton Hall on Saturday, coming back from an early double-digit deficit to pick up a 70-65 win in Newark. This comes of the heels of Chris Mack’s ballclub knocking off No. 9 Michigan State in Louisville on Wednesday night. The Cards are putting together a pretty solid non-conference resume. They’ll have a couple more chances to add to it, with games against Indiana and Kentucky remaining.
SAINT LOUIS: The Atlantic 10 desperately needed someone to start picking up some wins, and the Billikens have been doing so. They won at Seton Hall in November, and on Saturday they added to that with a win over Butler at home. They still get Southern Illinois, Oregon State, Houston and Florida State during non-conference play. That probably won’t be enough to get them an at-large bid given just how bad the rest of their league has been, but it could be enough to get them to a good seed should they earn the league’s automatic bid.
MICHIGAN: The No. 7 Wolverines capped off a wonderful week with a beatdown of No. 19 Purdue on Saturday. The final score was 76-57, but the game never really felt that close. Carsen Edwards finished with 19 points, but the preseason All-American never really felt like he was a threat to do all that much.
More importantly, as we discussed after Wednesday night’s win over North Carolina, was that Michigan was a juggernaut offensively once again. They scored 76 points on 62 possessions, shooting 13-for-26 from three after going 11-for-22 from deep against UNC. This is fun with small sample sizes, but in the last two games, Michigan went from outside the top 25- in three point percentage to 77th.
NEVADA: The Wolf Pack were down by by seven late in the first half at USC. They were up by 16 eight minutes into the second half. This team is talented, explosive and mature enough to not get flustered when they are down early. The problem? Next Friday’s date with Arizona State is the last time they’ll play a game that is actually relevant.
SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS
STANFORD: The Cardinal had a chance to turn their season around. They had played terrific for 39 minutes and 45 seconds in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and held a 75-72 lead on the Jayhawks, the No. 2 team in the country. That’s the kind of win that can immediately vault a team into the NCAA tournament discussion and, at this point, it’s almost the kind of win that a borderline team from the Pac-12 needs to get an at-large bid.
Alas, Stanford decided not to foul up three, Lagerald Vick tied the game and the rest is history. Oh well.
CREIGHTON: Like Stanford, Creighton really missed on a chance to land a marquee win. When you play that well against the No. 1 team in the country, it’s not pleasant to lose out in the end, and while I hesitate to credit the Bluejays with a moral victory — who the hell wants one of those? — we did get a glimpse of just how dangerous this group can be. They’re young and talented, and this was, at the very least, a nice little learning experience.
MEMPHIS: The Tigers were up by nine at the half and led by double-digits in the second half against No. 20 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders scored 50 second half points and won by double-figures. Penny is going to be fine in the long run, but there are going to be some growing pains this season.
I have never in my life seen a bigger mismatch than watching No. 3 Duke go up against 1-7 Stetson.
The Hatters were a constant stream of turnovers that led to a never-ending series of fast break dunks for Duke. At one point during the second half, Duke led 87-29. I don’t even want to mention the final score here. There’s no need to rub salt in the wound.
And I guess what my biggest question here is ‘Why?’ Why did Duke play this game? I understand why it would make some sense for Stetson to play it. How often do you get to play in a building like Cameron Indoor Stadium? How often do you get to play after three future top five picks? There’s literally no downside — the worst-case scenario is they leave with a game check and the beatdown that everyone expected, while there is always that possibility of that miracle win. That is, after all, why people play the Powerball.
But I don’t understand why this is the game that Duke would schedule.
Quite literally the only thing they are going to get out of it is a chance to play some of their bench guys major minutes in an actual game. I guess there is something to letting Alex O’Connell go out there and show out, but at the same time, with 13 minutes left and Duke up 56 points, Zion Williamson checked back into the game.
Stetson is one of the worst programs in the sport. They were 338th in KenPom entering today. They were 318th in KenPom last season. They have finished inside the top 300 in KenPom just once in Corey Williams’ six-year tenure. Nothing about this result will surprise anyone.
So what’s the point of playing it?