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Monday Overreactions: Michigan’s the best, Pac-12’s the worst, Nevada’s going undefeated?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markus Howard, Marquette

In a game that Marquette badly needed to win, Markus Howard put on one of the better performances of his career in an 83-71 win over No. 12 Kansas State.

45 points. 11-for-17 shooting. 21 free throws attempted.

It wasn’t quite as impressive as the 52 point outburst that he had at Providence last year, and he has a habit of doing things like this from time-to-time — I steadfastly refuse to bet on Marquette on a game-to-game basis strictly because Howard can do something like this at literally any moment during a season.

This is a massive win for the Golden Eagles. It is not exactly a secret, but the Big East is in a bit of a down year. There is only one team in the league that is currently in the top 25, and that is a Villanova team that is not as good as Villanova of the last five years. Put another way, there are not going to be many marquee wins available once conference play starts, so getting this one on the board now was critical.

I also think that it is important to note how this explosion came about. Kansas State has one of the best on-ball defenders in the country on their roster in Barry Brown. With 9:00 left in the first half, Howard had just six points and was struggling to find a rhythm offensively. At the 8:31 mark, Brown picked up his second foul and was then given a technical foul for his reaction to the call. He went to the bench for the rest of the half, and while he was sitting, Howard scored 18 points in a 27-13 Marquette surge to close the half with a 44-33 lead.

One of the takes that I’ve seen floating around twitter is that Howard only got going because Brown was sent to the bench because of his third personal (the tech), and that he would have continued to be stymied had Brown remained on the floor. But that ignores the simple fact that one of the reasons Howard is so good and so dangerous is that he draws a ton of fouls. He averaged 6.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Against Kansas State, I counted 13 fouls drawn. He went to the free throw line 21 times.

Put another way, drawing fouls and getting an opponent’s best defender off of him is part of why he is so good.

Because when the door is left cracked open, he’ll push his way through with a 40-burger.

D’Mitrik Trice (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers bounced back from a loss to Virginia in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis with a pair of quality wins over NCAA tournament teams.

It started with a come-from-behind win over N.C. State — who is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports top 25 — in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and then on Friday night, the Badgers went into Iowa City and landed a solid win over the Hawkeyes.

Ethan Happ is the man that has been getting all the praise, and deservedly so. He’s playing at an all-american level, and he has been the anchor for this group on both sides of the ball. I can’t say enough about what he’s been able to do this year.

But it’s time that we start fawning over the improvement that D’Mitrik Trice has made this offseason. Trice is actually Wisconsin’s co-leading scorer this season, and he is far and away their best perimeter shooter. He’s shooting 58.3 percent from three. He’s made 28 threes on the year. No one else on Wisconsin has made more than 10 or attempted more than 30.

The Badgers finished last season ranked in the 250s nationally in three-point shooting. This year they are 15th, and that is almost solely due to the improvement of Trice. I’m not sure there is a better 1-2 punch in the Big Ten right now than the two Badger stars.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. MICHIGAN MIGHT BE THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

No, I’m not kidding.

By now, even my dog knows how good Michigan is on the defensive end of the floor. They still haven’t allowed better than 1.0 points-per-possession in a game this season, and that came against North Carolina, who was a top five team in offensive efficiency entering that game.

We expected that.

Maybe not quite to this level — I, for one, did not think that Jon Teske was going to develop into one of the best defensive big men in college basketball — but any team with Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis was always going to be tough as nails and a nightmare to score on.

Where Michigan is changing the narrative here is on the offensive side of the ball, which sounds weird since this is a team that is coached by John Beilein but is 100 percent accurate. The concern for this group was whether or not they would be able to score enough. Even during their run to the national title game last season, the Wolverines went through long stretches where they were completely unable to get an easy shot, and that was with Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman on the roster.

This year, despite losing the three-best offensive weapons from a team that finished 35th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric last season, the Wolverines are better on that end of the floor.

Part of it has been Brazdeikis, who is the team’s leading scorer and has provided the program with a set of tools they haven’t had in prior years. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from three, he’s terrific at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, he’s dangerous in transition and he can do all of those things while being able to guard fours at the college level.

Part of it has been Poole’s recent emergence. He’s made 12-of-16 threes in the last three games after starting the season 1-for-10 from deep. He’ll run hot and cold all year long, but the threat of him popping off for five or six threes will be enough to force defenses to defend him. You cannot let him get going.

Part of it is Simpson’s growth operating in ball-screens, and Teske’s development in every aspect of the game.

Put it all together, and Michigan is top 20 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency — which still factors in data from last season, so they are probably better in reality — and in the top 80 in three-point shooting. If that holds up all season, there is no reason the Wolverines can’t play with and beat anyone in college hoops.

Caleb Martin (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

2. NEVADA, RIGHT NOW, IS MORE LIKELY TO GO UNDEFEATED THAT DUKE EVER WAS

Nevada passed two of their toughest tests of the non-conference this week, as they went into Chicago and knocked off Loyola in the MVC-MWC Challenge before heading to LA to take out USC.

On Friday, the Wolf Pack will face their toughest test of the non-conference, playing Arizona State on a neutral floor. If Eric Musselman can get his team back to Reno with a win, then all of a sudden we are looking at a situation like the one teams like Gonzaga and Wichita State have faced in recent seasons: There is a very real chance that they’ll get to March with an unblemished record.

After ASU, Nevada will play Grand Canyon, South Dakota State, Akron and Utah before starting Mountain West play. There isn’t another team in the league that currently ranks in the top 50 on KenPom, and as things stand today, he is projected Nevada as a heavy favorite in every game they play the rest of the season. As of today, there is a 9.4 percent chance the Wolf Pack end the regular season undefeated.

At some point, Nevada is probably going to get picked off. Maybe they lose to the Sun Devils. Maybe they get picked off on a road trip to Utah State or San Diego State, both of whom are good and have really tough home-court environments. Hell, maybe they overlook their trip to Utah.

But this is something to be cognizant of because it will very likely be a storyline.

And if Gonzaga can get through Tennessee and a trip to North Carolina with wins, they’ll be right there with Nevada.

3. LAGERALD VICK IS THIS YEAR’S EARLY MVP

Vick is not the best player on Kansas. He is not the guy that Kansas runs their offense through. He is not the guy NBA teams are interested in seeing when they come to Lawrence. He’s not even someone you can call an x-factor for this team moving forward.

But he has been Kansas’ MVP through the first month of the season, and he might be the single most valuable player in all of college basketball to date.

That’s because he has repeatedly rescued this Kansas team this year. He had 32 points and his all eight of his threes when Kansas struggled to beat Vermont, trailing in the second half. He had 33 points and his seven threes in a win over Louisiana where the Jayhawks trailed by 12. He scored eight straight second half points to give Kansas their first lead against Tennessee. And on Saturday, he hit a three to force overtime and then scored the first eight points of overtime — 27 in total — to help KU avoid an upset at the hands of Stanford.

Put another way, if Vick isn’t playing the way that he’s been playing, Kansas might have three or four losses to their name.

Sounds like an MVP to me.

4. LOUISVILLE WILL BE A TOP 25 TEAM THIS SEASON

Credit where credit is due: Louisville has put together one of the more unexpected early season runs. This past week, they won at Seton Hall and knocked off Michigan State in overtime at home. That came on the heels of a trip to NYC for the Preseason NIT where the Cards lost in overtime to Marquette and hung with Tennessee for 38 minutes before losing by 11.

Chris Mack is starting to figure this group out. He’s not quite there yet — Jordan Nwora is shooting 27 percent from three, Steve Enoch is not yet dominating the paint like he should be, V.J. King has no confidence — but you can see the Cards getting better every time they play.

5. THE PAC-12 WILL MAX OUT AT THREE NCAA TOURNAMENT BIDS

It’s hard to overstate just how bad the conference has been this season.

Throughout the first month of the season, the conference has registered five wins that will register as quality wins come Selection Sunday. They are, in order:

  1. Oregon over Syracuse in MSG when Syracuse was missing Franklin Howard.
  2. Arizona at UConn.
  3. Arizona over Iowa State in Maui when Iowa State was missing four players, including two starters.
  4. Arizona State over Mississippi State in Las Vegas.
  5. Arizona State over Utah State in Las Vegas.

Their sixth-best win is … UCLA beating Loyola Marymount in Westwood?

That doesn’t include the bad losses that they’re taken. Oregon may have that win over the Orange, but they lost at home to Texas Southern and just took an L at Houston. Oregon State lost to Missouri. Washington State lost to Seattle and New Mexico State. Colorado fell at San Diego. Utah lost to Hawaii and took a 22-point beating against Northwestern. Cal is 2-4 on the season. Stanford is 4-4. USC and UCLA have a combined five losses, and while none of them are bad losses — Vandy’s win at USC will look worse than it was as the Commodores play out their season without Darius Garland — they are 0-5 against relevant competition.

All told, the conference is 6-19 against the top seven leagues, and I didn’t even factor in include games against Nevada, Utah State and Saint Mary’s.

No matter how you slice it, the conference has arguably been worse than expected this year.

And that’s saying something.

NBC Sports Top 25: Kentucky beats Tennessee as injuries abound

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The big talking point this week comes with Kentucky’s win over Tennessee, which came just four days after Kentucky lost at home to LSU.

I wrote all about the top five battle on Saturday. Without taking anything away from what Kentucky did, I think that the way that game played out had as much to do with situation — Kentucky, at home, coming off a brutal loss against a team that hadn’t been tested in two months — and matchup as it did with what each of those two teams are.

Put another way, I still buy the idea that this Tennessee team can win it all, just like I still believe Virginia can win it all despite losing to Duke twice in the last month.

Beyond that, the toughest thing to do with ranking teams this week was figure out what to do about injuries. I dropped Michigan State to No. 17 because it appears that they have lost Nick Ward for an extended period of time. The Spartans were not all that talented to begin with and now they are down their top two scorers. I also dropped Kansas State over the uncertainty surrounding Dean Wade’s health. If he’s not 100 percent — and if Cartier Diarra isn’t playing — then Kansas State is a bad basketball team offensively.

Anyway, here is the rest of the top 25:

1. Duke (23-2, Last Week: 1)
2. Gonzaga (25-2, 3)
3. Virginia (22-2, 4)
4. Kentucky (21-4, 5)
5. Tennessee (23-2, 2)
6. Michigan (23-3, 6)
7. North Carolina (20-5, 7)
8. Marquette (21-4, 9)
9. Nevada (24-1, 11)
10. Iowa State (19-6, 15)
11. Texas Tech (21-5, 16)
12. Houston (25-1, 13)
13. Kansas (20-6, 17)
14. Villanova (20-6, 10)
15. LSU (21-4, 20)
16. Purdue (18-7, 12)
17. Michigan State (21-5, 8)
18. Virginia Tech (20-5, 18)
19. Kansas State (19-6, 14)
20. Wisconsin (17-8, 19)
21. Louisville (18-8, 21)
22. Iowa (20-5, 22)
23. Buffalo (22-3, 23)
24. Florida State (20-5, 24)
25. Wofford (23-4, 25)

Dropped Out: None
New Additions: None

St. John’s rallies from 14-point deficit to stun No. 13 Villanova

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NEW YORK (AP) — A 70-foot shot just before halftime gave St. John’s momentum, and LJ Figueroa and the Red Storm used a strong defensive effort in the second half to surprise No. 13 Villanova.

Figueroa scored 22 points and St. John’s rallied to beat the Wildcats 71-65 on Sunday night. It was the first win for the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden against Villanova in 17 years, and they accomplished the feat in front of an energetic sellout crowd of nearly 20,000 fans.

“It was as loud as I can remember, maybe louder,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “I’m happy for them they got to experience that too. There’s nothing like that. There are some great places to play college basketball, but when you get a full Madison Square Garden against a championship team like Villanova there’s nothing like that. It’s awesome. It helped us. It kept us in the game and took us to another level.”

Trailing by 17 late in the first half, the Red Storm scored the final six points, including Justin Simon’s shot from the opposite 3-point line that banked in just before the buzzer and made it 37-26.

“We were screaming the whole way into the locker room,” said Mustapha Heron, who added 19 points. “We had to do it on the defensive end (in the second half).”

The Red Storm (19-7, 7-6 Big East) were down 48-34 with 12:30 left. They scored 20 of the next 25 points to take their first lead on Figueroa’s 3-pointer from the corner.

During that run, Villanova coach Jay Wright was hit with a technical foul for arguing a call.

“Their half-court defense went to another level after they pressed us and the crowd got going,” Wright said. “We had it to 11-12 in the second half there and they started pressing us. They got that turnover at half court and we got the technical that really got them going. That was the turning point in the game.”

The teams traded the lead over the next few minutes before Figueroa hit another 3-pointer that gave the Red Storm a 58-57 advantage with 3:12 left and started an 8-0 run.

The Red Storm led 63-57 with 50 seconds left when Villanova’s Phil Booth was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. He made two free throws to get the Wildcats within four.

That’s as close as they could get as St. John’s converted its free throws down the stretch to complete the biggest comeback since the team rallied from a 20-point deficit against DePaul in 2010.

Joe Cremo scored 14 points for Villanova (20-6, 11-2), and Eric Paschall added 11 points and 14 rebounds.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Wright said. “We were really dominant in the first half, the second half they matched up the intensity.”

The game was a little bit of revenge for the Red Storm, who lost to Villanova by five after blowing an 11-point second-half lead on Jan. 8.

The Wildcats jumped all over the Red Storm early on, outscoring them 29-10 over the first 12 minutes. During that stretch, the Red Storm went without a basket for 7:39.

Bubble Banter: All of the weekend’s bubble action in one spot

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There is now just under a month left in conference play, so it is time for us to go all-in on the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Buffalo, Alabama, Baylor, Syracuse, St. John’s, Auburn, Washington and TCU.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 12): The Sooners finally snapped a five-game losing streak by going into Fort Worth and picking off TCU, 71-62. I still think that the Sooners are in a tough spot as it stands, but they now how four Q1 wins and just one loss to a team outside the top 35 in the NET — at West Virginia (115), a Q2 loss. A 4-8 mark against Q1 is not great, and neither is their 16-10 record or 4-9 mark in the Big 12, but OU does have three more shots at Q1 wins, and that doesn’t count Texas at home. Their bid is in their hands.

SETON HALL (NET: 61, SOS: 36): Seton Hall may have just about punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Sunday afternoon. They landed their third Q1 win of the season by going into Omaha and picking off Creighton (59), but making it all the more impressive is the fact that their first two Q1 wins came against Kentucky (6) on a neutral and at Maryland (21). They do have three unimpressive losses — they were swept by DePaul (91) and lost at home to Saint Louis (123) — but they are now 10-7 against Q1 and Q2 opponents. They end the season like this: Xavier (104), at St. John’s (49), at Georgetown (79), Marquette (20), Villanova (19). Win three more games and they’re in. Win two more and they’re probably feeling pretty good.

MINNESOTA (NET: 58, SOS: 60): The Golden Gophers got screwed on a bad foul call in the final seconds of a loss on Wednesday night, which cost them a Q1 win. They bounced back by absolutely humiliating Indiana at home, a win that won’t carry quite as much weight on Selection Sunday but that will keep the Gophers heading in the right direction. I personally think Minnesota is in really good shape right now given their win at Wisconsin and a win over Washington on a neutral. The 3-7 record in Q1 games isn’t ideal, but their worst loss is only a Q2 loss at Boston College. They close the season like this: Michigan (8), at Rutgers (118), at Northwestern (72), Purdue (11), at Maryland (21). If they go 3-2 in that stretch, they’re dancing, and 2-3 might even be enough to get the job done.

FLORIDA (NET: 42, SOS: 43): The Gators are not going to let us quit them. They picked up their best win of the season on Saturday, going into Tuscaloosa and pounding Alabama (45). That’s just Florida’s second Q1 win of the season. They are now 2-9 against Q1 opponents with a Q3 home loss to South Carolina in the mix. Their 14-11 overall record is not good, and their metrics are floated by the fact that they’ve played a lot of good teams close. Mike White’s team still has some ground to make up, but with two games against LSU (14) and a trip to Kentucky (6) on the schedule, they’ll have chances.

NEBRASKA (NET: 40, SOS: 70): I just can’t quit you, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers won their second straight game on Saturday, adding another Q2 win by picking off Northwestern (72) at home. I know that they lost seven straight earlier this year, but the Huskers are now 8-11 in Q1 and Q2 games with a pair of Q1 road wins. That’s enough to keep them in the mix, and with a schedule that is just absolutely brutal in the final three weeks of the season — at Penn State (70), Purdue (11), at Michigan (8), at Michigan State (7), Iowa (28) — they’ll get five more chances to notch Q1 wins.

WOFFORD (NET: 28, SOS: 167): Wofford absolutely beat the brakes off of the second-best team in the SoCon, UNC Greensboro. They won by 30 points. It’s not a Q1 win because it’s at home, but it is their fourth Q2 win to go along with a 2-4 mark against Q1. As long as the Terriers avoid losing at Chattanooga and at Samford, they are an at-large team in my mind. A 15-0 league record against a conference with more top 60 NET teams than the Pac-12 deserves to get in.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 72, SOS: 67): Arizona State has one of the strangest resumes in college hoops this season. They are 4-1 in Q1 games and have another Q2 win at UCLA (107). But they’ve lost four Q3 games — Princeton (90), Utah (101), at USC (145), at Vanderbilt (189) — and that doesn’t court their worst loss of the year, at home to Washington State (230) by 21 points.

TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 58): Here is the catch-22 for life on the bubble: Entering Saturday, Temple winning at USF (76) would have been a Q1 win. The Owls went out and they beat the Bulls in overtime. The problem? That loss dropped USF to 76th in the NET, meaning that it is now a Q2 win and Temple’s resume is still a win over Houston (5) and not much else. The reality is that won’t matter all that much. The committee will take into account that winning South Florida, whether it’s Q1 or Q2, is not a game-changer, which is why I’m still of the mindset that Temple needs to win at least four of their final five regular season games and avoid an AAC tournament loss to one of the teams at the bottom of the league.

BUTLER (NET: 53, SOS: 25): The Bulldogs beat DePaul on Saturday night, getting the win they needed to set themselves up for a shot at an at-large. Butler plays at Marquette on Wednesday and at Villanova in two weeks. With just one Q1 win to date, Butler might need to get both to really feel comfortable.

VCU (NET: 43, SOS: 40): The Rams were up by 22 points at Dayton (82) early in the second half and blew the lead, but thanks to a late Marcus Evans bucket, they were able to get out of Dayton Arena with a win. The win at Texas (35) continues to look better and better, a 3-2 mark against Q2 teams is solid and with just one bad loss — a Q3 home loss to Charleston (113) — the Rams are the Atlantic 10’s best chance at an at-large.

BELMONT (NET: 60, SOS: 166): For the Bruins to have a chance at an at-large, they need to win out and lost to Murray State and only Murray State in the OVC tournament. On Saturday night, they smacked around Tennessee Tech. So far so good.

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, SOS: 126): The Aggies probably couldn’t afford a loss to Air Force, and they did what they needed to win — win. There are two things that Utah State needs to do in they truly want to get an at-large bid to the tournament: 1. Beat Nevada at home, and 2. Hope that Fresno State cracks the top 75 in the NET. If they two, that’s one less Q3 loss and one more Q1 win on their resume.

UCF (NET: 45, SOS: 83): UCF won against Memphis in Orlando, which gives them a sixth Q2 win but doesn’t do much to change the biggest flaw in their profile: A total lack of Q1 wins. The Knights play at Cincinnati on Thursday. That will be the game-changer.

TEXAS (NET: 35, SOS: 6): The Longhorns did what they needed to do on Saturday, knocking off Oklahoma State in Austin to avoid picking up their second Q3 loss of the year. The Longhorns are now 15-11 overall and just 7-6 in the Big 12, but they have the No. 6 SOS and No. 11 non-conference SOS nationally. Combine that with a neutral court win over UNC (9), home wins over Purdue (11) and Kansas (18) and a win at Kansas State (26), and the Longhorns are in a pretty good spot.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 30, SOS: 188): Losing to a three-win Kennesaw State team would have been a dream-killer for the Bisons. They won and live to fight another day.

LOSERS

N.C. STATE (NET: 37, SOS: 239): The Wolfpack lost at Duke on Saturday, which is what we all expected to see happen. The chink in N.C. State’s armor is that they played the worst non-conference schedule in the country, and when combined with A) just one Q1 win and B) a Q3 loss, Kevin Keatts is not in a place where he can feel comfortable yet. The most troubling part: N.C. State’s season ends like this: Boston College, Wake Forest, at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Boston College. They have one Q1 opportunity left. They really, really need to win it.

UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 46, SOS: 191): The Spartans were whipped at Wofford, losing by 30 to the SoCon leaders. It’s their second loss this week and probably takes them out of serious bubble consideration. We’ll keep them around, but they’re probably not going to have enough good wins.

ARKANSAS (NET: 63, SOS: 45): I don’t get the appeal of Arkansas as a bubble team. They won at LSU, which is nice, but that is their only Q1 win in seven tries and they are 3-10 against Q1 and Q2 opponents. They’ve also lost at home to both Georgia Tech (118) and Western Kentucky (121), which are Q3 losses. What is the appeal here? What am I missing?

INDIANA (NET: 49, SOS: 36): Indiana is off the bubble at this point. They went into Minnesota and got absolutely poleaxed. The Hoosiers have now lost 10 of their last 11 games to fall to 13-12 on the season and 4-10 in the Big Ten. If they can somehow find a way to put together a winning streak late in the year, they have some great wins — at Michigan State (7), Louisville (16), Marquette (20) — and no bad losses, but that feels like saying if I can lose 30 pounds and get my six pack back I could be an underwear model.

CLEMSON (NET: 42, SOS: 33): The Tigers had a shot to land their second Q1 win of the season, but after erasing and eight point lead in the final minute and forcing a turnover with 3.5 seconds left, the Tigers had a layup blocked with that would have won the game. The result doesn’t really hurt their profile other than the opportunity cost — this is the kind of win that, on this year’s bubble, can jump Clemson up four or five spots in the seed list. That’s a tough miss.

No. 11 Michigan State’s win over Ohio State overshadowed by Nick Ward injury

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No. 11 Michigan State used a 20-2 run over the course of the final eight minutes on Saturday afternoon, sending Ohio State back to Columbus with a 62-44 loss to keep pace with Purdue and Michigan atop the Big Ten standings, but no one is going to be talking about that today.

They’re going to be talking about Nick Ward.

The 6-foot-9 junior center for the Spartans emerged from halftime with his left hand — shooting hand — heavily bandaged and played just four second half minutes because of the injury. Michigan State announced after the game that Ward suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand towards the end of the first half. The injury occurred when Ward hit his hand on the rim, a source close to the program said.

Michigan State is already down their second-best scorer with Josh Langford injured. Losing Ward would mean losing their best low-post scorer and a guy that gets them a couple of easy buckets every night because of his ability to run the floor and the way Cassius Winston can find him in transition.

With Langford out of commission, Michigan State is going to have a tough enough time with Michigan in two of their last four game.

Without Ward?

It’s hard to see the Spartans winning much if Ward cannot return in time for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Barrett shines, Kentucky rolls, Kansas’ time is a flat circle

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett has been something of a disappointment this season considering what the expectations for him were coming into the year. He was the No. 1 prospect in the class, the guy we thought was going to the No. 1 pick, and he’s been … just an all-american?

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, I guess.

One of the knocks on Barrett throughout the year has been that he can be too selfish and that he’s an inefficient gunner. Well, on Saturday, as Zion Williamson poured in 32 points while battling foul trouble in a 94-78 win over N.C. State, Barrett completed just the fourth triple-double in the history of the Duke program. He had 23 points (8-for-16 shooting), 11 boards and 10 assists, and he did it without committing a turnover.

Not bad.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

No. 5 Kentucky smacked around the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday, beating Tennessee, 86-69, in Lexington. It was their ceiling game. We wrote 1,000 words all about it here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Joe Wieskamp, Iowa

After Geo Baker hit a go-ahead three with 3.3 seconds left, Iowa answered with one of the wildest shots of the season. Check this out:

EXTRA ONIONS: David Jenkins, South Dakota State

Jenkins capped off a comeback from 17 points down in the second half as the Jackrabbits knocked off North Dakota State with a buzzer-beater from halfcourt:

WINNERS

MICHIGAN: The Wolverines kept a hold on first place in the Big Ten race by rolling over No. 24 Maryland in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

AVERY BENSON AND ANDREW SORRELLS: No. 15 Texas Tech steam-rolled another Big 12 opponent on Saturday, beating Baylor by 25 points. And while the win didn’t make all that much noise, Texas Tech did make some headlines thanks to a pair of walk-ons who through an alley-oop in the final seconds of a blowout win. Chris Beard was not happy:

My take?

Whatever the punishment ends up being — the suicides, the wall-sits, whatever it is — it was worth it. Walk-ons only get so many shots at glory. If you have a chance to throw a lob or catch a lob and dunk it as a walk-on, you take it. Those two already are legends on campus.

Like I said, it was worth it.

LSU: The Tigers hung on to beat Georgia on the road, their second road win of the week. This is significant because Kentucky knocked off Tennessee on Saturday as well, and that Wildcat win means that LSU is now tied with Tennessee for first place in the league standings. The best news? Four of LSU’s final six games are at home, including hosting a game against the Vols. And the Vols also have to play Kentucky against. Is … is LSU the odds-on favorite to win the SEC now?

LOSERS

INDIANA: This has to be rock bottom for the Hoosiers, right?

Not only have they now lost 10 out of their last 11 games, but this loss was a total and complete humiliation. The Hoosiers lost by 21 points at Minnesota. They trailed by as many as 30. With an NCAA tournament bid still up in the air, Indiana played as if they didn’t even want to make the trip up to Minneapolis. This has not been the sophomore season that Archie Miller wanted.

DEAN WADE’S FOOT: No. 18 Kansas State lost to No. 23 Iowa State at home on Saturday, which cost them the cushion they had in the Big 12 title race, but that might not be their biggest loss of the day. Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Dean Wade suffered another foot injury. It does not appear to be all that serious, but for a guy that has missed long stretches of each of the last two seasons with foot injuries, everything is serious.

CLEMSON: The Tigers lost their second straight game in demoralizing fashion on Saturday. Against Louisville, the Tigers erased a seven point deficit in less than 15 seconds and, with 3.5 seconds left in a one-point game, forced a turnover and had two shots two win it at the buzzer. Spoiler alert: They didn’t. On Wednesday, it was Miami — one of the worst teams in the ACC — hitting a last-second jumper that bounced off the backboard twice before going in. There’s only a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line here.

FINAL THOUGHT

Kansas is always going to find a way to win the Big 12.

Right?

I mean, it’s proven to be true for 14 straight years, regardless of what disaster or obstacle gets put in their way.

And after what transpired on Saturday, it looks like we’re heading down that same road again.

Kansas State entered the day holding a two game lead in the loss column in the league title race. But they lost at home to Iowa State and, in the process, lost Dean Wade. The injury does not appear to be serious, but it does appear to be something that will, at the very least, bother him for a little while. We know what Kansas State is without Wade on the floor at 100 percent (not very good), which opens the door for Kansas.

The standings, as of today, look like this:

  • Kansas State (9-3)
  • Texas Tech (9-4)
  • Kansas (9-4)
  • Iowa State (8-4)

Kansas still has to play at Texas Tech next Saturday in the game that appears to be the most likely to keep Kansas from calling themselves Big 12 champions one again. The Jayhawks also host Kansas State while Texas Tech pays a visit to Iowa State on the last day of the regular season.

Those are the games that will decide the Big 12 regular season title.

And despite starting four freshmen, one of whom was supposed to redshirt this season, while playing without Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett and Lagerald Vick, Kansas is very much in the thick of the race.

One win in Lubbock next week, and they might even be the favorites.

Someone once told me, time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re going to do over and over and over again.