PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee
Have yourself a day, Admiral.
You may have missed it while watching the Miami Dolphins somehow land a win over the New England Patriots or trying to figure out whether or not Patrick Mahomes is actually human, but the most entertaining game of the day on Sunday was No. 7 Tennessee’s win over then-undefeated No. 1 Gonzaga.
And the hero of the afternoon was Schofield, Tennessee’s overlooked, 6-foot-5 pro wrestler of a wing.
Schofield had a career-high 30 points against the Zags. He scored 25 of those 30 points in the second half. He scored 11 of those 25 second half points in the final 3:18, all of Tennessee’s points as they closed the game on an 11-5 surge. His three with 22.1 seconds left gave the Vols the win.
The narratives abound after this performance, and I touched on most of them here. This was a statement win for a Tennessee team that most had yet to put into the same conversation as the Dukes, Gonzagas and Michigans of the world. This was a statement performance for Schofield, whose defensive versatility, toughness, professionalism and ability to bang home threes makes him an awfully intriguing NBA prospect. There’s the rise of Barnes at Tennessee coming at the same time as Shaka Smart, his replacement after getting fired at Texas, is struggling to win in Austin.
But mostly, this was just a thrilling basketball game that was capped by a tremendous performance for a guy that doesn’t get enough credit.
It’s really not all that different from the title game of the Maui Invitational, when Brandon Clarke’s performance against Duke thrust him into the national spotlight.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Seton Hall Pirates
Exactly one week removed from losing at home to a Louisville in a game where the Pirates blew a double-digit first half lead, Seton Hall made the trek up to Madison Square Garden to take on that other team from the Commonwealth, as the No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats played away from Rupp Arena for the first time since they were embarrassed by Duke at the Champions Classic.
And despite both of the Myles’ — Powell and Cale — playing like they were shaving points for the first 35 minutes, and despite Keldon Johnson hitting a halfcourt prayer at the buzzer in regulation to force overtime, Seton Hall finished the job and their fans were able to hop on NJ Transit to head back to Newark with a smile on their face.
I do think it is important here to reiterate just how bad both Myles Powell and Myles Cale were for the majority of this game. Powell finished with 28 points, but he scored 17 of those 28 points in the final five minutes of regulation and also buried a three in overtime. He had been totally held in check by Ashton Hagans until then.
Cale was even worse. He finished with 17 points — that number is still shocking when I see it — but he shot just 4-for-18 from the floor and had one of those nights were everything seemed to roll off the rim. He was visibly frustrated, punching the air and cursing to himself on more than one occasion.
And then, with 9.5 seconds left in overtime, he casually pump-faked Keldon Johnson out of his shoes and buried the three that gave Seton Hall an 84-83 win.
Winning a game when you don’t play all that well is impressive, especially when it lands you a win that could end up looking as impressive as this one does come March.
1. KENTUCKY IS NOT A TOP 25 TEAM
The Wildcats have now played two games outside of Lexington this season. One of them was an absolute beatdown at the hands of Duke, a 118-84 drubbing that served warning of just how good Duke is this season and just how far Kentucky has to go.
The other came on Saturday, when the Wildcats couldn’t put away a Seton Hall team whose two best players were struggling, losing in overtime to the same team that lost to
Nebraska by 23 points and Saint Louis on their home court.
Frankly, that’s not the end of the world. We’re just nine games into the season. Kentucky still plays Utah, North Carolina and Louisville before the start of SEC play, and they do play Kansas in January. Backloaded non-conference schedules can create for weird resumes early in the year. That said, the bigger issue here is that Kentucky has not actually looked all that impressive in the games they’ve actually won at home this year. They struggled with Southern Illinois. They struggled with VMI. They needed a late run to make the win over UNC Greensboro look respectable. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from three. They have three five-star point guards on the roster and still manage to turn it over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.
Kentucky has been here before. Need I remind you that last season we were having these very same conversations about the program, and that actually turned out pretty well. If P.J. Washington could make free throws Kentucky probably would have ended up in the Final Four.
No one will be shocked to see John Calipari figure this thing out.
But right now, Kentucky is just not all that good …
2. KANSAS STATE IS NOT A TOP 25 TEAM, EITHER
… and neither is Kansas State. The Wildcats lost a road game for the second straight Saturday, this time going into Tulsa and falling to a team that is middle-of-the-pack at best in the American.
The Wildcats have a serious offense problem. As it stands, they rank 102nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They mustered all of 46 points in the loss at Tulsa. As a team, they are shooting just 28.2 percent from three, which is good for 313th nationally. Their effective field goal percentage is a horrid 47.7 percent. They’re shooting 65.6 percent from the free throw line, and somehow manage to give away live-ball turnovers as much as anyone at the high-major level.
This is a concern because these are all things that are not supposed to happen to a team that has a stable of talented, veteran guards. Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, Cartier Diarra. These guys have been serious disappointments, to say nothing of what we’ve gotten out of preseason all-american Dean Wade.
And it creates an interesting conundrum for Bruce Weber.
There’s been some longstanding angst in Manhattan over his tenure. Kansas State has been fine, but they haven’t risen to the levels that they were at during Frank Martin’s heyday. They had to watch as Weber was given an extension as Kansas State alum Brad Underwood was hired by both Oklahoma State and Illinois since 2016. Last year’s run to the Elite Eight could end up being the worst thing that could have happened to him, because it created massive expectations this season on a team that really wasn’t all that good last year.
If K-State can’t get this thing figured out, how are the folks in Manhattan, Kansas, going to feel about him?
If he can’t make a team that is coming off an Elite Eight and was ranked in the top 15 in the preseason relevant, will he ever?
3. THE TOP SEVEN TEAMS IN THE COUNTRY SHOULD BE CONSENSUS
The elite tier of teams have set themselves apart already this year. They are: Kansas, Tennessee, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, Virginia and Nevada.
How you rank them will differ based on what you value when ranking teams. Kansas has the best resume of the seven, but they have struggled the most over the course of the first month of the season and are currently without starting center Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks also beat Tennessee, who beat Gonzaga, who beat Duke, with all of those games coming on neutral courts, but if you were forced to bet your left arm on one of those four teams winning a national title, you’d probably rank them the other way: Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Kansas.
Michigan has been utterly dominant at times this season. Virginia, too. Nevada is probably the x-factor, but it’s hard to ignore that they just one six straight games away from home, including trips to USC, a game against Arizona State in LA and a de factor road game against Grand Canyon on Sunday night.
If you have an argument for why someone other than these seven teams should be ranked in the top seven, I’d love to hear it.
4. SYRACUSE IS BACK TO BEING THEMSELVES
Less than a month after the sky was falling on Syracuse, the Orange appear to have righted the ship.
Syracuse has won five straight games. They knocked off Ohio State in Columbus. They dismantled a good Northeastern team. They erased a 13 point halftime deficit in a rivalry game against Georgetown, winning when Tyus Battle knocked down a jumper with just 2.5 seconds left on the clock.
And at this point, Syracuse is more or less exactly what we thought they would be this season. They’re an elite defense. Tyus Battle is getting buckets, and the load he’s had to carry has been eased by the emergence of Eli Hughes and Jalen Carey. They are still struggling to shoot the ball from three, and their games are hardly aesthetically pleasing, but they are back to their winning ways and I cannot see a way that changes.
5. INDIANA IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE
At this point in the year, Indiana’s offense is a work in progress. That’s what you should expect from a program that starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a banged up Juwan Morgan. There were always going to be some growing pains early in the year.
What’s promising is that even with those growing pains, Indiana is still winning basketball games. The Hoosiers are 8-2 on the season. They’re 3-1 in games decided by one possession. They’ve landed four wins against teams that are ranked in the top 50 on KenPom. The only losses that they’ve taken this season came at Duke (everyone is going to lose at Duke this year) and at Arkansas, a 73-72 loss where the Hoosiers missed a layup and a tip-in in the final five seconds of a tie game before committing an over-the-back foul that sent the Razorbacks to the free throw line for the winning point.
The Big Ten is loaded, so it will be interesting to see where the Hoosiers finish within the league, but it will be a major disappointment if Archie Miller can’t get this team to the tournament and win at least one game.