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Monday Overreactions: Kansas-Iowa State, Nevada is in trouble and weekly awards

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

Last Saturday, Ponds was held in check as the Johnnies blew a big second half lead while suffering their first loss of the season against Seton Hall. It was his most disappointing performance of the season in the only loss that the team has suffered to date.

That performance also feels like it is so far in the past after the week that Ponds had. On New Years Day, in a battle of what appears to be the two best teams in the Big East this season, the junior point guard went for 20 of his 26 points in the first half, completely out-dueling Markus Howard and leading St. John’s to a dominant, 89-69 win. He followed that up by popping off for 37 points and five assists as the Johnnies went into Capitol One Arena and landed a come-from-behind win over Georgetown, 97-94.

Ponds is getting the kind of national attention that some of the other great guards around the country are. He’s been totally overshadowed by Howard in his own league. But Ponds has quietly been an absolute monster when St. John’s has needed him to be. The Red Storm have played six games that were decided by single digits. In four of those six, Ponds finished with at least 32 points, popping off for 37 against Georgetown and Georgia Tech.

If he is at his best in the biggest games, I can’t wait to see what the rest of Big East play has in store for us.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: New Mexico Lobos

Where in the hell did this come from: New Mexico 85, Nevada 58.

Entering Saturday night, the Lobos were ranked 190th on KenPom. They were 6-6 against Division I competition on the season. They had lost to New Mexico State by 35 points. They lost to Saint Mary’s by 25 points. They lost at home to the likes of Penn and North Texas. They opened the day as 14 point underdogs at home and, despite winning for the entire first half and taking a 38-26 lead into the break, they were still getting points from live-betting sites — the Nevada money line was -139 and the second half betting line was Nevada -13.5.

That’s incredible.

And while much of that blame falls on Nevada — I’ll get to them — the credit also has to be given to the Lobos. To be frank, there is no way that this team should be 190th in anything. There is talent on the roster, especially now that Carlton Bragg is eligible and playing. Regardless, this is a great win for Paul Weir’s program and, hopefully, a chance for them to reignite a program with a massive, passionate fanbase that has been dormant since Steve Alford left.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. KANSAS IS STILL THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE BIG 12

I love this Texas Tech team. They are the redneck version of Virginia, a team with toughness oozing out of their pores that plays suffocating defense and has a first-team All-American running the show in Jarrett Culver.

I also love Iowa State — I’ll get to them in a second — and we shouldn’t gloss over just how good Oklahoma has been and TCU can be when Jaylen Fisher is healthy and running with the starters.

That said, for my money, Kansas is still the favorite to win the Big 12 and my pick to take home their 15th straight regular season title.

There are a couple of reasons for this, but the most obvious is the man running the show: Bill Self. Every year, we ask whether or not this is going to be the year where the Jayhawks slip up, and every year, Self somehow finds a way to get it done. There are not many coaches in the country that are as good at figuring out how to get the most out of a team as Self is, and while losing Udoka Azubuike to a torn ligament in his hand is going to force him to change up some things, I’m still betting on the Jayhawks figuring this thing out.

For starters, they still have an all-american to run their offense through in Dedric Lawson. He’s been as good as advertised, and while having him at the five takes away some of what made him so effective — his ability to pass in high-low actions — it does mean that he will be the anchor in the post. They also still have Lagerald Vick, and while he has come back to earth after a scorching start to the year, this is still a guy that is capable of putting up 30 on any given night. Vick is joined on the perimeter by a trio of highly-regarded youngsters — Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. All four of them have question marks (Garrett hasn’t really figured out how to be a threat to score, Grimes seems to finally have regained his confidence and Dotson can’t seem to stop turning the ball over) but there is talent there.

There things that need to be fixed. Grimes cannot continue to be a 31.5 percent three-point shooter. Garrett needs to find a way to contribute offensively and Lawson … well, he has to be at his best. That said, those are certainly things that can happen.

So I’ll bet on Kansas for now, because that bet has been a winner for nearly a decade and a half.

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2. BUT IOWA STATE IS A TOP TEN TEAM

There were some fluky things that happened in Iowa State’s 77-60 win over Kansas on Saturday afternoon.

Azubuike was ruled out an hour before the game after suffering a hand injury the day before the game, forcing the Jayhawks to play a smaller lineup. That smaller lineup meant that the Cyclones could matchup perfectly with Kansas. Iowa State made 13 threes, hitting 9-of-13 in the second half, and did so while playing in front of one of the rowdiest environments in college basketball.

So I feel pretty comfortable saying that part of that result was situational and fluky.

But I also do think that Iowa State is a top ten team this season, mainly because Steve Prohm has an ideal roster for the way modern basketball is played.

He starts four wings, all of whom stand between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6. The smallest of the four — Talen Horton-Tucker — checks in at 240 pounds and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. It makes them switchable and versatile on the defensive end of the floor, where Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb and Tyrese Haliburton can all guard up and down somewhere between adequately and effectively. The Cyclones are historically a team that has a reputation for being soft on the defensive end, and that’s not this group.

And I’m not sure they’ve hit their ceiling yet. The best player in the program is Lindell Wigginton, a 6-foot-2 combo-guard that returned to action in the Big 12 opener after missing about a month with a foot injury. He played just 17 minutes on Saturday and shot 2-for-11 from the floor. He’s one of three players on this roster that are skilled enough to play the point — Weiler-Babb is technically the starting point guard while Haliburton, a sneaky NBA prospect, is averaging 8.3 points, 4.5 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 45 percent from three. Throw in Horton-Tucker, and there are now four perimeter players on this team that are averaging 3.0 assists this season.

That doesn’t include Shayok, who is the leading scorer in the Big 12 at 20.1 points, and Horton-Tucker is the only member of that perimeter rotation that is not a dangerous three-point threat.

Then throw in the fact that Michael Jacobson, who is averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 boards, is currently outplaying the most talented big man on the roster, Cameron Lard, and there is still room for Iowa State to grow.

They are for real.

3. VIRGINIA TECH IS THE BEST ACC TEAM NOT NAMED DUKE OR VIRGINIA

We haven’t spoken all that much about Virginia Tech this season, which is what tends to happen when you are a football school in a basketball conference that is overshadowed by a bigger, better program in your own state.

But the Hokies are currently sitting at 13-1 on the season after starting out ACC play with wins over Notre Dame and Boston College. They’ll play at Georgia Tech on Wednesday before next Tuesday’s showdown with Virginia in Charlottesville.

The reason I like this team so much is because they are essentially playing with two point guards — Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — on a team that loves running ball-screens, shoots 44.2 percent from three and, like Iowa State, has switchable defenders all over their perimeter.

Two of their next four games are at Virginia and at North Carolina, so we’ll have a better feel for what this team is come January 22nd, but I’m getting ahead of the curve. Virginia Tech is the third-best team in the ACC.

(AP Photo/Don Petersen)

4. MICHIGAN AND MICHIGAN STATE ARE THE ONLY BIG TEN TEAMS THAT AREN’T THOROUGHLY AVERAGE

On the other hand, I’m not sure who the third-best team in the Big Ten is, but I don’t think there is anyone that is on par with the two Michigan schools.

We have spent plenty of time talking about how good the Wolverines are this year, and I am starting to believe that Michigan State — who is now ranked ahead of Michigan on KenPom — is not all that far behind. They went into Columbus and knocked off Ohio State without Josh Langford. That’s not easy to do, not when you trail by seven points at the half.

That is going to be a fun race, one that will feature two battles between the teams in the final four games of the regular season. I am here for that.

The question I have is whether or not anyone else in the Big Ten is actually good, or if the rest of the league is a mashup of teams that are good enough to talk about but aren’t quite good enough to be a threat to do anything of note. Wisconsin, for example, is now 11-4 on the season after following up their loss at Western Kentucky by losing to Minnesota at home. Nebraska opened up 2019 with losses at Maryland and Iowa, neither of whom have been super-impressive this year. Purdue has looked good in stretches but has a bunch of “good” losses on their resume. Ohio State seems to be punching above their weight again this season. Indiana might have a shot to get into that conversation if they can ever find a way to get, and stay, healthy.

I still think this league is going to end up putting as many as ten teams into the NCAA tournament. I just don’t know if anyone outside of the top two are actually worth getting all that excited about.

5. NEVADA CAN GET TO THE FINAL FOUR AND CAN ALSO REALISTICALLY MISS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Nevada can beat anyone in college basketball. That includes Duke, and Virginia, and whoever else you consider among the elite in college basketball. That’s how high their ceiling is. This roster is built around three all-american caliber players that thrive in isolation. Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin — those are tough shot-makers that have proven the ability to take over games. It’s what they do, and on the nights when they get it rolling, they can do things like they did in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year: light up Cincinnati, one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams.

But Saturday proved that they are not talented enough to avoid getting caught on the nights they decide not to show up, and that matters because of how weak their schedule is.

To put this into context, Saint Mary’s entered Selection Sunday with a 28-5 record last season, a win at Gonzaga and four of their five losses away from home — their one home less was to the Zags. They missed the NCAA tournament. Now, Nevada’s non-conference schedule was tougher than that Saint Mary’s team, and the Mountain West is better than last year’s WCC, but there’s nothing that Nevada can do that will be remotely as impressive as winning at Gonzaga.

And … well, their non-conference wins keep looking less and less impressive. That win at USC? Whatever. Beating Arizona State on a neutral looked more impressive before the Sun Devils lost to Vanderbilt, Princeton and Utah, the latter two at home. Winning at Loyola-Chicago and Utah are solid Quadrant II-ish wins. Hell, the only team that Nevada has played that is currently in the top 50 at KenPom is Utah State, and they are 47th.

We’re still three losses away from really needing to have this conversation, but if Nevada can lose by 27 points at New Mexico, why should we assume that they’ll go 17-1 in the Mountain West?

And if they lose three more league games — at Utah State, at Fresno State, San Diego State — we might actually head into the MWC tournament wondering if this team has a resume that is truly deserving of getting an at-large bid.

Oklahoma State dismisses three players from the program

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Oklahoma State announced on Wednesday that they have dismissed Michael Weathers, Maurice Calloo and Kentrevious Jones from the program due to a violation of team rules.

“We have a standard of behavior that we expect from everyone in our program,,” head coach Mike Boynton said in a statement, “and we’re going to move forward with the people who want to abide by those standards. I wish the others well as they move on.”

Weathers is the biggest loss. He is a sophomore guard that was averaging 9.2 points on the season. Calloo (2.5 ppg) and Jones (1.3 ppg), both freshmen forwards, were bit players that saw limited minutes in their first year in Stillwater.

No. 15 Marquette beats Georgetown after Markus Howard leaves with injury

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Marquette got a career performance from Sam Hauser and won a Big East road game Tuesday, but the Golden Eagles’ 74-71 win against Georgetown came with a caveat.

Markus Howard, the nation’s fourth leading scorer, played just three minutes before bowing out with a back injury.

“He’s been experiencing some low back soreness,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the game, per The Associated Press. “I’m not going to put a guy out there unless he’s 100%.”

Hauser shined offensively for Marquette with Howard unable to carry the load. The sophomore scored 31 points in the victory. It was the Golden Eagles’ defense, though, that got them to the finish line. Marquette blocked two go-ahead attempts by Georgetown freshman guard James Akinjo in the final 15 seconds, with the first coming from Brendan Bailey and the second courtesy of Theo John.

Now, though, attention will turn to the health of Howard, who is averaging 25.8 points per game and is a week removed from dropping 53 points on Creighton. Marquette does have a pair of home games upcoming against Providence and DePaul, so the Golden Eagles do have some fortuitous timing in their favor, but if Howard is sidelined for an extended period of time or the back is an issue all season, that’s going to be a significant issue.

Little, No. 13 North Carolina hold off Notre Dame 75-69

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Once Nassir Little got rolling, No. 13 North Carolina didn’t have to worry much about yet another home loss.

Little scored all 11 of his points in the final 11 minutes, and the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame 75-69 on Tuesday night.

“It was just a matter of time,” Little said. “Everybody was just waiting for me to do what I do, to help the team be as good as we can be.”

Coby White had 17 points while Luke Maye added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Cameron Johnson finished with 11 points for the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). UNC used a late 12-1 run to bounce back from its most lopsided home loss under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams.

“I got my wish — I wanted to win one ugly,” Williams said.

Prentiss Hubb scored 18 points, John Mooney had 16 points and 19 rebounds, and D.J. Harvey added 15 points for the Fighting Irish (11-6, 1-3). Hubb put Notre Dame up 58-57 with a layup with just under seven minutes remaining, but the Irish missed their next six shots while North Carolina took control.

“Everything was just right for us,” coach Mike Brey said. “We just needed a few more plays, and we probably needed another scorer.”

White started the key run with a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down with 6½ minutes to play, and Little, a freshman, ended it with a twisting layup on the break that gave the Tar Heels their first double-figure lead, 69-59, with less than 90 seconds left.

The Irish didn’t get closer than seven until Hubb’s 3 with 4.7 seconds left made it 73-69.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have lost three of four to begin conference play and haven’t cracked the 70s in scoring in any of those games. They aren’t afraid to pull the trigger from 3-point range — no team in the ACC has taken more of them this season, and roughly half their shots in this one were from beyond the arc — but they didn’t quite hit enough of them to pull off the upset: Notre Dame was just 4 of 15 from long range in the second half.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels will hear less about that embarrassing 83-62 loss to Louisville. They also haven’t lost three straight home ACC games in nearly a decade. Perhaps the most encouraging sign: They had only two turnovers in the second half.

STAR WATCH

T.J. Gibbs, who averages a team-best 18.5 points for Notre Dame, was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting in his return after an illness that forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career. “My trainer said, ‘You can’t play him as usual, 35 minutes, because he’s ill,'” Brey said. “And then I played him 35 minutes, because he was our only option. … We need to kind of get him back to 100 percent by Saturday.”

PLAY OF THE NIGHT

Seventh Woods earned some hustle points for his blocked shot that brought the crowd to its feet with about 12 minutes left. Nate Laszewski was headed for an easy open-court dunk after stealing the ball from Johnson. But Woods raced in to block the attempt at the rim.

BATTLE ON THE BOARDS

The ACC’s top two rebounders — Maye (10.1 rpg) and Mooney (9.8) — went at it in this one. Those two combined for 29 of the 83 total rebounds in the game.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Plays host to No. 17 North Carolina State on Saturday.

North Carolina: Visits Miami on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Three Things To Know: It was a surprisingly wild night in college hoops

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While Golden State was busy putting up 50 points in a quarter, the college basketball world had themselves a wild night that featured a pair of top 25 teams winning in the final seconds, some big dogs rolling and a couple of trendy teams taking ugly losses.

Here is what you need to know from Tuesday night:

1. THE BIG BOYS ROLLED

The biggest game of the night ended up being one of the most boring games of the night, as No. 4 Virginia put away No. 9 Virginia Tech before we reached the under eight media timeout. The Wahoos hit nine of their first 11 threes, finished 13-for-24 from beyond the arc on the evening and took a 44-22 lead into halftime, eventually knocking off the Hokies, 81-59. It was an utterly dominant performance from Tony Bennett’s club, and one that had our Travis Hines convincing himself that this is the year for UVA.

The Cavs weren’t the only big dog to handle their business in impressive fashion on Tuesday. No. 3 Tennessee jumped out to a 23-6 lead on Arkansas and never looked back, beating the Razorbacks 106-87 in a game where the Vols never seemed to get out of third gear. While that was happening, No. 12 Kentucky was in the midst of going into Stegeman Coliseum and dropping a hammer on Georgia, 69-49. Ashton Hagans — who was previously committed to the Bulldogs — put a career-high 23 points on the board.

And lastly, while the Tar Heels didn’t run away with this win, they did manage to hold off Notre Dame, 75-69. This win was notable because of the second half performance from Nassir Little. He scored just 11 points, but all of them came in the final 11 minutes, and he had nine in a 14-6 run that turned a deficit into a 65-58 lead.

2. SAM HAUSER SAVES No. 15 MARQUETTE, No. 17 N.C. STATE IS NOT SO LUCKY

Hauser put up a career-high 31 points to go along with eight boards in a 74-71 win at Georgetown as he was forced into point guard duties as Markus Howard was dealing with a lower back issue and Joseph Chartouny has apparently forgotten how to be a point guard. The Hoyas are not exactly a powerhouse these days, but they are a dangerous team offensively that has won some games we did not expect them to win, and going into Washington D.C. and winning this game without the Big East Player of the Year is, frankly, really impressive.

And important.

The Golden Eagles remain the only team that is one game behind Villanova in the Big East regular season title race.

N.C. State was not as fortunate. Playing without starting point guard Markell Johnson, the Wolf Pack found themselves down by 15 points at the half and by as many as 22 points in the second half at Wake Forest. A 29-7 run tied the game at 58 with about seven minutes left in the game, but Wake Forest did enough down the stretch to get the win, 71-67.

This is not a great loss for N.C. State, who has now lost two of their last three games and no longer looks like a top 25 basketball team.

3. THE OLE MISS HYPE TRAIN DERAILS

The trendy team this week was Ole Miss, and deservedly so — in the span of 96 hours, they beat No. 11 Auburn by 15 points and went into Starkville and picked off No. 14 Mississippi State. They were 13-2 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC at that point. They deserved to be trendy.

And it all came crashing down with a visit from LSU. Tremont Waters scored 20 points and added nine assists as the Tigers knocked off No. 18 Ole Miss, 83-69, in Oxford. Now 3-0 in the league, it may be time that we start looking at LSU as the new Ole Miss.

AND I NEED TO MENTION …

That a pair of top 25 teams survived at the last second. In Starkville, Mississippi State survived Florida, 71-68, thanks to a three-point play from Quinndary Weatherspoon with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. And out in Boise, No. 10 Nevada knocked off Boise State, 72-71, thanks to a three with 4.5 seconds left from Cody Martin, who had not made a three since Dec. 15th and was shooting 19.5 percent from beyond the arc entering the night.

LSU cruises past No. 18 Ole Miss 83-69; 3-0 in SEC

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OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Tremont Waters scored 20 points, Kavell Bigby-Williams had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, and LSU beat No. 18 Mississippi 83-69 on Tuesday night.

LSU (13-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) used an early 8-0 run in the second half to take a 48-39 lead. The Tigers maintained a healthy advantage from that point, playing tight defense and forcing several turnovers.

Waters also had nine assists, and Skylar Mays scored 14 points. LSU has won six straight.

Ole Miss (13-3, 3-1) had its 10-game winning streak snapped. The Rebels hadn’t lost since Nov. 24, when they fell 71-57 to Cincinnati. Terence Davis led the Rebels with 21 points and 10 rebounds. K.J. Buffen added 13 points.

Neither team played particularly well in the first half, with LSU and Ole Miss both shooting 36 percent from the field. Tyree had 12 points before the break, and the teams went into halftime tied at 31.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: It’s another good win for LSU, which has quietly established itself as one of the SEC’s elite teams. The Tigers are extremely athletic in the post and should cause problems for plenty of teams around the league.

Ole Miss: The Rebels were probably due for some sort of regression and struggled in their return to the national rankings for the first time since 2013. They didn’t play very well offensively, and their 16 turnovers were particularly costly. Ole Miss will still take its 3-1 league start, but a big home game against Arkansas looms on Saturday.

UP NEXT

LSU returns home and hosts South Carolina on Saturday.

Ole Miss hosts Arkansas on Saturday.