Michael Reaves/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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.

Kabengele leads No. 16 Florida State to 77-64 win at Clemson

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Trent Forrest said Florida State entered the season hoping to make history. The 16th-ranked Seminoles certainly did that at Clemson.

Mfiondu Kabengele had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Florida State set a program record with its eighth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference victory in a 77-64 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Seminoles (21-5, 9-4 ACC) had not won this many consecutive league games since joining the conference before the 1991-92 season. They won 11 straight Metro Conference games in 1977-78.

“It shows how locked in we’ve been,” said Forrest, a junior guard. “Our seniors came into the year wanting to make history and I feel like we’re helping them with that.”

Florida State used its size, strength and speed to keep the run going against the Tigers, holding on after seeing an 18-point edge cut to 59-52 with eight minutes left. That’s as close as Clemson (15-11, 5-8) would get in dropping its third in a row and getting swept by Florida State for the second time in three seasons.

Kabengele led the way on both sides of the ball. He hit 9 of 13 from the field, blocked two shots, and his rebounds were a season high. Then again, Clemson had trouble stopping much of anything Florida State did around the basket. The Seminoles’ starting center in 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje went 4-of-6 shooting for 10 points with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.

“Our coaches emphasize us bigs being a major factor in games,” said Kabengele, the 6-10 sophomore. “To have me and Christ to both have good parts to the game helps us get good wins.”

That wasn’t the case early on in ACC play as Florida State started 1-4 with losses at Pitt and Boston College. It got things in gear against Clemson with a 77-68 win on Jan. 22 and has not lost since.

“The streak continues,” Kabengele said with a smile.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is grateful for his team’s successful run. He’s even happier that his players are gelling so well and improving their play every time out. The streak? It won’t help a bit, he said, in his team’s next contest at No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday.

“In reality, it doesn’t mean anything other than people are probably going to play us a little bit harder,” he said.

The Seminoles took control after Clemson closed to 23-21 on Marcquise Reed’s 3-pointer with 6:18 left in the half. Florida then went on a 15-2 surge the rest of the half with Kabengele hitting three buckets and Walker landing a 3-pointer.

When Trent Forrest got his off-balance push shot on a drive to the basket to go right before the buzzer sounded, Florida State went to the locker room ahead 38-23. The lead grew as large as 18.

Forrest finished with 14 points.

Reed had 20 points to lead Clemson, which was coming off two gut-wrenching, one point defeats at Miami (65-64) and at Louisville (56-55) before this. Tigers coach Brad Brownell said his team was deflated when it returned to campus Sunday after the Louisville loss, but thought they had rebounded enough that this game should have been more competitive.

“I thought our energy was good,” Brownell said. “They were just better than us.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles’ offense was relentless with guard Trent Forrest and Terance Mann pushing the ball at the basket where their bigger teammates like Kabengele and Koumadje took control. It’s a formula that works well in the postseason where Florida State reached the NCAA’s round of eight last year.

Clemson: The Tigers came into the season ranked and with high expectations after their NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16 a year ago. But the team of four senior starters appeared way out of synch in this one. Clemson has had two three-game losing streaks in ACC play and may have to do something remarkable for make another appearance in the Big Dance.

TURNAROUND

Hamilton said his team’s early ACC troubles were in part blending in newcomers along with injuries to mainstays like Phil Cofer, who missed the first win over Clemson last month. Hamilton was confident his team would recover and anyway, “there was a high probability we wouldn’t go undefeated in ACC play,” he said.

OLD SCHOOL

With all the focus on fabulous freshmen, Florida State and Clemson had a throwback game with a combined seven players in the two starting lineups as seniors. The Seminoles’ senior starter were Cofer, Mann and Koumadje. Clemson had four starters in Elijah Thomas, David Skara, Reed and Shelton Mitchell.

UP NEXT

Florida State ends a three-game road swing at North Carolina on Saturday.

Clemson plays Boston College at home Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Kentucky’s Reid Travis exits Missouri win with sprained knee

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kentucky earned an SEC road win over Missouri on Tuesday night, but in the process, the Wildcats could be without senior forward Reid Travis for the next several games.

Travis exited Tuesday’s game in the second half with what’s being called a sprained right knee after teammate Keldon Johnson fell into Travis’ leg with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. The fall sent Travis to the locker room, as he didn’t return to the contest as Kentucky held a comfortable second-half advantage.

Postgame, Kentucky head coach John Calipari told Jerry Tipton that there was no definite prognosis on Travis’ injury as Calipari “threw out the possibility of [Travis] being sidelined two weeks.”

Without Travis in the lineup, Calipari has the luxury of turning to two McDonald’s All-American bigs off the bench in freshman E.J. Montgomery and sophomore Nick Richards. Montgomery has earned consistent minutes of late while Richards was a promising 3-for-3 for seven points in Tuesday’s win.

Travis entered Tuesday averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats as he’s been one of the team’s leaders this season. While Kentucky can likely withstand the loss of Travis for a few weeks, they will need him at full strength if they want to make a potential Final Four run.

No. 4 Kentucky beats Missouri 66-58

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLUMBIA, Mo. — PJ Washington and Tyler Herro scored 18 points each as fourth-ranked Kentucky slogged past Missouri 66-58 on Tuesday night.

Ashton Hagans added 12 points for the Wildcats (22-4, 11-2 Southeastern Conference), who looked a little sluggish three days after beating then top-ranked Tennessee. But Kentucky was good enough defensively to hold the Tigers to 37 percent shooting from the field.

Ronnie Suggs scored 13 and Jordan Geist finished with 11 for Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC).

After Missouri took an 11-10 advantage with 12:35 left in the first half, Herro scored seven points in a 42-second span to give Kentucky the lead for good. The Tigers got into foul trouble as Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tilmon each picked up two quick ones and Mitchell Smith was knocked out of the game after being hit in the head with an inadvertent elbow. Washington racked up 15 first-half points as the Wildcats opened a 41-23 halftime lead.

Kentucky had some attrition up front, also, as starting forward Reid Travis left the game in the second half with a sprained right knee. Missouri did most of its offensive damage late, narrowing its deficit to six points on Torrence Watson’s 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: Derrick Chievous, who starred for the Tigers from 1985-88, had his No. 3 jersey retired at halftime. Chievous, who was known for always wearing a Band-Aid during games for no medical reason, is Missouri’s career leading scorer with 2,580 points. He is the seventh Missouri player to have his jersey retired, joining Bill Stauffer, Norm Stewart, Willie Smith, Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold and Doug Smith.

Kentucky: With his 297th victory in 10 years at Kentucky, John Calipari tied Joe B. Hall for second place in wins at the school. Calipari has some work to do to catch the man at the top of the list — Adolph Rupp won 876 games in 42 years leading the Wildcats.

UP NEXT

Missouri: The Tigers play Saturday at Florida.

Kentucky: The Wildcats play host to Auburn on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Baylor upends Iowa State; Purdue, Maryland score Big Ten road wins

J Pat Carter/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tuesday night in college hoops had some games to monitor for both the bubble, and the Big Ten, as road teams winning tight games was a bit of a theme. One team looks to have solidified their at-large bid while two more teams made major moves in the Big Ten standings. 

Baylor potentially punches NCAA ticket with road win at Iowa State

The bubble didn’t have many important wins on Tuesday. Most of the bubble lost, or, at best, earned wins over underwhelming competition. That wasn’t the case for Baylor though as the Bears might have earned their way into the Field of 68 with a notable 73-69 road win at No. 19 Iowa State.

Struggling a bit over the last few games, Baylor earned the very important sweep over the Cyclones as they stayed in the tight Big 12 race by continuing to earn unlikely wins. Depleted by injury, the Bears had strong outings from Jared Butler (17 points) and Makai Mason (14 points). But it was the play of former Division III transfer Freddie Gillespie that made the difference for Baylor. Playing 31 minutes, Gillespie was 7-for-8 from the floor as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebound and two blocks — including a key swat in the game’s final minutes.

While Baylor has some work to do if they want to stay in the crowded Big 12 race, they can rest a little bit easier tonight knowing that they are likely safely in the NCAA tournament.

No. 15 Purdue outlasts rival Indiana to tie for Big Ten lead

One of college basketball’s most heated rivalries took center stage on Tuesday night as the Boilermakers needed a late tip-in from big man Matt Haarms to beat Indiana with a 48-46 road win. Tying for the Big Ten lead with Michigan and Michigan State, this is one of Purdue’s most impressive wins of the season, as they stepped up and won on the road despite an awful night from star guard Carsen Edwards.

Shooting only 4-for-24 from the floor, Edwards was bailed out by a stout Purdue defense as well as 11-second half points from senior shooter Ryan Cline. It also didn’t hurt that Indiana freshman Romeo Langford (14 points, nine rebounds) missed the go-ahead free throw with less than 30 seconds left. Not many believed the Boilermakers could win games with Edwards missing 20 shots. But it shows how strong Purdue is defensively and it’s a testament to why they are surprisingly tied for the Big Ten lead at this point in the season.

No. 24 Maryland escapes with Big Ten road win at No. 21 Iowa

The night’s only matchup between top-25 teams was another exciting finish in the Big Ten as the Terrapins got the best of Iowa thanks to a late tip-in from big man Bruno Fernando (11 points). After a back-and-forth game that saw the Hawkeyes take the lead thanks to a late run, Maryland charged back and made critical plays on both ends to get the important road win. Anthony Cowan Jr. paced the Terps with 17 points while Eric Ayala also chipped in 11 points.

This win for Maryland is crucial because they own any potential tiebreaker over Iowa in the Big Ten standings. That could definitely come into play as the Terps, Wisconsin and the Hawkeyes are all in the mix for the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament — the final double-bye.

Fernando’s putback lifts No. 24 Maryland over No. 21 Iowa

Getty Images
Leave a comment

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon knew the ball would be in Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon’s hands.

The No. 24 Terrapins were ready in the final 7.8 seconds, and they turned the No. 21 Hawkeyes away from a third-straight buzzer beater with a 66-65 victory on Tuesday night.

“The kid’s made some incredible shots,” Turgeon said. “I just hoped the luck ran out — well, I wouldn’t say it’s luck, he’s a big-time shooter. I think Anthony (Cowan) got a finger on it on the way up.

“It bounced our way tonight.”

Bruno Fernando scored 11 points for Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten), the last two of which came on a putback with 7.8 seconds to go that gave the Terrapins their winning margin.

Maryland gave up an 11-point lead over the final four minutes, but held on against an Iowa team that had won its last two games via buzzer-beater and had two looks at the basket in the final seven seconds. The Terrapins got 17 points from Anthony Cowan, who shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range and had eight rebounds. Eric Ayala added 11 points and Fernando had 11 rebounds.

Despite Iowa’s furious comeback effort, which included Bohannon being fouled on a 3-pointer, Turgeon was happy with how his team responded to Iowa’s getting back in the game.

“They shoot five free throws, we’ve had the ball for 20 seconds and there was still 3:57 to go and it’s a two-point game,” Turgeon said. “It was crazy how fast we lost it. But my guys were tough tonight.

“Iowa missed about seven wide-open 3s for us. And we started to make shots. We got ourselves going and got our defense going.”

Iowa (20-6, 9-6) saw its four game-win streak end. The Hawkeyes were led by Bohannon, who had 14 points, and Isaiah Moss, who added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery couldn’t pinpoint a major difference in a reason for this outcome being different than the previous pair, other than the final possession was emblematic of the entire game.

“It was kind of the whole game,” McCaffery said. “Shots by good shooters weren’t going in. There was a lot (of options at the end). I think (Bohannon) felt like he was free enough to pull. He wants to be the guy shooting it in that situation.”

BIG PICTURE

Iowa: The Hawkeyes couldn’t make another miracle, and finally were bit by inconsistent play they were able to overcome previously. Iowa held Maryland without a field goal for nearly six minutes to open the game, but allowed the Terrapins to shoot nearly 52 percent in the second half.

Maryland: The Terrapins had 10 offensive rebounds, including the big one by Fernando. Maryland also forced 17 Iowa turnovers and scored 20 points off those turnovers.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Iowa: The Hawkeyes dipped slightly last week after narrow wins, but a loss to a ranked team shouldn’t be the biggest indictment.

Maryland: A road win against a ranked team should boost the Terrapins next Sunday, provided Turgeon’s team holds serve at home against Ohio State.

UP NEXT

Iowa welcomes Indiana to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday.

Maryland returns home to play Ohio State on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25