PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markus Howard, Marquette
This is becoming something of a trend.
On Saturday, Howard helped the Golden Eagles pick off one of the hotter teams in the Big East, scoring 26 points and adding six boards, six assists and two steals in a win over Seton Hall.
For anyone else, that might be the best game of their season.
For Howard, it was less than half the number of points he scored on Wednesday night.
In a game at Creighton, Howard finished with 53 points, the second time in his career he broke 50 and the third time this season he scored at least 45 points. He was 15-for-26 from the field and 10-for-14 from three, and added his usual array of ridiculous step-back threes and off-balance jumpers.
And the most important part — he helped the Golden Eagles pick up a win on the road against a good team.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ole Miss Rebels
I’ll be honestly — I hadn’t given Ole Miss basketball all that much thought prior to Wednesday, when they whipped up on a good Auburn team at home.
OK, I thought, that’s notable, but it’s a home game in league play. Let’s see what happens when they play at Mississippi State.
And, as you probably have figured out by now, the Rebels went out and won that game as well. Kermit Davis is doing one of the best coaching jobs in the country, and looks to have a team that will be in the top 20 with the AP Poll is released this week.
1. CAM REDDISH IS AWESOME AGAIN AND DUKE IS NEVER GOING TO LOSE
The issue for Cam Reddish this season, the reason that he has struggled over the course of the last month, has nothing to do with his ability and everything to do with the way that ability fits on a roster that already includes a stud point guard, a dynamic and ball-dominant lead guard and the best player in the country, who himself is quite effective with the ball in his hands.
Put another way, when Tre Jones is the point guard, R.J. Barrett is the go-to guy offensively and Zion Williamson is Zion Williamson, Reddish is forced out of the picture. It’s not just a confidence thing, although that is likely playing a part: It’s his fit within the roster. The reason Reddish is such an intriguing and high-ceiling prospect is not just that he’s 6-foot-8 and toolsy with three-point range, but that he is all of those things and capable of being a ball-handler. He can run pick-and-rolls. He can create in isolation. He, as the saying in basketball circles goes, “has some s*** to his game.”
Asking a player that can do those things to be nothing but a floor-spacer is a tough ask, a tough sell and a tough thing for that player to adjust to.
And it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that when he was given the opportunity, he thrived. On Saturday, he scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and hit the game-winning shot on the road against a top 15 team.
All he needed was some space, some time with the ball and his number to get called.
I don’t know if this is what busts Reddish out of his funk. He’s not the most demanding player — the knock on him has always been that he plays it too cool, and some scouts will tell you that he lacks competitiveness — and it is very easy to fade into the background when you’re personality is naturally inclined to do so. But what I do know is that this is definitive proof that Duke is the most talented team — the best team — in the country.
Winning a game on the road against someone as good as Florida State without the best player in the sport for an entire half is not an easy thing to do.
And Duke did it on Saturday.
2. MARYLAND IS THE BEST BIG TEN TEAM OUTSIDE THE STATE OF MICHIGAN
I thought this would be a hot take, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is just the truth.
Part of the reason is that Maryland has one of the most improved players in the country on their roster. Bruno Fernando is a 6-foot-10, 230 pound monster that is flying up NBA draft boards because of the fact that, you know, he’s a 6-foot-10, 230 pound monster. He dominated Indiana in the second half of Maryland’s win on Friday, and he’s been arguably the best big man in the league this side of Ethan Happ.
Throw in Jalen Smith — a potential top 20 pick in his own right — along with a backcourt anchored by veteran guard Anthony Cowan, and it makes sense.
But the other side of this is that I’m not convinced anyone in the Big Ten outside of Michigan and Michigan State has set themselves apart. Ohio State and Iowa have come back down to earth after hot starts. Nebraska and Wisconsin, too. Purdue is dangerous, but they are the Carsen Edwards Show. Indiana can’t find a way to stay healthy. Minnesota? They’re fine. Penn State? Northwestern? Nah.
It’s probably Maryland right now.
And with Wisconsin at home followed by road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State in the next eight days, we’ll know for sure pretty soon.
3. AFTER ALL OF THAT DRAMA, VILLANOVA IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG EAST
They were humiliated at home by Michigan. They were beaten at home by Furman. They lost to Penn. They struggled with the likes of La Salle, and St. Joseph’s, and DePaul. We all thought that this was the year where the talent drain and youth movement would put an end to Villanova’s reign of dominance.
That was a dumb thing to think.
Because Villanova is going to win the Big East regular season title again.
As things currently stand, the Wildcats are the only team in the league that has not yet lost a conference game after they went into Creighton and knocked off the Bluejays on Sunday afternoon. Marquette is the only other Big East team that has less than two league losses.
The change, as much as anything, has been Phil Booth and Eric Paschall playing the way that fifth-year seniors should play for the Wildcats. Since the loss to Penn, Booth is averaging 22.7 points, 5.2 boards and 5.0 assists while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor and 47.8 percent from three. During that same stretch, Paschall is averaging 20.2 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 48.5 percent from beyond the arc. In those six games, Villanova is 5-1 with the only loss coming by three points at Kansas.
4. SATURDAY’S BLOWOUT SAID MORE ABOUT LOUISVILLE THAN NORTH CAROLINA
The Tar Heels are exactly what we thought they were.
A talented team that lacks the bigs that Roy Williams wants and has a freshman point guard that is going to do freshman point guard things. Teams like this are going to be able to do things like win at N.C. State and beat Gonzaga handily. They are also going to be inconsistent enough to lose to Texas, or get smoked by Louisville, or Michigan, or Kentucky.
That’s who they are.
And we knew this prior to Saturday.
What’s notable here is that it was Louisville that did this to them. The Cardinals had been man-handled by Kentucky in their own gym and lost to Pitt in the course of the previous two weeks, which is not exactly the best way to head into league play.
But Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton were terrific against the Tar Heels, the Cardinals controlled the paint and by 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, they had a 21 point win at the Dean Dome on their resume.
5. NO ONE IN THE BIG 12 IS ALL THAT GOOD
The more Big 12 basketball that I watch, the more that I believe the conference as a whole is deep but that the best teams in the conference really aren’t great.
Put another way, as the season progresses and we continue to talk more and more about putting teams into tiers, I don’t think that there is anyone in the league that deserves to be mentioned as a top tier team nationally. I’m sure that is going to rankle some feathers in Lawrence, but I think it’s a reasonable take. Right now, without Udoka Azubuike anchoring their offense and with Quentin Grimes continuing to work through some of his confidence and shooting issues, it’s hard to figure out what Kansas is great at on that end of the floor. The goal may be to run offense through Lawson in the post, but playing four-around-one with a passer that is as skilled as Lawson is rendered somewhat ineffective when you can’t shoot; on the season, Kansas is making 34.5 percent of their threes, a number that dropped to 30.8 percent in four Big 12 games.
As far as Texas Tech is concerned, they have one of the best defenses that we have ever seen in the collegiate ranks, but the problem with them is that they can really struggle to score. They rank 92nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and as I study I did last year shows, it is very difficult to win a national title when you have an elite defense that can struggle to score. If that’s not enough evidence, how about this: The two best defenses in college basketball last season were Virginia and Cincinnati. Cincinnati lost to Nevada in the second round and, I’m not sure if you have heard, but Virginia lost to UMBC.
I thought Iowa State was loaded — they lost two games last week to Baylor and Kansas State. Oklahoma is good, but they’re 2-2 in the league and don’t have a star score they can trust. TCU is not the same team without Jaylen Fisher healthy. Hell, the most frustrating thing about the league is that it seems as if everyone in the conference can really, really guard, but no one knows how to score. It’s the opposite of the problem the league’s football teams have.
There is still a ton of basketball left to play, but as of today, I am not buying that there is a Final Four team in this conference.