PITTSBURGH — Zion Williamson hit his first 10 shots on his way to 25 points, fellow freshman RJ Barrett scored 26 and No. 2 Duke had little trouble with Pittsburgh in a 79-64 victory on Tuesday night.
Williamson finished 11 of 13 from the floor to go with seven rebounds and seven assists for the Blue Devils (16-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who kept the Panthers (12-7, 2-4) in check even without injured freshman guard Tre Jones. Duke held Pitt to 41 percent shooting, outrebounded the Panthers 39-34 and wasn’t in any real danger after a surge midway through the first half.
Trey McGowens led Pitt with 14 points, Jared Wilson-Frame and Terrell Brown added 12 each but the Panthers simply couldn’t match Duke’s size or firepower.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel expected it to feel “weird” while facing Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Capel spent seven years as Krzyzewski’s top assistant before leaving to join the Panthers last spring, developing a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country.
Capel hopes to one day bring in the kind of talent to Pitt that now regularly flocks to the Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. He might, but not quite yet. The talent gulf between the two programs came into vivid detail once the early adrenaline — fueled in part by a sold-out crowd at raucous Petersen Events Center that included rap superstar Jay-Z — wore off and the Williamson went to work.
The Panthers actually led 16-15 early but Duke responded with a 12-0 run that showcased Williamson’s remarkable gifts. He hit a lay-up in traffic, drilled a 3-pointer and tipped in a Barrett miss to put the Blue Devils firmly in control and put the rest any concern about an emotional letdown following a taut victory over the Cavaliers.
Even while playing without Young, whom Capel considers one of the best defensive players in the ACC and who remains out while recovering from a shoulder injury, the Blue Devils steadily pulled away against the energetic if physically overmatched Panthers.
Pitt managed just nine points over the final 13 minutes of the opening half and unlike its upset wins over Florida State and Louisville earlier this month, the Panthers were unable to get to lane and get to the free-throw line. Duke’s massive frontcourt didn’t allow it. The taller, longer Blue Devils swallowed up whatever open space existed in the lane.
The Blue Devils led 44-25 at the break and Williamson hit all nine of his shots. He eventually missed one on his second attempt of the second half but it didn’t stop Duke’s lead from growing to as much as 23. When a mini-run by Pitt got the Panthers within 61-45 with 8:57 to play. Krzyzewski called timeout. Barrett drilled 3-pointer on Duke’s next possession and it was over.
Duke: The Blue Devils can guard when they want to even without Jones. The team that leads the nation in blocked shots swatted seven — right around Duke’s season average — and found an extra gear when it was required.
Pitt: Capel believes the Panthers are on a path that will return them to prominence. A talent upgrade is a must. For all the fight Pitt showed, the Panthers aren’t big enough or deep enough to hang with the ACC’s top tier quite yet.
Duke: Host Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Pitt: Visits Louisville on Saturday. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 86-83 in overtime at home on Jan. 9.
The 2010s are coming to an end, which should make you feel incredibly old.
We’ve now gone a full decade with John Calipari in charge of the Kentucky Wildcats. We’re more than a decade removed from the existence of Psycho T on a college basketball campus. In the last ten years, we’ve seen Kentucky and Duke win titles by playing as young as possible, Virginia win by playing as slow as possible, Villanova win by shooting as many threes as possible and UConn win a pair of titles by hoping a star point guard can carry them through a six-game tournament.
We’ve experienced Jimmermania. We survived Zion Williamson’s Shoegate. We watch Louisville win a national title and then had the NCAA erase it from our collective memory because an assistant coach like to turn dorm rooms into the Champagne Room.
It’s been a wild ride.
And over the course of the next two weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the best parts of the decade.
Today, we are taking a look at the best college basketball players from the last ten seasons.
The criteria for picking the all-decade teams was kind of tricky with the one-and-done rule in effect.
On the one hand, some of the very best players that we have ever seen in the collegiate ranks spent all of six months playing college basketball. How do we weigh that against guys that had sensational three or four year careers without ever reaching the heights that some of those one-and-dones reached.
It was difficult to balance, and after spending too many hours thinking about it, I’ve come to the decision that there is no right answer.
And that that is OK.
So without further ado, here is college basketball’s All-Decade team for the 2010s.
McDermott’s path to becoming one of the greatest college basketball players of a generation, not just the decade, was not typical.
He played his high school ball in Ames, Iowa, where he was completely overshadowed by his teammates, Harrison Barnes. His father, Greg, was the head coach at Iowa State at the time, but Doug committed to play for his dad’s old school, Northern Iowa. He eventually left Iowa State and took the head coaching gig at Creighton. Ben Jacobson let McDermott out of his letter of intent so that he can play for his pops at a league rival, and that turned out to be a costly decision.
Doug played in the Missouri Valley for three season. He averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 boards as a freshman, seeing that number jump to 22.9 points and 8.2 boards as a sophomore and 23.2 points and 7.7 boards as a junior. As a senior, when the Bluejays made the jump to the Big East, he led the nation by averaging 26.7 points.
He left Creighton as the fifth-best scorer in Division I history, amassing 3,150 points; he’s since been surpassed by Chris Clemons from Campbell. He was the first player in 29 years to be named a first-team AP All-American for three consecutive seasons. He is one of just three players in the history of men’s basketball to record 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, and he owns an NCAA record by scoring in double figures in 135 games. He only played in 145 games for the Bluejays.
Not bad for a kid that was the second-best player on a public high school team in Ames.
JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
If things had gone the way that the Brunson family had wanted them to go, Jalen never would have ended up at Villanova. He would have played for their city rival, Temple. That’s where his father, Rick, played, and where he was going to get a job as an assistant before a legal issue ended that dream.
So Jalen went to Villanova, where he would become a starter that averaged 9.6 points and 2.5 assists, an integral piece of a team that won the 2016 national title. He was a first-team all-Big East player as a sophomore, but it was his junior season that is the real reason he is a first-team All-Decade player. Brunson would average 18.9 points and 4.6 assists, putting together one of the most efficient seasons in college basketball history en route to a National Player of the Year award and a second national title in three seasons for the team we named as the best in college basketball this decade.
In three seasons with Villanova, Brunson went 103-13 with a 45-9 record in the Big East. He won two Big East regular season title, two Big East tournament titles and two national titles. That’s decent.
KEMBA WALKER, UConn
“Cardiac Kemba does it again!”
That is the line that I will always remember about Kemba Walker’s 2010-11 season, which is wild when you really do think about it.
Because that line was delivered by Dave Pasch in the quarterfinal of the Big East tournament. Granted, the line was justified. Kemba had just dropped Pitt’s Gary McGhee to give UConn, the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament, their third win in three days over the league’s regular season champs. He would go on to lead UConn to eight more wins in a row, taking home not only the Big East tournament title but the national title as well.
Which leads me to one of the most incredible information nuggets that I’ve come across in my years as a college basketball writer: After averaging 23.5 points, 5.4 boards and 4.5 assists for a team that became the first to win a major conference tournament title by winning five games in five days before leading that same team to a national title as a No. 3 seed, Walker did not win any Player of the Year awards.
There are six major college basketball Player of the Year awards, mind you. And not a single one of them determine that Kemba was the best college basketball player that season.
In hindsight, I think that was a miss.
ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
Zion makes this list despite playing just 33 games in his college career thanks to Duke’s Elite Eight exit and a knee injury that stemmed from a shoe that exploded in the middle of a game against North Carolina. No one on any of these teams will have played fewer games.
But I didn’t think I could justify have the best player that I have ever seen in the college ranks not on the list. He finished the year averaging 22.6 points, 8.9 boards, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks. No one has done that since at least 1992-93, which is as far back as basketball reference’s database goes, and he was a freshman playing in the ACC. He holds the record for the highest PER in college basketball since 2009-10, which is as far back as that data goes.
We’ll never see anything like Zion Williamson ever again, so I have no problem making an exception to get him on this list.
ANTHONY DAVIS, Kentucky
I love the Anthony Davis story because I love the trajectory of his career.
When he was a sophomore in high school he was a goofy, 6-foot-2 guard that wore rec specs and was completely inconsequential. When he was a junior he grew to 6-foot-6 and got an offer from Cleveland State, but he was only part way through his growth spurt, as he eventually sprouted to 6-foot-11 without losing any of those guard skills while adding a 7-foot-5 wingspan, making him just an absolutely perfect player for modern basketball.
Suddenly, the dude that looked like this when he was a sophomore is the No. 1 recruit in the country and putting up 14.2 points, 10.4 boards and 4.7 blocks to lead Kentucky to their first national title since 1998 before becoming the No. 1 pick in the draft and, eventually, LeBron’s running buddy in LA.
But that’s jumping ahead.
Because in college, Davis was an absolute game-changer to the point that everyone that saw the Wildcats play immediately knew who their best player was despite the fact that he took the fourth-most shots on the team.
We discussed the criteria for picking the players on the all-decade teams in the intro to this series.
You can find that, and the All-Decade First Team, right here. The All-Decade Third Team is here, while the decade’s All-Legacy Team is at this link.
ALL-DECADE SECOND TEAM
JIMMER FREDETTE, BYU
Jimmer Fredette became an absolute sensation by his senior season at BYU. A native of Upstate New York, Jimmer was fine as a freshman and good as a sophomore, when he averaged 16.2 points for the Cougars. He exploded nationally when he set a McKale Center record for point scored by putting up 49 on Arizona. He finished the year averaging 22.1 points and .7 assists, setting the stage for an unbelievable senior season.
Jimmer became a national sensation as a senior. It really started in mid-December, when he scored 33 points in a win over that same Arizona team. Three weeks later, in the Mountain West opener on the road at UNLV (who was good at the time), he had 39 points and hit seven threes. Six days later, he scored 32 points in the first half and finished with 47 on the night in a win over BYU’s archnemesis, Utah.
Then things really got crazy.
He had 42 at Colorado State in late January and, just four days later, he put up 43 points on Kawhi Leonard’s San Diego State game in a battle of top ten teams.
From that point forward, he was appointment viewing despite the fact that you needed to find grainy, choppy internet streams to be able to watch him. He was Trae Young, but A) his team was good, and B) you could only watch him by digging through reddit for feeds that would, quite often, crash midway midway through the game.
His crowning achievement probably came during the Mountain West tournament, when Jimmer scored 52 points against New Mexico (who, again, was good at the time). We never got a chance to see what that BYU team could accomplish thanks to an honor code violation that ended Brandon Davies’ season, but for four months, Jimmer Fredette was the single biggest story in college basketball.
Coming from BYU, that’s saying something.
JOHN WALL, Kentucky
John Wall was the start of a new era of Kentucky dominance.
The 6-foot-4 North Carolina native was John Calipari’s first elite point guard recruit at Kentucky, and he turned in a season for the ages. He averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 boards while leading a loaded roster to SEC regular season and tournament titles. If Kentucky doesn’t end up shooting 4-for-32 from three in the Elite Eight against West Virginia, than there is a very real chance that we never have to ask ourselves the question, “What if Gordon Hayward’s 50-foot prayer actually went in?”
I think what’s more interesting, however, is that Wall almost didn’t make it to Kentucky. When he was in high school, there was speculation that he actually would be eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft the same way that high schoolers like Anfernee Simons and Hamidou Diallo have been eligible. He was a fifth-year senior that turned 19 before the cut-off.
How different would Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky have been if Wall had never made it to campus?
BUDDY HIELD, Oklahoma
Hield’s career arc as a college player is fascinating.
As a freshman, he was considered something of a role player, a guy that would be a piece on a good team. As a sophomore, Buddy had his breakout season, and for the next two years, he put up right around 17 points per game as a good, all-Big 12 caliber player that looked to be on the fringes of the NBA’s radar.
Hield declared for the draft after his junior season and was told that he needed to improve on his handle, his ability to be more than just a set shooter. So he did. A notoriously hard worker who lives in the gym, Hield turned himself from Buddy Hield into #BuddyBuckets. As a senior, he averaged 25.0 points and 5.7 boards while shooting 46.5 percent from three on more than eight attempts per game while leading the Sooners to a 29-win season that culminated with a trip to the Final Four.
That hasn’t been the end for Hield, who has outperformed everyone’s expectations in the NBA – he’s averaging 21.4 points for the Kings this season – but none of us should be surprised by now.
We’ve saw, up close, the amount of work that Hield puts in and how he can change his game to fit what his team needs from in.
This is no different.
JARED SULLINGER, Ohio State
Sullinger entered college basketball as a top five prospect in the Class of 2010, and he sure did live up to the hype.
As a freshman, Sullinger was one of the very best players in the sport. He averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 boards while anchoring an Ohio State team that was, far and away, the best team in college basketball during the 2010-11 season. Imagine trying to guard Sullinger and his ample backside 1-on-1 in the post before snipers like Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty were sitting beyond the arc, just waiting for a clean look at the rim.
That Ohio State team went 34-3. They were the last team to lose a game that season, going undefeated until a trip to a top 10 Wisconsin team in mid-February, and took down both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles before earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and promptly losing to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
Sullinger was a first-team All-American and, surprisingly, opted to return to school for his sophomore year. He was just as good that season, and while Ohio State was not, the Buckeyes still managed to win 31 games and get to the Final Four. They’ll always be remembered as the team that lost the other semifinal the year an Anthony Davis-led Kentucky team played Louisville.
FRANK KAMINSKY, Wisconsin
Kaminsky is quintessential Bo Ryan.
An under-recruited, three-star big man from Chicago, Kaminsky get to Wisconsin as a freshman and proceeds to spend two seasons buried on their bench behind the likes of Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz. No one expects much of anything out of his junior season until, four games in, he goes off for 43 points against North Dakota.
From that point on, Kaminsky’s a star.
He helps lead the Badgers to the Final Four that season, where they lost to Kentucky in the national semifinals, and follows that up with a Player of the Year season as a senior in which he averaged 18.8 points, 8.2 boards and 2.6 assists while shooting 41.6 percent from three for a team that ended Kentucky’s pursuit of a 40-0 season with one of the most memorable and fun Final Four games of the decade.
Kaminsky would go on to be a top ten pick in the draft and has carved himself out a nice little NBA career. He’s currently averaging 10.5 points and 5.3 boards for the Phoenix Suns and will end up making more than $25 million in his professional career when it’s all said and done.
Not bad for a kid that couldn’t play over this guy for two years.
We discussed the criteria for picking the players on the all-decade teams in the intro to this series.
You can find that, and the All-Decade First Team, right here. The All-Decade Second Team is here, while the decade’s All-Legacy Team is at this link.
ALL-DECADE THIRD TEAM
SHABAZZ NAPIER, UConn
There are just seven college basketball players that won two national titles this decade, and I’m not sure anyone – including Jalen Brunson – played a bigger role in landing his team those two titles that Shabazz.
As a freshman, Napier emerged late in the season as a critical second ball-handler and scorer that allowed Kemba Walker to play off the ball while taking some of the defensive attention he drew away. That team, as you know, went on to win the 2011 Big East tournament as well as the national title.
UConn’s 2014 national title run, which came in Kevin Ollie’s second season at the helm, was not as easy. The Huskies did not win the Big East tournament, but they come out of Selection Sunday with a No. 7 seed, making them to lowest-seeded national champions since No. 8 seed Villanova beat Georgetown in the 1985 national title game.
Shabazz was unbelievable that season. He finished the year averaging 18.0 points, 5.9 boards and 4.9 assists, and like Kemba Walker in 2011, he was shut out of any and all National Player of the Year awards. That’s what happens when Doug McDermott’s senior season corresponds with your national title run.
TREY BURKE, Michigan
Trey Burke is from Columbus. A childhood friend of Jared Sullinger, Burke played alongside him and another Ohio State player – J.D. Weatherspoon – in high school, but he was a year younger and then-Ohio State head coach Thad Matta opted to sign Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott instead, leaving Burke without a spot.
So John Beilein swooped him, and Burke immediately made Matta regret his decision. As a freshman, Burke averaged 14.8 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 boards before coming back to school as a sophomore and turning into the National Player of the Year, averaging 18.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 boards. He thrived in Beilein’s ball-screen heavy alongside the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.
The Big Ten was absolutely loaded that season, so the Wolverines finished in fourth place, but they proved how good their were in the NCAA tournament by making a run to the national title game, where they lost to Louisville.
FRANK MASON, Kansas
Frank Mason’s career path is what makes college basketball so great.
Stories like this.
Mason was originally committed and signed to Towson, but he ended up failing a class as a senior in high school, making him ineligible and forcing him to attend prep school at a Military Academy in Virginia. It was there, and on the AAU circuit the summer before his prep year, that Mason impressed the Kansas staff enough to become the point guard that they signed in the recruiting class that included Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden.
It was the promise that he showed that convinced Self to let Naadir Tharpe walk, and by his senior year, Mason was the National Player of the Year. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it: Mason was in a recruiting class with three top 15 prospects, two of whom grow into top three picks, and he was the guy that ended up winning all the individual awards in college.
I guess why he was the guy that had a song written about him. #BIFM
EVAN TURNER, Ohio State
Turner’s career at Ohio State started in 2007, but he had one of the best season’s that we’ve seen out of a college basketball player this decade in 2010.
Coming off of a season where he was first-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore, Turner was arguably the best player in the country as a junior. He averaged 20.0 points, 9.2 boards and 6.0 assists for the Buckeyes, which was enough to earn himself a tag as the National Player of the Year in a year that both John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins played for Kentucky.
But here’s the most incredible part: Turner quite literally broke his back during the season. He suffered transverse process fractures in early December, an injury that was expected to keep him out for two months. He was back within a month – after Ohio State dropped out of the top 25 – and not only did he turn their season right around, but he managed to set a Big Ten record for the number of conference Player of the Week awards for one player in one season despite missing five weeks of that season.
Should I mention that the Buckeyes won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles that year?
DENZEL VALENTINE, Michigan State
Valentine was a solid piece for a few good Michigan State teams for his first three seasons in East Lansing, but it was his senior year that earned him a spot on this list.
The 6-foot-4 Valentine had an unprecedented season, becoming the first player since at least 1992 to averaging 19.5 points, 7.5 boards and 7.5 assists. He did this for a Michigan State team that was one of the best in the country, that won the Big Ten tournament and likely would have won the Big Ten regular season title if he hadn’t injured his knee midway through the season.
The proof is that the Spartans entered the NCAA tournament as the overwhelming favorite to win the national title.
We discussed the criteria for picking the players on the all-decade teams in the intro to this series.
This is going to be a little bit different.
While these guys did not do enough to earn a spot on any of the All-Decade teams, I thought it was important to highlight the guys that helped turn programs from doormats into powerhouses. These are those players.
You can find the All-Decade First Team right here. The All-Decade Second Team is here, and the All-Decade Third Team is here.
ALL-DECADE ALL-LEGACY TEAM
FRED VANVLEET and RON BAKER, Wichita State
It really is incredibly to think back on what these two were able to accomplish at Wichita State during their four seasons on campus.
Baker came in as a walk-on from a small town in rural western Kansas. Fred VanVleet came in as an under-the-radar recruit from Rockford, Illinois, and together they launched Wichita State’s basketball program to unprecedented heights. In 2012-13, they played critical roles on a team that made it all the way to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. They might have played for the national title in a world where Louisville walk-on Tim Henderson doesn’t come out of nowhere to bang home two threes to spark a run that erase a 12-point Wichita State.
The following season, Baker and VanVleet were the centerpieces of a team that won their first 35 games, getting the absolutely brutal luck of drawing preseason No. 1 Kentucky, then a No. 8 seed, in the second round of the tournament. The following season, the Selection Committee did Wichita State even fewer favors, slotting them as a No. 10 seed despite the fact that they were a top 15 team in the country, according to everyone not on said Selection Committee. The Shockers did beat Kansas in the second round of the tournament that season, so it wasn’t all bad. As seniors, the Shockers fought through some early injury issues before winning two NCAA tournament games.
All told, VanVleet and Baker won 121 games with the Shockers, including three Missouri Valley regular season titles and one Arch Madness title. They won at least two games in every NCAA tournament except for the one when they entered 34-0.
It was enough to get the Shockers a move from the MVC up to the American Athletic Conference.
That’s a legacy.
MALCOLM BROGDON, Virginia
Brogdon wasn’t the first player to commit to Tony Bennett at Virginia, and he wasn’t Bennett’s first pro, and he is certainly not the only that has played for this program that has helped turn it into a place that develops players and wins basketball games at unprecedented rates.
But his role in the development of Virginia from doormat to winner of four of the last six ACC regular season titles should not be diminished.
Brogdon was a top 100 recruit from Atlanta that committed the Wahoos when they were still bad. As a freshman in 2011-12, the Wahoos earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament – the first NCAA tournament they had reached under Bennett – but Brogdon missed the following season with a foot injury. UVA missed the tournament that year, but for the next three years, Brogdon was the star of a team that was the best program in the ACC.
In 2013-13, he was an all-ACC player on a team that went 30-7, won the ACC regular season title and reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed. The following year, he was a second-team All-American on a team that would have been a No. 1 seed and likely made it further than the second round of the NCAA tournament if Justin Anderson had not broken his wrist. As a senior in 2015-16, Virginia was once against a No. 1 seed as Brogdon finished the year as a consensus first-team All-American, getting UVA all the way to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Syracuse.
Today, Virginia is the healthiest program in the ACC and coming off of winning the program’s first national title.
And Brogdon had as much to do with getting them to this point as anyone.
JOSH HART and RYAN ARCIDIACONO, Villanova
Hart and Arcidiacono ushered in this era of Villanova basketball.
So instead of just targeting highly-rated players, he started targeting guys that he knew would buy into the Villanova Way, that would work hard, build a culture and hang around for three or four years, but who still had NBA upside. Arch and Hart were two of the first recruits that he targeted, the former in the Class of 2012 and the latter in the Class of 2013. Together, they won three Big East regular season titles, a Big East tournament title and the 2016 national title.
They laid the groundwork for the team that then won the 2018 national title, the best team that we have seen in the sport this decade.
If Villanova is truly a blue-blood program these days, they are there because Arch and Hart built it.
JOEL BERRY II, JUSTIN JACKSON and THEO PINSON, North Carolina
Berry, Jackson and Pinson were all five-star recruits, top 20 prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans, and while it’s not all that hard to believe that UNC can land players like that right now, at the time it wasn’t happening all that often.
This was right in the middle of the fake class scandal that North Carolina dealt with, and the threat of potential NCAA sanctions had scared off five-star prospects in the years before and after. The most famous name was probably Brandon Ingram, who grew up a North Carolina fan but committed to Duke in the class after Berry, Jackson and Pinson because he was worried about what the NCAA would do to the program.
But those three went to North Carolina, and while none of them look like they are going to end up being superstars in the NBA, they carried the Tar Heels to one of the most memorable two-year runs in program history. In 2015-16, when they were sophomores, the Tar Heels won the ACC regular season title, the ACC tournament title and made it all the way to the national title game where, you might remember, this happened.
That was a special group, one that will be remembered for a long, long time in Chapel Hill.
GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
We can all see what Rick Barnes has going at Tennessee right now.
They are currently a top 25 team in college basketball, recruiting at levels we rarely see their football team recruit at, despite the fact that they lost four starters off of last year’s roster.
That’s when you know a program is operating at an elite level. They can lose important players unexpectedly without seeing a drop off.
And the reason they’re here has as much to do with Grant Williams as anyone else. Williams was an undersized, 6-foot-5 power forward that committed to Tennessee when they were not very good. After a promising freshman season, Williams turned in back-to-back All-American campaigns that led the Vols to a 2018 SEC regular season title. Tennessee was a top ten team in the two years where Williams was the best player on the floor, and if it wasn’t for his influence, it’s fair to wonder if the program would be where it is right now.
Wednesday’s Things to Know: No. 5 Michigan loses again, Badgers drop fourth in five
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
What looked to be a quiet night in college basketball ended up creating some noise, with a top-five upset leading the charge. Here’s everything you need to know from around the country.
1. Illinois gives No. 5 Michigan second loss in three games
Michigan is learning a lesson so many Midwestern tourists to the Bahamas learn upon returning home in December.
It was a helluva lot nicer down there.
The fifth-ranked Wolverines suffered their second loss in their three games since their expectations-busting Battle 4 Atlantis championship two weeks ago, this one coming to Illinois in a 71-62 setback.
Certainly, there’s no reason to completely abandon Juwan Howard’s team given both those losses were true road games, and one came against the top-ranked team in the country. Teams are going to lose road games, and maybe no one is going to win at the KFC Yum! Center other than Louisville this season. This Wolverines team was dismantling North Carolina and Gonzaga not so long ago, after all.
Their loss to the Illini seems to be more about an off-shooting night than any sort of structural problem. The Wolverines entered the night as a top-25 3-point shooting team, but connected on just 3 of 18 (16.7 percent), including 1 of 6 in the second half, in Champaign.
Sometimes, it’s not just your night.
As ‘meh’ as I am for the loss for the Wolverines, it’s a major victory for Brad Underwood’s Illinois. Prior to tonight, the Illini’s best win was KenPom No. 173 Hawaii at home. All three top-100 teams they faced – No. 14 Arizona, No. 83 Miami and No. 9 Maryland – all beat them, with the Hurricanes and Terps games both last week.
Stopping a two-game losing streak and getting your first marquee win of the season against the team that had become something of a national darling is a really nice way to spend a Wednesday night.
It was an encouraging performance for the Illini, which had a balanced attack and a breakout performance from center Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot center had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. It was a fantastic night for him, but, unfortunately, it’ll likely be remembered most by his celebration late in the game that left an official injured after a celebratory fist pump accidentally smacked referee Lewis Garrison in the head.
2. Wisconsin drops fourth in five at Rutgers
Things aren’t looking so hot in Madison right now.
The Badgers lost for the fourth time in five games, this one a 72-65 defeat at Rutgers.
Now, it’s early, but Wisconsin looks well off from being an NCAA tournament team now with a 5-5 record, albeit with quality wins against Marquette and Indiana on the resume. If the Badgers can’t find the consistency and success necessary to get a berth, it’ll be the second time in three years they’ll have missed the dance after going every single year from 1999-2017. I imagine that would get some people a little concerned about the trajectory Greg Gard’s program is on after he inherited the powerhouse program after Bo Ryan’s abrupt mid-2015-16 retirement.
The result Wednesday has to be especially disappointing given it comes on the heels of a 20-point win over the Hoosiers in Madison. That may be the silver lining for the Badgers as all five of their losses have come away from the Kohl Center.
Rutgers won despite making fewer 3s and free throws thanks to the 14 offensive rebounds it collected and by winning the turnover margin (14 to 11). Geo Baker scored 22 to lead the way.
3. Low-major, big stats
Let’s give it up to some of the little guys that had huge nights.
Lavar Batts, a 6-foot-3 sophomore for UNC Asheville – made 14 of 17 shots from the floor, 3 of 5 from distance and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line to score 40, albeit in a losing effort to South Carolina State, 90-85. Batts is the 11th player this year to hit 40 points in a game against Division I competition.