PLAYER OF THE WEEK: P.J. Washington, Kentucky
I’ve been on the “Kentucky is back!!!” bandwagon for more than a month at this point, ever since they took down North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.
Over the course of the last nine days, the rest of the college basketball world has caught up. Last Saturday, Kentucky landed what we thought was their most impressive win to date, going into Auburn and picking off the Tigers, but that was before they put a 21 point win on Mississippi State in Rupp Arena and followed that up by taking out Kansas on Saturday.
Those wins put Kentucky firmly in the race to get a No. 1 seed — the Wildcats still have two games left against No. 1 Tennessee — and the man that they have to thank for those wins is P.J. Washington.
Washington has had something of an up-and-down season, but he was at his very best against the Bulldogs, finishing with 21 points, six boards and four blocks while knocking down three threes before following that up with a dominant 20 points, 13 boards and two blocks against the Jayhawks. His performance against Kansas was made doubly-impressive because he was the player that forced Kansas out of their small-ball lineup. Washington spent a lot of time guarding Marcus Garrett, who had averaged 17 points in his previous three games and managed a 1-for-9 shooting night with three turnovers against the Wildcats.
John Calipari has said it himself: When Washington plays like he’s Kentucky’s best player, that’s when the Wildcats can hit their ceiling.
We saw that in full this week.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Purdue Boilermakers
Talk about a statement win.
Purdue, who entered last week unranked despite being a top ten team on KenPom, went out and absolutely worked over No. 6 Michigan State on Sunday. The final score was 73-63, but at one point in the second half, Purdue was up 55-32. Making that win all the more impressive was the fact that Purdue got a 4-for-18 shooting performance out of Carsen Edwards, the guy we thought this team was going to live and die with this year.
Purdue also won at Ohio State last week, extending their winning streak to five games and pushing their record in Big Ten play to 7-2.
Just what should we make of that performance and this Purdue team? I went in depth on that very subject in this week’s Top 25.
1. THE CARNAGE ON THE BUBBLE THIS WEEK IS MORE EVIDENCE MID-MAJORS NEED SERIOUS AT-LARGE CONSIDERATION
This weekend was something of a disaster for teams that are sitting on or near the bubble right now. The full breakdown of everything that happened can be found here, but let’s take a look at just a few examples of what I’m talking about:
- Indiana lost their sixth straight game, falling to 12-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten with two games against Michigan State, home dates with Purdue and Wisconsin and four total games against Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota left.
- Nebraska not only lost their third straight game and fifth game in their last seven, Isaac Copeland’s season came to an end when he tore his ACL.
- Saint Louis lost at home when Jordan Goodwin missed two free throws down one point with 0.4 seconds left.
- Arizona State lost at USC while Arizona was swept by USC and UCLA.
- Texas lost at Georgia.
- Fresno State got worked over by Colorado State in a game they really couldn’t afford to lose.
- San Francisco dropped a roadie against San Diego.
- Seton Hall was absolutely mollywhopped by Villanova in Philly, extending their losing streak to four games.
- UCF got beaten at Memphis by 20 points. That loss is the first Q1 games that UCF has played.
- Temple lost at home against Cincinnati, leaving them with just two potential Q1 wins the rest of the season.
I’ve gone on this rant before and I’ll probably go on this rant again before the season comes to a close, but with just how ugly some of these high-major conferences have become, can we please let this be the year where we give the best mid-majors their due?
The Pac-12 does not deserve more than two bids to the NCAA tournament, and they should only get two bids if someone other than Washington wins the automatic bid to the big dance. No one else in that league is close to good enough to get an at-large invite. The same can be said for the Mountain West and the WCC, who are arguably better leagues this season than the Pac-12 is. The American probably should be a two-bid league at this point as well. Houston has proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the country, and I have a feeling that Cincinnati will end up having a resume that is good enough to get a bid come Selection Sunday, but are we really buying into Temple and UCF here? The Knights have literally played a single Q1 game at this point in the year. Temple has only won one. The top two in the Big East are very, very good, but as of January 27th, eight of the ten teams in the conference are below .500 in league play. The Atlantic 10 does not have an at-large worthy team this year.
So let’s give the best mid-majors in the country a real shot at this.
Take Wofford, for example. They are currently 31st in NET with a win at South Carolina, who is 5-1 in SEC play. They play in the better-than-you-realize SoCon, a conference that currently has four teams in the top 85 of the NET. The Pac-12 also has just one top 50 team and only four in the top 70. They only have one Q1 win (at UNC Greensboro) but all four of their losses are Q1 losses. Would you rather see the Terriers and sharpshooter Fletcher Magee get slotted in a play-in game, or someone like Florida, whose sole accomplishment this season is being good enough to game the metrics by playing a whole bunch of good teams close?
Then there’s Murray State. They lost their only two Q1 games — at Auburn and at Alabama by a combined 11 points — and then got dropped in their only Q2 game because their superstar point guard Ja Morant twisted his ankle in the first minute against Belmont. We know how difficult it is to win on the road in college basketball. Kentucky, who we all think is a national title contender once again, lost at Alabama in a game they trailed by double-digits late in the second half and only won at Auburn by two. You don’t think a healthy Murray State could take down either of those schools — or two-thirds of the SEC, for that matter — playing in front of 8,600 fans at the CFSB Center?
Hell, let’s not forget about Belmont, who won at UCLA earlier this year and just this past week won at Murray State and at Austin Peay. The Bruins also swept Lipscomb, who sit at 41st in NET with wins at TCU and at SMU. Then there’s a team like Penn, who swept the Big 5 schools — including Villanova — to go along with wins at George Mason, Miami, at New Mexico and at Toledo. If they’re not so banged over the holiday period, we would be talking about the Quakers as one of the best mid-major in college hoops. Hofstra is on a 16 game winning streak with their only losses coming at Maryland, at VCU and at Marshall.
This is my play to the NCAA tournament selection committee: The NET rankings tell you everything you need to know about these teams. They are all ranked in the top 75. Most are ranked in the top 50. They are good enough. Don’t punish them because the big boys won’t play them on the road and because they happen to inhabit a conference on the outskirts of college basketball relevance.
2. WE NEED TO HAVE A REAL CONVERSATION ABOUT COLLEGE HOOPS OFFICIATING
It’s not great, and there were a couple more instances this weekend of poor officiating influencing the outcome of a game. Take Marquette-Xavier, for example. With just under four minutes left, Xavier head coach Travis Steele was upset that he did not get a foul call on a Naji Marshall jumper, and in a two-point game he was hit with a technical foul. That gave two points to the Golden Eagles on free throws, and in the aftermath of that whistle — which the rest of the officiating crew knew was bogus — the next three calls were very borderline and all went in favor of the Musketeers. One of the three fouled out Marquette’s starting center.
On the other side of the country, in a game where New Mexico led with 30 seconds left, a phantom over-and-back was called that gave the ball back to Utah State, who promptly hit a three with 1.6 seconds left to win.
I could probably do this all day.
The truth is this: There were 150 Division I games played on Saturday. That means that there were 450 different referees working a difficult job. It’s hard enough for the best in the business to get calls right, let alone the 425th-best referee. That’s just something that coaches are going to have to accept. There’s human error in that business, and there are going to be more human errors with more humans working.
But part of the issue is that some coaches don’t treat referees like humans.
I’ve never really understood why it is acceptable for coaches to act the way they do on the sidelines. They scream, they yell, they curse, they show up and they try to embarrass the adults that are calling these games, and then they have the audacity to acted shocked when the grown-ups they have spent the better part of two hours disrespecting gets a bang-bang play wrong.
It’s even worse when coaches play the victim card for getting a technical foul on the 27th F-bomb that they hurled at an official.
If you don’t act like a jackass and you won’t get treated like a jackass.
3. LINDELL WIGGINTON WAKING UP IS A DIFFERENCE-MAKER
The Iowa State star has spent the better part of this season stuck somewhere between a shooting funk and the training room as a foot injury kept him out of the lineup for a month and, to date, and moved him out of Iowa State’s starting lineup.
The truth is that he’s probably the most talented scorer that the Cyclones have, but when you’re shooting under 35 percent from the floor, you aren’t going to play all that much for a top 20 team. On Saturday, however, he popped out of his shooting slump, scoring 18 points while shooting 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from three in a win at Ole Miss. If the Cyclones can get Wigginton back to being the guy that averaging better than 16 points as a freshman, they become a much more dangerous basketball team.
4. PHIL BOOTH WILL PLAY IN THE NBA
He probably won’t be a first round pick and he may not even get drafted this year, but I’m convinced that Booth is going to be the next Villanova star to find a long and profitable career as an NBA role player. He’s always been an efficient player but this year, he’s taken it to another level. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 boards while shooting 42.1 percent from three on more than seven attempts per game. He can play the point. He can defend bigger guards. He understands what it takes to play a role. He’s a proven winner. He just turned 23, so he’ll be ready to contribute the second he signs a pro contract.
In an era where versatility, playmaking and shooting is prioritized, Booth is a guy that you have to be a fan of.
5. THE WORST THING INDIANA DID THIS YEAR WAS BLOW OUT MARQUETTE EARLY IN THE YEAR
I wrote this on Friday night, after Indiana lost their sixth straight game, but I think it bears repeating. Here is my full take on what is going on with these Hoosiers:
Beating Marquette the way that he did (96-73) was the worst thing that could have happened to Archie Miller this season because, when combined when Romeo-mania coming into the program, it set expectations much higher than they should have been. The truth is that this is a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores alongside Juwan Morgan. One of those freshmen is Indiana’s starting point guard, and he wasn’t a top 100 prospect. They are shooting 25 percent from three in Big Ten play and are 13-for-75 from three the last four games.
The truth is that this team is and always was going to be closer to what they’ve been the last month than what they were against Marquette.
And frankly, it’s not quite disaster territory just yet. Those six losses were: at Michigan, at Maryland, Nebraska, at Purdue, at Northwestern, Michigan.
That’s brutal for anyone, let alone a young team that has totally and completely lost any semblance of confidence they had in November.
Yes, Indiana lacks leadership. Yes, Romeo has looked like a freshman far too often. No, Archie Miller has not done a good job with this team. But can we stop pretending like this is the 2008 team going into the tank? Indiana wasn’t ranked in the preseason top 25 for a reason, and you’re seeing it now.