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What You’ve Missed: Now that football is over, get caught up on college hoops

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Football is finally over.

It took two weeks for the Super Bowl to get here, and after a defensive snooze-fest that made UConn’s 53-41 title game win over Butler in 2011 seem like a thriller, it’s time for basketball to take centerstage.

In between the massive trade, petty squabbles and reality television drama that is the NBA these days, we have a college basketball season to play out and the Madness of March to look forward to. 

Here is everything you need to know about college basketball if today is the day that you are getting caught up on everything. 

1. DUKE IS LIVING UP TO THE HYPE

Prior to the season, all anyone could talk about was just how good Duke had a chance to be. They were bringing in three of the top five prospects in the class and, potentially, had the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft on their roster.

Of course we were going to go overboard with the hype train.

And you know what?

It’s worth it. Zion Williamson has proven to be an absolute revelation, becoming a lock to the the National Player of the Year and a near-lock as the first pick in June. R.J. Barrett has had his ups-and-downs, but at the end of the day he is a lethal scoring that leads the nation’s No. 2 team in scoring. Tre Jones has emerged as a star as a floor leader and a potential lottery pick himself, and all of this is happening as Cam Reddish is still fluctuating between a slump and trying to figure out how to thrive in his role.

Love them or hate them, the incessant hype that Duke is getting this year is, unlike years past, earned.

2. ZION IS NOT THE ONLY MUST-SEE ATHLETE

Zion is the headliner when it comes to highlights, and that’s because the things that he does on a nightly basis are just absurd.

But he’s not the only must-see athlete in college basketball this season.

Let’s start with Murray State’s point guard Ja Morant, a 6-foot-3 lead guard averaging 24.1 points, 10.3 assists and 5.6 boards. He could end up being the No. 2 pick in the draft, and not just because he can do this:

And then there is Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, who is responsible for the best block that I think I have ever seen:

SPEAKING OF BRANDON CLARKE, GONZAGA IS LEGIT

Here is the scary thing about the Zags: We learned how good they can be in November, when they beat Duke in the title game of the Maui Invitational. They’ve lost to North Carolina and Tennessee since then, but no one that watched that performance against the Blue Devils will forget it.

The reason that’s scary is because the Zags played the entirety of their non-conference schedule without Killian Tillie, who is such an important piece for them given his ability to pass the ball and the fact that he’s a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker than can make threes. He’ll bring a different dimension to this team, and while there will be tape of him playing available, only Mark Few is going to know how Tillie will be used against elite competition. Can you say x-factor?

SPEAKING OF JA MORANT, HE’S NOT THE ONLY SUPERSTAR MID-MAJOR PLAYER

There are always fun player in the mid-major ranks, but I think this year there is a particularly high number of stars at smaller schools. Campbell’s Chris Clemons is going to end up as one of college basketball’s all-time great scorers and is coming off a week where he went for 39 points twice. Detroit’s Antoine Davis is a freshman and averaging 27.1 points for Detroit. Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman is the nation’s third-leading scorer and has led the Pride to a two-month winning streak. Wofford’s Fletcher Magee. Buffalo’s C.J. Massinburg. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.

We need these guys in the NCAA tournament.

SPEAKING OF SUPERSTARS, MARQUETTE’S MARKUS HOWARD

Howard leads all of the high-major programs in the country in scoring, and it’s his ability to take over a game that has turned the Golden Eagles into a top ten basketball team. He had 53 points in a game earlier this year. He has gone for 45 points twice. The only player on the planet that is more dangerous as a step-back three-point shooter is James Harden. He’s lethal — and absolutely enthralling to watch — when he gets into a rhythm. It’s why the Golden Eagles have a very real shot to win the Big East.

SPEAKING OF THE BIG EAST, VILLANOVA’S BACK

If all you know about Villanova is that they were embarrassed by Michigan (and Furman, and Penn) early on this season, you haven’t been paying attention of late. As veterans Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have started playing like all-americans in recent weeks, the Wildcats have turned back into the favorite to win the league. They are undefeated in conference play through the first half of the season, and once against look like a threat to get to the Final Four.

3. THE BIG 12 TITLE IS TOTALLY UP FOR GRABS

Kansas has some real problems that they are working through that stem from the fact that seven-foot center Udoka Azubuike is injured and his backup, Silvio De Sousa, was ruled ineligible to play this season by the NCAA.

That’s created a situation where the Big 12 is the weirdest conference in college basketball. The two teams currently in first place in the league are Baylor and Kansas State, the former who lost to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin in November and the latter who spent the first two months of the season totally incapable of scoring. Kansas and Iowa State who might be the two best teams in the league, are both a game out of first place in the loss column. Texas Tech, who might be the third-best team in the league, is two games back in fifth place.

I have no idea.

But seeing this thing play out is going to be fun.

4. TENNESSEE IS THE SEC’S BEST

The Vols are the best team in the SEC. They might be the best team in college basketball — they are, after all, ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Grant Williams is a legit superstar at the college level, while Admiral Scholfield is one of a handful of Tennessee players that could end up having an NBA future.

Tennessee is one of college basketball’s elite offensive teams, and with the way that this group of tough, physical veterans can defend when they want to, the idea that this could be a national title-winning team is very real.

BUT KENTUCKY IS BACK AFTER BEING EMBARRASSED

The first time we saw Kentucky play this season, they lost by 34 points to Duke on a night where they gave up 118 points.

Since then, things have changed. Quade Green transferred out of the program, Ashton Hagans took over as the starting point guard, P.J. Washington has turned into a legitimate all-american candidate and Reid Travis seems to finally have a feel for what his job is on this team. They’ve turned into one of college basketball’s elite defensive teams, and with the way their bigs can overpower opposing frontlines, I feel very comfortable saying the Wildcats are back as one of the five-best teams in college basketball.

5. THE PAC-12 SUCKS

The Pac-12 sucks.

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

6. VIRGINIA IS BETTER THAN THEY WERE LAST YEAR

As it stands, the Cavaliers are sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC and are proud owners of the No. 1 ranking in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, the NET and Torvik’s efficiency rankings.

But more importantly, I think the difference with the Wahoos this season is their versatility. They can play big. They can play small. They can play with three guards. They can play with two combo-forwards and a five-man that can switch onto anyone. They are as good defensively as they’ve always been, and this year they are shooting the cover off the ball.

They are better than they were last season, and this is going to be the year they finally get to the Final Four. Can you think of a better story than that?

BUT THE ACC IS LOADED

Duke is awesome.

We all know that.

But North Carolina, while having their moments of insanity, has turned out to be really, really good, especially on the nights when Coby White gets it going and despite the fact Roy Williams is still trying to find the best way to work in Nassir Little. Virginia Tech has been arguably the nation’s most dangerous three-point shooting team, and as long as Justin Robinson’s health isn’t a major concern, the Hokies have one of the best backcourts in the country. Syracuse is figuring out how to score. Louisville has been drastically better than anyone expected.

There are legitimately six Final Four contenders in the ACC.

That is tough.

7. THE BIG TEN MAKES NO SENSE, BUT IT SURE IS A ROLLER COASTER RIDE

The two favorites in the league are the Michigan schools, which is not exactly unexpected.

What we didn’t necessarily expect was Purdue developing into a team that, entering February, who be keeping pace with Michigan and Michigan State atop the league. We didn’t expect Iowa to be 17-5 and coming off of a 15 point beatdown of the Wolverines. And we certainly did not see Indiana taking a nosedive, losing seven straight games and then going into East Lansing without one of their best players and beating Michigan State.

And I haven’t even gotten to Wisconsin and Maryland playing well or Ohio State and Nebraska falling off cliffs.

What a wild league.

8. KEEP AN EYE ON HOUSTON

We all know about Nevada and how good they can be this year, but Houston is in the same boat. They were the first team to 20 wins this season, they have super-talented guards and a coach in Kelvin Sampson that has proven over and over again to be one of the best in college basketball. They are legit.

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.

Monday’s Overreactions: Naji Marshall owns Cincinnati, Ohio State is No. 1, Joel Ayayi

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Naji Marshall, Xavier

Marshall has lived up to the hype through the first month of the season, but the biggest and best game that he has played in 2019 happened on Saturday. Squaring off with archrival Cincinnati, Marshall went off for 31 points, eight boards, five steals and three assists, hitting four threes and totally outplaying his Bearcat counterpart, Jarron Cumberland.

As a team, Xavier has been a little bit up and down this season. Their issues shooting the ball have been prevalent all season long, and as good as the likes of Tyrique Jones, Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs – hell, and Marshall himself – can be, there has been some inconsistency to date.

There was not any on Saturday.

Marshall took over and led Xavier to their biggest win of the season.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

Can we even consider anyone else?

On Wednesday, the Buckeyes went into Chapel Hill and ran North Carolina out of their own gym, leaving with a 74-49 win. On Saturday, Chris Holtmann’s club hosted Penn State, and that did not go well for the Nittany Lions, who lost by 32 points while giving up 106.

This team is starting to look scary, and there’s a valid argument to make that they should be sitting at No. 1 in the AP poll this morning.

Speaking of which …

OVERREACTIONS

1. OHIO STATE HAS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE RESUME IN THE COUNTRY

If we ranked teams solely based on resume at this point in the season, I don’t think there is any way to leave the Buckeyes out of the top spot.

They are undefeated. They have beaten Villanova by 25 at home. They have beaten North Carolina by 25 on the road. They have beaten Penn State by 32 at home. Those are three of the top 24 teams in the country, according to KenPom. No one else can match that. Hell, the Buckeyes are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings.

To put those wins into context, consider this, via Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision: There have been six instances this season of a top 50 KenPom team losing by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for three of them.

To be honest, I’m not ready to actually call Ohio State the best team in college basketball – I explain why in the podcast below at the 11:20 mark – but they are certainly playing like it.

2. WE FINALLY SAW THE ANTHONY COWAN WE NEED TO SEE FOR MARYLAND TO REACH THEIR POTENTIAL

Look, I know how ridiculous this is going to sound.

Coming off of a performance where Anthony Cowan shot 6-for-14 from the floor in a game where Maryland needed something bordering on a miracle to erase a 15 point second half deficit at home against unranked Illinois, I’m finally convinced?

Well, kinda?

Here’s my logic: I am not sold on Mark Turgeon being the best coach in college basketball, and I am hardly alone in that sentiment. But he does have a roster with some talent, and it is always a good sign when a team’s talent takes over and wins a game where, frankly, they played like crap. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday. In the past, Cowan would not have taken over. In the past, he would not have put the team on his back, scored 20 points in the final 23 minutes and finished with seven boards, six assists and the game-tying and winning points in the final 20 seconds.

All-Americans bail their team out in games they are not supposed to win. Final Four teams win games where they don’t show up until they are getting thoroughly embarrassed. The Terps did both of those things.

Now, would I like to see them finally figure out how to win without sleepwalking through the first half of games?

Absolutely!

But it’s hardly a bad sign to be sitting at 10-0 as you’re still figuring things out.

3. BUTLER IS THE MOST UNDERRATED TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

After taking down Florida in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon, Butler has a surprisingly impressive crop of wins this season. They beat Minnesota at home. They beat Missouri in Kansas City. They beat Stanford on a neutral. They won at Ole Miss. And now they have that win over the Gators, who we just can’t quite seem to quit.

Either way, the Bulldogs play at Baylor on Tuesday night and then take on Purdue in the Crossroads Classic next Saturday.

We’ll know more about them then, but for now, this is a team that we have to talk about.

That said …

4. … NO ONE HAS MADE US A BELIEVER IN MORE TEAMS THAN FLORIDA

Florida State beat Florida in Gainesville?

The Seminoles must be awesome!

UConn beat Florida in Storrs?

The Huskies are back, baby!

Butler knocks off the Gators in Hinkle?

The Bulldogs are the most underrated team in the country?

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5. JOEL AYAYI IS THE X-FACTOR THAT WILL MAKE GONZAGA A TITLE CONTENDER

Listen, I’m not saying that Ayayi is the best player on this Gonzaga roster.

I think that he’s probably their third-best player, and even that might be generous.

What he is, however, is a guy that fills a role that the Zags didn’t have anyone to fill. The issue with this Gonzaga team heading into the season was in their backcourt. We wondered if they had enough point guard play, perimeter shooting and playmaking to be able to compete with the best teams in the country. It’s one thing to have a great frontline with guards that can get them the rock where they need it. It’s another thing to have a great frontline and no one that an initiate offense or keep defenses honest.

Ayayi has done those things to date this season. He’s averaging 10.1 points, 6.6 boards and 3.8 assists, which is second on the team to Ryan Woolridge, who is quietly having a solid start to the season as well. He provides length, athleticism, floor-spacing, a second ball-handler and creator. He takes the pressure off of Woolridge to carry the lead guard load.

He is more or less everything that Gonzaga fans were hoping Admon Gilder would turn into.

We’ll see if this lasts, but his performance against Washington on Saturday was really promising. Ayayi didn’t play or shoot particularly well, but he stepped up with 20 seconds left and buried the biggest shot of the game, a three to give the Zags a 82-76 lead and bury U-Dub.

Mamukelashvili breaks wrist as No. 16 Seton Hall loses to Iowa State

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AMES, Iowa (AP) — No. 16 Seton Hall lost much more than a game in Ames, as starter Sandro Mamukelashvili broke his right wrist in the first half of a loss at Iowa State.

Tyrese Haliburton scored 17 points, George Conditt had a season-high 17 off the bench and the Cyclones knocked off Seton Hall 76-66 on Sunday for its second straight victory.

Rasir Bolton scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to help the Cyclones avenge an 84-76 loss on Nov. 29 to the Pirates (6-3) in the Bahamas. The rematch was part of the Big East/Big 12 Alliance series.

Mamukelashvili, a 6-foot-11 forward and a facilitator who averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game entering play, went down hard with 15:14 to go in the first half and didn’t return.

Coach Kevin Willard said after the game that it was too soon to know how long Mamukelashvili might be out.

“I don’t know for sure. It’s definitely broken. But we … have to go get an MRI tomorrow and let our doctors and radiologists read it,” Willard said. “There’s definitely a break in there, it’s just that we don’t know where it is.”

Conditt’s free throws pushed Iowa State’s lead to 59-53 with 2:56 left. Haliburton then drew an offensive foul and freed himself for a wide-open 3 at the top of the key. Haliburton drilled it, making it a nine-point game at the 2:23 mark.

Seton Hall fouled Prentiss Nixon from beyond the arc with 1:27 left. Nixon hit all three from the line to push Iowa State back up by nine, and Conditt’s transition dunk sealed the win.

Iowa State won despite shooting just 4 of 19 on 3s.

“Every good team needs a signature win and this was the first one for us,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “It felt really good beat a ranked team, but also a team that beat us before.”

Myles Powell scored 19 points with eight rebounds for Seton Hall. But Powell was 7 of 20 shooting, had five turnovers and fouled out with 54.4 seconds to go on an offensive foul. The Pirates’ previous defeats came against Michigan State and Oregon by just five combined points.

Seton Hall committed 20 turnovers and was outrebounded 43-40 despite having a major size advantage. The Pirates also gave Iowa State 33 tries from the line, and Cyclones made 26 of them.

“We turned the ball over too much and we fouled,” Willard said. “You can’t go on the road against a good team and turn the basketball over and foul.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: On losing Mamukelashvili, Willard said that “it changes things a lot. But the good thing is, we have some guys that need to get comfortable in that role and step up in that role…we’re going to need everyone to step up.”

Iowa State: The Cyclones have been strangely awful at times this season shooting jump shots — even though they supposedly have enough shooters. It’s a problem that Iowa State will need to get sorted out before it threatens to sink their season. On the plus side, the Cyclones were active with their hands in forcing Seton Hall’s bigs to turn it over, and Haliburton delivered yet another signature performance.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Losing on the road to a Big 12 team that had the opportunity to play them 10 days ago shouldn’t cost the Pirates too much. Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum can be a brutal place for opponents — especially one that didn’t necessarily know what it was walking into.

HE SAID IT

“It’s a hell of a win for us.” —- Prohm said.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: At Rutgers on Saturday.

Iowa State: Hosts Iowa on Thursday night.

Monday Overreactions Podcast: Ohio State’s the best, Travis Steele’s the GOAT, is Anthony Cowan good?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to walk through everything that happened in college basketball this weekend. Is Ohio State the best team in college basketball? Is it actually Maryland? Just how good is Anthony Cowan? Just how bad is Florida? And did Travis Steele do the greatest thing in the history of coaching on Saturday night? He might have.