There weren’t many surprising results from the top-25 teams in action across the country on Thursday night, but there was significant news from both Kansas and Gonzaga (Killian Tillie can’t catch a break) while the AAC gets a dream matchup Sunday and the Pac-12 continues to be a nightmare. Here’s what you need to know”:
HOUSTON AND CINCINNATI BOTH WIN ROAD TESTS
It could have been an interesting night in the American. No. 12 Houston and No. 25 Cincinnati, both sporting matching one-loss conference records, were on the road against potentially tricky opponents in UCF and Memphis, respectively. It would have been easy to envision one losing, adding some tension into the league race or having them both taking Ls, injecting chaos into a league that’s been pretty orderly.
Both, though, won and continued to separate themselves from the rest of the conference and setup a monster showdown Sunday.
The Cougars had no trouble with the Knights, claiming a 77-68 victory, while the Bearcats held off the Tigers, 69-64.
Corey Davis, Jr. had a big game for Houston, going for 26 points, five assists and three rebounds It was Jarron Cumberland unsurprisingly starring for Cincy with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds in a game the Bearcats had to really compete down the stretch to finally finish off.
Now, let’s talk about this weekend.
The first matchup between the two AAC frontrunners comes Sunday, with the Bearcats visiting Houston in what should be one of the marquee games of the weekend and the first of two bouts between these two teams.
It’ll be an interesting matchup with neither team sporting elite offenses, but strong defenses and deliberates paces. Cincy’s best bet will likely be to try to turn defense into offense as it has been solid in creating turnovers while that’s one of the areas the Houston offense hasn’t excelled. The way for most teams to attack Mick Cronin’s defense is at the 3-point line, but that’s not the strength of the Cougars, who instead rely on their offensive rebounding and the fact they don’t really have to score that much with how good their defense has been.
KANSAS LOSES A STARTER
It was just last week I used this space to muse about the vulnerability of Kansas’ Big 12 title streak. Sure, things looked less than great for the Jayhawks, but we’d seen that plenty over the course of the last 14 years only to then see Bill Self’s team ultimately on top of the conference standings.
But now it feels like bad is getting increasingly worse for the Jayhawks.
The school announced Thursday that starting guard Lagerald Vick will be taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with personal issues while his mother told the Kansas City Star he was needed back home in Memphis “for a couple weeks.”
Vick has been wildly inconsistent this season – and his playing time has been lately as well – but he’s a player that the Jayhawks are going to sorely miss for however long his absence runs. The margin of error for Kansas was already shrinking with a 6-4 league record and Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Baylor all looking like threats, and now losing a player like Vick, even with his flaws, only tightens that window. Dedric Lawson is now likely to see even more aggressive double teams with Kansas’ best 3-point threat off the floor and no clear player capable of replacing his 45.5 percent shooting from deep. It’s more than just losing a starter for Kansas, it’s losing a player that was providing a skill that Kansas has in short supply and allows its best player – Lawson – to be better.
Maybe Self figures this out or maybe Vick’s time away is short, but with the cascading bad news for Kansas, it feels like things are more likely to get worse than better.
THE PAC-12 IS REALLY TRYING TO BE A ONE-BID LEAGUE
Yes, it’s easy to pile on the Pac-12 for being awful this season. Sure, it’s probably been covered plenty this year that the league is down, even by its recent pedestrian standards.
But, I mean, c’mon. The conference just never seems to help itself.
Washington stayed perfect by beating Arizona in Tucson while Arizona State took a HORRIBLE loss at home to Washington State.
The Wildcats have now lost four-straight and five of their last six while Arizona State loss 91-70 to a Cougars team that was 8-14 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12 in its home gym. I repeat, the Sun Devils lost by 21 POINTS to a team that previously had only managed to WIN A SINGLE GAME IN A HISTORICALLY TERRIBLE CONFERENCE. Bobby Hurley’s squad ain’t lookin’ so good right now.
Neither is the Pac-12, which continues to flirt with being a one-bid league.
Be sure to read Bubble Banter to get the in-depth look at what Thursday night meant, not only to the Pac-12, but the rest of the country trying to position itself heading into the regular season’s final month.