Monday Overreactions: Tennessee’s done, Michigan’s done, Texas Tech is back!

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett went out on Saturday evening and reminded everyone in the country that Duke is more than just Zion Williamson.

Playing on the road in front of a record crowd against a Syracuse team that had already beaten Duke once this season, Barrett popped off for 30 points and seven assists on 14-for-20 shooting from the floor and 2-for-5 shooting from three. He carried the Duke offense throughout the first half, as the team’s struggles from beyond the arc once again became the biggest talking point for a team that ranks near the bottom nationally in three-point percentage. Once Syracuse started to try and force the ball out of his hands, he became the facilitator, setting up the likes of Alex O’Connell — who scored 17 of his career-high 20 points in the second half — in a 75-65 win.

It was utterly dominant and a stark reminder that, yes, Zion Williamson is the best player in college basketball, but that R.J. kid is pretty damn good, too.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Tech Red Raiders

There is no team in the country that is currently hotter than Texas Tech is.

Three weeks ago, the Red Raiders went into Lawrence and got drubbed by Kansas, 79-63, in a game where they trailed by 25 points midway through the second half. They have won five games in a row since that loss by an average of 27 points, and in those five games, Texas Tech is shooting 58-for-124 (47%) from three. That run was capped by one of the most all-encompassing beatdowns that we have seen from anyone this season — a 91-62 evisceration of Kansas that put the Red Raiders a game up on the Jayhawks in the Big 12 standings and in sole possession of second place, one game behind Kansas State.

On January 31st, Texas Tech ranked 101st in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. After this run, the Red Raiders now rank 47th.

I do not expect Tech to be able to continue shooting at this clip the rest of the season, but I do think that this group, with the way that they are capable of defending, is good enough to get to a Final Four and win the national title if they can continue to shoot anywhere near this well.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. THERE ARE FIVE TEAMS IN THE TOP TIER

We reached an era where we love talking about tiers in college basketball, and I have to admit, I am one of those people that loves it the most.

So let’s do it.

As of today, there are five teams that are very clear sitting a cut above everyone else in the sport. There are five teams that we can call the favorites to win the national title. Let’s talk through them all:

1. DUKE: This is obvious. The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country when they are at full strength, and based on what we know about Zion Williamson’s knee injury, there is no reason to think that he won’t return to the lineup at some point soon. When Duke is hitting their threes, they are borderline unbeatable, but there is hardly a guarantee, on a night-by-night basis, that they are going to be hitting said threes. That’s where this weekend’s win over Syracuse becomes interesting: Alex O’Connell, the real AOC, hit five threes and scored 20 points. Is he the key that unlocks Duke’s Death Lineup?

2. GONZAGA: There is only one team in college basketball that has beaten a full strength Duke this season, and it is the Zags. Their depth up front took a hit when Killian Tillie went down for the second time, and there are some valid concerns about Josh Perkins, their ability to defend and whether or not we can trust a team that will end the season on a two month run of not being tested, but there is no questioning the talent they have or just how good they can be offensively.

3. VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers have lost twice this season, and both of those losses came against Duke. This is probably the best Virginia team that we have seen in the Tony Bennett era, and I say that because De’Andre Hunter is an absolute monster that gives them the kind of lineup and matchup versatility the ‘Hoos have lacked in recent seasons. They are legit.

4. KENTUCKY: I’ve been on the ‘Kentucky is back’ bandwagon since they pummeled North Carolina two months ago. The rest of the world is catching up to me after the Wildcats pummeled Tennessee and Auburn on back-to-back Saturdays this month. With how good P.J. Washington has been for the last five weeks, the Wildcats are going to be a threat to beat anyone and everyone they see in March.

5. NORTH CAROLINA: If there is a questionable addition to this list, it’s probably the Tar Heels. I say that because we’ve seen North Carolina be somewhat inconsistent this year. But in the last week, UNC went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and pounded the same Duke team that won at Syracuse by 16 points. Then, on Saturday, they pounded a Florida State team that had won eight straight games. Luke Maye is starting to get it going. Nassir Little looks like he’s ready to turn a corner. This is a dangerous basketball team, one that looks like they are getting ready to peak at the right time.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

2. SUNDAY’S LOSS IS PROOF MICHIGAN CANNOT WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

Everything was lining up for Michigan to make a run at winning the outright Big Ten regular season title this year. The Wolverines had four games left on their Big Ten schedule, with two of those games coming against the Spartans. Not only that, but the first of the two — on Sunday — came in Ann Arbor in a game where Michigan State was playing without Josh Langford and Nick Ward, their second- and third-best scorers. That meant all of their offense would be running through Cassius Winston, who was going to spend the afternoon dealing with Zavier Simpson, who is a pest when playing anyone, let alone his team’s biggest rival in a game that had Big Ten title implications.

And what happened?

Winston went for 27 points and eight assists as Michigan State went into Crisler Arena and pushed around the Wolverines. They won 77-70. They got what they wanted on the offensive end of the floor, especially down the stretch. They also made the Wolverines look utterly inept on the offensive end of the floor, and in the end, that’s their Achilles’ heel. It doesn’t matter how good Michigan is defensively if good teams are going to be able to stifle them offensively.

3. SATURDAY’S LOSS IS PROOF TENNESSEE CANNOT WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

The Volunteers climbed all the way to No. 1 in the nation by steamrolling the dregs of the SEC. Now that they are starting to play the teams at the top of the conference, things are … well, they are not going as well as the Vols had hoped. One week after going into Lexington and getting absolutely mollywhopped by Kentucky, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge, took on an LSU team that did not have Tremont Waters available and got precisely nothing out of their star big man Naz Reid and still found a way to lose.

I love the idea of this Tennessee team. They are a group of unheralded kids that have taken the nation by storm, winning an SEC title last year and 23 of their first 24 games this year. But the more I watch the Vols, the more I think that there is a ceiling for this team that isn’t as high as some of the teams they are going to see in the Elite Eight and beyond. They aren’t guarding like they did a year ago, and while they have been uber-efficient on the offensive end of the floor this season, the things they do well can be taken away far too easily.

This is the first time all year I’m officially worried.

4. KANSAS STATE IS ONE WIN AWAY FROM WINNING THE BIG 12

Tonight’s game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse might just be the biggest game that Bruce Weber has coached since he took Bill Self’s Illinois team to the national title game in 2005. He’s going into Lawrence with a one-game lead on Texas Tech and a two-game lead on Kansas in the race to be the first team to win an outright Big 12 title since 2004, the first year that Self was at Kansas after leaving the Illini.

And the game couldn’t come at a better time.

Kansas is coming off of a 29 point loss at Texas Tech on Saturday. Kansas State is coming off of a 39 point win over Oklahoma State. They haven’t won in Lawrence since 2006. This is the game-changer.

5. JAY WRIGHT DOESN’T KNOW THAT YOU ARE ALLOWED TO SHOOT TWO-POINTERS

You live by the three, you die by the three, and over the course of the last three game, Jay Wright’s team has been murdered by the three-ball. They have now lost three games in a row — to St. John’s, Xavier and Georgetown — and four of their last five, falling two games off of the pace set by Marquette at the top of the Big East.

And while some will look at this and say that it is proof that Villanova’s start to conference play was inflated by who they were playing, I think the bigger issue is that teams have figured out what Villanova wants to do and Jay Wright hasn’t found an answer yet.

On the season, the Wildcats are shooting 53.2 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc, the second-highest percentage in the country. But during this three-game losing streak, 109 of their 178 field goal attempts — a whopping 61.3 percent — have been three-balls. They have made just 30, or 27.5 percent, of those threes during the losing streak.

Villanova can’t find ways to score inside the arc, and because of that, they are being forced to shoot contested threes.

That’s a bad combination of things.

No. 9 Kansas blows lead, then holds off No. 5 Texas, 88-80

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Dajuan Harris Jr. was willing to acknowledge that Kansas was facing something rare when fifth-ranked and Big 12-leading Texas arrived at Allen Fieldhouse.

The defending national champs played like it.

Gradey Dick scored 21 points, Harris had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, and the ninth-ranked Jayhawks held on after blowing a 14-point first-half lead to beat the Longhorns 88-80 and tighten the league race.

Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points, Joseph Yesufu scored 14 off the bench and KJ Adams finished with 10, helping the Jayhawks (19-5, 7-4) overcome an off night from Jalen Wilson. The league’s leading scorer at 21.5 points per game battled foul trouble and was held to just two, ending his streak of 25 straight double-figure games.

“We knew we had to come in here and get a win,” said Dick, who had the Jayhawks’ only two 3-pointers. “The big thing, just in preparation for the week, was coming out with energy. When we do that, we’re a scary team.”

The Jayhawks needed everyone’s help holding off the Longhorns’ Marcus Carr.

The Minnesota transfer, who had a game-high 29 points, kept answering Kansas baskets down the stretch. His 3-pointer got the Longhorns within 77-68 with 2:25 left, three free throws made it 78-71 with 1:31 to go, and his three-point play got the Longhorns (19-5, 8-3) within 86-80 with 23.5 seconds remaining.

Texas quickly fouled Dick at the other end, and his free throw with 18 seconds left helped to put the game away.

“It was as close to a must-win as you could have this early in the season to win the league,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You go down three games with seven left, you’d have to win out and get a lot of help from others. Now, we still have as hard a schedule as everybody, but we can kind of control our own destiny where if we play well, we have a shot.”

Timmy Allen finished with 18 points for the Longhorns. Sir’Jabari Rice had 12 before fouling out.

“It was their night tonight in terms of what they got done,” Texas interim coach Rodney Terry said.

The Longhorns have made a habit of overcoming double-digit deficits: 18 down to beat TCU, 12 down to beat Texas Tech and 14 down to beat No. 12 Kansas State last Saturday in a game played just down the road.

So it wasn’t that surprising when Texas dug another 14-point hole Monday night.

Just like the Longhorns did in Manhattan, though, they began to rally. Texas shook off 10 first-half turnovers to get within 42-35 by the break, then kept coming in the second half. Hunter hit a 3-pointer, Carr added a couple of buckets and it was 43-all when Self called a timeout to slow Texas’ momentum.

Unlike the Horned Frogs, Red Raiders and Wildcats, the Jayhawks rose to the challenge.

McCullar’s three-point play while they were clinging to a 49-48 lead gave them a boost, and Dick added a couple of free throws. But it was back-to-back buckets by Harris, who is known more as a distributor than as a scorer, that pushed the lead to 58-50 with about 12 minutes to go.

Texas closed within 66-60 but, after the Jayhawks pulled down two offensive boards, Dick hit another 3-pointer. And when Yesufu bookended a couple of free throws by Harris, the lead had stretched to 75-62 with 3 minutes to go.

The Jayhawks were able to fend off Carr and the Longhorns from there.

“Give those guys credit. They came in and played at a very high level,” Terry said, “and we knew that would be the case.”

BANGED-UP BIRDS

The Jayhawks were missing several backups. Zack Clemence has a hurt knee, Bobby Pettiford Jr. is dealing with a hamstring injury and Zuby Ejiofor a foot injury. Kyle Cuffe Jr. (knee) and Cam Martin (shoulder) also were out.

“I thought the bench was great. As good as they’ve been all year,” Self said. “We had nine guys we could put in the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas has struggled to get off to good starts this season, and it seemed the energy the Longhorns expended climbing back into Monday night’s game was missing by the end. Carr tried to carry them but he needed more help.

Kansas got the production it needed from the bench. Yesufu provided the scoring pop but big man Ernest Udeh Jr. and guard MJ Rice, both seldom-used freshmen, also provided important minutes for the Jayhawks.

UP NEXT

Texas heads home after its Sunflower State swing to play West Virginia.

Kansas has a two-game trip next with Oklahoma on Saturday and Oklahoma State.

No. 19 Miami rolls past Duke 81-59, moves to 13-0 at home

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami guard Isaiah Wong pointed to the crowd, waving his arms, asking for noise, asking for the celebration to start.

The lead, at that point, was 3-0.

Didn’t matter. From start to finish, the Hurricanes were in total control — and got a rare rout over Duke.

Norchad Omier had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Jordan Miller added 16 points and No. 19 Miami never trailed on the way to a 81-59 win over Duke on Monday night.

Wooga Poplar scored 14 and Wong scored 11 for Miami (19-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Hurricanes led by as many as 26 and improved to 13-0 at home.

“That was a great performance, from start to finish,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “There was a lot of energy. And all I can tell you is, everybody who came tonight’s game is invited back – because that’s the kind of environment that we’d love to have every night.”

Ryan Young and Dereck Lively II each scored 11 points for Duke (17-7, 8-5), which saw its three-game winning streak snapped. Jeremy Roach added 10 points for the Blue Devils, who were outrebounded 38-31 and committed 21 turnovers.

It was the second game this season where Duke never led, and the 22-point loss was its second-worst this season. The Blue Devils lost to N.C. State by 24 on Jan. 4.

“Congratulations to Miami. There’s a reason they haven’t lost here at home,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “They’re really good. They obviously had it clicking on all cylinders right away.”

It was the second-biggest Miami victory margin in the series between the schools, topped only by the Hurricanes’ 90-63 win over then-No. 1 Duke on Jan. 23, 2013. Miami also enjoyed huge edges in points off turnovers (23-9), second-chance points (24-9) and fast-break points (17-7).

And Miami got payback for a 68-66 loss at Duke earlier this season.

“We had something to prove,” Miller said. “They beat us last time. We were revved up for this game and we got it done.”

Duke fans started leaving with 4:24 left and Miami up by 26, the Hurricanes’ student section serenading them as they departed.

Miami ran out to a 13-1 lead and stretched it to 34-17 later in the first half, putting Duke in unfamiliar territory quickly. The Blue Devils had trailed by more than 15 in just two other games – by 29 to N.C. State, and by 19 to Purdue.

“When you have 21 turnovers, you can’t expect yourself to have a good game,” Lively said.

It was 40-26 at the half. When Miami opened the second half on a 9-0 run to build a 23-point lead, the outcome quickly became academic.

“The crowd fueled us to keep it going,” Larranaga said.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Maybe it’s too difficult to quickly reset after a rivalry game. This is the third consecutive year the Blue Devils have lost the game immediately following their first matchup of the season with North Carolina. “It’s tough. It’s not easy. But it’s what you have to do. … It’s part of playing in the ACC,” Scheyer said.

Miami: The Hurricanes remained one of six teams from major conferences to be unbeaten at home – the others being Alabama, UCLA, Providence, Iowa State and Duke. Across Division I, 20 teams entered Monday with perfect home marks.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Miami has been in the poll for nine straight weeks, the program’s longest such run since being ranked in each of the first 11 polls of the 2017-18 season – and figures to stay there if it tops Louisville on Saturday. Duke has been out of the AP Top 25 for the last four weeks; the Blue Devils were two slots away in the poll released Monday, behind only Florida Atlantic on the “also receiving votes” list.

BARRY HONORED

Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, Miami’s all-time leading scorer, was presented with a customized basketball during a first-half stoppage of play.

UP NEXT

Duke: Visits No. 8 Virginia on Saturday.

Miami: Hosts Louisville on Saturday.

Minnesota-Illinois postponed for COVID-19 in Gophers program

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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s game at Illinois that was scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Gophers’ program.

The announcement was made Monday by Minnesota, which didn’t specify how many players would have been unable to play.

The Gophers (7-15, 1-11) had only eight available scholarship players for their last game, an 81-46 loss to Maryland on Saturday. Dawson Garcia (ankle) has missed the last four games, and Braeden Carrington (leg) has missed the last six. Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen will not play this season while recovering from knee injuries.

The game will be rescheduled by the Big Ten, with input from both schools.

Minnesota is next scheduled to host Iowa on Sunday. Illinois (16-7, 7-5) will host No. 24 Rutgers on Saturday.

Purdue stays No. 1 in AP Top 25; NC State in at No. 22

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Purdue’s unquestioned grip on No. 1 in The Associated Press poll is gone after a weekend loss. That didn’t stop the Boilermakers from remaining at the top anyway.

The Boilermakers earned 38 of 62 first-place votes in the poll to remain at No. 1 for a third straight week and seventh time this season. Purdue was the unanimous choice last week, the first for any team this season, before falling at Indiana over the weekend for only its second loss.

The Boilermakers (22-2, 11-2) have a leading candidate for national player of the year in Zach Edey and KenPom’s No. 1-ranked offense (121.1 points scored per 100 possessions) to go with a top-25 defense. But they got down big, committed 16 turnovers and allowed the Hoosiers — up to No. 18 this week — to shoot nearly 53% in a 79-74 loss Saturday.

“When we go to Zach and we make some perimeter shots, the defense gets better sometimes when the offense flows,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said at his postgame news conference. “And you can’t do that. You can always rebound, you can always take care of the ball, you can always make your free throws, those things there.”

The loss meant Houston collected 22 first-place votes as it rose one spot to No. 2, followed by No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Arizona in each claiming one.

THE TOP TIER

Texas jumped five spots to No. 5, shooting past Tennessee, which fell four spots to No. 6 after losing last week at Florida.

UCLA, Virginia, Kansas and Marquette rounded out the top 10, with Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles cracking the top 10 for the first time since 2019.

RISING

The Longhorns’ jump marked the biggest of the week, followed by Marquette and Miami each rising four spots. No. 13 Xavier, No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No. 21 UConn joined Indiana in each moving up three positions.

In all, 12 teams rose from last week’s rankings.

SLIDING

Kansas State took the week’s biggest tumble, falling five spots to No. 12 after losing at Kansas and at home to Texas last week. No. 16 Gonzaga joined Tennessee in falling four spots after its overtime loss at Saint Mary’s.

In all, nine teams fell from last week’s rankings.

STATUS QUO

Purdue was the only team to remain in the same position this week.

WELCOME

North Carolina State earned its first AP Top 25 ranking in four years, checking in at No. 22.

The Wolfpack (19-5, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) spent six weeks in the poll during the 2018-19 season. N.C. State already has surpassed the win total for each of the last two seasons and is in contention for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2018.

Creighton and Rutgers joined N.C. State as this week’s new additions to the poll, though both were ranked earlier this season. The Bluejays were No. 9 in the preseason poll and peaked at No. 7 before falling out by mid-December, while the Scarlet Knights spent a week at No. 23 in mid-January.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

Florida Atlantic (No. 19), Clemson (No. 20) and Auburn (No. 25) fell out of this week’s poll.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 leads all leagues with six ranked teams, including No. 11 Iowa State, No. 14 Baylor and No. 17 TCU. The Big East is next with five ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten and ACC with three each.

The Pac-12, Southeastern and West Coast conferences each have two ranked teams, while the American Athletic and Mountain West each have one.

Indiana reaches No. 2 in women’s AP Top 25; South Carolina still No. 1

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South Carolina beat a top opponent to remain No. 1 in the women’s poll and now has a showdown with another one looming this weekend.

The Gamecocks (23-0) topped then- No. 5 UConn 81-77 to remain unbeaten and stay the unanimous choice atop the poll from the 28-member national media panel. After facing Auburn, South Carolina will play No. 3 LSU in a matchup of the last two unbeatens in Division I women’s college basketball.

Dawn Staley’s team has won 29 consecutive games and has been No. 1 in the poll for 33 consecutive weeks. That’s one week short of tying the Huskies for the third-longest streak atop the poll. Only UConn (51 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

While South Carolina has had a stranglehold on No. 1 for more than a year, Indiana is making its first appearance ever at No. 2 after Stanford lost to Washington.

“I’m going to relish this for a minute, knowing where the program was to where it is,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “We’ve made a lot of history since we’ve been here in our nine seasons and it’s one of the more historical things we’ve been able to accomplish. Give our players credit, I don’t want to discount what a big achievement this is. We’re more than humbled to be No. 2.”

Indiana has won 10 straight since suffering its lone loss of the season to Michigan State. The Hoosiers have a tough stretch coming up, starting with a home game against No. 5 Iowa. Indiana, which hadn’t been ranked higher than fourth, then plays No. 13 Ohio State and 12th-ranked Michigan.

“That’s why we take it one game at a time, but you understand the magnitude of what’s ahead of us. I tell the kids all the time we’re in control of our own destiny,” Moren said.

LSU remained at No. 3 after close wins over Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Tigers have a week to prepare for the Gamecocks.

UConn moved up one spot to fourth after its close loss to the Gamecocks and Iowa was fifth.

The Cardinal fell to sixth with Utah, Maryland, Duke and Notre Dame rounding out the top 10. The Blue Devils beat the Irish to take over sole possession of first in the ACC and vault up six spots in the poll. It’s Duke’s best ranking since the team finished the 2017 season ranked ninth.

FALLING CYCLONES

It was a rough week for Iowa State, which lost to Kansas by one point and Baylor by six. The Cyclones fell nine spots in the poll from 12th to 21st.

RE-ENTRY

Colorado came back into the poll at No. 25 after beating Oregon and Oregon State over the weekend. The Buffaloes were ranked for four weeks before falling out last week. Middle Tennessee dropped out of the poll after losing both its games last week.