PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Cassius Winston played maybe the best game of his college basketball career on Sunday as the Spartans beat down intra-state rival Michigan, 80-66. He finished the game with 32 points and nine assists, making 11-of-19 shots from the floor and breaking more than a few ankles in the process.
The bigger story here, however, is that Winston looks like he is back to being his old self. It’s not really a secret that the story of this Michigan State season really has nothing to do with Michigan State basketball. It has to do with Winston himself, his emotional well-being and the way that he is grieving the loss of his brother.
If playing like this is a sign that he’s in a place where basketball brings him joy again, where he can smile with feeling guilty or depressed, where he can continue to love and miss his brother while still living his life to the fullest, then I think we can all agree that is a good thing.
Even Michigan fans.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles made their statement on Saturday afternoon, as they went into the Yum! Center and handled Louisville in impressive fashion. They are now 2-2 in true road games, with wins at Florida and at Louisville. That’s pretty impressive. More on them in a bit.
1. FLORIDA STATE IS THE SECOND-BEST TEAM IN THE ACC
I’ll go on the record saying that Duke is the best team in the ACC this season, and at this point, I don’t that is a controversial opinion in the least.
They have the best point guard in the conference. They probably have the best big man in the conference. Their wings are starting to figure things out.
Hell, I think you can make a pretty compelling case right now that they are the best team in college basketball, and nothing about their blowout win at Miami changes my mind.
The question I have is who the next-best team in that conference is, and that question is not so easy to answer. We know it’s not North Carolina — more on them in a bit — and until Virginia figures out what they are doing on the offensive end of the floor, I can’t in good conscience call them the second-best team in the league. I thought it would be Louisville, but on Saturday, the 7th-ranked Cardinals lost, 78-65, to No. 18 Florida State in the Yum! Center, yet another example of the issues this team has scoring against defenses that can pressure them.
Jordan Nwora scored 32 points, shot 11-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-6 from three, and in the process answered the doubters that didn’t think he could compete against elite competition. And all it did was keep the score respectable, because the rest of the Cards were 13-for-47 from the floor, 3-for-13 from three and finished with just 33 total points.
The credit for that has to go to Florida State, because the Seminoles suddenly look really, really dangerous. They go nine-deep with versatile, positionless athletes that can switch everything, pressure full-court and just make life miserable for the teams they play. There’s a reason they’re fourth nationally in defensive turnover rate, and if they can get anything close to these kind of play from M.J. Walker, Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell moving forward, they will make plenty of noise in this league.
2. MICHIGAN STATE’S SEASON IS NOT A NARRATIVE
A tweet from the weekend about Michigan State got me fired up. I spoke about it on the podcast, and I think I said all I need to say there. I hope you listen.
3. WE ALL OWE TEXAS TECH AN APOLOGY
At least I do.
Here is my statement: “I would like to formally apologize to the Texas Tech basketball program, Chris Beard and all the players on the roster for ever doubting them. I now recognize the error of my ways. When they lost three straight games earlier this season, I failed to account for the loss of Jahmi’us Ramsey, or the fact that those wins were close games away from home against three potential tournament teams in Iowa, Creighton and DePaul. I now recognize, after an 85-50 win over Oklahoma State to open up league play, that this team is awesome and better as freshmen than Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith, and that I never should have allowed a couple of overtime games to sway my opinion on this group.
“I will be making no further comments at this time.”
4. WICHITA STATE IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE AAC, AND MEMPHIS IS BORDERLINE TOP 25 AT BEST
Let’s start with the latter.
Here’s what Memphis has done this season: They won at Tennessee, who has proceeded to fall off of a cliff and does not look like they will be making a return trip to the NCAA tournament. They beat Ole Miss at home by a point, the same Ole Miss that was drubbed by 20 at Wichita State on Saturday. They beat N.C. State on a neutral floor. N.C. State lost on Saturday to Clemson, whose only win since Nov. 24th came at home against Jacksonville.
And while it came without their best perimeter scorer and one of their most versatile defenders in D.J. Jeffries, Memphis still lost to Georgia on Saturday in a game where Anthony Edwards did not play all that well.
Put another way, Memphis is really talented, enough so that blindly assuming they are a top 20 team isn’t crazy, they just haven’t really done anything on the court that would prove this to be true.
Then there is Wichita State, who is now 13-1 on the season after blowing out Ole Miss on Saturday.
The Shockers don’t necessarily have any great wins this season, but they have put together a handful of wins that are impressive enough that we need to take note. They won at Oklahoma State, they beat Oklahoma, they beat VCU and this Ole Miss team they whooped up on is pretty good.
The Shockers may turn out to be the class of the American this year.
On Thursday, they host Memphis. We’ll know then.
5. SAN DIEGO STATE WILL ENTER THE NCAA TOURNAMENT UNDEFEATED
This is simple, really.
The Aztecs are legit. They are a monster defensively, they have a star in point guard Malachi Flynn and they have a bunch of pieces that can really shoot. They are legitimately one of the top ten teams in the country, if not top five.
And the toughest games they have left are, what, at Nevada? At UNLV? At New Mexico?
This really could happen.