PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Isaac Okoro, Auburn
If you wanted to know what makes Isaac Okoro a guy that has NBA scouts salivating, look no farther than what he did this week.
On Tuesday night, he scored 23 points on 6-for-9 shooting in a win over Vanderbilt. He got to the line 14 times and threw down this absolutely gargantuan dunk that nearly put Ejike Obinna in the hospital. He’s a freight train when he puts the ball on the floor and gets a step, and when — not if, when — that jumper finally comes around, there are going to be so many more chances for him to get a step on a defender.
But the best part of Okoro’s game is what he can do defensively, and that was on display on Saturday when he did the heavy lifting as Auburn slowed down Anthony Edwards and beat Georgia by 22 points. Edwards did finish with 18 on the afternoon, but the majority of those points game in garbage when the game was already decided.
When asked what he did to slow Edwards down, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said, simply, “The easiest answer was Isaac Okoro.”
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
It’s hard to go against the team that went into Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off No. 3 Kansas just four days after going into Lubbock and picking off No. 22 Texas Tech.
That is impressive in and of itself.
But when you put those wins into context, they are an even bigger deal.
Baylor had never won at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Heading into this weekend, Scott Drew was 0-12 playing Kansas in Lawrence. And while the streak is nowhere near as long as his losing streak against Bill Self, it is worth noting that, prior to Tuesday, Drew was 0-3 against Chris Beard in Lubbock.
He got both of those monkeys off of his back in the span of four days.
We will have much more on Drew and Baylor in the coming weeks. You have my attention, sir.
1. BUTLER AND SETON HALL ARE THE BEST TEAMS IN THE BIG EAST
As much as I love Villanova, I think it is time to admit that they are the third-best team in the conference this season.
By now, there should be no one questioning Butler. The Bulldogs are currently sitting at No. 2 in the NET ratings, and the only loss they have this season came by a single point on the road against the team sitting directly above them. Kamar Baldwin has had some incredible moments, Sean McDermott has grown into a really effective wing scorer and LaVall Jordan has proven his mettle as a coach. For my money, the Bulldogs are as good and well-prepared defensively as any team in the country.
They can absolutely win a national title this season. There is no question in my mind.
Which leads me to Seton Hall, who struggled through the early part of the season but has found their groove over the course of the last three weeks. They are tough, they are athletic, they can really get out and pressure defensively, they have more size around the rim than the Monstars, and not only are they going to have the best player on the floor in just about every game they play (Myles Powell), but his supporting cast has really started to come on strong during this recent six-game winning streak.
And here’s the kicker: On Wednesday, Butler will host Seton Hall.
2. THE BIG TEN IS GOING TO BE A BLOODBATH …
The depth of the Big Ten is absolutely insane this season. As of this moment, 12 of the 14 teams in the conference are rated somewhere between 12th and 41st in the NET. In KenPom, those same teams are ranked between fifth and 38th. Road teams are just 5-32 in the 37 conference games that have been played to date. Ohio State, who ranks 16th in the NET and 17th in KenPom, is currently sitting at 13th in the league standings despite losing four straight games because none of those four losses comes even remotely close to being a bad loss.
What this means is that evaluating and differentiating between these teams is going to be a nightmare. They are all good. They are all going to win a lot of home games because winning on the road in league play is something that only elite teams do and there may not be a single elite team in the entire country, let alone in the Big Ten.
So what you are going to see are a lot of weeks where things like this happen: Minnesota beats Michigan at home after losing at Michigan State, who got blown out in Mackey Arena by Purdue just three days after the Boilermakers lost at Michigan.
If all of these teams defend their home court and avoid too many losses to Nebraska and Northwestern, I don’t think it’s crazy to think that 12 Big Ten teams can get to the NCAA tournament.
3. … BUT THE LACK OF ELITE POINT GUARD PLAY IS GOING TO DOOM THEM IN MARCH
There are so many good big men in the Big Ten that it is astounding.
Xavier Tillman. Luka Garza. Kaleb Wesson. Daniel Oturu. Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers. Kofi Cockburn. Jalen Smith. Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers. Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams. Mike Watkins. Myles Johnson.
almost as insane as the fact that there really isn’t much in the way of elite guard play in the league. Cassius Winston is a beast, we all know this, but beyond that, who scares you? Zavier Simpson is a solid player. Anthony Cowan is what he is. Ayo Dosunmu isn’t really a point guard. Is there anyone else that I’m missing?
The point is that if you look at all of the teams that won titles in the last decade, only one of them didn’t start two point guards — the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks in the NBA Draft, including Anthony Davis.
Does anyone in the Big Ten has that kind of lead guard play outside of Sparty?
4. THE COACH OF THE YEAR RACE IS ABSOLUTELY ELECTRIC
There are so many really, really good candidates for Coach of the Year this year.
Take, for example, Scott Drew, who lost three starters from last year’s team, has yet to get Tristan Clark back to full health and may end up having the best team in college basketball. Bob Huggins has a chance to go from worst to first in the Big 12, and he’s the clear No. 2 in that league’s Coach of the Year pecking order. LaVall Jordan, who was picked eighth in the Big East and is trending towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Anthony Grant has done wonders at Dayton, as has Brian Dutcher at San Diego State. Bruce Pearl deserves serious consideration for the award considering what he lost this offseason. Leonard Hamilton has surprised everyone with how good Florida State has been. Mark Few lost four pros from last year’s team and has a chance to win a national title this year.
I cannot remember a season with this many really good Coach of the Year candidates.
5. THE ACC MIGHT BE A THREE-BID LEAGUE
We have reached the point where the bottom has fallen out of this year’s ACC.
Duke looks awesome. Florida State and Louisville are legit. But beyond that there are so many question marks surrounding every other team in the conference.
Like, for example, who is the fourth-best team in the conference? Virginia cannot score and is coming off of back-to-back losses to Boston College and Syracuse, the latter of which came at home. North Carolina is a train wreck and Roy Williams is asking to be fired. Georgia Tech has looked pretty good, but they aren’t eligible for the postseason. Virginia Tech beat Michigan State. N.C. State beat Wisconsin. Have we reached a point where those two teams are the two teams that can keep the league from getting just three teams into the NCAA tournament?
In our latest bracket projection, five ACC teams were in the field, but that came because UVA’s home loss to Syracuse. N.C. State is a No. 10 seed.