PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Luwane Pipkins, Providence
Providence has just about played their way into the NCAA tournament thanks for a February that saw them win five games against ranked teams and earn six of their eight Quad 1 wins on the season.
And if you have been following the Friars closely this season, it may come as a surprise to you that the best player on the floor in those two games was point guard Luwane Pipkins. The grad transfer from UMass had 24 points in an 84-72 win over Marquette in the Dunk on Tuesday night and followed that up with 27 points in a 58-54 win at Villanova on Saturday.
Cooley’s offense has always been at its best when he has a star point guard on his roster, and Pipkins looks like he is starting to emerge as that guy.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia and Texas Tech
Shout out to West Virginia and Texas Tech, because they pulled off some of the most impressive conference bid collusion that I have ever seen this week.
What is bid collusion you ask?
It’s when teams that have bids locked up lose to conference foes that are on the bubble to help ensure that those teams will be in the NCAA tournament as well. West Virginia lost at Texas on Monday and then fell to Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday. Texas Tech? They lost to Oklahoma in Norman on Tuesday and then lost to Texas at home on Saturday.
Oklahoma and Texas are the only two teams in the league that entered the week on or near the bubble.
That is bid collusion at its finest.
Well done, boys.
RELATED: Bubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments
1. MICHIGAN STATE IS BACK, BABY
The No. 24 Spartans went into College Park and put together the best, most through and most dominant performance we’ve seen from them this season in a 78-66 win over No. 9 Maryland.
Is Michigan State back?
I think so, and I wrote an entire column about it on Saturday night.
2. THIS IS THE BEST COACHING JOB OF TONY BENNETT’S CAREER
The Cavaliers got 15 points, nine boards and 10 blocks from Jay Huff to put together their best win of the season, a 52-50 triumph over No. 6 Duke in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon.
And for me, this is the crown jewel of what has been the best coaching job of Tony Bennett’s career. Look, this Virginia team is not all that talented. Their point guard, Kihei Clark, is the size of Baby Yoda. They play two bigs together that weigh a combined 197 pounds in Mamadi Diakite and Huff. Their shooters can not shoot. They are trying to piece together a rotation that includes the likes of Kody Stattman and Casey Morsell, neither of whom are ready to contribute on a stage like this.
Yet, here we are on March 1st, and Virginia is sitting one game out of first place in the ACC regular season standings. They are 21-7 on the season. They are 13-5 in the league. They have won six in a row and nine of their last ten. They were leading with under four minutes left in all five of the games that they lost in league play.
Virginia has no business being this good.
But it looks like they are.
3. SHAKA SMART MAY HAVE JUST SAVED HIS JOB
Texas won two games against ranked teams this week and put themselves into a really good position to try and snipe an at-large bid, but what is a far more interesting storyline with this program is what’s happening with their head coach. Over the last month, Shaka Smart has had to endure everyone wondering whether he would be replaced by Chris Beard or John Beilein. We weren’t even talking about whether or not he could survive this season. We skipped that part and went straight to hiring his replacement.
And it’s hard not to laugh at the irony here. Shaka went into Lubbock and got a win that could get him another season while coaching against the guy that everyone is speculating will be the coach to replace him. I see you, Shaka.
Texas is one of the best jobs in college basketball. It is the flagship program in a talent-rich state at a school where the athletic department has more money than they know what to do with while simultaneously caring very little about basketball. Oh, and Austin is a fun place to live, too. If Texas were to open, it would be the job that might actually make the coaching carousel get weird this spring. If it doesn’t open, you have to start wondering just how many changes are going to be made.
I like Shaka Smart. I don’t want to see him get fired. I also don’t think that he is the right fit for that job. Seeing how this plays out over the course of the next month is going to be absolutely fascinating and one of the biggest storylines in the sport.
4. IMMANUEL QUICKLEY IS THE MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY
At this point, I think Quickley is a lock to win the SEC Player of the Year award. On a team where no one on the roster seems to have any kind of consistency, Quickley has been the rock. In his last 18 games, the 6-foot-3 off-guard is averaging 19.1 points and shooting 46.4 percent from three. He makes all of his free throws. This is anecdotal so I don’t know if it’s entirely accurate, but I’m pretty sure’s hit every single big shot that he has taken this season.
Quite simply, Quickley has been immense. He is Kentucky’s best player and the reason why they have a chance to make a run to the Final Four this season.
5. UDOKA AZUBUIKE HAS THE MOST IMPORTANT ANKLE ON THE PLANET
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: Udoka Azubuike is the most valuable player in the country because he allows Kansas to be able to play four guards, and the four-guard look is the reason this team is elite defensively and a cut above the rest of the country. He’s the best defensive center in the country and he is also the best lob-catcher in college basketball. He’s limited as a player, but in the role he is asked to play for the Jayhawks he is an absolute monster.
And on Saturday, he twice rolled his right ankle. He was able to return to the game after rolling it the first time, but he re-injured the ankle later in the game.
So just how worried should we be able Azubuike’s ankle? Bill Self said he was “fine,” and I don’t think that’s just coach-speak, because Self also told reporters this: “The way he laid on the ground initially, amputation may have been a viable course of action. But he came back, and we probably don’t win the game unless he’s able to give us some minutes.”
OK, I’ll be the one to say it: I’m glad you didn’t need your ankle amputated, Doke.