WACO, Texas (AP) — Lagerald Vick scored 18 points with six 3-pointers on his 22nd birthday and No. 7 Kansas held on for a 73-68 win at Baylor on Saturday.
Vick hit two of his 3s in an 11-3 run in the final 1:44 of the first half for the Jayhawks (14-2, 3-1 Big 12) to put them up by 10. Kansas then held a double-digit lead for most of the second half until the Bears had eight consecutive points in the final minute.
Jared Butler hit a 3 with 54 seconds left and Mark Vital made a basket before Devonte Bandoo’s 3 after Vick’s second turnover in that span got the Bears within 72-68. The Jayhawks missed three free throws down the stretch.
Dedric Lawson added 17 points for Kansas while Devon Dotson had 14. Freshman Ochai Agbaji had 10 in his second game.
Butler had 14 points to lead Baylor (9-6, 1-2), while Vital and Bandoo each had 11. Makai Mason scored 10.
Baylor opened the game’s scoring with two free throws but missed its first 15 shots from the field, falling behind 18-2 before going on a big run of its own. Butler had three 3s in an 18-4 run by the Bears that got them within 22-20 on a free throw by Mason with just under 4 minutes left, though they never got closer.
Vital had Baylor’s first made field goal of the game on a short bank shot with 9:34 left in the first half after he grabbed an offensive rebound.
Kansas: The Jayhawks played their second game since 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist surgery. That’s what led to Agabaji, the 6-5 freshman guard from Kansas City, forgoing his redshirt eligibility. He had a 3 in the late spurt to end the first half.
Baylor: The Bears just couldn’t build on the momentum of their home win Tuesday against No. 20 Iowa State, which then was coming off a 17-point home win over the Jayhawks last weekend. Baylor missed an opportunity to win consecutive games over Kansas, which lost by 16 in Waco last February.
Baylor sophomore forward Tristan Clark, the national leader shooting 74 percent from the field, had season-ending left knee surgery this week. The 6-foot-9 sophomore averaged 14.6 points starting the first 14 games. He made 84 of his 114 shots, and was on pace for the fourth-best shooting season in NCAA history. He now won’t play in enough games to qualify for that.
Kansas plays its third game in six nights when the Jayhawks go home to play Texas on Monday night.
After consecutive home games, Baylor has a quick turnaround before playing Monday night at Oklahoma State.
Best Bets: Eight top ten teams on the road, which underdogs have a chance to win?
The No. 1 team in the country is heading down to Tallahassee to take on a top 15 team, and they are one of eight top ten teams that will be playing on the road this weekend.
One of those games is a rivalry game. Two of them involve elite mid-major teams visiting the second-best team in their league. Two elite Big 12 defenses face-off while Kansas takes another road trip in the league. Indiana tests themselves at Maryland. Myles Powell vs. Markus Howard. And, surprisingly enough, a battle between two Mississippi schools that carries quite a bit of weight.
But the game of the weekend is the features a pair of teams that reached last year’s Elite Eight, one of whom has an entirely new roster and the other who returned basically everyone from a season ago.
As always, this column is running on Friday morning. The official Vegas lines will not come out until Friday night or Saturday morning, so we will be using projections from KenPom and Haslametrics. KenPom is typically better for projecting what the lines will be, while Haslametrics tends to be more useful to gauge if I’m on the right side of the bet or not.
No. 1 DUKE at No. 13 FLORIDA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 81, Florida State 73
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 85, Florida State 71
This game is projected to be quite high scoring, as Duke plays at the ninth-fastest pace nationally while Florida State averages better than 70 possessions per game, and it’s worth noting that the only two losses that Florida State has taken on this season have come in their two slowest games — Villanova on a neutral and at Virginia.
There aren’t a lot of teams that want to run with Duke, but my guess is that the Seminoles will be one of those teams — they are in the 63rd percentile nationally in points-per-possession in halfcourt offense, and average 0.15 PPP more in transition than they do in a halfcourt setting. There are two reasons for this: They do not have good point guard play and they are not a good three-point shooting team. If they have to go up against a set defense, one that can clean the defensive glass, they are in trouble. (They were down 65-36 to Virginia, which is all the evidence you need.)
Duke is not Virginia in the halfcourt, but what they are is a top 30 team nationally in steal percentage playing a Florida State team that turns the ball over on 20.6 percent of their possessions. In fact, they actually rank second in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric as of today, while Virginia ranks third.
So this is how I see this game playing out: Tre Jones overwhelms whoever is trying to initiate offense for the Seminoles. Duke gets their quota of “pick-six” dunks and layups off of live-ball turnovers, and Florida State’s press struggles to slow down a team that starts four players that can bring the ball up the floor. The only real concern that I have here is that Duke will be playing on the road against a good team for the first time this season, and I don’t love taking heavy favorites on the road.
PICKS: This matchup favors Duke, and if the line ends up close to what KenPom is projecting, I would probably take the Blue Devils and the over. I can’t see the game not getting into the 80s, and I don’t think that Duke will smother the Seminoles like Virginia did. Their defense isn’t about suffocating teams, it’s about turning steals and rebounds into easy buckets.
No. 3 TENNESSEE at FLORIDA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 67, Florida 65
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 67, Florida 65
I just do not see it with Florida this year. This is a young group whose two best returners — Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen — have seemingly forgotten how to score the ball. They are 9-5 on the season. Their three best wins came against West Virginia, Arkansas and Butler, none of whom were in our more recent bracket update. Only Butler was close, and the Bulldogs split with the Gators.
Should I mention that Florida lost at home to South Carolina?
PICKS: I will say this about Florida: They are terrific defensively. They grind teams down and force a bunch of turnovers, although I’m not sure that will have too much of an effect on a Tennessee team that protects the ball. I love Tennessee and I think the computers are overvaluing Florida at this point in the season, but the fact that both KenPom ad Haslametrics are projecting the same score is worrisome. I like the Tennessee side better, but I’ll probably stay away.
No. 4 VIRGINIA at CLEMSON, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ACCNET)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Virginia 65, Clemson 58
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Virginia 67, Clemson 54
Virginia has played two ACC games this season and both of them were essentially 30-point blowouts. Clemson has played two ACC games this season and gotten rocked by Duke and Syracuse, both on the road. Coming back home will help, but the Tigers are a team that struggles with turnovers and can’t shoot it from the perimeter, which is what you have to be able to do to beat the Pack-Line.
PICKS: Clemson has struggled this season adjusting to a lineup where they have to play three forwards instead of three guards, and struggling is not something that works against a team as ruthless as Virginia. I expect this line to be around (-8), and I love Virginia there.
No. 5 GONZAGA at SAN FRANCISCO, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Gonzaga 80, San Francisco 73
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Gonzaga 83, San Francisco 73
Don’t sleep on San Francisco. The Dons already own wins over Stanford, Cal (on the road) and Saint Mary’s. The knock on Gonzaga is on the defensive end of the floor, and while they’ve rocketed up from sub-70 to top 35 in adjusted defensive efficiency, they’ve done so by steamrolling six horrible teams. The Zags have struggled to stop good teams this year, and USF is the second-best team in the WCC.
PICKS: My concern here is that USF doesn’t have the dudes to really take advantage of Gonzaga’s weaknesses. Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. can be exploited in plus-matchups, and it’s hardly a secret that talented forwards can attack Rui Hachimura, a freak athlete that is still figuring it out defensively. I do, however, have plenty of respect for the Dons defensively, and I think they’ll be able to handle Gonzaga’s ball-screens action. Where the line opens will be interesting. If it gets to double-digit, I’ll be all over USF, but I don’t expect it to open higher than around (-8).
No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE at PENN STATE, Sun. 4:30 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Penn State 67
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 81, Penn State 64
Penn State has had a brutal start to Big Ten play, and it doesn’t get any easier with Michigan State coming to town. The Nittany Lions are a 7-9 team on the verge of starting 0-4 in Big Ten play. Their backs are against the wall, and unfortunately, the Spartans are hitting their stride.
PICKS: I’m not really interested in this game from a betting perspective. I’m still trying to figure out what Michigan State is, and Penn State always has at least one shocking win in them per season. If I do bet this game, it will probably be just a small moneyline bet on the Nittany Lions.
No. 7 KANSAS at BAYLOR, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 70, Baylor 66
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas 69, Baylor 66
Kansas is cratering in KenPom. They’re all the way down to 10th after losing two of their last five games, and I still don’t think we truly know that this team is without Udoka Azubuike. Baylor, who plays a tricky zone, will certainly make it difficult for the young Jayhawks and will definitely make a team that can’t really shoot prove they can hit threes.
PICKS: I like the Baylor side here. Playing Scott Drew’s zone — which is somewhere between a 1-1-3, a 1-3-1 and a 2-3 — is always weird, and without knockdown perimeter shooters or their best offensive rebounder, I can see Bill Self’s team getting into some trouble. Iowa State has a similar makeup to what Kansas is right now, and they lost in Waco on Tuesday.
Texas Tech has the nation’s No. 1 defense, according to KenPom, and ranks outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Texas is 11th defensively and 73rd offensively. This will not be pretty basketball.
PICKS: This total is going to open in the low 120s. Take the under. This will be my heaviest bet of the day. I also expect the Red Raiders to win, and fully expect this to end up in the 50s.
No. 10 NEVADA at FRESNO STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Nevada 73, Fresno State 70
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Nevada 71, Fresno State 69
Is it safe to believe in Nevada again? They bounced back from an ugly loss at New Mexico by absolutely running San Jose State out of California. But Fresno State on the road will be the toughest game that Nevada has played to date.
PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens up. If I had to guess, I think it will open around (-3) and get bet up a few points once the public sees a top ten team in what’s perceived as a weak league only giving three. I think I’d probably lean towards Fresno State here, but I will wait and see where the line moves before I bet on it.
No. 25 TCU at No. 23 OKLAHOMA, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
KENPOM PROJECTION: Oklahoma 75, TCU 70
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Oklahoma 75, TCU 71
The key here is entirely Jaylen Fisher. If he doesn’t play, then I really like Oklahoma if the line ends up around (-4). This is a really, really good defensive team, and Fisher means so much to the Horned Frogs offensively.
No. 22 INDIANA at MARYLAND, Fri. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Maryland 74, Indiana 69
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 75, Indiana 68
Another injury to keep an eye on here. If Indiana point guard Robert Phinisee is out, I would lean towards taking Maryland, but I don’t really love this spot. I’m not quite buying the Terps the way that the computers are at this point, and while Indiana’s three losses are on the road, two of them were at Duke and at Michigan and the third was a game they probably should have won at Arkansas. They tend to play teams tight, so if this ends up around (-7), it would be tough not to take the points.
Again, a lot of that thinking revolves around Phinisee.
SETON HALL at No. 21 MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Marquette 78, Seton Hall 72
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Marquette 76, Seton Hall 72
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not like betting on Marquette because you’re betting on whether or not you think Markus Howard will go bonkers. I do think Seton Hall’s Myles Cale will be able to disrupt Howard — the key to slowing him down is length, but there really is no “key” to slowing Howard down because he could put 35 on a Monstar if he gets into a rhythm — but again, I don’t like betting Marquette.
PICKS: If I’m going to bet this game, I’ll probably just take the over, assuming it’s in the high 140s. I also like the idea of taking prop bets on points scored by Howard and/or Myles Powell. Always take the over with them.
OLE MISS at No. 14 MISSISSIPPI STATE, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Mississippi State 78, Ole Miss 72
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Mississippi State 79, Ole Miss 72
This is quietly a huge gauge game in the SEC. Ole Miss has won a bunch of games but didn’t beat anyone until they took down Auburn at home. Mississippi State has won a bunch of games and does have some solid Ws, but they also just lost to South Carolina.
PICKS: To be frank, I have no feel for Ole Miss and how good they are, but if we don’t know whether or not a team is good by mid-January, I think we can bet on the idea they aren’t that good. If Mississippi State is (-5) or lower at home in the Egg Bowl, I’d feel comfortable taking them.
Mason 25 points as Baylor beats No. 20 Iowa State 73-70
WACO, Texas — Makai Mason is getting more aggressive on the floor for Baylor, wanting to take shots and chasing after loose balls.
Mason scored a season-high 25 points, including five free throws in the final 38 seconds, and the Bears held on for a 73-70 victory over No. 20 Iowa State on Tuesday night.
“Yeah, it’s definitely been a process,” said Mason, the first graduate transfer ever to play at Baylor. “But, every game, I’ve felt like I’ve been a little more comfortable. Just learning our system as well.”
Iowa State (12-3, 2-1 Big 12) was coming off a 17-point home win over then-No. 5 Kansas three days earlier. The Cyclones had won five in a row and entered the AP Top 25 on Monday for the first time since the end of the 2016-17 season.
“It was a tough loss, this is a loss that should bother us a lot,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.
“We just wanted to build off what we did on Saturday and kind of getting off to a good start in the league,” Cyclones forward Michael Jacobson said. “Yeah, it’s just disappointing for that reason.”
Mason played only one game the past two seasons at Yale because of foot issues, and missed his first three games at Baylor with a sprained right ankle. His 25 points are still shy of his career-high 31, scored for Yale against Baylor in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
“I’m fine with whatever he does, point-wise, this year,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said with a smile.
Devonte Bandoo made two free throws with five seconds left for Baylor (9-5, 1-1), and Iowa State had one more shot to tie the game but Nick Weiler-Babb’s defended 3-pointer from about 30 feet along the right sideline wasn’t even close .
Tristan Clark added 16 points for Baylor while Bandoo had 13.
Marial Shayok had 19 points to lead Iowa State. Lindell Wigginton and Jacobson had 11 each.
Mason made a tough short jumper with 1:48 left to tie the game at 66. After his tiebreaking free throw before missing another with 38 seconds left, King McClure grabbed the offensive rebound. That set up two more free throws by Mason.
There was also Mason’s 8-0 run earlier in the second half. He made a 3 with 9:29 left for a 54-52 lead, then after an Iowa State miss made a long 3 and stood with his right arm still in the air while watching the shot go in the basket. Mason then had a long rebound and fastbreak shot, though it only counted two points since his toe was on the line.
Iowa St.: After their most lopsided win over Kansas in 46 years, this was a tough loss for the Cyclones. Iowa State wiped out an eight-point halftime deficit with a 15-5 run to start the second half in which Shayok had eight points. But the Cyclones never led by more than two points after halftime.
Baylor: Bandoo had eight points, including two 3s, as Baylor closed the first half with a 22-7 run to turn a seven-point deficit into a 38-30 lead. … The Bears have won the last six times Iowa State has visited Waco.
IN A BOOT
Iowa State was finally healthy as a team going into the Big 12 play. But the Cyclones know have another injury to deal with. Cameron Lard sprained his right ankle and sat on the bench after halftime with a protective boot on his foot. Prohm said he didn’t know enough yet to comment on the status of the 6-foot-9 forward.
ANOTHER NIGHT IN THE BIG 12
Baylor bounced back from a conference-opening 85-81 loss at TCU when a late rally came up short.
“Another Big 12 game. We’ve played two of them and both have come down to the last possession,” Drew said. “At the end of the day, that’s what the best league in the country gives you, no off nights.”
Iowa State, which is 8-0 at home this season, is back at Hilton Coliseum to play Kansas State on Saturday.
Baylor plays its second straight home game against a ranked opponent when No. 7 Kansas is at Waco on Saturday.
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big 12.
MIDSEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
Losing Keenan Evans, who averaged 17.6 points per game, and Zhaire Smith, who went one-and-done as the 16th overall pick in June’s NBA draft, should have been a major setback for Texas Tech, but instead the Red Raiders are 11-1 and ranked 11th in the AP poll thanks in large part to Culver’s emergence as dominant force.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore has seamlessly moved into Evans’ role as the engine of Texas Tech’s offense, averaging 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 56.3 percent overall and 45.2 percent from 3-point range. He’s got an offensive rating of 124.8 with a usage rate of 30 percent. He’s high-volume and high-efficiency while also getting his teammates involved with a 31.8 percent assist rate. If Texas Tech is the team to finally stop Kansas’ run atop the league, Culver will be a massive reason why.
THE ALL BIG 12 FIRST TEAM
JARRETT CULVER, TEXAS TECH
MARIAL SHAYOK, IOWA STATE: The Cyclones are a surprising 10-2 while weathering injuries and suspensions, and the Virginia transfer has played a big part. He left Tony Bennett’s program searching greener offensive pastures, and he’s now leading the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game.
DEDRIC LAWSON, KANSAS: The Memphis transfer has been as good as Kansas could have hoped as he’s averaging a double-double of 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds while also dishing out 2.5 assists per game and shooting 51.8 percent from the floor.
LAGERALD VICK, KANSAS: Just a few months removed from essentially being cast out of the Jayhawk program, Vick has at times been a savior this season for Kansas. He’s single-handedly won them a couple of games, and is averaging 15.8 points while shooting 46.8 percent from 3-point range.
ALEX ROBINSON, TCU: The Horned Frog guard is averaging an eye-popping 8.6 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from 3-point range to average 13.1 points.
NCAA: Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, West Virginia
NIT: Texas, Baylor
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Oklahoma State
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. KANSAS HAS COMPETITION
Kansas is probably going to win the league because that’s what they do every year, but it may not be as easy as it looked back in October. Texas Tech is thoroughly legit, having racked up 11 wins and pushing Duke to the brink on a neutral floor. The Red Raiders are, at the moment, the clearest and best threat to the Jayhawks’ supremacy in the Big 12 thanks to Jarrett Culver’s emergence and Chris Beard continuing to prove himself one of the country’s most capable coaches.
The Red Raiders aren’t alone, though. Kansas State hasn’t been great, but if Dean Wade comes back from a foot injury sooner than later, the Wildcats have experience, continuity and talent. Jamie Dixon has TCU rolling, and the Horned Frogs are better than most think while Oklahoma looks surprisingly strong. Then there’s Iowa State, which has been really good despite Lindell Wigginton playing in essentially just one game, and has Hilton Coliseum homecourt advantage to lean on.
Sure, Kansas is going to win, but it might be pretty interesting along the way.
2. CHRIS BEARD HAS TEXAS TECH IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
Situated out in west Texas in Lubbock, Texas Tech is a helluva tough job. There’s little-to-no tradition, little natural recruiting and a landscape whose most interesting feature is often tumbleweeds (and I mean this very literally). Chris Beard, though, seems built to make it a winner. He calls that part of the world home and was a part of Bob Knight’s staff when Knight had the Raiders rolling.
He won big in his one season at Arkansas-Little Rock and then had Texas Tech in the tournament in Year 2. His teams are defensively elite, something that seems ideal for keeping Texas Tech relevant year in and year out. Maybe they can’t get guys like Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith every year – or maybe they can – but you can bet they’re gonna defend. Beard is the real deal.
3. TEXAS CONTINUES TO HAVE ISSUES
Shaka Smart waited out a job for Texas for four years after taking VCU to the Final Four, and the idea would be he’d instantly take his career to the next level at a Power 5 school, especially one with the resources likes Texas. It, uh, hasn’t gone like that.
Texas has unquestionably underachieved, and this year is shaping up to be the same. The Longhorns showed some promise with wins over North Carolina and Purdue, but those seem to be outweighed by losses to Radford, VCU and Providence (all three at home). Maybe the Longhorns figure it out and act like the team beating the likes of the Tar Heels and Boilermakers, but multiple bad losses like that make you wonder.
There is no wondering about what the problem is as it’s been the issue for much of Smart’s tenure in Austin. THe offense is ranked 100th in KenPom a year after slotting 89th and two years removed from registering 177th (they were 49th in Smart’s first year with Rick Barnes’ players). The defense has been very good, but if Texas can’t field a good-to-quite-good offense (which isn’t exactly asking a lot), it’s hard to see them breaking through in a meaningful way.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. HOW GOOD IS KANSAS?
The thinking coming into the season was that Kansas was the best team in the country. They had returning contributors, top-flight transfers and top-rated recruits coming in. That cocktail of talent and experience in Lawrence usually means a special season is in the offing.
And the Jayhawks have really done nothing to dispel that notion, but…they haven’t exactly looked as good as you’d expect. They sleep walked through a game against Vermont, needed overtime to beat Stanford and had close calls against New Mexico State and VIllanova before losing at Arizona State. They’re 11-1 with some nice wins, but…something seems underwhelming. Maybe it was the high expectations. Maybe it’s Duke looking dominant from the start or Michigan being great or Gonzaga and Virginia looking awesome, too.
The Jayhawks are probably fine, but maybe they’re not great? Who knows? We’ll probably get an idea of it quickly in the Big 12, though.
2. IS OKLAHOMA FOR REAL?
Normally, you don’t lose a lottery pick – the nation’s leader in scoring and assists – and get better, but that may be the case for Oklahoma. Trae Young looked to be a generational player for the Sooners, a Norman native whose game was creative and dynamic, but Oklahoma faltered down the stretch, with that very style Young played taking much of the blame.
It’s probably not fair, but those detractors may have some evidence in their corner as the Sooners are suddenly thriving with an 11-1 record with Wisconsin on a neutral the only misstep. They’re doing it with defense and just enough offense while playing with pace. Maybe it’s a mirage, but the evidence is mounting that Lon Kruger’s team is for real.
3. HOW STRONG IS THE BOTTOM?
What’s separated the 10-team Big 12 from some of the country’s other top conferences in recent years is that the bottom of the league has been unlike other conferences – it’s been pretty good. As cliche as it sounds, there just haven’t been nights off in the Big 12.
Is that the case this year again?
Baylor has a couple nice wins, but some disconcerting losses as well. Oklahoma State looks like the likeliest culprit to drag down the league-wide RPI, though as they’ve already lost to the likes of Charlotte and Tulsa with Charleston and LSU their top-100 wins. As strange as it sounds, you’ve got to keep an eye on West Virginia as well given how uneven they’ve looked, though it’s hard to picture Bob Huggins’ program faltering quite like that.
Still, as far as cellars go, it could be rather formidable.
1. THEY’LL GET EIGHT BIDS
Yeah, I know, I only picked the league to get seven teams up above, but let’s get bold here. Assuming West Virginia gets things squared away and Texas starts looking more like a blue blood, there’s strong shot the conference gets 80 percent of its membership into the Big Dance. That’ll probably come on the heels of a lot of conference records hovering around .500, but the conference has built enough of a reputation that it wouldn’t be punished for mediocrity but rather for high-level parity.
2. KANSAS STATE UNDERWHELMS
Expectations were probably over-cooked for Bruce Weber’s team given they got to the Elite 8 largely thanks to a friendly path – shoutout to UMBC – after a so-so regular season. The Wildcats lost to the best team they’ve played – Marquette – and struggled against the likes of Southern Miss and George Mason (while losing to Tulsa). If Dean Wade missing a ton of time, Kansas State could tumble down the standings.
3. KANSAS’ STREAK FINALLY ENDS
No, it won’t. Maybe next year, everybody.
Monday Overreactions: Gonzaga’s defensive woes, Kentucky’s back, show the mids some love
Indiana’s best player this season put together the best performance of his career on Saturday afternoon.
One year after setting his career-high by scoring 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Juwan Morgan went out and put 35 points on Butler in this year’s iteration of the same event. He was 12-for-14 from the floor. He made four of Indiana’s nine threes and seven of their eight free throws. He scored 35 of their 71 points in a 71-68 win over Butler, and while Robert Phinisee’s buzzer-beating three is going to be what everyone remembers from this game, the truth is that Morgan is the reason the Hoosiers won this game. He kept them close in a game that Butler more or less controlled from the tip and gave them a shot to win in the final seconds.
And frankly, it’s a microcosm of Indiana’s season to date. The Hoosiers have yet to hit anything close to their stride. The 23 point win over Marquette last month looks better and better, but since that game Indiana has lost twice and struggled in their six wins. It took them longer than it should have to put away UT Arlington and UC Davis. They won one possession games in four straight, over Northwestern, at Penn State, against Louisville and, on Saturday, vs. Butler. They’ve battled injury. They’ve battled depth issues. They have a roster full of underclassmen that are being asked to figure things out on the fly.
Yet, they are currently 9-2 on the season with a number of good wins and nary a bad loss. Getting smacked by Duke in Cameron is going to happen to everyone. Their loss at Arkansas was by one point in a game that Indiana probably should have one.
If there has been one constant for them, it’s Morgan, their ever-underrated star.
If and when Indiana finally gets healthy and starts playing up to their potential, they are going to be in a position to get a pretty good seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s due, in very large part, to the work Morgan has done these first 11 games.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina landed the marquee non-conference win that they’ve been searching for on Saturday.
A loss to Texas in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational burned their shot at playing Michigan State. The Tar Heels were smoked on the road by Michigan. Kentucky, as of today, doesn’t look like it is going to end up being as good as we thought they would be.
That left Saturday’s home date with then-No. 4 Gonzaga, and North Carolina delivered. Spurred on by hot shooting from Cam Johnson and — finally — Luke Maye to go along with a career-best 14 points from Seventh Woods, the Tar Heels ran away from the Zags late in the first half and coasted to a 103-90 win in Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels are dangerous. They actually matchup well with the likes of Duke, Gonzaga and Tennessee, and given that Nassir Little is still coming off of the bench — we’ll get to that in a bit — they have the kind of depth and lineup versatility that you need. When it comes down to it, getting smoked at Michigan when Zavier Simpson eats up a freshman point guard is not that bad of a loss, and the loss to Texas came on the one day this season where Kerwin Roach decided he wanted to be Russell Westbrook.
I’m still very much in on the Tar Heels.
1. GONZAGA’S DEFENSE WILL COST THEM A FINAL FOUR
We have reached the point in the season where I can comfortably say that Gonzaga’s defense is a major, major problem. As of today, the Zags rank 63rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, but considering that KenPom’s algorithm still factors in last season’s data, it stands to reason that the Zags are, truthfully, worse than just 63rd in defensive efficiency. Against North Carolina on Saturday, they gave up 103 points. They allowed 76 in 68 possessions to Tennessee. Washington scored 79 in just 67 possessions. Creighton put up 92 points in 76 possessions. Duke lit up the Zags as well, scoring 48 of their 87 points in the second half.
I did a study on this last season when Duke’s defense was the biggest concern in college basketball. Only one team has won a national title in the KenPom era when they entered the NCAA tournament ranked outside of the top 35 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric — North Carolina in 2009. Only two other teams reached the title game when they entered the tournament ranked outside the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and reached the national title game: Butler in 2011, the year they beat No. 11 seed VCU in the Final Four, and Trey Burke’s Michigan team in 2013.
The good news for the Zags?
Both Michigan in 2013 and North Carolina in 2009 were one of the top two teams offenses in the country, and that’s precisely where the Zags reside this year.
And it would stand to reason that the return of Killian Tillie will help on the defensive end of the floor.
But it is worth mentioning here that neither Josh Perkins nor Zach Norvell Jr. are considered good defenders, while Rui Hachimura’s biggest issue is being able to stay in front of people on the perimeter. Tillie’s return would likely bump him to the three.
It is too early to start freaking out about this. Remember, we had this same conversation about Duke last season, and they ended up as a top ten defense after switching to zone. We also had this conversation about Duke in 2015, the year they won the title.
But this is something we will need to track all season long.
2. KENTUCKY IS … BACK?
The Wildcats de-pantsed a bad Utah team, which in a vacuum is really nothing to write home about.
Kentucky should be beating teams ranked outside the top 100 on KenPom 88-61 in Rupp Arena.
But the reason this is notable today is because Kentucky hasn’t been doing that this season. They’ve struggled to put away teams that we all thought would be overmatched, and since they have lost the only two games they’ve played outside of Lexington, they are falling out of top 25s all over the place. They were not ranked in the NBC Sports Top 25 last week or this week.
That said, this was a promising performance from Kentucky simply because they finally beat the hell out of someone. We’ve been waiting all season for them to play like the team that whooped up on everyone that crossed their path in the Bahamas, and they did that on Saturday. Utah is going to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the Pac-12 this year, but that is still a high-major basketball team coached by one of the best coaches in the sport.
Maybe all they needed to kickstart their season was a week’s worth of doubters telling the world how losing Quade Green and dropping an overtime game to Seton Hall was the death-knell for the John Calipari era at Kentucky.
3. KANSAS CANNOT REACH THEIR CEILING WITHOUT GETTING QUENTIN GRIMES GOING
The Jayhawks are a two-headed monster at this point in the year. I wrote 1,000 words on Saturday explaining why. The tl;dr version is pretty simple: No Udoka Azubuike means that Dedric Lawson has to play the five. Dedric Lawson at the five means that Kansas doesn’t have anyone capable of scoring that can play the four, and since Bill Self’s freshman backcourt hasn’t looked all that much more effective offensively than Marcus Garrett, there are really only two players that opposing defenses have to worry about.
Lawson and Lagerald Vick.
Some of that gets solved with the return of the big fella.
But there is no doubt that Kansas needs to find a way to get Quentin Grimes going. After looking like the best freshman in the country for the first half of the first game this season, Grimes has been non-existent for the Jayhawks. He’s not making threes. He’s not getting to the rim. He looks like he’s totally lost his confidence. And if he’s not a threat to score, there’s no point in having in on the court, as Garrett is better than Grimes at everything that doesn’t involve putting the ball in the basket.
4. THE NCAA TOURNAMENT SELECTION COMMITTEE MUST REWARD THE MID-MAJORS THIS YEAR
The Pac-12 had a dreadful weekend in what has been a pretty dreadful start to their season. Washington was smoked by No. 13 Virginia Tech. Utah was embarrassed by No. 19 Kentucky. Belmont won at UCLA in a game where UCLA led by 12 in the second half. USC got smoked by Oklahoma. Arizona lost at home to Baylor, who most think will be competing for second-to-last in the Big 12 this season. Oregon State lost at home to a rebuilding Texas A&M. Cal improved to 4-5 on the season, but they needed a jumper with 3.8 seconds left to get past 3-6 Cal Poly.
There’s a very real chance that the Pac-12 is a two-bid conference.
The American looks like it is going to end up being a two-bid league, depending on how things shake out. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a one-bid league. The Mountain West and WCC will likely both end up being one-bid leagues as long as Gonzaga and Nevada are the teams that win their respective automatic bids.
The problem with this, however, is that we are going to need to find a way to get to 36 at-large bids somehow.
I hope this means that the mid-majors that have won big games during non-conference play get rewarded. Belmont has beaten UCLA on the road, Illinois State and swept a Lipscomb team that has won at SMU, at TCU and very nearly pipped a win at Louisville. Buffalo is undefeated with a win at West Virginia and a sweep of Southern Illinois. Furman is undefeated with a win at Villanova and a trip to LSU coming up on Friday.
I know there are more teams that deserve mention here as well that I’m just not remembering off the top of my head.
And I hope that the work these programs have done in the non-conference will get them the attention they deserve and an at-large bid should they end up getting upset in their league tournament.
I also know that probably isn’t going to be how it goes.
We’ll just invite the entire ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 and call it a bracket.
5. CAM JOHNSON IS THE REASON NASSIR LITTLE DOESN’T PLAY 35 MINUTES A NIGHT
Much has been made this season about why Nassir Little, a top five prospect and a potential top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, isn’t starting and is only seeing 20 minutes when he’s been so productive in those minutes.
The reason why is very, very simple, and I explained it all right here on Saturday.
Baylor will start the season without forward Mario Kegler, as the former Mississippi State transfer has been suspended for the first six games of the season.
Head coach Scott Drew announced the suspension of Kegler to reporters on Monday as Kegler will sit out due to a violation of team rules.
The 6-foot-7 Kegler is expected to be one of Baylor’s go-to players this season after he sat out last season following his transfer from the Bulldogs. As a freshman with Mississippi State two seasons ago, Kegler averaged 28.7 minutes per contest as he put up 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. A noted scorer and former four-star prospect, Kegler shot 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range.
Baylor’s schedule doesn’t start with many difficult games, so Kegler’s suspension shouldn’t hurt the Bears too much. Playing mostly buy games, except for a clash with SEC bottom feeder Ole Miss on Fri, Nov. 23, Baylor has a chance to win all of those games even without one of their best players.
But Baylor is definitely going to need Kegler to get up to speed and produce if they want any sort of successful season. Making matters more difficult for Baylor is an ankle injury that guard Makai Mason is dealing with at the start of the season. Although only a minor injury, Mason is expected to be a game-time decision for Baylor’s season-opener against Texas Southern on Tuesday.
Without Kegler and Mason, it’ll be interesting to see who Baylor turns to for offense as senior guard King McClure is the team’s returning leading scorer at 8.1 points per game.