Nothing changed in the top five this week, as Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga all won the games that they were supposed to win, some in more impressive fashion that others.
Where things changed began with Kansas at No. 6 and Nevada at No. 7.
Let’s start with the Jayhawks: I only dropped them from fifth to sixth despite the fact that A) they lost by 17 points to Iowa State, and B) they lost Udoka Azubuike for the season. That’s because the Jayhawks lost Azubuike the day before a game where they had to go into Hilton Coliseum and take on an Iowa State team that is both very good and matched up perfectly with the short-handed Jayhawks. And yes, Kansas will be different without their star 7-footer, but they also have a coach in Bill Self who knows how to tweak lineups and has spent the last two seasons coaching up a team that had to play four guards. I’m still in wait and see mode here.
And then there is Iowa State, who is right there with Texas Tech as the second-best team in the Big 12. I bumped them all the way up to No. 10 this week, and my reasoning as to why can be found here.
There were some other tweaks as well — Michigan State seems to be really flying under the radar right now, as does Virginia Tech — but the other major change was dropping Nevada from No. 7 to No. 14. I’m still in on the Wolf Pack as a threat to make a run in March, but as their schedule starts to look less and less impressive (they’ve only beaten one KenPom top 50 team, and that was No. 47 Utah State at home) and they continue to play like the regular season doesn’t matter all that much to them, it’s hard to rank them any higher than this.
I still think they can beat just about anyone on any given night given their talent and the way they like to play, but they proven with a 27 point loss to New Mexico that their floor is lower than anyone realized.
Anyway, here is the full top 25:
1. Duke (12-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Michigan (15-0, 2)
3. Tennessee (12-1, 3)
4. Virginia (13-0, 4)
5. Gonzaga (14-2, 5)
6. Michigan State (13-2, 10)
7. Kansas (12-2, 6)
8. Texas Tech (13-1, 8)
9. Virginia Tech (13-1, 11)
10. Iowa State (12-2, 25)
11. Kentucky (10-3, 12)
12. North Carolina (11-3, 13)
13. Florida State (12-2, 9)
14. Nevada (14-1, 7)
15. N.C. State (13-1, 14)
16. Auburn (12-2, 15)
17. Mississippi State (12-1, 19)
18. Ohio State (12-2, 16)
19. Marquette (12-3, 17)
20. Buffalo (13-1, 20)
21. Houston (14-0, NR)
22. St. John’s (14-1, NR)
23. Wisconsin (11-4, 18)
24. Indiana (12-3, 23)
25. Oklahoma (12-2, 24)
New Additions: 21. Houston, 22. St. John’s Dropped Out: 21. Nebraska, 22. Iowa
BIG 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, Kansas State
Big East (5): Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Creighton
American (4): Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple
Pac 12 (2): Arizona State, Washington
Atlantic 10 (2): Saint Louis, VCU
Mountain West (1): Nevada
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
ONE BID LEAGUES:Southern Illinois (MVC), Niagara (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Abilene Christian (SLND), UNC-Greensboro (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Charleston (CAA), Radford (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), St. Francis-NY (NEC), Texas Southern (SWAC)
Cowan scores 19 as Maryland gets past No. 24 Nebraska 74-72
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Nebraska’s final attempt to score had gone awry, and as the buzzer sounded, Maryland’s players rushed to the middle of the court to celebrate the team’s most significant victory of the season.
“We beat a really good team. We need that for a confidence builder,” coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terrapins used a late push to get past No. 24 Nebraska 74-72 on Wednesday night.
Bruno Fernando had 18 points and 17 rebounds, Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 19 points and freshman Jalen Smith accounted for Maryland’s final seven points to finish with 15, including a tiebreaking layup with 3.8 seconds left.
The Terrapins (11-3, 2-1 Big Ten) had previously lost to Virginia, at Purdue and at home against Seton Hall. Turgeon rarely misses a chance to point out that this is “fifth-youngest team in the country,” but he also knows that isn’t an excuse for losing.
“Our guys are doing great,” Turgeon said. “We’re getting better. I’m just glad we won.”
Maryland trailed 71-70 before Smith made a follow-shot off a 3-point try by Cowan with 28 seconds left. After James Palmer converted 1 of 2 free throws for Nebraska, Smith drove the middle of the lane for his decisive layup.
Following a timeout, Nebraska (11-3, 1-2) tried to work the ball up the court before Ricky Lindo Jr. knocked away a pass under the basket to seal it.
“It was extremely encouraging for all of us, just to see how far we’ve come,” Fernando said. “Wins like that mean a lot to us, to the coaches, to everybody at the whole University of Maryland.”
Palmer scored 26 points and Glynn Watson Jr. added 12 for the Cornhuskers, whose four-game winning streak ended.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles lamented his team’s poor free-throw shooting (15 for 23), lack of rebounding (Maryland dominated 38-28) and a defense that allowed the Terps to hit eight 3-pointers.
“You can’t give them eight 3s and not rebound. Pick one that you want to be awful at,” Miles said.
It was a tough loss to take, as was an earlier seven-point setback at Minnesota, but Miles accepted it as life in the Big Ten.
“You’ve got to look at it from a global, big-picture perspective and say, `This is just the way it’s going be,” he said.
The final minutes went back and forth, with neither team able to take charge.
After a three-point play by Smith put Maryland ahead 70-67 with 2:42 left, Watson made two free throws and Palmer turned a steal into a dunk for a 71-70 lead with 2:13 remaining.
That would be the last time the Huskers were in front.
“You hear the celebration in the opposing locker room, and it’s disappointing because you probably played well enough to win but you just didn’t do enough little things,” Miles said.
The game was tied early in the second half before Maryland missed eight straight shots over a four-minute span while falling behind 47-39.
Fernando ended the drought with a layup and made another before Aaron Wiggins and Cowan drilled 3-pointers to cap a 10-2 run that tied it at 49 with 12 minutes left.
Neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way.
Smith struggled in the first half, scoring only three points in nine minutes.
“He wasn’t very good early, was he?” Turgeon said. “I was chewing on him, the assistants were chewing on him, and he responded.”
The Cornhuskers limited Maryland to 28-for-60 shooting. It was the 38th time in 39 games Nebraska’s opponent failed to exceed 50 percent, dating to last season. Minnesota topped 50 percent on Dec. 5 in an 85-78 victory.
Nebraska: Playing on the road in a loud arena, the Cornhuskers gave a tough Maryland team everything it could handle. But Nebraska needs to be more aggressive on the boards and against the Terps got only three players to the foul line.
Maryland: The Terrapins must build on this victory rather than merely bask in it. “We’re going to enjoy this one and move on,” Fernando said.
Nebraska faces Iowa on the road Sunday.
Maryland travels to Rutgers on Saturday. The Terps are 6-0 against the Scarlet Knights since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
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 Ten.
MIDSEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
It’s not hard to draw a parallel to Happ’s success this season and Wisconsin’s return to form after the program’s first season without an NCAA tournament in two decades. Happ put up numbers last year – 17.9 points, 8 rebounds and 3.7 assists – but it was a grind and things never seem to come as easily to him as they appeared two in his first seasons in Madison. He and the Badgers didn’t seem to adapt well to a more usage-heavy role with a supporting cast that was unable to do much supporting.
Now, though, Happ is beasting and the Badgers are rolling. The 6-foot-10 throwback pivot has the look of a National Player of the year, averaging 19.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor. He’s dominating the game by being excellent in nearly every one of its phases. It’s no accident Wisconsin is now 10-3 with a 2-0 headstart to B1G play. Happ’s game may not endear him to NBA scouts – he’s shot just three 3s this year – but he’s unquestionably one of the best players in college basketball right now.
THE ALL BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
ETHAN HAPP, WISCONSIN
CARSEN EDWARDS, PURDUE: The Boilermaker point guard has a decent argument for the top spot here given the season he’s having. Edwards leads the Big Ten in scoring with 25.8 points per game as he’s moved into a bigger role in West Lafayette and thrived. He’s shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and is dishing out 3.5 assists per game.
JAMES PALMER, NEBRASKA: Palmer’s efforts are a big reason the Cornhuskers look poised to snap a four-year NCAA tournament drought. The 6-foot-6 senior is picking up where he left off following his breakthrough season last year after transferring from Miami, averaging 19.6 points along with 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.8 assists per game.
CASSIUS WINSTON, MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans’ floor general is having a superb season to help power Michigan State to an 11-2 record with a 2-0 B1G mark. He’s doing it all, averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 assists per game.
BRUNO FERNANDO, MARYLAND: The sophomore has shown a lot of growth this season, and his game is starting to match his for foreboding 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 70.2 percent from the floor.
We anticipated the Wolverines would be pretty good this season coming off last year’s surprise NCAA tournament title game appearance. It’s never wise to bet against John Beilein, and Michigan, despite losses of Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, still had talent on the roster. What Michigan is doing now, though, well, that’s been a big of a surprise.
The Wolverines are absolutely red-hot, roasting opponents and establishing themselves as a no-doubt, no-argument national title contender. They more than hinted at that fact when they thrashed Villanova in November and then followed it up with wins against Providence, Northwestern, Purdue and North Carolina to head into 2019 with a perfect 13-0 record.
Michigan’s defense is about as good as it gets, with opponents shooting just 41.4 percent on 2-point shots with an effective field goal percentage of 43, good for 11th in the country. The Wolverines also keep opponents off the offensive glass and the free-throw line, a time-tested formula for defensive excellence. Offensively, they’re playing Beilein’s offense methodically, taking care of the ball and making shots. They may not be overloaded with talent ala Duke, but the Wolverines are stacked with the likes of Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and freshman sensation Ignas Brazdeikis.
The Wolverines look to be very much in line for a third title game under Beilein, and this could be the time they’re the last team standing, atop a ladder with cut nets in hand.
2. IT DIDN’T TAKE ARCHIE MILLER LONG TO TURN INDIANA AROUND
It’s not hard to imagine that last year wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of fun for Archie Miller. In his first year as Indiana’s coach, the Hoosiers went 16-15 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten after Miller spent the previous four years in the NCAA tournament at Dayton. There weren’t a long list of doubters about Miller’s long-term viability in Bloomington, but a difficult year that included Big Ten losing streaks of four and three games maybe made the timeline look a little extended.
Or the Hoosiers would figure it out immediately, like it appears they have.
Landing five-star homegrown talent Romeo Langford was obviously the key as the freshman is averaging 17.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor (though a ghastly 21.3 percent on more than three attempts from 3-point range per game). He hasn’t been alone, though, as Juwan Morgan has been spectacular while the Hoosiers sport a top-20 defense.
3. THE B1G IS BACK
It’s been a couple of years in the wilderness for the Big Ten. The expansion to 14 teams may have been a boon to the league’s coffers, it hasn’t exactly been a success on the hardwood. Since the move in 2014-15, the Big Ten hasn’t ranked in the top-three in KenPom, and they’ve been fifth twice. They’ve averaged six NCAA tournament teams per year and haven’t had a one-seed since Wisconsin’s national runner-up season of 2015. They’ve only had five teams with a three-seed or better in that time frame, too. They’ve also played their conference tournament in Washington, D.C. and reworked the conference schedule into December to play in New York. So it’s been pretty nasty for a league that’s long prided itself on its basketball prowess.
This season looks to be a return to form.
The league currently has a pair of top-five KenPom teams (Michigan and Michigan State) while a whopping 11 programs are ranked in the top-50. Rutgers and Illinois look the only teams that are truly going to struggle while Minnesota is the third team outside the top-50 at 62 with wins against Washington and Nebraska on the resume.
The Big Ten is back in a big way.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. ONE-SEED PURSUIT
The Big Ten hasn’t had a No. 1 seed in three seasons, but the conference now has a pair of teams that look squarely in the mix to secure one in Michigan and Michigan State. Can the Big Ten go from drought to deluge this season with a pair of top seeds?
It could be tough for the league to get two top seeds with Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina and Nevada all building No. 1 seed resumes through two months, but it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility. The Wolverines and Spartans will be bolstered by the fact the Big Ten is going to provide a plethora of quadrant-one wins this season, and the conference’s reputation appears to be on the upswing, which can sometimes matter as much as the numbers. If both teams can compile huge win totals – and perhaps split their season series with each other – it’s not hard to envision scenarios with them both on the one-line.
2. COACHING SITUATIONS
There didn’t appear to be any coaches whose seats were absolutely red-hot entering the season, but there were a few situations worth monitoring.
The first is Richard Pitino at Minnesota, where the son of the Hall of Famer has gone to just one NCAA tournament (featuring a first-round loss) in five seasons with an athletic director that didn’t hire him and a new university president on the way in. Pitino seems to have quieted much discussion about his job with a nice 11-2 start to the season, but it remains to be seen if a November loss to Boston College will be viewed as a hiccup or warning light.
Pat Chambers has gone 0-for-7 in his tenure in getting to the NCAA tournament during his tenure in University Park, though the Nittany Lions did take home the NIT title last season. Still, not many coaches can have that be the high-water mark over seven seasons and come to work for an eighth. Chambers has a win over Virginia Tech this season, but losses to DePaul and Bradley along with Ls courtesy of Maryland, Indiana, N.C. State and Alabama suggest trouble remains ahead.
Fran McCaffery has missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes’ best season during his tenure was a seven-seed and a first-weekend exit after being ranked in the top five at one point in 2015-16, but a new contract and huge buyout kept any questions about his job security to a whisper. Their 11-2 start to this season with wins against Oregon and Iowa State are having the same affect.
There’s been just one NCAA tournament in six seasons for Tim Miles at Nebraska, and that came in 2014. With a brand-new arena, the expectations in Lincoln are for more. But after narrowly missing the tournament last year thanks largely to the B1G being down across the board and this year’s strong start, things look to be pointed in the right direction.
3. HOW GOOD IS OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes have just one loss on the season, a home setback to Syracuse, and a bunch of nice-but-not-great wins on their resume with Ws against the likes of Cincinnati, Creighton, Minnesota and UCLA (whose blahness just got their coach canned).
Chris Holtmann’s team’s statistical profile is strong with KenPom rankings in the top-40 in both offense (35) and defense (22) while sophomore Kaleb Wesson is budding into one of the conference’s hardest-to-guard players.
How it all comes together when the schedule ramps up – starting with Michigan State on Saturday – will be one of the more interesting things to watch unfold in the Big Ten.The five game stretch of at Iowa, vs. Maryland, vs. Purdue, at Nebraska and at Mcihigan to finish January is going to tell a lot.
1. ETHAN HAPP IS A FIRST-TEAM ALL-AMERICAN
The Badgers big man will have stiff competition around the country, but if he keeps putting up numbers like he is now – and his entire career suggests he will – while Wisconsin continues its resurgence, it’s going to be impossible to keep him off a list of the country’s five best players.
2. AT LEAST EIGHT GO DANCING
Just a year removed from having four teams in the NCAA tournament – a 10-year low – the Big Ten is going to get at least eight teams into the Big Dance. Even with the expanded membership, that would be a historic achievement for one of the country’s most storied conferences.
3. THERE WILL BE A SURPRISE TOURNEY CHAMPION
We’re going to spend a ton of the next two-plus months talking about Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin as the premier Big Ten teams, but it’ll be another team from the deep league – here’s looking at Ohio State, Indiana or Nebraska – that will cut down the nets at the United Center in the conference tournament.
NBC Sports Top 25: No Pac-12 teams anywhere to be found
Another week where we don’t really have all that much to talk through.
Wisconsin takes a hit because they lost a game where they were favored by 7.5 points, but it’s hard to get too up in arms about Wisconsin losing on the road to a Western Kentucky team that has a first round pick in Charles Bassey and is stocked with high-major talent; I don’t think it’s crazy to say the more talented team won that game.
Arizona State also lost, but their situation was different: They dropped a home game, not a road game, and they lost to an Ivy League team that no one considers to be a top three team in that conference. That should give you a sense of just how good that league actually is, but it’s also a bad sign for the one team thought was any good in the Pac-12. So they’re out of the top 25.
I didn’t move Kentucky at all after the win at Louisville, but I wouldn’t argue against it. For me, they can be slotted anywhere in that second tier of teams — from No. 8 to No. 13 — justifiably, but I am not yet ready to put them in the same conversation as the elite group of teams this season.
Other than that, the only other change was moving Iowa State into the top 25. They probably don’t have a top 25 resume, but I want to be in on them early. They will be right there with — and yes, this is weird to type — Texas Tech and Oklahoma in the race to finish second in the Big 12.