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Monday Overreactions: Cam Reddish is back, Markus Howard the GOAT, is Maryland for real?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markus Howard, Marquette

This is becoming something of a trend.

On Saturday, Howard helped the Golden Eagles pick off one of the hotter teams in the Big East, scoring 26 points and adding six boards, six assists and two steals in a win over Seton Hall.

For anyone else, that might be the best game of their season.

For Howard, it was less than half the number of points he scored on Wednesday night.

In a game at Creighton, Howard finished with 53 points, the second time in his career he broke 50 and the third time this season he scored at least 45 points. He was 15-for-26 from the field and 10-for-14 from three, and added his usual array of ridiculous step-back threes and off-balance jumpers.

And the most important part — he helped the Golden Eagles pick up a win on the road against a good team.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ole Miss Rebels

I’ll be honestly — I hadn’t given Ole Miss basketball all that much thought prior to Wednesday, when they whipped up on a good Auburn team at home.

OK, I thought, that’s notable, but it’s a home game in league play. Let’s see what happens when they play at Mississippi State.

And, as you probably have figured out by now, the Rebels went out and won that game as well. Kermit Davis is doing one of the best coaching jobs in the country, and looks to have a team that will be in the top 20 with the AP Poll is released this week.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. CAM REDDISH IS AWESOME AGAIN AND DUKE IS NEVER GOING TO LOSE

The issue for Cam Reddish this season, the reason that he has struggled over the course of the last month, has nothing to do with his ability and everything to do with the way that ability fits on a roster that already includes a stud point guard, a dynamic and ball-dominant lead guard and the best player in the country, who himself is quite effective with the ball in his hands.

Put another way, when Tre Jones is the point guard, R.J. Barrett is the go-to guy offensively and Zion Williamson is Zion Williamson, Reddish is forced out of the picture. It’s not just a confidence thing, although that is likely playing a part: It’s his fit within the roster. The reason Reddish is such an intriguing and high-ceiling prospect is not just that he’s 6-foot-8 and toolsy with three-point range, but that he is all of those things and capable of being a ball-handler. He can run pick-and-rolls. He can create in isolation. He, as the saying in basketball circles goes, “has some s*** to his game.”

Asking a player that can do those things to be nothing but a floor-spacer is a tough ask, a tough sell and a tough thing for that player to adjust to.

And it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that when he was given the opportunity, he thrived. On Saturday, he scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and hit the game-winning shot on the road against a top 15 team.

All he needed was some space, some time with the ball and his number to get called.

I don’t know if this is what busts Reddish out of his funk. He’s not the most demanding player — the knock on him has always been that he plays it too cool, and some scouts will tell you that he lacks competitiveness — and it is very easy to fade into the background when you’re personality is naturally inclined to do so. But what I do know is that this is definitive proof that Duke is the most talented team — the best team — in the country.

Winning a game on the road against someone as good as Florida State without the best player in the sport for an entire half is not an easy thing to do.

And Duke did it on Saturday.

2. MARYLAND IS THE BEST BIG TEN TEAM OUTSIDE THE STATE OF MICHIGAN

I thought this would be a hot take, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is just the truth.

Part of the reason is that Maryland has one of the most improved players in the country on their roster. Bruno Fernando is a 6-foot-10, 230 pound monster that is flying up NBA draft boards because of the fact that, you know, he’s a 6-foot-10, 230 pound monster. He dominated Indiana in the second half of Maryland’s win on Friday, and he’s been arguably the best big man in the league this side of Ethan Happ.

Throw in Jalen Smith — a potential top 20 pick in his own right — along with a backcourt anchored by veteran guard Anthony Cowan, and it makes sense.

But the other side of this is that I’m not convinced anyone in the Big Ten outside of Michigan and Michigan State has set themselves apart. Ohio State and Iowa have come back down to earth after hot starts. Nebraska and Wisconsin, too. Purdue is dangerous, but they are the Carsen Edwards Show. Indiana can’t find a way to stay healthy. Minnesota? They’re fine. Penn State? Northwestern? Nah.

It’s probably Maryland right now.

And with Wisconsin at home followed by road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State in the next eight days, we’ll know for sure pretty soon.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

3. AFTER ALL OF THAT DRAMA, VILLANOVA IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG EAST

They were humiliated at home by Michigan. They were beaten at home by Furman. They lost to Penn. They struggled with the likes of La Salle, and St. Joseph’s, and DePaul. We all thought that this was the year where the talent drain and youth movement would put an end to Villanova’s reign of dominance.

That was a dumb thing to think.

Because Villanova is going to win the Big East regular season title again.

As things currently stand, the Wildcats are the only team in the league that has not yet lost a conference game after they went into Creighton and knocked off the Bluejays on Sunday afternoon. Marquette is the only other Big East team that has less than two league losses.

The change, as much as anything, has been Phil Booth and Eric Paschall playing the way that fifth-year seniors should play for the Wildcats. Since the loss to Penn, Booth is averaging 22.7 points, 5.2 boards and 5.0 assists while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor and 47.8 percent from three. During that same stretch, Paschall is averaging 20.2 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 48.5 percent from beyond the arc. In those six games, Villanova is 5-1 with the only loss coming by three points at Kansas.

4. SATURDAY’S BLOWOUT SAID MORE ABOUT LOUISVILLE THAN NORTH CAROLINA

The Tar Heels are exactly what we thought they were.

A talented team that lacks the bigs that Roy Williams wants and has a freshman point guard that is going to do freshman point guard things. Teams like this are going to be able to do things like win at N.C. State and beat Gonzaga handily. They are also going to be inconsistent enough to lose to Texas, or get smoked by Louisville, or Michigan, or Kentucky.

That’s who they are.

And we knew this prior to Saturday.

What’s notable here is that it was Louisville that did this to them. The Cardinals had been man-handled by Kentucky in their own gym and lost to Pitt in the course of the previous two weeks, which is not exactly the best way to head into league play.

But Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton were terrific against the Tar Heels, the Cardinals controlled the paint and by 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, they had a 21 point win at the Dean Dome on their resume.

5. NO ONE IN THE BIG 12 IS ALL THAT GOOD

The more Big 12 basketball that I watch, the more that I believe the conference as a whole is deep but that the best teams in the conference really aren’t great.

Put another way, as the season progresses and we continue to talk more and more about putting teams into tiers, I don’t think that there is anyone in the league that deserves to be mentioned as a top tier team nationally. I’m sure that is going to rankle some feathers in Lawrence, but I think it’s a reasonable take. Right now, without Udoka Azubuike anchoring their offense and with Quentin Grimes continuing to work through some of his confidence and shooting issues, it’s hard to figure out what Kansas is great at on that end of the floor. The goal may be to run offense through Lawson in the post, but playing four-around-one with a passer that is as skilled as Lawson is rendered somewhat ineffective when you can’t shoot; on the season, Kansas is making 34.5 percent of their threes, a number that dropped to 30.8 percent in four Big 12 games.

As far as Texas Tech is concerned, they have one of the best defenses that we have ever seen in the collegiate ranks, but the problem with them is that they can really struggle to score. They rank 92nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and as I study I did last year shows, it is very difficult to win a national title when you have an elite defense that can struggle to score. If that’s not enough evidence, how about this: The two best defenses in college basketball last season were Virginia and Cincinnati. Cincinnati lost to Nevada in the second round and, I’m not sure if you have heard, but Virginia lost to UMBC.

I thought Iowa State was loaded — they lost two games last week to Baylor and Kansas State. Oklahoma is good, but they’re 2-2 in the league and don’t have a star score they can trust. TCU is not the same team without Jaylen Fisher healthy. Hell, the most frustrating thing about the league is that it seems as if everyone in the conference can really, really guard, but no one knows how to score. It’s the opposite of the problem the league’s football teams have.

There is still a ton of basketball left to play, but as of today, I am not buying that there is a Final Four team in this conference.

NBC Sports Top 25: Buh-bye Iowa State, hello Ole Miss?

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The #DausterCurse strikes again!

After going all-in on Iowa State, taking them from outside the top 25 to No. 10 in the country based on a dominant win against Kansas and buying into the (what I thought was an accurate) eye-test, the Cyclones never stood a chance. They lost by three at Baylor on Tuesday night and followed that up by blowing a late lead and losing at home to Kansas State on Saturday.

So much for that.

While I still do believe that Iowa State is really, really good and that they may actually be the second-best team in the Big 12 this season — two one possession losses are just that, one possession losses — I can’t justify ranking them in the top 25 today and keep any shred of credibility that I have remaining.

Beyond that, there isn’t anything to talk about in the top ten. Duke won on the road against Florida State despite playing without Zion Williamson for an entire half, further solidifying by belief that they are the best team in the country. Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia all logged impressive wins at every turn. Michigan State, Kansas, Texas Tech and Virginia Tech took care of business, and Gonzaga survived what may be the toughest test they face in league play, a trip to San Francisco.

Things get weird outside the top nine, as Ole Miss beating Auburn at home and Mississippi State on the road threw things for a loop. So did North Carolina. The Tar Heels went into Raleigh and beat N.C. State before turning around and getting blown out at home against Louisville, but I could only drop them one spot because A) they still beat N.C. State on the road, and B) everyone in that group of teams directly behind them lost at some point this week, too.

The only really notable development near the bottom of the top 25 was that Villanova jumped back into my rankings. The Wildcats have won five in a row, just handled Creighton in Omaha fairly easily and now sit as the lone undefeated team in the Big East at 4-0.

Here is the full NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Duke (14-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Michigan (17-0, 2)
3. Tennessee (14-1, 3)
4. Virginia (15-0, 4)
5. Gonzaga (16-2, 5)
6. Michigan State (15-2, 6)
7. Kansas (14-2, 7)
8. Texas Tech (15-1, 8)
9. Virginia Tech (14-1, 9)
10. Kentucky (12-3, 11)
11. Nevada (16-1, 14)
12. Marquette (14-3, 19)
13. North Carolina (12-4, 12)
14. Florida State (13-3, 13)
15. Ole Miss (13-2, NR)
16. N.C. State (14-2, 15)
17. Auburn (12-3, 16)
18. Mississippi State (12-3, 17)
19. Buffalo (15-1, 20)
20. Maryland (14-3, NR)
21. Villanova (13-4, NR)
22. Houston (16-1, 21)
23. Oklahoma (13-3, 25)
24. Indiana (12-4, 24)
25. Louisville (11-5, NR)

New Additions: 15. Ole Miss, 20. Maryland, 21. Villanova, 25. Louisville
Dropped Out: No. 10 Iowa State, No. 18 Ohio State, 22. St. John’s, 23. Wisconsin

No. 8 Texas Tech gets rare win at Texas 68-62

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Tech Red Raiders finally got a win the program hadn’t earned in a generation.

Matt Mooney scored 22 points, most of them coming in the second half, and the No. 8 Red Raiders beat Texas 68-62 Saturday for their first win in Austin since 1996.

Back then, both programs were still playing in the old Southwest Conference. Now the Red Raiders are the only team left unbeaten in Big 12 play and looking every bit like a league championship contender.

“We might have mentioned (the losing streak),” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said.

Oh, it came up. Beard even made it sound a wee bit longer, just for emphasis.

“Coach told us it was 30 years,” Mooney said.

Sensing their big chance was at hand, Red Raiders fans packed Texas’ Frank Erwin Center by the thousands and their boisterous chants of “Dee-fense!” and cheers for Texas Tech rallies often drowned out the home fans.

“We’re building something special in Lubbock,” Beard said. “We won’t apologize for it.”

Texas led 30-26 at halftime before Mooney provided the spark the Red Raiders needed with 14 points in the second half. None were bigger than his consecutive 3-pointers for Texas Tech’s first two baskets after halftime. The first one came with a defender in his face and barely beat the shot clock.

Jordan Culver scored 14 points and had seven assists for Texas Tech (15-1, 4-0 Big 12). Texas held the Red Raiders’ leading scorer in check for much of game, but he delivered a big basket after the Longhorns had rallied to tie the game at 48-48 in the second half.

Texas Tech responded with a quick 7-0 run behind a basket from Culver, a 3-pointer by Davide Moretti and a dunk by Norense Odiase.

Texas Tech led 61-51 on Brandone Francis’ 3-pointer with 3:37 left, his only basket of the game. Texas cut the lead to four, but lost a chance to get within one possession in the final minute when Jase Febres threw the ball away on a fast break with a behind the back pass. Febres has started the play with a steal.

“I was trying to be aggressive and draw a foul, they didn’t’ call it and I lost the ball,” Febres said.

Texas Tech made seven of eight free throws over the final 46 seconds to seal the win.

Kerwin Roach II scored 17 for Texas (10-6, 2-2), but had just four points after halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are one of the top defensive teams in the country and turned in another stifling effort against the Longhorns. The Red Raiders forced 14 second-half by the Longhorns. Texas’ 62 points were the most against the Red Raiders in the Big 12 so far.

Texas: The Longhorns got off to a good start in the Big 12 with two straight wins, but have floundered the last two games with poor 3-point shooting. Texas made seven from long-range against TechTexas was 2 of 22 against Oklahoma State. Seven 3-pointers against Texas Tech was much better, but the Longhorns

BATTLE OF THE BIGS

Texas got another good game from freshman Jaxson Hayes, who scored 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting, but he also had four turnovers. Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens scored 12, most of them on dunks on nifty assists from Mooney and Culver. Owens also made two free throws with 17 seconds left put Texas Tech ahead by seven.

Texas starter Dylan Osetkowski scored just two points in 25 minutes and was never a factor on the offensive end against Owens. Jericho Sims, once eyed as a breakout player in the Big 12 this season, came back after missing two games with an ankle injury, but played just two minutes and didn’t put up a shot or grab a rebound.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech hosts No. 20 Iowa State on Wednesday

Texas plays at No. 7 Kansas on Monday

Best Bets: Eight top ten teams on the road, which underdogs have a chance to win?

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There is a wild weekend of basketball on tap.

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.

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No. 8 TEXAS TECH at TEXAS, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (LHN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 61, Texas 60
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas 58, Texas Tech 57.8

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.

No. 7 Texas Tech rallies for 66-59 win over 23rd-ranked OU

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Jarrett Culver had his first double-double of the season and scored seven straight Texas Tech points to break a tie late in the second half, leading the No. 7 Red Raiders to a 66-59 win over 23rd-ranked Oklahoma on Tuesday night.

The sophomore, who finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, put his hometown Red Raiders (14-1, 3-0 Big 12) ahead for good with a layup for a 53-51 lead with 4:22 remaining, then converted a three-point play to push the lead to five.

After Aaron Calixte hit a 3-pointer to get the Sooners back with two, Culver muscled through a crowd to rebound his own miss of a short bank shot and powered up over two defenders for a bucket and a 58-53 lead.

Christian James scored 14 points for the Sooners (12-3, 1-2) and Brady Manek added 13, but second-half shooting struggles caught up with Oklahoma in a second Big 12 loss to a Top 10 opponent.

The Sooners were up 40-33 after Manek hit a 3-pointer with 17:23 to play, but Brandone Francis sparked a 12-4 run by Texas Tech with a 3. Matt Mooney’s layup put Texas Tech in front before Manek hit another 3 to get Oklahoma even at 51-all.

Davide Moretti scored 12 points for Texas Tech, including a pair of free throws with the Red Raiders leading by three with 21 seconds remaining. Culver was 8 of 13 from the field and scored nine of Texas Tech’s final 15 points

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: The Sooners dropped their second Big 12 game in the first three, but it’s hard to argue anybody has played a tougher early schedule. They still need more of an inside presence to get back on track.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders just keep winning because they make life miserable for opponents on the offensive end. Oklahoma shot 32 percent, right at Texas Tech’s nation-leading average for field goal defense.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma: No. 25 TCU at home Saturday.

Texas Tech: At Texas on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Ponds vs. Howard, Jarrett Culver’s dominance

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Zion is averaging 20.2 points, 9.5 boards, 2.2 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks. Since the 1992-93 season, no one has put up a stat-line that looks like that. Take blocks out of the equation, and the only player that has averaged 20 points, nine boards, two assists and two steals was Reggie Williams back in 2007-08.

Zion is doing this for Duke, the No. 1 team in the country and the favorite to win the national title this year. Williams put up his numbers while playing for VMI, who finished 255th in KenPom that season and ran a system that was entirely built around getting up shots as quickly as possible while gambling for steals and getting the ball back as quickly as possible.

I’m sure Zion’s stats will regress as we get into the throes of conference play, but until they do, look at this picture:

Mind-boggling.

2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Since the last time we talked about Player of the Year rankings, Williams went out and put 18 points, eight boards and five assists on Georgia in a 46 point win. He’s now averaging 19.9 points, 8.3 boards, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks with shooting splits of 59.7/44.4/79.8 for a top three team in the country.

He is a monster.

3. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver’s performance in Texas Tech’s win at West Virginia last week blew me away.

For the entire game, the Mountaineers face-guarded Culver. Sometimes it was in a straight man-to-man defense. Sometimes it was a box-and-one. Sometimes it was a triangle-and-two. But whatever they were running, they were doing everything in their power to keep Culver from touching the ball. That, combined with the fact that Culver picked up three first half fouls and was used in an offense-defense rotation by Chris Beard for the entire second half, limited him to just 22 minutes. On the night, Culver only had about 10 touches in halfcourt offense, and he still managed to score 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting.

Part of the reason for that was Culver is just a monster. Great offense can beat great defense, and you can see three examples of that here:

Culver also showcased his ability to read pick-and-rolls. Look at these two plays late in the second half. In the first, he recognizes that both defenders stayed with him and he found Davide Moretti for a three. In the second, he sees the switch and beats Esa Ahmad (and all of West Virginia’s help) for a bucket:

Credit should also be given to Chris Beard, who recognized what West Virginia was doing and designed a nice little back-screen counter that led to one tough bucket and a couple of examples of Culver’s ability to see the floor and make a pass:

He only finished with 18 points, but it was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen from a player this year.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Barrett’s inefficiency against the best competition Duke has faced this season is starting to become noticeable. Since he put up 33 points and six assists against Kentucky on opening night, Barrett and the Blue Devils have played five high-major opponents — Auburn, Gonzaga, Indiana, Texas Tech and Clemson. In those five games, he has yet to crack 23 points, and outside of the win over Indiana — which came in Cameron — he has not played well in any of them.

In total in those five games, Barrett is shooting 37-for-99 (37.4%) from the floor and 6-for-28 (21.4%) from three and averaging just 18.4 points. In seven games against teams from outside the mid-major ranks, Barrett is averaging 24.7 points and shooting 64-for-122 (52.5%) from the floor and 14-for-39 (35.9%) from three.

I know I’m picking and choosing games here, and averaging 18.4 points against five NCAA tournament teams is hardly a bad thing, but this is a trend that will be worth tracking as we head into conference play.

5. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson was not all that good in Kansas loss to Iowa State on Saturday. He was, however, the player that changed the game in their win over Oklahoma last Wednesday. He’s going to be someone to keep an eye on as we move forward this season. Losing Udoka Azubuike is going to change the role he is asked to play and the style in which Kansas will run their offense.

6. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s

7. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Picking between Ponds and Howard for the Big East Player of the Year — and, thus, their spot on this ranking — is like picking between your favorite flavor of ice cream. I’m not sure there is a wrong answer. (Unless you are one of those freaks that eats that cake batter crap, then there is a wrong answer.) Howard is averaging 24.0 points, 4.2 assists and 3.9 boards while shoting 41.9 percent from three and putting up monster performances in the biggest games; he went for 45 points in wins over Buffalo and Kansas State, he had 27 points against Wisconsin. He’s popped off for at least 26 points in five of his last six games.

The one game he didn’t?

A 20 point loss at St. John’s when he finished 2-for-15 from the floor with just eight points. That night, Ponds had 26 points, including 20 in the first half. It was actually one of the first times this season where Ponds, who has always been known as a scorer first and foremost, took over early. The 6-foot-2 junior for the Johnnies is averaging 20.4 points, 6.0 assists and 4.7 boards while shooting 40.5 percent from three this season, but more impressive has been the fact that he’s made it a point to get his teammates involved.

“He is passing a lot more than he ever has, especially early, to get his teammates going,” one Big East coach told me. That said, Ponds has absolutely taken over games, but it tends to be when his team needs him to the most. St. John’s has played six games this season that were single-digit games. They are 5-1 in those games, and Ponds scored at least 32 points in four of those five wins — 37 points and six assists at Georgetown, 37 points vs. Georgia Tech, 35 points and seven assists vs. VCU, 32 points and five assists vs. Cal. That doesn’t include the 26 points and five dimes he had in the win over Marquette, their biggest win of the season.

It’s that willingness to be a passer — A newfound trust in his teammates? — that has changed things for the Johnnies this season. “We were more concerned with his paint touches, [keeping] the floor tight,” said another coach that scouted St. John’s last season.

You can’t play that way against them this season, and the result hasn’t just been a more efficient season for Ponds, it has meant that the Johnnies now look like the best team in the Big East.

And that’s why I have Ponds a tick above Howard as of today.

8. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

It’s hard to overlook a redshirt senior that is averaging 19.3 points, 10.3 boards, 4.7 assists and 1.3 blocks for a top 25 team. It’s also hard to ignore that the might be 4-0 in the Big Ten right now if it wasn’t for Happ’s 1-for-7 shooting from the free throw line last Thursday. As good as Happ is, that free throw shooting makes him a liability in close games.

9. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Like Lawson, it is going to be very interesting to see how Hachimura’s role changes with a change in roster status. Gonzaga got Killian Tillie back from injury last week, but he only played nine minutes in a home win over Santa Clara. Rui had 25 points in that game.

10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker is the engine for one of college basketball’s elite offenses this season. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 4.2 boards, 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals while shooting 47.2 percent from three and playing as a secondary ball-handler and ball-screen initiator in a spread offense that creates mismatches all over the court. Virginia Tech is so much fun to watch when they get rolling, and Alexander-Walker’s development alongside Justin Robinson in the backcourt is the reason why they are so dangerous even without Chris Clarke and Landers Nolley.

IN THE MIX: Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), De’Andre Hunter (Virginia), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Ja Morant (Murray State), Cassius Winston (Michigan State)