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Best Bets: Previewing Tennessee-Kentucky, Iowa State-Kansas State, weekend’s biggest games

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Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.

As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPomTorvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 1 TENNESSEE at No. 5 KENTUCKY, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 72
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 75, Tennessee 73

There are a number of reasons that this battle of top five teams is one of the most interesting matchups of the season, and perhaps the most relevant is the obvious: These are both top five teams! I know Kentucky just lost to LSU in Rupp Arena, but that still doesn’t really change the fact that Kentucky is, legitimately, one of the eight-to-ten teams that are the most likely to earn a spot in Minneapolis for that first weekend in April.

Kentucky still gets two shots at Tennessee, who also must travel to LSU. A SEC regular season title is still very much in the cards for the Cats.

And all of that is before you get to the actual personnel matchups here, which should be terrific. Grant Williams, for my money, is No. 2 in the National Player of the Year voting. He’s been dominant on the block for the Vols this season, and he will be asked to go up against P.J. Washington and Reid Travis on Saturday afternoon. The more intriguing matchup of the two will be Washington, who himself has been playing like a first-team All-American over the course of the last three weeks.

It is precisely that frontcourt battle that is going to play a major role in determining the outcome of this game. For starters, it will be strength on strength. Tennessee’s offense runs through Williams. Kentucky’s offense runs through Washington and Travis. We also need to note that the Wildcats can be absolutely dominant on the offensive glass. They are third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. They know that there are times where their best offense is a missed shot, and the Vols have not been great on the defensive glass this season.

The perimeter battle may actually end up being more interesting. As we discussed on the Why Your Team Sucks podcast, the concern for both of these teams is whether or not there is enough firepower in their backcourts to win at the level they expect to win. For Kentucky, the concern is obvious: Ashton Hagans, as good as he is defensively, is not a threat on the offensive end of the floor while Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson have gone through the bouts of inconsistency that you expect out of freshmen.

The conversation is a bit more nuanced with Tennessee. Their backcourt is not overloaded with high-end talent, and if there is an issue standing between them and a national title, it’s whether or not those guards are going to be able to win them close games against elite teams. We will get that answer on Saturday night.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

PICKS: All three metrics project this game to be play in the mid-70s with the line landing at Kentucky (-2). Frankly, I am not sure what side I want to be on here. On the one hand, Kentucky is coming off of a home loss, they are hosting the No. 1 team in the country in their building and they have a roster that has more talent on it. It’s also worth noting here that while Tennessee is on a 19 game winning streak, the only surefire NCAA tournament team they’ve beaten in that streak was Gonzaga on Dec. 9th. The best team they have played in the last two months was … Alabama? Florida? This will be their first major test in a long, long time.

That said, there is a very real difference in toughness and experience on these two teams. This is the same Tennessee roster that won the SEC last year. They have been through the rigors of a title race. They are also a much older and tougher group of guys that were overlooked throughout their career, and I can guarantee that there is nothing they would love more than pounding on some highly-touted freshmen that haven’t had to fight the fights they’ve fought.

Tennessee is the most complete team in the country, but I just cannot bring myself to pick against Kentucky after the way they lost on Tuesday. If the line opens at (-2), I’ll probably be on the Wildcats, but here’s to hoping the total opens in the high-140s and we can bet the under instead.

No. 23 IOWA STATE at No. 18 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Iowa State 63
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Iowa State 64
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Iowa State 66, Kansas State 65

Might we be getting a battle between the two best teams in the Big 12 on Saturday afternoon? That could very well be the case.

The first time these two teams got together, Kansas State won 58-57 in Ames after an Iowa State defensive breakdown in the final seconds gave Barry Brown an easy bucket for the win. I do not expect the rematch to be quite as ugly as the first battle, and the reason for that is the return of Dean Wade. He played 22 minutes in the first game, but he was not back to being himself after battling a foot injury. He is now, and he’s playing the all-american we predicted him to be.

And for my money, he will be the most important player in this game, especially with Cartier Diarra out after undergoing surgery on his hand. Iowa State plays four perimeter players at almost all times, meaning that Wade is going to be the mismatch. He’ll have smaller players — Talen Horton-Tucker? — on his when he’s at the four and will be guarded by slower bigs when he is at the five. If he can win those matchups on the offensive end, it will be tough for Iowa State.

Wade’s return has boosted Kansas State offensively. There was one point this season where they ranked outside the top 200 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, and while they are hardly last year’s Villanova with Wade — their best shooter and best passer — back, they have worked their way back to 109th in KenPom’s rankings. In conference play alone, they are the fifth-best offensive team, one spot in front of Kansas, and that includes their 0-2 start to league play where they scored 47 points against Texas and 57 points against Texas Tech.

PICKS: This could be the game that wins Kansas State the outright Big 12 title. They currently hold a two-game lead over the field in the loss column, and their schedule really lightens up down the stretch. Their next two games are at West Virginia and Oklahoma State at home. They still have to go to Allen Fieldhouse, but they end the season with Baylor at home, TCU on the road and Oklahoma at home.

Win on Saturday, and Kansas State can afford a loss at Allen Fieldhouse and still control their own destiny.

I will be very curious to see where this line opens. The metrics still are underrating Kansas State because of how dreadful they were without Wade, so if this opens around Kansas State (-1), then I will hammer the Wildcats.

No. 24 MARYLAND at No. 6 MICHIGAN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 67, Maryland 60
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 68, Maryland 61
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan 66, Maryland 62

This could be the worst possible time for anyone to play Michigan. The last time we saw the Wolverines, they were getting embarrassed by the last place team in the Big Ten as Penn State went up 13 points at halftime as John Beilein was tossed before he even made it back to the locker room for the break.

Michigan is now tied for first in the league instead of having sole possession of first place, and they’re heading home pissed off after a loss where they played terribly?

That’s a tough spot before you consider that Maryland just does not matchup well with Michigan. Anthony Cowan will have to deal with Zavier Simpson. Bruno Fernando will have Jon Teske to battle with. They are Maryland’s two major sources of offense.

PICKS: I tend to lean towards Michigan here, even if the line opens at (-7) or so. I just don’t know where Maryland gets offense from.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

No. 13 VILLANOVA at ST. JOHN’S, Sun. 5:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Villanova 73, St. John’s 72
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: St. John’s 75, Villanova 74
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: St. John’s 76, Villanova 72

I actually think St. John’s is a difficult matchup for the Wildcats because of the way the Johnnies play. Like Villanova, they essentially role five switchable perimeter players out there without much, in any, interior scoring presence. For years, Villanova has thrived on their ability to create mismatches all over the floor, and I just don’t know if they’re going to be able to do that against the Johnnies. The first time they played this year, St. John’s led for most of the game before a late Villanova run won it.

That said, there is no comfort betting on a team that is as inconsistent as St. John’s is. They are currently 6-6 in Big East play with home losses to DePaul, Georgetown and Providence, but they’ve also swept Marquette this season.

PICKS: I have no idea what this line is going to be. KenPom is favoring Villanova by one point. Torvik has St. John’s winning by one. Haslametrics has the Johnnies winning by four. If St. John’s ends up favored, I’ll probably bet Villanova simply because I am not in the business of betting against Villanova, especially when Jay Wright is going up against Chris Mullin.

N.C. STATE at No. 2 DUKE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 89, N.C. State 70
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Duke 93, N.C. State 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 94, N.C. State 72

I have a feeling that this game is going to get really ugly, really quickly.

The way to beat Duke is proven. Defensively, you stay disciplined, you pack the paint, you gap them and you dare them to beat you with jumpers. Offensively, you need to slow the game down and control tempo, avoiding quick shots and live-ball turnovers that lead to layups. N.C. State wants to press, they want to run and they want to gamble to force turnovers.

I just don’t see that working out all that well.

PICKS: The projections suggest Duke should be roughly a 20 point favorite, although I think the line will be closer to (-17ish). I like the Duke side if that is the line, but I like the over even more, assuming it opens around 160. For perspective, when N.C. State played North Carolina, the final scores were 90-82 and 113-96.

BAYLOR at No. 15 TEXAS TECH, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 66, Baylor 58
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 67, Baylor 58
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 68, Baylor 56

The question that you have to ask here is whether or not you buy the Texas Tech that we’ve seen of late. After a swoon in mid-January that saw Chris Beard’s club lose three in a row, they’ve won five of their last six, including a pair of blowout wins in the last two weeks that have seemingly given them their confidence back on the offensive end.

And that’s where I think this game will be won. Baylor runs a wonky zone that is somewhere between a 2-3 and a 1-3-1, and the issue that the Red Raiders face is that they can really go through droughts offensively, especially when Jarrett Culver isn’t on his game. They aren’t a great shooting team or a great passing team, and those are the two things you need to be able to do to beat a zone.

That said, the shots have been falling of late. They made 22 threes in their last two games.

Two other things to note: Baylor has lost two of their last three games, but Makai Mason returned to action on Monday after missing last Saturday’s game against Kansas State. There is no word yet on King McClure’s status. The first time these two teams played this year, Baylor won 73-62 in Waco.

PICKS: I’ve long been a believer in Texas Tech, and I think that the Bears are going to come back to earth hard over the final stretch of the season. They won three of their first four road games in Big 12 play, but those were wins at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma, the bottom three teams in the league standings. Their four road trips to end the season: Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas. If this line opens at (-8), I’ll be on the Red Raiders.

Bracketology: Happy Valentine’s Day for Duke, LSU

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Since it’s Valentine’s Day, we’ll sweep the epic crumbles of futility – otherwise known as this year’s bubble – under the proverbial rug and try not to look.

Instead, we’ll send Happy Heart greetings to the Duke Blue Devils and LSU Tigers, both of whom celebrated huge road wins in the Commonwealth on Tuesday.  For their efforts, Duke remains the No. 1 overall seed in today’s bracket.  LSU rises to No. 12 on the seed list, good for the final No. 3 seed.

As for those crumbles, today’s cutline decisions included serious consideration for teams like Oklahoma, Indiana, Butler, and Florida, all of whom have significant resume issues. There are no clear answers, especially with regards to how the Selection Committee will use the NCAA’s new NET ratings.  The good news for those four, and others, is we still have games to play.

BRACKET UPDATE: February 14, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
WEST REGION Clemson vs. Arizona State
MIDWEST REGION UNC Greensboro vs. Utah State
EAST REGION Norfolk State vs. Quinnipiac
MIDWEST REGION Robert Morris vs. Prairie View

EAST Washington, DC   SOUTH – Louisville                       
Columbia Columbia
1) DUKE 1) TENNESSEE
16) QUINNIPIAC / NORFOLK ST 16) BUCKNELL
8) BUFFALO 8) Baylor
9) Alabama 9) Syracuse
San Jose Salt Lake City
5) Wisconsin 5) KANSAS STATE
12) LIPSCOMB 12) BELMONT
4) Iowa State 4) VILLANOVA
13) VERMONT 13) OLD DOMINION
Des Moines Tulsa
6) Florida State 6) Maryland
11) UCF 11) Texas
3) Marquette 3) HOUSTON
14) YALE 14) UC-IRVINE
Hartford Jacksonville
7) Mississippi State 7) Ohio State
10) NC State 10) Seton Hall
2) Michigan 2) North Carolina
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) RADFORD
WEST – Anaheim MIDWEST – Kansas City
Salt Lake City Hartford
1) GONZAGA 1) Virginia
16) SAM HOUSTON 16) ROB MORRIS / PR VIEW
8) St. John’s 8) WASHINGTON
9) Auburn 9) TCU
San Jose Des Moines
5) Louisville 5) Texas Tech
12) Clemson / Arizona State 12) NC-Greensboro / Utah State
4) NEVADA 4) Purdue
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) HOFSTRA
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Virginia Tech 6) Iowa
11) Temple 11) VCU
3) LSU 3) Kansas
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Columbus Columbus
7) Ole Miss 7) Cincinnati
10) WOFFORD 10) Minnesota
2) MICHIGAN STATE 2) Kentucky
15) MONTANA 15) TEXAS STATE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Minnesota Clemson Oklahoma Arkansas
Texas Arizona State Indiana Georgetown
UCF UNC-Greensboro Butler Fresno State
Temple Utah State Florida Davidson

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Tennessee, Virginia, and Gonzaga

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, NC State, Clemson

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN STATE, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (7): KANSAS STATE, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Texas

SEC (7): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (2): WOFFORD, UNC-Greensboro

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Quinnipiac (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Paschall, Booth lead No. 13 Villanova past Providence, 85-67

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — By the time Eric Paschall and Phil Booth exited the game in the final minutes, some fans had already left the arena since the result was no longer in question. Those that remained made sure to give the two fifth-year seniors a hearty ovation.

Paschall scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and No. 13 Villanova rebounded from its first Big East loss by running away from Providence 85-67 on Wednesday night.

Booth added 22 for the Wildcats (20-5, 11-1), who were fresh off a one-point loss to No. 10 Marquette after getting off to a program best 10-0 start in league play.

“Great leadership from our two seniors,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They’ve been carrying us a lot.”

Nate Watson led Providence (14-11, 4-8) with 18 points. The Friars have lost four of their last five but were coming off an impressive 14-point road win at St. John’s on Saturday.

“They had a lot of adults on the floor,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Most old teams win. Not many young teams win, unless they’re just the blue bloods of all blue bloods.”

After two straight 3-pointers from Paschall put Villanova ahead 53-45 early in the second half, Providence scored the next 10 points, culminating with a steal and acrobatic reverse layup from Maliek White, to take a 55-53 lead with 10:29 remaining.

But Paschall delivered two more big threes — right in front of the `Nova bench — to help the Wildcats close the game on a 23-6 run. Underclassmen Saddiq Bey and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree helped seal the win with a 3-pointer and three-point play during the decisive spurt.

Paschall shot 10 for 13 from the field and 5 for 6 from 3-point range. Cosby-Roundtree finished with 12 points and didn’t miss a shot from the field (4 for 4) or the foul line (4 for 4) as Villanova shot 63 percent in the second half.

“We just knew we had to get better,” Paschall said. “It was a whole bunch of little things we had to work on.”

Providence junior Alpha Diallo, the eighth leading scorer and top rebounder in the Big East, was held scoreless until an emphatic dunk and three-point play with 1:38 left in the first half followed by a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left.

Diallo finished with 11 points and seven rebounds while committing five turnovers.

“I was proud of our guys for about 35 minutes,” Cooley said. “I thought their experience and discipline showed late while our inexperience and lack of discipline showed late.”

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who have made the NCAA Tournament and won at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons, continue to struggle to put together complete performances. “Unless we can turn my team into another team, that’s just what we’re going to have to deal with with this year’s group,” Cooley said.

Villanova: The Wildcats have a one-game lead on Marquette for first place in the Big East while no other team in the league even has a winning record. Villanova won the first four regular-season championships of the revamped Big East before Xavier took the title last season.

FOULS UPON FOULS

After shooting a perfect 14 for 14 from the foul line in the first half, the Wildcats were on the wrong end of the whistle during one stretch midway through the second half in which they were called for four fouls in one possession.

Wright said he was proud of how his players kept their composure after what he called a “rare” sequence, while Booth claimed to have barely noticed the uniqueness of the situation.

“We were more focused on what we did wrong that caused the fouls,” Booth said. “You just gotta keep playing.”

GOTTA HAVE HART

Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart, who led Villanova to the 2016 national championship, joined his old college team for practice Tuesday and was honored before Wednesday’s game, while wearing a Jalen Brunson Dallas Mavericks jersey.

“He sat through a film session and said, `I shouldn’t have entered that room, I couldn’t get out,” Wright laughed. “But it’s always good to have him. Our guys love him.”

UP NEXT

Providence begins a three-game home stretch vs. Xavier on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova plays the first of three straight games on the road at St. John’s on Sunday evening.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson’s block, R.J. Barrett’s threes, give Brandon Clarke his due

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

We’ve all seen the block heard ’round the world by now, but I think that what we should be talking about after Duke’s win at Virginia on Saturday evening, at least when it pertains to Zion, is this: He did not play all that well, particularly on the offense end of the floor, yet he still finished with 18 points, five boards, five assists, three steals and three blocks while shooting 6-for-8 from the floor.

That’s his floor.

That’s about as bad as it’s going to get when Zion plays, at least at this level.

2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Tennessee has not lost a game this year since the day after Thanksgiving, when they blew a lead and lost in overtime to Kansas on a night where Grant Williams fouled out late. Since then, they’ve beaten Gonzaga in a thriller on a neutral court, but that was really the only good team that they have played. Since the loss to Kansas, the only win that the Vols have landed against a tournament team is at home against Alabama; both Arkansas and Florida, the latter of whom Tennesse has beaten twice, are currently on the wrong side of the bubble.

Put another way, that battle on Saturday between the Vols and Kentucky is going to tell us a lot about just how good this Tennessee team is.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

We got the full Markus Howard experience this week. On Tuesday night, Howard struggled in a 70-69 loss at home against a St. John’s team that is just an awful matchup for the Golden Eagles. They have the length and athleticism to slow Howard down, and Marquette does not have a bully inside that can take advantage of the fact that the Johnnies have a bunch of perimeter players on their roster.

So I don’t take too much from that.

The more interesting game, to me, came on Saturday against Villanova. Howard finished with 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting — which, believe it or not, is like his fifth-most impressive performance this season — but late in the game we got a glimpse at exactly what makes Howard an iffy NBA draft prospect. First, there was Saddiq Bey picking his pocket, as the lanky, 6-foot-7 forward forced a turnover with Marquette leading by one in the final seconds. That set up the last play of the game, where Howard left Phil Booth on a switch and created a driving lane that Booth — a potential all-american that will play in the NBA and has made maybe one bad decision in his life — really should have taken more advantage of:

I know we’ve gotten a bit off topic here, but Phil, what are you doing? Shoot!

4. JA MORANT, Murray State

Morant continues to cruise along, scoring 20 likes it’s nothing and averaging an NCAA-best 10.2 assists while doing it. I just wonder, at this point, if the Racers are going to have a real chance at getting to the NCAA tournament. They play in one of the tougher mid-major leagues in the country and will have to get through both Belmont and Jacksonville State to get the automatic bid.

5. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Happ was shut down for the final 35 minutes in Wisconsin’s loss at Michigan on Saturday, as Jon Teske got a measure of revenge for the performance the Wisconsin center had when the Badgers ended Michigan’s unbeaten season.

And Happ still finished with 18 points and 11 boards. What a player.

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter had 20 points as Virginia bounced back from Saturday’s loss to Duke with a 69-61 win at North Carolina on Monday night. That’s big, but to really understand how good Hunter is for this team, think about it like this: When the game was on the line, the 6-foot-7, 225 pound forward was put on Coby White for the final five minutes, shutting down one of the most explosive scorers in the country to help preserve a win.

How many players his size can do that?

7. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

The Media: “R.J. Barrett is an inefficient volume shooter that doesn’t have enough range or consistency from three.”

R.J. Barrett:

8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Winston bounced back from a career-worst nine turnovers against Illinois to finish with nine assists and no turnovers as the Spartans ended a three-game losing streak by shredding Minnesota on Saturday. He gets Wisconsin on the road tonight.

9. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson did not play well on Monday night in a win at TCU, but he still finished with 14 points, 10 boards and a pair of assists. Perhaps more importantly, he’s 14-for-29 from three in his last seven games. The Jayhawks have now won three of their last four and look like they are starting to figure out how to play with their injury limitations.

10. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

I have to bring this up, because it is one of the most shocking omissions on an award since A Star Is Born was shut out of the awards that matter at the Golden Globes.

Brandon Clarke — who is probably Gonzaga’s best player, who is arguably the best defensive player in college basketball and who is unquestionably one of the four best players at power forward or center, wherever it is you decide to list him positionally — was not named a finalist for either the Karl Malone or the Kareem Abdul Jabbar award.

And that is just baffling.

Maybe it’s time to let the old ways (of determining these positional watch lists) die.

IN THE MIX: Phil Booth (Villanova), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ty Jerome (Virginia), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), P.J. Washington (Kentucky)

Monday Overreactions: Kansas State’s rise, Jack White’s demise, Justin Robinson’s absence

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jordan Bohannon, Iowa

Let’s start with the obvious one here: Bohannon scored 13 of his 15 points in the final three minutes, sparking a game-ending, 23-7 run that culminated in the Iowa point guard burying a three in the final seconds to beat Northwestern at home:

That was impressive, and it came on the heels of an even more impressive performance. Bohannon went for 25 points and six assists without committing a turnover as the Hawkeyes went into Assembly Hall and picked off Indiana. Bohannon hit a number of critical jumpers in the final minutes of that game as the Hoosiers threatened a late comeback.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas State Wildcats

Entering the week, Kansas State held a share of the Big 12 lead, tied with Baylor atop the conference standings with dates against Kansas (at home) and those Baylor Bears (in Waco) on the schedule.

As of this morning — and thanks, in part, to wins from Texas and TCU — the Wildcats sit all alone in first place in the league with a two game lead in the loss column over the field and just eight games left on their regular season schedule.

It’s baffling to truly comprehend. A month ago, Kansas State was sitting at 0-2 in the Big 12, coming off of a home loss to Texas where they mustered all of 47 points. They were ranked outside the top 200 in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, and after digging themselves a 21 point second half hole against West Virginia in Manhattan, it looked like this might finally end up being the season that cost Bruce Weber his job. It sounds foolish to admit to saying that now, but it’s true. Kansas State looked like they were going to miss the NCAA tournament as a preseason top 15 team.

And now, after beating their archrival at home and then picking off the No. 2 team in the league on the road, the Wildcats are the favorite to end the Kansas reign in the Big 12.

This is what K-State’s remaining schedule looks like:

  • at Texas
  • Iowa State
  • at West Virginia
  • Oklahoma State
  • at Kansas
  • Baylor
  • at TCU
  • Oklahoma

If they go 5-3 down the stretch — which is very doable — they are going to win the Big 12.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. MARQUETTE CANNOT RELY THIS HEAVILY ON MARKUS HOWARD

Howard was absolutely sensational in No. 10 Marquette’s win over No. 14 Villanova on Saturday. He finished with 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting, hitting 5-for-11 from three and carrying the weight in a 66-65 win for the Golden Eagles. The problem is that the rest of the Marquette roster combined to score 28 points, and 18 of them came from Sacar Anim, a role player that is not known as much of an offensive threat. The Hauser brothers were a combined 2-for-10 from the floor and finished with four points.

On the one hand, this was a win that the Golden Eagles had to get if they wanted to have a shot at the Big East regular season title. Howard’s performance made that possible. On the other hand, there is no chance that they can win the league — or anything in March — if they are just going to hope Howard carries them there.

I am all in on the Markus Howard bandwagon. I think he’s sensational. But the Hausers cannot disappear like this in a big game again, because next time Marquette won’t be so lucky.

They probably should have lost this game as it is. Phil Booth, one of the best decision-makers and best players in college hoops, had a chance to win it on Saturday and did this:

Look at this screenshot:

Booth has to be able to score that. He didn’t, and it kept Marquette in the title race.

2. THE MOST IMPORTANT INJURY IN THE COUNTRY IS JUSTIN ROBINSON’S

On January 30th, in a win over Miami, Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson suffered a foot injury that has since left him on the Hokie bench during games wearing a boot and, on Saturday, using crutches. This is the same player that was averaging 14.4 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 41.1 percent from three. This the guy that put 35 points and eight assists on Syracuse four days before he was hurt and had 17 points in 19 minutes when he went down against the Hurricanes.

And as of now, we don’t really have an answer for his status. Buzz Williams has not been forthcoming with information about Robinson’s status, either on the record or off the record. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is the best NBA prospect on Virginia Tech’s roster, but Robinson is their most important player, arguably their best defender and the guy that makes their offense run. In the three games that he’s missed, Virginia Tech is 1-2 while averaging 54 points per game and just 0.931 points-per-possession. The one game they won came when N.C. State mustered just 24 points.

With Robinson, the Hokies are one of the best shooting teams in the country and among the nation’s elite offensively. They are dangerous because of what they can do shooting the ball.

Without him, they are thoroughly average and do not have a point guard on the roster.

3. VIRGINIA IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE

Duke does everything well on a basketball court. They are elite defensively. They are maybe the best team in transition in college hoops history. They will clobber you on the glass. They are always going to have the two or three best players on the court. The equalizer for teams playing against them is that they have not been able to make threes this season.

To beat them, you have to pack in your defense, dare R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson to make shots and go from there. That’s exactly what Virginia did on Saturday in Charlottesville, and Duke hit 13 of their first 18 threes and left with a dominating win.

There’s not much the Wahoos can do about that.

Hell, I’d argue that they played well enough on Saturday to win.

Zion stuffed the stat sheet, but the Wahoos did about as good of a job of keeping him in check as you can. Barrett didn’t do much of anything on the offensive end of the floor after he made those five threes to open the game. Cam Reddish did score 17 points, but his damage was done as a spot-up shooter. Those are the shots that you have to live with as a coach.

Virginia, as a team, shot 46.7 percent from the floor. They were 10-for-24 from three. They forced 15 Duke turnovers and limited the Blue Devils to just eight offensive rebounds. They more or less kept Duke from getting out in transition and beating their defense down the floor. I think Tony Bennett will be able to go to sleep tonight knowing that there wasn’t much else he could have done. It was just one of those nights.

4. MARQUES BOLDEN IS EATING UP JACK WHITE’S MINUTES

Earlier in the season, I made the point repeatedly that I thought Duke’s best lineup came with Jack White on the floor and Zion playing the five.

And while I still think that is their best lineup in theory, two things have changed since then:

1. White has forgotten how to play basketball. Since hitting a career-high four threes against Clemson on January 5th, White is 1-for-23 from beyond the arc. He has scored 13 points in the last 10 games. He started three of those games and played at least 24 minutes is five of of them. He was one of just two players to play all 40 minutes against Virginia. He’s averaged 12.4 minutes in the last five games.

2. That can coincided with Marques Bolden proving himself to be capable defending in a system where Duke switches everything. We know he can protect the rim, that he’s a vertical spacer and that he can rebounder the ball fairly well, but the reason that he has been unable to get consistent minutes during his time at Duke is that he has been a mess on the defensive end of the floor.

That’s not so much the case anymore, and while he’s hardly been a guy that is going to draw comparisons to, say, Clint Capela or Jordan Bell or another player of that ilk, he’s been fine when asked to switch onto guards. He can stay in front for a couple of dribbles, and his length allows him to contest jumpers.

It’s not ideal, but it has worked for Duke this month.

5. THE BUBBLE IS THE WORST IT’S EVER BEEN

I know you hear this every year, and I have been trying to avoid writing this for as long as possible, but I can’t do it anymore.

The bubble is just absolutely atrocious this year, as bad as it has ever been.

The reason I am bringing it up now is because two more at-large spots opened up in our latest bracket projection — the team in first place in the league standings is granted the auto-bid, and with VCU and Buffalo moving back into first place, the Atlantic 10 and MAC once again morphed into one-bid leagues.

This is where we stand: Georgetown, who ranks 78th in the NET, who has beaten just a single top 50 team (St. John’s, who is 49th, on the road) and who has three Q1 wins, a 7-7 record against Q1 and Q2 and two Q3 losses, is our first team out. UCF, who is 0-2 against Q1 teams and whose best win is Alabama (43) at home, is an at-large team. Oklahoma, who is 15-9 overall, 3-8 in the Big 12 and has lost four in a row and six of eight, is in the tournament largely due to the fact that a home win over Wofford is a Q1 win.

Indiana, Providence, Florida, Creighton. These teams are all somehow still in the tournament conversation, and it is baffling.

We have to get to 68 teams somehow.

And it is going to get ugly.

Bracketology: Committee pens Duke, Tennessee as 1-2 punch

AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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Few of us were surprised on Saturday when the Selection Committee announced that Duke and Tennessee were Nos. 1 and 1A on their Seed List.  After an action-filled weekend, neither position has changed, although one could argue that Duke’s win at Virginia, giving the Blue Devils a regular-season sweep, might create a more distinct line of separation between those two.

The only top-line move this morning was lifting Gonzaga to No. 3 on the Seed List and dropping Virginia to No. 4.  Gonzaga still reigns over the West Region and Virginia the Midwest.  Elsewhere, team positions on the first four lines mirror what the Committee gave us on Saturday.  One could argue whether or not Iowa State would stay after a home loss to TCU, or about how losses by Louisville and Wisconsin might also impact those lines.  For today, we’ll let the Committee’s voice be heard.

Unfortunately, the Committee didn’t provide us any sort of insight into what has become a very mediocre bubble picture.  Then again, why take on that headache right now? Hopefully, some cleaner lines of separation will develop over the next three weeks.

UPDATED: February 11, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
SOUTH REGION Butler vs. UCF
WEST REGION Oklahoma / Temple
EAST REGION Norfolk State vs. Canisius
MIDWEST REGION Robert Morris vs. Prairie View

EAST Washington, DC      SOUTH – Louisville                       
Columbia Columbia
1) DUKE 1) TENNESSEE
16) NORFOLK ST / CANISIUS 16) BUCKNELL
8) BUFFALO 8) Syracuse
9) Alabama 9) Baylor
San Jose San Jose
5) LSU 5) Texas Tech
12) BELMONT 12) Butler / UCF
4) Iowa State 4) NEVADA
13) HOFSTRA 13) VERMONT
Des Moines Hartford
6) Virginia Tech 6) Florida State
11) VCU 11) Seton Hall
3) Marquette 3) Purdue
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) YALE
Columbus Jacksonville
7) Cincinnati 7) Mississippi State
10) Texas 10) Minnesota
2) MICHIGAN 2) North Carolina
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) RADFORD
MIDWEST – Kansas City WEST – Anaheim
Hartford Salt Lake City
1) Virginia 1) GONZAGA
16) PR VIEW / ROB MORRIS 16) SAM HOUSTON
8) St. John’s 8) Auburn
9) Ole Miss 9) TCU
Salt Lake City Columbus
5) KANSAS STATE 5) VILLANOVA
12) LIPSCOMB 12) Oklahoma / Temple
4) Wisconsin 4) Louisville
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) OLD DOMINION
Tulsa Tulsa
6) Maryland 6) Iowa
11) Arizona State 11) Clemson
3) HOUSTON 3) Kansas
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 14) UC-IRVINE
Jacksonville Des Moines
7) Ohio State 7) WASHINGTON
10) NC State 10) WOFFORD
2) Kentucky 2) Michigan State
15) MONTANA 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Minnesota Butler Georgetown Providence
Arizona State UCF NC-Greensboro Utah State
Seton Hall Oklahoma Arkansas Florida
Clemson Temple Indiana Creighton

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Tennessee, Virginia, and Gonzaga

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, NC State, Clemson

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): KANSAS STATE, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma

SEC (7): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama

Big East (5): VILLANOVA, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Canisius (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), Wofford (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)