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No. 19 Maryland tops Ohio State 75-61 for 7th straight win

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Maryland’s depth and shooting touch were too much for Ohio State.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 20 points, and the 19th-ranked Terrapins won their seventh straight game, 75-61 over the skidding Buckeyes on Friday night.

Bruno Fernando added 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had 15 rebounds for Maryland (16-3, 7-1 Big Ten), which shot 58.1 percent from the field. Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell each scored 11, and Jalen Smith had 10. The Terrapins went 11 of 17 (64.7 percent) from 3-point range.

“We had great depth tonight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We really shared the ball.”

C.J. Jackson scored 15 points for the Buckeyes (12-5, 2-4), who lost their fourth straight. Duane Washington Jr. scored 14 and Kaleb Wesson had 11.

Fernando continued his strong play after being named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week and Big Ten Player of the Week. He averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds in victories over Minnesota and then-No. 22 Indiana. The 6-foot-10 sophomore from Angola has 10 double-doubles this season.

Ohio State kept it close through most of the first half before Maryland went on an 8-0 run, including a three-point play by Fernando, to move ahead 38-30.

“I didn’t feel like we could ever get a rebound in the first half,” Turgeon said. “The second half I thought we got all of them.”

The Buckeyes got within one early in the second half before Maryland responded with a 13-2 burst, including five points from Fernando. Ohio State got no closer than six points the rest of the way.

The Buckeyes have allowed opponents to shoot better than 50 percent in four of the last seven halves they have played.

“We missed some open shots and took some quick ones, too,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “They were also really collapsed, trapping Kaleb on every collapse.

“We have a tough stretch here. We have to find a way to dig our way out, accept responsibility and play better.”

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins have been one of the surprise teams of the Big Ten thus far, but their schedule won’t get any easier, with a road matchup looming at No. 6 Michigan State and two games against second-ranked Michigan.

Ohio State: Foul trouble and the Terps’ hot shooting doomed any chance of an end to the Buckeyes’ skid.

INJURY

Maryland freshman Eric Ayala landed on his hip early in the second half and did not return.

HELPING HAND

Starting with the Maryland game and continuing through the end of the partial federal government shutdown, Ohio State will provide all federal employees with two free tickets to any Buckeyes athletic event.

QUOTABLE

“Aaron Wiggins is a starter who plays sixth man on our team.” — Turgeon

Best Bets: Is it time to go all-in on Virginia at Duke?

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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 KenPom and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 4 VIRGINIA at No. 1 DUKE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 71, Virginia 69
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 73, Virginia 70

The biggest game of the weekend got a lot more interesting with Tre Jones suffering a shoulder injury and likely being forced to miss the game. Jones may be the fourth-best freshman on this Duke team, but he’s arguably the most valuable and certainly the most irreplaceable player on the roster.

Without him, I think this is Virginia’s game to win, even in Cameron Indoor Stadium, a building that Virginia won in last season.

And it all stems from the way that Duke wants to play.

The dirty little secret with this Duke team is that they are not all that good in the halfcourt, and they are even worse when they are forced to play in late-clock scenarios. On the season, the Blue Devils have scored 0.923 points-per-possession (PPP)* in halfcourt possessions (97th nationally) and 0.763 PPP in short-clock scenarios (130th nationally), but they are scoring 1.161 PPP in transition with 23.9 percent of their total possessions coming in transition. Only ten teams have played a higher percentage of their offensive possessions on the break, and North Carolina is the only high major among them.

Virginia, on the other hand, is specifically designed to avoid playing in transition as much as possible. They’ll typically fade the offensive glass, sending three players back and ensuring that the game will be played at their pace. In total, 88.9 percent of Virginia’s defensive possessions have been played in the half court, which is the fourth-highest total of 353 Division I basketball teams; Michigan is the only high-major that has faced fewer transition possessions while Texas Tech is the only team in the country that can better Virginia’s 0.713 PPP allowed in halfcourt defense.

And that’s before we get into the issue of three-point shooting.

Virginia is famous for running the Pack-Line Defense, which, as I explained in full detail here, is built around two core concepts: 1) The player guarding the man with the ball is to provide intense ball-pressure well beyond the three-point line while 2) The other four help defenders are to all be within an imaginary, 16-foot arc. What this does is encourage penetration into those help-defenders, known as ‘The Pack’, forcing kick-outs to spot-up shooters who will have to take a jumper with a defender running at them.

Or, more simply, don’t allow penetration into the paint or baseline and contest all jumpshots from the perimeter.

There is not a worse matchup for Duke than this.

For starters, we know all about their issues shooting from the perimeter. They were shooting 33 percent from three before going 9-for-43 from beyond the arc against Syracuse. And then there are the issues that R.J. Barrett has with overdribbling into help. We saw what happened at the end of the Gonzaga game. Barrett has been better, but the Syracuse loss was another perfect example of this. The Orange play zone instead of Pack-Line, but they basically did the same thing defensively Virginia will do: Pack big bodies in the lane to limit Zion Williamson’s effectiveness and give Barrett no space to drive, dare Duke to win with kickout threes to Reddish, Jack White and Alex O’Connell.

And this is where the loss of Jones plays a major factor in this game.

One of the problems is that it will either force Jordan Goldwire to play or, as it did on Monday night, push Barrett into the point guard role. That’s not ideal, because Goldwire isn’t good enough and Barrett is wired to score; he’s better playing off the ball than on the ball. Hopefully, this will mean Duke decides to unleash Reddish at the point, but I’m not convinced that will happen.

The bigger story, however, is on the defensive side of the ball. Jones is such a menace. He creates so many turnovers that lead to easy buckets at the other end — pick-six turnovers, if you will — but it’s more than just that. His ball pressure forces opposing point guards to chew up clock getting the ball over halfcourt. Then they are forced to initiate offense 40-feet away from the rim with their back to the basket to protect the ball from Jones’ pesky hands. By the time they are finally running action, the shot clock is starting to run down. This creates more rushed shots, lower efficiency offense and more misses. Those misses lead to more opportunities for Duke in transition — Williamson grab-and-go’s, Barrett or Reddish leading the break, long rebounds creating 3-on-2s or 2-on-1s, etc. — which takes the scoring burden off of executing in the halfcourt.

This is the worst possible matchup for a healthy Duke team, and the absolute worst possible team to face without Jones.

*All stats via Synergy

PICKS: The lines are going to be fascinating to see when they come out, but if Virginia is getting points, I will hammer them. I’ll probably bet them even if the line comes out as, say, Virginia (-3). I also think that, assuming the total ends up around 140 or so, the under will be a good bet as well.

(AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)

TCU at KANSAS STATE, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: TCU 66, Kansas State 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: TCU 70, Kansas State 61

It’s not the biggest game of the weekend, but it is the one that I feel the most confident in how it will play out, which is why the line on this game is going to be fascinating to see. TCU has been better than Kansas State this year, which is why both KenPom and Haslametrics are projecting the Horned Frogs to go into the Octagon of Doom and get a win. But TCU also just lost their fourth player to transfer this year — Jaylen Fisher — while Kansas State is playing their best basketball of the season, having won at Iowa State and Oklahoma in the last week. That coincided with the return of Dean Wade, their best offensive player and the only guy on the roster than can be thought of as a dangerous three-point shooter.

Vegas knows all of that.

But then there’s this: Barry Brown Jr. is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. In three games against TCU last season, Kansas State won twice (at home, in the Big 12 tournament) and in those three games, Robinson — the engine of TCU’s offense — finished with 17 assists and 18 turnovers. On the season, he had a 2.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

And then there’s this: In 47 games since the start of the 2017-18 season, Robinson has played 47 games and turned the ball over more than five times in just three of them. Two of those games came against Kansas State.

PICKS: I expect this line to open somewhere around Kansas State (-3), which is a line I would love.

No. 12 KENTUCKY at No. 14 AUBURN, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Auburn 74, Kentucky 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Auburn 74, Kentucky 70

A matchup between the two teams vying for second in an SEC that is currently being dominated by Tennessee will make for one of the more entertaining matchups of the weekend, but it’s a game that is pretty difficult to figure out.

Let’s start with the obvious: Kentucky is horrid at running teams off the three-point line. On the season, they’re allowing opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from beyond the arc (270th nationally), and more than 36 percent of the points that they have given up this season have come from three (52nd-highest). Those numbers come after Kentucky held Vanderbilt and Georgia to a combined 11-for-51 from three in the last two games. Auburn shoots 46.1 percent of their field goals from deep, and only 18 teams — and just three high-majors — score a higher percentage of their points from three than Auburn does.

That would usually make me lean towards the Auburn side here, but it is also worth noting just how important Jared Harper is to the Tigers at the point guard spot, and Kentucky just so happens to have Ashton Hagans on their roster. Hagans is as good on the ball as any defender in the country. Hagans shut down North Carolina’s Coby White, held Alabama’s Kira Lewis to 4-for-14 shooting, forced Texas A&M’s T.J. Starks into five turnovers without an assist (he did have 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting) and kept Vanderbilt and Georgia’s guards from getting going. I should also note that Louisville’s Christen Cunningham had one of his best games against Kentucky.

So I don’t know what to make of this.

PICKS: Both KenPom and Haslametrics are projecting the same score on Saturday, and if the line is Auburn (-4) I think I would probably lean towards the Kentucky side — I just think the Wildcats are a better team, I’m not buying Auburn this year — but I will be staying away personally.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

No. 2 MICHIGAN at WISCONSIN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 63, Wisconsin 62
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan 64, Wisconsin 60

Michigan is going to get a serious test on Saturday, as they head to the Kohl Center as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball. Since pounding Villanova in the second week of the season, Michigan has played just two road games, and one of those two was on Dec. 4th. John Beilein’s team has overwhelmed people at home, but they only beat Northwestern by two (the Wildcats had a shot to win it at the buzzer) at their place and beat Illinois by 10.

Wisconsin, however, has not been good of late. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including home dates with Minnesota and Purdue. They’ve really struggled to get things going offensively at times as well, scoring just 14 first half points against Minnesota and 15 first half points against Maryland. The last thing you want to do is start slow against Michigan’s vaunted defense.

PICKS: The computer models really like Wisconsin despite the fact that they are just 11-6 on the year. The Badgers are 17th in KenPom, which is probably too high. The problem, however, is that I have a hard time seeing a situation where this isn’t a close, grind-it-out game played in the 50s. Michigan has a top three defense and hasn’t had a road test like this year this year. Wisconsin has a top 15 defense and hasn’t been able to score against worse teams. Both teams fade the offensive glass. Neither of them turn the ball over. Both play at a pace that ranks in the bottom 30 nationally.

If the total ends up being in the mid-to-high 120s, I think the under is probably my favorite bet. (When Wisconsin played Virginia, the final score was 53-46.) I’ll probably stay away from the line unless it is Michigan (-1), a pick-em or Wisconsin is favored; then I’ll be on Michigan.

No. 19 MARYLAND at OHIO STATE, Fri. 6:30 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Ohio State 70, Maryland 67
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 69, Ohio State 67

Ohio State comes into this one on a three-game losing streak while Maryland own sole possession of second place in the Big Ten race with a 6-1 record. The Terps have won six in a row as Anthony Cowan has thrived playing in a role off the ball and Bruno Fernando has been dominant in the paint.

PICKS: Personally, I just think that the Terps are a much better basketball team that Ohio State is. All due respect to Chris Holtmann, but that team has been playing above their level all season long, and frankly, wins at Cincinnati, at Creighton and over UCLA don’t look as good now as they did at the time. My only concern is that the Buckeyes have Kaleb Wesson, and he’ll be able to ensure that Fernando does not wear anyone down in the paint.

The line here is going to be interesting. KenPom is projecting it at Maryland (+3), at which point I would be all over the Terps. But Haslametrics has it at Maryland (-2), which I probably will stay away from.

No. 25 INDIANA at PURDUE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Purdue 75, Indiana 69
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Purdue 76, Indiana 70

This will be a fun rivalry game between two Big Ten brands that are in something of a rebuilding year. The Hoosiers have now lost three in a row (at Michigan, at Maryland, Nebraska at home) with two of those three coming by double-digits. Purdue, on the other hand, has won five of their last six games with the only loss coming on the road against Michigan State in a game where Carsen Edwards shot like was Carsen Daly.

PICKS: Mackey Arena is a mad house for big games, and I don’t expect anything less on Saturday. The question you need to ask is whether or not you think Indiana can slow down Edwards. I don’t think that the Boilermakers have the defenders to keep Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan from getting their’s, and Indiana has proven that they can be really good at running teams off of the three-point line — threes are where Purdue butters their bread on the offensive end. Lead guards have been able to get it going against Indiana this year, so I think Edwards will as well.

If this line opens at Purdue (-6), I’d probably lean towards Purdue.

No. 8 TEXAS TECH at BAYLOR, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 63, Baylor 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 64, Baylor 55

The Red Raiders too, their first loss of the season on Wednesday night at home against Iowa State. The Cyclones have quite a bit of talent on the perimeter and the way they play, they can stretch a defense with some shooting and with playmakers. Baylor ranks 286th nationally in three-point percentage (although they have been shooting it well in league play) and turn the ball over a ton. That plays right into Tech’s hands.

PICKS: Tech is the best defensive team in the country this season, but they struggle to score the ball. This means they are going to be in tight games every single night in a league where, frankly, just about every team is more or less built the same way. Throw in Baylor’s zone defense, which can be tough to crack, and my guess is that the Red Raiders once again find themselves in a defensive battle.

Where this line opens will determine who I bet. If it is Tech (-4), like KenPom predicts, I’d lean Tech. If it’s Baylor (+9), I’d probably be on Baylor. Either way, if the total gets up into the mid-120s, I think the under is the clear best bet here.

No. 7 KANSAS at WEST VIRGINIA, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 78, West Virginia 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas 83, West Virginia 69

West Virginia is not very good this year.

At all.

Kansas has won three straight and is starting to figure things out without Udoka Azubuike.

PICKS: The x-factor is Sagaba Konate. If he plays, I’d be less inclined to bet Kansas, because that rim protection makes West Virginia’s defense work better than it has. But frankly, I don’t have a ton of respect for the Press Virginia system right now, and while Morgantown has been a bit of a bugaboo for Kansas over the years, this is a different WVU. If the line is Kansas (-6), as KenPom suggests, hammer it.

ALABAMA at No. 3 TENNESSEE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 85, Alabama 70
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 90, Alabama 71

Tennessee has been able to simply overpower the lesser teams in the SEC this season, and on paper, Alabama is a lesser team. The question you have to ask is just how much of a “lesser” team is Alabama. They have NBA talent on their roster and, as they showed against Kentucky, they have some dudes on the roster that can take over a game.

PICKS: Based on the projections, this looks like it will be a pretty large spread. Tennessee (-15) is a lot of points, and I might be tempted to take the Vols to cover. I’ll probably pass, personally, but the Vols would be the better bet.

Bracketology: All Hail the Wolverines

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With Duke’s home loss to Syracuse, and with the status of Blue Devils’ point guard Tre Jones uncertain following a shoulder injury, Michigan climbs the final rung on the latest Seed List ladder.

The Wolverines hold the No. 1 overall position in today’s bracket, followed closely by Virginia and Tennessee.

The real debate involved the fourth No. 1 seed position.

One could make a compelling case for Duke, Kansas, or Michigan State.

The Blue Devils were without two of their primary players for much of the loss to Syracuse.

In the end, however, the Jayhawks’ eight Group 1 wins, plus victories over both Tennessee and Michigan State, proved to be the difference.

UPDATED: January 17, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION VCU vs. Pittsburgh
WEST REGION Texas vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION Norfolk State vs. Prairie View
EAST REGION Sam Houston vs. UMKC

SOUTH Louisville   EAST – Washington, DC          
Columbus Columbia
1) MICHIGAN 1) VIRGINIA
16) PR VIEW / NORFOLK ST  16) SAM HOUSTON / UMKC
8) NC State 8) Kansas State
9) Mississippi State 9) Minnesota
Salt Lake City Des Moines
5) Florida State 5) VILLANOVA
12) LIPSCOMB 12) VCU / Pittsburgh
4) Marquette 4) Maryland
13) GEORGIA STATE 13) YALE
Des Moines Jacksonville
6) Nebraska 6) Indiana
11) SAINT LOUIS 11) Arizona
3) HOUSTON 3) Kentucky
14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 14) VERMONT
Jacksonville Tulsa
7) LSU 7) Auburn
10) TCU 10) Syracuse
2) Duke 2) Texas Tech
15) RIDER 15) UTSA
WEST – Anaheim MIDWEST – Kansas City
Tulsa Columbia
1) KANSAS 1) TENNESSEE
16) WEBER STATE 16) WAGNER
8) Purdue 8) Ohio State
9) St. John’s 9) Seton Hall
Hartford San Jose
5) Iowa 5) Louisville
12) Texas / Arizona State 12) MURRAY STATE
4) North Carolina 4) Oklahoma
13) HOFSTRA 13) UC-IRVINE
San Jose Hartford
6) Iowa State 6) BUFFALO
11) WOFFORD 11) Temple
3) NEVADA 3) Virginia Tech
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Salt Lake City Columbus
7) Wisconsin 7) Ole Miss
10) Cincinnati 10) WASHINGTON
2) GONZAGA 2) Michigan State
15) RIDER 15) LEHIGH

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
TCU Texas Butler Clemson
Cincinnati Arizona State UCF San Francisco
Temple VCU Florida Fresno State
Arizona Pittsburgh Alabama Dayton

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

Breakdown by Conference …

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

ACC (9): VIRGINIA, Duke, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh

SEC (6): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State

BIG 12 (6): KANSAS, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas

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

American (3): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, Temple

Pac 12 (3): WASHINGTON, Arizona, Arizona State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

Atlantic 10 (2): SAINT LOUIS, VCU

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), UTSA (C-USA), Georgia State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Weber State (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), Wofford (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), UMKC (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

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?

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
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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

Iowa hands No. 16 Ohio State its 3rd straight loss, 72-62

Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa and Ohio State are trending in completely different directions.

That’s great news for the Hawkeyes — and terrible news for the suddenly scuffling Buckeyes.

Luka Garza scored 16 points, Tyler Cook had 15 points with eight rebounds and Iowa rolled past No. 16 Ohio State 72-62 on Saturday, handing the Buckeyes their third straight loss.

Ryan Kriener scored 11 points for the Hawkeyes (14-3, 3-3 Big Ten), who have won three straight after a 0-3 start to league play.

“We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do and a lot to improve on,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said.

That was painfully evident in a tough road environment in Iowa City.

Iowa used a 9-0 run early in the second half to seize control, and Joe Wieskamp put Iowa ahead 53-41 with four straight free throws.

Wieskamp had gotten to the line by drawing star Kaleb Wesson’s fourth foul, which came with 8:23 left. Wesson was held to a season-low two points on 1 of 5 shooting.

“If you let Kaleb Wesson catch it deep, he’s going to get 25,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I wasn’t expecting him to get two. But I didn’t want him to get 20.”

The flummoxed Buckeyes (12-4, 2-3) then threw a zone at Iowa, and Isaiah Moss drilled an open 3 to make it 59-45. But Iowa’s raucous crowd went silent after Cook — who missed Wednesday’s win at Northwestern with a sore knee — appeared to hurt his left ankle and was taken to the locker room with 4:08 left.”

“He’s a little sore,” McCaffery said of Cook. “We’ll see how he does in the next couple of days.”

Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.1 points, didn’t start for the first time this season. He has been dealing with leg cramps and finished with 10 points before fouling out with 20 seconds to go.

Andre Wesson had 13 points for Ohio State, which committed a season-high 21 turnovers.

THE BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: The Buckeyes got just two points from Wesson and Jackson in the first half — and led by two anyway. But Ohio State couldn’t hang with the Hawkeyes with Wesson and Jackson in so much foul trouble. “They’re a little bit bigger and longer than they’ve been,” Holtmann said of Iowa.

Iowa: This was about as good as the Hawkeyes had looked all season. They overcame early struggles on the perimeter by pounding it inside. But losing Cook for an extended stretch would be critical. “We’ve really come together as a group,” McCaffery said. “But we’re not there yet. We’ve got to keep going.”

J-BO NOT A NO-SHOW

Jordan Bohannon’s season-long struggle to consistently locate his once-lethal jumper continued, as he was just 1 of 7 shooting. But Bohannon did have eight assists, four rebounds and two steals, and he passed the 1,000-point mark late in the second half. “I thought he was great,” McCaffery said. “He pushed the ball.”

THE NUMBERS

It could have been worse for Ohio State. The Buckeyes hit 10 3s while Iowa was just 4 of 16 from beyond the arc. …The Hawkeyes forced 11 steals. …Ohio State, which was forced to send Kaleb Wesson to the bench after he picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the game, was outscored 36 to 18 in the paint. …Cook had five turnovers. …The series between these longtime league rivals is now tied at 80 wins apiece.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Losses to Rutgers and Iowa, albeit on the road, aren’t very good ways to stay ranked. But will the Buckeyes tumble 10 spots and out of the poll? It’ll be interesting to see if they do on Monday. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, could return to the poll after a 2-0 week.

UP NEXT

Ohio State hosts Maryland on Friday.

Iowa plays at Penn State on Wednesday.

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