The turnaround that Kansas State has made over the course of the last 12 days is absolutely incredible.
It wasn’t even two weeks ago that the Wildcats found themselves trailing Big 12 bottom feeder West Virginia 42-21 early in the second half in their own building. Kansas not only managed to win that game, they won their next three as well — at Iowa State, at Oklahoma (by 13 points) and TCU on Saturday.
It’s not a coincidence that their three biggest wins of the season happened to come when their best player returned from a foot injury that was initially expected to keep him out of action for eight weeks. This week he was at his all-american best. He went for 20 points in the win over Oklahoma and followed that up with 13 points and six assists as the Wildcats dispatched TCU.
These numbers aren’t overly impressive, but it is Wade’s presence on the floor more than anything that helps KSU win games. He’s their best shooter, which helps open up space on the floor for the myriad drivers on this roster, and he also happens to be the best passer on the team. Everything flows better offensively when he plays, and the proof is in the results.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
Baylor is as much to blame for the insanity at the top of the Big 12 conference as anyone.
Just 10 days after they knocked off Iowa State in the Ferrell Center, Scott Drew’s club picked off No. 8 Texas Tech, handing the Red Raiders their second loss in league play and dropping them out of sole possession of first place in the conference standings.
The Bears, believe it or not, are now a win over West Virginia on Monday night away from being in a tie for first place in the Big 12, which is not something that I think anyone would have predicted in October. Makai Mason is making memories for Baylor instead of knocking them out of the NCAA tournament. Jared Butler has been on fire in recent weeks and has given Drew another perimeter weapon. They’ve been able to survive the loss of sophomore forward Tristan Clark admirably.
Baylor has a shot of getting back to the NCAA tournament now.
Who predicted that?
1. THERE IS A CLEAR-CUT TOP SIX, AND DUKE AND VIRGINIA MAY TOP THE LIST
At this point in the season, it has become pretty clear that their is a tier of six elite teams in college basketball: Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Virginia, Michigan and Michigan State. The order in which you rank them will vary based on how much you value performance vs. accomplishment vs. raw talent, but there really is an argument for ranking those six in just about any order. Tennessee probably needs to be top two and the Michigan schools probably shouldn’t be in the top two, but beyond that, I wouldn’t really disagree with any order you decided to put them in.
But I do think that it has to be those six teams at the top.
They are the six best teams in college basketball this season.
And honestly, I think there’s a very real chance that the two best teams in the country this year are Duke and Virginia. We already know that we are going to see them square off in Charlottesville on Saturday, Feb. 9th. Would anyone complain if they played for the ACC title? Or if they met at some point in the Final Four?
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying that rivalry as it has grown in recent years, and it’s helped replace what we lost when Maryland left the ACC. In the glory years of the ACC, Duke and Maryland once played four times in a season — back in 2002. I’ll take it.
2. MICHIGAN STATE IS BETTER THAN MICHIGAN AND WILL LOSE THE BIG TEN TITLE?
The Spartans took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten on Saturday when Wisconsin picked off Michigan in the Kohl Center, and if the Spartans can get past Maryland on Monday night, they will move 1.5 games clear of the Wolverines and two games clear of the Terps, who are currently sitting in second place in the league.
And as crazy as this sounds after the start that Michigan had to the season, I think that at this point the Spartans are the best team in the Big Ten. They’ve now won 11 straight games, and their only two losses on the season have come to a full strength Kansas on a neutral court and at Louisville in overtime in a game where Cassius Winston — Michigan State’s engine and arguably the best point guard in college hoops — fouled out with four minutes left. As good as Michigan has been defensively, what we saw on Saturday was that this is a team that can struggle on the offensive end of the floor.
But heres the twist in my theory: Michigan is actually the favorite to win the Big Ten regular season title, and that’s because the Wolverines seem to have Michigan State’s number of late. the last three times they’ve played, Michigan has won, and in those three games, Winston — who has a career 2.64:1 assist-to-turnover ration — has 11 assists and 11 turnovers while averaging just 8.3 points and shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three.
No one can take Winston out of a game like Zavier Simpson can, and we’ll get to see him take two swings at it in the last four games of the regular season. Buckle up!
3. KENTUCKY IS BACK!
The Wildcats landed one of their best win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Auburn Arena, opened up a 45-29 second half lead and then won after Bryce Brown scored 25 second half points to launch a comeback where the Tigers eventually took the lead in the closing minutes.
Building that kind of a lead on a team as dangerous as Auburn is really impressive, but what struck me was the poise that Kentucky had in big moments down the stretch. This is a young basketball team, one that doesn’t really have an alpha and that hasn’t played the most consistent basketball this season.
And yet, after blowing a 16-point lead on the road in the second half in front of a rowdy, raucous crowd, they responded immediately by getting fouled, hitting two free throws and getting the stop they needed to win the game.
4. THE BIG 12 IS DRUNK
Things got really weird in the Big 12 on Saturday.
First, No. 7 Kansas managed to find a way to blow a lead at West Virginia, choking away a win when the Jayhawks couldn’t execute Bill Self’s after-timeout sets to get a good look at the rim. Then, No. 8 Texas Tech lost to Baylor, their second loss of the week after falling at home to Iowa State on Wednesday night. Then Texas beat Oklahoma, Kansas State won their fourth straight and Iowa State picked up where they left off by handling Oklahoma State, and what we have is the weirdest league title race in the country.
Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State are all sitting at 4-2 in the league. Baylor is just a half-game back at 3-2 in the conference. Texas is a game out of first place and sitting in six place. TCU is a game back in the loss column and sitting in seventh. Oklahoma, who was ranked entering this week, is eighth with a 2-4 record. The last place team (West Virginia) is the one that beat Kansas.
I still think Kansas will get it done, but I’m not going to pretend to have any idea about this conference.
5. SAM HAUSER SAVES MARQUETTE
If you’ve read this space this season, you know where I stand on this Marquette team — I think Markus Howard is the most dangerous scorer in the country, I think that the Golden Eagles can beat literally in the sport as a result and I think Marquette can get to the Final Four.
And the reason for that is because of what Hauser did this week.
With Howard dealing with a back injury — which limited him to three minutes at Georgetown and slowed him against Providence — Hauser picked up the slack, going for 31 points in the win in D.C. and following that up by leading the team with 25 points against the Friars.
Jermaine Haley scored a layup with 8.5 seconds left, capping a 7-0 run in the final three minutes, as West Virginia picked up their first win of the Big 12 season, 65-64, against No. 7 Kansas.
The Jayhawks had two chances to win in the final seconds, but Lagerald Vick missed a tough, deep three and Dedric Lawson was rushed on the put back.
The loss drops Kansas to 4-2 in the Big 12 standings, a half-game behind No. 8 Texas Tech, who is on the road against Baylor tonight.
In a vacuum, the fact that Kansas lost this game is not all that surprising. The Jayhawks won at West Virginia last season, but prior to that, they had lost three straight games in Morgantown. They are now 1-4 against the Mountaineers on the road in the Press Virginia era.
But we are not in a vacuum.
We are in the 2018-19 season, where the Mountaineers are the worst team in the league; they are currently 118th in KenPom, the only member of the Big 12 that is not in the top 80. What’s more is that West Virginia was playing without Sagaba Konate yet again, their star center and the anchor of their press. He is the rim protector that allows WVU’s guards to gamble without having to worry about giving up free points at the rim.
And Kansas still managed to find a way to lose this game, and I’m phrasing it that way because the Jayhawks really should not have lost. They took a 64-58 lead with 2:38 left thanks to a bucket from Marcus Garrett, and that is when the wheels fell off. Kansas missed their next five shots from the floor, and there was nary a good shot amongst them. Garrett missed a contested, late-clock jumper with 1:51 left. After Kansas called a timeout following a bucket that cut the lead to one, Garrett missed a layup at the end of the shot clock with :57 seconds left. He immediately stole the outlet pass and Bill Self burned another timeout, but Devon Dotson was unable to get the ball in his hands, Kansas could not run their play and Lagerald vick was forced to take a tough, contested step-back three.
He, of course, missed it. Haley gave West Virginia the lead 24 seconds left, and the rest is history.
Reading into one game in an arena that the Jayhawks have historically had trouble winning is probably not the best idea.
But I do think that it is fair to say this: More than anything else, the final three minutes on Saturday afternoon put the Jayhawks’ biggest flaw on full display for the world to see: This team does not have a go-to guy, and there is an alarming lack of offensive talent on the roster.
I still will not bet against Kansas finding a way to win at least a share of the Big 12 title this season, but if and when Self is able to call himself the Big 12’s best for a 15th straight season, it will end up being one of the best coaching jobs of his career.
Best Bets: Is it time to go all-in on Virginia at Duke?
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.
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.
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.
No. 2 MICHIGAN at WISCONSIN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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