I hesitate to give anyone credit for how the schedule has played out, but whether it be by luck or by design, the college hoops slate has been terrific in the first week of post-football action.
Wednesday night featured a pair of great rivalry games, as Syracuse outlasted Georgetown in overtime and Austin Rivers capped off an impressive Duke comeback with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win at the Dean Dome. Throw in Murray State falling from the ranks of the unbeaten on Thursday night, and it’s been a solid week of basketball.
That action provides a nice springboard into a Saturday schedule that is shaping up to be even better. Baylor-Missouri, Michigan State-Ohio State, Virginia-North Carolina, San Diego State-UNLV, and Wichita State-Creighton are just a handful of the intriguing matchups scheduled for the weekend.
But before you settle in for a weekend on the couch, here’s a look at this week’s risers and fallers in the world of college basketball.
Bottoms Line: Stock Up
The Wildcats followed up road wins over Cal and Stanford by taking care of Colorado at home on Thursday night. With Washington getting crushed at Oregon, the door is open for Arizona to be the Pac-12’s second tournament team.
While a talented group of freshmen were talked about prior to the season, veterans Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, and Jesse Perry have led Arizona’s recent resurgence. Fogg poured in 23 at Cal, while Hill posted 20 points and 17 boards against Colorado this week.
The remaining schedule isn’t too daunting for the Wildcats, and if they can manage to win at Washington next weekend, they have a shot to finish 14-4 in the league.
Monday’s 21-point win over UConn was Louisville’s fifth straight, as the Cardinals have quietly climbed the Big East standings in recent weeks. Sophomore big man Gorgui Dieng has played well during that winning streak with 59 points, 51 boards, and 19 blocks over the last five games.
They also got news this week that highly regarded freshman Wayne Blackshear was cleared to play after missing the first few months of the season with a shoulder injury. If healthy, he gives them another perimeter scorer and would allow Rick Pitino to expand his rotation a bit.
The Cardinals will use all the help they can get with three of their next four on the road, starting with Saturday at West Virginia followed by a home date with Syracuse on Big Monday.
The Hurricanes followed up Sunday’s critical overtime win at Duke with a win over Virginia Tech, which extended their winning streak to five. The Duke win moved them into the RPI Top 40, and the committee will have to take into account the fact that four of the team’s seven losses came without Reggie Johnson and DeQuan Jones.
Jones is a nice complementary piece, but Johnson is a game-changer. He scored 27 points and grabbed 12 boards against Duke and had 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists versus the Hokies. The guard play has been solid as expected, while Florida transfer Kenny Kadji has been a revelation at power forward.
The next two games give Miami chances at additional signature wins, as they travel to Florida State on Saturday before hosting North Carolina next week.
I wrote about the Irish a couple weeks ago, but they certainly have earned additional accolades. They have now won five straight, including three road wins and three victories over ranked teams.
Notre Dame struggled from long range for most of the game against West Virginia, but they buried three straight threes late to pick up a win in Morgantown. Jack Cooley had 21 points and 12 boards against the Mountaineers, and he now has five double-doubles in Big East play. Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have continued their solid play in the backcourt, and the defense has been terrific with four of the last five foes scoring 0.95 points per possession or less.
The Irish host DePaul and Rutgers in their next two games, and a 14-4 conference record is not out of the question.
While most of the teams in the Atlantic 10 are beating up on each other, the Owls have reeled off seven straight wins and are currently atop the standings.
The return of big man Micheal Eric has helped them defensively as well as on the glass, and the duo of Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt are averaging a combined 34.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 3.2 steals. Both guys can shoot it well from beyond the arc, but both have also attempted over 100 free throws so far this year.
Temple’s next six games are against Top 100 teams, starting with Saturday night’s home game versus Xavier.
Bottoms Line: Stock Down
Wins over Mississippi State, Michigan, and Vanderbilt are terrific, but Arkansas won’t make the tournament if they can’t find a way to win on the road. They have missed golden opportunities in their last two games, losing by six at LSU and getting steamrolled by 22 against a subpar Georgia team.
The fact that the Hogs are even in the NCAA discussion is impressive since Marshawn Powell played just two games before injury cut short his season, and young players like B.J. Young have a bright future. That said, the opportunity to go dancing is there, but Arkansas needs to play well down the stretch.
Their best chance at a road win is at Auburn, and they also have home games against Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
The Bears land here not just because they lost to Kansas at home, but moreso they way they lost. After jumping out to an early lead, poor defense allowed the Jayhawks to rip off a 43-12 run. They also made Jeff Withey look like an All-American with 25 points, and once again they played like a team that is mentally fragile and lacks toughness.
Scott Drew has done very little to make people more comfortable with his ability to make adjustments, and it’s tough to envision a scenario where Baylor goes into Missouri and wins on Saturday. From a pure talent standpoint, very few teams can stack up with the Bears, but right now they serve only as further proof that talent alone isn’t enough.
After reeling off 11 straight wins, the Bluejays have now dropped two straight to fall into second place in the Missouri Valley. Admittedly, both losses came on the road, one on a three at the buzzer against Northern Iowa and the other by eight points at Evansville.
The Creighton defense allowed 1.08 points per possession in each game, and while that isn’t exactly impressive, this team will never be mistaken for an elite defensive squad. However, their offensive production has also dipped in those games with 1.03 ppp against UNI and 0.95 versus Evansville. Those are the lowest numbers they have posted since late December, and the 0.95 is a season low.
Saturday’s game against Wichita State was already important, but the Bluejays can ill afford to fall two games back of the Shockers in the MVC race. A tournament berth isn’t in question, but these losses have definitely hurt their seed and their potential to play close to home in the first round.
Since beating Ohio State, the Illini have lost five of six with the lone win coming in an ugly 42-41 game against Michigan State. For much of the season, offense was a concern for Bruce Weber’s team, as they had scored over 1.00 ppp in just one of their first nine league games.
However, that has turned around in the past two games, but that improvement has been accompanied by their two worst defensive performances of the year. Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard have both played well of late, but this team lacks reliable depth and doesn’t have a lot of confidence right now.
The fact that Illinois has four Top 50 wins definitely helps their tournament case, but the upcoming schedule doesn’t do them any favors. The Illini have road games left against Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin as well as a home date with the Wolverines.
The Mountaineers have now lost four of their last five games, and their last two wins have come in overtime against Cincinnati and Providence, both of whom were in position to win those games late.
The defense has really struggled recently, as their last five opponents have all scored at least 1.07 ppp. To put that in perspective, that happened just four times in their first 20 contests. On the positive side, Kevin Jones has continued his outstanding play and is now averaging 20.6 points and 11.2 rebounds.
West Virginia’s next four games are brutal, starting with Saturday’s home game with Louisville. They follow that up with road trips to Pitt and Notre Dame before returning home to face Marquette.