ATB: Duke Goes Down, Texas A&M Fells Kentucky At Rupp, and a Shake-Up Atop the Big Ten…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 14th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

The Weekend’s Lede. Embrace a New National Champion. The hustle and bustle of conference play boils down to one of two objectives: 1) scramble and fight and scrap your way into the NCAA Tournament; or, for the elite teams, 2) pile up enough evidence to be deemed worthy of a favorable draw and seed. The goal that ties those two together is reaching the championship game and, ideally, winning it. Kentucky made it look easy last season, and based on the way Calipari reloaded with another top recruiting class (albeit less heralded than the 2011 group), it was not unwise to believe he could do it again. That avenue remains open, in the crude sense that the Wildcats are still eligible for postseason competition. In actuality, the fate of their title defense season was sealed this weekend, when Kentucky allowed Texas A&M – a low-rung team in an uncharacteristically weak SEC – to deliver the Wildcats’ second home loss of the season. Given the talent at his disposal, and his experience in grooming, molding and motivating said talent, John Calipari could well propel his young team back into the national conversation. I just don’t see it. Saturday’s loss marked the unofficial retirement of UK’s faint repeat hopes. But don’t worry, next season’s rejiggered squad, anchored by what some are calling the greatest recruiting class of all time, can bring everything full circle. The championship trophy will not return to Lexington in March. That’s not official; it’s what my eyes tell me. There will be a new champion in 2013, and the weekend’s action shed more light on the race for that top prize.

Your Watercooler Moment. Number One Goes Down. (Wheelchair, Ahoy!)

The hyperbolic reviews surrounding Duke’s sterling nonconference performance were completely warranted. The Blue Devils navigated a minefield of ranked opponents, including three top five teams in a two- week span, and the conquest of an absolutely loaded Battle 4 Atlantis Field. Few teams have ever pieced together a November and December stretch with so many quality wins against so many good teams – wins that, in regard to Minnesota, VCU, Temple, Clemson and Santa Clara, are looking better and better by the week. The totality of accomplishment is almost immeasurable. The Blue Devils were thrust atop the polls and praised for their offensive efficiency. Mason Plumlee seized the early lead in the National Player Of The Year race. Seth Curry’s toughness (he has battled chronic leg pain all season) and resolve was eulogized. The outpouring of national praise almost made it feel like Duke was the only real team that mattered in the ACC. UNC had fallen off the map. NC State got tabbed with the “overrated” tag. Florida State was a sinking ship. What many seemed to conveniently forget was that the Wolfpack – the same team that (gasp!) lost to Oklahoma State on a neutral floor and at Michigan, causing large swaths of college hoops fans to write them off as a specious product of the preseason hype machine – were selected by the coaches and media in separate preseason polls to win the league outright. Those two early-season losses threw everyone off the Wolfpack bandwagon, which, come to think of it, might just be the best thing that ever happened to NC State’s season. While the nation fawned over Duke’s top-50 RPI wins and Plumlee’s double-doubles and Rasheed Sulaimon’s youthful verve, the Wolfpack were slowly, surely, methodically rounding into form. When the opportunity presented itself Saturday, as a Ryan Kelly-less Blue Devils team strolled into Raleigh, the Wolfpack did what every coach and media member predicted they’d do before the season began. They took care of the gaudy Blue Devils, and afterward, in the midst of a delirious post-game court-storming, the Wolfpack reveled in the culmination of their roller coaster season.

Also Worth Chatting About. Take Your Pick: Indiana or Michigan.

The Hoosiers' offense didn't miss a step in Saturday's home win over Minnesota (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The Hoosiers’ offense didn’t miss a step in Saturday’s home win over Minnesota (Photo credit: AP Photo).

It required less than two weeks for conference competition to slay college basketball’s remaining unbeaten teams. Michigan had looked flawless in its first two Big Ten games, blowout wins over Northwestern and Iowa, generating all kinds of national championship hype along the way (the home win over Nebraska wasn’t as pretty, but it didn’t discredit the Wolverines’ glowing stature). Ohio State, meanwhile, exposed real flaws in a 19-point blowout loss at Purdue earlier in the week. Their faint hopes of pulling an upset at home against Michigan were, well, exactly that: faint. Michigan’s seeming invincibility, Ohio State’s disproportionate offense – any discussion of the Buckeyes invariably panned to a common concern over a lack of complementary scorers to supplement DeShaun Thomas – and the matchup advantages that implied, conveniently glossed over the fact that the Big Ten is a ruthless, rugged, unforgiving road, particularly when rivalries are involved. Ohio State’s victory proved, if nothing else, that the most extreme evaluations of each team to date – that Michigan is the best team in the country, and Ohio State a middle-pack-to-lower-tier Big Ten outfit – were a bit ambitious on both ends. In fact, the former trope may have been discredited before Michigan even took the floor Sunday, because Indiana, in its first real test since losing to Butler in early December, reminded everyone why the national consensus settled so firmly on the Hoosiers as the preseason number one team in the country. The final score at Assembly Hall Saturday will skew the reality of Indiana’s home toppling of Minnesota. The first half showcased an overwhelming offensive onslaught, fueled by rapid ball movement, aggressive and attentive defensive work, can’t-miss shooting aggressive and a booming home crowd. It was the epitome of Indiana’s basketball potential, bottled up into a 20-minute segment, unleashed on one of the nation’s best and most physical teams (Minnesota). An informal poll measuring the Big Ten’s best team following this weekend would favor Indiana, but I’m not so sure we can make that assumption based off two critical games. The conference season is a long and enduring grind. We’ll gather more evidence and draw that distinction later this winter. Deal?

Your Quick Hits.

  • A Positive Step For UNC. The scrutiny was pouring in from all sides. UNC was flailing, and it badly needed a win. An 0-2 start in the ACC doesn’t sit easy with Tar Heels fans, after all. Saturday’s win at Florida State wasn’t a season-changing triumph, but it’s something positive for a young and inconsistent team to build on. Plus, the Tar Heels did it on the road. And this isn’t the same lose-to-South Alabama-and-Mercer-at-home Seminoles team from November and December. Florida State entered Saturday having won its first two ACC games, at Clemson and at Maryland. Just when the ‘Noles looked like they were ready to flip the script on a disappointing, UNC took a step in that direction at their expense. I’m not yet convinced UNC is A-OK; beat Maryland and Georgia Tech at home, and we’ll revisit the topic.
  • Next Man Up In The SEC. The NCAA Tournament is no guarantee for Kentucky at this stage. Once you get past all the national buzz and lofty NBA draft projections, you scan the Wildcats’ resume and realize that, with the possible exception of a neutral-court win against Maryland, the Wildcats haven’t conquered anybody remotely good. They face an uphill climb in the SEC, an inordinately difficult task made even harder by the dearth of quality wins available in league play. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Wildcats miss the Tournament. That leaves two (Missouri, Florida) teams with a realistic shot at making the field. Alas, Ole Miss could complete the SEC’s tourney trio. The Rebels, long denizens of the precarious bubble tightrope, are picking up enough steam to not just make the Tournament, but eschew the program’s familiar late-March anxiety altogether. Their latest triumph: a 15-point home takedown of Missouri. The Rebels have no bad losses to speak of, and the SEC schedule – bereft of depth and substance though it may be – offers opportunity for resume improvement in home dates with Tennessee and Kentucky. If they can knock off either the Gators (Feb. 2) or the Tigers (Feb. 6) on the road, and take care of business against the rest of the league with minimal error, Andy Kennedy’s team could be on solid footing by the first week of February, a drastic turn from the nervous late-season action of recent.
  • Winning In Morgantown Is Not Easy. Until Kansas loses,The Big 12 will be framed as a Jayhawks victory goodwill tour, as if the league race is a foregone conclusion. The conference crown is still up for grabs, but realistically, the above statement is more fact than fallacy, even as the Jayhawks scraped by Iowa State at home and sleepwalked through a 60-point effort at Texas Tech – giving all impressions of vulnerability in the process – in its last two games. The most obvious challenger is Kansas State, who provided more reason to buy into Bruce Weber’s inaugural Big 12 run Saturday with a gritty one-point win at West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ Big 12 transition has been more more painful than Bob Huggins or any Mountaineers fans may have hoped, but Morgantown remains an extremely difficult place to play, and the way Kansas has looked its last two times out, I’m not so sure they would have survived Huggins and Co. at the WVU Coliseum Saturday. Make no mistake, this is a big win for the Wildcats.
  • The Best Team In Oklahoma. The NBA starpower of Oklahoma State – namely, the FPOY buzz surrounding Marcus Smart and the massive untapped potential of Le’Bryan Nash – gives Oklahoma State national credibility and likeability. People want to see those young, athletic, explosive future pros run up and down the floor, and that makes total sense. The Cowboys, after notching solid wins over NC State, Tennessee and USF in the nonconference, are starting to give the impression their talent and flash won’t amount to anything in this year’s Big 12 race. In fact, I don’t even think they’re the best team in their own state. Oklahoma State’s third loss in four games felt like a passing-of-the-torch moment in Oklahoma basketball, with the Sooners, now 11-3 and 2-0 in Big 12 play, surpassing their more-bandied about state rivals. Lon Kruger’s team, if it can keep this up, adds needed depth to a gutless Big 12.
  • Without Clarke, Butler Prevails. Losing key starters in the middle of games, for reasons predictable and not, derails most teams’ focus and ability to perform. Butler is special. They outdueled Indiana in the waning minutes of regulation and into overtime after losing three starters to foul-outs. So when Rotnei Clarke left Saturday’s game at Dayton after crashing into the backboard support base on a malicious foul from Flyers forward Matt Derenbecker, the Bulldogs did not panic. They stayed within themselves, moved on without their best scorer and survived a raucous Dayton arena to move to 2-0 in A-10 play. This Butler team does not have a Gordon Heyward-caliber scorer. What it does have is incredible resolve and adaptability to adverse conditions. Both of those traits were on full display Saturday.
  • MW Race Coming Into Focus. There were no crazy self-lob acrobatics, but much like San Diego State’s three-point win over Fresno State earlier this week – a game that will forever be remembered by the remarkable ingenuity and chutzpah that brought about the #Maalsohard dunk – Jamaal Franklin was the best player on the floor in the Aztecs’ win over Colorado State, and the main reason they remain unbeaten in a brutally tough Mountain West Conference. The league is going to send five teams, minimum, to the NCAAs, and the Rams could well be one of them. It’s a testament to the MWC’s top-to-bottom quality that SDSU, widely considered the class of the league, was forced to hold on for dear life against Fresno State (a projected low-tier finisher) and Colorado State in a three-day span. There are no easy Ws in the west coast’s best conference, but the Aztecs are getting by on Franklin’s All American-level efforts. And just think, on Wednesday, SDSU faces another monstrous challenge when UNLV comes to Viejas Arena. Get excited.
  • Owls Defend Home Court. The A-10 is a proud and storied league, built on east coast and mid-American hoops traditions and the increasingly unique resistance to football pressures and divisive broadcast rights logistics. This offseason, the league welcomed Butler and VCU with open arms. The Rams and Bulldogs weren’t just seamless fits from a basketball perspective. They fell in line with the A-10’s cultural and academic priorities. Narratively popular though it may be to crown one of the new members as regular season champion, there are a handful of teams, Temple and St. Louis among them, determined to outdo the newbies. The Owls may be the A-10’s best shot at keeping the league crown with a traditional member, and they picked up arguably the most impressive win in league play to date by knocking off St. Louis, winners of nine straight, at the Liacouras Center. The Owls fell short of a potential monstrous upset at Allen Fieldhouse, then lost at Xavier. Beating the red-hot Billikens brings a conclusive halt to any possible losing skid and proves Temple remains a real threat to VCU and Butler in the conference title chase.
  • Bruins Continue To Soar. The last two months of 2012 witnessed two highly-publicized basketball flameouts in the city of Los Angeles. One, the Lakers, remain a giant mess. The other, UCLA, has completely turned things around. The Bruins continued their recent surge with a super-tight road win at Colorado, just two days removed from a two-point victory at Utah. It’s not clear whether Colorado can challenge the top of the Pac 12 or even make NCAA Tournament – and get prepared for some of the most vile but completely deserved retroactive referee backlash of all time if the Sabatino Chen buzzer-beater-that-wasn’t keeps the Buffaloes on the wrong side of the bubble barrier – but this win says less about the Buffaloes and more about UCLA, which is growing into the national force many envisioned when Ben Howland brought on Shabazz Muhammad and the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.

… and Misses.

  • A Bad Week In South Bend. What’s shocking about Notre Dame’s first home loss of the season isn’t so much the opponent, UConn, or the fact that the Huskies have now nipped the Irish in South Bend in three of the last four seasons. It was that Mike Brey’s team, one of the most disciplined and savvy and well-coached outfits in the country, got outscored 7-0 in the game’s final minute. Home teams just don’t wither away in crunch time like that. The Irish faltered on possession after possession and came up empty when it could least afford to. One of the strengths of this Notre Dame team – one of the most talented in school history – is its attention to detail and ruthlessly clean execution. Those qualities magically disappeared at the worst time, and it cost the Irish a 17-game home winning streak to add to an already shamefully disappointing week of Notre Dame athletics.
  • Road Games Are Not Kind To Illinois. When people talk about the Big Ten, the conversation typically follows this rough outline: first, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan are enumerated as Final Four candidates. Then you hear about the difficulty of winning on the road against pretty much every team other than Nebraska and Penn State. Either Illinois hasn’t heard this conversation before, or they just can’t handle the pressures of playing outside Assembly Hall-West. Because for the second time in two weeks (lost at Purdue last week), Illinois left Champaign and came home with a loss. Saturday’s result isn’t concerning in and of itself; Wisconsin plays some of the toughest defense in the country, and they turn it over less than any other team. The worrisome part is that Illinois wasn’t even competitive. The Illini were down 20 at halftime, and ended up losing by 23. The Illini have already eclipsed realistic preseason expectations, but if they want to keep pace in a rugged league, they need to go out and win on the road.
  • Huge MVC Matchup Looms. The prospect of Creighton and Wichita State matching up with MVC bragging rights and undefeated league records on the line was crushed Sunday night in Evansville, where the Purple Aces forced 22 turnovers and snapped the Shockers’ six-game win streak. I never truly believed Wichita State could hang with Creighton in the league race, but this only creates more distance between the Bluejays and the rest of the pack. Gregg Marshall’s team will recover, make no mistake, especially as it reaches something closer to full health. Second-leading scorer Carl Hall could return in time for the Creighton game. Whether or not Hall returns, however much he’s able to contribute, the Shockers need to spring the upset in order to stay in striking distance for the conference crown. Creighton is awfully tough to beat; the Shockers will need to bring their very best, and they’ll probably need Hall, too.
  • The Horizon League is A Mess. The nonconference season coaxed mid-major hoops enthusiasts and Horizon league fans into thinking UIC could make a run at the league title. Detroit looked pretty good too, nearly knocking off Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The Flames have fallen off the map – their latest loss coming Saturday at Green Bay – and Detroit, while operating on higher ground at 3-1, took a bad loss at Cleveland State. And those are two of the league’s “best” teams. Ugh. Valparaiso looks like a comfortable favorite, but the Crusaders lost to Loyola (IL) at home two weeks ago. Which tells me that the Horizon League is a disorderly jumble of mediocre teams, with no clear leader to carry the league’s flagship. I’ll wait to pass judgment on this mystifying conference until conference play produces a bigger and more enlightening set of results.
  • Scoring Is A Problem For Virginia. When Virginia knocked off UNC at home last week, we learned nothing new about the Cavaliers. It was a confirmation of Virginia’s strategic reputation: they held the Tar Heels to just 0.83 points per trip, and needed only 61 points to get the win. Their defense-oriented tactics failed them three days later, when Tony Bennett’s team scored 52 points and lost at Wake Forest. The Cavaliers needed to put that defeat behind them, for a tough road spot with Clemson loomed on the Horizon. I gave Virginia the benefit of the doubt after the Wake Forest loss; rare is the instance I punish teams for losing on the road in-league, no matter how lowly the opponent. The Cavaliers proceeded to get run at Clemson, a game that saw the Virginia’s offensive woes show up to disastrous effect – it scored just 44 points. The Cavaliers’ patented packline defense can throw any number of teams out of whack offensively, but if Virginia can’t do their part on that end of the floor, they aren’t going to win many games.
  • More Questions Than Answers With Pitt. On the surface, you can’t knock Pittsburgh too much for losing to Marquette. The Golden Eagles are quietly chugging along a path towards Big East contention; beyond the near-certainties presented at the top of the league by Syracuse and Louisville, Marquette could very well climb to a third-place finish. That’s no consolation to the Panthers, who continue to perplex not just Big East observers with their puzzling inconsistency and back-and-forth deviation. The Panthers appeared to have figure things out on the road in a 28-point road win at Georgetown. They put up 1.24 points per trip on one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, and limited the Hoyas to 0.76 points-per on the other end. They grinded in the halfcourt, owned the boards and played the physical, bruising, intractable brand of hoop Jamie Dixon’s best teams hang their hat on. The performance spoke volumes about this team’s ceiling, about the Big East force it purports to be, and it had the feel of a seminal moment in the Panthers’ season. Losing to Marquette, good team or not, is a huge setback.

Dunkdafied #1. They say all two-point baskets are created equal. In a superficial sense, that is true. Watching this Rodney Purvis dunk, the freshman guard’s spirited celebration, and the reaction it incited from a rabidly locked-in Wolfpack crowd, that truism couldn’t be more inaccurate.

More Notes From Around The Nation.

  • Bearcats Rise To Road Occasion. Until Cincinnati beats a good team on its own floor, I’ll reserve any long-term assessment on Mick Cronin’s team. As impressive as it was to see the Bearcats win at the same Rutgers Athletic Center that tripped up Pittsburgh just one week prior, the fact of the matter is Cincinnati has lost its last three home games. They get Marquette in Cincinnati on January 19.
  • Auburn Is Undefeated In the SEC. Beating LSU and South Carolina aren’t crowning achievements by any stretch of the imagination. But then again, the SEC is so very bad, and so lacking in quality wins, that most Ws are created equal. As such, the Tigers are very much in line for a round of applause after Saturday’s road win in Columbia moved them to 2-0 in SEC play. For a team that lost to Rhode Island, Winthrop and IPFW in nonconference play, Auburn has clearly acquitted itself unexpectedly well to conference competition.
  • ‘Twas A Good Week In Oregon. Over the last seven days, Oregon has knocked off state rival Oregon State in Corvallis, toppled the undefeated Arizona Wildcats and survived an immensely underrated Arizona State team at home. If there’s a better way to say, “We’re going to go out and  try to win this Pac-12 thing,” I can’t think of it. When taken together, it might just be the most important stretch of Oregon’s season, the moment when the talented but unproven Ducks evolved into a legitimate contender.
  • Can Miami Win the ACC? No ACC team has been as impressive thus far as Miami (Wolfpack fans: the Duke win was nice, but BC on the road and Georgia Tech at home are practically guarantees), who moved to 3-0 in league play with Sunday’s seven-point win over Maryland. We should get a clearer vision of the Hurricanes when they host Duke in nine days, but as it stands, Miami looks awful good, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. If anything, Jim Larranaga’s team is building up for the eventual return of Reggie Johnson, at which point this group could make a real run at the league crown. 
  • Cyclones Alive and Well. It took Ben McLemore nailing a wild banked-in three in the final minute of regulation for Kansas to extend and eventually beat Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse. The Cyclones fought Kansas to the final breath, and they carried that momentum into Saturday’s home test with Texas. The Cyclones dropped 82 points on the stingy Longhorns in a 20-point rout. As young and rudderless as Texas may be, there’s reason to be optimistic about Fred Hoiberg’s team, having strung together two nice performances against solid competition.
  • “Enough!” – Erick Green, probably. A four-game losing skid sapped pretty much every bit of positive momentum from Virginia Tech’s hot start. The Hokies were desperate for their first ACC win, and Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer at 24.6 points per game, almost singlehandedly lead them to an overtime win at Georgia Tech with 28 points. In so far as Virginia Tech wins basketball games, Green will pilot the proceedings.
  • Hoyas Wake Up. The last time Georgetown took the floor, it walked away ruing a 28-point bludgeoning at the hands of visiting Pittsburgh. John Thompson III’s team had suffered one of the most embarrassing home losses in program history. Trekking northward to Madison Square Garden to face off with an athletic St. John’s team was no sure thing, but Otto Porter got the Hoyas back on the winning track with a 19-point, 14-rebound double-double. This team, like so many in the murky Big East, is an enigma. I need to see more before I can buy into Georgetown as a top-five league finisher.
  • Rebels Pushed Into OT. In recent years, the Mountain West has featured two or three quality teams – San Diego State and UNLV, usual suspects. This year, the ratio of quality teams to bottom-feeding filler is high, which makes the league’s competitive product attractive not just when the Aztecs and Rebels take the floor, but when any two teams face off. Air Force is expected to finish at the bottom-half of the league this year. That they fought the mighty Rebels, legitimate conference championship contenders, to the bitter end of overtime Saturday night is yet another statement on the Mountain West’s remarkable depth.
  • Say What You Want About Wake… It is widely and casually posited that Wake Forest Jeff Bdzelik is on thin ice at Wake forest. The Demon Deacons are headed for another Tournament fail, fans have gone full-blown apathetic and there’s a growing sense that firing former boss Dino Gaudio was the wrong decision. So let us celebrate Wake Forest’s 2-1 start to ACC play; it may be the last time you see the Demon Deacons above .500 in league play.
  • WCC Isn’t All About Gonzaga. On Thursday, Saint Mary’s went to Spokane and had Gonzaga on life support before a curious jump ball decision helped bail the Zags out of their WCC loss. Mark Few’s team is going to win this league, but that shouldn’t obscure the quality of the league’s other top-shelf teams competing for runner-up status. Both BYU and Saint Mary’s pulled out notable wins Saturday night, against Santa Clara and San Francisco, respectively. They won’t touch the Zags anytime soon, but the Broncos and Gaels should not be tossed aside in Gonzaga’s wake.
  • Three Games, Three Wins In League Play For Washington. In November and December, Washington oscillated between impressive and horrible, running the nonconference gamut with losses to Albany, Cal St. Fullerton and Nevada and a home win over St. Louis. The Huskies showed signs of life in select spots, but their up-and-down performance out-of-league spoke to a capricious outfit with poor defensive credentials and a lack of overall talent and depth. Where this team ultimately ends up in March is an open question, but I can’t help but be impressed with the Huskies’ Bay Area sweep – wins over Cal and Stanford – this past week. Washington is 3-0 in the Pac-12, with big opportunities baked into the next stretch of Pac-12 play (home games against Colorado and Utah).

Dunkdafied #2. I know a few things about Ryan Boatright. I know he attended Aurora East high school in – you guessed it – Aurora, Illinois and turned down offers from Oklahoma, UNLV and West Virginia before committing to the Huskies. I know he has morphed into a more efficient scorer while commanding more of his team’s possessions, so his adjusted per-possession numbers are pretty fun to look at. I know he and Shabazz Napier are one of the nation’s best and most casually overlooked backcourts. I didn’t know Boatright could do this.

The Weekend’s All Americans.

First Team

  • Elston Turner, Texas A&M (NPOY) – Scoring 40 points is a rare accomplishment in any context. Doing it at Rupp Arena, and earning a Standing O from the most prideful fan base in the sport – that’s huge.
  • Doug McDermott, Creighton – The NPOY race tilted in McDermott’s favor this weekend by virtue of Mason Plumlee and Duke losing at NC State. McDermott made sure to make his own mark on the national race with 39 points and 10 rebounds in a Friday night win over Missouri State that you probably forgot about until this morning.
  • Richard Howell, NC State – In both of NC State’s losses this season, foul trouble forced Howell to the sideline far earlier than he or his team preferred. That’s a huge blow to the Wolfpack’s interior strength. He logged 38 minutes against Duke Saturday, and submitted one of the gaudiest lines of the weekend in the process: 16 points, 18 rebounds.
  • Anthony Bennett, UNLV – The Rebels needed all of Bennetts’s 22 points and 14 rebounds to outlast Air Force in overtime Saturday.
  • Erick Green, Virginia Tech – Down 11 points in the second half, Virginia Tech rode Green’s 28 points rally against Georgia Tech on the road in an overtime victory. 

Second Team 

  • Milton Jennings, Clemson – The Tigers picked up their first win in conference play against Virginia on the back of Jennings’ 21 point, 11-rebound night.
  • Alex Kirk, New Mexico – In a tightly-packed MWC, Kirk – who had 19 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday’s blowout of Fresno State – gives the Lobos an inside presence few teams can match.
  • Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso – The Horizon League is lacking in starpower, and Broekhoff may not qualify as such, but he’s the best player on the league’s best team. That’s worth something, right? Broekhoff helped the Crusaders move to 3-1 in conference play with 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in Saturday’s win over Milwaukee.
  • Jared Berggren, Wisconsin – The 4th place-or-higher streak synonymous with Bo Ryan’s tenure in Madison may or may not continue this season, but the Badgers are going to win their share of league games, and Berggren, who dominated Illinois on the low block with 15 points and 12 rebounds, will provide toughness and consistent two-way play every step of the way.
  • Mike Muscala, Bucknell – last weekend’s near upset of Missouri was a great national showcase for Muscala. On Saturday, he powered the Bison to a dominating win over Army with team-highs in points (20), rebounds (13), assists (7) and blocks (3).

Tweet of the Weekend. A valiant second-half comeback from Minnesota brought Minnesota to within four in the final minute, turning a blowout into a hotly-contested Big Ten slugfest, but if you watched only the first half of Indiana’s win – not a completely unreasonable scenario, given the 52-29 scoreline – you would have been blown away by the pristine efficiency of a bona fide offensive juggernaut. When the Hoosiers hit their stride, when they spread the floor and fling the ball around the perimeter, when the deafening IU crowd takes on sixth-man status and injects momentum and intensity into their favorite team, Indiana is something to see. Tirico’s claim is not an exaggeration. It’s dead accurate.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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