ATB: Another Loss For Louisville, UCLA Can’t Sweep Arizona Schools and the Big Ten’s Best Come Up Big…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 28th, 2013


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

The Weekend’s Lede. Parity Rocks Conference PlayThe theme of this college basketball season isn’t going away. There are no dominant teams. From Indiana to Duke to Louisville, or whoever else inherits the top spot in the rankings this season, their stay won’t be a long one. But what we’re seeing this season is about more than big-time upsets. Not every surprising result is a top-five stunner. It’s the parity in conference play that makes pegging conference frontrunners and Final Four contenders so adventurous. The insanity continued over the weekend, and frankly, I don’t envision it stopping any time soon. This – hotly-tested games, minimal gaps between the best and worst of each league, contested conference races, no clear favorites – is college basketball at its finest. It comes at you from so many different angles, so many different time zones, so many different TV channels. It gives you unranked Villanova knocking off two top-five teams in a week, and UCLA losing to the little-brother Arizona school two days after beating big brother, and Marshall Plumlee and Alex Len engaging in mid-game dunk warfare. And then, just when you’ve seen enough, it brings you another healthy heaping throughout the week. Before we get there, the weekend brought us plenty to dissect and deliberate. Time to dive in.

Your Watercooler Moment. Villanova Strikes Again.

Two top-five upsets highlighted an excellent week for the Wildcats (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Two top-five upsets highlighted an excellent week for the Wildcats (Photo credit: Getty Images).

There is no rational explanation for why Villanova was able to take down not just one but both of the Big East’s best teams this week. The Wildcats are still worlds away from the perimeter-oriented teams that fared so well under Jay Wright over the past decade. But they got those wins, and now Villanova’s season is headed in an entirely different direction. A week ago, the Wildcats were licking their wounds after dropping consecutive games against Pittsburgh and at Providence. The first was predictable and totally understandable; the second one hurt. It hurt not just because you’d rather not lose to a talented but young Providence team on the road under any circumstance, but because the rigorous two-game stretch that loomed left the possibility for a sustained losing streak. That rigor, in hindsight, was ‘Nova’s upset gold. And the weirdest part: Louisville and Syracuse, both ranked in the top-six in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency rankings entering Saturday, are about as upset-proof as tom-five teams come this season. Sure, the Cardinals’ offense betrays them from time to time, and when the bad, turnover-proned, wacky Russ Smith overwhelms the All American-level star we’ve seen in large stretches this season, Rick Pitino’s team can lose. And yes, the Orange have their warts, especially without their best shooter, James Southerland. But that baseline defensive commonality buffers against bad shooting nights, against 25-point games from Darrun Hilliard and poor late-game foul management. Seeing one of these teams go down in Philadelphia would have been run of the mill stuff for this season. But two, both lorded over by hall of fame coaches with decades of upset-avoiding wisdom at their disposal? Can’t say I saw this coming.

Also Worth Chatting About.  Bruins Still Maturing.

As the season rolls on, the Bruins will continue to get better (Photo credit: AP Photo).

As the season rolls on, the Bruins will continue to get better (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Swinging through a late-week road trip bookended with games at the two Arizona schools without a loss was a pipedream from the start. UCLA is an explosive offensive team, flush with talented freshmen and a handful of valuable role players, plus a much-improved defense. It is not the best team in the Pac-12; at least not yet. By season’s end, Ben Howland’s team is the odds-on favorite to own that title, but the Bruins have a few tweaks to make before they reach their peak. They won the more important of the two games, beating Arizona Saturday in relatively comfortable fashion, and that’s the biggest takeaway from this brutal two-game stretch. UCLA, like its Pac 12 challengers (Oregon, Arizona), is not experienced or balanced enough to stroll through conference play without a few hiccups along the way. Besides, Arizona State is quietly playing some excellent hoops on both ends of late; the Sun Devils entered Saturday making exactly half of their two-point shots, tops in the Pac 12. If Jordan Bachynski is going to give you 22 points and 15 rebounds, Carrick Felix adds 23 and 11, and David Wear can’t hold his side of the bargain (five points on 2-for-12 shooting), competing – much less winning – is a dubious goal.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits…

  • Big Ten Powers Hold Serve. Amid all the upsets and chaos in this year’s Big Ten so far, we’re starting to see some separation at the top of the league. In the preseason, Indiana and Michigan were widely panned as championship frontrunners, and after a month of meaningful conference competition, they have done nothing but validate those conjectures. It’s impossible to go unbeaten in a league this good, and both IU and MU have taken losses to date, but its hard to not look at what these teams are doing and realize the Hoosiers and Wolverines are not just the two best teams in the Big Ten, but maybe the two best in the country. On Sunday, each team faced variously challenging obstacles. Indiana was pushed at home by Michigan State, which is about what you’d expect from two top B1G teams at this stage of the season. Michigan made easy work of Illinois after keeping it interesting throughout the first half. If I had to choose one, I’d say Michigan’s win is more impressive, mainly because of the undeniable homecourt advantage Indiana gets at Assembly Hall. In any case, Saturday’s showdown in Bloomington – maybe the biggest conference game of any league so far – will be revealing.
  • Forceful Bounceback from Duke. Seeing Duke get eviscerated Miami earlier this week lead to all kinds of reevaluations on Duke’s chances going forward without power forward Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devils had dropped two of four since Kelly went down earlier this month, and it was starting to look like the ACC crown, once a mere formality in a dominant season, could slip out of their hands without the versatile senior on deck. The timetable on Kelly’s injury is still in doubt. What’s not, is Duke’s ability to cope with Kelly’s absence and surge ahead in a heated ACC race. The Blue Devils whipped Maryland at Cameron Saturday in a balanced offensive tour de force – five players reached double figures. This team won’t be at its best until Kelly returns, but the remaining talent is more than enough to carry them through the conference schedule on solid footing.
  • Don’t Worry About Butler. Seeing Butler lose a close game at La Salle this week was a jarring experience, particularly after the Bulldogs brought us the best moment of this season – Rose’ Jones’ foul-steal-score game-winner to knock off Gonzaga at Hinkle last Saturday. Naturally, the Bulldogs didn’t leave Saturday’s home meeting with Temple up to chance. They throttled the scuttling Owls, and they did it with Rotnei Clarke scoring 24 points and nine assists, his first action since a gruesome basket stanchion collision two weeks ago resulting in a sprained neck forced him to miss three games. Think of the LaSalle loss as a chink Butler’s mystical armor, if that’s your thing. But if the A-10 season has taught us anything this season, it’s that everyone and anyone who doubted Butler’s (or VCU’s) ability to join and thrive a bigger, more-monied league was straight fooling themselves. The Bulldogs were made for this stage. In fact, they are owning it.
  • Wolfpack Get Back On Winning Track. A January 16 loss at Maryland – combined with Duke’s Ryan Kelly-less struggles thereafter and a mid-week bed-wetting at Wake Forest – threw dirt all over whatever significance NC State’s home win over Duke, which at the time felt like a breakthrough moment, carried for the Wolfpack’s season progress. They knocked the other member of the North Carolina triangle Saturday, edging North Carolina by seven points, and not a moment too soon – in two days, the Wolfpack begin a brutal three-game stretch (at Virginia, Miami and at Duke). Heading into that gauntlet riding a two-game losing streak, both games extremely winnable, could have plunged the developing Wolfpack into a second-half spiral. This team is good, maybe one of the four or five most talented clubs in the country. But until Mark Gottfried can instill some semblance of defensive urgency (they rank seventh in the ACC in defensive efficiency), NC State will need to outscore the opposition. And that, as we’ve seen time and again, is not a winning formula in March.
  • Mountain West Happenings. Ah, the beauty of the Mountain West. So much unpredictability, so much talent and promise, all wrapped up in one western league. Saturday’s offering brought no shortage of surprises. On a crude win-loss scale, San Diego State’s home win over New Mexico isn’t crazy. The Aztecs, despite a recent two-game skid, might have the highest ceiling of any team in the Mountain West. What stands out is the offensive production from the other side: The Lobos somehow managed to score just 34 points against a good but not great Aztecs defense (4th in the MW, per-possession). Another disappointment: Boise State. All the good will from Boise’s hot start appears to have worn off, unless you have a better way of explaining a six-point loss at Nevada. This is a tough, tough league, but the Wolf Pack are, I’d argue, one of the lone soft spots in the league schedule. A few weeks ago, you could feel pretty comfortable about calling Boise a Tournament team. After Saturday? Eh. And Lastly, Wyoming continues to miss indefinitely suspended guard Luke Martinez after Saturday’s home loss to Air Force handed the Cowboys their fourth loss in six games; beating New Mexico Wednesday would be a nice way to reverse recent misfortunes.
  • A Bad Week For Louisville. When looking back on a really bad week, sometimes its best to just move on, put your perils behind you and carry on with little regard for what ailed you the previous seven days. That’s my best line of reasoning for Louisville, who on Saturday suffered its third L of a brutal week that also included defeats to Syracuse and Villanova. The Cardinals have slid into an offensive funk of late, and Russ Smith played some of the worst basketball of his career Saturday, but the bottomline is Lousville still guards better than anyone in the country, they still boast one of the nation’s best shot blockers and still carry a coach adept at resolving mid-season swoons and priming his teams for the most crucial stretches of games. Last year’s Final Four team was in much worse shape at this stage of the season. Losing at Georgetown hurts, but it’s nothing that’s going to derail this defensive juggernaut in the long run.
  • Southland Style Clash. The game of the year in the Southland took place in Prather Coliseum Saturday. Stephen F. Austin has garnered its fair shaire of weird computer love this season, while Northwestern State was known for one overriding trait: pace. The Demons push the rock faster than all but one team in Division I; they average 74.9 possessions per game. SFA has its own tempo-free extremism to bandy about – the Lumberjacks, as of Saturday, averaged 62.0 possessions per game, one of the slowest rates in Division I, and aside from an understandable away loss at Texas A&M, had stayed clean in the nonconference (with wins over Minnesota and Tulsa) and the early part of league play. Whatever defensive advantages SFA had – the Lumberjacks allow an average of 0.84 points per trip – were overrun, literally, as NWST gutted out a four-point win. Only one of these teams will see the light of day in March, most likely as a 15 or 16 seed, and you can bet no high seed will be all that eager to deal with either one of these stylistic oddities.
  • No Leeway For Harvard In Ivy. One of the biggest complaints about college basketball’s regular season, particularly in mid-major leagues, is the ultimate meaninglessness of playing a conference schedule, because Tournament births are rewarded to league tournament champions. The Ivy League does not have that problem. Instead, the regular season champion makes the field. I wish more leagues would adopt this format, but money drives the boat in college hoops, and conference tournaments, you know, make money. Anyway, Harvard took a massive hit this offseason when its two senior leaders Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey, were swept up in a landmark academic scandal. The Crimson are still in decent shape to make a push for the league crown, but they almost relinquished first place Saturday night. Down 10 points with under two minutes remaining, Tommy Amaker’s team stormed back to tie and beat Dartmouth in overtime. It’s these types of super-tight finishes, and the implications surrounding them, that makes Ivy hoop one of the most suspenseful conference seasons in the country.
  • On the road, Irish Win. The enigma in South Bend will not be solved until the Irish start winning at the Joyce Center. That has been this team’s fallback strength under Mike Brey, but recent home losses to Georgetown and UConn have turned Notre Dame’s season on its head. The Irish needed a win Saturday at South Florida, and they got it without senior forward Scott Martin. The next step involves a home date with suddenly-red-hot Villanova. Whether the Wildcats can take their upset tour on the road is one of this week’s most interesting storylines; I sort of doubt it. Notre Dame has been too good for too long in South Bend. Saturday was the perfect splash of confidence this team needed to amp up for a triumphant return home Wednesday.
  • Kansas and the Rest. The table was set for Kansas’ first major slip-up in Big 12 play earlier this week. Kansas State stuffed Bramlage Coliseum with a voracious home crowd, battered Jeff Withey on the low block and used the versatility of Rodney McGruder to try and poke holes in the Jayhawks’ defense. It was the best chance the Wildcats – or anyone else in the Big 12, come to think of it – had to spoil, even if temporarily, Kansas’ comfortable waltz into another Big 12 championship. The loss was an emotional stinger for the Wildcats, and an even bigger loss for the rest of the league. Relaying the certainty of Bill Self’s regular season championship streak continuing is almost tautological at this point, but here’s the deal: no one’s catching Kansas. The Jayhawks beat up on the Big 12’s next best thing, Oklahoma, at home Saturday. Couple that with KSU’s loss at Iowa State, and the end result is a snore of a league race.

…and Misses.

  • Bat Attack. A fabled blood-sucking, vampire-transforming, nocturnal specimen invaded the second half of Saturday’s Marquette win over Providence at the Bradley Center. This video captures the scene, but the GIF below, which portrays Providence big man attempting to swat the swooping mammal out of midair, is marvelous. This brings me back to another famous on-court bat incident: If Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is an executioner, Johnson is a deranged lunatic.


  • Northern Illinois Can’t Score. There are a number of statistics I could throw at you to illustrate the ugliness of Northern Illinois’ offensive efforts in a 42-25 loss at Eastern Michigan Saturday. The following really hammed it home: 8-for-61 shooting (a Division I record for lowest shooting percentage); 30 consecutive missed shots; and, oh, FOUR POINTS IN THE FIRST HALF. Don’t get too excited; the Huskies managed just five first-half tallies against Dayton earlier this season. This is a continuation of a larger dismal offensive season. NIU ranks 332nd in offense, 344th in effective field goal percentage, 326th in turnover percentage and 345th in two-point field goal percentage, per kenpom. That’s not bad. That’s gauge-your-eyes-out abominable. There are some woeful offensive clubs out there, but NIU takes the cake. Saturday was the icing on said cake.
  • Another Blown Shot-clock Call? Watching Colorado get worked by a fishy shot-clock review on Sabatino Chen’s last-second shot was more than enough zebra criticism for a season. Here we go again. Thanks to Wisconsin sophomore Traveon Jackson’s end-of-the-shot-clock jumper in the waning seconds of Saturday’s 45-44 win over Minnesota – which appears to not have left Jackson’s hand as the monitor hit zero – we may have another mishandled clock judgment turn the outcome of a game. It’s really unfortunate, because this was something like a must-win for Minnesota, who had lost three straight before Saturday’s tilt at the Kohl Center. Now the Gophers, once considered one of the two or three best groups in the Big Ten, continue searching for answers. Instant replay reversals for close shot-clock calls remain off-limits in college basketball; it’s moment like these that make you wonder why.
  • Another Loss For VCU. That’s two in a row for the Rams. Now is the part where people start questioning Shaka Smart’s team, where the Rams are showing their true colors, and how this somehow proves their unpreparedness for the challenges of A-10 play. If you subscribe to one of the above viewpoints, I’d advise you stop reading the rest of this blurb, because it will probably bring upon you some level of cognitive dissonance. Here’s the thing with VCU: The Rams are adjusting to seeing better teams on a more frequent basis. With that adjustment comes a learning curve, and right now, VCU is in a minor trough on a larger path towards conference and NCAA Tournament success. Losing in OT at Richmond is not a crime – when you get two traditional rivals rekindling old flames – these teams once belonged to the CAA together – unexpected outcomes are a natural end product. As for the Explorers, there’s not much you can say, beyond the fact that Ramon Galloway (31 points) and co. are playing quality hoop of late, and after picking off Butler earlier this week, knocking off VCU was an implied next step. If anything, the second loss says more about La Salle, and where they stand in this nebulous A-10 after sinking the Bulldogs and Rams in succession. Sacking Shaka Smart’s team on the road is a massive feat. VCU will quell doubts with upcoming games against Rhode Island and Fordham.
  • SEC Not Helping Itself. Much of the discussion surrounding Alabama’s home win over Kentucky earlier this week focused on the implications for Kentucky’s bubble status, and whether or not the Wildcats would be able to recover with enough quality SEC wins by Selection Sunday. What went overlooked was Alabama’s four-game win streak. It was nothing special; the Tide vanquished Tennessee, Mississippi State Texas A&M and the Wildcats. But It did put Alabama back in the tourney picture. NCAA hopes were building in a league searching for another worthy candidate. Pity, then, that the Volunteers may have slashed Alabama’s NCAA aspirations by beating the Tide Saturday in Knoxville. Kentucky will be this season’s bubble entity of note; Ole Miss, though rolling, isn’t in the clear; and no one else beyond the near certainties presented by Florida and Missouri on top of the standings holds a real chance of mounting a bid. The Tide could have gotten there, maybe, but Saturday really hurt their chances.

Dunkdafied #1. This is the first of two exquisite reverse dunks from two true centers playing against each other in a pivotal ACC game. The first comes to you from Maryland’s Alex Len.

More Notes From Around the Nation.

  • A Surprise A-10 Challenger. The talk of the town in the A-10 this season was threefold: 1) the immediate success of newcomers Butler and VCU; 2) Temple’s maddening inconsistency; 3) the indistinguishable jumble of near-equal teams that continue to muck up any sense of subjective evaluation. Through it all, George Washington has plugged through six league games and won four of them, including Saturday’s home rout (82-54) over Charlotte. The Colonials could be a team to keep updated on throughout the A-10 season.
  • A Win’s A Win, But… The biggest news out of Lexington Saturday is positive. Kentucky didn’t lose. They beat a veritably woeful LSU team at Rupp. The way in which the Wildcats went about it is where Saturday’s win should give bubble-vested UK fans cause for concern going forward. The Tigers kept this one tight throughout and played UK down to a pivotal final possession – LSU is a team Kentucky should be putting away well before the final moments. An away game at Ole Miss Tuesday is sort of important.
  • Miami Is Doing Good Things. This is not a team you want to play right now, these Hurricanes. Jim Larranaga’s group isn’t just beating teams, it is ruthlessly slaughtering everything in sight. On Sunday, the ‘Canes feasted on longtime rival Florida State, just four days after a 27-point beat down of No. 1 Duke. Entering Sunday’s game, Miami had allowed 0.84 points per trip in conference play, making it the league’s best defense. With Reggie Johnson back in the mix, the remaining ACC schedule is rife with winning potential. At 6-0, and showing no obvious flaws, Miami is the odds-on favorite in the ACC.
  • OVC Power Shift. There’s a changing of the guard in the Ohio Valley. New entrant Belmont, long a fixture of pre-Tournament giant killer projections, has overtaken Murray State as the best team in the league. The Bruins beat a better-than-you-think Eastern Kentucky team Saturday to move to 8-0 in conference play. Murray, meanwhile, stumbled at Jacksonville State. I was really looking forward to the Feb. 7 matchup between these two squads, but at this rate, it might not matter.
  • Bobcats Rolling Again. It’s been nearly 40 years since Ohio laid claim to a 6-0 conference record. Saturday’s one-point win over Kent State brought Jim Christian’s team in historic territory. What’s more, the Bobcats have motivation to keep winning: Akron, who beat Buffalo at home Saturday, is also 6-0. These teams meet up Saturday in Lebron’s hometown. Few mid-major contests will have a stronger bearing on the championship picture.
  • Louisiana Tech Running Away With The WAC. After beating what’s left of Utah State Saturday, the Bulldogs moved to 9-0 in conference play. New Mexico State and Denver (both 7-2) will give chase the rest of the way, but LA Tech already owns wins over both, and these teams won’t face off until March. So what if the WAC is a patchwork league of transnational also-rans? The Bulldogs are making easy work of what’s in front of them.
  • Breaking: St. Bonaventure Is Not Unbeatable. I can’t pretend to know exactly what got into St. Bonaventure over the past week, when it left an ostensibly daunting voyage through Philadelphia with wins over Temple and St. Joes. What I do know is that the Bonnies have their limits, limits exposed by Saint Louis’ hounding defense in a 10-point home loss Saturday.
  • The Best Individual Entertainment In College Hoops: Marshall Henderson. Anytime Marshall Henderson does something of note, I’m obliged to let you know about it. Henderson goes right at an irascible Auburn crowd in this GIF by brandishing his uniform in an exaggerated and explicitly demoralizing way. The Rebels won, which is also important, but Henderson’s the real story here. Physically and emotionally, Henderson is worth the price of admission in his own right.
  • Not a lot of Wiggle Room for Memphis in C-USA. The dearth of quality in C-USA this season heaped added importance on Memphis’ nonconference season. Much like last year, the Tigers missed on most of their big opportunities. Beating Ohio and Tennessee isn’t going to get you over the hump in bubble deliberations. All of which makes the Tigers’ staying upright in conference play pivotal, because merely playing all these rotten RPI figures in league is hurting Memphis’ chances enough. Losing – as they almost did Saturday to a Marshall team that got blasted 103-66 by Southern Miss earlier this week – could be lethal
  • UTEP Wins At The Buzzer. It is not crazy to think UTEP could knock off Memphis when the Tigers visit El Paso March 5. Late Saturday night, the Miners moved to 4-1 in C-USA play on this McKenzie Moore buzzer-beater.

  • MVC Pecking Order. There’s a clear demarcation between Creighton, Wichita State and the rest of the Missouri Valley. If there’s one team that belongs next in line, I feel confident enough at this point, after watching some worthy candidates battle it out over the first month-plus of conference play, saying Illinois St. fits the bill. The Sycamores completed a sweep of Northern Iowa Saturday, and own wins over Miami, Illinois State (a season split) and Ole Miss. Should the Valley wind up with three tourney bids, ISU is best-positioned to be the third.
  • Ducks Still Unbeaten. Watching UCLA beat Arizona then lose to Arizona State, followed up by Oregon’s home win over Washingto (without injured freshman point guard Dominic Artis) comprised an excellent all-around weekend for the Ducks. Doubters will counter with one or all of the following: The Pac-12 season is long, and Arizona has better players, and UCLA is starting to put it all together. But the truth is the truth – it says that Dana Altman’s team is now 7-0 in conference competition, one and a half games clear of the Bruins in first place and a full two games ahead of the Wildcats.
  • I See You, Northeastern. The moment VCU caught an early ride out of the CAA to its new conference home (the A-10), the league championship race became a complete grab-bag. What started out as a nice story has turned into something serious: Northeastern is 8-0 in conference play. On Sunday, they destroyed George Mason, one of the Colonial’s better outfits in recent years. The nebulous muck in the CAA left in VCU’s wake made pegging this conference a real shot in the dark, but I know this much: Northeastern was not a consensus favorite.
  • Preseason A-10 Favorite Gets Much-Needed Win. Describing the early part of St. Joe’s A-10 schedule as anything but brutal would be an understatement. The Hawks sandwiched a home date with Duquesne (a 12-point win) with games against Butler and VCU, and predictably lost both. That’s a tough draw, but the scheduling rigors couldn’t obscure reality: the Hawks, picked to win the league in the preseason, were 1-2. A home loss to St. Bonaventure later, and Phil Martelli’s team had reached major crossroads. Beating Xavier at home Saturday was imperative.
  • MAAC Race Heating Up. An apparent buzzer-beating three from Canisius guard Billy Baron was waived off in Sunday’s trip to league leader Niagara. At first look, Butler’s shot came off clean, and totally within time constraints. On second review, the revoking looks totally legitimate (see this photo). The larger significance of Butler’s late release is Niagara’s prolonged command of first place status. On Thursday, the Purple Eagles take on Iona, currently one game back in second place after Sunday’s win at Loyola (Md.)
  • UGH, Lehigh. Just when Lehigh takes a major step forward in the Patriot League race by beating post-C.J. McCollum injury favorite Bucknell midweek, the Mountain Hawks throw away sole possession of first place by losing at home to in-state rival Lafayette. What Lehigh pulled off at Bucknell Wednesday night, McCollum or not, was remarkable. This sets the Mountain Hawks back on equal ground with the Bison on top of the standings.
  • Wolters Comes Alive. After Saturday’s proceedings in the Summit, Western Illinois claims sole ownership of first place. But when we talk Summit basketball, Nate Wolters usually isn’t too far off the discussion rundown. And there he was again Saturday, reintroducing himself after a quiet early start to conference play with a 26-point, seven-rebound performance in a win over rival NDSU. The Dakota State schools are now deadlocked in second in the standings, both at 7-2.

Dunkdafied #2. Not to be outdone, Mason Plumlee responded in the second half off a missed Quinn Cook layup with a reverse slam of his own.

The Weekend’s All Americans. 

First Team

  • Ramon Galloway, La Salle (NPOY) – Another huge win for the Explorers, which coincided with big point production jump from Galloway. He netted 31 Saturday after scoring just six against Butler.
  • Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State – Calling ASU a contender in the Pac 12 after Saturday’s UCLA win feels like a stretch, but if Bachynski can build off his 22-point, 15-rebound game and refine offensive wavelengths with Carrick Felix on the low block and Jahii Carson on the perimeter, the Sun Devils can make some noise in league play.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Villanova – Where Villanova goes from here, after beating two top-five teams in a week, I can’t say. Here’s something I do know: Hilliard, following a sterling 25 point, seven-rebound performance against Syracuse, has raised the bar – individually and collectively.
  • Lorenzo Brown, NC State – At his best, Lorenzo Brown is one of the most devastating open-floor point men in the college game. He finished Saturday’s win over UNC with 20 points and 11 assists.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke – Going 9-of-13 from the floor is one thing. Sinking 6-of-8 from three is another. Scoring a season-high 25 points in a big rebound game against Maryland ties it all together.

Second Team

  • Victor Oladipo, Indiana – No player has been more pivotal to Indiana’s success this season – that includes Cody Zeller – than Oladipo. He flies at the rim, locks down the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, hits the boards with vigor and toughness, but most of all – Oladipo’s offensive game is really starting to come along. In Sunday’s big win over Michigan State, he finished with 21 points and seven assists.
  • Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee – There were huge expectations for Stokes in the preseason. So far, he hasn’t met them. If he continues putting up 15-point, 18-board double-doubles, that could change.
  • Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown – A lack of secondary offensive options will hurt Georgetown down the road, but it won’t hurt Porter’s chances of earning All American appearances. 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Hoyas’ multiskilled forward Saturday against Louisville.
  • Will Clyburn, Iowa State – Through Clyburn’s 24 point, 10-rebound output, the Cyclones were able to make up for a ghastly midweek loss at Texas Tech by beating Kansas State.
  • Alex Poythress, Kentucky – Sweating it out at home against LSU is a bad look for the Wildcats. Poythress scoring 20 points and hauling in 12 boards is a good one.

Tweet of the Weekend. Ending a 13-game string of disappointments against the Tar Heels was the argument for NC State enjoying its second court storming of the season. Wolfpack fans have waited a long time to unseat their state rival. But let’s not lose sight of how these teams got here. NC State, the ACC preseason darlings – recipient of massive expectations, fair or not, based off last year’s Tournament success and a shiny recruiting class – did not have celebratory cause to refill home court with post-game revelry. Think about it. The Wolfpack beat No. 1 Duke two weeks ago and celebrated accordingly. UNC is not anywhere near as accomplished as the Blue Devils, nor are they an appreciably better team than NC State. The Wolfpack were expected to cash in on UNC’s visit to Raleigh. Making good on that expectation doesn’t warrant a special celebration.

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 and a freelance contributor to

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