ATB: Canes Meet the Pain, the End of a Rivalry and a Bracketbusters Finale…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 25th, 2013

ATB

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

The Weekend’s Lede. Reining in the Last Weekend of February. The end of two prized college basketball traditions came to pass this weekend. ESPN’s annual Bracketbusters event saw its last go-round feature a slate that, frankly, didn’t meet the occasion of the event’s last rendition. Meanwhile, a decades-old Big East feud between Georgetown and Syracuse came to a close, and unlike the mediocre Bracketbusters field, the game was a fitting send-off for one of the nation’s best rivalries. Those two events headlined another excellent weekend schedule, the rest of which included (per the usual) a massive upset, some grueling league match-ups and all kinds of bubble and seeding implications sprinkled throughout.

Your Watercooler Moment. Miami Goes Down. 

The notion of Miami going undefeated in the ACC always felt like a distant, almost untenable concept. The Hurricanes are, at the risk of paint a bleak picture, a basketball non-entity. They play in front of an apathetic fan base at a “football school,” in a city with fans that are — let’s just say -– selective about going to see their teams play. Neither me, nor most of the nation’s best college hoops minds, knew exactly what to think. Miami was good, sure, but how good?

Until Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest, Miami’s first in ACC play, the answer was unambiguously glowing: Miami was good enough to run the table, despite everyone’s early-conference season doubts. The Hurricanes were storming through league competition, barely breaking a sweat while doing it and slowly but surely grasping the country’s attention as they rose up the AP Poll and surfaced as a favorite to land a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The praise was well-earned; this team can really play. Not only do they have spiffy efficiency numbers to back up the results – which include a 27-point drubbing of Duke and wins over NC State and UNC – they also have the experience and senior leadership to complete the intangible component of a legitimate Final Four candidate. It’s never fun to be the subject of another team’s court storming, nor is it comforting to have your undefeated conference run come courtesy of one of the nation’s worst Power Six schools (Yes, Wake plays teams tough at home, but come on: these squads aren’t in the same league). But if you began the weekend pleasantly impressed and optimistic about Miami’s chances of making a deep March run this season, I don’t know why you’d lose faith now. Miami lost, and it didn’t look particularly good in recent games against Clemson and North Carolina, but does one game negate a 13-0 ACC start, a top-10 efficiency profile and a senior-laden team armed with the sideline guile of March-savvy coach? No, it doesn’t.

Also Worth Chatting About. Hoyas Soil Storybook Big East Exit.

Wins don’t get any bigger than Georgetown’s Saturday at the Carrier Dome at the Carrier Dome. (Getty)

Wins don’t get any bigger than Georgetown’s Saturday at the Carrier Dome at the Carrier Dome. (Getty)

All the elements of a ceremonial Syracuse smackdown were present. A raging pack of 35,000 + orange-clad maniacs, an eligible and re-ingratiated James Southerland, the jersey-hanging commemoration of one of the best players in program history (Carmelo Anthony). Saturday, at the Carrier Dome, this was about the Orange, about Jim Boeheim, about punishing a rival one very last time. Otto Porter and the victorious Georgetown Hoyas were having none of it. A defensive battle, as expected, stayed tight deep into the second half. Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone frustrated the Hoyas all afternoon, and Georgetown countered with smothering defense of their own. The deciding factor was Porter. In a game where points, assists and general offensive execution was hard to come by, Porter rose to the occasion in an impossibly tough road environment (before Saturday, Syracuse hadn’t lost at the Carrier Dome in 38 games, the nation’s longest streak). And so after a bumpy opening in conference play, and all the usual Hoyas-centric questions about season-long endurance being raised, Georgetown has rendered moot a once debatable subject: who’s playing the best basketball in the Big East these days? Georgetown is the only answer.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits… 

  • If you’re not watching the Mountain West, Start. Of all the insane Mountain West games this season, Saturday’s New Mexico-Colorado State bout may go down as the best. To start, first place bragging rights were squarely on the line, with Colorado State coming off a tough two-point loss at UNLV and looking to return the favor after a five-point defeat at the Pit earlier this season. A win would have sealed CSU’s steady rebound-powered rise (CSU entered Saturday grabbing the largest share of defensive rebounds in the country, and ranked second in offensive rebounding percentage) up the Mountain West, and with no eminently difficult games the rest of the way, the Rams were on track to not only move to the top of the standings, but stay there the rest of the season. The game itself was good, physical, hard-nosed MW hoop: pretty much what you’d expect from these teams. Except it wasn’t, because I think it’s safe to say no one had UNM guard Kendall Williams dropping 46 points on 12-of-16 shooting and 10-of-13 from three in a nine-point win. This is the Mountain West people, get caught up.

    Kendall Williams is just one of several reasons to watch the Mountain West Conference. (USA Today)

    Kendall Williams is just one of several reasons to watch the Mountain West Conference. (USA Today)

  • Ohio State: Good… On Occasion. There have been times this season when Ohio State has looked totally capable of crashing the Big Ten title party — the three-point upset of then-No. 2 Michigan, a comfortable nine-point triumph over Wisconsin, you name it. On other occasions, Thad Matta’s team has felt a bit undercooked for the upper reaches of the nation’s toughest league; Indiana’s recent rout at Value City Arena stands out in particular. Sunday falls into the former category, and like most of Ohio State’s beneficial conference work this season, the Buckeyes’ eight-point win over Michigan State came at home. I would be tempted to throw this in the Michigan and Wisconsin win pile, but I have to give credit where credit’s due, and because so much of the season has been spent bemoaning the Buckeyes’ lack of a secondary scoring option (aside from DeShaun Thomas), I would be remiss to not at least mention Aaron Craft’s 21-point effort. Get Craft scoring in the mid-teens range on a nightly basis, and the Buckeyes could turn some heads in March.
  • It’s Official: Saint Louis Is The Class of the A-10. Picking nits and pointing at a perceived dearth of respectable road wins won’t work anymore. Saint Louis has the wins, the focus and the emotional impetus to lock up a top-heavy Atlantic 10. In a rare Friday night showdown, the Billikens went to Hinkle Fieldhouse – where the Bulldogs have been mostly unassailable in recent years under Brad Stevens – and grinded out a four-point win. SLU ripped Butler earlier this season and destroyed VCU last Tuesday. Both of those wins, impressive though they were, came at home. So it was easy to downgrade those Ws, or at least slightly discredit their merits. Now Saint Louis has the best road credential the A-10 has to offer: a win at Butler. The Billikens are an excellent story. They’ve reached the pinnacle of Rick Majerus’ program rebuild just months after he passed away and are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
  • Kentucky Shows Life. If we can settle on the idea that beating Florida in the season finale is going to be a brutally tough matchup, then it’s no hyperbole to classify Kentucky’s home win over Missouri Saturday a potentially season-saving event. Since losing Nerlens Noel to a knee injury, the Wildcats were blown out at Tennessee and barely skidded by Vanderbilt four days later. The selection committee will judge UK on what it accomplishes without its star center, and without any post-Noel resume quality to speak of, the Wildcats couldn’t afford to let this opportunity slip away. Missouri hasn’t acquitted itself well on the road all season, and Rupp Arena – irrespective of the quality of the team on the floor – is not the place to cure your endemic traveling woes. Kentucky showed unforeseen togetherness and late-game cohesion in edging the Tigers in overtime, the type of intangible positivity it sorely missed in numerous losses this season. This is a good starting point for John Calipari’s team. Provided they can get past Mississippi State at home Wednesday and beat Georgia on the road in March, remaining games at Arkansas and home against Florida could well decide the Wildcats’ postseason fate.

    John Calipari and crew picked up their biggest win of the season against Missouri. (AP)

    John Calipari and crew picked up their biggest win of the season against Missouri. (AP)

  • Wild, Wild Game in the SEC. I know, I know: if it’s not Florida, Missouri, Kentucky or Ole Miss, SEC basketball has been relegated to a pitiful punchline for most of this season. For one day, two of the league’s mediocre outfits disproved the league’s reputation for being borderline unwatchable. Tennessee and Texas A&M nearly matched the Louisville-Notre Dame Gameday epic of two weeks ago by tacking on 20 minutes (Four OTs) to their Saturday tussle in college station. The Volunteers, just one disappointment in a league full of them, pulled out the win thanks to Trae Golden’s 32 points. Neither of these teams stands a chance for an at-large bid, and you know what? That’s beside the point. In a lamentable season, Tennessee played a game it won’t soon forget. The Volunteers don’t have many highlights this season. Saturday was one of them.
  • Bracketbusters Main Event. The selection of teams in this year’s Bracketbuster’s lineup is – subject to your discretionary adjective choice – underwhelming. Not for college hoops junkies like yours truly; watching various intra-conference mids square off, many of whom rarely hit national television, is prime viewing. The casual crowd, I’d imagine, tuned in to catch one last run of Bracketbusters action, then quickly and willingly changed the channel. That is, unless they happened to catch Saturday’s Saint Mary’s-Creighton matchup – the one BB game with huge Tournament interest on both sides. The loss won’t knock Creighton out of the field. It will make the Blue Jays sweat out their final two conference games (one of which comes against league-leading Wichita State), and possibly go into Arch Madness needing deep advancement to secure a bid. The Gaels needed this win to move forward in the increasingly baffling at-large assemblage. They aren’t free just yet, but Saint Mary’s definitely elevated its chances.
  • Big Comeback By VCU. In a normal A-10 season, any game where Xavier holds a 17-point second-half lead at home is, for all intents and purposes, finished business. Case closed. This isn’t a normal year in the A-10. It’s an additive transition year, and one of the newbies – both of them, come to think of it – is making a run at the league title. VCU is one of those new faces, and the Rams stared down that enormous second-half deficit, unleashed their patented Havoc full-court pressure and initiated an unthinkable XU lead-blowing tumble. The end result was VCU’s 10th conference win, just a half-game back of first-place Saint Louis. The Rams won’t get SLU again this season, which is sort of a disappointment. They will face Butler in one week’s time, and really, how can anyone complain about that?

    Nate Wolters is probably the best player no one has heard of this season (Summit League Conference)

    Nate Wolters is probably the best player no one has heard of this season. (Summit League Conference)

  • Mid-Major Point Guard Battle Royale. The fuzzy dividing line between high and mid-major slots Murray State and South Dakota State in the latter category. Since the rest of that grouping is still unclear – does the impending death of the BCS structure eliminate the old classification system? Has the A-10 crossed the threshold? The Mountain West? – throwing out superlatives risks an inaccurate portrayal of reality. So I won’t go as far as to call Isaiah Canaan and Nate Wolters the two best point guards in the mid-major kingdom, but they’re certainly in the conversation. Bracketbusters may not have given us the best possible stable of fixtures this season, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone griping about Saturday night’s SDSU-Murray game. The source of the intrigue, in case the first few sentences didn’t give it away, was at the point guard spot. Canaan got the best of Wolters, and his team erased a 14-point deficit to gut out a 14-point win.
  • Cal Looking Better By The Week. As Cal inches towards an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, it’s worth mentioning that last month – back before this recent five-game winning streak, which was kept alive Saturday in a one-point win against RPI deathtrap Oregon State (185) and which began two weeks ago at Arizona – Cal was in serious trouble. The Bears registered as nothing more than a harmless murmur in the bubble picture. Fast forward to Monday February 25. The Bears don’t look harmless at all; Allen Crabbe and company are primed to inflict some serious damage not just in the Pac-12 Tournament, but also in the Big Dance.
  • Villanova Helped Itself Big-Time. A once spotty Tournament profile is starting to look better and better as Villanova plays out its Big East schedule. In January, when the Wildcats knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in succession, the Wildcats had an NIT-worthy resume with two gems, and not much else. Last week’s win at UConn was another step, and Saturday’s takedown of Marquette may be the deciding factor in the Wildcats’ ultimate postseason destination. It’s no longer fair or even accurate to paint this team’s at-large chances as the product of two big wins. Look around at the rest of the bubble field, and just try to find teams with four wins over Tournament-bound teams (UConn would be in, were it eligible); I don’t know the exact answer, but it isn’t much. After an away game Monday at Seton Hall, the rest of the schedule is brutal: at Pittsburgh, home against Georgetown. The good news is, after Saturday, Villanova probably doesn’t have to worry about winning one or both of those games while still maintaining at-large viability.
  • More Bracketbusters Action. Even if the field didn’t bring its customary glut of at-large relevant matchups, there were a few interesting contests worth talking about. Horizon leader Valparaiso dominated Eastern Kentucky while Detroit, who currently stands one-game off first place, pushed Wichita State into a high-scoring affair but ultimately fell short on the road. Akron extended the nation’s longest winning streak (18) against North Dakota State, but fellow MAC challenger Ohio couldn’t secure the league’s second win in a convincing loss at Belmont. In sum, Bracketbusters lived out its final days without leaving a positive impression. All we can hope is that network executives or conference leaders come together to produce a similar event. Bracketbusters was not a perfect concept – some teams benefited, while others saw their Tournament positions suffer – but it was something that allowed the nation’s best mid-major squads to face off on a national stage they otherwise wouldn’t experience. That concept, even if it’s not a formalized event, is worth preserving.

…and Misses.

  • Golden Eagles Miss Big Chance. When Southern Miss allowed Memphis to steal a 13-point win in Hattiesburg three weeks back, the Golden Eagles were a declining at-large investment. Saturday’s return game at Memphis provided a final chance at bubble re-invigoration. Southern Miss scored three points fewer than the first tilt (89-76), which means now the only realistic avenue to Tournament inclusion is the Conference USA Tournament. It’s not an impossible mission; Memphis isn’t the unassailable league overlord its undefeated league record implies. Southern Miss can make C-USA a two-bid proposition, but fixing your Tournament aspirations on conference tournaments is risky business. As of Saturday night, the outlook isn’t good.

    Johnny Dawkins and Stanford have a tough hill to climb from here on out. (AP)

    Johnny Dawkins and Stanford have a tough hill to climb from here on out. (AP)

  • Nail in the Coffin For Stanford?. I am not in the business of handing out official NCAA Tournament denials in late February. I’ve seen one too many unexpected at-large bids to count teams out. Unlikely propositions can turn true. Teams that finish the season on the outer fringes of the at-large picture can sneak in anyway. The bubble softens up, conference tournaments are chalky enough to minimize unlikely automatic bids and hey, you never know. I’m inching towards breaking my rule for Stanford. The Cardinal will need a bunch of fortuitous events to fall in their favor, because after Saturday’s loss at Oregon, I just don’t see how they can make a reasonable case for inclusion. It doesn’t look good.
  • Carolina Grudge Match. I couldn’t honestly convince myself to get behind NC State Saturday in a tough road trip at UNC. My sentiment should not confuse you. The Wolfpack’s only road wins this season came at Boston College and Clemson by a combined six points. This year’s UNC team isn’t one of Roy Williams’ finer outfits, but it is a reasonably even matchup for the whimsical Pack, and the Tar Heels – winners of two straight – were more than happy to exact revenge after a late-January loss in Raleigh. This latest defeat told me nothing about Mark Gottfried’s team I didn’t already know. They offer a supremely-talented lineup that still hasn’t found a way to make it all work, were vastly overrated to start the season and are now settling into the reality that, no matter how promising a top-five recruiting class coupled with last season’s sweet 16 holdovers looked at the time, NC State is just another mid-to-upper tier ACC group.
  • It’s Starting To Get Shaky For Cincinnati. When I say Cincinnati is in trouble, I don’t mean to cast heavy doubts on its NCAA Tournament chances. Even after Sunday’s blowout loss at Notre Dame, the Bearcats are still perfectly in line to land an at-large berth. The near-lock status Mick Cronin’s team had heading into Big East play, after dusting up a solid non-conference slate that included wins over Oregon, Iowa State, Alabama and Xavier, cannot be ascribed the same level of at-large security – that’s what I’m saying. The Bearcats have now fallen under .500 in conference play, and even in a conference as rugged as the Big East – where sub .500 records won’t in themselves prevent admission into the field – the nonchalance with which Cincy could once approach its Tournamnent profile is gone, if only because the Bearcats currently stand – get this – even with Providence in the league standings. Of the three remaining games on their schedule (UConn, at Louisville, South Florida), winning at least one (and preferably two) is strongly advised.
  • Mississippi State is Bad. I can’t think of a more bluntly accurate way to put it. After losing to Vanderbilt 72-31 Saturday (at home), the Bulldogs have dropped 12 consecutive games. Under the command of first-year coach Rick Ray, MSU is in the first year of a huge rebuilding project. In conference play, The Bulldogs allowed an average of 1.1 points per possession while scoring 0.85. And no, negative efficiency margins are not amenable to winning basketball — just in case you didn’t already know. The point is, in a dreadful SEC, the Bulldogs have somehow managed to lower the bar. It bears mentioning that their plight is nothing revolutionary; teams undergo horrible seasons every now and then. But there’s a difference between horrible and giving 41 points to Vanderbilt. Where this team goes from here is anyone’s best guess.
  • So Much Talent, So Little Tournament Breathing Room. There are a number of disappointing teams in college hoops this season. UNLV has top-five talent that well underplays the sum of its parts. NC State is loaded with top-flight recruits and future draft picks. UCLA boasts the class of 2012’s number one perimeter player and a cast of capable veterans. Forgotten on the list, and mystifyingly so, is Baylor. The Bears likewise have one of the most talented and athletic rosters in the country – Isaiah Austin is a seven-footer with real guard skills, Tony Jefferson is a scary-good shot blocker and Pierre Jackson entered the season as the favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year. The pieces haven’t meshed well all season, so it should come as no surprise that the Bears, by losing Saturday at Oklahoma, have put their chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament in serious jeopardy. The only way Baylor even makes an argument at this point is if it beats at least one and probably both Kansas State and Kansas at home (and avoids losses at West Virginia and Texas). And if you’ve watched the Bears play this season, I don’t know why you’d be inclined to think they can win either of those games.
  • Ouch, Iowa. The path to the field of 68 was a simple proposition for Iowa. After blitzing Minnesota this week, the Hawkeyes needed to avoid losses against Nebraska (twice) and Purdue, beat Illinois at home, hope for the best at Indiana and win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament. Whether that plan would have been enough to get Fran McCaffery’s team over the bubble wall, I don’t know. But we won’t have to waste time deliberating the subject, because Iowa might have ruined its chances Saturday by losing to the Huskers in Lincoln. Winning at Indiana, it would seem, is the only way to prop up this resume into something close to a competitive at-large CV. Maybe a 3-1 conference finish and an upset in the conference Tourney will be enough. Maybe not. All we know is that losing at Nebraska did more harm than good.

Dunkdafied #1. You can talk about the thunderous finish, sure, and the way Archie Goodwin ignited a rabid UK crowd. For my money the best part of this clip, hands down, is Frank Haith’s blank deadpan.

  • More Free Basketball in the SEC. One more OT period, and LSU and Alabama would have matched conference counterparts Texas A&M and Tennessee in a rare (and possibly unforeseen?) same-day four-OT league partnership. This three-OT tilt won’t get the same buzz as the other SEC marathon, but it’s still worth talking about, because in the SEC – where most of the discussion is strictly negative – any talking point that doesn’t invoke the conference’s horrid RPI or bleak NCAA Tournament representation warrants a nod of gratitude. On a side note: if there was any hope left for Alabama sneaking into the Tournament, consider said hope gone.
  • KSU Remains Consistently Good. I wouldn’t have thought all that much about a win at Texas earlier this season. Now that Myck Kabongo has been unleashed from NCAA purgatory, beating the Longhorns isn’t a guaranteed transaction. Texas now has some actual offensive ability to match a top-40 per-possession defense. All of which is to say that it’s hard not to be impressed by Kansas State’s comfortable 11-point win in Austin Saturday, in which the Wildcats scored 81 points and withstood a 24-point night from Kabongo.
  • I Don’t Know Who Temple Is. I’ve run into some baffling hoops teams over the years, groups whose performance varies on a wide spectrum. They are – hyperbole alert – impossible to predict. Temple is stretching the limits of my predictive capacities. Don’t get me wrong: I saw the Owls’ 20-point win at Charlotte Sunday coming from a mile away; their recent form, which includes wins at UMass and against LaSalle, implied a team playing arguably its best basketball of the season. But when you combine those data points with recent losses to previously A-10-winless Duquesne, a road loss at St. Joes and a home defeat to Saint Bonaventure, the picture is decidedly mixed.
  • Harvard Keeps Moving Forward. The Ivy League scheduling pattern is brutal. Unlike most leagues, which separate bookended road trips over multiple days, Ivy teams play on Friday and Saturday. Harvard swept its latest double, this time winning at Brown and Yale. Next weekend’s slate could decide the Crimson’s season. They play at Princeton, who currently sits 1.5 games back in second place, then follow that up the next day with a tough test at Penn.
  • Gators Strike Back. It was unsettling to watch the previously undefeated (in conference play) Gators lose their first league tilt in such humbling fashion against a home-emboldened Arkansas team. The Gators were practically untouchable in every SEC game leading up, and it was starting to look like they had a real shot to breeze through their woeful league without taking a loss. Florida dropped its second league game at Missouri this week, but it made sure to turn around and thrash Arkansas Saturday. Next up is a Tuesday road trip to Tennessee, where Florida will try to capture its first semi-respectable road win of the season.

    Patric Young helped the Gators rebound from two tough losses earlier in the week. (Getty)

    Patric Young helped the Gators rebound from two tough losses earlier in the week. (Getty)

  • Not Good, ASU. The writing is on the wall for Arizona State. After securing a sweep of Colorado and opening up this weekend’s Washington road trip with a win at WSU, the Sun Devils turned around and – you guessed it – lost at Washington Saturday night. Obviously, the most important take here concerns ASU’s at-large chances, and without delving into a deep numerical profile breakdown, suffice it to say Herb Sendek’s team would do well to take a majority split of a brutal road-only closing schedule: at UCLA, at USC, at Arizona.
  • Tough Stretch for Lehigh. For the first few months, Lehigh appeared to be handling life without McCollum reasonably well. The Mountain Hawks maintained their spot near the top of the Patriot League, and managed to stave off Bucknell for most of the conference season. Sunday’s loss at Lafayette, coupled with the Bison’s win against Holy Cross, was a killer in terms of regular season conference title hopes. The Hawks now find themselves a substantial two-games back with two to play.
  • Shocker: TCU Didn’t Sweep Kansas. Speaking of revenge games, Kansas predictably stomped all over TCU at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday. Beating the Horned Frogs won’t erase the first result. In fact, it hammers home just how unevenly matched these two teams are, and how incredibly unlikely TCU’s upset really was.
  • Battle For L.A.. You may or may not have noticed that USC is quietly winning a bunch of games in a solid Pac-12 (the league could, in fact, land six tourney bids. How about that?), and at the very least putting a good scare into basically every team is loses to. Letting go of Kevin O’Neill was, it would seem, the right move. Recently, the Trojans have dropped two straight to two of the Pac-12’s best, Cal and UCLA (Sunday). The Bruins handed USC their biggest margin of defeat at home (16) this season.
  • We Missed On Florida State. It’s practically a moot point at this segment of this season, and the Seminoles have shown us time and again they’re not the ACC challenger we saw in the preseason, but Sunday’s loss at ACC doormat Virginia Tech adds more misery to a season characterized by disappointments and gross over-projections. Needless to say, the Seminoles’ 14-13 overall record and 6-8 conference record won’t help their chances of landing this guy.
  • Illini Sweep Complete. A sluggish first half, wherein Illinois headed to the locker room with a three-point edge in Ann Arbor Sunday, would have rattled most freshmen-heavy teams. The difference for Michigan is, it has arguably the best point guard in the country at the controls, Trey Burke. That first-half deficit dissipated under Burke’s watch as he spearheaded a 15-3 run to help the Wolverines pick up their first consecutive pair of conference victories since January 27 and 30.
  • St. John’s running out of Chances. This whole NCAA Tournament thing – it’s not happening for St. John’s. Not right now, that’s for sure. The Red Storm passed up another big opportunity Sunday by losing to Pittsburgh at home, which leaves a road game at Notre Dame and a season-ending home date with Marquette as the only remaining vehicles to tourney salvation (there’s always the Big East Tournament, I suppose). Which is to say: St. John’s chances are not very good.
  • NEC Bummer. The prospective game of the year in the NEC lost most, if not all of its luster Saturday when a Bryant loss to Quinnipiac, combined with Robert Morris’ rout of Fairleigh Dickerson pulled the Colonials 1.5 games clear of the second-place Bulldogs. Bryant welcomes RMU to town on Thursday, but given the way the Bulldogs have scuttled down the stretch (Saturday’s loss was their third in four games), and the Colonials’ simultaneously dominant form, it doesn’t appear the league title race will amount to anything more than a simple end game for RMU.

Dunkdafied #2. I’m going with a steal-and-dunk theme for this weekend’s dunkdafied selection. Archie Goodwin had to travel more ground, Euro Step a defender and finish uncontested. Nick Faust wrested possession around the three-point line and managed to dunk while weathering a weak side shot-blocker. Which is more difficult? Your mileage may vary.

The Weekend’s All-Americans.

First Team

  • Kendall Williams, New Mexico (NPOY) – The game of Kendall’s and anyone else’s life, which included 46 points and 10 three-point makes, resulted in UNM claiming first place in the Mountain West.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown – In the wake of Georgetown’s rivalry-ending win at Syracuse, and the 33 Porter points that lead to it, there’s buzz about the Hoyas shaping up as a likely candidate for an NCAA Tournament number one seed.
  • Trae Golden, Tennessee – To be fair, Golden did have four added overtime periods to fill the box score, but 32 points is 32 points is 32 points is 32 points. Nice win.
  • Reggie Bullock, North Carolina – Whether UNC will make the NCAA Tournament is clear: it will. How far it can advance with Bullock (22 points, 13 rebounds against NC State) as one of its primary scoring threats is not.
  • C.J. Harris, Wake Forest – It must feel good to knock off the No. 2 team in the country on your home floor. Better is scoring 23 points on 5-of-5 three-point shooting in the process.

Second Team

  • Darrun Hilliard, Villanova – In Villanova’s overtime win over Syracuse in January, Hilliard scored 25 points. On Saturday, he was at the heart of the Wildcats’ scoring efforts yet again (22 points) in downing Marquette at home.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky – When Cauley-Stein can impact the game on the defensive end (seven blocks, one steal) and on the glass (12 rebounds), his offensive numbers (seven points, 3-of-7 shooting) are negligible.
  • Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s – With his team’s season hanging in the balance, Dellavedova gutted Creighton’s soft D for 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
  • Aaron Craft, Ohio State – For Ohio State’s sake, let’s hope Craft’s season-high 21-point performance in Sunday’s win over Michigan State won’t end the season with that distinction.
  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss – Sometimes Henderson’s shot attempts can get a bit out of hand. They didn’t Saturday against Auburn: Henderson shot 8-of-13 from the field and 8-for-12 from beyond the arc (woah) for 28 points.

Tweet of the Weekend. This tweet, coming from the most plugged-in UK source available, captures why Kentucky’s win was more than just a gritty overtime display against a road-weary Mizzou. Kentucky managed to overcome the disjointedness and visible individualistic dynamic that prevented its compilation of talented freshmen from coming together and playing as one. I’m hesitant to believe Kentucky has finally “flipped the switch,” because without Noel, this team has a lower ceiling – on defense in particular. I am willing to say that a win like this can help Kentucky stage a late-season NCAA Tournament push, and after the Tennessee blowout loss, when talks of an NIT invitation appeared en masse on UK message boards, remaining in the at-large discussion was a suspect aim. Now the Wildcats have something to build on. Not only did they seize one of their remaining opportunities for a resume boost, they coalesced during the competitive apex of a season-defining game — minimizing mental errors along the way and coming together behind an excellent performance from veteran Julius Mays – to stay in contention. Only good can come of this.

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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