ATB: Kelly Ignites Duke, Bubble Teams Fall in Droves and a Breathtaking One-Man Show in the MVC…Posted by Chris Johnson on March 4th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The Weekend’s Lede. March’s First Weekend. The regular season is whittling down to it climactic end. After this weekend’s bloated weekend of excitements, where many a conference race were won and lost, only one more weekend remains before conference tournaments begin. The regular season has been filled with excitement and unlikely drama, so in one sense it is devastating to face the end-of-regular-season music. The nearing of conference and NCAA Tournaments is what I like to call the ultimate silver lining to that dour sentiment. That’s right: check your calendars. The Tournament, and the mini tournaments leading up to it, are coming to a TV near you. And soon. What I’m really trying to get at here is that as grim as the prospect of a Saturday afternoon with zero college hoops on tap may be, the treat at the end of the calendar will arrive at a moment’s notice. One phase (the regular season) gives way to a better one (the postseason). That turning point isn’t here yet, so in the meantime we’ll stop by and examine some of the hardwood happenings in various leagues around the country. All systems go:
Your watercooler Moment. Ryan Kelly Helps, a Lot.
Whenever someone would mention Duke’s chances of advancing into the deep rounds of the NCAA Tournament, or its seeding prospects, they talked about Duke in two forms. With Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Kentucky, VCU, Louisville, Minnesota, Ohio State, Temple and Davidson. Without him they’re not the same team, both empirically and wins-wise, and a mixed run through the ACC underscored the impact of Kelly’s absence on Duke’s collective unit. The conversation loomed as Duke took road losses at NC State, Miami, Maryland, and most recently, Virginia. No one doubted whether Duke would improve with Kelly in the lineup, only whether they could improve enough to regain their nonconference form or, in the most skeptical corners of ACC message boards, whether Kelly would return at all this season. And even if he did return, how much could we reasonably expect from an unconventional 6’ll’’ stretch four with a history of nagging foot injuries? The answer to that question came Saturday. Kelly returned to the Blue Devils just in time for a titanic ACC clash with Miami, who embarrassed the Blue Devils in Coral Gables in their first matchup in January. To say Kelly returned would be like saying Willis Reed “returned” from a torn thigh muscle for game seven of the Knicks’ NBA Finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kelly didn’t just return. He stole the show: 36 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a game that Miami kept close throughout, and was only sealed when Shane Larkin and Rion Brown missed game-tying threes as time expired. It’s unreasonable to bank Kelly for 30 points on any given night. I could even see him sitting out, or playing sparse minutes, in Duke’s two remaining regular season games. If his foot isn’t fully healed, he may need the extra rest to gear up for the NCAA Tournament. What matters is that Kelly is back, and Duke can start working on trending back towards the clear-cut No. 1 team that ruled the hoops landscape in November and December.
Also Worth Chatting About. Big East Contenders Handle Business.
At the top of the Big East standings, a glut of variously capable teams has positioned itself within striking distance of the conference title at different stages this season. Syracuse and Louisville were the obvious favorites entering conference play, and teams such as Marquette, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have looked threatening on occasion. The picture has remained muddy for a while now – as it should in a league as naturally competitive and unpredictable in the Big East. As the conference schedule wanes, time and gradual attrition has sliced the pool of realistic challengers into a formidable trio: Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette. The most surprising exclusion expedited its exit on Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome, where the Orange engaged in a low-scoring tussle, eventually falling on the wrong end of Louisville’s payback effort from the Orange win at the KFC Yum! Center earlier this season. You may or may not have realized, but the victory was Louisville’s fifth in a row since that devastating 5 OT loss at Notre Dame, the only one of which had any real consequence. The Cardinals are once again locking teams down with the nation’s No. 1 efficiency defense, getting just enough on the other end from Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and peaking just in time for the postseason. With Marquette holding serve against the Irish on Saturday just a week after knocking off the Orange at home, the Golden Eagles stand tied with Louisville in the Big East table, with Georgetown holding down first place after its win over Rutgers Saturday night. Syracuse’s three-game skid essentially dashes its league crown hopes, but more importantly it gives the Orange two straight defeats in their previously unassailable home gym and three straight losses overall. The Orange, strangely enough, are officially vulnerable at home, and officially on the outside of the conference title chase looking in as they round out their last hurrah in the Big East.
Also Worth Chatting About (#2). Second Place Logjam in the Big Ten.
The weekend’s Big Ten headliner (Michigan State at Michigan) lived up to its enormous hype. The Wolverines dealt Tom Izzo’s team its third straight loss for the first time since January 2011, Trey Burke shined in a big moment to bolster hisPOY campaign and the national focus will unwisely shift away from Tom Izzo’s team on the precipice of another likely deep March run. That last part is just my read on the situation; everyone to his own. Anyway, Michigan’s win wasn’t even close to the most shocking result in the nation’s most rugged conference Sunday. That distinction belongs to Wisconsin, who fell at home against Purdue to bring about a four-way tie for second place in the league standings. The Badgers aren’t invincible at the Kohl Center, but they’re close to it, and inexperienced teams like Purdue typically go into UW’s hostile confines already having lost half of the battle. However Bo Ryan’s team was ultimately deconstructed in Madison, the bottom line is this: Michigan, MSU, Ohio State and Wisconsin now all sit two games back of Indiana. Speaking of: In the course of all this confusion near the top of the league table, The Hoosiers were content to sit back after a dominating win over Iowa Saturday, begin preparations for a brutal week ahead (Ohio State, at Michigan) and accept a guaranteed share of the regular season crown. With one week remaining in Big Ten play, Michigan still getting one final crack at Indiana, and Wisconsin traveling to the Breslin Center midweek, the resolution of the coveted Big Ten runner-up spot is far from a closed proposition.
Your Quick Hits…
- Dougie’s Super MVC Finale. This is the game everyone would have wanted to see at the end of the Missouri Valley Conference season, the two best and most recognizable teams (Creighton and Wichita State) locked up in the league standings with the winner taking home first place and the No. 1 seed in the ever-unpredictable Arch Madness. A national player of the year contender whose candidacy had gradually faltered over the course of a disappointing conference season proved his merits for the award are not to be questioned. Doug McDermott’s 41 points on a hyper-efficient 15-of-18 shooting pushed the Bluejays past the Shockers’ stingy defense. It was the biggest win of the season for Greg McDermott’s club, and not just for the first-place prize it earned. The win also almost positively assures Creighton a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
- Cal is Scorching. Where was this Cal team at the beginning of the season? The team that throttled Colorado Saturday for its seventh consecutive Pac-12 win, a streak that includes victories over Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. I don’t know the answer to that question, and frankly I don’t care all that much. The Bears are on a rampage through a good but not great league, but whatever dust you want to throw on Cal’s flaming momentum should not be cast without a genuine tip of the cap to just how quickly and strongly Mike Montgomery’s team has risen up the conference ranks. With their Tournament hopes flagging early in the conference season, the Bears shifted into high gear and are now cruising towards an at-large berth. What’s more, Saturday’s win gave Cal a W over every member of the Pac-12’s top six (minus itself), dated Saturday night.
- Regular Season Champions. Some of the mid-major leagues we’ve tracked all season crowned champions over the weekend. Here’s a quick rundown.
Horizon: All Valparaiso needed to clinch the Horizon title was a win at Wisconsin Green Bay Saturday. The Crusaders took care of business on the road.
Atlantic Sun: A 12-point win at Stetson formalized Mercer’s claim to top honors.
Mountain West: After a long and hectic conference season, New Mexico’s handling of Wyoming, coupled with Colorado State’s loss at Boise State, gave the Lobos the regular season title.
Conference USA: Winning out of conference has been tough for Memphis this season. Winning in C-USA has been exactly the opposite, and Saturday’s win over UCF wrapped up an unparalleled league campaign.
Big South: In the North division, High point edged Campbell on Saturday to claim the No. 1 spot. Charleston Southern beat Coastal Carolina to lock up the South.
Ohio Valley: In its first season in a new league, Belmont didn’t waste any time. Rick Byrd’s team cemented top-dog status by beating Jacksonville State Saturday.
MAAC: Keep an eye out for Niagara, your regular season champ, wherever they happen to fall in this year’s tourney (if they win the conference tournament).
SWAC: An easy 19-point triumph over Alcorn State Saturday secured Texas Southern’s grip on the regular season championship.
Missouri Valley: A superb finale highlighted by Doug McDermott’s 41 points led Creighton to its first regular season MVC crown since 2009.
- Clarity in a Wacky Mountain West. All season long the Mountain West has evinced the most exciting and intriguing conference season of any league around the country (sorry Big Ten; the MW is bafflingly awesome). UNLV and San Diego Sate and Boise State and Colorado State all waged incrementally tight contests in hostile environments, many of which went unwatched by the masses due to time constraints or lack of television coverage. Part of the reason why the Mountain West has been such a blast to watch this season is the constant uncertainty, the constant movement, in the conference standings. On Saturday, the top spot was set in stone. New Mexico beat Wyoming to claim No. 1 in a totally insane and totally loaded league. That makes one thing we can say with complete certainty about the MW this season.
- A Wildcats Sweep For UCLA.On sheer talent, there may be no team outside of Indiana that matches UCLA. The Bruins have the individual skill to beat anyone on the country. At times they’ve struggled to sort out different roles and responsibilities on the court, but when UCLA gets going – when Shabazz Muhammad pours in 18 points, Kyle Anderson adds his unique brand of position-anonymous point forward play and the Wear twins do their part on the backboards – they are awfully tough to beat. Ben Howland’s team edged Arizona at Pauley Pavillion Saturday night to complete a season sweep of the Wildcats. A season full of NCAA-related drama, player transfers and Ben Howland firing rumors has twisted and turned in a number of different directions. But as the Bruins prepare for the closing stretch, they stand tied with Oregon (the Ducks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker) for first place in the Pac-12. Talent, in the end, shines through.
- Ivy Turnover. On Friday night, the most splendid low-major league postseason outcome presented itself as a product of Harvard’s five-point loss at Princeton. The two teams were tied for first in the IVY standings, meaning they were bound to face one another in a do-or-die one-game playoff for the league’s only NCAA Tournament bid. The Ivy doesn’t have a conference tournament, and we like it that way. There’s nothing more pulsing than a 40-minute duel for Big Dance rights. Problem is, Harvard fell behind Princeton by losing Saturday at Penn. Meanwhile, the Tigers held on against Dartmouth. The Crimson have two games remaining in the regular season (Columbia and Cornell at home), while Princeton has three, all on the road. I never feel comfortable rooting for teams to lose games, but Princeton, do us a favor and end drop one of your final three contests to set up a massive Tourney play-in game..please?
- A-10 Newbie Beatdown. I can only assume VCU, along with most of the A-10, was none too pleased to hear last week’s news that Butler would be joining the Big East – the body otherwise known as the Catholic Seven – next season, because what the Rams laid on Brad Stevens’ team was less a competitive basketball game than a meticulous and spiteful 40-minute undressing on national television. VCU’s HAVOC defense had its intended effect on the Bulldogs’ timid ball handlers, turning Butler over and over and over, to the point where the Bulldogs’ half-court offense could never settle in to anything resembling a rhythm. The Rams were the worse possible matchup for Butler, and the game was an excellent confirmation of the fact, but you have to think the Rams didn’t mind sending a fortuitously timed message in the process: the league newcomer who plans to call the A-10 home beyond this season is the better one. What you see above is VCU coach Shaka Smart delivering pizzas to the loyal contingent of Rams fans residing in “Shakaville” the night before the over-anticipated Butler game.
- Big, Big Win For Boise State. Stacking four consecutive wins in the Mountain West is a good way to catch the selection committee’s attention in March. Better is knocking off second-place Colorado State and its top-20 RPI figure in advance of a brutal two-game closing stretch at UNLV and against San Diego State. Boise anchored a middling profile with another big win Saturday, and if it can nab one of the aforementioned two before the MWC tourney, the Broncos will be in solid bubble shape heading into selection sunday. A 2-4 stretch in February put Boise’s at-large hopes on bubble support, but since edging Air Force at home on February 20, Leon Rice’s team has made its Tourney intentions clear. Their profile speaks for itself.
… and Misses.
- This Duke-BC Upset Thing Is Just Plain Weird. I don’t doubt Virginia is one of the best 68 teams in the country. My eyes – and a tidy efficiency profile, which has the Cavaliers ranked 15th overall in Ken Pomeroy’s database – confirm the truth. UVA throttled Duke at home Thursday night, looked very credible as an at-large team while doing it, and really the only way the Cavaliers could undo the profile benefits was by doing what they did Saturday: losing to Boston College. The post-Duke win BC trap game is nothing new; Maryland detonated the same exact tripwire three days after beating the Blue Devils (one has to wonder whether Coach K and BC coach Steve Donahue have a secret retributive tag-team arrangement in place, whereby the Eagles play out of their minds just to spite whatever opponent happens to beat and storm the court on the Blue Devils. I’m buying it). The Terrapins are just trying to make their way onto the outer fringes of the bubble conversation. Virginia is in slightly better shape, and as long as they can avoid another bad road loss at Florida State this week, then handle Maryland at home to finish the ACC schedule, Tony Bennet’s team should be fine.
- A Vols’ Tourney-Momentum Killer. A 11:00 pm ET bracket update Saturday night courtesy of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi listed Tennessee among the “Last Four In” category. The reason behind that placement, as opposed to not being listed on the bubble margin altogether, is the Volunteers’ loss to Georgia Saturday afternoon. The loss in itself is not crushing, but it does put a rather unexpected dent into one of the country’s rising bubble profiles. The committee won’t be able to look past that season losing sweep to Georgia, plus the double RPI hit of falling twice to a team ranked 142nd in the metric, without wincing. The bright side lies in the Vols’ remaining schedule. If UT can handle Auburn on the road, turn around and down a road-vulnerable Missouri to close the season, then add a win or two in the SEC Tourney, Saturday’s loss could be just as easily forgotten.
- The One Baylor Let Slip Away. A season-changing win was at stake when Baylor took the floor at home against Kansas State Saturday. The Bears were living on the edge of the bubble conversation, and a win over the first place Wildcats would have buttressed their chances greatly. There have been questions about this team’s ability to channel its enormously talented roster into something close to a cohesive whole all season, and those questions were not answered Saturday, with the gritty Wildcats edging Scott Drew’s team in Waco. This was Baylor’s last best chance to make an impression on committee folk. A road game at Oklahoma State is still in play, but I’m not too confident, to say the least, about Baylor’s chances of nipping Marcus Smart and Markel Brown at Gallagher Iba Arena right now. Nothing about the Bears’ season thus far makes me think I should be.
- Conference Loss No. 1 For Akron. The biggest hurdle in Akron’s quest for conference perfection (a road game at Ohio) came and went without leftover concern for the Zips’ ability to close out three games against Buffalo, Miami (OH) and Kent State. Akron toughed out the most formidable for in MAC land, and the rest of the league schedule looked like a comparative victory lap for a brilliant conference season. It’s unwise to draw logical win dots in a team’s season path to postseason placement for a number of reasons. The Zips learned experienced of them Saturday at Buffalo, where Javon McCrea and co. detonated Akron’s pristine MAC mark. It is impossible to ascribe a motivational link (or lack thereof) to the Ohio win; I imagine the Zips were in the right frame of mind heading into Buffalo Saturday. Deriving any broader meaning from this beyond mild shock (and clearly damaged at-large hopes) at another unexpected conference loss is unfair.
- Ole Miss…WHY? Back when a seemingly innocuous Marshall Henderson GIF was making the rounds on the internet, and Ole Miss was riding a path towards its first NCAA Tournament berth under Andy Kennedy, the Rebels were college hoops’ zeitgeist of the moment. Ole Miss was soaring in an otherwise down SEC, the Rebels frontcourt of Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway was punishing opposing bigs, and Henderson’s high-volume tendencies were harmlessly weaved into the larger backdrop of his volatile personality. Four weeks later, the Rebels are in dire straits, a loss Saturday at RPI anathema Mississippi State (236) pushing them even further down the at-large totem pole. Things were so promising for the Rebels just over a month ago; an NCAA Tournament appearance was a presumed end point. Now Ole Miss is just struggling to stay afloat.
- Your Mandatory UK Bubble Update. There are bad losses – Kentucky’s home defeat to Texas A&M, for example – and other ones that induce nothing more than a collective “so what” out of the collection committee. Kentucky’s loss at Arkansas Saturday was of the latter variety. The Razorbacks are a vicious bunch at Bud Walton Arena, and they held strong in their rowdy home confines Saturday thanks to the excellent interior play of Marshawn Powell and Coty Clarke and a point guard matchup (B.J. Young vs. Ryan Harrow) that can’t be discussed on even grounds in any context. Kentucky’s Tournament hopes won’t plummet after this one; in fact, the more significant development out of this is what it means for Arkansas’ nascent at-large aspirations. Beat Missouri on the road this week and….we’ll see.
- A Free-Throw Clinic Prolongs Iowa State’s Tournament Anxiety. When a team goes out and knocks down 34-of-34 from the line, tying an NCAA record for made field goals in a single game, you sit back, applaud and rally the troops for the next game on the schedule. So don’t fret, Iowa State, beating Oklahoma at home Saturday – where the Sooners have lost just twice by a combined three points this season –would have required a foul-less defensive effort. And when facing this big, burly, physical OU team, matching their physicality is just about the only way to give yourself even a small chance. Now that second near-upset of Kansas, which generated a mini-firestorm of protest from Cyclones fans, starts to weigh on this ISU team. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State, who handled business at home against Texas Saturday, is Iowa State’s last real chance to shore up a bubbalicious portfolio.
- Dunkdafied. The best thing Oklahoma State has going for it right now is Marcus Smart. His physical guard play has been a joy to watch all season long. But I have to say, for all of Smart’s highlights, he’s never rattled off a two-handed windmill sledgehammer like the one linked below. Markel Brown has thrown down more than a few scintillating slams over his time with the Cowboys, and this one ranks near the top.
More Notes From Around the Nation.
- Home Welcoming For Florida. The questions about Florida in the wake of its recent loss at Tennessee made no mention of its ability to win home games. The Gators are very good at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Good enough, in fact, to all but squelch Alabama’s at-large prospects. The Tide were needed a headlining road win to boost their resume; they did not get it.
- The Pac-12’s Ultimate Spoiler. Since letting go of Kevin O’Neill in mid January, USC has turned a new page. The Trojans, believe it or not, are legitimately plucky – they’ve taken down Stanford, UCLA and Arizona under interim coach Bob Cantu. Saturday’s win over Arizona State could have the biggest implications of them all. As a result, the Sun Devils almost certainly have to beat state rival Arizona in the last game of the regular season to have any shot of making the field.
- You can put an X on this year’s Musketeers. You have to go back to 2005 to remember the last time Xavier didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. The possibility of reoccurrence skyrocketed Saturday, when the Musketeers dropped a home game to UMass. XU’s prospects were already dim, but with a remaining home schedule that includes Saint Louis and Butler – and with a win over Memphis in tow – it was too early to fully close the door on Chris Mack’s traditionally resilient group. Even if the Musketeers can manage to win both of those games, at this point their case is a huge long shot.
- Exhale, Cincy Fans. The Bearcats were flailing down the stretch, the nervousness was creeping in and the possibility, however faint, of Cincy missing the Tournament was slowly bubbling its way to the surface. The Bearcats ended their recent three-game skid by handling UConn at home Saturday, so now that upcoming road game at Louisville (and the prospect of a five-game losing streak) doesn’t look that scary after all.
- An Incredible Turnaround. One year after finishing with a 1-31 record, Towson tallied its 18th win Saturday to finish in second place in the CAA. The Tigers’ turnaround is the largest, numerically, in NCAA history. Thanks to academic penalties, Towson’s season is over. Its Continued growth towards CAA relevance and gradual distancing from dismal one-win depths is not.
- OVC Divisional Split. The champion of the OVC West Division, Belmont, ended its season on a four game winning streak, including Saturday’s triumph over Jacksonville State. In the East, Murray State hardly followed suit. The Racers dropped four of their last six, two of which came at home, to close out their conference schedule. If these teams meet in the conference tourney final, I know who I’m putting my money on.
- Tough Luck for the Hawkeyes. There was nothing to suggest Iowa could go into Assembly Hall Saturday to upset Indiana and revive its long-dormant NCAA Tournament hopes. It didn’t – shocker, I know – which leaves the Big Ten Tournament as a last-ditch path to at-large inclusion. Their Hawkeyes’ hopes, let’s just say, not hopeful.
- Big Sky Drama. The race to the finish in one of the nation’s lesser-known leagues is coming down to the wire. Half a game separates Montana and Weber State after both teams won Saturday. The Grizzlies are without star guard Will Cherry – who reinjured his foot in last week’s Bracketbusters loss to Davidson – for the foreseeable future, and must survive three more games to finish the season on top; Weber has two fixtures left, both at home.
- One Villanova Would’ve Liked, but didn’t need. Compared to the bubble missteps taken in other leagues over the weekend – Tennessee falling at Georgia, or Virginia imploding at Boston College, for example – Villanova’s overtime loss at Pittsburgh Sunday isn’t nearly as destructive. The Wildcats probably could have played themselves into the field with a win, but a loss doesn’t bury them. Not even close. A visit from Georgetown Wednesday is Villanova’s last bet to fortify a shaky profile before the Big East Tournament.
- Gaels Flirt With Disaster. The late profile-building push from Saint Mary’s has been one of the more bandied about late-season resume amelioration efforts among the mid-major kingdom. The Gaels nearly fell into a huge trap Saturday against Santa Clara, but a 10-point win keeps them alive and well in bubble land. Let’s see what the WCC Tourney, and a potential matchup with league kingpin Gonzaga, offers up.
- UNC Keeps On Rolling. Remember when UNC was drifting towards the bubble, when people were conjuring up the 2009-10 NIT finalist team that unceremoniously followed up that 2008-09 National title supergroup with a Tournament miss? That team has nothing on this UNC bunch. The Tar Heels demolished Florida State at home Sunday to push its season-best win streak to five games.
- Mid-Major Win Compilers Keep Rolling. The selection committee has a noted history of spite towards mid-major teams with inflated win totals. Louisiana Tech (WAC) and Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) classify in that description, and both added to their gaudy aggregates Saturday. All they can do is keep winning, keep giving the selection committee a reason to at least consider them among the available at large pool and not giving it a reason to scratch them from the discussion with a bad loss in league play.
- One Seed Lock? I don’t see how Gonzaga can fall off the top seed line, not after Saturday’s win over Portland rounded out an undefeated WCC season. Just to be sure, the Zags would do well to win the conference Tournament, which could be tricky with Saint Mary’s lurking to snatch the league’s automatic bid.
- SFA Is Pretty Good. The take-it-all proposition in the Southland took place on SFA’s soil Saturday, and the Lumberjacks held on for a one-point win. Their opponent was Northwestern State, who beat SFA at home earlier this season. Now the Lumberjacks have an even split with the Southland’s second place team, 24 wins overall and one shiny nonconference outcome (a road win at Oklahoma) that should carry some weight in the selection room should SFA get pushed into the at-large jumble. My guess is the Lumberjacks still need to win the league tournament no matter what.
- A C-USA Win That Looks Good. Good wins are few and far between in C-USA this season. And I’m not even sure Memphis’s dumping of UCF on the road Saturday really counts, but it’s worth more than most of the Tigers wins this season. Not that anyone will give Memphis much credit – when you rack up a ton of wins in a bad league but lose your biggest nonconference games, including recently at Xavier, folks are going to be skeptical about your resume.
- At Least Maryland Won at Wake. Going into Winston-Salem and beating Wake Forest is no small thing these days. Miami couldn’t do it; neither could NC State. And Duke was on the brink of joining the list of the Demon Deacons’ upset victims. Maryland survived Wake’s home court Saturday, which – if nothing else – says the Terrapins aren’t going to end their season without a last gasp of Tournament-wishful air.
Buzzer-Beater of the Weekend. I addressed the grim prospects Baylor now faces after passing up a big opportunity at home against Kansas State. Here’s how the Wildcats dealt Baylor a crippling blow to its at-large viability.
The Weekend’s All-Americans.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton (NPOY) – A truly special player capped a special junior season with a massive 41-point effort to lead Creighton to a regular season MVC championship.
- Ryan Kelly, Duke – Doesn’t it seem odd that Kelly, after a long injury layoff, could step right in and drop 36 points and grab seven rebounds against one of the toughest front lines in the country? Maybe his return was long past due.
- Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown – If there’s someone playing better than Porter anywhere, in any league, in any solar system, I can’t find him. Porter helped the Hoyas brush off Rutgers’ stern effort at the Verizon Center with 28 points and eight rebounds.
- Ben McLemore, Kansas – As if West Virginia needed another reminder of its terrible (by Bob Huggins’ standards, yes) season, McLemore delivered 36 points in a 36-point rout at Allen Fieldhouse.
- Trey Burke, Michigan – A critical steal and dunk on Michigan State guard Keith Appling with 20 seconds remaining, followed by another pick-pocket on MSU’s final comeback attempt, highlighted a brilliant 21-point, eight-assist performance.
- Derrick Marks, Boise State – Pressing circumstances call for sparkling individual performances. Marks willingly obliged Saturday with 38 points against Colorado State to move the Broncos into a more comfortable location on the bubble.
- Cody Zeller, Indiana – It was nice to see the Hoosiers bounce back from the Minnesota loss last week with a resounding smackdown of Iowa Saturday. Zeller had 22 points and 10 boards.
- Laurence Bowers, Missouri – After Saturday’s win over LSU, and Bowers’ 23-point, 10-rebound effort contained within, the Tigers face two tough games against Arkansas and at Tennesse to conclude the season.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia – The sad case of a great player stuck on a woeful team: KCP’s career at Georgia, summed up in one clause. He lifted the Bulldogs over Tennessee Saturday with 25 points and nine rebounds.
- Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis – Any slight chance George Washington had of upsetting Saint Louis Saturday rested on their top-40 efficiency defense (per kenpom.com). Evans, who’s averaging 12.3 points per game on the year, lit up that vaunted defense for 22 points and 12 boards to extend the Billikens’ winning streak to 11 games.
Tweet of the Weekend. That this account even exists is another huge notch on McDermott’s NPOY campaign. A stronger indication is the way he closed the regular season: 32 points and 11 rebounds against Bradley, followed by Saturday’s 41 and six against chief league MVC adversary Wichita State.