Who Won The Week? A Nebraska Sharpshooter, the Wolverines, & Rick Barnes…Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 24th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.
WINNER: Ethan Wragge
Creighton’s starting center/three-point assassin/reason why there’s no trees left in Nebraska had a performance for the ages Monday night at Villanova. The Wildcats thought it would be wise to double-team fellow Bluejay Doug McDermott – you know, the best player in college basketball – and left Wragge open. BAD. IDEA. Wragge came out and made his first seven three-pointers as the Jays shot the Wildcats to smithereens in a 96-68 game that was 90-50 before Greg McDermott’s team took its foot off the gas. Wragge wrapped up the game with 27 points on 9-of-14 three-point shooting, and also had the time to dish out three assists without a turnover. Creighton’s team stats from that game are almost as ridiculous as their bearded center’s: 33-of-58 shooting from the field, 21-of-31 from three-point range, 25 assists on the 33 made shots.
The Bluejays came into Monday night’s game ranked 13th in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings and the Wildcats came in second. Because of Creighton’s ludicrous 1.4 points per possession against a team that had only given up more than a point per possession once in 17 games, the two teams flipped spots in the rankings, despite the college basketball season only half over. The difference between Creighton’s top-ranked offensive efficiency and Duke in second is equal to the difference between Duke and 16th-place Oregon. (Back to Wragge for a bit: Let’s just overlook Saturday’s eight-point performance in Creighton’s 81-68 loss versus Providence. He obviously had to save his three-pointers for a bigger game.)
(Related winners: Creighton; Providence, who also beat Butler on Tuesday; Doug McDermott, who still had 23 points despite the double-teams and the performance of Wragge. Related losers: Any voter who thought Creighton wasn’t worth ranking because of neutral-court losses to George Washington and San Diego State, and a road loss to a 14-5 Providence team; Villanova, for which there’s not enough ice left on the north pole to soothe its burns.)LOSER: George Washington
Speaking of the Colonials, which has a win against Creighton that keeps growing in value, they suffered a Pyrrhic victory Saturday against St. Bonaventure, winning 79-71 but losing sophomore guard Kethan Savage to a fractured bone in his left foot. The slashing scorer was second on the team with 13.4 points and 2.7 assists per game, first in steals with two per game, and third in rebounds, grabbing 4.6 per game despite his 6’3” frame. There are two slivers of hope here, however: One is that Savage’s injury timetable puts his return at about the same time as the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and the other is that the Colonials’ first opponent without Savage’s services is A-10 cellar-dweller George Mason, which is 0-5 in conference. Until Savage’s return, 15-3 George Washington will just be hoping it doesn’t take too many losses in the meantime.
(Related winners: A good player got hurt, so let’s not go there this time. Related losers: Savage, obviously; George Mason, mostly for getting dumped by perpetual A-10 doormat Fordham.)
The Wolverines are making up for lost time in the Big Ten despite losing four games in their non-conference schedule, losing stud forward Mitch McGary to injury during the season, and losing Naismith Award winner Trey Burke to the NBA Draft. Michigan picked up two wins over Associated Press top-10 teams this week, beating No. 9 Wisconsin 77-70 at the usually impenetrable Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday, then picking up a 75-67 home win over No. 10 Iowa on Wednesday night. The key figure in both games was sharpshooting sophomore Nik Stauskas, who had 23 points, four assists and four rebounds against the Badgers, then followed that up with 26 points, five assists and five rebounds against the Hawkeyes. Not bad for a player who spent much of last season as the team’s fourth offensive option spotting up in the corner. As for the team, Michigan is already 6-0 in Big Ten play and has a huge rivalry match-up with 7-0 Michigan State tomorrow night in East Lansing. To call that a must-watch is an understatement. (It’s on at 7:00 PM ET/ESPN.)
(Related winners: Stauskas; point guard Caris LeVert, for registering 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals at point guard against Wisconsin; everyone who gets to watch Saturday’s game. Related losers: Wisconsin, among others, because it, Ohio State, Oregon and Iowa State have combined to go 0-14 after starting 58-0; Iowa.)
Remember how everyone anointed the Golden Bears as the Pac-12’s second-best team? Oh, last week sometime? The second-best team in any conference doesn’t go on the road and lose to the worst team in the conference. It’s time to re-evaluate Cal’s standing after Wednesday night’s 77-69 loss to USC in the Galen Center. Trojans freshman forward Nikola Jovanovic lit up the Bears inside, scoring 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting, but he hadn’t scored in double-figures in his five previous conference games. Maligned Maryland transfer Pe’Shon Howard had 12 points and 10 assists while grabbing six rebounds, too. USC shot 52 percent from the field as a team, despite being the 10th-worst team from the field in the Pac-12. And that’s how you manage to lose a game in which star guard Justin Cobbs had 22 points and six assists. Well, that and shooting under 40 percent from the field. You’re going to lose a lot of games when your offense brings an airsoft pistol to a gunfight. Sure, Cal went 1-1 on the week, but its win came at home over a lackluster Washington State squad, 76-55.
(Related winners: USC; Jovanovic, who might get rolling now. Related losers: Any team who wants to claim second in the Pac-12 – that spot seems cursed; Washington State; Cougars forward D.J. Shelton, whose teammates have squandered back-to-back big performances against Cal and Oregon State.)
The Longhorns, coming off their worst season in two decades and losing their top four scorers, were dismissed as Big 12 also-rans before the season started. Turns out Texas has acquitted itself quite well as of late, winning four straight games to climb to 15-4 including an 86-76 over then-No. 9 Iowa State on Saturday and a 67-64 win over No. 22 Kansas State on Tuesday, both in Austin. Rick Barnes’ team, which plays no seniors and one junior in its rotation, held each of the Cyclones’ triumvirate of DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang under 20 points and didn’t let any other scorers reach double-figures in an impressive defensive performance against a powerful team. They were similarly stout against the Wildcats, who only had Thomas Gipson’s 24-point performance and Shane Southwell’s 13 points from scorers in double digits. Barnes may have silenced the speculation about his job security this season, but Texas needs to continue its strong showings against ranked teams, as eight of its remaining games are against teams currently in the AP poll.
(Related winners: Longhorns guard Javan Felix, who had 40 points between the two games, and center Cameron Ridley, who had 34 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocks in the two contests; Barnes, who will likely keep the job he has held since 1998. Related losers: Iowa State, again!; Kansas State.)
LOSER: Bob Wenzel
The CBS Sports color commentator needs to stick to talking about action on the court and not the people in attendance, because he made a major faux pas while broadcasting the VCU-Dayton game from Ohio on Wednesday night. You certainly can’t in good conscience say this about any fan: “I think I saw that guy on my flight in. Took up two seats!” Especially when said fan, Chris “VCU Pav” Crowley – whom I interviewed earlier this year for RTC — has happily been chronicling his weight loss on Twitter.
I hope Wenzel understands just how wrong his statement was, and that he never makes that mistake again. And I hope he has to call a game in Richmond this season.
(Related winners: None. Related losers: Crowley, for having to get dragged through this; CBS, for airing that.)