Who Won the Week? Tyler Ennis, Wisconsin, Grambling State & More…Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 14th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. 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. This week’s main event? Watching INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State get upset by an Idaho team that was just 1-6 in its home dome at that point.
WINNER: Tyler Ennis
When you save your team’s undefeated season by making a buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off a Top 25 team on the road, you’ve got the best week imaginable. Syracuse’s freshman point guard earned top honors this week thanks to that. Tyler Ennis’ 13-point, five-assist performance in Wednesday’s 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, including that last shot, pushed the Orange’s record to 24-0 and 11-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. OK, sure, maybe they won’t make it through consecutive road games at Duke, Maryland and Virginia in the next couple of weeks, but for another few nights, the magic lives on thanks to a phenomenal shot from a freshman phenom.
(Related winners: Syracuse, who also beat Clemson 57-44 on Sunday; Wichita State, which gets to avoid the singular spotlight of being the nation’s only undefeated team. Related losers: Pittsburgh, but thanks for setting the stage for a star.)
LOSER: Everybody involved in the Marcus Smart fiasco
One of last year’s phenom freshman point guards hasn’t exactly had the same season in his second try. Marcus Smart’s frustration seemed encapsulated last Saturday when the Oklahoma State sophomore pushed Texas Tech purported “superfan” Jeff Orr in the stands during the Cowboys’ eventual 65-61 loss in Lubbock. Nobody wins in this. Smart rightfully earned a three-game suspension for his actions. Orr, who has been caught making obscene gestures to other players, won’t attend a Texas Tech game for the rest of the season. The Pokes’ losing streak extended to five after following their loss at the Red Raiders with an 87-68 loss Tuesday at Texas. We’ll never know what Orr actually said to provoke Smart. We’ll never know what went through Smart’s mind. But we know that his team has slipped to 16-8 and 4-7 in Big 12 play. He’ll certainly have a lot of work to do upon his return, both on the basketball court and with his reputation.
(Related winners: Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor, who avoid one of the nation’s best players. Related losers: I think we already covered that above.)
The Badgers had spent most of Big Ten play taking on copious amounts of water as their season started to sink, but they’ve righted their ship in a big way, beating Michigan State and Minnesota to stretch a three-game winning streak in arguably the nation’s toughest conference. The top-10 Spartans came to Madison on Sunday but got drastically outshot by the Badgers, who escaped with a 60-58 win, led by freshman Nigel Hayes’ 14 points. On Thursday night, point guard Ben Brust scored 20 for the Badgers, who beat the visiting Golden Gophers 78-70. The two home wins were pivotal to a team that hadn’t won a home game in more than a month in an arena that was once viewed as nigh impenetrable. Wisconsin’s rediscovered success will be put to a test in the next week with road trips to ranked foes Michigan and Iowa.
(Related winners: Hayes, who also had 15 points against the Gophers. Related losers: Michigan State; Minnesota.)
LOSER: Seemingly Tournament-bound teams from Massachusetts
Harvard had already seen its expected primary Ivy League foe Princeton play itself into an 0-4 start to conference play, but then it went and lost a wire-to-wire game at home Saturday to rival Yale, 74-67. Star Wesley Chambers scored 16 points, but it took him 14 shots to do so, and he fouled out during the end of the game. Now both teams sit at 5-1 in conference, and the Crimson’s 50-plus RPI means they’ll have to win the conference the old-fashioned way to get its automatic NCAA Tournament bid, which means beating Yale in New Haven and hoping the Bulldogs slip up somewhere else, or having to beat them twice. Meanwhile, in Amherst, Massachusetts has seen its Chaz Williams-sparked hot start cool off considerably, and the frosting on that cake was Wednesday’s 91-80 home loss to a George Mason team that’s 2-8 in Atlantic 10 play. Williams finished with but eight points on 3-of-15 field goal shooting, and Mason’s starting guards – Bryon Allen, Sherrod Wright and Patrick Holloway – combined to shoot 19 for 41 from the field and score 54 points. After a 16-1 start, UMass has lost four of its last seven games, though three of the losses came away from home. The Minutemen’s defensive performance Wednesday, on a per-possession basis, was the worst of the season, just as the stretch run truly begins, which has to be unsettling for coach Derek Kellogg.
(Related winners: Yale, suddenly a contender for an NCAA Tournament berth; George Mason. Related losers: Williams; Chambers; Princeton, for blowing a golden opportunity.)
WINNER: Grambling State
The Tigers picked up their first Division I win since early March 2012 on Monday, knocking off Alcorn State 95-80 at home, leading for the whole game. Grambling State made up for its 16 turnovers by shooting better than 60 percent from the field, and junior point guard Antwan Scott had 16 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds (despite standing just 6’1”). Sophomore guard Terry Rose, the best player on last year’s 0-27 squad, hit 5-of-8 three-pointers, scoring 18 points. Junior college transfer A’Torri Shine led his team with 19 points and adding seven rebounds. Who cares if Southern beat their rivals by 50, 104-54, on Saturday? Grambling State’s back in the win column and has tangible progress upon which to rebuild its program.
(Related winners: Southern, for the 50-point win and for the two-game lead in the SWAC. Related losers: Southern, for seeing its rival improve; Alcorn State, for suffering the ignominy of being another team’s slumpbuster.)
LOSER: South Florida
The Bulls’ bad season (with the exception of their win over SMU a few weeks ago) got punctuated by a pair of all-American beatdowns. (Remember how the American is a conference now?) The perpetually moribund Rutgers Scarlet Knights came into Tampa and left with a 79-69 win on the strength of Kadeem Jack’s 31-point performance, and the Bulls followed that up by not cresting 40 in an 83-40 defeat at Connecticut on national television. One can only expect so much from a program with one 20-win season since 1991, but senior forward Victor Rudd was USF’s leading scorer in each of its three games in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. One man does not a team make.
(Related winners: Rutgers, who isn’t last in its conference despite having to pick up the pieces after the Mike Rice fiasco; Connecticut, which is 8-2 in its last 10 games. Related losers: Rudd, who scored just six points on 1-of-9 shooting against the Huskies, and grabbed just two rebounds too; SMU, who has one nasty RPI anchor of a loss on its schedule.)