RTC Top 25: Week Thirteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 16th, 2015

The story of the last week in college basketball was that #2 Wisconsin, #3 Virginia, #5 Villanova and #8 Kansas continued on their paths towards regular season conference titles. After easy victories over Nebraska and Illinois, the Badgers are now 23-2 overall and their 11-1 Big Ten record gives them a commanding three-game lead over Maryland and Purdue. Bo Ryan’s team just quietly keeps chugging along. In its first week without star swingman Justin Anderson, Virginia had to battle to earn wins over NC State and Wake Forest last week. But those latest victories now put the Cavaliers at 23-1 overall and 11-1 in the ACC. Tony Bennett’s squad has a two-game lead over Notre Dame and does not play another ranked opponent until the final weekend of the regular season. Things are definitely in place for Virginia to take home its second consecutive regular season conference title. Villanova may have turned in the most impressive performance of any team last week. The Wildcats were victorious at both Providence and Butler, which improved its record to 23-2 overall and 10-2 in the Big East. Jay Wright’s team has a fairly easy slate through the rest of Big East play, so it is reasonable to think that the Wildcats could also win their final six regular season contests. After some shaky play in recent weeks, Kansas again looks in prime position to take home its 11th consecutive Big 12 title. After last Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks rebounded in sterling fashion with a dominant victory at Texas Tech and a come-from-behind win over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. The Jayhawks currently hold a two-game lead over Iowa State in the standings and it would be stunning if they relinquished that lead.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump….

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 1.01.44 PM

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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ACC M5: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 16th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Andrew Carter is on the train that we need to speed up college basketball. He thinks that the shot clock should be shortened, which would increase the number of possessions. In close games, the shorter shot clock would also give the losing team a better shot at a comeback. I think you’d see a slight dip in offensive efficiency, but a lot of slower teams don’t really get into their offense for the first 10 to 15 seconds anyway. That said, I’m not sure this rule change fixes the game. Something like that needs a major overhaul (shorter shot clocks; different standards for a foul; fewer timeouts). But if nothing else, I’d like to see the ACC get back to its vintage run-and-gun days of recent yore.
  2. Washington Post: Virginia‘s three-point shooting has been atrocious since losing Justin Anderson, one of the best shooters in the ACC. And after a way-too-close call on Saturday against Wake Forest at home, the Cavaliers need to get back to basics. A dirty little secret this year is that Virginia’s offense has been as efficient as its defense. Now the Cavaliers have to find a way to make do without their best and most versatile player. I’ve said this before, but assuming Anderson comes back healthy, this could end up making the team stronger and safer (not that the pack-line lends itself to players fouling out).
  3. The State: Clemson is a weird team this year. The Tigers are probably not good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but they’re a really tough team to beat. They have a shockingly good conference record thanks to a couple of wins over fellow bubblers. Brad Brownell made a good point that his team is in a position to better its record because they have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. That should worry a team like Duke or Notre Dame, both of whom have to get past the Tigers (albeit at home). But it should really worry NC State. Right now Clemson isn’t good enough to count as a good win, but it sure can hurt resume for the Big Dance.
  4. Chicago Sun-Times: So Jahlil Okafor loves Duke. He’s. Not. Going. To. Stay. It seems like this story gets written every year about top picks. It was written last year about Jabari Parker. Of course if you ask midseason players will say they want to stay. Most really like college, and they love their teammates. But that doesn’t mean they will (or should) turn down a multi-million dollar salary and a year of their professional career. Barring something crazy happening at the end of the season, Okafor should and probably will go pro. End of story.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: Put your tin foil hats on everyone! Kevin White, Duke’s athletic director, was just chosen to serve on the Selection Committee. No matter how many times a media member goes through the mock selection process, fans don’t trust the real thing to live up to the same standards (and probably won’t while it remains so opaque). Appointing White probably won’t help.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 13th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 11.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.12

While Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings, and in points per possession margin (PPM), there was some shuffling right behind the Cavaliers last week. Almost entirely due to Duke’s 30-point rout of Notre Dame, the Blue Devils jumped to the top of the second tier and the Irish fell to such an extent that they now are closer to N.C. State and Syracuse than they are to the top four schools. We will examine in more detail below just how Notre Dame has achieved such a lofty 10-3 record despite a rather pedestrian PPM. Of course, Georgia Tech is the polar opposite of the Irish, as the Yellow Jackets own a better PPM than four teams above them in the standings.

Unlike the last few weeks, there are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. But we still have a few games of high interest on Saturday, led by Duke’s visit to Syracuse (6:00 PM ET – ESPN), probably viewed by the Orange as this season’s Super Bowl with no postseason play on the horizon. There are also two games featuring top tier schools against teams that are desperate for signature wins, as North Carolina makes its first ACC trip to Pittsburgh (Noon ET – ACCN) and N.C. State travels to Louisville (4:00 PM ET – ESPN). Those two games are absolutely crucial for the shaky NCAA hopes of the Panthers and the Wolfpack.

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Justise Winslow’s Recent Play Has Duke Surging Again

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 11th, 2015

Like many talented freshmen, Duke forward Justise Winslow has experienced some ups and downs in his rookie campaign. He started the year with a flurry of impressive games, scoring at least 14 points in each of the first five games of the season. After that came a less productive three-game stretch in which Winslow scored seven points or fewer each time out. Things then seemed to level off going into January, as he started ACC play strong before hitting the freshman wall and the entering a mini-slump. It now appears that slump is over, as Winslow has returned to playing well and aggressively, giving the Blue Devils a much-needed boost on both ends of the floor.

Justise Winslow attacks the basket in Duke's blowout win over Notre Dame. (Photo: Bernard Thomas / The Herald-Sun)

Winslow attacks the basket in Duke’s blowout win over Notre Dame. (Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun)

In last Saturday’s 90-60 rout over Notre Dame, Winslow was often the best player on the floor. Duke’s 81 percent shooting was the story of the first half — including a sizzling 7-of-8 performance from three — and Jahlil Okafor was the story of the second half, as the star big man finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Winslow, however, was consistently good all afternoon, scoring 19 points, grabbing 11 boards, and recording two blocks — one of which was quite impressive. Mike Krzyzewski is both aware and appreciative of the recently improved play of his third star rookie, who has now recorded double-figure rebounds in three of his last four outings. In the postgame, Krzyzewski said, “Justise [Winslow] has just played so well. He has really learned to play through his injuries. That’s the sign of a guy [who is] really growing up and becoming an outstanding player. You’ve got to play a little bit sore without talking about it and that is what he is doing.”

Monday night’s game at Florida State was not nearly as productive for Winslow, but he still found ways to help his team hang on for a tough road ACC win. After missing his first five field goal attempts, he hit an important three with just under seven minutes left to give the Blue Devils some breathing room. He also got to the foul line frequently, where he made 7-of-10 attempts that resulted in double-figure points for the fifth straight contest. The chart below shows just how dramatically different Winslow’s production has been before, during, and after hitting the “wall” in conference play.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Road Warrior Week as Pressure Mounts at the Top

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 10th, 2015

As we approach Selection Sunday — and, yes, it is now a mere 33 days away — two ends of the spectrum dominate the college basketball conversation. One of those is the bubble. The other, of course, is the top line. And while it’s a bit too early to paint a decipherable picture of those teams vying for positions in the play-in games, the competition for the four No. 1 seeds is beginning to take shape. There appear to be three solid bets. Kentucky is near-lock. Virginia, with only one loss — a good loss, mind you — and a handful of impressive wins, is another. And Gonzaga, despite a relatively weak conference slate, is a third. Even if the Zags were to suffer one more defeat along the way, they might still be safe in a position on the top line. The fourth spot, however, is truly up for grabs. On the back of a splendid array of wins away from home, Duke would appear to be the front-runner. But Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Villanova aren’t too far behind the Blue Devils. If the Badgers run the table the rest of the way — a real possibility — they’d make the committee’s job on this decision excruciating. Villanova could also cause a few headaches if they enter the discussion as a two-loss team. And Kansas, with its top-ranked schedule and plethora of top-50 wins, could close the season at No. 1 in the RPI. The pressure is on at the top. We’ll see which teams can handle it.

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Road Warrior Week

This week isn’t overflowing with marquee matchups, so we’ll forgo Three for the Money in favor of a more general theme. It’s road warrior week. Duke got things started on Monday night when it went to Florida State and escaped with a narrow victory in Tallahassee. Some other top-10 teams this week might not be so fortunate, as eight of those — including the Blue Devils — will play on the road at an unranked team between Monday and Friday. It starts on Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to LSU; Notre Dame makes the long trek to Clemson; Kansas plays at Texas Tech; and Wisconsin heads to Nebraska. Kentucky perhaps faces the stiffest test of all. LSU, an up-tempo squad with a big and physical front line, will try to get out in transition and score before Kentucky can set up its suffocating half-court defense. Notre Dame, however, is the most likely of the four to lose. The Fighting Irish are only three-point favorites against the Tigers, a hard-luck team that has lost a bunch of close games this year. Wisconsin revisits the site of last year’s memorable Cornhuskers upset on ‘no-sit Sunday.’

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 9th, 2015

After two straight weekends full of buzzer-beaters and furious comebacks, this was a much quieter weekend in the ACC. In the headline event on Saturday night, Virginia held off Louisville in a defensive struggle. Earlier in the day, Duke blew out Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor, gaining big-time revenge for the Irish’s win over the Blue Devils in South Bend 11 days prior. Elsewhere, North Carolina was sluggish early at Boston College but came on strong in the second half to beat the Eagles in another Saturday game. After all of this, Virginia is now two games clear in the loss column in its quest for a second straight ACC regular season title, with four schools behind the Cavaliers tied with three losses each. Pittsburgh also overtook visiting Syracuse; Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest in Atlanta; and Florida State won on the road at Virginia Tech. In the only Sunday ACC action of the weekend, Miami got a much-needed home win over Clemson. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Jamel Artis has become an All-ACC candidate with his recent play. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis has become an All-ACC candidate with his strong recent play.
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

  • Most Outstanding Player: We listed Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis as an unsung hero after a solid weekend performance a couple of weeks ago. Now, after streaking together a series of outstanding games, it’s time to list the sophomore forward among the ACC’s elite players. Saturday afternoon’s contest in the Peterson Events Center was a perfect example of how well Artis is playing in many areas — he finished the game with 20 points, 10 boards, three steals, and five assists. Syracuse led by as many as 10 points in the first half before Artis led the Panthers all the way back to the lead and the victory. His 14 points after intermission were punctuated by a dagger three to give Pitt up a five-point lead with a minute to go in the game.
  • Best Win: There wasn’t an obvious choice for this award since pretty much all the favored teams won, so let’s go with a team that probably needed a win more than anyone else. Even though Miami was favored to beat Clemson on Sunday night in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes’ 56-45 victory over the red-hot Tigers was huge for Jim Larranaga’s squad. By snapping a three-game losing streak, Miami moved back over .500 in ACC play and keeps the Hurricanes’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Clemson entered the game having won four straight and led by a point at the half, but the Tigers couldn’t contain Miami’s shooters down the stretch as the Hurricanes shot 55 percent after intermission. Sheldon McClellan led Miami with 19 points, while Tonye Jekiri ruled the paint, grabbing 16 rebounds. 

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RTC Top 25: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 9th, 2015

Fresh off losing its first game of the season to Duke last Saturday, #2 Virginia completed a week that has to put the Cavaliers in any weekly award discussions. Tony Bennett’s squad first went to Chapel Hill on Big Monday and earned an 11-point victory over #11 North Carolina. It then returned home on Saturday to face a hot #9 Louisville squad and emerged victorious with a hard-fought five-point victory. Virginia receives a great deal of credit for its stifling defense and you could see why in that game, as it held Louisville to just 13 measly first half points. All is not perfect in Charlottesville though, as star swingman Justin Anderson suffered a fractured finger on his left hand and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Elsewhere in the ACC, #4 Duke continues to rebound quite nicely from its three previous league setbacks. The Blue Devils scored a victory over Georgia Tech last Wednesday before avenging their January 28 loss to #12 Notre Dame, annihilating the Irish by 30 points in Durham . While Virginia still has a lead in the league standings, the ACC race is definitely one to keep an eye on as the second half of conference play progresses.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc top25 w12

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 4.

Current Standings

 ACCStandings

With the conference season now just past the halfway point, some distinct tiers are forming with respect to points per possession margin (PPM). Virginia is clearly in a class by itself even though the Cavaliers hold a very slim one-game lead in the standings. Behind Virginia is a four-team group that’s looks very similar in both the standings and in PPM. Every weekend features a couple of great match-ups between the ACC heavyweights and this Saturday is no exception. Louisville travels to Charlottesville (7:00 PM ET – ESPN) for the first of two meetings with the Cavaliers, and Duke gets a chance for revenge when it hosts Notre Dame (1:00 PM ET – CBS). If both home clubs prevail, Virginia will have a two-game lead in the loss column over the other four legitimate contenders – assuming that North Carolina also wins Saturday afternoon at Boston College.

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ACC M5: 02.05.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 5th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Huge news broke yesterday evening. Syracuse has decided to self-impose a postseason ban in basketball this year “as a further means of acknowledging past mistakes.” Even though the team isn’t all that great this season, this is a big step. It means the Orange can’t play in the ACC Tournament, much less the Big Dance. The worst part is that this year’s players (who didn’t commit any of the infractions) are the ones who will pay the price. I’ll leave you with a couple of things: First, this doesn’t mean that the Orange are off the hook with the NCAA (although postseason bans usually go a long way — see Miami’s football scandal for an example); and second, this is the new ACC Tournament bracket — the only change is that the #10 seed now gets a bye.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Luke DeCock thinks Virginia is still the team to beat in the ACC after the Cavaliers thrashed North Carolina (which admittedly couldn’t match up much worse) in Chapel Hill on Monday night. John Gasaway and I both agree. If you had questions, Duke’s letdown win at home against Georgia Tech should help with the argument. It doesn’t mean Duke isn’t really good or really dangerous (the same goes for Notre Dame, North Carolina and Louisville). It just means that Virginia operates in a higher gear consistently.
  3. Chicago Tribune: Speaking of the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame has done very well in its close games this year. Sure, the Irish lost one to Pittsburgh, but on the whole Mike Brey’s team keeps its cool when games get tight. Their opponents do not, which means that the Irish’s porous defense gets enough stops to pull out the win. With a stone-cold killer like Jerian Grant capable of getting his own shot and plenty of shooters surrounding him, the Irish are really tough to beat down the stretch.
  4. NC State Technician: NC State is digging deeper and deeper. Tuesday night’s game at Wake Forest represented a microcosm of their season (although their normal routine is a good first half followed by a bad second half). The Wolfpack came out incredibly flat in Winston-Salem and trailed by 21 points at the half. By the time they had mounted a comeback to make the margin reasonable, it was too late. The Demon Deacons held off the final run thanks to a little luck and a lot of cushion. NC State has now lost four of its last five games and has a whole week off to think about it. That gives Mark Gottfried plenty of time to make some adjustments, but his players also will have a lot of time to stew on their struggles. Oh, and Virginia is coming to town. The Wolfpack’s options are becoming limited — either steal a couple of wins down the stretch and stop losing to mediocre competition, or make a serious run in the ACC Tournament.
  5. Washington Post: So how does Maryland‘s move to the Big Ten look? Mark Turgeon has finally gotten around to succeeding like I predicted when Maryland first hired him (albeit in a much weaker Big Ten than in years past), but it’s nice to hear Adrian Branch and Kristi Toliver say they regret the move and miss the ACC. I’ll be the first to admit I miss having Maryland around. Duke needs a foil outside of the Triangle, and the Terps often lived up to the role. All that said, I’ll take the additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh over moving to be geographically isolated in a conference.
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RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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