Who Won The Week? Indiana, Arkansas, and a Team Led by the Nephew of an NBA Hall of Famer…Posted by Kenny Ocker @KennyOcker on January 17th, 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.
The Hoosiers were off to a poor start in Big Ten play, falling at Illinois in overtime and then getting blown out at Assembly Hall by Michigan State. The second week of conference play proved to be far better in Bloomington. Led by freshman forward Noah Vonleh’s 19 points and six rebounds, the Hoosiers went into State College and beat Penn State 79-76 on Saturday. And when I say “led by,” I mean “Vonleh was the only Hoosier to make more than half of his shots, and his teammates combined to go 16-of-49 from the field.” A road win is a road win, after all, and when it’s your first win in conference, it’s nothing to complain about. But what really won the week for Indiana was its performance against heretofore undefeated Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Badgers, one of four teams in the nation undefeated to that point, came into Assembly Hall riding a 12-game winning streak against the Hoosiers. Yeah, that’s over. Yogi Ferrell made sure of that. The sophomore guard lit up the nets for 25 points while also dishing four assists, leading his team to an instant resume-building win, downing the Badgers 75-72. Considering that Indiana’s best win to that point was over an 11-7 Washington team, the Hoosiers picked a mighty fine time to show up huge. Because of their skimpy resume, though, the Hoosiers will likely have to go at least 10-8 in conference, if not 11-7, to get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid come March. This week’s turnaround from a slow start will give them a much better opportunity to get to that point, and to get a ticket to the Big Dance.
(Related winners: Undefeated-in-conference Michigan State and Michigan, who have the conference lead to themselves now. Related losers: Penn State, which is a painful 0-5 in conference so far; Wisconsin; Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan, who got one rebound in 11 minutes, ruining his chance at 11 trillion in the box score.)
LOSER: Iowa State
So much for that 14-0 start in Ames. A pesky trip to Norman undid that. And then the familiar hoodoo against Kansas reared its head again. And now the Cyclones are 14-2. Somewhere in the middle, star guard and Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane got hurt, although you wouldn’t know it by his performances. Iowa State went into Oklahoma’s gym and decided that letting Ryan Spangler grab every rebound he possibly could (15, including seven on the offensive glass) would be a fantastic idea. Spangler turned that into 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. The Cyclones also forgot to guard guard Buddy Hield, who had 22 points and hit six three-pointers. That’s a really good way to blow a game in which Kane had 23 points and nine rebounds before rolling his ankle late, and the Robin to his Batman, Melvin Ejim, having 21 points and six rebounds of his own.
Losing 87-82 at Oklahoma on Saturday probably wasn’t such a good plan, especially with Big 12 overlords Kansas coming to Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday. The Cyclones came into that game having won one of their last 17 match-ups against the Jayhawks. And they left that game having won one of their last 18 match-ups with the Jayhawks. If you looked in the scoring column, you’d think that Kane and Ejim had great games Tuesday, finishing with 21 and 15 points, respectively. But Kane went 8-of-16 from the free-throw line (he’s only a 60 percent shooter for his career from the charity stripe, despite standing a mere 6’4”) and Ejim finished 5-of-15 from the field. Somehow, to the great testament of how poorly his teammates played, Ejim’s 33 percent field goal shooting was better than his team’s 31 percent performance in their 77-70 loss. Between the two losses, Iowa State shot a cool 10-of-51 from three-point range. Let’s just say that the Mayor, coach Fred Hoiberg, has some stuff to work on. (Incidentally, Hoiberg was a 40 percent three-point shooter during his four years in Ames in the early 1990s.)
If you thought things couldn’t get more awkward for Iowa State, you’d be wrong. Former reserve forward Bubu Palu, who was kicked off the team last season after being charged with sexual assault before charges were eventually dismissed, got a stay in his lawsuit against the school from a federal judge who ruled that he should be reinstated to the team. Keep in mind here that Palu was never brought to trial and was never found guilty. Watching this unfold in the next couple of weeks could be interesting. Or it could be a massive distraction for a team already on the skids.
(Related winners: Oklahoma, for getting a resume-boosting win and holding home court; Spangler, who put up 37 points and 29 rebounds in two games this week; Kansas; Andrew Wiggins, who had 19 rebounds against the Cyclones. Related losers: Oklahoma, for having a Tuesday night letdown game against Kansas State in Manhattan; Remember how I said Kane transferred from Marshall? The Blundering Herd shot just over 30 percent in two Conference USA games this week and lost them both, awfully.)
Maybe it just took a fortuitous last-second putback dunk in overtime to put the Razorbacks’ season back on track. Michael Qualls cleaned up teammate Rashad Madden’s three-point miss with under a second to go to down Kentucky 87-85 in Fayetteville on Tuesday. Both players finished with a team-high 18 points in the rousing upset. And though the Hogs lost their match-up against Florida on Saturday, their win over Kentucky gives them a rallying point for conference play and another good win to stick next to victories over Minnesota and Clemson. Even the loss to the Gators was nothing to sneeze at; after all, the Razorbacks took the nation’s seventh-ranked team to overtime before falling 84-82. The pair of results can’t be taken as anything but a good thing going forward. How many teams can even split a pair of games against top-15 opponents?
(Related winners: Florida, obviously; Madden, who also had a team-high 23 against the Gators. Related losers: Kentucky, whose gaggle of uber-recruit freshmen have already lost four games this season.)
The Buffaloes took a pair of losses on the court this week, but those pale to the pair of losses they took to injury. Star guard Spencer Dinwiddie, a 6’6” junior who leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game, tore his ACL against Washington, and reserve guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher, Dinwiddie’s most logical replacement in the offense, is out for the next month and a half with his own knee injury. Having taken those two losses to the team, the Buffaloes dropped their Sunday match-up against Washington, 71-54, in Seattle and their Thursday game against UCLA in Boulder, 69-56. The loss of Dinwiddie will likely cripple Colorado’s offense, which was already desperately short of scorers apart from him, fellow guard Askia Booker and forward Josh Scott. No team can stand to lose an NBA-level talent such as Dinwiddie, but Colorado is especially thin, which is exacerbated by Fletcher’s injury. It’s a shame to see this happen because this Buffaloes team could have done special things. It already had wins against Kansas, Oregon and Harvard on its resume.
(Related winners: Washington; UCLA. Related losers: Dinwiddie, and those of us who enjoyed watching him play; Fletcher, who misses a great opportunity to step into a major role as a freshman.)
WINNER: Billy Baron
The Canisius guard is one of the top scorers in the nation, and plays more minutes than anyone else, and his pair of games in the last seven games have both been spectacular. In the Golden Griffins’ 94-91 double-overtime win over Rider last Friday, Baron had 38 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and was 12-of-13 from the free throw line. Oh, and he had eight rebounds and seven assists, to only one turnover. The 6’2” transfer from Virginia and Rhode Island followed that up with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting and five perfect free throws against Monmouth, while grabbing seven rebounds, dishing six assists and not turning the ball over once. So, to put that together: 64 points. 15 rebounds. 13 assists. 19-of-31 from the field. 17-of-18 from the free-throw line. One turnover. Two Canisius victories. Not bad. Not bad at all.
(Related winners: Canisius, which is already 5-1 in the MAAC and tied for the conference lead in the loss column. Related losers: Virginia and Rhode Island, both of whom could quite use a scoring guard right about now; Rider and Monmouth.)
Lose starting guard Jabril Trawick to a broken jaw. Only beat the Big East doormat Butler (0-5) by three points, 70-67. Epically blow a 17-point second-half lead against Xavier, don’t score for more than six minutes, lose 80-67. Not exactly a great week for the Hoyas. With four of the next five games looming coming against Marquette, Michigan State, Creighton and Villanova, Georgetown better sort out its problems quickly, lest the finish of its season not even matter. And the Hoyas better make hay now, because their final four regular-season games are against… Xavier, Marquette, Creighton and Villanova.
(Related winners: Fellow residents of the nation’s capital, George Washington, which knocked off VCU at home; Xavier, who I’m sure wouldn’t ever return the gift Georgetown gave them. Related losers: Trawick, who has a busted jaw and a poorly playing team.)
EXTRA-SPECIAL BONUS WINNER: Chicago State
The Cougars, in their first year of having a real Division I conference, are currently leading the WAC at 3-0 along with Utah Valley after surprisingly knocking off heavy conference favorite New Mexico State in the Windy City. Granted, the Aggies are without INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar, all 7’5” and 360 pounds of starting center, but no team in the country was picked more than New Mexico State to win its conference by Ken Pomeroy’s system. The Aggies were 90 percent favorites to win the WAC before conference play started. The Cougars were given an 0.04 percent shot to take the conference crown. (Hell, even the Wolverines of Utah Valley were given a 1.2 percent shot.) But as it stands right now the Aggies trail both schools by a game in conference play. As for Chicago State, they are led by Quinton Pippen (nephew of Bulls great Scottie), who had 23 points in his team’s 68-66 win at Missouri-Kansas City on Saturday and 19 points and eight rebounds against New Mexico State on Thursday in a 86-81 victory. I’m all about the improbable, especially in a one-bid league. So here’s to hoping the Cougars sweep the conference, win the WAC Tournament and see just what on earth happens when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
(Related winners: Utah Valley, for riding Chicago State’s coattails to the top of the conference. Related losers: Sim Bhullar, who has missed the entirety of conference play because of injury; New Mexico State, whose shot at an unbeaten conference run has already been destroyed.)