Big 12 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 31st, 2014

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  1. As good as Kansas freshman Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins have been, lost in the shuffle is the improved play by junior point guard Naadir Tharpe. Tharpe finished Wednesday night’s game against Iowa State with 12 points, 12 assists, and just one turnover. That makes 17 assists to one turnover in his last three games, and a 3.3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in conference play. There’s certainly a case that could be made that, while Embiid and Wiggins have been the center of most conversation around Kansas’ 7-0 start in league play, Tharpe’s improved play and reduction in turnovers has been the real reason why Kansas has been clicking as of late.
  2. Like many schools across the nation, attendance for home games has been an issue for Oklahoma State at times this season. On Thursday, head coach Travis Ford practically begged students at the campus union to attend games at Gallagher-Iba Arena. To make the process easier, students will no longer have to certify their tickets before the game — apparently a big issue. With the technology available to improve the at-home viewing experience, this seams to be an issue across several different sports, and it will force athletic departments to get creative to come up with new strategies to draw more interest.
  3. Fresh off a loss at Kansas on Wednesday night, there is some buzz that Cyclones’ head coach Fred Hoiberg may switch up his starting lineup by inserting freshman point guard Monte Morris into the mix. Morris has been a spark off the bench for Iowa State, and he could help out of the gate by preventing DeAndre Kane and company from getting off to slow starts, something that plagued them in both halves at Allen Fieldhouse.
  4. If I were to ask you to name the leading rebounder in the Big 12 this season, you might throw out names like Joel Embiid, Cameron Ridley or last season’s leading rebounder, Melvin Ejim. Instead, Oklahoma’s sophomore forward Ryan Spangler has proved to be an absolute workhorse down low for the Sooners, averaging over 11 rebounds per game in league play. Head coach Lon Kruger believes that Spangler’s attitude and work ethic has inspired his team’s improved play this year. Watching Spangler play like he did on Monday night in a win over Oklahoma State, you can’t help but appreciate the effort he puts forth on both ends of the floor.
  5. In a new series on CBSSports.com, Jeff Borzello discusses a potential title contender with a panel of anonymous head coaches about the strengths and weaknesses of said team and how best to perform against them. Thursday, Borzello took a look at Kansas and among the many items he discussed, perhaps the most interesting was whether the panel of coaches thought that Bill Self had the point guard play necessary to win a national title. The consensus opinion seemed to be that with the way Tharpe has been playing, the junior point guard was fully capable of leading Kansas to a Monday night win in Arlington.
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Big Ten M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Michigan State sophomore Matt Costello has seen his role become much more important with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined. He posted a double-double in the Spartans’ win against Iowa on Tuesday night, which led to Tom Izzo calling it “ the best game of his life.” Costello has done a great job blocking shots all season long, but it seems as though he’s getting more comfortable playing extended minutes. His rebounding will be sorely needed until the Spartans are back at full strength. It will be interesting to see if the former top-100 recruit can develop a back-to-the-basket game in his next two years in East Lansing.
  2. The B1G season went from strange to borderline wacky Wednesday night when supposed cellar dwellers (at least according to preseason rankings) Penn State and Northwestern won on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively. Both of these teams were ranked in the top five nationally a mere three weeks ago. More on Ohio State in a moment, but Wisconsin’s issues can be traced to how well it’s letting other teams shoot the ball, and how poorly it’s shooting from behind the arc. Teams have been living in the paint in all four recent losses, and until the Badgers get that fixed, they’ll continue to hover around .500 in conference play.
  3. Ohio State also looked like a potential Final Four contender until recently, but they’ve arguably looked even worse than Wisconsin in the last couple of weeks. It’s disturbing that senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quoted as saying that the team “doesn’t care enough.” Maybe these quotes will spark something in the Buckeyes and they’ll play with more emotion going forward. But Smith and fellow senior Aaron Craft, who both started in the Final Four as sophomores, need to do more on the court in terms of providing senior leadership. Smith needs to shoot better and Craft — despite the free pass the national media seemingly gives him — needs to stop turning the ball over at what has been an alarming rate during their recent struggles.
  4. In happier news, Minnesota is one of the teams in the league that has outperformed against expectations so far. Everyone knows that the team has missed the inside presence and rebounding of the graduated Trevor Mbakwe, but that doesn’t mean that Oto Osenieks hasn’t played well as a stretch-four during his junior season. Osenieks isn’t ever going to average 10 rebounds a game, but he’s improved quite a bit since his last season under former coach Tubby Smith. This can mainly be viewed in his three-point shooting, as the lanky junior has gone from only hitting 2-of-26 as a sophomore, to 12-of-37 during the 2013-14 campaign.
  5. When Penn State jumped out to a 47-40 lead at halftime in its first league game against Michigan State, you could see that this team had the potential to jump up and bite some of the Big Ten heavyweights this season. And after an 0-6 start, the Nittany Lions have won their last two after Wednesday night’s victory in Columbus. They got this win despite many setbacks that should have doomed them to defeat, overcoming a huge free throw disparity and some questionable calls that went against them. After failing to close out the game in numerous close contests, it will be interesting to see whether getting this win can be a springboard for Penn State going forward.
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SEC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 31st, 2014

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  1. As expected, Florida won in Starkville last night. The Gators did not, however, roll over the Bulldogs (they led by only one point at halftime), and haven’t rolled over the SEC at all recently. The national perspective seems to be that Florida is blowing right by every conference team it plays. This is correct in a strict win-loss sense, as the Gators are the only team with an unbeaten SEC record. But Florida has been somewhat tested by triple-digit KenPom teams in three of their last four games (Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn). Should that be cause for concern? Margin of victory is a useful indicator of future success, but conference games are especially difficult when you have a top 10 target on your back. That target will be even brighter in an upcoming stretch when the Gators face Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss on the road in the span of two weeks. The Vols and Rebels will be in desperate need of a statement win, and Florida may not be able to grind out wins as easily (that is if Billy Donovan doesn’t throw a blanket over Tennessee’s offense again).
  2. Tennessee has talented pieces that just haven’t fit together as well as they should have this season. Did Darius Thompson just ride into town on a white horse to make it all work? The freshman made his third start of the season Wednesday night in the Vols’ big win over Ole Miss, and his solid stat line (seven assists against two turnovers) should keep him in that spot. “Him getting better – him growing up as a ball player, the time he puts into it and learning and understanding and just being around those experienced guys; I think it was just time,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. Whether it was a direct result of Thompson starting, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson rebounded from a horrific shooting performance against Florida to go a combined 10-of-14 from three. Jarnell Stokes also said the Vols pushed the tempo more with Thompson in the game, which was refreshing considering how slowly they have played at times. At this point it’s clear Antonio Barton was not the answer to replace Trae Golden. Still, he’s a senior who can certainly contribute down the stretch for Tennessee.
  3. Arkansas is mired in a five-year NCAA tournament drought, and it’s looking more and more likely that number will extend to six. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish took an interesting look at what’s been ailing the Razorbacks. He wrote extensively about problems with the head coaching position, including a whiff at Billy Gillispie and Dana Altman’s change of heart. Can Mike Anderson turn things around in Fayetteville? He reached the Elite Eight in his third season at Missouri, and barring a miracle, won’t come close to that this season. Bobby Portis may be the ray of hope Anderson needs. The five-star Arkansas native chose to stay home (unlike Archie Goodwin) and could generate some in-state recruiting momentum. Anderson has actually done a fairly good job recruiting elite talent the last few years, even if in a roundabout way. In addition to this year’s solid class, Anderson convinced BJ Young to stay at Arkansas and there is a rumor that Otto Porter would have gone to Missouri had Anderson still been the coach. If he can keep gathering top talent, Anderson’s pressure system may be what returns Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Could it be that Kentucky will have a handful of experienced players back next season? John Calipari is reportedly spreading the word in NBA circles that Andrew and Aaron Harrison will return for their sophomore seasons. This is probably wise given their (relative) struggles and the strength of this upcoming draft class. And it could do even more favors for Calipari. Dakari Johnson has looked good, especially recently, but probably hasn’t stood out enough (yet) to make it worth his while to leave. The same can be said for Marcus Lee. You never know what can happen, but Kentucky could have a starting lineup featuring four sophomores next year.
  5. If Auburn had to win only one SEC game a year, I suppose their fans would prefer it to be against Alabama. The Tigers picked up their first conference win in 51 weeks by beating Alabama last night at home. That win nearly a year ago? It came against the Tide too. Chris Denson scored a career-high 32 points and is firmly in the discussion for an all-SEC team spot. One has to wonder where Anthony Grant goes from here. For a team that started the season with NCAA aspirations the Tide are now a long way away from an NIT bid, and lost any good will created by their solid win over LSU last weekend. Right now they are sitting at the front of the SEC’s “most disappointing table.”
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AAC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Southern Methodist had things rolling and looked to be on its way to a possible NCAA Tournament berth until it suffered one of those horrific losses Tuesday that the committee will have a hard time looking past. SMU lost to South Florida (RPI #142) in Tampa, a team it had beaten by 17 earlier in the season. Luckily, SMU will have a number of opportunities to put the loss behind it with match-ups against Memphis (twice), Louisville and Cincinnati before the AAC Tournament tips off in March. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still had SMU in his latest version of bracketology, but just barely, as the second to last team in. The Mustangs will most likely need to get at least one of those wins to get back on the right side of the bubble.
  2. Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls hope to have Chris Perry play the way he did against SMU for the remainder of the season. Perry collected 18 points, tying a career-high, and also pulled down eight rebounds. He had been shooting just 36 percent from the field in conference play before hitting 6-of-9 against the Mustangs. To avoid a tendency toward softness, Perry said he tried to dunk everything in warm-ups to get mentally prepared. Perry and fellow freshman John Egbunu could help lead a resurgence for USF in the second half of the conference season. It was a much-needed home win Tuesday with a Super Bowl Sunday trip to the league’s top team, Cincinnati, up next.
  3. Rick Pitino was named the 2013 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Pitino became the first three-time winner of the award, also collecting it in 1990 and 1996 as the head coach at Kentucky. He’s also the first person to win the award representing both Kentucky and Louisville. Pitino said he was born a New Yorker but will die a Kentuckian. “Certainly it’s a great honor to live in this state and represent two fine universities,” he said. “The passion for basketball has dwindled in other states, but it’s even become greater in our state.” Pitino’s year included a national championship, a second consecutive Final Four appearance, a Hall of Fame induction, and a second straight Big East tournament championship. A Louisville representative hasn’t won the award since 2004 with quarterback Stefan LeFors winning a decade ago. The Cardinals swept the top three this year, with athletic director Tom Jurich finishing second and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater third.
  4. Regardless of the outcome last night in Louisville, the relationship between Rick Pitino and Mick Cronin will always be strong. Cronin is one of Pitino’s many understudies who now successfully coaches a team of his own. Cronin was an assistant coach under Pitino at Louisville in 2002-03, and Pitino — as he often does with former players and coaches — played a large role in Cronin receiving the head coach position at Cincinnati. “He treats me like his little brother,” Cronin said. “It’s a luxury for me. It’s been one of the great things to happen in my life that he opened his world up to me.” Pitino expresses pride whenever he talks about any of his former coaches who have gone on to have successes of their own.
  5. A statistical guru who runs a website called cardsandcatsstats.com was not surprised when Louisville was more efficient with Terry Rozier running the point guard position in Chris Jones’ absence. According to the plus-minus data, the Cardinals score more points in relation to their opponent when the freshman is in the lineup. The system also examines rebounding — a strong suit of Rozier’s — and which players draw fouls. Even though Rozier wasn’t necessarily scoring a lot, he was avoiding turnovers and rebounding well, which shows up in the plus-minus data. How Pitino distributes playing time moving forward between Rozier and Jones, now that he’s back from injury, will be one of the story lines to follow as the regular season winds down. For what it’s worth, Jones and Rozier played roughly equivalent minutes last night, with Rozier posting an offensive rating of 119 and Jones a 68. Coincidentally, Louisville lost the game, 69-66.
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ACC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Great profile of Anthony Gill by Whitey Reid. Gill hasn’t had the easiest journey to Charlottesville, but he’s still a good-hearted prankster ready to dupe an unknowing reporter into believing he is a magician or once had a two-headed pet cat. Gill seems like the ultimate glue guy: a solid basketball player — he’s averaging just shy of eight points in 18 minutes a game — who’s fun to be around.
  2. Nike: Big uniform news, as Nike announced new “Hyper Elite” uniforms for seven programs, including Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse. Oh, and they’re throwbacks. I personally like all three (although North Carolina’s current jerseys are some of the best in the country). Take a look for yourself below.

    Nike's new throwback uniforms are excellent. (photo credit: Nike)

    Nike’s new throwback uniforms are excellent. (photo credit: Nike)

  3. Daily Orange: Another interesting part of the “2-3 Zone Series” focusing on Syracuse‘s relative lack of recent success in the NBA is that it’s hard to say how much the zone plays into the trend. It’s true the NBA doesn’t play much zone and probably isn’t looking to spend time teaching draft picks on the ins and outs of elite man-to-man defense. But Syracuse doesn’t have a problem getting players drafted. I think it also comes down to the type of players Syracuse recruits. They’re very good, but the Orange don’t draw nearly the number of McDonald’s All-Americans as the other blue-bloods. Jesse Dougherty does a good job in getting feedback from former players working professionally both here and abroad. Unrelatedly, Jim Boeheim is already falling in love with North Carolina cuisine.
  4. State of the U: Informative graphic showing Miami‘s scholarships over the next four years. This year’s team doesn’t have much depth, but the Hurricanes only have three scholarships left to give over the next two years (thanks in part to being down a scholarship). And amazingly, the Hurricanes have six seniors on the roster, which means there’s a big class coming to set the tone for the next few years. We’re also going to get to see what a Jim Larranaga-constructed team looks like in Coral Gables.
  5. FSU News: David Walker reflects on the paradox that is Florida State basketball. While football dwarfs basketball’s popularity in Tallahassee, the fan base has come to expect some degree of success under Leonard Hamilton. Apart from last year — when Hamilton fielded a fairly young team that didn’t quite gel — the Seminoles have been perennial postseason warriors despite institutional disadvantages when compared with some of the more basketball-focused schools in the conference.
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Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Morning Five: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2014

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  1. When we found out that Larry Brown was headed back to college basketball two years ago we never would have imagined that he would be toiling in such obscurity. Sure, Southern Methodist is not exactly a basketball hotbed, but he is still Larry Brown–possibly one of the ten best basketball coaches ever. While Brown might not be getting much attention at Southern Methodist it certainly is not due to a lack of success because it seems like he has turned the program around (not counting Tuesday’s surprising loss at USF). Southern Methodist may only being on the bubble at this point, but we would love to see Brown back in the NCAA Tournament if only for the idea of him getting to coach against another legend.
  2. Notre Dame forward Austin Burgett was released from the hospital yesterday after undergoing a procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat he noticed during the team’s game against Florida State on January 21. Burgett reportedly underwent an ablation for an undisclosed arrhythmia and although the school is calling this a “common, non-life threatening procedure” given all of the issues we have seen with arrhythmias in sports (in particular college basketball) we could not help but be worried for Burgett when we heard about his condition initially. According to the school, they will monitor Burgett’s recovery before making a decision on when he will return to the court.
  3. We have heard endless talk about the NBA potential of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and a few top prospects. What we have not heard much about is what NBA scouts think of the next tier of prospect. Jason King spoke to three NBA scouts about several of the more intriguing underclassmen and for the most part their comments were fairly critical. Of course, that doesn’t mean that several of these players would not be drafted in the first round (you need 30 players to fill the 30 spots), but it does show you where these guys fall short if you did not already know.
  4. In this week’s edition of his Power Rankings, Luke Winn has his usual treasure trove of statistics and advanced metrics, but the two things that jumped out at us were his breakdown of the play of T.J. McConnell and Tyler Ennis as the distributors for the top two teams in the nation and just how remarkable efficient Jabari Parker has been in the post. The numbers for McConnell and Ennis are not particularly surprising (we knew they were very good), but the McConnell’s equitable distribution and the way Ennis has stepped up against better competition was eye-opening. As for Parker, we were surprised at how efficient he is in the post, but that might be due to how diverse his game is.
  5. Speaking of Arizona and Syracuse (and Wichita State) we are reaching the point in the season where people are starting to talk about the possibility of a team going undefeated. We are also at the point where we are starting to get our annual barrage of articles talking about how a team would be better off losing a game. We have never bought into this theory and we doubt that any player or coach would admit to it. Certainly there is another degree of pressure later in the season when you are undefeated, but it seems hard to believe that there would be any additional pressure in the NCAA Tournament.
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Three Keys in Tonight’s Louisville vs. Cincinnati Game

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 30th, 2014

The conference’s biggest game to date is upon us as conference leader Cincinnati travels to the KFC Yum! Center to butt heads with conference favorite Louisville. The Bearcats have won 12 straight games and are undefeated in the conference entering tonight’s action. The Cardinals have a home loss to Memphis earlier this month that they can’t wash away but have won their last four games including an easy win on the road over Connecticut. The two teams are similar in that they both rely on their defense, both have potential All-American candidates spearheading their offense, and both have questions about whether or not they have the complementary pieces in place to make a deep run in March. Needless to say, tonight should be an exciting night for college basketball fans, especially those who are partial to the AAC. Let’s take a look at three keys to success for each team.

Cincinnati

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through 8 Games, But Red Flags Remain

Sean Kilpatrick could use some help offensively tonight

  1. Get production from Justin Jackson – The senior sprained his ankle and only played six minutes in Sunday’s win over Temple but the Bearcats’ defensive lynchpin was cleared to play as of this morning and that’s really good news because without him, Cincinnati would be facing a steep uphill battle. After consistency questions during the non-conference portion of the schedule, Jackson has been crucial to Cincinnati’s recent success, especially on the defensive end where his versatility and ability to play much larger than his listed height have plugged a major hole in the frontcourt. It is probably wishful thinking to expect Jackson to be 100 percent, but the team needs him to play well on both ends of the floor if they are going to compete with the deeper, more experienced, and more talented Cardinals.
  2. Don’t allow second-chance opportunities – The Bearcats are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country but ironically, they also struggle mightily to keep opponents off the offensive glass as well. In the team’s closer than expected win against lowly Temple, the Bearcats allowed the Owls — perhaps the conference’s worst rebounding team — to snatch 12 offensive rebounds and out-rebound them overall 32-31. They survived because they tightened up when they needed to and because Temple’s defense is terrible, but the Cardinals are a different animal. Louisville is 20th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and they are a far more efficient offensive outfit, which means they will be able to do more with their second-chance opportunities than Temple was able to do. Jackson’s availability should help in this area, but the Bearcats will still be at a disadvantage in terms of size, so they will need to execute for 40 minutes on the boards.
  3. Someone not named Sean Kilpatrick needs to step up offensively – Short of dressing Kilpatrick up as teammate Jermaine Sanders, it will be tough for coach Mick Cronin to find a game plan that will consistently free Kilpatrick up offensively. Kilpatrick will get his looks and Cincinnati will make a concerted effort to get the ball in his hands, but Louisville isn’t stupid and they know if they can shut down Kilpatrick, their chances of winning will rise exponentially. Ideally the Bearcats would count on Jackson to shoulder some of the scoring load but with lingering questions about his health, Shaquille Thomas or Titus Rubles or Troy Caupain will need to step up and keep the Cardinals’ defense honest. Thomas’ athleticism presents intriguing matchup issues and he was great against the Owls but this is a much bigger game on the road and the redshirt sophomore will find the sledding much tougher this time around. The Bearcats don’t need a breakout offensive performance, but they do need someone or a combination of players to step up and give Kilpatrick some help.

Louisville

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn't enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Hancock needs to have a big game tonight (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Get out to a quick start – The KFC Yum! Center will be a raucous environment tonight and the Bearcats simply do not have the firepower to come from behind against good teams, especially on the road. If the Cardinals can play within themselves to start the game, get easy buckets, and open up an early lead, it could be game over quickly. A fast start will give them momentum, it will get the noisy crowd involved, and it will force an offensively handicapped outfit to get out of their preferred pace of play and start pushing the tempo. Make a few early three-pointers, find easy buckets in transition, and force some turnovers and the Cardinals will be able to relax. But allow Cincinnati to hang around and folks could be in for a nail-biting finish.
  2. Luke Hancock needs to stay hot – The popular “What in the world has happened to Luke Hancock?” question has been asked less and less recently as the senior has scored in double-figures in the team’s last seven games, but now is not the time for him to rest on his laurels. The Bearcats are easily the best and most physical defensive team the Cardinals have played thus far and he will need to assert himself offensively if Louisville wants to take control of this game. He still hasn’t quite regained his shooting touch but if he can get to the free-throw line and even just keep the Bearcats’ defense honest from behind the three-point-arc he will free up the team’s guards to penetrate easier and give the team’s big men more room to operate on the low block.
  3. Steady play from whoever is handling the point guard duties – Regular starter Chris Jones will be in uniform tonight for the first time since injury his oblique in the team’s win over SMU, but he will be coming off the bench and freshman Terry Rozier will get to make his fourth straight start. Rozier has been steady in Jones’ absence, especially when it comes to taking care of the ball, and that will be especially important for the Cardinals tonight. The Bearcats’ offense uses the turnovers created by its defense to get easy baskets. Jones and Rozier don’t need to combine for 30 points and 22 assists tonight. They need to take care of the basketball, manage the offense, and prevent Cincinnati’s defense from wreaking havoc. If they can do that, Louisville should prevail.
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Kansas Offense Clicking on All Cylinders With Its Biggest Questions Answered

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2014

Back in October, when we had nothing on which to evaluate the season but preview magazines and computer projections, the biggest questions surrounding Kansas were whether Naadir Tharpe would develop into a mature, trustworthy distributor, and how long it would take for Andrew Wiggins to mesh into Bill Self‘s balanced system. As we now near the halfway mark of conference play, the Jayhawks appear to have fully answered both of those questions. It’s why Kansas looks poised to lock down a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and why they have to be considered among the heavy favorites to cut down the nets in Arlington.

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

League play is supposed to be tougher than non-league play, but Tharpe apparently missed that memo. The junior has been terrific in seven games against Big 12 opponents, scoring 11.9 points and dishing out 5.6 assists per game to just 1.7 turnovers per outing. All of those numbers are better than his non-conference splits. While many of his made field goals have been the worst kind to take (long twos), he’s hit plenty of them, so while it may not be a sustainable method of shot selection, his execution has opened up space for his teammates, and there may not be a bigger beneficiary on the team than Wiggins. After exploding against TCU over the weekend, he he had another big night on Wednesday against Iowa State, scoring an efficient 29 points (a new career high) on just 16 shots. He looked more comfortable and confident than perhaps at any other point in the season, calmly making 4-of-6 three-pointers, and when Kansas needed to get some separation with the game in the balance late in the second half, he was there to provide it.

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B1G Award Spotlight: Terran Petteway

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 30th, 2014

With the season now turning toward the home stretch, it’s time to start contemplating and discussing which players are most worthy and likely to see their names on the Big Ten all-league teams. As an example, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway has seemingly come out of nowhere to lead the Cornhuskers in scoring in his first season on the active roster, one of a number of first-year players who have helped Tim Miles’ rebuilding efforts. While Tai Webster, Walter Pitchford, Leslee Smith and the now-exiled Deverell Biggs have all contributed in various ways, none have had the impact of Petteway. He’s already become one of the best go-to scorers in the league, checking in at third on the league leaders list at 18.2 PPG. The question to be answered here is where does he deserve to be placed in terms of all-league consideration?

Terran Petteway has been Nebraska's best player, but is that enough to make him first-team all B1G? (AP)

Terran Petteway has been Nebraska’s best player, but is that enough to make him first-team all B1G? (AP)

The usual theory that coincides with how these all-league teams are picked is “to the victor goes the spoils.” Fair or not, given the concentration of talent among 12 teams, a player normally needs to be on team that finishes in the top third of the standings to make the first team. In the last three seasons, only two first-team selections have come from teams that didn’t finish in the top four of that season’s standings (Robbie Hummel and John Shurna in 2011-12). Sitting at 10th right now at 2-5 in Big Ten play, this likely takes Petteway out of first-team consideration unless Nebraska goes on an epic hot streak over its last 11 games. That does not mean, however, that he’s precluded from placement on either the second- or third-team all-conference squads.

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Can Villanova Shake Its Doubters?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 30th, 2014

On Monday night, Villanova came to the Verizon Center ready to play Georgetown. The Wildcats were ranked 4th in the latest AP Poll and carried one of the most impressive resumes in the country — Jay Wright’s team is 4th in RPI, has played the 15th most difficult schedule, and are 10-2 against the RPI top 100 with wins over Kansas and Iowa. Despite all this, Villanova is usually mentioned with a caveat whenever the issue of its ranking comes up; while they are certainly deserving of it given the sterling resume, most pundits do not believe the Wildcats are one of the few best teams in the nation. After a drubbing from Creighton and an escape from subpar Marquette, Villanova had an opportunity to take advantage of the hobbled and sinking Hoyas to show the doubters that they’re for real and to boost their own confidence. Instead, the Wildcats were involved in a back-and-forth game where their offense never seemed to click but ultimately doing just enough to eke out a 65-60 win. So which is the real Villanova? Is it the elite team Villanova appears to portray on paper, or the team the media is waiting to fall back to earth? I looked into the numbers to get a better handle on this question.

Jayvaughn Pinkston (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jayvaughn Pinkston  is the biggest offensive weapon in the paint for Villanova. (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

According to KenPom, the Wildcats have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 118.0 points per 100 possessions (9th in the nation) and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 95.0 points per 100 possessions (26th). Villanova has a great inside-outside game, switching between Jayvaughn Pinkston to do work on the blocks, and a strong perimeter corps where James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono can launch it from deep. Forty-five percent of Villanova’s shots come from the three-point line (where the Wildcats are shooting 34.8 percent) and thirty-five percent of their shots are coming at the rim (where they are 63.1 percent from the field). Jay Wright also has them playing excellent man-to-man defense – working in concert to make the correct switches and protecting the weak side. So, what’s the problem? What may be giving writers and talking heads some hesitation is their complete lack of size in the frontcourt and the absence of a premier player who can get buckets down the stretch.

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Ranking the Mountain West Coaches

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 30th, 2014

Any time you get around to comparing one coach to another, it’s a shaky situation. Isn’t the real decision about who is the better coach decided on the court? Sure, one coach may have more talent than another, but then again, isn’t pulling in talent part of the job description? So, prior to unveiling my rankings of the coaches in the Mountain West, lets offer up some criteria. For the most part, recruiting is excluded from this analysis. The question that we’ll attempt to answer instead is this: Pick any random team in the country — you don’t know its roster or its strengths and weaknesses — which Mountain West coach would give you the best chance over this and the next couple of seasons to get the most out of those players and leave the program in the best possible place at the end?

Well, here’s one man’s take, feel free to disagree.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

The Dean Of Mountain West Coaches, Steve Fisher Is Among The Best In The Nation. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

  1. Steve Fisher, San Diego State – The results speak for themselves. Not only are the Aztecs the best team in the conference this year, Fisher’s done the most unbelievable job of building a program in the conference. Seriously, his track record at SDSU may not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as elite program-builders with national titles under their belts like Lute Olson and Jim Calhoun, but this trajectory is very, very close. Put it this way: There’s one sure-fire Hall-of-Famer in this conference and it is this man. He’s head and shoulders above the rest. The knock on him when he was at Michigan was that he could recruit well but wasn’t much of a teacher or a tactician. And earlier in his career at San Diego State, he struggled with some end-game scenarios (the 2006 NCAA Tournament First Round loss to Indiana still upsets me). But these days, his record in unimpeachable. He gets his players to improve from one season to the next and throughout their careers. Even while bringing in solid talent, he gets his team to exceed expectations. The team that he puts on the court is something that his supportive community can be proud of. Not only is Fisher far and away the best coach in the Mountain West, he’s on the very short list of the best in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »
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