And just like that Kansas is back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. The situation looked a bit bleak for the Jayhawks following their recent 70-63 loss to Kansas State, but Baylor’s 79-70 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night put Kansas ahead again. A win would have drawn the Cyclones even with Kansas in the standings, but a barrage of second half threes from the Bears sealed the Cyclones’ fate. “We didn’t talk about any championships that were there,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys understand it. They read it. But it’s just going out there taking care of today, and obviously we didn’t get that accomplished.”
Wednesday marked the first win ever in Ames for Baylor, and the big road victory should help the Bears immensely with seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A lock for an at-large bid, this year will mark the first time that Baylor has made consecutive trips to March Madness in school history. Much of the Bears’ recent success should be attributed to Scott Drew. The 12th-year head coach of the Bears takes a great deal of criticism from the college basketball community, but he has molded a roster that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 into a Top 25 team with high postseason expectations. Drew rightfully appears to be the clear front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point in the season.
Drew’s biggest competitor in the race for Coach of the Year comes from West Virginia’sBob Huggins. The Mountaineers were also picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll but have utilized a change in playing style to now sit just one game behind Kansas in the standings. After getting blasted by Baylor in Morgantown, West Virginia will seek revenge on the Bears in Waco this weekend. If the Mountaineers pull of the win, we could have a new name leading the Big 12 Coach of the Year race come Monday.
A day after the Jayhawks’ loss at Kansas State, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden called a players-only meeting back in Lawrence. There was no trip to Henry T’s like back in 2008, but Ellis and Selden took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of winning another Big 12 championship. Sporting a 3-3 record in its last six games, Kansas is engaged in some soul-searching ahead of March this season. “We got to figure out what’s wrong,” sophomore Brannen Greene said. With three remaining contests against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, the Jayhawks will need to figure it out quick, starting with a reeling but dangerous Texas squad on Saturday.
It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-65 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
Could the SEC really get six teams into the NCAA Tournament? According to Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, it looks that way and it doesn’t appear to be all that close. Kentucky and Arkansas are locks and the bracket guru lists Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss as single-digit seeds with LSU as a #10. Given all the flak that the league has received for being weak this season, getting nearly half of its teams into the field of 68 would be quite an accomplishment. Sure, there’s plenty of basketball left to play, and every team other than the Wildcats and Razorbacks would do well to win several more games to ensure their bids. But as each of these teams played tough non-conference schedules, they’ve earned their placements in field.
As the season draws to a close, it is time to start analyzing who will walk away with the various season awards and all-conference honors. All jokes aside about the number of players who get selected to SEC all-conference squads, it looks like Kentucky’s balanced success could prevent any of its very deserving players from winning the league’s Player of the Year award. Instead, according to Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com, that honor may end up in the hands of Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The Razorbacks sit at 23-5 ahead of their huge tilt with undefeated Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday, and it is hard to argue that Portis is somehow undeserving. He is second in the SEC is scoring (17.6 PPG) and fourth in rebounding (8.5 RPG), but most importantly, his team has separated itself as the second-best group in the league in large part because of his leadership.
Playing for a 28-0 basketball team in a state that loves the sport as much or more than any other may seem like it’s all fun and games. And while it mostly is, ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil took a look at what it is actually like to suit up for Kentucky. Anyone who follows the sport closely knows that there is no fan base more passionate than the Big Blue Nation, and when you sign up to play for the Wildcats — assuming you’re deemed worthy in the first place — you know that will come with hefty expectations. As O’Neil points out, playing for Kentucky is simply not for everyone, and living up to the lofty standards set by the school’s fans is often difficult. But as she also shows, John Calipari is able to sell players on coming to Lexington because they know it will prepare them for the rigors both on and off the court at the next level better than anywhere else. And in this day and age, that is what matters most.
Florida went to the Elite Eight in each of the last four seasons and swept the SEC on its way to the Final Four a year ago. To say that the Gators have disappointed this season would be to drastically understate the case. Sure, Billy Donovan was right when he said that his team had no business being ranked in the top 10 to start the season. But no one could have foreseen the disaster that this season has become. The 13-15 Gators are currently a long shot to make the NIT, especially with a trip to Kentucky still in the offering. Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley, who has followed the program longer than just about anyone, analyzed what has led to the Gators’ many woes after Tuesday night’s loss to Missouri. Dooley points out that Donovan overscheduled for such an inexperienced group, lost guard Devon Walker before the season even started, and hasn’t been able to win many close games. And while all of the points Dooley raises are accurate, no one could have foreseen such a dropoff coming. We are sure that Donovan will get things turned around in Gainesville, but the precipitous fall of Florida basketball over the past 11 months is nothing short of astonishing.
Billy Kennedy has done a nice job turning things around at Texas A&M one year ahead of schedule, and the Aggies have a monster recruiting class set to enter that includes three top-50 players and a fourth just outside of it. They also have a roster that should return almost everyone of consequence, meaning that expectations will be sky high in College Station next season. However, the current and future on-court success has not translated into success at the turnstiles. Despite playing really well in SEC play and remaining in strong contention for an NCAA Tournament bid, the Aggies are drawing an average of only 7,368 fans per game, down significantly from the Billy Gillispie/Mark Turgeon teams that routinely packed over 13,000 fans into Reed Arena. If A&M can make the Big Dance and return juniors Danuel House and Jalen Jones, the Aggies should enter next season in the Top 25 and the larger crowds should return.
WDRB: Well the Chris Jones saga at Louisville just took an awful turn, as Jones pled not guilty to rape and sodomy charges yesterday. Obviously, these are serious and heinous crimes. Eric Crawford does a good job here in piecing together a timeline. First Jones was suspended over the threatening text message he sent to a girlfriend; then, after agreeing to curfew and handing over his phone, Jones was reinstated in time for the Miami game. That night of that game was when the much more serious alleged crimes took place. Just unbelievable.
Bleacher Report: One quick disclaimer — this article focuses on football. But it’s the subject of the article that I care about. There’s a proposal (championed by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany) for freshmen to once again become ineligible. Needless to say that this is a horrible idea. The only reason I can see the NCAA doing this would be to force the NBA to change its draft age-limit rule. That’s stupid. A more reasonable reason (that would need research) would be if football players had fewer concussion-related injuries if they sat out the year between high school and college, giving them more time to acclimate to a faster and stronger game. But that only applies to football. I firmly believe you should be able to go pro right out of high school, but that’s up to the NBA to figure out. Colleges already have enough dumb rules; keeping its stars off the court helps no one.
Greensboro News Record: Cat Barber has been tremendous in ACC play. Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner get a lot of the press for NC State‘s success, but Barber’s improvement has made the Wolfpack much scarier. Remember that at the start of conference play many pundits (and uninformed bloggers like yours truly) were calling for Mark Gottfried to bench Barber in favor of Cody Martin. That looks ridiculous in retrospect. Interestingly enough, Gottfried, a coach known for telling CJ Leslie to be Calvin, tells Barber to “go be Cat” and “be yourself.” Obviously, Barber doesn’t have the same reasons for his underachievement, but the difference in approach is striking.
Richmond Times Dispatch: With the beatdown Virginia put on Wake Forest now behind them, the Cavaliers have all but locked up the ACC regular season title — all they need to do is beat Virginia Tech. Admittedly, the Hokies looked great against Duke shooting threes on Wednesday night, but my guess is that this weekend’s game won’t be remotely close. Given Justin Anderson and London Perrantes‘ injuries, winning the top seed in the ACC Tournament will be quite a feat — unbalanced schedules be damned. But this year also feels a little like the the “put up or shut up” judgment year for the pack-line defense at the national level (winning the ACC Tournament last year has already answered that question regionally).
TigerNet: Want an exercise in futility? Try to predict the NCAA Tournament bracket weeks before conference tournaments begin. Want even more of a challenge? Get into the business of predicting the NIT field. Unlike the NCAA Tournament (which can select any team it wants), the NIT gets the teams that were left out. That means the top seeds are just as much in flux as those at the bottom. That said, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State (somehow) are all in the current versions of NIT bracketology.
The Chris Jones story is quickly going from bad to horrific. The former Louisville guard who was suspended indefinitely for one game last week before returning to lead Louisville to a comeback victory over Miami on Saturday has been charged with raping one woman and sodomizing another later that night. These events appear to be unrelated Jones sending a threatening text message to another woman, which appears to be the cause of his indefinite one-game suspension. According to the school, Jones, who has pleaded not guilty, was dismissed from the team after missing a Saturday night curfew and they were unaware of the nature of the charges prior to his dismissal.
Being the son of LeBron James will lead to increased scrutiny particularly on the basketball court, but it appears that LeBron is ok with it up to a certain point, which appears to be college coaches recruiting his 10-year-old son LeBron James Jr. On some level part of this is due to James and other (like the John Lucas Camp) promoting videos of LeBron Jr. on social media. Even in the world of recruiting, reaching out to a 10-year-old is ridiculous especially when his father is among the most famous athletes on the planet and has access to any basketball figure he would like to speak to (ok, maybe not Pat Riley any more).
Nathan Power, the Kansas State student who intentionally ran into Jamari Traylor following Kansas State’s victory over Kansas, has been cited for disorderly conduct. It is unclear what kind of penalty Power, who apologized in the student newspaper, will face. At the very least we would expect that he will be banned from going to Kansas State games for the foreseeable future, but we are not sure if he will face a fine or any kind of disciplinary measures such as probation.
Over the years we have heard quite a bit about how Mark Few would never leave Gonzaga, but we have not seen a profile on Few that is in-depth as the one Jason King wrote. The picture that King paints of Few’s life at Gonzaga makes it seem unlikely that Few will be leaving any time soon. We are certain that some big school could offer Few more money and the possibility of becoming a NBA coach down the road (sorry, but we doubt that anybody is going straight from the sideline of the WCC to leading a NBA team), but it is usually not a good idea to mess with happy especially when Few is well-compensated and gets the chance to compete for a national title every year.
This week’s version of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are lighter on statistical analysis than usual, but it does offer a nice concise look at the defenses of the top teams in the country. The analysis–particularly the strengths/weaknesses–might serve as a good tool if you are looking at potential NCAA Tournament upsets. Some of the analysis is obvious like Kentucky and Virginia having ridiculously good defenses, but many people might not take the time to think about the weaknesses that those teams have (yes, there are a few weaknesses even for those teams).
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
1. Duke Attracts Five-Star Recruits For Rivalry Game
It was a great last Wednesday night in Durham. Not only did Duke notch a thrilling comeback victory against their Tobacco Road neighbors from Chapel Hill, but it also did so in front of a few high-profile recruits from the classes of 2015 and 2016. From this year’s senior class, five-star senior power forward Caleb Swanigan (No. 11) was in Cameron Indoor Stadium on an official visit along with Luke Kennard, a five-star shooting guard who has already committed to the Blue Devils. Last week we touched on some of the schools interested in the 6’8” Swanigan, but since then the Indiana native has taken in Purdue’s victory over Nebraska in addition to the UNC game. The Duke coaching staff is looking to add another big man to the mix to replace the expected loss of freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor. So far Duke has 6’10” Chase Jeter, a five-star power forward, locked up in addition to Rice transfer Sean Obi, who is currently redshirting after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game at Rice. In addition to Swanigan and Kennard, the Blue Devils also hosted Harry Giles, the No. 1 prospect in the junior class, as well as the top two point guards in the junior class in Derryck Thornton (No. 5 – 2016) and Dennis Smith (No. 6 – 2016). Giles and Smith are both local North Carolina products and have offers from both Duke and UNC in hand. Giles noted, “I’ve been to every Duke and UNC game at both places, and this was the craziest and best game,” he said. “I plan on attending the March 7th game at UNC, too.” It could have turned out to be a somber ending for Duke and its prized recruits in attendance, but instead they were treated to another Duke home win and a raucous celebration.
2. Derryck Thornton and Reclassification
While senior Caleb Swanigan was taking his official visit to Duke, junior point guard Derryck Thornton was making an unofficial visit all the way from Nevada. After the game, ESPN’s recruiting staff caught up with the two propsects with the most noticeable quote coming from Thornton. “They want to know if I would consider going to the class of 2015 because Tyus Jones could be leaving,” he said. “I believe I could take that step both academically and on the court. It’s something I definitely have to think about and discuss with my family.” That quote sticks out for a few reasons. While Tyus Jones was a top 10 recruit coming out of high school, his NBA stock wasn’t nearly as high due to concerns about his height and athleticism. Right now, DraftExpress lists him at No. 26 in the draft, but with his recent play Jones could be getting more serious about his draft potential. Duke has not recruited a point guard in the 2015 class yet, and given the aforementioned quote, Coach K is most likely trying to prepare his program for a possible departure. Thornton is one of the top point guards in his class and might be considered the best “pure” point as well. He has strong interest from Kentucky in addition to Louisville, California, and Miami. Will he think about re-classifying? Read the rest of this entry »
Here we go again with yet another rushing the court debate. We have had it so many times before that I have lost count on whether this debate has gone full Gary Busey or has taken a detour down the road of who actually gives a flying elbow. Personally, I don’t understand the arguments against it — sans safety concerns. I literally giggle whenever a man in his 60s talks about a kid in his late teens or early twenties recognizing whatever school’s history, tradition or proper court-storming etiquette should be, as if the the student actually cares about any of that and isn’t there to just have a good time.
The Fun Polizei Are At It Again (USA Today Images)
But that isn’t what bothers me. No, sir. I am a selfish person. Your opinion of having teams forfeit games because of fans is stupid. I mean, do you want actors punished for fans’ actions too? How about punishing you for the things that your unborn offspring do? “God slammit, Johnny! Your wife’s womb is shaking and it is making my chair not as comfortable. Banish her!” (End scene) I can honestly give two-poops about your opinion as far as kids rushing the court are concerned. I got bigger fish to fry.
So, let’s go.
Remember when I said I was selfish? Good, because I am. With that being said, let me get back to my only concern — sans safety (because that is a legitimate one) — with the rushing the court debate. I happen to write the best column called A Column of Enchantment anywhere on the Interwebs. I happen to write such a column on a wonderful, sexy and insightful website called Rush the Court. As the main-man-in-charge of making my stuff relatively readable on that website has pointed out, this can lead to some extreme changes.
For the love of everything holy and independent college basketball sites, Batman! If the fun-police or whoever win, what does that mean for Rush the Court? Would it be forced to shut down? Would Randy have to change the name of the site to something more appropriate to the changing of the times? Is www.Lightlytappingacrossthehardwood(dot)com still available on GoDaddy? That might mean I would be forced to change the name of my column too. How enchanting could they really be if it didn’t mean there wouldn’t be the slightest chance of young people rushing right through it in a fit of drunken rage? Somehow I don’t think A Column of Appropriate Discourse is as appealing to my dozens and dozens of loyal readers.
Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (OlivierHanlan and RakeemChristmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (MalcolmBrogdon and JustinAnderson; TerryRozier and MontrezlHarrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like TrevorLacey or TyusJones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without ChrisJones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).
EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.
The latest turn in the court rushing saga that followed Kansas State’s win over Kansas on Monday came when Kansas State student Nathan Power issued an apology in the Wildcats’ student newspaper, The Collegian. Power admitted to being the individual who was identified for running into Jamari Traylor in the aftermath of the Wildcats’ win, but did not directly apologize to the Kansas forward for his actions. Instead, he opted to apologize for not being “careful of the people [he] was around,” while breaking the “Wildcat way” and disrespecting “the KU basketball team — Jamari Traylor in particular.” Perhaps Power cannot explicitly apologize for running into Traylor because of legal reasons, but he certainly appeared to thrust himself into the Kansas player on Monday night. I suspect this won’t be the last we hear about this incident.
Lost in the court-rushing shuffle was the impressive performance put on by the Wildcats in Bramlage Coliseum, as sophomore Nigel Johnson led the way with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the 70-63 win. Johnson entered the game shooting under 30 percent from behind the three-point arc for his college career, but he knocked down four three-pointers (in five attempts) against Kansas. The Wildcats will likely still need a miracle to find their way into the NCAA Tournament, but that was irrelevant to head coach Bruce Weber on Monday. “After last week this is a huge win for our guys,” Weber said. “I just asked them to forget about what happened before and not worry about what’s going to happen in the future; just worry about today and the moment.”
It’s been a good week for West Virginia. Senior guard Juwan Staten was named the Big 12 Player of the Week thanks to his big role in wins against Kansas and Oklahoma State last week. The Mountaineers followed up those victories with a 71-64 win over Texas on Tuesday night in Morgantown, putting them just one game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a trip to Lawrence looming.
Earlier this week, Burnt Orange Nation’s Cody Daniel called for Texas senior Jonathan Holmes to lead the late-season revival of the Longhorns. Unfortunately for everyone, after knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the first half against West Virginia, Holmes was ejected from the game for elbowing the Mountaineers’ Devin Williams. Although the Longhorns managed to make the game interesting down the stretch, the absence of Holmes from the lineup loomed large for a Texas team that is fighting to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. Rick Barnes will need his senior leader to step up in the team’s final three games of the regular season just to stay on the right side of the bubble.
The next big game in a long line of big games in the Big 12 this season comes tonight when Baylor travels north to face Iowa State in Ames. The Cyclones are now just a half-game back from Kansas in the conference standings, and a win would pull them even with the Jayhawks. Iowa State plays its two toughest remaining opponents in Hilton Coliseum, but that won’t make their remaining schedule any easier, says Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register. Baylor will attempt to slow the pace against the Cyclones and use its zone defense to force Iowa State to knock down outside shots. If the Cyclones succeed, we’ll be in for a very exciting finish to the Big 12 regular season.
Iowa lost a member of its deep roster earlier this week, as sophomore point guard Trey Dickersondecided to leave the program. The junior college transfer simply wasn’t seeing much time with Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons ahead of him in the rotation, playing in only 15 games (9.7 MPG). He did flash some athleticism and the ability to get to the rim in his brief cameos on the floor, but with those two upperclassmen ahead of him, he wasn’t likely to get much of a shot at substantial playing time in Iowa City.
After a 12-1 start to the season inspired questions as to whether Penn State could make a “Nebraska-type run” to the postseason this year, things have since fallen apart for Pat Chambers’ squad. Perhaps rock bottom for the campaign took place in losing by 21 points to fellow bottom-dweller Northwestern on Saturday. Chambers is still on solid footing in terms of his job security, however, as athletic director Sandy Barbour recently said that the coach “deserves more opportunity than he’s gotten.” Penn State’s recruiting class for next year looks promising, so it makes sense to give the fourth-year coach at least another season to put things together. Another lost season in 2015-16 might make things a little dicier for him in State College, however.
Wisconsin has a difficult final stretch to the season that was revealed in last night’s loss to Maryland in College Park. The Big Ten title seemed like a given for the Badgers up to this point, but things just got a bit more interesting. If Michigan State can win its game on Thursday against Minnesota and Purdue can beat a hapless Rutgers unit, there will be three teams within two games of the regular season crown. Bo Ryan‘s groupstill has road trips to Minnesota and Ohio State during the last week of the regular season, and they will have to beat Michigan State at home this weekend. The Badgers will still probably come away with the crown, but it won’t be easy.
Containing Jarrod Uthoff, holding Iowa to under 64 points, and shaking off its dismal 2-of-16 performance from three against Michigan State are some of the keys for Illinois as the Illini take on Iowa in a bubble battle tonight in Iowa City. Illinois is currently listed as a “Last Four In” team, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, so obviously winning tonight’s game on the road against a team with similar RPI numbers would be a significant boost to their Tourney hopes.
CBS’ Sam Vecenie broke down the Big Ten Player of the Year race, and his assessment is that Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky should get the nod over Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. He lists Iowa’s Aaron White, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble as the rest of his First Team. The argument is one that may not get settled until the very last game of the season when Kaminsky and Russell’s teams go head-to-head in Columbus. In almost any other year, Russell would probably be a shoe-in to win the honor — anyone who has seen him play knows what he brings to the table. But while his game is not necessarily flashy, the main point that Vecenie and many others make about Kaminsky is that he’s done everything this season. His defense has improved and he can beat teams offensively in a multitude of ways. It doesn’t hurt that Wisconsin is clearly the better team than Ohio State. That should matter to the extent of whether any ties need to be broken.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: There are few things in my hoops world that I enjoy more than watching Willie Cauley-Stein move his feet. Observing a seven-footer glide across the perimeter in a defensive stance is art. Hyperbole aside, Cauley-Stein’s versatility is why NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has him in the top five of his most recent Player of the Year rankings. By his logic, the junior should be the front-runner for the SEC POY award, but is he? My gut tells me that Arkansas’ Bobby Portis or LSU’s Jordan Mickey will get the honor based on their gaudier stats, but it probably should go to Cauley-Stein. As a team, Kentucky is on the verge of accomplishing something quite historic. Even if the Wildcats don’t run the table, their dominance has been the story of this year’s SEC and no one player captures that better than Cauley-Stein.
As a point guard, Andrew Harrison is playing his best basketball of the season. The sophomore has averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.6 turnovers per game in his last eight outings, punctuated with nine assists and a single turnover on Saturday against Auburn. This uptick in production has coincided with a visit from his father, who also spent time with his brother Aaron last year before he caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. As good as Tyler Ulis has played this season, it must be reassuring to John Calipari that Andrew is playing so well too as the calendar nears March. He led the Wildcats to the championship game last year, and that kind of postseason experience is invaluable for a point guard.
Stories about Memorial Gymnasium’s quirkiness at Vanderbilt are inevitable every year. But next year, those yarns will have a fresh angle. Vanderbilt is extending the coaching box up the sideline for the 2015-16 season, meaning that coaches won’t just be confined to the baseline as they have been in the past. Only head coaches will be allowed in the expanded box, so the solitary figure strolling up and down the sidelines above the first few rows of fans will be another unique part of the games at Vanderbilt. There will probably be some changes on the court for the Commodores next year too, at least from a win-loss perspective. There is a drastic disparity between the team’s KenPom (#47) and RPI (#117) ratings this season –eight of the Commodores’ 12 losses have come by four points or fewer, and Kevin Stallings’ group should be a much bigger threat next season if Damian Jones returns.
The Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson has some interesting tidbits on Georgia’s NCAA Tournament resume as we enter the stretch run. We’ve also officially reached the point in the season when it’s not too early to talk about SEC Tournament seeding. Georgia stands at 8-6, nipping on the heels of 10-5 Texas A&M and 10-4 Ole Miss. Making up that difference in the standings to earn a double-bye will be difficult, but the Bulldogs have one thing going for them. They’ve already beaten Texas A&M and could sweep the Rebels with a win this evening, which would give Georgia the tiebreaker over both if it comes to that. That makes tonight’s game at the Tad Pad all the more important for a team looking to get back on the right track.
One phrase is noticeably absent in SEC conversations right now: hot seat. Unless something strange occurs down the stretch, it doesn’t look like there will be a new SEC coach coming on board in 2015-16. Reviewing the hot seat scenario David Changas painted back in October, the two most at-risk coaches were Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Mississippi State’s Rick Ray, and both appear to be safe. Alabama has been somewhat disappointing given how well the Tide’s non-conference schedule went, but at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the SEC it isn’t likely that Grant will lose his job. The same can be said for Ray, as Mississippi State has clearly improved during the season and will have a senior-laden team (Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware) ready to roll next year. The hottest seat right now might actually belong to Kim Anderson, with Missouri trudging through a miserable season and current athletic director Mike Alden set to depart in August. But it’s ridiculous to think that the new administration would part ways with a native son after a clear rebuilding year.
Fayetteville Observer: Let’s start with NC State. The Wolfpack uglied it up last night in Chapel Hill and came away with a convincing win in Chapel Hill (their first in over a decade — couches were burned). Bret Strelow does a terrific job with this profile of Trevor Lacey. It’s full of great information. Did you know Lacey leads the country in points per possession on isolation plays, according to Synergy? Now you do. It also has some great anecdotes from Lacey’s days dominating high school and from his time on the scout team. My two favorite parts were Mark Gottfried dropping, “I remember when I got drafted by the Pistons” as an introduction to a story. Gottfried was drafted in the seventh round! I mean there were only 23 teams back then, but that’s an elite-level humblebrag. My second favorite tidbit was that Lacey credits former Duke guard Austin Rivers as the inspiration for some of his moves. That was completely unexpected.
The Cauldron: Ever wondered what it’s like to be the PA announcer at Cameron Indoor Stadium? Trip Durham (Duke’s PA announcer) gives us all the details. He grew up a North Carolina fan, but he’s now fully integrated into the Duke home game experience. It’s interesting that Durham feels like the job connects him back to his childhood and his late father. PA announcers generally fly under the radar (except at Wake Forest games; you won’t miss the distinctive growl), but it’s fascinating to see another side of the coin.
Syracuse Post Standard: Time to talk some bracketology with Patrick Stevens. If you don’t keep up with Stevens’ work, he’s been one of the best in the business for a few years now, so it’s worth checking in with his regular columns. The only real questions in the ACC are: “Will NC State and/or Miami get in?” and “Who earns a #1 seed?” Right now the answers seem like yes and no, respectively; and Duke and Virginia (although I’d be surprised if both manage to get a top seed unless there are a flurry of upsets in other conference tournaments).
The Pitt News: Remarkably, Pittsburgh managed to stay in the NCAA Tournament conversation (barely) by eking out a home win last night over Boston College. The reason the Panthers still have a shot to make it into the Dance is because they have a fairly strong RPI. They’ll be hurt by an abysmal non-conference schedule, but Pittsburgh is a (very) strong ACC Tournament run away from the right side of the bubble. Now the real story from the Pittsburgh win is that Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan scored 39 points on 20 field goal attempts! That’s incredible. Fingers are crossed that we see Hanlan go unconscious again this year in Greensboro.
JohnGasaway.com: Tuesday Truths are back! Why is this week noteworthy? Duke and Virginia appear to be separating themselves from the pack (I imagine even more so now, given last night’s results). That’s far from unexpected, but it hasn’t been the case until just recently. It’s somewhat misleading to say Virginia is distinguishing itself because its efficiency margin has plummeted since losing Justin Anderson to injury (thanks to an anemic offense) — although it was bound to suffer, it has dropped by 30 percent in the last three weeks.