What a Saturday in college hoops. Another giant went down in the top 5, a crazy Big 12 battle and a West Coast power established itself firmly as a national championship contender, let’s go around America and recap the action.
Duke needs to figure it out. Let’s view their last three games.
Boston College. Squeaked out a one point win on the road.
North Carolina. Came from behind to beat the Tar Heels by five at home.
Maryland. Luck ran out and lost in College Park.
The BC game was terrible. A team with a 2-7 record in the ACC, forced Duke into 40% shooting and 13 turnovers in a game where Ryan Anderson had his way inside. The Blue Devils then turned around and trailed an average UNC team at halftime before finding a way to win that one. It’s worth noting that the Tar Heels missed ten free throws in a game they eventually lost by five. And finally there was last night’s game against Maryland. The Terrapins star forward Alex Len got out of his funk and controlled the inside, much like Ryan Anderson did, going for 19 points and 9 rebounds. Duke never led in the second half and it’s become increasingly clearer that this team needs Ryan Kelly back.
With Kelly on the floor, Duke was the best defensive team in America. On offense Kelly freed up the inside for Mason Plumlee, while Kelly dropped to the outside for open looks beyond the arc where he shot 52% before his injury. Duke has now lost all three of its games, without Ryan Kelly. And they better figure out if he can return or not. March is 12 days away and Duke wants to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
One of the best games of the day had to be Oklahoma battling Oklahoma State in a big matchup in the Big 12. Oklahoma, which upset Kansas a week ago, led by 11 just after halftime before the Pokes turned it around. If you don’t know who Marcus Smart is you should probably find out. Smart led O.K. State with 28 points and 7 rebounds as they kept themselves in a three way tie atop the Big 12 with Kansas and Kansas State. O.K. State is putting together quite a season and could make some noise in March.
The top five decided to stop losing. It was the same old Indiana team that went to Purdue two weeks ago and bashed the Boilermakers by 37. This time Indiana went easy and only won by 28. The Hoosiers got a little scare from National Player of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo, who tweaked an ankle late in the first half. Head coach Tom Crean said, “He thinks he’s going to be OK, wishful thinking would be that he will play.” Crean is referring to Tuesday night’s showdown between Indiana and Michigan State in East Lansing, a game between the two teams in Big Ten. Indiana did just fine without Oladipo, outscoring Purdue 42-26 in the second half. Indiana beat Michigan State last month 75-70 in the team’s first battle in Bloomington.
Gonzaga is finally proving their worth to the nation. The Bulldogs were on National TV last Thursday night in a hotly anticipated battle with St. Mary’s, winning that one 77-60 after actually trailing by one at the half. The Zags turned around and beat San Francisco 71-61 last night. The Bulldogs are now 25-2 on the season and have a couple more challenging games but they won’t get more tough than the St. Mary’s game on Thursday. Kelly Olynyk and the Bulldogs trailed by a point at the half on the road in front of a crazy home crowd, wanting to see an upset. The Bulldogs then came out and played arguably their best basketball of the year, turning a close game into a laugher.
Gonzaga is playing for the fourth number 1 seed right now which could easily put them in Los Angeles for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Don’t be surprised if some people start referring to Gonzaga as a dark horse threat to win the title. Except I won’t be surprised, I think they’re clearly one of the top five or six teams in America.
Memphis continued to win and extended their winning streak to 16, beating up on another Conference USA school. The Tigers have a big game coming up on ESPN2 at Xavier on February 26th. Should Memphis win that one expect more and more national attention especially as the Tigers rise in the polls. Their biggest perceived weakness is that they play in Conference USA, ranked #11 in Conference RPI, but they’re also a team that has yet to lose on the road this year. It’s still tough to get a good read on this team as it pertains to how well they’ll do in March, but that’s why March is the best month in basketball.
In other news from around America, Syracuse is doing more and more each day to convince us that they aren’t a championship team. They dropped another one this week to Connecticut. They’re now 3-3 in their last six games and dropped into a three way tie atop the Big East with Georgetown and Marquette.
Butler is getting everybody’s best shot in the Atlantic Ten, and that doesn’t include the March 2nd date at VCU. After barely getting past George Washington in a game where they nearly blew a 17 point lead, Butler got tripped up at home against Charlotte. Looking to avoid back to back losses, the Bulldogs had to dig deep and needed every one of Rotnei Clarke’s 22 points to hold off Fordham 68-63. This isn’t the same Butler squad that knocked off Indiana on December 15th. They’ve lost three on the road and are now one game back of first place and VCU in the Atlantic Ten. Still, they’re a team nobody is lining up to play in March.
Texas needs to really take a good, hard look at their situation this off season. Rick Barnes’s Longhorns were blown out in front of a primetime ESPN audience last night, 73-47 at Kansas. Texas has played most of its season without star freshman Myck Kabongo which takes some steam of Barnes’s hot seat. But Texas is now 11-14 and unless they win the Big 12 will likely be sitting at home in Austin in March.
The Pac-12 might be the most intriguing conference in basketball. Their title race is shaping up to be as chaotic as the Laker’s season. Indeed Staples Center hosts the Pac-12 league tournament in March. This week Oregon continued its surprising season to improve to 21-5 and finds itself on top of the Pac-12 standings. But it was another team taking the headlines out West. That team? The mighty California Bruins. Cal upset Arizona at home then got a national television contest against UCLA on Thursday. They took advantage of that one, winning 76-63 in a game that was never really close. So could Cal really win the Pac-12? Maybe. They sit at 5th in the standings right now, just 2.5 games back of the Ducks.
Finally we go to the SEC. It was the same old dominating performance for Florida, but that’s not where we’re headed. In Knoxville yesterday, Kentucky began life without Noel. And they’d probably prefer not to have it continue. Sensing blood, the Vols came out fast and built a huge lead early, running away to an 88-58 victory, the largest in the series’s history. Tennessee outrebounded Kentucky 39-21, a margin that clearly shows where Noel is missed. Kentucky now has to rebound and look to home games against Missouri and Florida to prove to the committee that they still deserve a spot in the field of 68. But after yesterday? They might wanna start printing NIT shirts.
Extra tidbit of information:
If you’re ever looking for a great place to eat in Bloomington, stop by Scholar’s Inn on College Avenue. Had the pleasure of dining there last night with my good friends the Scheinberg’s who were in town from Tennessee. Huge Hoosier fans, they were excited about another big victory over Purdue, but worried about Victor’s right ankle. The Hoosiers will be fine.