Winners and Losers of Week 14 in College Basketball
Another week has come and gone in the world of college basketball, and what a crazy week it was.
And no, I'm not just saying "crazy" in the sort of perfunctory tone we've grown accustomed to from SportsCenter teasers and Dick Vitale monologues. I mean the last seven days have been truly, indelibly different even by college basketball standards.
The proof is in the 27 slides ahead, all of it brought to bare by an exercise we call winners/losers.
As always, add your nominees in the space below. And if you can help it, don't yell at me in the process.
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So, can we put the Duke-is-doomed-without-Ryan-Kelly theory to bed?
Maybe not yet, but consecutive road wins from the Duke Blue Devils should at least provide some psychological reprieve for the Cameron faithful.
In Wednesday's 75-50 victory over Wake Forest, Duke overcame woeful three-point shooting thanks to a career night from player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee and timely jumpers from freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and senior Seth Curry. Three days later, those shooting trends did a 180 as the Blue Devils bombed their way to an easy win in Tallahassee.
The takeaways were twofold:
1) Duke-sans-Ryan-Kelly can grind out a conference road win even when its shots aren't falling.
2) When the shots are falling for Coach K's bunch, they're still as dangerous as anyone in the country.
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Respect is a lot harder to come by for teams like Oregon. And by that I mean teams with football-school reputations and relatively little blue-chip talent.
Fact is, an 0-2 week against the likes of Stanford and Cal will do more damage to the Oregon Ducks' general standing than it would for a team like, say, Louisville. Never mind that Stanford is much better team than most folks realize, or that Oregon was without point guard Dominic Artis.
Now at 18-4, 7-2 (P12), Arsalan Kazemi and company have to face the "fraud" charge that often meets teams with modest pre-season expectations.
How they handle that charge is an issue for next week's winner/loser.
Winner: The Legend of the Oakland Zoo
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If there's a venue with a more impressive body count than Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center, I haven't seen it.
With their 65-55 victory over No. 6 Syracuse on Saturday, Jamie Dixon's Pittsburgh Panthers improved to 13-1 against top-10 visitors since "The Pete" opened in 2002. The student section deserve some of the credit for that impressive run, but so do Dixon and his players.
Without a front line NBA talent to flaunt, Pitt has been an easy program to overlook this past decade. And even now, with lottery-bound center Steven Adams in the fold, the Panthers haven't gotten anywhere near the national recognition they deserve.
That's probably because a) Pitt plays 10 guys in its rotation (meaning the media does't have a high-scoring star player to spotlight) and b) the Panthers suffered a few close losses early in Big East play (deflating their overall record).
But jump inside the tempo-free stats, and Pitt profiles like a Final Four team. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Panthers rank 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency and sixth in adjusted offense efficiency.
Bottom line: Don't sleep on Pitt. The Panthers are more than just a home-court wonder.
Winner: Madison Square Garden
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Of all the sad images associated with the impending dissolution of the Big East As We Know It, I can think of few sadder than the thought of Madison Square Garden lying fallow on what should be Big East championship week.
But there is hope.
According to a recent report, the ACC is scouting the Gotham as a potential host city for its conference tournament, with both MSG and Brooklyn's Barclay's Center in the running.
Loser: NC State
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At this point, can we be surprised by anything the NC State Wolfpack do this season?
After consecutive conference losses this week, NC State now sits at 5-4 in ACC play. And that's with wins over Duke and Carolina.
Letting a winnable game against Miami slip through its fingers was a particularly devastating blow for State, as is the continued absence of junior floor general Lorenzo Brown.
At least 5-star recruit Julius Randle enjoyed his visit to Raleigh; not that the Wolfpack are lacking in the talent department.
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Having been left for dead by many pundits after their 2-2 SEC start, John Calipari's group battled back for two tough road wins this week over Ole Miss and Texas A&M, respectively. The latter avenges an earlier loss to the Texas A&M Aggies, and the former provides the Kentucky Wildcats with a much-needed marquee win.
I was particularly impressed with UK's performance at A&M, a game that the 'Cats blew in regulation, but managed to corral again in overtime.
Calipari may not have coached this team to its athletic potential, but at least his guys are trying. Small consolation considering the perennial expectations in Lexington, I know, but something that should be acknowledged nonetheless.
Loser: Ole Miss
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While I see a way out of the woods for Oregon, I'm far less sanguine when it comes to Mississippi's prospects.
Ole Miss started the week by dropping a nationally televised home game against Kentucky that was quite possibly the most meaningful 40 minutes of basketball this program has seen 2001. It then finished with a thumping at the hands of mighty Florida. In between, the Ole Miss Rebels lost forward Aaron Jones for the year.
A bad, bad week.
Ole Miss should collect a few more wins against a weak SEC, but it'll take some convincing for me to view the Rebels as a top-20 program anytime soon. The on-court results and peripheral statistics scream "first-round exit" with this group.
Winner: Marshall Henderson
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While I acknowledge that Henderson's play was up and down this week, let's also admit that the Marshall Henderson experience was never about rote outcomes.
On that last count, the famously unhinged Ole Miss shooting guard has never had a better seven days.
He even received a twitter shout out from his idol, Jalen Rose. Not bad for a JUCO reclamation project.
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Just when you thought Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA were evolving into a late-season juggernaut, they drop consecutive Pac 12 contests to Arizona State and USC.
The latter is of particularly concern in Westwood, both for the rivalry implications and because it came at home against a markedly lesser team.
The UCLA Bruins are playing at a far faster pace than they're accustomed to under coach Ben Howland, and you have to wonder if this talented bunch will settled on its identity in time for any sort of tournament run.
Winner: Mega-Make Mike
What you're seeing above is the fourth game-winning three-pointer sunk by Florida State sniper Michael Snaer in the past two years (per collegebasketballtalk.com).
With his latest effort, Snaer lifted the Seminoles to a 4-3 ACC mark and kept FSU in the March conversation.
Much of that progress would be undone three days later when Duke gut-punched Florida State in Tallahassee—a game where Snaer was held scoreless for the first 25 minutes—but at least the man's reputation for big shots is still in tact.
Hey, it's something.
We all wanted to see how the Miami Hurricanes would respond a full week after bludgeoning Duke and bursting onto the national scene.
So, how is Miami handling its new found success?
Just fine, thank you.
The 'Canes scored road wins against Virginia Tech and North Carolina State, the latter of which came on a last-second tip-in by center Reggie Johnson. It was a season-defining play for Jim Larranaga's group; proof that they could win a tough conference roadie and perhaps a prelude to the program's first top-ten ranking since 1999.
Miami now sits at 17-3 on the year and has yet to lose in ACC play.
Loser: Our Collective Sense of Safety
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NOTE: THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL STATEMENT. IT IS MERELY RECOGNITION OF THE FACT THAT WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE COLLEGE BASKETBALL GAMES HAVE TO BE POSTPONED DUE TO POLICE MANHUNTS.
AND THAT SUCKS.
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The Louisville Cardinals came into this week riding college basketball's noisiest three-game losing streak. They left it with consecutive victories over Pitt and Marquette.
Amazing what a two-game home stand can do for a team's outlook.
Loser: The Bradley Center Bat
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According to Marquette Deputy Athletic Director Mike Broeker (via collegebasketballtalk.com), the (presumably) vicious bat that momentarily delayed a Big East contest between the Marquette Golden Eagles and Providence on January 26 has been caught and released back into the wild.
America wins again.
Winner: Trickle-Down Realignment
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Football schools may make all the headlines, but conference realignment is afoot at every tier of college athletics.
Take this latest example from the heart of Dixie, where it appears the Sun Belt Conference may try to poach Georgia State and Appalachian State from the Southern Conference.
And the wheel keeps on turnin'...
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I know we've grown accustomed to the unexpected in college basketball this season, but even by 2012-13's permissive standards, this week stood out.
Consider the top-25 carnage...
No. 1 Michigan lost to No. 3 Indiana
No. 2 Kansas lost at home to Oklahoma State
No. 6 Syracuse was upset by unranked Pittsburgh
No. 9 Butler lost handily to St. Louis
No. 10 Oregon lost twice, both to unranked teams
No. 15 Wichita State lost twice, both to unranked teams
No. 16 Ole Miss lost at home to unranked Kentucky
No. 17 Mizzou lost to an LSU team that was 1-5 in SEC play
No. 19 North Carolina State lost twice
No. 22 San Diego State lost to unranked Air Force
Good luck with those brackets...
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Best conference race in America?
How about the one shaping up in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)?
Niagara leads the way at 10-2, but Iona, Loyola (MD) and Canisius all hover perilously close at 8-4. And if Niagara's results last week are any indication, it should be one hell of a conference tourney.
The Purple Eagles—led by Anthony Mason's son, Antoine—beat Iona 93-90 in overtime on Thursday before losing to Loyola (MD) 89-97 in double overtime two days later. The latter game ended on a buzzer beater so gloriously improbable that it featured on SportsCenter's top ten.
Loser: TCU/Penn State
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With wins from Oregon State and Georgia Tech last week, TCU (Big 12) and Penn State (Big 10) are now the only two Power Six teams without a win in conference play.
But which team has been worse? Well, it depends on your criteria.
TCU, for example, plays in an easier conference and has the larger average margin of defeat (16.0 compared to 13.9). Then again, Penn State has had nine chances to get off the snide while TCU has only had eight. Plus, the TCU Horned Frogs are at a structural disadvantage since they just joined the conference this year.
And the verdict is...
I don't know. This argument is bumming me out. Next slide.
Winner: St. Louis
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You have to feel for St. Louis, a program that has dealt with the death of head coach Rick Majerus, an injury to senior guard Kwamain Mitchell and a number of close losses already this season.
Whatever happens the rest of this year, the St. Louis Billikens deserved a moment like the one they enjoyed Thursday night in their 75-58 win over ninth-ranked Butler.
That said, there's reason to think this group can do more than pull a few heart strings. After an easy Saturday victory against Dayton, St. Louis (16-5, 5-2) is now atop the A-10 standings and creeping into at-large territory.
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What once looked like a dream season for the Wyoming Cowboys gets more nightmarish by the week.
Losses to New Mexico and Colorado State extended Wyoming's losing streak to four and dropped Larry Shyatt's team to 2-6 in Mountain West play. Worse yet, it doesn't look like leading scorer Luke Martinez is returning any time soon.
That 13-0 start feels like a lifetime ago.
Winner: Big 10
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Since Michigan and Indiana both acquitted themselves well on Saturday night, I'd rather not choose winners and losers from the weekend's marquee match-up.
Instead, let's take a moment to recognize the ascent of the Big 10 and what it means for college basketball.
We've known for a while that this is the best conference in America. And we've known for a while just how good Indiana and Michigan can be when each team is on its game.
But what we didn't have before Saturday was a prime time, look-at-me showdown between the conference's best. We didn't have Dickie V and Gameday and obligatory celebrity tweeting and all the assorted fanfare that says: "THIS IS THE GAME YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING. THIS IS THE CONFERENCE THAT MATTERS"
Indiana-Michigan delivered all of that, reaffirming Midwest basketball as a scared practice and confirming its place atop the hardwood universe.
Tobacco Road, Madison Square Garden, Pauley Pavillion, Allen Fieldhouse...your move.
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We expected the Colonial Athletic Association to lose some of its luster with Virginia Commonwealth's defection to the A-10, but nothing like this.
According to the pythagorean winning percentage metric computed by Ken Pomeroy, the CAA's best team is George Mason.
How good is George Mason, you ask? Try 127th out of 347 NCAA Division I teams. And that's the best team in the CAA
To give you some context, the CAA has featured at least two top-100 teams in each of the last seven seasons. And since Pomeroy started tracking the stat in 2003, the CAA team with the best pythagorean winning percentage has never finished worse than 76th overall.
Dark days indeed for what used to be one of the nation's best mid-major conferences.
Winner: Marcus Smart
I've been waiting for the week when Marcus Smart, perhaps the most under-publicized freshman sensation in the country, finally got his due.
If this wasn't it, then I give up.
In the course of two games, the muscle-bound point guard hit a half-court shot, sank a game-winning floater against Iowa State and made a series of fantastic second-half plays to lift his Oklahoma State Cowboys over No. 2 Kansas.
It was Smart's play in the latter game that should draw national attention. Unphased by the deep blue ruckus that is Allen Fieldhouse, Smart scored 25 points and grabbed eight (eight!) offensive rebounds against the Kansas Jayhawks. During the game's waning moments, he single-handedly broke Kansas' press twice and came away with a steal to seal Oklahoma State's victory.
Now at 15-5 overall and 5-3 in Big 12 play (as well as eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com), the Cowboys are looking more and more like a team with second-weekend potential. And even that might be selling this group short.
Loser: Cheatin' Hearts
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According to a report in USA Today, one-time Detroit assistant coach Carlos Briggs is suing his former employer for defamation of character.
Briggs claims that his recent dismissal from the program came as a direct result of his willingness to speak out against, in USA Today's terms, a "culture of harassment within the athletic department," both generally and in connection to an extramarital affair between former athletic director Keri Gaither and former assistant coach Derek Thomas.
Gaither and Thomas resigned their positions at UDM on Oct. 31 of last year.
Winner: Ra'Shad James
Props to collegebasketballtalk.com for posting this dunk-tacular montage of NAIA high-flier Ra'Shad James throwing down slam after glorious slam.
Check it out!
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Last week's wins over Louisville and Syracuse must feel like a distant memory for Jay Wright's bunch. Villanova fell hard at Notre Dame on Wednesday and followed that up with a buzzer-beaten home loss against Providence.
The former put a damper on the Villanova Wildcats' momentum. The latter likely quashed their briefly rekindled tournament aspirations.
Villanova now sits at 4-5 in conference, and just 13-9 overall. Amazing to think that a program that made the Final Four just four years ago under one of America's most sought-after young coaches now appears headed toward another treadmill year in the soft middle of the once-mighty Big East.
Winner: Larry Brown
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Whatever you think of the Larry Brown experiment at Southern Methodist University, one thing is certain: The man can recruit.
Despite his program's lack of pedigree and middling results—the SMU Mustangs are 12-11 overall and 2-6 in Conference USA—Brown convinced blue-chip shooting guard recruit Keith Frazier (#22 overall, ESPN 100) to take an official visit this weekend.
Even if Frazier lands elsewhere, his interest alone explains the appeal of a coach like Larry Brown. When SMU gets positive feedback from top local players, it signals to other prospects that the Mustangs are an emerging player on the recruiting scene. None of that is possible without Brown's blend of professional connections and personal celebrity.