Winners and Losers of Week 15 in College Basketball
I introduced Week 14's W/L with a brief aside on college basketball's seemingly endemic volatility, claiming in the process that Week 14 had somehow been more chaotic and surprising than any of the other weeks in this topsy-turvy season.
Then Week 15 came along and kicked my...
Well, you know what happened.
No. 1 lost.
No. 2 lost.
No. 3 lost.
No. 5 lost twice.
And I'm sitting here thinking it can't get any crazier than this. If only Week 16 knew.
A month ago, the peripherals said Pittsburgh was a dangerous 12-3 team hamstrung by a few close losses. Indeed, the peripherals are wise.
After a road win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Jamie Dixon's Panthers have won seven of eight and, at 20-5, 8-4, are in sniffing distance of the Big East lead.
Pitt's top scorers in each of those seven wins:
62-52 (Cincinnati)—Tray Woodall, 14
56-46 (Seton Hall)—Lamar Patterson, 12
65-55 (Syracuse)—Woodall, 13
93-55 (DePaul)—Trey Zeigler, 18
68-64 (Providence)—Lamar Patterson, 17
69-61 (Connecticut)—Patterson, 14
58-43 (Villanova)—Durand Johnson/Zeigler, 13
That's seven conference wins with four different leading scorers and no player registering more than 18 in a single game. The beauty of balance, folks.
Loser: The End of the ASU-Stanford Game
If you caught the end of Stanford's victory over Arizona State on ESPNU, God bless.
If you didn't, allow me to give you a rundown of the lowlights:
—With 31 seconds remaining and his team down four, Arizona State's Evan Gordon air-balls a wide-open corner three.
—With 18 seconds left and the Sun Devils down by six, Gordon bricks another three. This time his teammate, Jonathan Gilling, gathers the rebound, takes about five steps without a dribble and sinks a three to cut the deficit in half.
—Stanford inbounds into a sideline trap. Instead of calling for time, guard Chasson Randle holds the ball aloft. Arizona State's Chris Colvin places his hand atop the ball. Jump ball. The possession arrow points to Arizona State.
—The Sun Devils miss a jump shot and the ensuing scrum results in another jump ball with 0.7 seconds left. Stanford ball underneath its own basket. All the Cardinals have to do is throw the ball inbounds and the game is over.
—On the inbound pass, Stanford junior Dwight Powell inexplicably attempts to launch a full-court pass, baseball style. The ball strikes the scoreboard. Arizona State gets the ball at the spot of the attempted inbound. Sun Devils down three, 0.7 seconds left.
—ASU super-frosh Jahii Carson throws the inbound pass directly to a Stanford player. Game over. Everyone loses.
Winner: Marcus Lewis
Deadspin caught this video of Eastern Kentucky's Marcus Lewis throwing down a magnificent one-handed 'oop against Southeastern Missouri State.
There's no audio, but I imagine the announcer's reaction was something like:
"Eastern Kentucky to inbound the ball. Here's the lob to Lewis..."
*EYES FALL LIKE SLINKIES OUT OF SOCKETS*
*JAW REQUESTS LEGAL AUTONOMY FROM REST OF FACE, STARTS SEPARATE LIFE AS FIRE-JUGGLING STREET PERFORMER*
Followed by an extended silence.
Three days later, Lewis was on the rim-rocking end of yet another spectacular dunk sequence. This time, his finish was only so-so. But the pass that set up his slam was, well, just watch.
Texas Christian University was 0-8 all-time in Big 12 play before beating No. 5 Kansas on February 6.
There is no sane analysis that can explain how the Horned Frogs managed the upset. There is, however, some semblance of logic behind the Jayhawks' current three-game losing streak.
In consecutive losses to Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma, Kansas guards Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe have combined for 14 turnovers against just 21 assists (and 10 of those assists came against OK State).
As good as freshman Ben McLemore has been, he doesn't create for himself—at least not yet. Kansas needs an answer at point guard to get the rest of its roster involved.
Winner: Ben Brust
If Michigan goes on to beat Wisconsin in overtime on Saturday, probably no one outside of Ben Brust's nuclear family ever mentions his game-tying, one-handed half-court heave ever again.
Instead, Wisconsin nips the third-ranked Wolverines in overtime—thanks in large part to another Brust three-pointer—and the junior guard will be talking about that shot with complete strangers on a regular basis for eternity.
Ain't life funny?
ESPN's Andy Katz wrote a postgame column on the inbound pass by Badger forward Mike Bruesewitz that made Brust's shot possible.
If you'll notice on the tape, Bruesewitz's initial thought was to give the ball to Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson. He even pumps in that direction before realizing Michigan's Glenn Robinson III has Jackson pinned to the sideline.
The momentum from the fake begins to carry Bruesewitz over the out-of-bounds line. At the last possible moment, he spots a streaking Brust at midcourt and hits him in stride.
If Brust doesn't come free at that very moment, we're probably talking about the red-headed Wisconsin goon that fell over himself with the the game on the line.
Yeah, life is pretty funny.
Loser: Reginald Buckner
Ole Miss forward Reginald Buckner punched Missouri forward Laurence Bowers in the face during the second half of Mizzou's 98-79 win on Saturday.
Or was it more a light jab?
And was it intentional?
Didn't it seem more like bad timing than anything, with Bowers being shoved toward Buckner right as the latter had extended his arm?
Like a dog chasing its tail, we inevitably ask these kinds of circumstantial questions after an incident like this. As if pinpointing the nature and moment of intent will lead us to some grand revelation about the character of the man implicated.
But it won't. These things happen fast and without thought. Whether or not Buckner meant to punch Bowers says nothing about either man.
The moment of choice—of conscience, if you will—is when Buckner topples to the floor and pops back up looking for a quarrel. That's when he's made his decision. If you want to take him to task for something, it should be that.
In which case, Bowers—who decided to engage him—is equally culpable. Either could have thrown the punch, but both chose to stoke the fire.
Winner: Nerlens Noel
Not to be outdone by LeBron James' 11-shot, 30-point performance against the Clippers on Friday night, Kentucky freshman sensation Nerlens Noel scored 10 points against Auburn on Saturday on exactly two shots from the field.
Noel was 8-of-13 from the line and added 12 rebounds, four of them offensive. For the year, Noel has registered at least twice as many points as field goals on seven occasions.
Now, Noel didn't attempt a three in any of those games. Nor did he attempt more than five shots or score more than 10 points. But the kid is, after all, just a freshman. Consider the break granted.
Out of nerdy curiosity, I ran a college-basketball-reference-season-index search on the most points scored in a single season by a player who attempted less than 250 shots.
Milwaukee center Chad Angeli, who scored 483 points on 243 field-goal attempts in the 1999-00 season.
On the season, Noel has 243 points on 161 attempts. Noel would need to up his FGA-to-point ratio by a factor of about 1.3 to match Angeli's pace.
After consecutive losses this week—including a head-scratcher at home to Illinois State—Creighton is in danger of exiting the top 25 for the first time this season.
But what about the NCAA tournament? Are the Bluejays a lock for March Madness?
According to the most recent RPI rankings, Creighton sits just 44th overall. And that's without accounting for the loss to Illinois State (112 RPI). Nonconference wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State and Cal all look nice, but none of those teams are in the RPI Top 30.
Creighton already has four losses in conference. If it finishes 12-6 or 11-7 in the MVC and fails to win the league tourney, the Bluejays could find themselves on the bubble.
And as for Doug McDermott's POY candidacy, I'm not sure he didn't lose the Naismith already with his eight-point clunker against Indiana State on Wednesday.
Team and player both need strong finishes to keep the goal of postseason glory alive. A bracket-buster showdown with St. Mary's on February 23 looks bigger than ever.
Winner: Garrick Sherman
Painful as it was to hear Dick Vitale punctuate each and every one of his baskets with infomercial-style hyperbole, Notre Dame reserve forward Garrick Sherman played a heck of game on Saturday against Louisville.
Sherman scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds after regulation in Notre Dame's five-overtime win over 11th-ranked Louisville. Prior to Saturday's game, Sherman had logged 59 minutes in Big East play.
Oh, and Fighting Irish junior guard Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the final 44 seconds of the second half to force the first overtime. That feat later became the world's most jaw-dropping afterthought.
Loser: The Cameron Crazies
During Thursday's Duke-NC State game, the Blue Devils student section needled NC State freshman point guard Tyler Lewis. As expected. What exactly the Cameron Crazies said, however, has become fodder for a small-scale controversy.
According to some observers, certain students chanted "How's your grandma?" in reference to Lewis' recently deceased grandmother. Others claim the chant was "Past your bedtime," a benign allusion to Lewis' lack of experience and boyish looks (h/t CollegeBasketballTalk.com).
Since we'll probably never know who said what in a crowded room of 9,000-plus, let's settle on this: If you're representing your university at a college basketball game, try not to be an insensitive prick. OK?
Winner: Murray State
Between Murray State and Belmont, the Ohio Valley Conference boasts two teams capable of causing major March disruption. But with neither expected to earn an at-large bid, the race for the conference crown has taken on a taut tone.
Belmont seemed the likely victor heading into this week, but Murray State's 79-74 win over the Bruins on Thursday reopens the debate. Thanks to a tie-breaking three-pointer with 35 seconds left by senior standout Isaiah Canaan, the Racers will have momentum—and a 1-0 season series lead—heading into the conference tourney.
The computers still love Billy Donvan's Florida team, but national respect will be a lot harder to come by after the Gators' 80-69 loss at Arkansas on Tuesday.
That's life in the SEC, where a dearth of quality opponents leaves top teams trapped in all-risk-no-reward schedules. Chances are, we'll still be talking about Florida's big-game bona fides all the way up until March—no matter how the rest of the regular season plays out.
Worse yet for the Gators, reserve forward Will Yeguete is out until at least the postseason after suffering a knee injury.
James Southerland is back! James Southerland is back! (per the Associated Press)
Oh, and Syracuse cruised to home wins over Notre Dame and St. John's.
With that, Jim Boeheim's Orangemen are 20-3 and tied with Marquette atop the Big East standings. Perhaps even more important, 'Cuse feels like a national title contender again with Southerland back in the fold.
Loser: Penn State
Last week, I noted that Penn State and TCU were the only two Power Six teams in America without a conference win.
Well, we know what happened with the Horned Frogs (whomp...Kansas...whomp).
No such miracle for the Nittany Lions, who fell to 0-11 in Big Ten play and, with no games left against 11th-place Nebraska, are at legitimate risk of going oh for the conference.
If it makes Happy Valley any happier, Duquesne (A-10), South Carolina State (MEAC) and Grambling State (SWAC) are also without league wins.
With 3:01 remaining in its Thursday night clash with top-ranked Indiana, Illinois trailed 70-62. By KenPom.com's best estimate, the Illini had a 1.1 percent chance of victory.
Their season since then is impossible to explain.
Not only did Illinois storm back to top the Hoosiers, it doubled up three nights later with a 57-53 road win over 18th-ranked Minnesota. And John Groce's team is still just 4-7 in conference play.
The Illini now boast one of the most schizophrenic resumes in the country, with wins over Butler, Indiana, Gonzaga and Ohio State right alongside losses to Purdue and Northwestern. How the heck do we make sense of that?
Ladies and gentleman, your 2012-13 college basketball season in a bright orange nutshell.