Winners and Losers of Week 17 in College Basketball
For those of us in the world of college basketball, there is an odd sense of disbelief that accompanies February's end.
Because to us, March has always been more euphemism than Gregorian reality—a way to map out possibilities and verbalize the idea that all this fuss is leading to something. An abstraction, really.
So how do we process the month's actual arrival?
Mostly by freaking out—mock brackets, in/out lists, hyperactive POY speculation, stress eating...all that good stuff.
Oh and the occasional Winners/Losers list.
As always, add your nominees in the comments below.
Winner: Ryan Kelly, Duke
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Coach Mike Krzyzewski called it "one of the performances of the ages."
Hyperbole? I'll let you be the judge.
In his first game back from a Jan. 8 foot injury, Duke forward Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 36 points in the Blue Devils' 79-76 win over fifth-ranked Miami Saturday night.
Despite missing almost two months of action, the 6'11" senior knocked down seven of nine three-point shots and played 32 minutes to help Duke avenge an earlier 27-point loss to the Hurricanes.
Cameron was rocking. Dick Vitale was on the mic. SportsCenter was all over the postgame hagiography.
And that Thursday loss at Virginia? Feels like a million years ago.
Loser: Jacob Neubert, Baylor
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In his four years with the program, Baylor senior Jacob Neubert has never averaged more 2.2 minutes per game. This year, the 6'5" forward had appeared in just 15 games.
Yet the ball was in his hands with the score knotted at 61 and one second remaining in Baylor's crucial home showdown against No. 13 Kansas State.
From under his own basket, Neubert attempted a full-court pass to freshman center Isaiah Austin. The pass was a hair out of Austin's reach and traveled out of bounds across the opposite baseline without ever contacting another player.
By rule, Kansas State was given the ball at the spot of Neubert's failed attempt. The Wildcats in-bounded the ball to senior guard Rodney McGruder, who promptly sank the game-winning three.
The loss drops Neubert's Bears to 8-8 in the Big 12 and severely jeopardizes their tournament chances.
For his career, Neubert now has five turnovers against one assist. And if the wound needed any more salt, we might mention that Neubert himself was born in Kansas—Manhattan, Kan., to be precise.
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Flying a bit under the radar ever since a three-game losing streak in late January, Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals have quietly won eight of their last nine to move within one game of the Big East lead. Take a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame out of the equation, and it could be nine in a row.
But whether Louisville is leading the hype parade, the Cardinals are certainly a national-title contender. Ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Cards held No. 12 Syracuse to 35.7 percent shooting at the Carrier Dome en route to a 58-53 victory.
And with the Big East title still in reach, so too is a spot on the top line.
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With its loss to Louisville on Saturday, Syracuse (22-7, 10-6) has now dropped three in a row.
The good news is that all three losses came against Top 25 foes.
The bad news is that two were at home, and 'Cuse shot a combined 35.5 percent from the field in those setbacks.
It seems whatever boost Syracuse received from the return of sixth man James Southerland has been negated by a brutal, back-loaded Big East schedule. A game at Georgetown next weekend offers the Orange a chance to right the ship.
Winner: Ben Howland, UCLA
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UCLA coach Ben Howland has faced his share of criticism this year, including a heavy dose from Bruins legend Bill Walton.
But while the skeptics were wringing their hands over UCLA's slow start, Howland was slowly building this talented, young team into a Pac-12 title contender. After a weekend sweep over the Arizona schools, the Bruins now sit tied atop the league at 12-4.
With road wins at Washington and Washington State next week, UCLA can win its first regular-season Pac-12 championship since 2008.
Loser: Ben Howland, UCLA
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We couldn't let Big Benny H off that easy, could we? While his Bruins were racking up W's on the court, Howland was busy making headlines off it.
On Friday, Howland offended teetotalers everywhere when the Daily Bruin snapped a photo of the UCLA head coach playing beer pong with a handful of co-eds camping out outside the Pauley Pavilion the night before a home game against Arizona (controversial to some, somewhat refreshing for others.
The first incident should have been a non-starter. News break: College students play beer pong. To quote Biggie, "If you don't know, now you know" (h/t LATimes.com).
But I have a small-ish problem with Howland telling the media that this will be Muhammad's final collegiate season, if only because it's Muhammad who now has to navigate the fallout.
Want to scream "I'm gonna be rich" into every live mic you see? Go ahead. Want to play coy and let the fans down easy? Great, it's your call.
But you don't need your coach calling it out, even in a situation where the outcome is pretty obvious.
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America's hottest Power Six team notched two more wins this past week, including a double-overtime thriller at Connecticut.
Georgetown's winning streak now sits at 11, with a No. 1 seed suddenly in reach for John Thompson III's team.
It's been six years since the Hoyas last won 11 straight games in conference play. In related news, it's been six years since the Hoyas last went to a Final Four.
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The inevitable is finally official.
With a loss on Saturday to Alabama State, the Grambling State Tigers finished the regular season as the only winless team in Division I college basketball.
The Tigers, who are currently serving NCAA sanctions for failing to meet minimum academic benchmarks, also rank dead last in adjusted offensive efficiency, adjusted defensive efficiency and two-point field-goal percentage according to KenPom.com.
Maryland Eastern Shore (2-23) thanks them.
Winner: Doug McDermott, Creighton
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Creighton junior Doug McDermott probably won't win either of the major National Player of the Year awards. When his Bluejays lost three straight in early February, the momentum for McDermott's candidacy all but disappeared.
So I suppose it's up to the W/L to acknowledge just how brilliant the Iowa native has been this year.
McDermott averaged 23.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, shot 56 percent from the field, 49 percent from three and posted the nation's sixth-best true shooting percentage. He did it all while taking a greater percentage of his team's shots than all but 10 other players in the country.
On Saturday, he scored 41 points on 15-of-18 shooting to give Creighton a 91-79 win over Wichita State and clinch the school's first outright regular-season league championship since 2000-01.
Loser: Anthony Bennett, UNLV
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When healthy, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett has been the best freshman in college basketball this season.
The 6'8" Ontario native is averaging over 16 points and eight rebounds a contest, and has been the focal point for the Runnin' Rebels offense ever since setting foot on campus.
But a nagging shoulder injury has limited Bennett to just 21 minutes combined in UNLV's last two games. Not only is the ailment worrisome for his team's postseason chances, but it could damage the big man's draft stock.
Analysts project (ESPN Insider) Bennett as a lottery pick in the upcoming 2013 NBA draft.
Winner: The State of Virginia
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We start with the Virginia Cavaliers, who bolstered their tournament credentials with a home win over No. 3 Duke and tickled college basketball fans everywhere with this brilliantly executed rendering of Coach K's sour face.
We then move to the VCU Rams, fresh off a 32-point beatdown of No. 20 Butler and riding high after a mid-week visit from renowned director Spike Lee. The Rams' havoc defense was in full force during the win, causing 23 Butler turnovers.
According to Ken Pomeroy, both teams rank among the nation's 20 best, meaning we could hear plenty more from Old Dominion's finest before the season is through.
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Even after losing two star players before the season started, defending Ivy League champ Harvard was well positioned to defend its conference crown. And after starting 9-1 in league play, it seemed Tommy Amaker's Crimson were well on their way to a second consecutive March Madness appearance.
That was until Harvard dropped back-to-back road games this weekend—one at Princeton, who now leads the Ivy League at 9-2, and another at Penn, who is just 8-20 this season.
Harvard is now a game behind Princeton in the loss column, and since the Ivy awards its automatic bid to the regular-season champion, Harvard has to win its final two and hope the Tigers lose one of their final three in order to force a one-game playoff.
Winner: Michigan Basketball
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If it wasn't the game of the year in Division I college basketball, it was at least top five.
Michigan and Michigan State went nose-to-nose Sunday in a tense game that was decided by two late steals from POY candidate Trey Burke.
For Michigan, the win avenged an earlier loss to the Spartans in East Lansing. For Michigan State, the defeat capped a rare three-game losing streak.
For the Mitten State writ large, the contest marked a rare period of overlap between two proud programs that have more often traded turns at center stage than traded jabs.
Michigan State was down during Michigan's run to the national championship under Johnny Orr. Michigan was down when Magic Johnson took Sparty to the promised land.
Michigan State hadn't yet taken off when the Fab Five were running roughshod over college basketball. And when the Spartans finally did under Tom Izzo and Mateen Cleaves, Michigan was back in the doldrums.
Now, finally the two are jousting for position in the Big Ten, and the results are spectacular.
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Gonzaga: The 'Zags finished their regular season with victories over BYU and Portland. At 29-2, Mark Few's squad looks to be in line for its first ever No. 1 ranking.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers scored a monster home win over Indiana and backed it up with a blowout victory over Penn State. Tubby Smith's team should be tourney-bound, assuming it takes care of business against Purdue and Nebraska to end the season.
Towson: One year after going 1-31, Towson finished second in the CAA with an overall record of 18-13. According to College Basketball Talk, the 17.5-game turnaround is the largest single-season win improvement in NCAA history.
California: The Pac-12's hottest team extended its winning streak to seven with easy home wins over Utah and Colorado.
Penn State: The nation's last Power Six team without a conference win broke through in style with an upset win over No. 4 Michigan in State College (before their blowout loss to Minnesota).
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John Brown, High Point: One of the nation's best freshmen, Brown suffered a season-ending injury in High Point's Wednesday loss to Radford.
D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's: The Johnnies' leading scorer was suspended for the remainder of the season. Coach Steve Lavin did not elaborate on the reason for Harrison's departure.
St. Mary's: Long one of the country's model mid-majors and a pioneer in international recruiting, St. Mary's was slapped with NCAA sanctions after an investigation into recruiting violations by coach Randy Bennett and his staff.
Adidas: Adidas recently released a new line of college basketball uniforms that I can only assume were inspired by the fever dreams of retired military personnel. They are hideous.
Brandon Johnson, San Diego: The former San Diego star was sentenced to six months behind bars due to his involvement in a game-fixing scandal.
Arizona: The Wildcats' trip to L.A. resulted in losses at USC and UCLA. Sean Miller's team has now fallen to fourth place in the Pac-12.
Ole Miss: Once 17-2, Ole Miss (21-8, 10-6) hit rock bottom this week with a loss to cross-state rival Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had been 2-13 in SEC play prior to the win.
Villanova: Jay Wright's team suffered two close road losses. The first came against Big East bottom-feeder Seton Hall, the second against Pittsburgh in a game where the Wildcats held a late eight-point lead. The nation's ultimate up-and-down team in a season of ups and downs, Villanova now appears to be in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.