What we learned this week
Big XII: Kansas knocked off Kansas State in dramatic fashion on Saturday night, giving them a two game lead in the Big XII standings and setting the Jayhawks apart as the clear favorite to win the conference's regular season title. What's unclear is how the Big XII is going to shake out behind them. Consensus seems to be that Texas is the second best team, but the Longhorns were beaten by both Baylor and Kansas State.
Baylor has looked like they could possibly slide into that second spot, beating Texas on Saturday and dropping nail-biters to Kansas and Kansas State, but the Bears also have a loss to Colorado this season. After watching K-State beat Texas at home, Baylor on the road, and take the Jayhawks to overtime, an argument could be made for the Wildcats as the second best team, but they have lost games to OK State and Missouri as well.
Speaking of OK State and Mizzou, the Tigers drubbed the Cowboys despite 31 points from James Anderson while forcing 24 turnovers and hitting 17 threes. But the game was played in Columbia, MO, where the Tigers are as good as anyone in the country. Once they collect a more impressive road win than Texas Tech in the league, I think we can start to consider them a real contender. They probably won't get that chance until Feb. 13th at Baylor.
Big Ten: Michigan State knocked off Northwestern, improving to 9-0 in the Big Ten and taking a three game lead with just nine games left in league play. The loss drops Northwestern to 3-6 in the Big Ten, good for ninth place in the league. But keep in mind, only one of the Wildcat's six league losses has come to a team outside of the top five (at Minnesota), and they also have beaten Purdue and Illinois. In their last nine games, only one comes against a top five team (Wisconsin). Don't count the Wildcats out of the dance just yet.
It may be time to count out Minnesota, however. The Gophers were drubbed at Ohio State, dropping them to 4-5 in the league, and are currently playing without three guys expected to provide big minutes - Al Nolen, Royce White, and Trevor Mbakwe.
Like the Big XII, the excitement in the Big Ten is going to come from the race for second place, where there is currently a four-way tie at 6-3 between Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Illinois, who survived Indiana at home with a Demetri McCamey buzzer beater, has the toughest schedule down the stretch, as they get Ohio State and Wisconsin twice, have to go to Purdue, and get Michigan State at home. The Illini will have their work cut out for them if they want to get to second place, but the bright side is that it will give them plenty of opportunities to boost their tournament profile. Ohio State probably has the easiest road, as they only play Illinois twice, get Purdue at home, and head to East Lansing while also playing Penn State twice and Iowa once.
ACC: The ACC is a full-blown disaster right now. No team has fewer than two losses. UNC is 2-4 in league play. Duke, who sits atop the league at 5-2, just got drilled by Georgetown on Saturday, only two weeks after they were embarrassed by NC State on the road. The two teams in second place at Maryland and Virginia. Virginia smacked UNC in Chapel Hill on Sunday night while Maryland, who had been playing as well as any team on the east coast, committed 26 turnovers and gave up 20 offensive rebounds in a loss at Clemson.
Clemson may actually be a team that belongs in the conversation for the ACC title, but they have been playing without the services of Demontez Stitt, their starting point guard, and have suffered, losing three straight before rebounding to beat Maryland. The same could be said for Georgia Tech, who's frontline (Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal, Zach Peacock) is as scary as any in the country. But that is contingent on the ability of Iman Shumpert to develop a modicum of consistency. Tech also needs to pick up a win on the road. Beating UNC in Chapel Hill isn't that impressive right now.
Could the answer be Wake or Florida State? The Seminoles went into BC and picked up a win on Saturday, something that Clemson wasn't able to do on Tuesday. Wake, on the other hand, was drilled by Duke and Georgia Tech on the road and lost to Miami in Miami. Like I said with Tech, beating UNC on the road isn't that impressive. Win a league game away from home, and you can become a contender.
Big East: West Virginia and Syracuse both picked up comeback wins on Saturday, as the Mountaineers beat Louisville and the Orange knocked off DePaul despite trailing by 18 points. The Cuse are still half a game back of Villanova in the Big East standings, but the Wildcats will have a treacherous month of February, as they travel to Pitt, Georgetown, Syracuse, and West Virginia this month.
Pitt has seemingly come back down to earth after a phenomenal start to the Big East season. On Sunday, they lost to South Florida on the road, the third time in four games they've lost. They Panthers have a tough couple of weeks, playing West Virginia twice before heading to Marquette and hosting Villanova, but they end with four games against the bottom of the league. Given what they have already done in conference, the Panthers should be able to earn a bid as long as they don't collapse down the stretch and beat the teams they are supposed to beat. That said, winning a game or two against Villanova and West Virginia could really help where the Panthers end up being seeded.
Georgetown embarrassed Duke on Saturday, and as good as the looked, keep in mind that they made Syracuse look just as good in blowing a 14-0 lead on Monday night. The Hoyas aren't as good as they were on Saturday, but they sure aren't as bad as they were on Monday night.
Louisville, UConn, and Marquette are all in a bit of the same situation. None of the three has an impressive record, and none of the three has won many impressive games. That said, all three teams have a number of very close losses. Louisville has had the worst luck of late, blowing a 10 point lead before getting jobbed by the refs on Saturday, just a week after tough calls helped decide games against Seton Hall and Pitt. Marquette's win over UConn on Saturday was as important as any outcome over the weekend. Marquette has been the biggest hard luck loser of the year. Of their eight losses, five are by one or two points, and only one is by more than five, a nine point losses at Wisconsin. At some point, it has to be about confidence for this team, and beating UConn is a close game (especially after the Huskies came back from down 10, taking the lead on a late three) has to be a confidence booster.
One last Big East note - I've been saying all season watch out for South Florida and Dominique Jones. Over his last three games, Jones is averaging 37.0 ppg in three Bulls wins, including a 37 point performance in a win over Pitt. USF plays their next three on the road, starting with Georgetown on Wednesday, and I doubt anyone wants to play this team right now.
SEC: Kentucky reasserted their dominance on Saturday with a beat down of Vanderbilt, putting the Wildcats and the Commodores in a tie for first place in the SEC East. As much publicity as John Wall has gotten all season, the best player for the Wildcats right now is DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is unstoppable in the paint, and as long as UK is able to get him touches early and often, the Wildcats are going to win a lot of games.
Vanderbilt shouldn't hang their heads, however. This is a good basketball team that had just knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville (they are the only team all season to have to travel to Knoxville and Lexington back to back) and ran into Kentucky at the worst possible time.
Tennessee bounced back in a big way with a nice win over Florida at home. The Vols had lost two straight, and needed to pick up this win in order to stay within a game of first place in the league. Scotty Hopson is developing into one heckuva player for Bruce Pearl. Florida, on the other hand, looked very good again. Prior to this game, they had won four straight. Keep in mind during the tournament, there may be no one int he country that hits more big shots than Chandler Parsons. He tied the game with a minute left with a bucket, then after two free throws gave Florida the lead again with a three with 30 seconds left. Speaking of clutch, Devan Downey hit a layup with 50 seconds left to cap a comeback win over Georgia for South Carolina. He finished with 33 points, including 12 of the final 24 for the Gamecocks. More on him later.
Just like with South Florida, I've been saying all season that Arkansas is going to be a pain for teams in the SEC. They proved it this week, as they knocked off both Ole Miss on Saturday and Mississippi State on Tuesday. Few will forget Courtney Fortson's 33 point second half on Tuesday against Ole Miss. All of a sudden, the Razorbacks are 3-3 in the SEC.
Pac-10: Don't look now, but Sean Miller's Wildcats are maturing all of a sudden. They've won four straight games, including a 76-72 win over Cal on Sunday to give the Wildcats a share of first place in the Pac-10. Zona is almost assuredly going to need to win the Pac-10 tourney to keep their streak of trips to the NCAA's alive, but is that really all that far-fetched? Nic Wise has been Devan Downey east, as he scored 30 including the final four points against Cal to clinch the win. Zona goes to Washington and Washington State next.
Cal, despite the loss to Arizona, still may be in line to earn an at-large bid if they can play their way to 13-5 or 14-4 in the league. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and did so playing without two key contributors, one of whom is back - Theo Robertson, who scored 27 points against Arizona.
Arizona State, who beat Stanford on Saturday to snap a two game losing skid, and UCLA, who lost as Oregon in OT before beating Oregon State on Saturday, are both a game back in the league standings.
- Charlotte's win over Temple on Wednesday set up a logjam atop the A-10 standings. Xavier is in first at 7-1, while Temple and Charlotte are sitting at 6-1 with Richmond and Rhode Island a game back and Dayton only two behind.
- C-USA looks like it is going to be a three-team race between UAB, UTEP, and Tulsa, all of whom at 6-1 in the league. Memphis lost to SMU on Saturday, dropping them to 5-2 in the league. UTEP beat UAB in 2OT on Saturday as well in a huge game that kept the C-USA race tight.
- Gonzaga lost an overtime matchup with lowly San Francisco on Saturday night, which dropped the Zags into a first place tie with St. Mary's. The Zags have a tough stretch coming up, playing Portland at home before flying to Memphis to take on the Tigers. They then come back for their second matchup with St. Mary's, which will be an enormous game. Not only may it decide the WCC champ, but it could determine whether or not St. Mary's makes the dance with an at-large bid.
- BYU, New Mexico, and San Diego State all won this weekend, while UNLV doesn't play until Wednesday. The Cougars still hold half game lead over UNM, a full game of UNLV, and two games over SDSU. That said, there is still a lot of movement to be made in the MWC, as we are about to start the second time through the league.
- George Mason's win at James Madison, coupled with Northeastern's win over Old Dominion on Saturday, means that the Patriots are now in sole possession of first in the CAA. Northeastern and ODU are just a game back.
- Northern Iowa hung on to beat Missouri State on the road on Saturday, keeping them two games ahead in the MVC race. Their only league loss came to Wichita State, who they get at home on Wednesday.
- Louisiana Tech lost to New Mexico State, setting up a three-way tie atop the WAC between LT, NMSU, and Utah State. Nevada is just a game out of first place as well.
- Cornell smacked Harvard by 36 points. I think its safe to say the Big Red are the favorites in the Ivy.
CO-GAMES OF THE WEEK: Tennessee 61, Florida 60; Kansas 81, Kansas State 79 OT
Tennessee ending Florida's four game winning streak was a wildly entertaining game, no doubt about it. But there were plenty of wildly entertaining games this week. Why the love?
Two words: Gus. Johnson. Just listen:
Kansas beat Kansas State in one of the best games I have seen in a long time. I doubt that any team in the country will be faced with a tougher place to play on the road than what Kansas had to deal with in beating the Wildcats. I don't even know where to start talking about it. So many big shots were hit, so many greats plays were made, but the one thing that stands out in my mind is the play of Sherron Collins. Collins was dealing with back spasms all night long, even having to be helped off the floor late in regulation when his back locked up. And while he managed just a pedestrian (for him) 16 points and 4 assists, the number of big shots he hit was mind-boggling. None was bigger, however, than the driving layup he hit with 13 seconds left on the clock in overtime, drawing the foul as well. That bucket opened up a 79-76 lead, and after Kansas rebounded his missed free throw, the game was all but wrapped up.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Devan Downey, South Carolina
I feel like I shouldn't have to explain to you why Downey gets the nod as the player of the week. His performance on Tuesday alone probably would have been good enough. For those that don't remember that far back, Downey went for 30 against then No. 1 Kentucky, hitting a number of tough, clutch buckets down the stretch as the Gamecocks landed a memorable upset of the Wildcats.
But that wasn't all Downey did this week. On Saturday afternoon, the diminutive point guard scored a cool 33 points as South Carolina came from behind to beat Georgia at home. Down 63-54 with 9:32 left on the clock, Downey would score 12 of South Carolina's final 24 points (and nine of the last 11), including a layup with 50 seconds left that gave the Gamecocks a 78-77 lead and the win.
All told, in the two game last week, Downey averaged 31.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 spg, and had just three turnovers in 74 minutes. But to be fair, that shouldn't be considered all that impressive. Why? Because in seven SEC games, Downey is averaging 31.6 ppg, 2.8 apg, and 3.2 spg. Now that is impressive.
They were good too:
- Dominique Jones, South Florida: Believe it or not, the Bulls are on a three game winning streak in the Big East, and Jones in the biggest reason why. USF knocked off Seton Hall and Pitt this week, and in the two games Jones avraged 32.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 3.0 apg. He may have take POY honors if his 46 points, 10 rebound, 8 assist performance against Providence counted towards this week.
- Derrio Green, Charlotte: Green was monumental in a potential season-defining week for the 49ers. He scored 26 points to lead a comeback win over Temple on Wednesday, before going for 34 as Charlotte took out UMass on the road on Saturday.
- Jimmer Fredette, BYU: The Cougars may have only gone 1-1 this week, but Fredette was beyond fantastic. He had 27 points and 7 assists in a close loss at New Mexico before pouring in 36 points in a win over rival Utah.
- Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia: Butler averaged just 20.5 ppg for the week, but it was his 27-point performance, including the eventual game-winning jumper, against Louisville on Saturday that got him the recognition.
- Quincy Pondexter, Washington: In two games this week, both wins, Pondexter averaged 28.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg, and shot 19-29 from the floor.
- Vlad Moldoveanu, American: I'll throw some love to the Patriot League. American has won seven games this year, but they are currently on a three game winning streak. Last week, Moldoveanue averaged 29.0 ppg and 7.5 rpg, including a 37 point, 9 board performance in a win over Navy.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Charlotte 49ers
The 49ers threw themselves, and everyone else in the A-10, a bone when they took down Temple on Wednesday night. It was an impressive win for Charlotte, as they trailed for most of the game before putting together a late 13-2 run to gain the lead. As we mentioned above, Derrio Green scored 26 points in the win.
(photo credit: Charlotte Observer)
Charlotte would also go on to beat UMass on the road on Saturday afternoon, setting up a logjam at the top of the league. Xavier is sitting as 7-1 with Charlotte and Temple right behind them at 6-1. Richmond and Rhode Island are both a game behind that at 5-2, while Dayton is still in the mix at 4-3. If Charlotte proved anything against Temple, its that they are without a doubt a player in this league race.
They were good too
- Kansas: The Jayhawks knocked off Missouri at home before going into Manhattan and picking up a win against a tough Kansas State team. Combine that with a Texas loss to Baylor, and the Jayhawks are sitting pretty with a two-game lead in the Big XII.
- Rhode Island: Rhody beat Dayton before picking up a nice win over GW to remain in the hunt for the A-10 crown.
- New Mexico: The Lobos stayed within a game of first place in the MWC by knocking off BYU and ending their 15 games winning streak. UNM kept the momentum going by beating TCU on Saturday.
- South Florida: Three wins for the Bulls? They knocked off Seton Hall in OT and Pitt at home this week.
- Arizona: We mentioned it earleir, but the Wildcats are now 6-3 and in first place in the Pac-10 as they have now won four straight, including a blowout of Stanford and a thrilling win over Cal this week.
- Arkansas: The Razorbacks knocked off the two favorites in the SEC West with wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
- UTEP: How about the Miners. After beating Tulane on Wednesday, UTEP picked up a huge 2OT win over UAB on the strength of 20 points and 13 boards from Derrick Caracter.
MATCHUPS OF THE WEEK
- 2/2 - 7:00 pm: Ole Miss @ Kentucky
- 2/2 - 9:00 pm: Michigan State @ Wisconsin
- 2/3 - 7:00 pm: Pitt @ West Virginia
- 2/3 - 7:00 pm: William & Mary @ ODU
- 2/3 - 8:00 pm: Memphis @ UAB
- 2/3 - 8:00 pm: Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt
- 2/3 - 8:05 pm: Wichita State @ Northern Iowa
- 2/4 - 7:00 pm: Georgia Tech @ Duke
- 2/4 - 9:00 pm: Maryland @ Florida State
- 2/4 - 11:00 pm: Portland @ Gonzaga
- 2/6 - 12:00 pm: Villanova @ Georgetown
- 2/6 - 12:00 pm: Xavier @ Dayton
- 2/6 - 1:30 pm: Mississippi State @ Florida
- 2/6 - 2:00 pm: Temple @ Richmond
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: Wisconsin @ Michigan
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: Texas @ Oklahoma
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: Gonzaga @ Memphis
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: Texas A&M @ Baylor
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: Clemson @ Virginia Tech
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: BYU @ UNLV
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: ODU @ VCU
- 2/6 - 4:00 pm: Cal @ UCLA
- 2/6 - 6:00 pm: SDSU @ New Mexico
- 2/6 - 9:00 pm: Michigan State @ Illinois
- 2/6 - 10:00 pm: UTEP @ Tulsa