Villanova 82, West Virginia 75: Neither of the leadoff games of the Worldwide Leader’s “Rivalry Week” really lived up to their billing. The Wildcats shot better than WVU across the board, shooting 56% from the field and 86 % from the line, improving to 10-1 in Big East play and 21-2 overall. Scottie Reynolds once again was quiet in the opening stanza, yet scored 19 of his team-high 21 in the second half. Corey Fisher chipped in with 17, while Darryl “Truck” Bryant paced the Mountaineers with 15.
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Kansas 80, Texas 68: Tejas looks positively putrid right now. They look nothing like the team that was number one in the country three weeks ago. Cole Aldrich got the best of the Battle of the Bulge inside, out dueling Dexter Pittman with 7 points and 6 blocks. Marcus Morris came back from a dislocated finger to lead Rock Chalk with 18. Another freshman guard, J’Covan Brown, led the Longhorns with 26 of his 28 coming in the second half. Daimon James put up his standard double-double with 24 and 10, but it wasn’t enough for the free-falling Texas club. Kansas doesn’t look quite as spectacular as Kentucky does, but they just consistently don’t make mistakes, nor do they beat themselves.
Purdue 76, Michigan St. 64: One single ankle injury has turned what was a 3 game lead for MSU into a 5 team race for the Big 10 regular season championship. Purdue took advantage of Michigan State’s normally tight defense to shoot 65 % from the field in the first half and fought off a late Spartan surge to get the win. E’twaun Moore has inspired me in terms of naming my first-born son one day because his game is as ridiculous as his name. He's also the most underrated player in the Big 10. He led the Boilers with 25 points and 6 assists, while Jajuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel added 19 and 15. These three scored 78 % of the points for Purdue.
Chris Allen had 21 for Sparty, as they were out shot, out rebounded, and generally just did not come ready to play, even though Lucas gamely made a go of it, playing about 30 minutes. If he doesn’t get back to normal, and if Izzo’s squad doesn’t get back to its trademarks of lock-down D and killing people on the boards, Michigan St. has no chance of making a repeat Final Four appearance.
(photo courtesy of MSNsports.net)Friday:
Pitt 98, WVU 95 ( 3 O.T.): Langston and I both start out 0-1 in our college basketball picks, as the Panthers improbably won this game. I don’t even know where to begin, as this was unexpectedly the best game of the season so far. Pitt got killed on the boards throughout most of the contest, shot only 34% from three, was undersized and outplayed in the majority of the game, had three of its top seven players foul out by the third overtime, and still came away with the win.
The thing that bothers me about West Virginia, and the reason they lost, is that Pitt just wanted it more, plain and simple. The Mountaineers are still a potential Final Four team, but just because you’re more athletic and have more size than someone doesn’t mean you can coast when you are up 5 with less than a minute to play.
Pitt beat them basically playing 4 guards the whole second half, while WVU's squad kept throwing up threes instead of pounding the ball inside. I still maintain that although his stats are impressive, Bob Huggins is one of the most overrated coaches in college basketball. For him to not get his team to play tougher D and take advantage of the mismatches they had is inexplicable.
Now let me get off my Jay Bilas horse and commend Pittsburgh. Brandon Wanamaker led the way with 24 points and 10 assists, along with numerous big shots and gutsy plays to keep the Panthers in it. Ashton Gibbs also had 24 on six 3’s. Deshaun Butler carried DubV with 32 and 11 rebounds. I thought Pitt was a year and one dominant post player away from being really good again, but I stand corrected. They’re pretty effing good right now, and now move into a three way tie with Georgetown and WVU for 3rd place in the Big East.
Around the “Power” 6
Right now, it’s the Blue Devils’ race to lose, with Wake Forest and Virginia Tech in second and third. Preseason top 25’s UNC, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Florida St. have all faded and are lurking on the bubble.
Ascending: I’m trying my hardest each week to not give the nod to Duke unless I absolutely have to. They struggled slightly with a bad Carolina team, so I’m going to go with Wake Forest. Now ranked for the first time all season, and with three starters back from last year’s team, they seem to be hitting their stride, getting a chance to prove it further in Blacksburg on Tuesday night.
Descending: Georgia Tech has a young team loaded with talent, but they’ve dropped to under .500 in league play, falling to 5-6 and an unimpressive 17-8 overall. As I stated when I watched them play Duke, Paul Hewitt needs to implore his guards to get the ball inside to Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. Otherwise, they’ll be NIT bound.
Player of the Week: Al-Farouq Aminu could have very well been a lottery pick if he joined Jeff Teague and James Johnson’s exodus to the NBA. He smartly came back and has been a double-double machine for the Deacs. For the week, Aminu averaged 20.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks.
Games of the Week: All eyes will be on the Virginia Tech Hokies this week, as they face tests with Wake on Tuesday at home and then travel to Durham on Sunday night with a showdown against Duke.
Villanova went up a half game on Syracuse, with their showdown coming up on college gameday in two weeks. Pitt also had an outstanding week, beating West Virginia on Friday night as they try and break into the top 4, trying to earn a double bye during the Big East tourney. On the lower end of the standings, Seton Hall and St. John’s kept their slim tourney chances alive with two wins apiece.
Ascending: St John’s murdered a Louisville team that ended up closing the week beating Syracuse at home and then took care of Notre Dame on the road Sunday night. This is a pretty decent team, and an example of a team that just gets destroyed by having to play in the preeminent conference in the country. They hung with a solid Duke team earlier in the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go on a run and play themselves into serious tourney discussion.
Descending: West Virginia and UCONN split the vote here, as they both went 0-2 for the week. WVU lost to two top 25 teams, but they’re disappointing because they could have won both if not for stupid mistakes and sloppy play. Meanwhile, in Storrs, Coach Jim Calhoun came back, but the Huskies, with a roster of probably 3, and maybe 4 potential pros still can’t get right. Losing to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome is one thing, but losing at home to an erratic Cincy squad, only putting up 48 points in the process, puts the Huskies as the second most disappointing team in the country outside of that Chapel Hill place where the team used to be good.
Player of the Week: Brad Wanamaker was a decent reserve for the Dejuan Blair-Sam Young led teams the last couple of years, but this year the junior guard has stepped to the forefront and to quote Clark Kellogg, “brings a lot of things in his bookbag.” He can board, pass, and score, averaging 18 points, 7.5 boards, and 7 assists in two games.
Games of the Week: Syracuse at Georgetown will be a classic, both because of the rivalry and because they’re both in the top 10. If Luke Harangody can play in Louisville on Wednesday, you could probably flip a coin as to who gets the win. Pitt-Marquette and Villanova-Pitt also will greatly impact the conference race and where people play in March.
The Big 12 looks to be Kansas’ to lose, as they are now up 3 games on Texas A&M and Kansas St. This is probably the second best league in the land, with 7-8 teams holding legitimate arguments that they are tournament worthy.
Ascending: Baylor shook off a tough loss late last week to A&M, winning a game they should have won at Nebraska, then beating Missouri by 2 at home. With these wins, the Bears make a return appearance in the top 25.
Descending: Oklahoma’s week started off on a great note when two freshmen, Virginia’s own Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald decided to get caught shoplifting 4-5 hours after their win against Texas. They then parlayed this distraction into a home loss against Texas Tech, and a beatdown in Stillwater against Okie St. The Sooners are at the top of the “how the mighty have fallen list,” and even poor Blake Griffin hasn’t played a game with a knee injury for the hapless Clippers.
Player of the Week: Michigan transfer Ekpe Odoh didn’t light up the scoreboard for Baylor, but with LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter (more names I’m filing away in terms of baby names) putting up the points, Odoh averaged 7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks for the Bears.
Games of the Week: Every game for teams 2-8 in the standings is extremely important, and honestly all of them could go either way. Texas at Missouri and Baylor at Oklahoma St. are examples of this. I think Texas A&M could knock off Kansas at home tonight as the best tilt of the week, making the race at the top a little closer. Bryan Davis will cause Cole Aldrich problems, so it could be closer than one would think.
Purdue and Ohio St. are definitely Final Four contenders, both going 2-0 on the week and staying atop the leaderboard of the conference with its own network. Kalin Lucas looks to be healed, putting up 24 points on Saturday in Sparty’s win over Penn St. If Lucas is healthy, the Spartans are a different team and it could be anyone’s race.
Ascending: As I stated earlier, Purdue looks really good, but Ohio St. has been on a tear since Evan Turner returned from a back injury. Their depth is a question mark, but Turner, William Buford, and Jon Diebler are three of the top 12 players in the league, giving the Buckeyes a matchup advantage almost every time out.
Descending: Minnesota has fallen from a preseason top 25, to 5-7, 14-10 record. Maybe Tubby Smith should have realized that recruiting at Kentucky is a lot easier than trying to convince people to come to Minnesota in the middle of January to play ball. Plus, Saul Smith is his assistant, and he was maybe my least favorite college basketball player of the last 20 years that wasn’t wearing a Duke jersey. Needless to say, I don’t feel bad for them.
Player of the Week: No one really stood out, so I’m giving props to Kalin Lucas for coming back from his injury and going for 24 on Saturday against Talor Battle, who is a really tough matchup playing on a terrible team.
Games of the Week: We’ll find out this week whether or not my thoughts on Ohio St. are correct or not, as they get Purdue at home, then go to East Lansing against Michigan St on Sunday. Purdue gets a difficult Illinois team at home as well.
Although Kentucky has arguably been just as dominant as Kansas, they only own a one game advantage over Vanderbilt. Mississippi St and Arkansas are tied for first in the West.
Ascending: I can’t just type in Kentucky every week here because you can only ascend so much when you’re already at the top, which will last until they lose in the second round of the NCAA’s because DeMarcus Cousins has a ten minute crying fit from Calipari yelling at him too much. Mississippi St. got two wins, including one over their interstate rival at home, as potential lottery pick Jarvis Varnado leads the way.
Descending: I don’t know what to think of Tennessee, so I’ll leave that alone and let Langston cover whether they are good or not. LSU lost Marcus Thornton, Chris Johnson and others from the team that gave UNC their best game in the 2nd round of the NCAA’s last year. They still have Tasmin Mithchell and others left over, yet they have yet to win a conference game.
Player of the Week: The above-mentioned Varnado didn’t have a great scoring week, but he still controls the rim better than anybody else in the league. Varnado averaged 10.5 points, 11.5 boards, and 4.5 blocks for the Bulldogs.
Games of the Week: If Kentucky gets through this week unscathed, the league is theirs. They go to Mississippi St. and then have to play at Vanderbilt. Ole Miss might sneak up on the Commodores, who play there first before the showdown with the Wildcats.
Nope. I’m giving them nothing. I would like the commissioner of this conference to somehow give me the hour of my life back that I spent watching the first half of the Washington-Cal game on Thursday. Whoever gets to the dance from this league will lose in the first round. Lock of the year. Mark it down.
Gonzaga is really good. Butler is as well. Northern Iowa’s leading scorer got a DUI; something I’m all too familiar with. Cornell was ranked for a week, then lost as all was right with the world again with no Ivy’s in the top 25.
(photo courtesy of The Hollywood Gossip)
Fun Fact: I got my upset pick right, while Langston did not. I am awesome.
(photo courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald)