- Ky McKeon
A smaller Wednesday slate still gave us plenty to cheer about. Let's zoom in on the highlights of the last college hoops contests of January 2018...
The Big Boys
(Power 6 + AAC, A10, MWC, MVC & WCC)
Louisville 64 v. Virginia 74
It's pretty insane how good this Hoos team is. I mean, Virginia lost 42% of its minutes last season with the departures of London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, and Darius Thompson (among others). That UVA squad was great, finishing 23-11 (11-7) with the 2nd best defense in the country and earning a 5-seed in the Big Dance. We knew Tony Bennett's system would allow his teams to be competitive year in and year out, but nobody could've predicted the 2017-18 squad to start 10-0 in ACC play and shatter the all-time KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency record.
With its win over Louisville, Virginia now holds a commanding 3 game lead in arguably the toughest conference in the land. While watching snippets of this game, I couldn't help but notice my lower jaw making contact with the floor every time the Hoos defended a ball screen. UL ran a lot of pick-n-roll and UVA stifled just about every one of their opportunities. Bennett's hard-hedging philosophy combined with his players' superior perimeter length, position-less athleticism, and a mastery over the shell drill that would make your grandma blush makes it an extremely daunting task for opposing teams to find success in the pick-n-roll:
West Virginia 77 v. Iowa State 93
In perhaps the most shocking final of Wednesday night, Iowa State used a little Hilton Magic to knock off the once-thought Big 12 title contender Mountaineers. The Clones owned this game from start to finish achieving the two requisites to beating West Virginia: 1) take care of the basketball, 2) hit shots. Iowa State turned the ball over only 8 times against the harassing, hand-checking havoc of the WV guards - the first time ANY TEAM has turned the ball over less than 10 times against the Mountaineers this season. Credit primary ball handlers Donovan Jackson and Lindell Wigginton who combined for just four turnovers and 47 points. To make this win more impressive (and baffling) - Iowa State was without key contributor Nick Weiler-Babb (yes, West Virginia was also missing Daxter Miles).
With the win, ISU is back to "respectable" in the Big 12 standings (and that RPI number should skyrocket considerably). With the loss, West Virginia has now dropped 5 of its last 6. Coincidentally, that's how many games Esa Ahmad has been back in the rotation...
Missouri 69 v. Alabama 60
The stars aligned for Mizzou fans as the Tigers finally managed to close out a game in which they essentially led from start to finish. Despite throwing the ball away 19 times (MU ranks 314th in the country in TO%), Mizzou was able to take down a tough Alabama squad on the road, perhaps in part due to the Tide's hangover from their enormous Oklahoma win (also Bama shot 17/48 from the field; 5/20 from three).
Cuonzo's squad had its issues with fouls once again as Jeremiah Tilmon fouled out for the umpteenth time (he fouls 7.7 times per 40 minutes) and Jontay Porter picked up 4, but overall this was an impressive showing for a Tiger team that's been handicapped by injuries, transfers, and suspensions. The biggest thing that stood out to me was how much better Mizzou is when they play through Tilmon in the post - the skilled freshman big is an uber-talented scorer who already has NBA-level footwork:
We also shouldn't overlook the fact that John Petty was held to just 5 points while being guarded primarily by... you guessed it... super-defender-extraordinaire Cullen Van Leer.
Mississippi State 81 v. South Carolina 76
Like its SEC PIC above, Mississippi State scored a huge road win against a "Column 1" opponent last night. With the win, the Bulldogs are currently tied with six(!) other teams, including South Carolina, at 4-5 in the SEC. Here's the current resumes of those 4-5 squads:
Missouri: RPI 35; NC SOS 56; 4-6 v Column 1; 5-7 vs Column 1&2
Georgia: RPI 55; NC SOS 157; 2-5 v Column 1; 7-6 v Column 1&2
Arkansas: RPI 29; NC SOS 72; 3-6 v Column 1; 5-6 v Column 1&2
Miss State: RPI 61; NC SOS 288; 2-5 v Column 1; 3-6 v Column 1&2
South Carolina: RPI 62; NC SOS 51; 3-5 v Column 1; 5-9 v Column 1&2
Ole Miss: RPI 85; NC SOS 52; 0-8 v Column 1; 6-10 v Column 1&2
Texas 71 v. Texas Tech 73 (OT)
In the game of the night, the Texas Tech Red Raiders knocked off the Texas Longhorns in an overtime thriller behind Keenan Evans's 38 points and last second heroics:
Jim talked about it on our latest podcast: Keenan Evans deserves some All-American love. Evans scored 38 points on only 9/13 shooting (18/20 from the line) in this game and is averaging 31.7ppg over his last three contests. The Red Raiders are now 18-4 (6-3) and should sit comfortably in the top ten in next week's AP poll. GIVE THE MAN SOME LOVE!
Wyoming 91 v. Colorado State 86 (2OT)
We have to talk about Wyoming. With their double overtime victory over Colorado State, the Cowboys have now won three straight games - all in overtime. In fact, Wyoming is an unfathomable 6-0 in overtime tilts this season, which is reflected in its #6 ranking in KenPom's Luck ratings. With a little help from Lady Luck - and guts, tenacity, what have you - the Boys currently stand at 15-7 overall and 6-3 in MWC play.
(All the other guys - yes, that includes you SWAC)
Patriot - Bucknell survived an overtime scare in Lewisburg against an upstart Army team making waves in the middle of the conference. With the win, the Bison increased their stranglehold on the Patriot, moving to 10-1 (two games up on second place Boston). Nathan Davis's team is the only PL squad ranked in KenPom's top 200 and likely will give a 4 or 5 seed some fits come March.
America East - Vermont continued to demonstrate it is the clear class of the America East by disposing of conference bottom feeder Binghamton by 14 on the road. The Catamounts have now won 29 straight regular season conference games and are a good bet to run the table once again this year.
Elsewhere, UMBC, led by stud senior guard Jairus Lyles, scored a big win on the road at Stony Brook, keeping the Retrievers within striking distance of the Catamounts. Lyles and Co. will get Vermont at home on Saturday in what's sure to be the one of the better AEC games of the season.
Southland - Shout out to Texas A&M Corpus Christi for taking down a tough SE Louisiana squad on the road last night. Historically a league contender, the Islanders have struggled this year without stalwarts Rashawn Thomas and Ehab Amin leading the way. Willis Wilson's team proved it still has some fight in it by going into Hammond and upending the Lions.
Don't look now, but the New Orleans Privateers are quietly sitting in first place of the Southland at 9-2 after their blowout win against Northwestern State last night. New Orleans lost a ton of production from last season's Tournament team, and many expected them to struggle to stay near the top of this year's league standings. Credit head coach Mark Slessinger and the play of senior forward Travin Thibodeaux for the Privateers' recent 8-2 stretch.