- Matt Cox
You know the drill…
The Weave goes around the horn to detail what transpired across the Power-6 conferences, along with the best from the rest of the mid and low-major leagues.
The Big Boys
For Duke, Saturday’s tilt with Georgia Tech marked the much-anticipated return of their freshman floor general Tre Jones. The fact that Jones missed just three games was a dream outcome for the Blue Devils, given the alternative nightmarish scenarios. Forget about easing Jones back into the rotation – Coach K rode his point guard hard for a full 35 minutes, but Duke struggled to regain its continuity in the early going. After Georgia Tech opened the 2nd half with an 8-0 run to race out to a 35-27 lead, Coach K promptly called timeout. Predictably, the refocused Devils quickly regained the lead and never looked back, as the two usual suspects, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, poured in 46 of Duke’s 66 points. Credit to Josh Pastner and the pesky Yellow Jackets for stunting Duke’s prolific scoring attack to its lowest point total (66) and least efficient (.96 points per possession) offensive performance of the season.
After sitting through a 40-minute dentist appointment at Indiana on Friday night, it was déjà vu all over again in South Bend Saturday afternoon when Virginia and Notre Dame squared off in the Joyce Center.
I’m not sure there’s anyone on planet earth with a lower tolerance for missed free throws than this guy, which made Saturday’s nationwide free-throw futility unbearable to watch. Exhibit A was Saturday afternoon’s barnburner in Raleigh-Durham between NC State and Clemson, as Brad Brownell and the reeling Tigers waltzed into PNC Arena with a 1-4 ACC record badly needing a notable win to add to their resume. In the final minute, Shelton Mitchell hit 1 of 2 free throws with 26 seconds remaining to extend the visiting Tigers’ lead to 6. After the Tigers committed two fouls in the final 20 seconds, NC State cut the margin to 1 after Marquise Reed missed two straight free throws the possession prior. Reed had a rare shot at redemption when the Wolfpack sent him back to the charity stripe, where he proceeded to brick two more freebies, which opened the door for Braxton Beverely’s buzzer-beating dagger:
Why do I keep betting against Chris Mack? It’s a foundational gambling principle to tread lightly when fading cerebral coaches like Mack, and it burned me yet again on Saturday. Despite trailing Pittsburgh by 4 at the half, Louisville overwhelmed the young and fatigued Panthers with suffocating defensive pressure in the 2nd half to win handily. The Cardinals’ resume now has them within striking distance of a top-3 seed, with plenty of chances in the ACC’s gauntlet to keep climbing the ladder even higher.
For all the ink that Nickeil Alexander-Walker has gotten this season – and deservedly so – Justin Robinson reminded us why he’s still the engine of Virginia Tech’s offense. The smooth lefty rained in 9 of the Hokies 14 threes against Syracuse Saturday night, as Robinson and Alexander-Walker collectively picked apart the Cuse zone with precise passing (both finished with 8 assists).
Florida State’s rout of Miami FL in Coral Gables yesterday afternoon was quite a snoozer, as the Seminoles led for the entire 40-minutes of action – shooting a blistering hot 60% from the land of plenty (12/20) certainly didn’t hurt.
I have many profound thoughts on Michigan’s demoralization of Indiana Friday evening in Bloomington, which was the first of three stops on the 3MW weekend road trip. Conducted by the endearingly maniacal Luke Yaklich, the Wolverines’ steel curtain defense planted a glass ceiling on a comfortable early lead, as Indiana trailed by double digits for what felt like an eternity.
Sunday’s bout between two of the Big Ten’s top-3 squads, Purdue and Michigan State, was the encore of the aforementioned 3MW roadtrip – my colleague Ky had the privilege of capturing the roller coaster ride at Mackey Arena on Sunday, in which Purdue almost squandered a gargantuan 2nd half lead to the Spartans.
Ohio State traveled to Lincoln on Saturday desperately needing to snap a 5-game skid of their own. The Buckeyes hopped on the shoulders of freshman Luther Muhammad, who poured in 24 points to help hand Nebraska its 6th conference loss, pushing the Huskers down another notch in the Big Ten standings. We should all raise our glasses and pour one out for Isaac Copeland, whose college career is now over after he tore a ligament in his left knee when he went crashing to the floor in the first half. This is a catastrophic blow for Tim Miles, given the rail thin rotation he’s been handcuffed by all season.
As a staunch (and borderline stubborn) believer in this Illinois team, Saturday afternoon’s 9-point victory over the red-hot Maryland Terrapins could be the launching pad to a late season turnaround. It might be too little, too late, but the Illini got a huge performance from Andres Feliz, the highly touted JUCO prospect who’s had a sluggish start to his Division 1 collegiate career. Credit to Brad Underwood, who forced the hand of Mark Turgeon to bow to his style of play, as Maryland caved to Illinois’ guard-heavy lineup with a 4-guard lineup of their own. This was a shocking turn of events given how dominant the two-headed frontline tandem of Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando have been this year.
Wisconsin defended its home turf Saturday afternoon when the Badgers dispatched Northwestern 62-46 to tally their 3rd straight Big Ten win. Paced by Ethan Happ’s triple-double, Wisconsin moved into sole possession of 5th place in the conference standings at 6-3, just a half game behind Maryland and full game behind Purdue.
After St. John’s head-scratching home dud against Georgetown, Xavier’s 2nd half meltdown against Marquette and DePaul’s season sweep of Seton Hall, a clear-cut two horse race has emerged in the Big East:
Who would’ve predicted the standings would look like this by end of January? Villanova and Marquette are close to lapping the rest of the league, but Nova is my pick to seize the conference title belt when it’s all said and done – if you tuned in for the Wildcats’ 3-point assault against Seton Hall, you saw shades of last year’s ‘Supernova’ squad that raided opponents with an endless shower of trey balls from all over the floor.
Big 12 / SEC
As much as we here at 3MW like to break down X&O matchup advantages, it’s not often the game plays out exactly as we project – but even the shadiest fortune teller could’ve predicted what would transpire in Saturday’s Big-12 / SEC challenge headliner between Kansas and Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats’ burly frontline beat up the frail Jayhawks frontcourt, which has essentially become a one-man-band in Dedric Lawson since KU lost Udoka Azubuike for the season. UK hauled in a whopping 17 offensive rebounds and pounded the weaker Jayhawks inside, with the chiseled Reid Travis snagging 7 offensive boards all by himself.
While Kansas still sits in an enviable position at 5-2 in the Big-12 still in prime position to win their 1,564,374th consecutive Big-12 championship, something just looks off with this year’s rendition of the 4-out, 1-in small ball lineup Self has converted to. Last season’s lethal spread offense was so tough to guard because of Svi Mykhailiuk, a 6’8 dual-threat wing who could torch the nets from deep, but also attack hard close outs off-the-dribble. This year, Self is scratching his head with how to replicate Svi’s versatility at that pivotal small-ball 4 position since Quentin Grimes looks like a shell of himself at the moment. Ochai Agbaji has been a pleasant surprise, but he’s still a long way off from commanding the defensive respect that Svi did last season.
Alabama and Baylor entered Saturday both riding high off some strong recent efforts. The Tide ran Ole Miss out of the gym on Tuesday (just two days after almost stunning the top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville), while Baylor continued resurrecting its season with three straight wins that lifted the Bears into 3rd place in the Big-12 standings. Something had to give here, and it was Baylor who managed to hold serve at home thanks to a late Bama scoring drought and poor decision making. Baylor was pronounced dead just over a month ago, but this improbable surge after losing Tristan Clark for the season has the Bears right back in the thick of at-large consideration.
Wait, is it possible that Mississippi is mortal after all? The Rebels were a buzzsaw for six straight weeks, up until LSU handed Mississippi its first conference loss in Oxford on January 15th. Since then, the Rebels have dropped 2 of their last 3, including Saturday’s 14-point loss at home to Iowa State. After hitting a mini-wall to start conference play, Clones freshman freak Talen Horton-Tucker wiped away his recent struggles with a 25-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist outburst.
In typical TCU fashion, the Horned Frogs asserted themselves early against the visiting Gators on Saturday, quickly extending a first half lead all the way to a 16-point margin with just over a minute to go before halftime. In the 2nd half, Florida clawed its way back, using Mike White’s patented defensive pressure to disrupt a depleted TCU backcourt. The Horned Frogs would ultimately hold on, in large part due to Florida’s feast-or-famine offense that’s shown a propensity to suffer through extended scoring droughts.
Is it possible that the ghost of 2017-18 KeVaughn Allen contaminated the present-day Jalen Hudson with his inexplicable and incurable mental virus? After Allen regressed from his sophomore-to-junior campaign last year, the same phenomenon has occurred this season with Jalen Hudson, who is on track to post one of the worst individual seasons in the SEC. Per the chart below, Hudson is still gunning with the same reckless abandon as last year, but less than 30% of those shots have fallen since conference play ramped up early this month:
The fact that Hudson’s usage rate is approaching his field goal percentage is a total monstrosity…
Somewhere out there, TJ Starks nods his head in approval
Other than the Bulldogs’ season opener against Savannah State, I can’t remember the last time I saw a number greater than 90 next to Georgia’s point total in the box score. Texas felt the wrath of a perfect storm Saturday in Athens when the Bulldogs lit the nets on fire from all over the floor, en route to a 98-88 win over the visiting Longhorns.
Since LSU and Missouri’s Big-12 / SEC challenge invitations were lost in the mail, an intra-conference battle went down in Mizzou Arena on Saturday. The yellow and purple Tigers came to Columbia with a flawless SEC resume having not lost since December 12th, but were on the ropes late against an ailing Mizzou team without the services of Mark Smith, one of the few bright spots in Cuonzo Martin’s backcourt this season. With a patchwork collection of inexperienced and inconsistent guards around him, Jordan Geist essentially dragged Mizzou for 38 minutes before the house of cards suddenly came crashing down.
Up by 14 with just over two minutes remaining, Mizzou fans saw yet another remake of the same movie they’ve witnessed time and time again, as the shaky ball handling succumbed to LSU’s ferocious defensive pressure – a bogus call on the final possession didn’t help either, which sent LSU’s Emmitt Williams to the line down 1 with just two seconds left. Williams converted 1 of 2 from the line to send the game into extra time, by which point Mizzou had run out of both physical and emotion stamina to punch back in the final 5 minutes (much to the liking of LSU -5 backers).
Mississippi State and Auburn were the other victims of the imbalanced SEC / Big-12 challenge schedule, and took to the hardwood Saturday evening, each seeking to get back to .500 in league play. Both teams were unconscious from downtown, but it was 19 Auburn turnovers that proved to be the difference down the stretch.
The Wild, Wild West of college basketball was back at it again this weekend. Arizona State couldn’t hold down USC after Bennie Boatwright drilled a go-ahead 3 as the final seconds ticked away just moments after Zylan Cheatham missed a critical front end of a 1-and-1. UCLA broke out of a 3-game slump with a 21-point bashing of Arizona in Pauley Pavilion, allowing Washington to seize a 2-game lead in the conference standings as the only unbeaten team left in Pac-12 play. Nipping on the Huskies’ heels at 5-2 are a pair of unsuspecting hunters in Utah and USC, both of whom were on their deathbeds not even a month ago.
The Best of the Rest
We kick off the ‘other’ section with a quick toast to all those degenerate gamblers out there who wandered into treacherous wilderness of the added and extra games slate. No bet seemed to be safe on Saturday, but it was Old Dominion -1 ticket holders who suffered the most painful and improbable loss of the weekend. The Roadrunners wiped away a 17-point deficit in just 4-minutes to stun the visiting Monarchs, which was capped off by a Keaton Wallace corner 3 that gave the Roadrunners the lead with 15 seconds left on the clock.
At least Clemson’s Marquise Reed has Jordan Goodwin to console in. Saint Louis’ stat-sheet stuffing lead guard committed a costly foul with 5 seconds remaining when he gifted Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson a trip to the charity stripe, allowing the visiting Wildcats to retake the lead 53-52. Like Reed, Goodwin earned himself a shot at redemption when he got fouled on an offensive rebound put-back just seconds before the final horn sounded. All Goodwin needed to do was make 1 of 2 to force overtime, but he came up empty on both tries, dropping the host Billikens to 2nd place in the A-10 at 5-2, one game behind Davidson (6-1) and a game and a half behind George Mason (7-1).
The WCC’s quest for multiple-bids took a turn for the worst on Saturday after Saint Mary’s and San Francisco each came up on the wrong side of two closely contested games. Led by the ‘Isaiahs’ (Isaiah Wright and Isaiah Piniero), San Diego delivered a big blow to San Francisco’s at-large hopes with a 67-63 home victory at home, while Pepperdine’s superior athleticism helped the Waves squeak past the Gaels 84-77 in overtime. While San Francisco has an outside shot of sneaking their way back onto the right side of the bubble, Saint Mary’s now has three conference blemishes on their resume, which means the Gaels will likely have to run the table in the WCC tournament if they wish to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
A round of applause is in order for Steve Donahue and the Red & Blue. Penn completed a season sweep of Philly’s Big-5 with a 78-70 win over the injury-ridden Saint Joseph’s Hawks. After the game, Donahue attempted to put into words how much this meant in the context of how he sells the prestigious Penn program on the recruiting trail. As reported by the Inquirer, Donahue said, “We’re a Big 5 team that plays in the Ivy League, not the other way [around]. But you better win some games if you’re going to talk like that.”
Well, after talking the talk, the Red & Blue certainly ‘walked the walked’ and looked like a team with a chip on its shoulder and a crystal clear awareness of what was at stake. Star forward AJ Brodeur summed it up quite succinctly and profoundly when asked what the City Series sweep meant to the players: “The Big 5, we wanted that all to ourselves.”