- Matt Cox
What a beautiful day it is…
Not only is the NFL circus finally over, but the New England Patriots denied Stan ‘the Crook’ Kroenke from hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy yesterday, saving the city of St. Louis from sports armageddon.
Thank you Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Your ‘Deflategate’ sins are officially forgiven.
Ok, enough with the bitter and irrelevant tangents - there was another hearty serving of college hoops action over the weekend, which we summarize below with the Weave’s Weekend Wrap-up.
The Big Boys
North Carolina avenged an 83-62 beatdown from Louisville in Chapel Hill two weeks ago by returning the favor on Saturday. The Tar Heels flexed their muscles in the paint all day long, gobbling up 18 offensive rebounds and feasting in the low-post off Roy Williams’ patented secondary break in transition. The Heels led by as many as 20 points before halftime and kept their foot on the gas to sustain a double-digit lead for most of the 2nd half.
North Carolina State set the game of basketball back 50 years with an abominable 24 points in 40 minutes against the Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Wolfpack’s laughable 0.45 points per possession team efficiency on Saturday was the 2nd lowest of any Power-6 conference team over the past 11 seasons, according to our historical game database - naturally, Rutgers remains the not so proud owner of that “record”(the Scarlet Knights mustered just 31 points against Louisville in the 2014 AAC tournament - remember when Rutgers and Louisville were in the AAC?).
Don’t let NC State’s fiasco distract you from another putrid ACC performance on Saturday. Wake Forest was run over by Clemson 64-37, dropping the Demon Deacons to 1-8 in the ACC and a 2-way tie with Miami for dead stinkin’ last. As much as I find myself rooting for Danny Manning, it’s probably time to launch the search for a new leading man in Winston-Salem.
Virginia deflated the Hurricanes in Coral Gables this weekend to improve to 8-1 in the ACC, keeping the Hoos a half ahead of Duke and North Carolina in the overall standings. The Blue Devils stayed within striking distance of UVA with a 30-point destruction of a hungry St. John’s team in desperate need of a resume boosting win. Tre Jones pitched a ‘Shamorie Shutout’ in the first half, suffocating the Red Storm’s lefty lead guard on defense while chipping in 13 points and 7 assists of his own on offense. The Cavaliers now anxiously Duke’s return visit to Charlottesville this Saturday in what should be a barnburner in the battle for the ACC’s top spot.
Notre Dame snapped a 5-game losing skid with an enormous road win at Boston College, a game in which Mike Brey welcomed Juwan Durham back to the rotation. The shot-blocking savant played just 9 minutes after missing the four games prior, but it was Nikola Djogo who stole the show for the Irish. The Canadian swingman poured in 21 points, more than doubling his previous season high total of 8.
Despite finishing in the red for the second straight week, my gambling Spidey-senses took me to Covertown, USA in the Big-12’s premier weekend matchup between Kansas and Texas Tech. With their never-ending conference title streak now hanging in the balance, the Jayhawks rode another brilliant all-around performance from Dedric Lawson to cruise past the visiting Red Raiders 79-63. Kansas remains tied atop the league leaderboard with 6 wins, along with Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State, all of whom took care of business on Saturday.
With the bumps and bruises KU has taken over the past two weeks, the rest of the Big-12 can smell blood in the water. K-State and Baylor have reincarnated their seasons and now look like bonafide Big-12 title contenders, along with the known adversaries of Iowa State and Texas Tech. As kenpom.com’s current and projected standings below indicate, this is shaping up to be a 5-horse race that should come right down the wire.
With only two teams above .500 in conference play, can we officially slap the ‘Big Least’ nickname on this league? St. John’s, Butler, Xavier, Seton Hall and Creighton all seem stuck on a perpetual roller coaster, Georgetown and Providence look like they’re still a year away, and DePaul is… well… still DePaul…
Even though Villanova has the upper-hand in the conference race as it currently stands, most of the bracketology community has Marquette sitting a couple of seed lines higher in the latest tournament field projections. Per bracketmatrix.com, the Golden Eagles are penciled in at a 3-seed, while the 1st place Wildcats are slotted on the 5-seed line.
In one of the most eye-opening results of the weekend, Indiana stunned Michigan State in East Lansing Saturday afternoon to give the Hoosiers their first win since January 3rd. IU pulled off the upset with senior star Juwan Morgan ailing on the bench with a shoulder injury and point guard Rob Phinisee essentially no-showing the game. Devonte Green and De’Ron Davis silenced their critics and gave Archie Miller a gargantuan boost off the bench, combing to score 23 of the Hoosiers’ 75 points. Indiana shot better from behind the arc (10/20) than Michigan State did from the free-throw line (8/22), thanks in large part to Nick Ward’s futility from the charity stripe. The Spartans became the 27th team in the past 11 years to shoot worse than 35% from the foul line on over 20 attempts.
Purdue made a move in the Big Ten standings this weekend after the Boilers survived two scares against Penn State and Minnesota. And with Iowa’s shellacking of Michigan on Friday, Purdue now joins the Spartans and Wolverines in 3-way tie for first in an increasingly competitive Big Ten title race. Wisconsin leaned on the shoulders of Brad Davison to take down Maryland at home, giving the Badgers a half game lead over the Terrapins in the conference standings.
On the other end of the spectrum, there isn’t a band-aid big enough to stop Nebraska’s bleeding. The Huskers have now lost five in a row and have tumbled to 3-8 in the Big Ten standings after a promising 3-3 start. Tim Miles could use a hug right about now.
Kentucky kept pace with the undefeated Volunteers in the SEC title race with a 65-54 victory over Florida in Gainesville. The Gators’ offense was once again the damning Achilles heel, but hats off to John Calipari’s rapidly improving Wildcats, who erased a 42-31 deficit with 13 minutes left in the 2nd half to pull away from the Gators by double-digits late.
Arkansas handed LSU its first SEC loss on Saturday when the Razorbacks went scorched-earth from 3-point land (13/24) to improve to 4-4 in league play. Daniel Gafford paced the Hogs with 23 points on 11/15 shooting, but the Tigers’ shot themselves in the foot with 21 turnovers, 14 of which were self-inflicted unforced errors. LSU stayed on-script by crashing the glass and attacking the rim, but 19 offensive rebounds and 32 of 38 from the free-throw line still wasn’t enough to seal the deal.
Tennessee’s quest for perfection is the only thing standing between Frank Martin and the SEC Coach of the Year honors. South Carolina kept it rolling on Saturday with another conference road win at Georgia to stay just two games back of 1st place in the league standings. While Chris Silva continues to drive the bus, freshmen AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant have provided a major boost to the tough-minded Gamecocks. Their individual offensive efficiencies leave a lot to be desired, but Martin has clearly entrusted Bryant and Lawson with big minutes in high leverage situations.
The Pac-12 is Washington’s world and the other 11 bags of trash are just contaminating the Huskies’ airspace. Dragged down by a league in a collective mudslide, props to Washington for upholding what’s left of the Pac-12’s reputation. While the home of the original 2-3 zone will always lie in Syracuse, Mike Hopkins has constructed a newer (and better?) version in his new residence on the West Coast. Don’t look now, but the Huskies are currently rocking the nation’s 15th-best overall defense, anchored by two of the nation’s top defensive disruptors in Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle.
Other than the Huskies, every other Pac-12 school currently ranks outside the top-50 in kenpom.com’s overall rankings. As predicted, California and Washington State are bringing up the rear, while Oregon, UCLA and Arizona continue to slip into oblivion, lost in the middle the Pac-12 standings shuffle.
The Best of the Rest
The MAC[k] is Back…
According to kenpom.com’s overall conference rankings, the MAC is currently rated as the 9th-best league in the country, the league’s highest mark since the Kenpom era began in 2002. Bowling Green and Toledo now reside at the top of the East and West divisions, respectively, after the Falcons handed Buffalo its second conference loss of the season on Saturday. The Bulls near-perfect non-conference resume still has them safely in the field of 68 according to bracketmatrix.com’s latest projections, but things could get dicey if Buffalo takes another tumble over the final 9 games of the season. Nate Oats and company have a tricky stretch upcoming in which they’ll play 3 games in 7 days, with the last leg of the road trip ending in Toledo.
Per the clip below, Kent State’s Antonio Williams channeled his inner Kobe to put the exclamation mark on what was the most insane finish of any Saturday result. After almost traveling on a nearly botched hand-off at the top of the key, Williams found a 6th teammate disguised as a backboard for a ‘give-and-go’ to give the Golden Flashes a one-point victory over Ball State.
The Red and Blue be Feelin’ Blue…
Penn’s program-defining achievements in the non-conference (sweeping the Philly 5 City Series, including a banner win over Villanova) have now been overshadowed by a dismal 1-3 start in the Ivy. After blowing a double-digit 1st half lead on Friday against Cornell, the Red and Blue nearly dropped another league game the very next day at Columbia to avoid a catastrophic 0-4 start in the conference. It will be uphill sledding for Penn from here on out, as the Quakers have to travel to Brown and Yale this weekend to try and claw their way back to .500 in the league standings. Meanwhile, Princeton, who was without leading scorer and minutes eater Devin Cannady this weekend, racked up two more wins to improve to 4-0 and secure sole possession of first place in the Ivy.
Northeastern Punches the Pride
Hofstra hadn’t lost in nearly two months before its much anticipated journey to Boston this weekend. Northeastern had revenge top of mind after the Huskies were stunned by Justin Wright-Foreman’s back-breaking buzzer-beater in the first meeting between the two in Hempstead. Thanks to Vasa Pusica’s 24-point, 8-rebound performance, the Huskies evened the season score between the two conference contenders, vaulting Northeastern into 2nd place in the Colonial standings. The Pride still hold a comfortable 2-game lead, but a looming date with Charleston on Valentine’s Day could narrow the gap even more at the top of the CAA totem pole.
The Terriers’ Terror
Wofford’s case for an at-large bid is growing stronger by the minute. The Terriers trounced The Citadel this weekend to maintain a 1.5-game lead over UNC Greensboro and 2-game lead over East Tennessee State in the SoCon standings. Wofford is checking all the selection criteria boxes with both strong metric ratings (31st in kenpom and 27th in the NET) and impressive wins that continue to age well (most notably @ South Carolina), which explains why most prognosticators have Wofford on the right side of the bubble in their latest tournament projections.
Chris Clemons and Mike Daum: The Senior Farewell Tour
The 3MW marketing team bombarded the air waves with the Clemons and Daum quest for 3K propaganda this offseason - turns out those were marketing dollars well spent, as the two mid-major darlings have been nothing short of dominant. Over the last 6 games, ‘the Dauminator’ is averaging 31 points and 14 rebounds a game and his Jackrabbits hold a 2-game lead in the Summit standings. Clemons put on his superhero cape yet again over the weekend with a 39-point encore on Saturday, just days after his half-court buzzer-beater handed 1st place Radford its first conference loss of the season.